The ADHD Homestead

Create the life you want with the mind you have.

Don’t call me clean, organized, or hard-working.

Sometimes I wonder: what does it mean to be good at something?

When people praise me for being organized, motivated, or a hard worker, I don’t feel complimented. Being told I’m “good at” something doesn’t make me feel accomplished.

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Perhaps because “good at _______,” “hard worker,” and “organized” all hint at innate aptitude, not actual hard work. I avoid discussing so-called natural “gifts” (including those often attributed to ADHD) because gifts don’t set us apart. The nature and quality of the work we do — personal and professional — is what defines us. ADHD makes it difficult to maintain consistency in this work. Success ought to be recognized for what it is, not cheapened with random labels like “organized” or “creative.”

Telling someone he’s good at something can be a comment on ourselves, too. It’s like admiring a person’s physical appearance: we fail to consider the complex reasons she might be thinner or stronger than we are.

This doesn’t come naturally…I have ADHD.

natural-gifts-labels-adhd-pull-quoteI won’t be so presumptuous as to call my house clean or uncluttered, but others have said this about me. Sometimes, I envy friends with messy homes.  I’m not naturally clean. I don’t love tidying up my whole downstairs every single night. I was born a collector, not a minimalist. Maintaining an alphabetized filing system and emptying my inboxes regularly isn’t easy.  It’s like when people tell me I’m good at yoga. Nope. I’m committed to a surprisingly modest daily practice that’s accessible to just about anyone.

And so it is with everything in my life. All my good habits are “for now.” None are particularly ambitious. I expect to fall off the wagon and get back on over and over, for as long as I’m alive. I set the bar low enough to clear, even it makes my goals embarrassingly small.

I’m not an overachiever…I do what I need to do.

Despite my hard work, I only do what I need to do to stay sane. I don’t keep boxing up and giving away my possessions because it’s fast and easy. I do it because I won’t clean my house if there’s clutter all over. I do it because an uncluttered, lower-stimulation environment gives me an uncluttered mind. I maintain an obsessive system for my calendars and to-do list. I write everything down on sticky notes. This is because my memory is so terrible, it’s embarrassing and a little scary.

Sure, you can tell me, “wow, I’m jealous, you’re so organized.” I’d like to point out, though, it’s like telling a person in a wheelchair, “wow, I’m so jealous, you have great upper body strength.”

Likewise, when you call me a hard worker, sometimes I’m reminded of the flip side: I have to work harder than the average person to get the same results — so I do. I maintain my lifestyle because I enjoy the significant personal benefits it provides. But is this worthy of praise?

We can un-earn praise.

And, because ADHD makes us unreliable at times, there’s another worry: if you think I’m a calm, attentive parent, what happens when you catch me on a bad day? When I’m tired, or my meds are wearing off, or I’m in an environment that’s too overstimulating and my brain shuts down? If you think I’m super organized, what happens when I forget something big and important?

A couple weeks ago, I referred to parenting experts Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish’s criticism of vague praise: it’s something you can take away. “Organized,” “put together,” “calm,” and “good listener” feel tenuous to me. I suspect many people with ADHD feel the same. We’re waiting for the other shoe to drop — for someone to uncover our ruse.

Instead of marveling at my natural aptitude for cleanliness and order — it’s imaginary, anyway — ask me about my process for keeping my email inbox empty. Ask me about my favorite organizing book or app. Not only will I feel noticed for who I truly am — a person with flawed neurochemistry who’s worked very hard to construct and environment that supports my and my family’s well-being — I’ll talk your ear off about how you can do the same.

Natural gifts are just that. A great many of them end up gathering dust. When we recognize each other, it should be for our willingness to learn, to forgive ourselves, and to keep trying even when progress is slow.

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Review: HelloFresh meal delivery

Home-cooked meals nourish our bodies, our minds, and our budget. I have a pretty solid meal planning routine, but this summer I welcomed a little help from meal delivery service HelloFresh.

For the purpose of this review, I used HelloFresh for around six weeks. I received one free box , but all opinions are (as always) my own. This review is based on the veggie box. I tried to keep it concise, but I welcome your questions in the comments.

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Flavors

I enjoyed every HelloFresh meal. The flavors were on point for summer: fresh, light, and seasonal. Many meals were based on our household favorites — beans and rice, quesadillas, stir fry, etc. — but offered a new twist.

ADHD sabotages impulse control, so pre-portioned meals were a plus, especially after overeating on several vacations this summer. However, meals with greens had too many, and some salad-based meals felt too light to stand alone for dinner. I enjoy vegetarian meals, but that doesn’t mean I’m on a diet.

Families with allergies or extreme pickiness should know, HelloFresh doesn’t offer meal preferences unless you order the 3-meal Classic Box. My husband is mildly allergic to tree nuts, but I could usually leave the nuts off his portion.  I don’t recall receiving anything with peanuts, but many meals contained tree nuts, gluten, soy, and/or dairy.

Ease of preparation

HelloFresh boxes are stocked with everything you need to prepare your meals. Expect to stock staples like salt, pepper, and olive oil, but that’s about it. None of the recipes require a microwave (good, because we don’t have one), and all clean up easily without a dishwasher (don’t have one of those, either).

The meals were so easy to prepare, I took HelloFresh on vacation.  There’s no contract and it’s easy to change your delivery address week to week. Changing or pausing the service is no big deal (great for ADHD-affected families, where these details are often overlooked). I had a box delivered to our beach house and combined meals to make a two-course feast for friends.

While I thought preparation was a breeze, my husband found meal preparation “so stressful.” He’s my cooking opposite: he’s a novice, he’s fastidious, and his ADHD makes multi-tasking almost impossible. The recipes were easy, but some required multi-tasking: having two pots on a flame at once, broiling veggies while sauteeing onions, etc. That said, he successfully cooked 2.5 of the 3 meals I assigned him to cook without my help.


HelloFresh changed the way I think about meal preparation. Since the birth of our son, I’ve relied on big batches. I’ll make meat sauce for spaghetti in the crock pot, then freeze it in three-cup portions to use later. My rotation of big batch recipes is big enough to eliminate from-scratch cooking on weeknights.

With HelloFresh, I learned to simplify from-scratch meals and get them underway quickly. Each meal has its own labeled box with ready-to-use ingredients: tiny jars of honey, vinegar, or other condiments; peeled, wrapped cloves of garlic; a single carrot. I had no idea how much time I was spending collecting ingredients, putting containers away, and measuring tablespoons of oil! I plan to save some of those little jars and build my own meal boxes for non-HelloFresh nights.

Freshness

We had a few nasty heat waves last month, and some of our produce arrived in poor shape. On a particularly punishing afternoon, I opened my box to find the food inside already rotting. I’m glad I never ordered a box with meat inside. As long as temperatures didn’t exceed the low 90s, everything arrived fresh.

HelloFresh provided excellent support when I emailed a complaint about this. The representative who wrote back was prompt, friendly, and quite apologetic. She applied a credit to my account for the full cost of my box, even though many of the ingredients had been usable. However, I continued to receive distinctly un-fresh perishables on hot days. Throwing away food makes me sad, and I ended up pausing the service for a week because of the heat. (For reference, our delivery carrier in Baltimore is LaserShip — others’ experience may vary.)

The verdict

Overall, I think I’m hooked. HelloFresh adheres well enough to my pre-existing dietary preferences: simple meals, whole foods, no synthetic dyes, etc. Although I’d love more organics and whole grains, I’m willing to compromise because HelloFresh is so delicious, convenient, and economical.

Though it won’t magically transform a non-cook into the family chef, HelloFresh is a snap compared to a service like Blue Apron. It’s perfect for folks with ADHD who enjoy cooking because meal planning demands so much of our executive functioning.

Interested in trying HelloFresh for yourself? Use the code JACLYNP35 to get $35 off your first box. Tell me what you think (or ask me anything about my HelloFresh experience) in the comments!

Family life with ADHD: Stash those labels.

Labels — we all use them sometimes, even though most of us know we shouldn’t. Parenting has taught me to use labels intentionally and sparingly. My favorite books caution against labels, both in the positive (“you’re such a good girl”) and the negative (“you’re a troublemaker”).

Labels tell us how we fit in.

The labels we give our children become the language they use to define themselves. Parenting expert Vicki Hoefle writes in Duct Tape Parenting, “your child is answering one question over and over again: ‘In my family I am the child who…'”

ADHD labelsFor those of us with ADHD, the end of that sentence was (or is) often negative. I can trace most of my childhood labels back to my undiagnosed ADHD: oversensitive. Inconsiderate. Selfish. Vain. Ingrate. Argumentative. Rude. Lazy.

Even positive labels, like “smart,” came with baggage. For a girl with ADHD, “smart” often means “you’re too smart for this.” This being missed homework, a bad grade, or a lower-level class. “Smart” also implies potential. It sets expectations for your life and career path.

As a kid, I sometimes took on these labels — “it’s true, only a selfish person would’ve done that” — and sometimes fought against them. I wanted to view myself as a caring, sensitive, quiet person. I never wanted to make people angry. And yet, I felt like the outside world saw me as selfish, aloof, and melodramatic. I didn’t like that person. I barely even recognized her. I longed to show everyone the “real me.”

ADHD inspires labels that belie our true intentions.

As a young, newly married adult, I still suffered with untreated ADHD. I felt desperate — and yet unable — to disprove the labels still haunting my life. In a long-ago conversation argument about household responsibilities, my husband uttered the phrase, “lazy is as lazy does.” I wrote it down, along with many other labels, in an attempt to sort through my feelings. Deep inside, I knew who I was, but I couldn’t show it.

I eventually sought help for my ADHD. (Side note: My husband, who was pre-diagnosis himself, would never say something like that today.)

And, just like that, we can evolve. It’s never too late to shed damaging labels and redefine ourselves. Change begins with a commitment to build each other up rather than tear each other down.

ADHD labels pull quote

Resisting labels while appreciating the little stuff.

These days, we shy away from labels in our home. In their parenting classic How to Talk So Kids Will Listen…and Listen So Kids Will Talk, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish point out the dangers of even the best-sounding labels: “you can take away ‘good boy’ by calling him ‘bad boy’ the next day.” As a child — and later an adult — with ADHD, I learned to eye each personal victory with suspicion, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

That’s why I refuse to trade my negative labels for positive ones. I get no pleasure from hearing “you’re a hard worker,” “you’re so organized,” or “I can’t imagine you losing your temper.” On the bad days, positive labels only serve to hone my sense of loss and failure.

Instead, our family works day to day, praising and appreciating each other for the specific — the nitty-gritty. Somewhere around age two, our son went through a hitting phase. When he got angry and didn’t hit, I’d tell him, “you were so angry, I know you wanted to hit me, but you didn’t. You went upstairs to calm down instead.” When my husband — often at work very late — is home in the evening, I tell him, “I’m glad you’re here.”

This is especially critical for areas where we struggle. Specific praise and appreciation lets people know we see them. We see them doing their best, and we notice their small victories. When this is what defines us, rather than “unreliable,” “late,” or “hot-headed,” we access our power to do better.

What labels do you find yourself using in your family? What labels did your parents use with you? How do labels affect the way you view yourself and those around you?

The internet: ADHD’s friend and foe

When I get overwhelmed, the internet’s the first thing to go. That’s why my social media feeds are either hopping or silent. But the the internet, huge burden and distraction that it is, can also help me on my ADHD journey.

It’s complicated. On one hand, the internet — and social media in particular — keeps me connected to friends and family. It provides me with a community of like-minded ADHD advocates — a safe space to learn and to vent. At the same time, it’s easy to overstretch, to get distracted, to sink too much time into things that shouldn’t be a priority.

I found myself wondering recently: why do I assume my time for online activities is unlimited? Because I don’t need to get in my car and drive to the internet? Because Read Instagram feeds (personal and professional) isn’t something I block out on my calendar? Each new thing requires time and attention to feel like I’m keeping up.

For a while, I thought my ADHD was incompatible with social media. I took six months away from Facebook, with overwhelmingly positive results.

I wanted to stay away, but that didn’t feel right, either.  I have family and friends all over the country and the world. Exiting social media felt like a decision for them, too: in downgrading my internet use, I was downgrading my relationship with them. My ADHD Homestead Facebook page reaches thousands of people. A few of those people have written to thank me for making a difference in their lives. I participate in a small, private ADHD discussion group, and I want to keep up with the friends I’ve made there, too.

As much as I’d love to quit it all and throw away my smart phone sometimes, it makes more sense to treat online activities with the same respect I treat real-life ones. This year, I made a promise to myself to say no to any new evening commitments. I’ve been decluttering my schedule and reminding myself that my time is limited and valuable. If I say yes to everything, I shortchange everyone.

Likewise, I need to stop clicking “join” on every group that looks like it might be up my alley. If a social media app isn’t contributing value to my life and relationships, I need to delete it. Even if a Facebook group or a Coursera class doesn’t show up on my calendar or my doorstep, it requires time and mental energy.

The whole world can fit inside our computer or smart phone. It can’t fit inside our brains or our days. We can’t see or touch social media, not really, but a lack of intention around its use can deplete our most precious resources. The distinction between our online lives and “real lives” grows fuzzier by the day.

How do you balance the internet’s powers of good (connection) and evil (distraction)? Have you had to quit anything to reclaim your focus?

Personal organizing case study: Bullet Journal

Organizing my daily life: it feels like both the starting point and the impossible dream with adult ADHD. It’s also a basic expectation of adulthood.

Most ADHD’ers know we need an organizational system, but feel like nothing works. We struggle to find answers to the all-important question, “but how?”

A naturally organized person with a manageable schedule might answer, “you just do it.” Adults with ADHD rarely “just do” anything.

Today, I’ll share a simple, low-tech, flexible way to stay organized. It’s called Bullet Journal. First I’ll provide a look inside my notebook, then I’d love to answer questions in the comments. Personal organizing has been a pet project of mine for many years. If you want to talk about the nitty gritty, I’m your girl.

bullet journal ADHD

What is Bullet Journal?

Bullet Journal isn’t an app or a product. It’s an idea, best explained in this short, engaging little video:


I use apps to stay organized, but I appreciate a tactile element. Screens can feel too abstract. I’ve carried a notebook everywhere since the seventh grade. I’ve dallied with day planners, but fallen away from them since the advent of smart phones. Nowadays, I use my notebook for everything: Grocery lists. jotting down ideas, drafts, or outlines for writing projects. Taking notes at meetings. On-the-fly to-do lists. Goal-setting exercises. Everything imaginable.

Bullet Journal helps me organize those elements and keep me from losing track of what I write down. Because I have ADHD and a very poor memory, I write nearly everything down.

Adults with ADHD are individuals — Bullet Journal is flexible.

I love Bullet Journaling’s infinite flexibility. I chose the size, feel, and contents of my notebook to make it something that works for me. This is especially important for adults with ADHD. If a system or tool isn’t easy, comfortable, and even fun to use, it won’t last long.

I keep my Bullet Journal in Moleskine’s extra-large ruled notebook. In the spirit of Marie Kondo’s KonMari methodI use postcards — mostly collected from art shows — to make the notebooks special and joyful to use.

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I always add an entry to the index or add a page number to an existing entry before adding the content. Otherwise, I can get distracted and forget to update the index.

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Bullet Journal’s flexibility extends inside the notebook, too, allowing me to integrate new concepts while ditching what doesn’t work. For example, I never look at my Future Log. I’d love to examine my six-month view more often, but I’ve come to accept — with compassion and objectivity, of course — that it’s not going to happen with this life and this brain. My next Bullet Journal won’t have a Future Log. Instead, I may beef up the Monthly Log, which I include in my weekly review.

I also added pages to the front of my Bullet Journal to remind me of my many responsibilities and spheres of influence. Stephen Covey calls these “roles and goals” in his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In Getting Things DoneDavid Allen refers to them as “areas of focus and accountabilities.” Either way, I maintain a space in my notebook to reflect on my roles in the world and my goals for each. I skim over these pages at my weekly review.

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Using my Daily Log with Google Calendar

I use Google Calendar to track all events, meetings, and time-sensitive tasks. I copy entries from my Google Calendar to the Daily Log as part of my weekly review. I never add directly to the Daily Log, always Google Calendar. It’s critical for me to respect my primary resource/repository for a specific kind of information.

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You might be wondering why I recopy rather than print my calendar and paste it into the notebook (or look at the widget on my phone’s home screen). The tactile experience of writing helps me encode/process information. I also never take notes on a laptop or tablet, only with pen and paper, because I remember conversations more clearly that way.

Taking time to write down my schedule, deadlines, and obligations for the week helps me think it through. I wouldn’t get this from skimming my Google Calendar.

Notice the lack of to-do items under each day? My to-do list is long, and nowhere near my Daily Log. I use David Allen’s Getting Things Done system, which discourages “daily to-do lists.” I only tie a task to a day if it really must happen then: in other words, it becomes irrelevant or incurs a late fee.

Let’s chat in the comments.

When I say I use my notebook for everything, I mean everything, from grocery lists to a race bib from a recent 5k run. The Daily Log and Monthly Log pages keep everything in a rough chronological order, and the index lets me return and add to previous entries.

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Have you tried something like this before? How did it go? Are you hesitant to try it because you think it won’t work? Please share your questions and experiences in the comments. I’d love to chat!

ADHD & personal grooming: do you Epilady?

I rarely talk about products here. When I do, I’m sharing something I find particularly helpful. I haven’t been contacted by Epilady, nor did I get anything for free in exchange for this post.

Personal grooming can be a problem for adults with ADHD. Showering, shaving, clipping toenails, etc. — often, these are tedious, unpleasant tasks. We need to complete them on a schedule. No one with ADHD excels at that.

Hair removal is the bane of my existence. I’m sure a few other women with ADHD feel similarly. My skin is sensitive, I struggle to make time for it, and it’s easy to procrastinate. However, I’ve finally found a solution: an epilator. It’s relatively inexpensive, not too messy, easy to do at home, and lasts longer than a day or two.

#AdultADHD and the value of a long-lasting shave

What’s an epilator?

Epilators — a whole class of shavers, though I’ve only tried the Epilady — look like electric shavers, but work like wax. They remove hair by the root, like a high-speed mechanical tweezer. The manufacturer promises results lasting “up to 4-6 weeks.”

My first pass took over an hour, but didn’t feel more cumbersome than a thorough job with an electric shaver. Subsequent touch-ups took only a few minutes. I’m much more likely to make time for these touch-ups, knowing the results last longer than an electric shaver’s 36-48 hours.

My initial epilation lasted around two weeks — shorter than the claims on the box, but longer than shaving. I suspect people with silkier hair textures will see results closer to the one-month mark, and lighter colors won’t worry as much about stubble.

In any case, I’ve been using my Epilady frequently and with confidence. It irritates my skin less and lasts longer than a regular shave.

Doesn’t it hurt?

You may be thinking, “it sounds like it hurts!” If you’ve ever used an electric shaver and felt it catch, rather than cut, one of your hairs, you already know what a first-time epilation feels like. On the front of my shins, it felt like a constant bee-sting sensation. Afterward, my hair follicles were swollen and red for the rest of the day.

Maybe yoga has taught me to be more in tune with my body, but I needed time to relax after I finished epilating. I felt a little funny: woozy, in the same way I get when my blood pressure runs too low. I drank a lot of water and sat down for a while, and that seemed to help.

On the bright side, subsequent epilations were/are far more comfortable. Two weeks after my first round, I hardly felt it on my shins. Not only that, unlike an electric razor, the Epilady doesn’t irritate my skin. I don’t need to worry about going over the same patch of skin too many times, nor does the humidity (inescapable in our climate in the summer) cause issues.

Why the Epilady is right for this ADHD lady.

I’ve tried pretty much every at-home hair removal technique, with little success. Traditional razors required more time in the shower, and they irritated my skin too much. Inattentive moments led to bleeding cuts. My electric razor caused less irritation up front, but didn’t shave as closely and still caused ingrown hairs. Both provided results that lasted, at most, 48 hours before I had to start the whole process again.

Depilatory creams (e.g. Nair) gave me chemical burns and/or smelled too icky. Wax was messy and painful, which meant I rarely got around to doing it. Some at-home wax kits also irritated my skin, leaving a red rectangle where the wax strip had been.

While the Epilady causes a lot of initial discomfort, that seems to fade quickly. At $70, my Epilady Legend wasn’t the cheapest thing around, but saves a lot of money over disposable products or professional waxing. I also appreciate the option to use it corded or cordless. I forget to charge things, and I’m glad not to need a backup option.

Most of all, I appreciate the convenience. Convenience trumps everything in ADHD households. Without it, important jobs — and certainly shaving one’s legs — don’t get done. Just knowing I won’t have to use it again tomorrow makes me excited to use the Epilady. The long-lasting results give me more leeway on when I “shave.” I spend far less time feeling uncomfortable, either because of skin irritation or pointy stubble.

If you’re willing to endure a painful first day, the Epilady could change your personal grooming routine forever.

Have you tried a product like this? How do you manage the mundane world of personal grooming?

ADHD & screens: apps to protect our sleep from blue light.

When I first read Paul Bogard‘s The End of Night a couple years ago, hardly anyone was talking about the health effects of blue light. Since then, a number of articles and studies have made the rounds on the internet.

The bottom line: blue-rich light — like the kind emitted by computers, mobile devices, and many fluorescent and LED lights — isn’t good for us. After dark, and especially in the hour or two before bedtime, we should limit exposure to screens and other blue-rich lights.

Easier said than done. Certain behaviors often feel beyond our control. For those of us with ADHD, a hard-and-fast “no screens within an hour of bedtime” habit may be impossible.

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Assume you’ll use screens at night, and reduce negative effects.

Knowing my willpower is a finite resource, I scrimp and save wherever possible. I know trying to put my phone and tablet down after 9:00 p.m. every day is a recipe for failure. Sometimes I need to work late to finish a writing project. Other times I get sucked into a mindless, fatigue-induced journey through my Facebook feed. That’s why I use apps to filter blue light out of my computer or mobile device’s display.

For my laptop and desktop computers, I use f.lux, which is available for all major operating systems. F.lux autodetects your location and adjusts your screen based on when the sun rises and sets. It works great out of the box and requires very little know-how beyond downloading and installing a program from the internet.

blue light fyiYou can further configure f.lux to fit your lifestyle by setting your bedtime and wake time. If you’d like to set your location manually, to someplace else — a friend living in Stockholm says this helps with the very long/very short days up there — you can do that, too.

While f.lux is available for iOS and Android mobile devices, users need to root or jailbreak the phone for the app to work. I tried rooting a device once and quickly learned it can be a hyperfocus rabbit hole. Some folks will root a phone as soon as it enters their hands. I no longer crave the super user cred. I try to avoid tinkering that can suck a whole day into the ether.

Newer versions of iOS provide a built-in solution called Night Shift, which is pretty cool. Amazon rolled out a feature called Blue Shade for their Fire tablets last year.

Android users have a number of free or cheap options in the Play Store. I’m currently using Twilight on my devices. Like the desktop version of f.lux, it works right out of the box and auto-adjusts based on sunrise and sunset.

You’re still responsible for going to bed.

Blue light filters aren’t a blank check to stare at a screen all night, but they may help prevent or correct sleep problems. Sometimes we succumb to screen suck, or we get stuck working late to meet a deadline. Screen tinting after dark may minimize long-term effects of these slip-ups.

One thing’s for sure: when it comes to maintaining our circadian rhythms, the ADHD’ers in our household need all the help we can get.

Do you struggle to part with screens at night? Have you tried these apps (or others)? If not, do you think it’s worth a shot?

Canaries in the coal mine

Sometimes, I don’t know if I’m managing my ADHD effectively. After all, the right type and dose of stimulant medication should feel pretty unobtrusive. It doesn’t make ADHD’ers feel drugged, hyped up, or otherwise not ourselves. Once the novelty wears off, we don’t sit around and say, “wow, things seem awfully normal around here!”

Those of us with supportive, ADHD-literate spouses can benefit from their outside perspective. Sometimes only they can tell us when our ADHD is out of control.

As medications, hormones, and life have evolved over the years, I’ve also improved my self-observation skills. It’s an advanced-level ability. Pre-diagnosis and treatment, I had zero self-awareness.

Now I’ve identified what I call my canaries in the coal mine: little indicators that reflect the overall success of my ADHD treatment.

canaries coal mine ADHD

Observe with detachment, not judgement.

Objectivity is key to spotting canaries: observing my own behavior with equanimity and pragmatism, and not getting carried away by emotion and judgement. This has required a lot of work. We late-diagnosis ADHD’ers reach adulthood without positive language to describe our struggles. It takes time, effort, and compassion to eliminate negative self-talk and start believing in ourselves. My default reaction to falling off the wagon used to be, “this was inevitable. I can’t sustain anything good. I’ll always fail eventually.”

Now, I try to approach my life like a scientist. I observe, I keep detailed notes (ADHD and motherhood have wrecked my memory), and I try to keep my own biases at bay. When a system begins to break down, that’s a clue. I’m becoming a detective in my own life — a problem-solver, not a basket case.

My canaries: more than a stressful week.

One of my canaries is my weekly review, an every-Monday ritual that keeps me on top of active projects and open loops. I once noticed myself skipping it for weeks in a row. I eventually ended up talking to my doctor about switching medications.

Likewise, when I haven’t even opened my to-do list for over a week, something isn’t right. When I keep looking at my list, but never find anything I feel like I can do, something isn’t right.

While some of life’s details can slide during a high-stress time, others indicate a bigger problem.

Staying organized is possible — if ADHD symptoms are under control.

Staying organized is possible with ADHD — when it’s well-managed. When something slips out of balance, my previously-airtight systems begin to collapse. ADHD makes it hard to notice it happening before it’s too late. I may not feel different right away, or I may wave off red flags with excuses about sleep or a busy week.

The key, for me, has been to disconnect my emotional reaction from the content of my observation. Put-downs and criticism, directed inward or outward, stop problem-solving before it begins. Rather than figuring out how to fix the problem, our brains fixate on the problem itself, and how big and awful it feels.

When a system malfunctions, I ask why, and figure out what adjustments will fix it. Sort of like a car: what’s going to keep it safe, running smoothly, and doing what I need it to do? I once had a car that sputtered out right after starting unless I gave it a very specific amount of gas. Once it settled into a good idle, it was fine. The next owner couldn’t figure this out and thought the car wouldn’t run at all. I probably could’ve gotten several more years out of it.

Now I apply this approach to my entire life. It’s how I knew my medication changed effectiveness after having a child, and I wasn’t just suffering from so-called “mommy brain.”

When I spot one of those canaries, the early warnings that tip me off before my entire life derails, I don’t make excuses. I recognize them as canaries, not black swans. The earlier I recognize a problem, the better my chance of minimizing the damage and getting back on track.

What are your canaries in the coal mine? Have you discovered any early warning signs of poorly-managed ADHD? What do you do when you spot one?

Guest Post: Women with ADHD — a letter to my younger self

About the author:

S.B.  Castañeda writes about the struggles of #ADHDwomen on her blog, Adulting With ADHD.

Dear Younger Self,

You aren’t feeling very good about life right now. In fact, if I recall correctly, between performance issues at work and losing those music festival tickets, you feel the very, very opposite of good.

Here’s the thing. And I’m not telling you this to let you off the hook (because girl, we need to do something about some of those mistakes you’ve been making), but…you’re not dumb and you’re not losing your mind. You’re living with undiagnosed ADHD.

dear younger self guest post

It slipped under the radar.

You know all that fun anxiety and depression you’re dealing with right now? You’re still going to have it, but once it reaches a manageable level, your doctor will get a clearer picture of what’s really going on. Then you’ll get even more help. And this will be huge.

Remember all those problems in grade school? Nope, you weren’t the loudmouth or class clown. You were a daydreamer, remember? And you had some weird emotional stuff going on.

So here’s the thing: because you were all shy and awkward and would rather die than have attention paid your way, the diagnosis slipped past everybody.

Enter middle and high school. You’ve always been really book-smart and high-functioning. You stayed out of everyone’s way and kept your nose to the ground. Obviously there’s nothing wrong with your learning abilities! Then, away you went — congrats on that college acceptance! At this point, you were aware of ADD and Ritalin, but to you (and nearly everybody else) it was a little boy’s issue. Nothing to concern yourself with.

You were right — something was wrong.

But you know that sneaking feeling you’d get once in a while? It would happen in your quietest moments. It was the feeling that you weren’t meeting your full potential. You managed to graduate college with an average GPA and have an average first career, but you always knew you were above-average. Yet your life was anything but.

And some of the mistakes you’re making are supremely mind-boggling. Remember the moment when all that joking about being senile or having Alzheimer’s stopped being funny? Remember when you actually started wondering what the hell was wrong with you with an unprecedented sense of urgency?

It gets SO much better.

None of this makes sense right now. Even if it did, you wouldn’t believe it. But you’re going to get better. And you’re going to excel in ways you can’t wrap your mind around right now. Just hang in there and keep working on your issues. You’re going to make it to the other side of this, and the view is marvelous.

Hang in there,
Sarah

Unfortunately, every parenting win springs from impulse control.

Parents with AdultADHDAn interaction I had with my three-year-old a couple months ago blew me away. I should’ve been delighted. Instead, I felt deeply sad. And I knew I couldn’t say a thing.

We’d talked about his books before. He had too many to fit on his shelves. One day, he looked at me and said, “Mommy, I want to give Little Critter Snowball Soup away.”

I was flabbergasted. This was one of his favorite stories, one we’d read over and over and over again. He hadn’t asked for it lately, but I was still shocked he’d get rid of it. We talked more. He understood what he was saying: he didn’t enjoy the book anymore and wanted someone else to love it as much as he’d loved it. It needed to become someone else’s favorite.

Then he started pulling more books from the shelf, saying “I only wanted to read this one five times,” and “I don’t enjoy this one anymore.”

Our children mirror us.

As anyone who knows me will attest, my son did only what I taught him to do. I’m an aspiring minimalist, and I believe minimalism has special benefits for people with ADHD. I also believe self-efficacy is the most important gift I can give my child.

My son is generous, thoughtful, and capable of making his own choices. He’s learning to part with material things — even old favorites — that he no longer enjoys.

He needs a mom with impulse control. A mom who knows how to keep her mouth shut and let him do his thing. I haven’t always been that person, but I’m working at it every day.

We don’t start out choosing our reactions.

My core values as a parent, homemaker, and person demand a pretty high level of impulse control. This is something I totally lacked at the beginning of my ADHD journey. Before I started learning about and medicating my ADHD, I didn’t choose my reactions to people and events in life. I didn’t know a choice existed. I thought what happened inside also happened outside — for everyone.

During my first week on stimulant medication, I described in my journal this gap that had opened up between stimulus and response. I felt like I’d discovered a time warp. I gained a few critical seconds (maybe even milliseconds) to notice what I was feeling and attempt to control how I expressed it.

Kids need parents who stay out of the way

Getting out of the way: tough for any parent, tougher for ADHD parents.

Plenty of parenting books warn against emotional reactions when we’re angry. What about when we’re bittersweet, or when we doubt our child’s choices? It broke my heart to part with some of those books. I desperately wanted to intervene, even though intervening would question his judgement (you’re getting rid of that one?) and undermine his generosity (what if I just hold onto these on my bookshelf?).

I didn’t intervene. He wanted to wish the books well on their journey to someone else. I was as proud of myself as I was of him. My ability to keep my mouth shut empowered him to make his own choice and stand behind it. He felt capable of solving a problem on his own, and I got out of his way. I trusted him. He gained confidence in himself.

This would be hard for anyone, but for someone with a clinically diagnosable deficiency in shutting up? Let’s just say, I never thought I’d see the day. I gave myself time to mourn the books, but after my son was asleep. Burdening him with my complicated emotions — at least in this context — wouldn’t benefit him at all.

Be quiet and leave space for others.

Sometimes, keeping quiet and leaving space for others in our relationships is the most supportive, loving thing we can do.

For adults — and especially parents — with ADHD, it’s also the hardest thing. Our emotions overwhelm us, our reptile brains take over, and we often stop to think long after we’ve already spoken.

But the rewards make it worth it to keep trying, and to take good care of myself and my brain. Because I owe it to my kid, who’s already a better person than I am.

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