The ADHD Homestead

Building a good life with ADHD.

Month: January 2015

“It’s different for girls:” My ADHD story

report card, second grade

report card, second grade

As I reached out for support, my friends and family struggled to sympathize. After all, I looked smart and successful—from the outside. My friends assured me I was either expecting too much of myself or making excuses for not bringing my behavior in line with that of other adults. My occasional verbal outbursts just meant I had to think before I spoke. Of course my desk got messy sometimes, but didn’t everyone’s? Surely I didn’t think I was the only one who felt overwhelmed from time to time?

Surely not, but my struggles extended beyond what could be considered “average.” I lived in a constant state of frantic anxiety, knowing I had too much to do but unable to bring specific tasks into focus. Bills went unpaid. Close relationships felt insecure and suffered from my irritability and overemotional behavior. Feeling others’ trust and respect was misplaced, I battled persistent guilt and a fear of being “found out.”

Sometimes I shy away from telling my own story here. I want The ADHD Homestead to be about more than that. I want this space to be about helping others, sharing ideas, providing support.

But the truth is — judging by the comments — sharing my experience via this guest post on ADHD Roller Coaster did help a lot of people. Specifically, my words helped women with ADHD, who are far less likely than boys to be diagnosed as children. This lag in diagnoses generates a whole host of mental health issues as we navigate the tricky world of adulthood: anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem, to name a few.

It received a brief mention at the bottom of my 2014 Blog Action Day post, but I’m sharing it again in here because it’s important. It’s important for women with ADHD to see their experience mirrored and validated by someone else. It’s important for parents, spouses, and everyone who loves us to understand the differences between ADHD in girls and boys. It can make all the difference in the world.

To read the full essay quoted above, visit the original post on ADHD Roller Coaster. Then, please share your own experiences in the comments (here or there).

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Don’t break the chain (literally).

In last week’s link roundup, I promised to elaborate on my plans for this article about Jerry Seinfeld’s “don’t break the chain” approach to creative habits.

Well, today I’m diving in. I’m expanding Seinfeld’s idea beyond the realm of writing and creative work and turning the chain into a tangible object, not just crossed-out days on a calendar. I wonder: will bringing my habits and goals into the physical world increase my odds of success?

I have a theory that a big red X on a calendar might not be enough for some ADHD’ers. Personally, the idea of creating a big, long paper chain — one that would outgrow all the places I found to store it — is much more exciting.

Habit challenge: from 30 days to 60

I had great success with a 30-day yoga challenge this summer. A long-distance friend joined me. We texted often to check in and share yoga podcasts and YouTube channels. My daily practice enriched my quality of life dramatically, to say the least, but I still fell away from it once the 30 days were up. If you have ADHD, this probably sounds familiar.

There must be a way for even the most habit-challenged among us to reroute our neural pathways — to make our desired habits stick.

In the interest of making progress toward permanent habits, I want my paper chain to do the yoga challenge one better: I want 60 days unbroken.

Choosing a chain (just one)

Speaking of habits, I have a bad one: leaping headfirst into too many projects at once. Toodledo is my preferred method of self-medication. I’m sure I’m not the only one wondering, do we need to work on just one chain at a time?

Yes. The ability to prioritize is a critical skill, and one worth practicing. Not to mention dividing your focus leaves fewer mental resources for each goal.

Faced with choosing just one habit to strengthen over the next 60 days, I’m going with meditation. Meditation is scientifically proven to strengthen focus, willpower, and executive function. Hopefully, meditating daily will give me across-the-board benefits.

I’ll post updates as I build — and try not to break — my chain.

Does technique sound like it would work for you? Why or why not? Interested in joining me? I’d love to hear about your goals and habits in the comments.

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Link roundup: unbroken chains & ADHD-friendly environments

I haven’t adopted link roundups as a regular feature here, but every once in a while I find myself with too many browser tabs left open to share later. Here’s a selection of this week’s web wanderings:

  • Environmental Strategies for Living with ADHD via InsideADHD.org
    “Environments that are noisy and unorganized (e.g., a playground or shopping mall) can be overly stimulating for people with ADHD. It may be harder than usual to concentrate in places where too much is going on.” Since chaos tends to follow us naturally, this can be easy to forget. Check out these quick tips for creating a more ADHD-friendly environment.

  • Don’t Break the Chain – Jerry Seinfeld’s Method for Creative Success via The Writers Store
    Regardless of whether or not you’re a writer, this is a great article on creating habits. I’m considering trying a more tangible/literal approach with an actual paper chain in my office. More on that later.
  • Are you an unclutterer or a cleaner? via ZenHabits
    “The main difference between being someone who is just clean and someone who is an unclutterer is that unclutterers look for permanent solutions. An unclutterer will invest the elbow grease into organizing her home and office so that she saves time and energy in the future.” This sums up my approach to household maintenance: reduce your resistance to doing chores by making them easier.
  • ADHD and Organization: Clear Clutter from Your Workspace via ADDitude
    Says one ADHD’er of his desk: “It’s an embarrassment, and I know I should do something about it. I just don’t know where to start.” This article follows one couple’s attempt to get a shared desk cleared off and organized, complete with handy tips from a professional organizer.

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Book Review: Difficult Conversations

difficult conversations coverRelationships — social, marital, parental, professional — cause a lot of pain for ADHD adults.

Though it’s only one part of the struggle, most of us could use some serious help in the communication department.

Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Mostby Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen, helps us make sense of tricky interactions. It should be required reading for anyone who hasn’t done mediation or communication training (I have, but still learned a lot).

Difficult Conversations separates readers from our own narrative and reveals the reasons underlying others’ hot-headed — and often baffling — reactions.

This is especially helpful because ADHD’ers tend to communicate in the language of high drama: accusations, assumptions, black-and-white thinking, and runaway emotions. I found the section about personal identities particularly helpful. It’s easy for ADHD adults to fall into defensive or blame-shifting behaviors because owning our failures is so painful. This is critical to remember when discussing tender subjects. Our identities as loving spouses, dedicated parents, or responsible adults can easily feel under attack.

ADHD adults who tend toward the impulsive and over-emotional may find Difficult Conversations particularly instructive. The authors go far beyond the too-common — and generally unhelpful — “think before you speak.” We learn that sharing feelings productively is vital to healthy relationships — and when we do it well, it needn’t be messy or destructive.

Buyer beware, though: this isn’t the only book you’ll ever need to go happily on your way to communication mastery. Difficult Conversations provides a solid foundation to understand what contributes to communication meltdowns. It won’t help you use the skills in real time or, most important, widen the gap between stimulus and response. To be successful, you’ll need to recognize and inhibit knee-jerk reactions before they leave your mouth. You’ll also need to remember your new communication skills in the moment. This is easier said that done.

As a result, I experienced a lot of frustration as I read Difficult Conversations. Every chapter feels like well-articulated common sense, which makes the difficulty of implementation all  the more demoralizing. ADHD adults embarking on this journey will need a partner willing to endure a lot of practice, reflection, and setbacks. I also suspect most of us will need stimulant medication to experience the full potential benefit of Difficult Conversations. Otherwise, the cognitive resources required to apply all this new knowledge in the heat of the moment will be too great.

Do you have a similar book to recommend? I’m always looking for new titles to read and review, so send your suggestions my way in the comments.

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Reduce mail clutter by getting less of it

Mail: the nemesis of so many ADHD’ers. Do you ever wish it would just stop coming?

You know how it feels when the mail gets out of control. We’ve all paid bills late because they got buried, and we all know that’s not even the worst of it.

This hasn’t been overlooked by the authors of countless organizing blogs and books, all of whom have great advice on managing the flow of mail into your house.

Like every organizational system, though, these recommendations are only as good as our ability to implement them. Even if we do a great job for a while, most ADHD’ers eventually slip up.

With that in mind, take a few minutes to make digging out a little easier when you get behind.

Take a few minutes to start getting less mail.

Hopefully you’ve already enrolled in online billing and e-statements for any accounts that support it. Now you’re ready for the fun part: cutting out the junk mail.

Opting out: easier than you think

The Direct Marketing Association lets consumers opt out of all mailings from their member organizations. While this won’t stop all the junk mail from arriving at your door, it’ll make a big dent. The DMA also provides a link to opt out of credit card offers, which account for a lot of our household’s junk mail.

I completed the opt-out process at www.dmachoice.org last month and it took no more than 10-15 minutes, including the credit card portion. When I consider the amount of time I spend sorting, recycling, and shredding junk mail, that seems like a small price to pay. And less mail means less clutter and less opportunity to bury something important.

More quick hacks to reduce your junk mail

Some other tips to reduce the quantity of mail you receive:

  • Whenever you receive something that’s not for you — it’s the wrong name entirely, or a former resident of your address — write not at this address in bold letters on the envelope and stick it back in the mailbox. The mail will be returned to the sender, who will remove the incorrect address from their database.
  • If a junk mail sender includes a self-addressed, prepaid envelope in their materials, use that to drop a little handwritten note in there that says, “please remove me from all mailing lists.” Make sure to write your name and address as it appears on the envelope they sent to you — or you can stick a return address label to your note.
  • If you’re frustrated by the volume of mail you receive from one sender — for me, this was the AARP — do a quick Google search for ‘[name of organization] remove from mailing list’. In my case, this turned up a ‘contact us’ form on the AARP’s website, which I used to request that our address be removed from their database. It only took a few minutes, and the customer service representative who replied to my message actually clued me in to the Direct Marketing Association’s website.

Despite the repeated claims that snail mail is becoming a thing of the past, most of us still receive an overwhelming amount of it. Hopefully you’ve learned something new today that will help reduce the amount of clutter the mail carrier brings to your door.

Did I miss any good tips? How have you managed to limit the mail you receive every day?

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What’s standing between you and your goals?

I haven’t accomplished anything I wanted to do before I turned 30.

I’m accumulating things to do every day, but I don’t have time to do any of them.

Have you battled thoughts like these before? You’re not alone. In our quest to do all the things, we ADHD’ers risk ending our days, weeks, months, and years feeling like we’ve done none of the things.

At least, none of the things that matter most.

If you’ve read my previous posts, you know I love decluttering my home. Purging unneeded items has begun to feel liberating, as though every surface I clear allows me to breathe a little deeper.

But what about the other side of decluttering — the intangible side?

Cluttered time, scattered focus.

We don’t just clutter our lives with stuff. We overspend our time and attention every day. By the time we finish saying yes to another volunteer commitment, watching our favorite TV show, scrolling through our Facebook news feed, and reading our way down a Wikipedia rabbit hole, we’re on empty. It’s probably long past bedtime. Worst of all, we’re no closer to reaching our big goals.

Of course, getting organized with goal-setting and time management is a must. But just like there’s no use sorting your closet into labeled bins if it’s full of junk you don’t use, you can’t organize your time if you’re spending it willy-nilly.

Filling your hours and your days with whatever comes along, sounds like fun, or seems like a good idea at the time is exhausting. Your brain literally cannot attend to it all while maintaining a grip on your true priorities.

Unfortunately, the only way to increase your attention to what’s most important is to cut back somewhere else: weed out as much external distraction as possible. This holds true for nearly everyone in our chronically overcommitted society, but none more so than ADHD adults. Since we begin with a smaller pool of focus and willpower, we must spend it wisely.

This year, I’m examining how I spend my time and asking some tough questions: Is this worth the raw quantity of time I’m spending on it? If I used that time to work on my stack of unfinished fiction writing, what could I accomplish? 

Some of those choices will hurt.

Some of our family’s so-called sacrifices have been effortless. We cancelled our cable television subscription several years ago and haven’t regretted it for a minute. Our trio of streaming services allows us to watch our favorite shows intentionally, not by channel surfing or turning on the TV for background noise.

Others have stung a little more. When I began working on this blog two months before its launch, I quit World of Warcraft. I left behind an entire social group, a guild full of nerdy LGBT adults. I still think about my friends there and wish I had access to our guild chat, but the blog isn’t where I want it to be. Until it’s on cruise control, I can’t afford another time commitment.

This month, I deactivated my Facebook account. It’s supposed to be temporary, but I’d love to work out the logistics of leaving the site permanently. Quitting for good will require some bigger sacrifices, though. I’ll have to weigh those sacrifices against the cost to my creativity and personal goals.

Letting go of anything can be painful, but especially so if it’s a favorite downtime activity, a long-standing volunteer or social commitment, or a video game addiction. But don’t shy away just because it’s uncomfortable. Try your best to be objective. Honor your own values and ambitions, not the impulse of the moment or fear of how others might react.

Of course, this is easier said than done. If you’ve been down this road before, what tips can you share? What helped you choose which demands on your time to eliminate? When have you fallen off the wagon?

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Returning home from a trip: There’s ideal, and then there’s…

When I read this post on Unclutterer titled “An Organized Ending to Your Trip,” I definitely nodded along.

I’ve tried leaving a half-unpacked suitcase on the floor for several weeks after returning home from a trip, and it doesn’t feel great. It’s tough, but I force myself to unpack right away every time. Letting it go until tomorrow too often means letting it go until next week around here.

vacation photo

Well, our holiday travels didn’t go that way this year. Our toddler was the only healthy one in the house last week. Christmas may have been 10 days ago, but there’s still a suitcase in the hallway.

It happens.

As much as I swear by consistency, habits, and routines for ADHD’ers, circumstances will intervene.

So how do we get back on track?

Prioritize first.

Did you know the very act of prioritizing saps our mental energy? For ADHD adults, that may sound like we’ve lost before we’ve even begun.

Not necessarily. We just need to remember to prioritize, well, prioritizing.

Deciding what to eat for dinner, checking your email, and making sure your kid has everything he needs for school tomorrow all require energy. Brainpower doesn’t come free. If you do to these things before thinking through your priorities for the day, you may be left with too little attention.

Of course, I’m not telling you those other tasks don’t also need to get done. They do. But nothing is as important as that moment you take to pause and ask yourself, “what’s most important for me to do today?”

When you come home from a trip, you have a long list of things to do: laundry, opening the mail, unpacking, watering the plants, turning off your out-of-office message. Tie up those loose ends and you’ll save yourself a lot of chaos.

Prioritize first. Don’t shortchange the importance of wrapping up your trip completely. When you feel yourself getting distracted with another project, gently guide yourself back to your intended focus.

Oh, and if you’d like some tips on ending your trip in an organized fashion, check out the original post on Unclutterer.

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Ring in the new year with a photo scanning party

A gem from my own scanned slides

A gem from my own scanned slides.

Amazon gift cards burning a hole in your pocket? Looking for a way to organize and declutter your life for 2015?

Take one small step — and spend some quality time with a few friends — by buying a photo scanner and pulling together a photo scanning party to digitize your old photographs. As I consider my own oversized bin of photos and letters, which is currently languishing in the basement, this idea from The Minimalists blog feels especially apt for ADHD’ers.

Why? Because we tend to hold onto sentimental items, we struggle to keep our collection of stuff organized, and we often need moral support to get through a daunting task. Planning a party sounds fun, right? Certainly more fun than sitting alone and tackling a to-do item called “digitize old photos.”

Turning organizing time into social time will help your projects feel less overwhelming, with the added benefit of a few objective third parties to keep you focused on your goal.

If you have old photos hiding in boxes or piles, check out the original photo party post on The MinimalistsThis is a great way to ensure your photos stay safe, organized, and — perhaps most important — easy to access and appreciate.

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