The ADHD Homestead

Building a good life with ADHD.

Month: February 2015

Don’t know what to do next? Try AmeriCorps.

Okay, ADHD people, think back to a time when you felt lost and unsure what to do next. While everyone else was following a logical path through life’s milestones — college, employment, thesis defense, marriage, kids, home ownership — you felt like nothing fit.

Maybe you’re there right now.


photo source:

I was there just before I completed my bachelor’s degree. Despite having spent four years studying fine arts, I knew I couldn’t make it in the art world. Successful artists are focused and driven, willing to toil thanklessly for years before anyone notices them. They stick with one medium until they master it. They’re adept networkers who remember to carry their portfolio and business cards, and they leverage social connections into opportunities to show and sell their work.

Not ideal for someone with ADHD.

And yet, I didn’t want to go chasing a paycheck at some “boring office job,” either.

Fortunately, someone told me about AmeriCorps.

I’m in the middle of reading Dr. Wes Crenshaw‘s I Always Want to Be Where I’m Not (review forthcoming), and I was delighted to see him recommend AmeriCorps to young ADHD’ers who need a break before moving on to college or career.

Every year, AmeriCorps places thousands of volunteers into full-time service with non-profits, public agencies, schools, and other change-making organizations.

But don’t be fooled: this is no standard volunteer gig. My program, AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), provided a modest living allowance in exchange for a one-year, full-time commitment. I had to apply and interview for my position just like any job. Once I was “hired,” I joined the staff of a respected non-profit organization.

During my year of service, I immersed myself in work that was inspiring, challenging, exciting, and often overwhelming. VISTA work happens on the front lines, building capacity in communities that need it most. We weren’t permitted to spend any significant time on administrative, busy-work tasks, so I poured my energy into actually doing.

As I cut my teeth in the non-profit world, I learned what kind of work I enjoyed and what I couldn’t stand. I thought about different career paths and carefully weighed the pros and cons of going back to school.

I did all of this in an engaging environment with no long-term commitment. While I ended up taking a full-time job with my host organization, my fellow VISTA members dispersed all over the country (and world) after our service ended. Some enrolled in graduate school, some used the connections they’d made during their service year to get jobs in town, some applied for Fulbright scholarships, and one even started a successful business selling snacks.

As Dr. Crenshaw points out in his book, ADHD teens and young adults often mature a few years behind their peers. This makes them more likely to benefit from taking time off after high school or college.

acw2008_posterFinding a time-bound, altruistic, and productive way to spend that time off can remove social stigma from these breaks and prepare you for your next step. Not only that, serving a program with a lofty mission like “eradicating poverty in the United States” will help you feel good about your choices, even if they take you off the beaten track.

Every year, more than 75,000 people serve in AmeriCorps programs. If you’re not sure where to go next, try searching for some of your interests on the AmeriCorps website. A great opportunity could be waiting for you!


The power of split-second mindfulness

While writing my cool ADHD mom post last week, I found several pages of tips for us ADHD parents.

However, as I opened tab after tab in my browser, I noticed a gaping hole. Enough with the cleaning and organizing tips. What about those larger-than-life emotions?

Some people go so far as to claim ADHD helps us create a loving, nurturing, exciting home life for our children. No parent needs ADHD to do that. I worry about subjecting my kid to the less romantic side of my ADHD: inconsistency, unpredictability, impatience, and a tendency to lose my temper.

And let’s be honest: nobody knows how to push our buttons like our kids, even if they don’t mean to (most of the time). Even the most put-together, mild-mannered parents will confess to all kinds of temper tantrums in their moments of weakness.

Often we feel our self-control slipping moments before a meltdown, yet we feel powerless to stop it.

I won’t claim to be an expert, but I’ve had my share of emotional outbursts. Reigning them in has been a pet project since I started the sixth grade.

Today I want to share one quick, tiny, simple trick to help get yourself under control.

It’s called mindfulness.

I’ve mentioned mindfulness meditation as a critical brain-training practice before, but don’t assume the benefits start and end with a a five-minute-a-day habit. Even if you never sit down to meditate, you can stop emotional outbursts in their tracks with mindfulness.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Pause. Use your five senses to identify one thing in the room to focus on. Examples: your computer’s fan sound, the feel of a cool glass of water in your hand, a nice whiff from a jar of coffee beans. I’m most sensitive to sound, so I find something to listen to.
  2. Focus on that sensory input for 15 seconds, or as long as you can manage depending on the crisis. I like to close my eyes.
  3. If you notice your mind wandering to anything else — how angry you are at your kid for using permanent marker on the wall, the laundry you forgot to put in the dryer, a funny text you received from a friend, etc. — don’t give up and don’t judge yourself. Just return your full attention to that sound, smell, or sensation. Try your best to keep your mind empty.
  4. Open your eyes. Lower your voice. Try to deal.

That’s it. Try it now, while you have a moment and the stakes are low. What do you notice? Does it feel a bit like you’re in the eye of a hurricane?

Sometimes, that’s exactly what we need.

Shifting from your brain’s narrative circuitry to a state of mindfulness — a heightened awareness of sensory input from the outside world — forces your brain to change gears. Different brain regions become active and your prefrontal cortex takes a rest. You become more aware of your own inner state, which in turn gives you more control over your thoughts and actions. If you want to learn more about this without getting bogged down in too much science talk, check out David Rock’s Your Brain at Work.

Don’t forget to practice mindfulness with your kids, too! While sitting with my son during a recent emotional meltdown — being two isn’t easy, you know — I started talking to him about the sounds in the room. I took advantage of a short break in his tears to ask him, “can you hear the clock ticking? Tock, tock, tock, tock…” He met my eye and whimpered, “yeah.” I brought his attention to the wind who-whooo-ing outside his window. We sat together in lovely silence, just listening.

Quelling tantrums helps you in the moment, but teaching your kids to be mindful gives them tools to observe and regulate their own emotions later in life.

Next time you feel your self-control checking out, try a few seconds of mindfulness to step away from your mental noise. Then, share your experience in the comments so we can learn from one another.


ADHD & rocking the parenting thing…or not


While ADHD might lead to me forgetting my diaper bag, ADHD helps me rock this parenting thing.

— Elizabeth Broadbent,

I stumbled across this post recently on ADDitude‘s Be Our Guest blog. I can’t relate.

I’ve heard it many ways: “let it go,” “say yes to the mess,” “just be you.” It’s tempting to  embrace that mentality. There’s even a little moral high ground, isn’t there? I’ve heard plenty of moms take pride in letting go of housework, keeping a messy home, enjoying more quality time with their children.

I receive all of this with envy and befuddlement. I’m an ADHD mom, too, but we’re not all the same.

And that’s okay.

Even if you’re the kind of ADHD mom who expends a Herculean effort to maintain your tenuous grasp on order, structure, and cleanliness, you can still be cool. You might not be the cool mom, but here are a few reasons to pat yourself on the back anyway.

Your family vacations are the best.

No dry museums here. You plan family trips that sound like fun to you — and your kids. You’re never too old to hike to the top of a mountain, take snowboarding lessons, or go rock climbing.

Sure, you’re easily overwhelmed by the logistics of a big vacation. You obsess over packing lists and driving routes. You explode at anyone who creates an unwanted distraction. But those checklists you use to compensate for your brain’s foibles really come in handy — even if no one else wants to admit it.

You’re young at heart.

You’ll still roll around in fresh snow with youthful joy, even though you’re a grown-up and you have to shovel it, too. You  swim in the ocean even if it’s cold, build epic train tracks and Lego structures, and occasionally let your kids have a turn with their own toys. Maybe you’re just playing with the train set because you’re avoiding the laundry, but the little ones don’t know (or care) about that.

You pick kid-friendly activities and reject unrealistic expectations.

Some parents force their kids to endure activities that aren’t fun or developmentally appropriate. Maybe they think attention span is learned (it is, but to a point), or maybe they’ve lost touch with what it’s like to be a kid.

ADHD parents have a built-in BS detector: if it’s not fun and engaging for you, you know just how your kid feels. You’ll probably find something better — where you’ll both be able to behave yourselves — rather than try to stick it out.

You empathize with all-or-nothing emotions.

A toddler’s world is intense. They live moment-to-moment and can’t see past their present emotional state. A minor setback can send their mood into a tailspin, and they fly off the handle at the most unexpected times.

Sound familiar? More than the average parent, you know just how exhausting this fast-cycling emotional landscape can be.

You understand kids’ need for order and routine.

Some ADHD adults roll with the punches if their routine gets screwed up. I say, good for them. The rest of us can empathize with our kids, who thrive on predictability and can turn into cranky jerks when something throws their routine out of alignment.

You look for help.

Parenting is hard, especially when you struggle mightily with organization, impulse control, and communication.

If you’ve sought help or treatment for your ADHD in the past, you’re well-accustomed to asking the experts for advice — whether it’s a book or a professional coach. Chances are, parenting isn’t the first time  your life has felt upended, nor is it the first time you find yourself asking someone wiser for help. Far from a sign of weakness, this is the first step to being the best parent you can be.

 You’re trying to be your best self for your kids.

As a more anxious-leaning ADHD parent, you worry about the person your kids see in you every day. You fear they’ll remember you as overwhelmed, unpredictable, unreliable, short-tempered, impatient, or irresponsible.

Parenting may push you to seek professional support to manage your own ADHD symptoms. You might decide to have only one child. No matter what, you’re trying to find a balance and limit ADHD’s negative effects on your family.

You’re doing your best, and that’s what matters.

Whether you’ve said yes to the mess, as they say, or you work extra hard because you know an uncluttered home improves your mood and patience with your kids, don’t neglect your own needs. Often this means taking the more difficult route. You may not feel like the world’s greatest parent, but as long as your kids see you continuously striving to be the best you can be, you’ll be just fine.


Link roundup: Bullet Journal, brain training, winter reading

  1. Bullet Journal
    Art Director/Interaction Designer Ryder Carroll’s masterpiece of a life management system. No purchase necessary, just grab your trusty notebook, watch the intro video, and prepare to be inspired. Bonus points for a gorgeous website.

  2. ADHD is Different for Women via The Atlantic
    Though I don’t agree with everything in this essay — read my response here — it provides some valuable insights from a recent college graduate with ADHD.
  3. Gina Pera’s reading list for partners of ADHD adults
    I was searching for my next audiobook last week and Gina was kind enough to share this list with me. My own growing collection of book reviews provides a resource for ADHD adults themselves, but it’s still a work in progress. Don’t let the name fool you — Gina lists plenty of great reads for us, too.
  4. Spoiler: I’m a Mom with ADHD via The Homemaking Scientist
    I’m always looking for other bloggers talking about adult ADHD, and I was pleased to stumble upon Jackie’s story. Kudos to her for sharing! We need more voices like hers.
  5. brainHQ
    You’ve probably heard of Lumosity, thanks to a killer marketing campaign, but they aren’t the only brain training game in town. I learned about brainHQ from my husband, who decided to give it a whirl this week after reading The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories Of Personal Triumph From The Frontiers Of Brain SciencebrainHQ’s exercise programs aren’t just based on brain science, either: they boast over 70 published papers proving their benefits.

Have a link to share for next time? Leave it in the comments!


Book Review: Your Brain at Work

Your Brain at Work cover imageWant to learn more about your brain’s natural limitations — and how to work around them?

David Rock‘s Your Brain at Work is the book for you.

While our household loves what I call “recreational neuroscience reading,”  the genius of Rock’s book is its accessibility: no nerd cred required. He makes learning about the brain feel both exciting and practical through fun, easy-to-parse language. While ADHD is not mentioned specifically, ADHD’ers will receive game-changing insights into why we behave like we do.

Your Brain at Work employs a theatre metaphor to explain the core concepts. Each chapter opens with a new scene featuring a fictional couple, Emily and Paul, as they navigate various professional and personal challenges. Take One shows Emily and Paul faltering and escalating interpersonal situations to the point of near disaster. Rock walks us through the hows and whys of these failures using theatre language — actors, stage, lights, director — to turn neuroscience into a subject anyone can readily understand. Take Two applies what we’ve learned, portraying Emily and Paul putting their brains to work for a confidence-boosting personal victory.

Despite not mentioning ADHD, Rock seems to have written Your Brain at Work with us in mind. Not only does the theatre metaphor make the subject matter fun and easy to digest, the book is exceptionally well-organized. Rock opens by outlining what we can expect to learn, making it easier to direct our focus. We enter each chapter with a clear idea of what it’ll be about and wrap it up with a nice conclusion at the end.

Your Brain at Work is a critically important read for ADHD adults. The more we know about the human brain’s limitations — and Rock hits on many ADHD sore spots — the easier it is to work around them.

My husband read Your Brain at Work, too, and it gave us new language to navigate challenging conversations. Of the theatre metaphor, he told me, “I hope you’ll use it to tell me when you notice things — like if I have too many actors on my stage.” After attempting (unsuccessfully) to win me over in a disagreement, he later said, “I should never have tried to sell you on that. As soon as I started talking about it, I could tell you were in an away state.”

Don’t know what we’re talking about? You will, and even if it only provides hindsight after an argument, that’s progress.

Rock shows us again and again that with enough brain savvy, we can salvage interactions even after they’ve crashed and burned. Most chapters’ Take One scenes jump off from the previous Take One — not the rosier Take Two. We see Emily and Paul reflecting on what went wrong, then summoning the wherewithal to do better in the next round.

Perhaps most valuable of all, Your Brain at Work introduces pragmatism to highly charged interactions. This helps us puzzle out why we drive others (and ourselves) crazy, and vice versa. We can use this knowledge to communicate reasonably and calmly.

Rock’s techniques and suggestions are a gold mine on their own, but we can read between the lines to understand why others do what they do — and why their behavior affects us like it does.

While the fussiness of the prefrontal cortex, among other things, can make Your Brain at Work feel like a depressing reminder of our deficiencies, it also empowers us to make the most of the resources we have. As we travel through the day with Emily and Paul, we learn to spot tipping points moment by moment. It’ll never feel easy, but Rock gives us hope that a few small changes and a little more knowledge will make it much less hard.


Employee Assistance Programs: an ADHD adult’s lifeline

Happy Monday, everyone! Today I’m going tell you how I fast-tracked my own ADHD diagnosis and treatment — and how you can, too. If you’re struggling, you don’t need to navigate the mental health care maze alone. There’s a free, simple program out there to help, and it may be just a phone call away.

overwhelmed photo

Photo by geralt on Flickr

Does your company have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)? Maybe you’ve seen a poster behind the coffee maker or gotten a cheesy-looking brochure with your new hire materials. Employers offer EAPs to help workers sort through all kinds of personal issues: everything from career planning to marital struggles to smoking cessation to serious mental illness.

The process is simple: call the 800 number, talk to someone, and schedule an appointment to visit their office if you need to. Most EAPs are contracted out to a third party, not managed directly by your employer, and maintain strict confidentiality about who uses the service.

As a former human resources professional, I know it’s easy write off a service like this. Even I believed it was something for other people — until my ADHD became too much to bear. Then I picked up the phone.

If you’re struggling right now and you have access to an EAP, call them. You owe it to yourself.

5 reasons to call your EAP

  1. You might have an EAP even if you’re unemployed.
    Really and truly. EAPs generally cover everyone in the employee’s household. That means even if your employment situation doesn’t afford you an EAP, you may still have access through your spouse, roommate, etc.
  2. It cuts out the extra steps.
    Forget the red tape, multiple calls and appointments, and HMO referrals. Forget combing through a list of therapists and trying to pick one. Your EAP is a one-stop shop for every problem in the book. While they’ll have to refer you back to an independent specialist eventually, you get several sit-down visits with a professional before that happens.
  3. You get professional help without spending a penny.
    Specialist copays are no joke. If yours are on the high side, don’t let money get in the way of the support you need. EAP visits are free, and they can accomplish a lot. After I met with an EAP counselor, they referred me back to my primary care doctor for a more consultation and a prescription for stimulant medication (the EAP can’t prescribe — just give advice). I may not have invested thousands (or even hundreds) of dollars in therapy, but I still changed the course of my life.
  4. You won’t have to wait.
    Have you ever called a doctor’s office in a panic and found out you can’t get an appointment for weeks? If you’ve gotten a recommendation for the best ADHD coach in town, don’t consign yourself to suffering every day until your first meeting. The EAP can provide stop-gap support the very next day.
  5. Did I mention the bill is already paid?
    If your employer offers an EAP, they’re already paying a monthly fee for every employee. You’re not putting anyone out or costing anyone money, and no one at your office is even going to know you called — not even your HR person.

What are you waiting for?

When I finally sought help for my ADHD, I was at an all-time low. Getting that help felt like a task execution challenge I couldn’t face. If you’re struggling just to get within sight of the starting line, EAPs are a lifesaver.

Of course, you’ll want to prepare as much as possible before meeting with any mental health professional, even one at your EAP. Take a few minutes to gather your thoughts before your appointment. Write down a few notes. Make an inventory of the ways you feel your ADHD affects your quality of life right now, personally and professionally, and think about struggles you’ve had in the past. Be prepared to talk honestly and openly about what your life is like and how you’re feeling.

Most of all, give yourself a little praise. You’re taking advantage of a program that’s there to help you thrive and succeed.

Do you have experience with an Employee Assistance Program? Please share your thoughts and advice in the comments so others can benefit!


From the archives: Entering the Matrix

This post originally appeared on Mix Tapes & Scribbles on December 5, 2010. I’ve edited for length and clarity here, but tried to remain true to the tone and content. While it feels like a lifetime ago — the “lost room” is now my two-year-old’s bedroom, and I wrote this piece when my brain was just barely full-grown — I like the snapshot it provides of a young professional’s early experiences with stimulant medication.

December 5, 2010

Several months ago, I rearranged our two spare bedrooms to create a  bright, orderly, inviting home office. I’m typing there now, sipping coffee and soaking in the winter morning sunlight.

This was a great move, except for one catch: when I created my office, I left another room behind. A room where we discarded everything — furniture, boxes, any detritus you could imagine — we didn’t feel like putting away.

Every time I entered this room to clean it up, my thoughts scattered in every direction. The overwhelm paralyzed my brain. Without touching a thing, I’d shut the door.

It got so bad, I literally pretended this room did not exist in my house for four months.

Perhaps this was the final collapse that pushed me to seek help.

Yesterday morning I stood in the living room with a pill in my hand, feeling a little like Neo in the Matrix, teetering between two worlds. I tried to remember what I’d told my rational self: if I had a chemical imbalance anywhere else in my body, I’d have no moral objection to medicating it.

More to the point, I was at loose ends, both personally and professionally. I hadn’t gotten into the nitty-gritty of what my life was like with anyone — not even my closest friends. Honestly, it was too painful to discuss.

I’d accepted long ago that I was just going to have to work harder — much, much harder — than my peers to achieve the same levels of success. However, getting by on stubbornness and work ethic alone was feeling less and less sustainable. Outside academia, where I’d benefited from ample structure, competition, and social pressure, I’d lost my footing. My status quo had become anxiety and panic mixed with persistent lethargy. It’s one of the most uncomfortable feelings I can imagine.

So, with considerable trepidation, I took the pill: Ritalin.

Internally, everything went quiet. The curtain call finally came for that frantic need to do 10 things at once — and with it, the head-spinning overwhelm that had chased me away from that lost room in the first place.

This time, when I opened the door, I felt okay. I understood that some things needed to be thrown away, some put away, and others given away. Painfully simple. Obvious. Yet previously out of reach. After a couple hours I’d sorted everything into bags for each destination.

Later, my husband came in to help untangle a huge ball of yarn. As I watched him work, I realized I’d usually be feeling like I was about to climb up the walls. I would’ve gotten impatient, yelled at him for taking too long, tried to rush the process by grabbing at the yarn, and eventually frustrated him enough that he’d walk out, leaving me to work alone.

By 2:00, I was ready for a trip to Target to reward my hard work. I’d found more than enough stray cash during my cleanup to buy a new area rug and a few picture frames for the room.

Unfortunately, I don’t have ‘before’ photos, but if you’ve seen Clean House, you get the idea. By dinnertime yesterday, the room looked like this:



A small miracle. Hope where I’d all but given up.

Sometimes people refuse to believe I have ADHD. I try not to blame them. I can thank my intense fear of failure, humiliation, and disappointing others for my deceivingly put-together exterior.

But I’m always hiding something. Here’s the thing about ADHD: no matter how successful I am where it really counts, I still don’t feel like a successful person. I still feel like there’s something wrong with me. I harbor a deep fear that I may never achieve my dreams or reach my full potential. It’s impossible to relax because there’s always something looming at the edge of my mind.

The act of actually finishing a project gave me a huge self-confidence boost. While there’s no magic cure to make everything easy, stimulant medication feels like a necessary tool right now. Here’s hoping it’ll help me develop the skills to clean up the less tangible messes, too.


Saying goodbye to Facebook

On January 1, I said goodbye to Facebook, ostensibly for a month-long hiatus.

I won’t be back anytime soon.

Go ahead — try it with me. The thought may make you uncomfortable, but a social media break may do more for you — and your brain — than you think.

Facebook signal noise

Unplugging…and missing out

First of all, let me be clear: quitting Facebook wasn’t easy. Our family and friends make a constellation over the entire globe. For some, the internet is the only way we remain connected. While I’ll fill in the gaping holes with more direct and/or less cluttered services like Google Hangouts, Google+, Twitter, Instagram, and personal blogs, I will lose touch with people as a result of leaving Facebook. This is something I’ve had to accept.

I also worried about my platform as a writer. Could I continue to build an online presence sans Facebook? I searched for a few bloggers and authors I respect and found that not all have built their success via social media. In fact, Leo Babuta even wrote a detailed post on zen habits about leaving Facebook. The costs don’t always outweigh the benefits.

Surprising side effects

Quitting Facebook didn’t just give me more time. I’ve had more creative energy. Surprisingly, I’ve actually spent more time thinking about my friends than when their names populated my news feed.

During my first weeks without Facebook, I often caught myself viewing life through social media’s lens: encapsulating my experience into status updates, even when I was nowhere near a computer. That habit has gradually fallen away, freeing up mental real estate for meaningful, intentional writing and reflection.

I feel less distracted on a daily basis, and I’ve resumed work on a major fiction project after taking more than a year off.

Perhaps most important, I have a better handle on my social relationships. I find if we’re “friends” with someone on Facebook, it’s easy to absolve ourselves of any other responsibility for that relationship. I’d stopped connecting one-on-one with too many good friends — even those who rarely use Facebook.

Try this at home: my advice

I’m not telling you to delete your Facebook account tonight. However, there’s a lot to be learned from disconnecting, even temporarily. Consider taking a time out and observing the effect on your productivity, creativity, free time, and distraction level. Some tips to keep in mind:

  • Check your calendar first.
    If you’re part of an upcoming event that’s being organized via Facebook, take your break afterward.
  • Don’t make it too short.
    It took a few weeks for Facebook to work its way out of my daily thought processes. Take the time to break the habit. Returning to your old ways will feel less appealing.
  • Transfer responsibility.
    If you manage or co-manage a group or page, make a plan for maintaining it in your absence.
  • Use an app.
    If you can’t disconnect completely, only check Facebook at certain times of day or set a timer to limit your use. Avoid taxing your self-control by using an app like the Productivity Owl, which regulates internet use based on your rules.
  • Contain it.
    If you don’t cut Facebook out completely, make your usage more intentional. Try removing the app from your smart phone so you can only check in when you’re sitting at a computer.
  • Facebook might not be the problem.
    What corner of the internet is hijacking your brain, even when you’re offline? Take a break from it to gain perspective.

Whatever you do, I wish you luck on your quest to reduce distractions, improve social relationships, and get more done. Feel free to share your stories and suggestions in the comments!


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