The ADHD Homestead

Building a good life with ADHD.

Month: November 2015

12 pieces of ADHD gratitude

I don’t believe in that “gifts of ADHD” stuff, but I still try to live a grateful life. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’m starting a list of things I’m thankful for — simple things, funny things, and, by that token, maybe the most important things.

Please share yours in the comments. The world needs our positive energy!

I’m thankful for…

  1. A husband who understands I’m trying my best, even if it doesn’t always look that way.
  2. That kind bookstore employee who stood politely while I spaced out for what may have been minutes. I eventually realized I’d never handed her my credit card.
  3. All the minimalist bloggers out there who remind me that simplicity can breed calm — even for me.
  4. Tuesday night community yoga.
  5. Email reminders from the library. I feel like a much better person when I actually return my books.
  6. GTD.
  7. Books that teach me about my brain.
  8. My FitBit. It doesn’t just count my steps, it vibrates twice daily to remind me to take my meds.
  9. A home and lifestyle just a little smaller and simpler than we can afford. It’s like buying ADHD insurance.
  10. Mini Habits, which taught me to set the bar so low, even I can clear it — and I’d better not be too proud to do this.
  11. Sticky notes (much more grown up than writing all over my arms).
  12. A lovely online community of ADHD friends and advocates. You all are the best!

What are you thankful for today?

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Book review: Taking Charge of Adult ADHD

Taking Charge of Adult ADHD book review

Dr. Russell Barkley’s Taking Charge of Adult ADHD provides a rundown of adult ADHD basics that’s comprehensive, yet easy to read.

That said, I took it at a sluggish pace. It’s informative, conversational, and approachable, but the language often feels overwordy. I’m okay with this because the book’s true value isn’t in a one-time, sequential reading, but in the many times I’ll pull it off the shelf for reference. Taking Charge offers a wealth of facts as well as a handy reference section in the back.

Though Taking Charge is a critical volume in my ADHD library, it’s not the only one. Parents and married couples, especially, may want to investigate books that go deeper into those subjects.

I’ve heard Taking Charge described as an ADHD instruction manual. I agree. An instruction manual tells you how something works and provides basic troubleshooting tips, but you need a qualified professional for complex issues.

This holds true for your brain. Taking Charge won’t give you a step-by-step guide for repairing everything that’s broken in your life, but it will tell you where to start.

My biggest disappointment was the cursory mention — or, in some cases, omission — of alternative treatments and supports. Dr. Barkley is pro-medication, in that he believes medication enables us to create and maintain long-term coping strategies.

My own reading and personal experience back this up 100%.

However, exercise and diet are mentioned only in passing, and I didn’t see mindfulness meditation mentioned at all. It would’ve been nice to see a little more on the brain science behind why these things are so important. Where I felt like Daniel Amen’s Healing ADD went too far, Taking Charge may not go far enough.

Criticisms aside, Taking Charge is a necessary addition to your ADHD library. Dr. Barkley is one of the most respected experts out there, and he’s distilled his vast knowledge into language everyone can understand.

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When you’re not yourself

During an emotional meltdown, part of us really does disappear. My two-year-old gave me a powerful reminder of this while we were staying with friends for the weekend.

R — exhausted from days of fun and social interaction — totally lost it getting ready for nap. We were in full meltdown mode. I just sat in the middle of the room and tried to remain calm as he sobbed, crawled in circles, and screamed incoherent sentences.

The crying eventually subsided. R opened his eyes, looked at me like he was seeing me for the first time, smiled, and said…

“Hi.”

Hi. As though he had just returned from Somewhere Else. In a way, he had.

When your rational brain checks out

It happens to grownups, too. I especially like how Dr. Mark Goulston describes this phenomenon in his book Just Listen.  He refers to our “three-part brain” as:

  • The lower reptilian brain (fight-or-flight),
  • The middle mammal brain (emotions), and
  • The higher primate brain (logic and rational thought)

These parts were added on sequentially as we evolved. For a real-life illustration, spend some time with babies and toddlers. In his classic Happiest Toddler on the BlockDr. Harvey Karp compares toddlers to “primitive little cavemen” living a “superfast rerun of ancient human development.”

As adults, Goulston says, these three parts of our brain can work as a team. However, add a little stress and our old reptile brain takes over.

“If you’re talking to [someone] whose lower brain or midbrain is in control,” explains Goulston, “you’re talking to a cornered snake or, at best, a hysterical rabbit.”

The biggest mistake we make in our ADHD household? Assuming someone is thinking rationally — with our primate brain — when we’re not.

not yourself pull quote

Your reptile brain deserves some space

When I’m feeling like that cornered snake or hysterical rabbit — not sure which is worse — the critical next step is telling myself, you’re not yourself right now. Or, more accurately, I’m the last person I want handling an important decision or conversation.

I’ve learned it’s best to honor where I am at the moment and give myself space to cool down. Naming feelings helps a lot. Try it next time you’re in emotional or fight-or-flight mode: say — aloud or to yourself — I’m feeling really out of control. That comment was really hurtful. Wow, I’m so angry. Listening to my child cry is sending my stress hormones through the roof.

It’s a hard skill to learn, and it requires practice. My brain loves to trick me into justifying extreme emotions or, even worse, sticking it out in an argument despite feeling hysterical.

This is almost always a terrible idea, especially given ADHD’s effects on emotional regulation. Emotional control is often lacking in ADHD adults. “Without well-developed verbal and nonverbal working memory,” explains Dr. Russell Barkley in Taking Charge of Adult ADHD, “you have less capacity for the visual imagery and self-speech that can help you calm your emotions.”

If you’re in a relationship with an ADHD adult, this emotional reactivity may be all too familiar. In Is It You, Me, or Adult ADD?Gina Pera describes “a tendency to become easily frustrated and growl or blow up, but react 10 minutes later with over-the-top excitement to something else.”

This describes me to a T. My rational brain can be a real diva. It’s ready to walk off the stage at any moment, leaving me to yell the exact wrong thing at my husband, boss, or kid. Once I’m entrenched in a conflict, I forget how I even got there.

It’s tough to counter this. The first step is noticing it’s happening. Intense emotions are, most of the time, an indication that I need to back off. It’s not the time to work through an important issue with my husband, make decisions, or provide my opinion on someone else’s behavior. A poor grasp of time makes it tough to defer these things. Right Now can be the only time that feels real.

But defer we must, if we want to maintain healthy relationships. It’s okay to be upset, and it never hurts to ask, “can we talk about this a little later?” It’s not okay to explode at someone, say a lot of really upsetting things to them, and later claim you have no memory of what happened. My life has been a lot of the former and not enough of the latter, but I’m working on it.

How about you? How do you minimize the damage when your rational brain shuts down?

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Identity, eyeglasses, and self-improvement

Last week, I had corrective eye surgery.

When my husband first suggested this surgery years ago, I waved it off. I gave excuses ranging from, “I don’t want someone messing with my eyes” to “what if I was the only person in history who was incapable of keeping my eye still for the procedure?”

Really, it was a threat to my identity. Having exceptionally poor vision is part of who I am. It’s something I share with my dad. It’s a fashion statement. It defines how I see the world around me. It’s something that makes an impression and sets me apart. It’s part of the very fabric of my reality.

The same could be said for ADHD.

This relationship to identity can be terribly difficult for others to understand. My husband, born with 20/10 vision, can’t imagine why I wouldn’t want to be able to see like everyone else. Why I’d fear waking up in the morning and being able to see everything in my bedroom.

For those on the outside, refusal to treat crippling ADHD symptoms can seem like madness.

Despite our impairments from ADHD, treating and managing it can, to some, feel like a threat to our identity. It requires us to shed our skin, to give up membership in some kind of weird club. Many people — myself included — fear starting ADHD medication for the first time because we worry we’ll lose a part of ourselves we actually like.

Just because we have the means to improve our lives doesn’t mean the choice is always easy. Altering a fundamental piece of our identity is scary. Any change is scary. Even though removing a functional impairment should feel like a 100% win, it’s not always.

Because my glasses make everything appear smaller, I have trouble seeing tiny things. I almost always ask my husband to remove splinters for me. I like that. I don’t usually accept much help or care, but it’s nice to be cared for every once in a while.

Maybe some of us cling to the impairments wrought upon us by ADHD, too.

Maybe it’s easier for us to say “I have no social skills” or “I don’t care about stupid paperwork” or “I’m just a terrible friend.” Anything else would force us to admit we’re working hard — and still failing.

Sometimes our ADHD can provide a certain level of security. Others know what to expect from us. We know what to expect from ourselves.

But just because we’ve taught ourselves — or been told by others — this is how we fit into the world doesn’t mean we’re stuck here. Just because change is scary doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. And if we’re disappointed in ourselves today, it’s okay to admit we’re trying.

Honestly, my adjustment to ADHD medication felt a lot more natural than my recovery from this surgery: more like putting on a pair of glasses for the first time. I’m trying to take the long view, though, tough as that may be for someone like me. In both cases, it’s a leap that leads to long-term quality of life improvement.

And if I can give that to myself…why not try?

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