The ADHD Homestead

Building a good life with ADHD.

Month: March 2016

Bad ADHD memes, & my real reason for taking stimulants

Memes. They strain my personal ‘no trolling’ policy.

Maybe you’ve seen memes like this, too. I feel like they’re everywhere.

Bad ADHD memesAt best, they’re ignorant and insulting. If you see one, please — don’t share it, don’t like it, and if it makes you feel crappy about your own life experience, feel free to tell the original poster.

We need more balanced perspectives out there. To that end, I started thinking: what’s the real reason people take stimulant medication for ADHD? The real reason parents give their kids ADHD meds? Actual people and actual parents, not the generalized “they” targeted by memes.

I take stimulant medication every day of my life: when I’m working, when I’m on vacation, when I’m sick, when I’m going for a hike.  I do it to stay safe, calm, and content.

Scandalously boring, right?

Meds don’t make us zombies

Some people think stimulants are part of a conspiracy to turn our children into obedient, conformist zombies.

I know some people have a bad first experience, especially if the dosage is too high. With Ritalin, this can lead to a zonked-out feeling.

It can take a while to find the right medication and dosage. When it’s right, you don’t feel like you’re ‘on’ anything. Many people don’t invest this time and assume their first experience is a representative one.

But obedient zombie sounds a bit lofty, don’t you think?

Clearly these folks are in a different place. I’m not yet able to worry about being obedient, conformist, or zombie-like.

I’m just trying to be safe, calm, and content, like everyone else in the world. I take meds so I can drive a car without killing myself or anyone else; pay my bills; keep writing; be creative; curb my temper; connect with a small handful of friends; remain in a healthy marriage; and avoid living in a constant state of chaos, stress, anxiety, and despair.

When I have all that under control, I’ll look into the obedient zombie thing.

Meds let me do what I want to do

Stimulant medication helps me get where I want to go in life. I’m happy when I’m creating. I’m happy when I’m working hard. I’d be working hard with or without medication, but not necessarily in the right (or any) direction.

When I’m unmedicated, I’m not doing what I want to do. I don’t pay bills or write stories or sing while playing the guitar. My most valuable projects stagnate, clutter accumulates, and I’m not a very good friend. I get angry often and always seem to be in a crabby mood.

Meds don’t give me a competitive edge or allow me to stay up all night writing the next great novel. They help me reconcile my inner and outer selves, bringing me closer to the person I know I can be. And maybe, after several years of slow and steady effort, I’ll actually finish that novel.

Having ADHD often means struggling with the things we want to do. It might mean struggling so much across the board, we can’t figure out what we want to do, let alone how to do it.

I’ve been there. It’s awful, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I wasn’t calm or content, and because I was young, I probably wasn’t particularly safe, either.

What I really wish I’d medicated (not childhood)

Looking back, I don’t wish I’d medicated away my adventurous, tomboyish childhood. I hope we all know childhood isn’t a disease. I never would’ve wanted a dose of meds that stopped me from climbing trees, running around at recess, playing paintball in the woods with my friends, and catapulting myself from the swingset (even at age 17).

But I wish I’d learned how to keep myself safe, calm, and content at a younger age. I wish I’d had more than one friend in elementary school. I wish I’d been able to stay out of trouble and stop getting my parents called in for disciplinary meetings. I wish I hadn’t damaged my hearing by fighting through mosh pits to stand right against the speakers at every concert. I wish I’d had the sense not to drive too fast. I wish I’d felt in control of my brain and my behavior, instead of feeling constantly at war with myself.

I was experiencing something more than the general anguish of youth. I wish I would’ve known that. I’ve worked hard to craft a satisfying life for myself. Sometimes I wonder, what if I’d started that process sooner? What if I’d had a full toolbox?

Every time I see a meme claiming ADHD is just a result of bad parenting, a broken education system, Barack Obama, and greedy pharmaceutical companies, I think: how ignorant. The system is imperfect, but some people are really suffering. And who are these meme-spreaders to delegitimize our experience? Who are they to tell us we don’t deserve a chance, even if it comes from a prescription drug?

How about you? How do you respond to memes that tempt you toward online conflict?


Decluttering, ADHD, & the hidden cost of selling unwanted stuff

When I declutter, I’m always tempted to sell unwanted stuff. The prospect of a few bucks in my pocket clouds my judgement. Sometimes I forget my goal: to simplify my life. To lower my stress and anxiety.

Money is great, but be careful about selling too much. Sometimes it costs more than the stuff is worth. The trick is to know when to sell and when to give away — and when your ADHD might tip the scales.

selling stuff ADHD

Closing the sale: ADHD hyperfocus strikes again

Last month, I wrote about decluttering our video games, and how I hoped to make money in the process. Even though our Guitar Hero equipment was outdated, I thought I could get $60 for it. I listed it on several local websites, finally getting a few bites on Craigslist.

It had been sitting in our storage room for a few years. The buyer wanted to test everything before giving me cash. He asked if I might bring the equipment to him — an hour away.

I almost said yes. Then I stopped mid-text message and reminded myself: my time is valuable. I’ve already spent time texting with this guy and writing for-sale posts.

It’s easy to hyperfocus on pieces of the decluttering process, especially when we think we can make an extra buck. My brain zeroed in on one goal — selling this stuff and getting the task out of my stack — and blocked out everything else. I almost forgot to stop and look at the big picture.

The big picture, as in: I was considering spending two hours in the car to sell game controllers for $60. In many ways, my time is priceless. If I’m putting a number on writing alone, an hour is worth $70-$150. The math doesn’t add up.

When to sell & when to donate or give away?

Of course, how much you need the money will tip these scales. We all value a dollar (or 10) differently at various points in our lives. These guidelines keep me sane while I’m simplifying and paring down. Tweak them until they work for you.

  • First, ask yourself how much you can get for the item. A quick search on Craigslist should give you an idea. Keep this in mind always. Something you can sell for $500 is worth a lot more effort than a collection of $10-$20 items.
  • Then, set a deadline to sell it. Promise yourself you’ll donate the item or give it away if it hasn’t sold within a few weeks.
  • Create boundaries before you list something for sale. Examples from my life: I only communicate via text or email (no calls). I won’t drive more than 10 minutes to meet someone. If plans to meet fall through, I’ll consider rescheduling once — but not after that. Most of all, I use my intuition. If someone feels difficult to schedule or communicate with, I remind myself I don’t owe them anything and move on.

Never forget the value of an hour (or minute)

Our time and energy are valuable. People with ADHD struggle to budget these resources, and often shortchange our true priorities. All the more reason to think twice before selling tchotchkes on the internet or elsewhere.

The reality is, ADHD makes the extra step — selling rather than tossing into a donation box — more difficult. We should accept that fact without judgement, then make choices that work for us. Simplifying and decluttering extends to our energy and obligations, not just our homes and physical stuff.

Sometimes the wisest choice is boxing it all up and scheduling a charity pickup — even if it might be worth a little something.

Have you faced similar choices while paring down your clutter? How do you decide the fate of unwanted items that may have value?


Just a mom with ADHD, visiting the academic buffet

Tonight, for the first time in almost a decade, I’ll be stepping into a college classroom as a student. Before anyone questions my sanity, not to worry. I’m enrolled in an eight-week, non-credit writing course, not a degree program.

Of course, this temporary shift in my availability presents a new challenge for our family. Working hard is my hyperfocus jam. My household has come to rely on the fact that I self-medicate my ADHD by doing stuff around the house. Most of the time, I’m cool with that, but sometimes I miss the good old days when I could climb every mountain and take every class.

For so many reasons, I can no longer climb every mountain. That’s why I’m looking forward to this bite-size academic adventure.

College: the last place an ADHD girl can do it all

Perhaps you’re familiar with the stereotypical face of ADHD: male, visual thinker, academic underachiever.

Perhaps you can also see why so many women and linguistic thinkers go undiagnosed until adulthood. My school years treated me well because they provided a lot of structure and allowed me to taste-test whatever interested me in the moment. I knew how to get an A in just about anything, and taking a breadth of classes is normal — maybe even encouraged. Taking a breadth of jobs in the real world makes you look like a flake who can’t stay employed.

As an undergraduate, I switched between four different majors and two universities. I took classes in philosophy, geology, early childhood development, calculus, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. I learned to develop photos in the darkroom, use 3D modeling software, and speak a little bit of Russian. I held down jobs as a set painter, sandwich maker, and tech support specialist.

My only regret upon receiving my bachelor’s degree (fine arts, with a minor in art history) was that I couldn’t repeat the process over and over until I’d covered every major my university offered.

Since then, I’ve applied and been accepted to two graduate programs: a master’s in community arts and an online MBA. I actually completed half (or so) of my MBA, until I’d used up my AmeriCorps education award. I was having fun and doing well. However, faced with a few years of stay-at-home parenting followed by self-employment, I couldn’t justify spending $23,000 for me to finish my MBA just for fun.

And now: snacking on knowledge

My brother-in-law coined a term for our family’s approach to learning: snacking on knowledge. And for me, right now, snacking seems like the right thing to do.

I have a young child. My 10-year career goals are muddled somewhere between novelist, professor, personal organizing coach, and pro blogger. I probably could get into a degree program (again) and do well (again), but that doesn’t mean I have to.

Aging with ADHD has required me to learn a brand new skill: slowing down. Technically, I probably can do anything I put my mind to. This doesn’t always make it a good idea to try. The fact is, I still have a solid work ethic, but I get tired now. I’m not happy when I overcommit. Life seems shorter than it once did, and I want to check at least one Big Life Goal off my list.

One of those Big Life Goals happens to be publishing a novel, and I happen to have a complete draft. I’m not only taking a practical bite out of academic life, I’m connecting it to a goal-in-progress.

And maybe that’s the biggest progress yet.


“ADHD? Nah, everybody does that.”

“Everybody does that.”

My least favorite response to an attempt to describe ADHD.

Because “everybody does that” really says this: my challenges aren’t unique. I’ve chosen to put a label on normal life while others buckle down and get it together.

“Everybody does that.” A close cousin to “yeah, but you just need to do it.”

If that’s your frame of reference, you and I aren’t living in the same world.

I’m not everybody.

Everybody does that, but…

For example, I’m sure everyone has lost a check before. It happens. But so often, you dread ever receiving money by check?

This was me five years ago, when I first started taking medication for my ADHD. I got a sinking feeling every time I held a check in my hand. Four years ago, I finally established a good system for handling checks. Three years ago, our bank started accepting mobile deposits.

Even now, I still find checks when I’m cleaning our house. I found one last week from 2007. The envelope was still sealed.

Likewise, I’m sure everyone has bad days, weeks, even months or years. But you know a bad day is only a day long, right?

Most people with ADHD have a poor concept of time. I’m not just talking about running late, oversleeping, or going down a Wikipedia rabbit hole until 4:00 a.m. (though that happens, too). The ADHD brain literally perceives time differently. Unless we teach ourselves otherwise, now is all we comprehend. Not now is such an abstract concept, it may as well not exist.

During a bad day, or even a bad 15 minutes, everything else stops existing. Imagine being blind to everything but the emotion you’re experiencing right now. It’s overwhelming. The highs feel great, but the lows can be all-consuming. A minor frustration can trigger blinding rage.

One day I showed up to a doctor’s appointment on the wrong day, went home, and had an epic meltdown about what a worthless human being I was. How everyone was better off without me, I was incapable of managing my own life, and I was foolish to have thought I’d amount to anything. That self, the one who screwed up, was all my brain knew.

A half hour later, I couldn’t have articulated what I was so upset about. It was almost like I’d been a different person.

And lastly, I’m well aware that everyone gets behind on home improvement projects. Everyone procrastinates. Everyone has a longer to-do list than they can manage. But it’s a question of magnitude.

Like when we had water damage on a small portion of our then-guest room ceiling. I expect many, if not most, homeowners would put off getting it fixed. It’s not hurting anything, it won’t get worse (we made an emergency call to the roofer), and you can ignore it if you don’t look up.

I decided that would be a perfect excuse to take down the whole ceiling, which was plaster, and replace it with drywall. And while I was doing that, it would be silly not to take down all four walls. I didn’t foresee the need for a plan. I only had eyes for the sledgehammer and the reciprocating saw.

Over a year later, that room still sat empty in our home. Empty of furniture, lighting fixtures, doors, and walls. A sheet of plastic hung over the doorway. The stink of old plaster and wood wafted through our whole second floor. I could smell it the moment I walked into the house. To go without touching that project for a year might not be so bad, you say, but I know the awful truth: we were nowhere near making progress. I was pregnant, and we needed a bedroom for our son. Without that deadline hanging over our heads, I have no idea when I would’ve set foot in that room again.

…it’s a matter of scale.

Gina Pera, author of Is It You, Me, or Adult ADD(the book that started it all for our family), sometimes refers to ADHD as “extreme human syndrome.” That is to say, in a way, that everybody does do these things. But some more than others, and some to a greater extreme. Some of us feel deeply impaired in our jobs, our marriages, our lives.

Next time you’re tempted to say, “everybody does that,” remember this: not everyone feels completely out of control of everyday life, even when they should be thriving. Everybody may do these things sometimes, especially under stress, but not everyone lives in that space all the time. When it’s all you’ve ever known, the chaos, anguish, and shame can be unbearable.

I look relatively successful on the outside — most of the time — but it’s been a long, hard road. I’m still the same person who lost all the checks, inflicted my epic freakouts on loved ones, and left a room stripped to bare studs for over a year. Now I just spend a lot of energy externalizing processes many people learn and do intuitively.

I know for a fact everybody doesn’t do what I do every day. It’s because they don’t have to.

That why, whether I’m celebrating small victories or hanging out at rock bottom, the last thing I want to hear is, “everybody does that.”


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