The ADHD Homestead

Building a good life with ADHD.

Month: April 2016

Boundaries in the ADHD home

Boundaries in our home are simple — they may even seem trivial — but they’re mighty. They’re the key to domestic peace (or ceasefire, if that’s where you are on your journey). ADHD adults living under the same roof need to learn, create, and respect boundaries.

The ADHD interruption paradox

We ADHD’ers struggle with interruptions. Interrupting shows up multiple times in the diagnostic criteria for ADHD. Ironically, many of us can’t tolerate interruptions to our own work or train of thought. I get cranky when I fear I’ll lose my place or forget what I was doing. My husband experiences intense task inertia, making interruptions especially uncomfortable because they intrude on his hyperfocus. While ADHD’ers dish out interruptions like it’s our full-time job, we might respond with a temper tantrum.

Thanks to our limited grasp on social cues, we don’t always know when interruptions are acceptable, either. My favorite solution: spell it out. What seems obvious to you may not make any sense to me.

When my husband lamented, “I never know when it’s okay to interrupt your reading!” I gave him a basic ground rule: magazines are always interruptable. Books are not.

I tend to say whatever pops into my mind. My husband can’t stand when I start talking every two minutes because it prevents him from getting anything done. Once he’s distracted, it takes him a while to settle back down to the task. Interruptions feel costly to him but negligible to me because I interrupt myself all the time. I didn’t know it stressed him out until he said so.

Being mindful of meds

Knowing when our meds are effective is one of the most important boundaries — and the toughest lesson — we’ve learned. In a high-stakes conversation, unmedicated me is extreme, volatile, passionate, and uncompromising. I’ll fixate on an issue and fight for it tooth and nail, yet lose track of why I felt so strongly once the moment has passed. I’ll yell and cry and make ultimatums. Medicated me has read several books about communication skills. I repeat what others have said to make sure I understand. I make the conversation about solutions, not problems. I entertain the possibility of compromise. Clearly, some conversations should be off-limits when one or both of us is unmedicated.

Deferring a conversation for meds can feel uncomfortable. For one, it’s hard to defer anything without the help of stimulant medication. We also exist in a culture that cracks jokes about people being “off their meds” and creates stigma around psychiatric disorders. Saying, “we should discuss this when we both have the benefit of our medication” can make us feel weak and incapable.

To that I say, imagine you’re lactose intolerant. Does it give you more self-confidence to eat ice cream whenever you want? Or does it make sense to wait until after you’ve taken some Lactaid?

ADHD meds don’t just keep you from getting fired. They also help you build a strong marriage. I’ve learned it the hard way, we need to use them accordingly.

Spelling it out

No matter what the boundaries are, they need to be explicit. People with ADHD don’t get subtlety. We tend to freak out a little when we’re expected to read between the lines. Even if something feels like a “duh,” it may not be on the other person’s radar. Successful relationships require an abundance of clarity — and then a little more on top of that.

What are some boundaries you and your partner have created over the years? How does your home life change when you respect these boundaries?


Derailment, ADHD, & the Pit of Domestic Despair

Toward the end of March, my immune system sabotaged all my good habits. My son brought home a bug that hardly affected him, but — like the evil kid illness it was —  gave me 12 days of low-grade fever. I muddled through. Mostly. But I didn’t exercise, hardly set foot in my office, and got off track with my daily habits. Clutter piled up and projects stagnated. I lost sight of wellness and productivity and couldn’t imagine either being part of my life again.

I was headed straight for the Pit of Domestic Despair.

Fortunately, I’m aware of ADHD’s time blindness. Though it wasn’t deeply reassuring, I told myself I wouldn’t be sick forever.

I also repeated, over and over, “it’s okay. You’re okay. We’re okay.”

Habits break, systems break, and it’s not the end of the world — or even the good habit.

Or, rather, it doesn’t have to be.

Derailment,ADHD,& thePit of Domestic Despair

“No, thanks” to self-loathing. “Yes, please” to equanimity.

ADHD does more than make it tough to stay on course. Through years of repeated failure, we teach ourselves that failure is inevitable. New habits and projects excite us, but only to a point. By adulthood, our cynicism always lurks in the shadows, reminding us that success is fleeting. Yes, we’re doing it, but only for now. Only until the next time everything falls apart.

I’ve spent years learning to stay organized and form intentional habits, but my most important lesson has been in accepting failure. Everyone gets off track sometimes. Even people without ADHD. The key isn’t staying on the wagon, it’s knowing how to climb back on.

When a habit breaks or a project stagnates or a deadline gets missed, it’s not a confirmation of all my self-doubt and self-criticism. Letting the house get messy one week doesn’t signal a return to my “real” (i.e. unhappy, unfocused, disorganized, unproductive) self. It means I messed up. Or I had a fever for 12 days. It’s just a thing that happened.

This brings me to my favorite word: equanimity. It means remaining neutral in the face of life’s gains and losses, and it’s a skill I’ll be honing for the rest of my life. In this case, it means looking at my messy house and my broken habits, saying, “okay,” and moving on without much fanfare.

There’s usually something beyond Right Now (even if we don’t believe it).

I eventually felt better — obviously. And for the first time, I didn’t spend my first day on the mend beating myself up or lamenting the impossible task in front of me. I just got up and kept going. Slowly.

With the energy I saved by not spinning myself up to a state of intense despair, overwhelm, and self-loathing, I started to dig out of the Pit of Domestic Despair. I (finally) changed the sheets on our bed. I spent a week chipping away at my overflowing inbox. I attacked the accumulated clutter, bit by bit. I refused to start on any projects until I’d gotten back to a workable baseline. I spent my energy getting to a place where I could feel good again.

It’s taken me a long time to learn this. To learn, for example, that instead of sitting in the house and complaining about my bad attitude, I should put on my shoes and go for a run. ADHD is often a problem of inertia. Overcoming inertia, even if we only take one itty-bitty, tiny step, is half the battle.

Everyone gets stuck. The more gracefully we can accept this and move on, the better. ADHD tempts us to believe Right Now is all there is. That makes messy surroundings and broken habits feel overwhelming and permanent. The Pit of Domestic Despair becomes a black hole. It’s taken me almost 32 years, but I’ve finally taken a leap of faith. I don’t always believe something better is waiting around the bend. I’m  just willing to inch my way over there and find out.


Email sanity with #AdultADHD: collect those open loops!

Way back in the day, I often lost track of my progress on little projects and tasks. Email presented a particular challenge. I’d ask someone a question, hit send, and promptly forget about it.

No matter how out-of-control your inbox may be, I’m sure you sit down every once in a while to ‘take care of your email.’ This may include a flurry of sent messages to people in all corners of your life. It feels good to get a few things off your plate and onto someone else’s, doesn’t it?

email open loops

Send it and forget it…

The problem is, our responsibility doesn’t evaporate when we hit send. I learned this the hard way — several times. Problem coworkers mismanaged their email and used “I never got the email” as an excuse for missing deadlines. My boss expected on-demand status updates on my tasks. She wasn’t impressed when I answered, “oh, right, I had a question about that and I think I emailed you a week or so ago…”

Once I send an email, the whole thing goes out of my brain like sand through a sieve. I do, of course, consider it others’ responsibility to read and respond to my emails. In a perfect world, I wouldn’t need to follow up. But it’s not a perfect world. Others get busy and/or have ADHD, too. That’s why it’s critical to collect those open loops as I send each email. I need to be able to find them before they find me.

…unless you’re waiting for a response.

waiting on outgoingI can’t take credit for this strategy, as I learned it from David Allen’s Getting Things Done, but many ADHD’ers struggle with GTD. If you haven’t been able to read the entire book or get the system up and running yet, start here. Collect the loose ends in your email. It’ll make you look 100 times more responsible to those around you.

The method is simple. It doesn’t require any fancy apps. It doesn’t even require anything more than the original Gmail inbox.

When you email someone requesting information or asking them to do something for you, stash it in a folder (or a label, if you’re using Gmail) titled “Waiting On.” As in, “I’m waiting on something from someone.”

Gmail’s web app allows you to apply labels to messages as you compose them, which is very convenient. The mobile app lacks this feature, but you can go to your sent mail and apply the label there. I recommend doing this immediately after sending the message. If I save it for later, I forget!

Where Gmail uses labels, many other email programs use folders. I used Outlook at a previous job. There, I’d bcc: myself on outgoing messages that required followup. When they arrived in my inbox, I moved them into my Waiting On folder.

No matter what email program you’re using, you may want to add an @ symbol to the beginning (e.g. @Waiting On) so it stays at the top of your alphabetical list of labels/folders.

Don’t forget to review.

In a week or so, you’ll have a folder or label with a collection of outstanding requests: an email asking a friend when she’d like to go out for dinner, a shipping notification from Amazon, maybe an email asking family and friends to donate to your upcoming charity bike ride.

Now you need to review them. Put a note on your calendar once a week to go through your Waiting On folder. Set an alarm on your phone. Tell Google Calendar to send you an email every Monday. Whatever works for you.

Then scan through the list and send a quick (and polite!) poke to anyone you think should’ve responded by now.

How do you manage the open loops created by email requests? How do you remind yourself to check back in when you’re expecting a response?


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