The ADHD Homestead

Create the life you want with the mind you have.

Month: September 2016

I’ve accomplished nothing…or maybe I’ve just forgotten.

I end a lot of days feeling like I got nothing done. Like my efforts were not enough.

Moms with (or without, let’s be honest) ADHD: I bet some of you can relate.

I push back against this feeling all the time. It’s important to me to feel like I’m enough, but my sense of industriousness and my mood are so closely intertwined. This is why I rarely relax: it doesn’t feel good unless it comes at the end of a long, productive day.

The other day, a thought flashed through my mind as I pulled up to a stop sign: What if it’s not me, but my memory?

I can’t celebrate what I can’t remember.

Of course, sometimes a day is justifiably disappointing. My allergies have been driving me crazy and messing up my sleep. I’ll admit to spending more time on Facebook and snacks as a result. I know what overtired brains do, and mine’s doing it. But why, on a day when I put in a solid effort and cross several things off my list, do I still sit down to dinner feeling disappointed with myself?

During my AmeriCorps service, I submitted weekly reports tracking my progress and my daily activities. I filled them with meticulous detail, and they were never late. I never made time to fill them out at the end of the week, either. I wrote them every hour of every day. Others found this tedious, but the process had tremendous benefits for me. By the afternoon, I don’t remember what I did that morning. By dinnertime, I can’t tell you what I did with my day at all.

Many adults with ADHD struggle with memory. Not only that, I bounce from task to task, even if I intend to spend all day on one project. I do a lot on any given day, but it rarely makes it into long-term memory. If I can’t remember what I do, how must that affect my sense of accomplishment and worth?

memory-and-adult-adhd

As with everything: write it down.

In my current life, no one’s collecting weekly progress reports. I don’t have a performance review or a regular check-in. It’s easy to lose track of how I spend my time. For a few days, I decided to write down what I accomplished.

The results were surprising. I didn’t include base-level responsibilities like child care, cooking meals, or washing dishes, even though these things take a great deal of attention. Even so, I amassed quite a list on Monday: I changed the sheets on the beds, went for a run, did my weekly review, emptied all my inboxes, made sandwich bread, cleaned the downstairs (that includes tidying, dusting, polishing furniture, and vacuuming), folded a load of laundry, made our weekly menu and grocery list, and began to draw a sewing pattern.

It’s a relatively modest list, with no glory, nothing worthy of celebration — unless you have ADHD and remember your previous life, when your ADHD was out of control and none of those things felt possible. For anyone, anywhere, it’s quite enough to fill a day. With my poor memory, I now understand how I can end a day feeling like I’ve accomplished nothing. I work in small bites, and this means I’m often surrounded by works-in-progress. I now (occasionally) finish them at some point, but very few days contain anything to brag about.

Forgetting is no excuse for self-criticism.

Glory or no, it’s important to give ourselves credit where it’s due. Failing to remember what we’ve done for ourselves, our families, and the world is no excuse. My lesson for this week: if I get down on myself for slow progress, I need to start writing notes. I need to pretend I’ll be asked for a report at the end of the week. I need to find some way to remember, because I have plenty to show for myself. I just can’t remember what it is.

Do you feel you have a clear picture of your productivity? Your accomplishments? Do you struggle with feelings of ineffectiveness? How much of this do you think is rooted in reality vs. perspective?

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Don’t call me clean, organized, or hard-working.

Sometimes I wonder: what does it mean to be good at something?

When people praise me for being organized, motivated, or a hard worker, I don’t feel complimented. Being told I’m “good at” something doesn’t make me feel accomplished.

hold-the-praise

Perhaps because “good at _______,” “hard worker,” and “organized” all hint at innate aptitude, not actual hard work. I avoid discussing so-called natural “gifts” (including those often attributed to ADHD) because gifts don’t set us apart. The nature and quality of the work we do — personal and professional — is what defines us. ADHD makes it difficult to maintain consistency in this work. Success ought to be recognized for what it is, not cheapened with random labels like “organized” or “creative.”

Telling someone he’s good at something can be a comment on ourselves, too. It’s like admiring a person’s physical appearance: we fail to consider the complex reasons she might be thinner or stronger than we are.

This doesn’t come naturally…I have ADHD.

natural-gifts-labels-adhd-pull-quoteI won’t be so presumptuous as to call my house clean or uncluttered, but others have said this about me. Sometimes, I envy friends with messy homes.  I’m not naturally clean. I don’t love tidying up my whole downstairs every single night. I was born a collector, not a minimalist. Maintaining an alphabetized filing system and emptying my inboxes regularly isn’t easy.  It’s like when people tell me I’m good at yoga. Nope. I’m committed to a surprisingly modest daily practice that’s accessible to just about anyone.

And so it is with everything in my life. All my good habits are “for now.” None are particularly ambitious. I expect to fall off the wagon and get back on over and over, for as long as I’m alive. I set the bar low enough to clear, even it makes my goals embarrassingly small.

I’m not an overachiever…I do what I need to do.

Despite my hard work, I only do what I need to do to stay sane. I don’t keep boxing up and giving away my possessions because it’s fast and easy. I do it because I won’t clean my house if there’s clutter all over. I do it because an uncluttered, lower-stimulation environment gives me an uncluttered mind. I maintain an obsessive system for my calendars and to-do list. I write everything down on sticky notes. This is because my memory is so terrible, it’s embarrassing and a little scary.

Sure, you can tell me, “wow, I’m jealous, you’re so organized.” I’d like to point out, though, it’s like telling a person in a wheelchair, “wow, I’m so jealous, you have great upper body strength.”

Likewise, when you call me a hard worker, sometimes I’m reminded of the flip side: I have to work harder than the average person to get the same results — so I do. I maintain my lifestyle because I enjoy the significant personal benefits it provides. But is this worthy of praise?

We can un-earn praise.

And, because ADHD makes us unreliable at times, there’s another worry: if you think I’m a calm, attentive parent, what happens when you catch me on a bad day? When I’m tired, or my meds are wearing off, or I’m in an environment that’s too overstimulating and my brain shuts down? If you think I’m super organized, what happens when I forget something big and important?

A couple weeks ago, I referred to parenting experts Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish’s criticism of vague praise: it’s something you can take away. “Organized,” “put together,” “calm,” and “good listener” feel tenuous to me. I suspect many people with ADHD feel the same. We’re waiting for the other shoe to drop — for someone to uncover our ruse.

Instead of marveling at my natural aptitude for cleanliness and order — it’s imaginary, anyway — ask me about my process for keeping my email inbox empty. Ask me about my favorite organizing book or app. Not only will I feel noticed for who I truly am — a person with flawed neurochemistry who’s worked very hard to construct and environment that supports my and my family’s well-being — I’ll talk your ear off about how you can do the same.

Natural gifts are just that. A great many of them end up gathering dust. When we recognize each other, it should be for our willingness to learn, to forgive ourselves, and to keep trying even when progress is slow.

Review: HelloFresh meal delivery

Home-cooked meals nourish our bodies, our minds, and our budget. I have a pretty solid meal planning routine, but this summer I welcomed a little help from meal delivery service HelloFresh.

For the purpose of this review, I used HelloFresh for around six weeks. I received one free box , but all opinions are (as always) my own. This review is based on the veggie box. I tried to keep it concise, but I welcome your questions in the comments.

adhd-in-the-kitchen

Flavors

I enjoyed every HelloFresh meal. The flavors were on point for summer: fresh, light, and seasonal. Many meals were based on our household favorites — beans and rice, quesadillas, stir fry, etc. — but offered a new twist.

ADHD sabotages impulse control, so pre-portioned meals were a plus, especially after overeating on several vacations this summer. However, meals with greens had too many, and some salad-based meals felt too light to stand alone for dinner. I enjoy vegetarian meals, but that doesn’t mean I’m on a diet.

Families with allergies or extreme pickiness should know, HelloFresh doesn’t offer meal preferences unless you order the 3-meal Classic Box. My husband is mildly allergic to tree nuts, but I could usually leave the nuts off his portion.  I don’t recall receiving anything with peanuts, but many meals contained tree nuts, gluten, soy, and/or dairy.

Ease of preparation

HelloFresh boxes are stocked with everything you need to prepare your meals. Expect to stock staples like salt, pepper, and olive oil, but that’s about it. None of the recipes require a microwave (good, because we don’t have one), and all clean up easily without a dishwasher (don’t have one of those, either).

The meals were so easy to prepare, I took HelloFresh on vacation.  There’s no contract and it’s easy to change your delivery address week to week. Changing or pausing the service is no big deal (great for ADHD-affected families, where these details are often overlooked). I had a box delivered to our beach house and combined meals to make a two-course feast for friends.

While I thought preparation was a breeze, my husband found meal preparation “so stressful.” He’s my cooking opposite: he’s a novice, he’s fastidious, and his ADHD makes multi-tasking almost impossible. The recipes were easy, but some required multi-tasking: having two pots on a flame at once, broiling veggies while sauteeing onions, etc. That said, he successfully cooked 2.5 of the 3 meals I assigned him to cook without my help.


HelloFresh changed the way I think about meal preparation. Since the birth of our son, I’ve relied on big batches. I’ll make meat sauce for spaghetti in the crock pot, then freeze it in three-cup portions to use later. My rotation of big batch recipes is big enough to eliminate from-scratch cooking on weeknights.

With HelloFresh, I learned to simplify from-scratch meals and get them underway quickly. Each meal has its own labeled box with ready-to-use ingredients: tiny jars of honey, vinegar, or other condiments; peeled, wrapped cloves of garlic; a single carrot. I had no idea how much time I was spending collecting ingredients, putting containers away, and measuring tablespoons of oil! I plan to save some of those little jars and build my own meal boxes for non-HelloFresh nights.

Freshness

We had a few nasty heat waves last month, and some of our produce arrived in poor shape. On a particularly punishing afternoon, I opened my box to find the food inside already rotting. I’m glad I never ordered a box with meat inside. As long as temperatures didn’t exceed the low 90s, everything arrived fresh.

HelloFresh provided excellent support when I emailed a complaint about this. The representative who wrote back was prompt, friendly, and quite apologetic. She applied a credit to my account for the full cost of my box, even though many of the ingredients had been usable. However, I continued to receive distinctly un-fresh perishables on hot days. Throwing away food makes me sad, and I ended up pausing the service for a week because of the heat. (For reference, our delivery carrier in Baltimore is LaserShip — others’ experience may vary.)

The verdict

Overall, I think I’m hooked. HelloFresh adheres well enough to my pre-existing dietary preferences: simple meals, whole foods, no synthetic dyes, etc. Although I’d love more organics and whole grains, I’m willing to compromise because HelloFresh is so delicious, convenient, and economical.

Though it won’t magically transform a non-cook into the family chef, HelloFresh is a snap compared to a service like Blue Apron. It’s perfect for folks with ADHD who enjoy cooking because meal planning demands so much of our executive functioning.

Interested in trying HelloFresh for yourself? Use the code JACLYNP35 to get $35 off your first box. Tell me what you think (or ask me anything about my HelloFresh experience) in the comments!

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