The ADHD Homestead

Building a good life with ADHD.

Month: September 2017

Order, chaos, ADHD, and why I’m writing a book

I had a great post all ready for you today, but like sometimes happens, a change of plans came to me in the shower.

You see, I was thinking about something a dear friend wrote on Facebook. He shared the Order from Chaos Kickstarter with a personal endorsement that made me smile: “Jaclyn is the woman who, as a seventh grader, organized my binder for me cos I was such a mess it couldn’t zip right. So, she knows of what she speaks.”

Lost and found

I knew right away what he meant. I remember sitting next to each other in Mr. Vandegrift’s social studies class with our Five Star zipper binders. My friend’s binder overflowed with notes, flyers, I don’t even remember what else. Whenever it reached the point where it wouldn’t zip, he’d pass the whole mess to me. I figured out what needed to go, and what belonged in the three-ring binder. I flattened crumpled papers and helped him decipher his own chickenscratch handwriting. From all that chaos, I found order.

I kept this up. Over the years, I learned what calmed me down and soothed my overwhelm. I made lists. I made my bed. On school days, I laid my clothes out the night before, with my deodorant on top so I wouldn’t forget. When life felt like too much, I put it into order. I even organized my larger-than-life emotions, by writing them in a journal, making them visible and concrete.

I lost this in my mid-20s, as I stumbled through my first years as a young professional, homeowner, and wife. I let my life slide into disarray. My office swam in stacks of paper, my desk disappeared under layers of sticky notes. I lost checks from my employer, forgot to pay bills, didn’t clean my house or wash my dishes. I made a mess of a room in my house, and rather than fix it, I spent months pretending it didn’t exist. After I finally cleaned it up, I let the whole cycle happen again. I eventually felt so adrift, so hopeless, I contacted my employer’s EAP (Employee Assistance Program) for a crisis intervention.

The long climb out

Order and structure don’t always come easily to people with ADHD. We’re adults; we know we need to stay organized. We know it’s important. We don’t want to pay our bills late, or leave our dining room half-painted for a year and a half, or forget we promised to meet you for coffee yesterday morning.

We get stuck on the “how,” though. And we struggle to connect the everyday tedium of sorting through incoming mail with the distant reward of avoiding late fees on the credit card.

I’ve been fortunate. I’ve struggled, but I also discovered the transformative power of putting one’s things in order early in life. Even as a sulky teenager, I knew: I felt better after I cleaned my room. I stopped freaking out if I made a list. Among adults with ADHD, I’m special. I know firsthand how hard it can be to manage the nuts and bolts of adult life. But I’ve also spent my life figuring out how to do it anyway.

Why I’m writing a book

20 years later, my friend keeps his own things in order. I know he hasn’t forgotten those days when his binder would refuse to close, and he’d turn to me for help. Sometimes he’ll text me a picture of a list he’s made to quell his anxiety, and I’ll smile. I understand what he’s feeling.

I want everyone to feel it: not just the smallness of standing at the bottom of a mountain, but the smile deep in your heart when you find yourself at the top. I know I’ve been incredibly fortunate. Maybe it’s my nature: that odd something that drove me to organize my friend’s school binder all those years ago. Maybe it’s my thirst for reading books about ADHD and getting organized. Maybe it’s my connection with so many great people in the ADHD community. Regardless, it’s something I want to share with you beyond the pages of this blog.

That’s why I’m writing this book, and why I’m asking you to take this journey with me.

From now until October 26, you can preorder your copy of Order from Chaos via the Kickstarter campaign. You can support the project by sharing it with your friends. And you can ask me anything you want! Use the comments here, on Facebook, on Kickstarter, wherever, for questions about the project.

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RC Cola! (Or, Read Carefully)

My sixth grade math teacher didn’t like me very much. Most of my memories from his class are of surly interactions and (in my assessment) unfair grades. And one other thing I still reference to this day: all over the room, he’d suspended empty 2-liter RC Cola bottles from the ceiling.

RC Cola was his mnemonic for “read carefully.”

Corny jokes aside, few life skills rank higher than the ability to read carefully. It starts with word problems in math class, and continues for the rest of our lives. People with ADHD often don’t read carefully, and when we try, it can feel downright painful. I should know. I filled out my jury duty questionnaire today, and accidentally clicked “yes” when it asked if I was a member of my state’s organized militia.

I’m usually pretty good, though, and it’s not thanks to my long attention span. Here are a few ways I read carefully.

Read out loud

Reading aloud isn’t just for children’s picture books. Some people read at the same speed they talk, while others read faster. I’m in the faster camp, and reading aloud helps me slow down and monopolize more of my brain for reading.

If I find myself struggling with something, I stop and read it aloud. It changes my perspective just enough to make it click. I suspect it’s a lot like explaining a problem to someone else to help me see where I’ve gone wrong. Plus, when I read aloud, I can’t skim — I need to read every word.

Don’t fear the printer

I believe in minimalism and frugality and conserving resources. When I read that “please consider the environment before printing this message” reminder in someone’s email footer, I get it.

Sometimes I have to print it out, anyway. Not always, but sometimes. It might be the class welcome letter from my son’s teacher, a grant application, or a short story I’m submitting for publication. For my favorite reading and editing techniques, I need a hard copy.

I know many people who don’t own printers. It sounds well and good to go green, and do everything electronically. The reality is, sometimes I need to engage my brain’s tactile centers. I can’t get this with an electronic device. Maybe some people can, but at this point, I need to own it: those people aren’t me.

I print double sided, or on scrap paper, but I do print, and I print more than most people I know.

Highlight & underline

Most of the time, I print so I can highlight and underline. Before you tell me about the coolest app that allows me to do this on my Kindle, computer, or tablet, let me cut you off and tell you: I’ve tried. It’s not the same.

Something about the paper in front of me, the feel of the highlighter…who knows what the secret is. A highlighter helps me slow down, mark things I need to remember (like deadlines or supply lists), and catch important details.

I’ve used this strategy to win thousands of dollars in grant funding, file my tax return, complete complex banking documents, and sign my kid up for summer camp.

Rewrite

When I got my kiddo’s welcome letter for school this summer, I recopied the key info into my notebook: what I’d need to bring on orientation day, and what I’d need to send with him in his bag every morning. This kind of redundancy can feel tedious, but it helps me feel more in control. Just like with the calendar in my bullet journal, the act of slowing down and reading carefully enough to take notes helps me process it more deeply in my brain.

Do what works

Of course, like with my jury duty questionnaire, I still make mistakes. Whenever someone in our house fails to read carefully — and we have ADHD, so it happens somewhat often — I say, “RC Cola!” and try to laugh about it.

But really, I’ve gotten to the point where I can laugh about it (sometimes) because I’ve worked hard on these RC Cola strategies. I’ve realized it’s not about being cool, or going green. It’s about my brain, and how I can get information to stick in there. And sometimes the way to do that sounds old-fashioned, not befitting a self-employed 30-something. I used to resist using highlighters and taking notes by hand because it made me feel like I was still in middle school, highlighting the thesis statement on my English paper. But for all the ways technology helps me every day, my reading comprehension strategies are a little old-fashioned.

And that’s okay. Because they work.

What about you? How do you make sure you’re catching the important stuff when you read?

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