The ADHD Homestead

Building a good life with ADHD.

Month: January 2018

“We’re all a little ADHD sometimes” happens to people with ADHD, too

This post is adapted from an excerpt of my upcoming book, Order from ChaosPreorders will open on Amazon soon. Stay up to date by joining my mailing list!

Most of us with ADHD have heard the refrain, “but this happens to everyone. You just have to power through it.” Nobody loves paying bills or doing housework. Everybody feels scattered sometimes.  Why should some people get to use ADHD as an excuse, while the rest of the world just has to suck it up?

It can be hard to answer this question. There’s a grain of truth in it. Under enough stress, even the most put-together person can develop ADHD-like symptoms. ADHD traits are, at the end of the day, magnified human traits.

The key difference between “it happens to everyone” and “it’s ADHD” is context. For someone without ADHD, the struggle is caused by something external, like a big deadline or a family crisis. True ADHD emerges in childhood, usually by early elementary school. It also impairs us in multiple roles (e.g., both at home and at work/school). It sticks around, no matter how we change our environment or our diet.

This isn’t an excuse. People with ADHD can bring our symptoms under control with medication, adequate self-care, and other coping strategies. And we should, if we want to lead fulfilling lives and maintain healthy relationships.

Doesn’t medication fix ADHD?

Some people believe stimulant medication does the hard work for us, or even gives us a leg up. Sorry, but no. There’s a difference between making something easy and making it possible. Medication gives us a choice we previously lacked. It allows us to begin the hard work in the first place.

And sometimes we find ourselves in a catch-22, because our environment can make ADHD symptoms worse. If a neurotypical person appears to have ADHD during a time of stress or upheaval, imagine how a person with ADHD will react  — even on medication.

People are usually surprised to learn that every one of my elementary school report cards had a bad grade in the “behavior” column. When my husband and I finally took the plunge and gut-remodeled our kitchen, I saw myself become that kid again.

Chaos without = chaos within

“Major life disruption” barely scratches the surface. Our kitchen, dining room, and part of the living room were out of commission for six weeks. Contractors knocked down two full walls, took down a plaster ceiling, and built a new kitchen from scratch.

Construction noise invaded through the floor of my office for 8+ hours per day. I fielded frequent interruptions when the workers had questions. I cooked all our meals on a camp stove on the front porch and washed dishes in the bathtub. Clutter and dust invaded everywhere. Our cabinets were delivered before the room was ready, and the boxes turned our entire downstairs into a rat maze. Meanwhile, I tried to stay on top of my pieces of the puzzle: picking up backsplash tile, choosing appliances, writing checks, keeping drinks in a cooler for the workers.

In other words, this was one of those times when a neurotypical person would’ve developed ADHD symptoms. I felt like a crappy friend, a lackluster writer, an impatient mom, and an unproductive human. One afternoon, I was outside and saw a kid I did not know being mildly irresponsible with a stick. Instead of asking him nicely to stop what he was doing, I grabbed the stick and broke it into little pieces in front of him. I was stunned by my lack of impulse control. Living in my house was like living without ADHD meds.

The ADHD management catch-22

Meds allow me to function like a reasonably normal person — under the right conditions. That’s where it gets fuzzy. While meds make those conditions possible, they don’t let me sail through life. That is to say, if I keep my house/office organized, exercise regularly, maintain a daily yoga practice, prioritize and guard my time, and eat a healthy diet, meds fill in the missing piece of the puzzle. They prevent me from destroying all of the above.

It’s a delicate balance. Managing my ADHD symptoms has allowed me to build an organized life. At the same time, that organized life is a critical part of my symptom management. Give me a chaotic environment, and meds won’t help. Without them, I’m powerless to tame the chaos.

Maybe it happens to you, but it’s not your normal

So, yes, this stuff does happen to everyone sometimes. And for the six weeks I spent in the thick of that renovation, I did just have to suck it up and power through it. What I don’t expect myself to do: suck it up and power through every day of my life as though it’s an extenuating circumstance.

If you find yourself turning ADHD into a character judgement, imagine one of your toughest times. A time when you felt like you were barely keeping your head above water. Every move you made was to put out a fire. The whole world felt like it was working against you, and you felt sure you’d never get caught up and settled down.

Now, imagine that’s your normal. It’s all you’ve ever known. Imagine asking yourself to power through that feeling every day, for the rest of your life. That — daily, hard-wired impairment — isn’t something that happens to everyone, and it’s not something you can expect to get through on willpower alone.

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How to make a smartphone work for you when you have ADHD

This post is adapted from an excerpt of my upcoming book, Order from ChaosPreorders will open on Amazon soon. Stay up to date by joining my mailing list!

Back in July, I wrote about ditching my smartphone for a week.  Even though I depend on my phone, I don’t love it. I can spend a lot of time tapping around without remembering why I picked it up in the first place.

Since my smartphone-free week, I’ve worked on several concrete strategies to get the most out of my phone. Loosening the smartphone’s grip on our attention can spark discomfort at first. However, the less time I spend with a smart phone within arm’s reach, the less interested I am in using it, the less it distracts me, and the better I feel.

What’s your smart phone actually for?

We throw a lot of money and attention at our phones, yet most of us never ask why.

My smartphone helps me stay organized and keep in touch with people I love. It’s like a digital Swiss Army Knife, and it’s a lifesaver for someone with ADHD.

Of course, there are many models of Swiss Army Knife, to suit a variety of needs. It wouldn’t do to carry a knife with every available tool attached.  Nor should we install every app we enjoy or think we might use. There’s not room, in my day or in my brain, for everything.

For each app, I ask myself: is this something I truly need or want to do on my phone? If an activity can be done better on a computer or other device, I avoid the app. Even though I enjoy games, I limit myself to tabletop gaming and dedicated game consoles, like the PlayStation or Xbox. I have a Facebook account, but I don’t keep the app on my phone. I use my phone only for what it does best — for me.

Notifications and home screens: your first line of defense with the phone in your hand

Notifications — those little banners at the top of your screen, the red number in the corner of an app icon, or a color-coded blinking LED — are supposed to make you look at your phone. Pick it up, and you can find yourself down quite the rabbit hole.

Almost every app provides options for customizing or disabling its notifications. Rather than find a reason to turn off an app’s notifications, I ask myself to justify keeping each notification turned on. Any notifications I do have will cause the phone to vibrate, not make noise. I wouldn’t want a person sitting next to me and interrupting me every time a new thought crossed their mind. I don’t accept that behavior from my phone, either.

In an emergency, people can reach me the same way people have communicated for over a century now: they can call. I always have my ringer turned on.

When I do pick up my phone, I want minimal distractions and maximum utility. Check out my Android home screen, pictured below. When I’m checking a notification or sending a quick text, this is all I see — no social media, no news. Subsequent home screens offer more tools, curated based on frequency of use.

Even if you can’t create a 100% customized experience, all smartphones allow the user to rearrange apps on the home screen(s). The red numbers in the corner of an app’s home screen icon can be disabled, and social media apps can be moved away from the primary home screen.

Literal phone containment

I’ve discussed this in a previous post, so I won’t go into detail here. Suffice it to say, a dedicated home for cell phones sets expectations for phone use and family interactions. Our cell phone basket lives next to an outlet with two USB charging ports. It also houses our portable chargers. Not only has this reduced the amount of time I spend searching for lost phones, I rarely fidget with my phone. The act of getting up and going to the cell phone basket serves as its own barrier: I won’t bother unless I have something specific to do.

Turning the smartphone into…a phone

Despite the benefits of disconnecting, a complete break — even for a few hours — isn’t possible for everyone. I don’t have a landline, but I need a phone in my home office.

Many established landline telephone manufacturers, such as Panasonic and Vtech, now offer systems with Bluetooth technology. Mine cost me less than $100 and includes a corded desk phone and two cordless phones. The corded base station sits on my desk on the second floor of my house, and I keep a cordless unit on the first floor and in the basement. The base station connects to my smart phone via Bluetooth. A call to my cell phone causes everything to ring in unison, just like the old days of landline phones. I can make or pick up a call from anywhere in my house, regardless of my cell phone’s actual location. In other words, my smartphone — with all its apps and distractions — can live out of sight and out of mind for the work day, without severing my connections with the outside world.

Give it time

Perhaps this all sounds well and good to you, but you’re thinking, “this could never fit into my life.” I assure you, most of us can survive with a bit more distance from our smart phones. At first, you may feel disconnected, uncomfortable, and afraid of missing out. Give it a month. Think of it like one of those sugar detoxes, where you work through your cravings before you start to feel healthy again. Chances are, you aren’t the exception here, and you will acclimate to the reduced stimulation and distraction.

And I don’t spend my days cut off from the world, either. I have a telephone number through Google’s Voice service, which allows me to send and receive SMS (text) messages via Google Hangouts on my computer. My desk telephone lets me make and receive calls whenever I like. I’m still available, but I’m far less distracted.

What about you? How do you manage distractions from your smartphone? Have you ever tried to give it up entirely?

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