The ADHD Homestead

Create the life you want with the mind you have.

Author: jaclyn (page 1 of 16)

My ADHD Home: A Visitors’ Guide

My attempts at effective homemaking with ADHD could fill a memoir. I long for a tidy, peaceful home where guests always feel comfortable and welcome. My grandmother would tell you I make this look easy.

We should all have someone like my grandmother in our lives. For everyone else, I give you this visitors’ guide. I do like you, and please don’t let me drive you crazy.

 

Never be afraid to ask.

Before I say anything funny, allow me to say: I want to be a good host. I try to provide the essentials: towels, toothbrush/toothpaste, a bed, and fresh coffee in the morning. I’ll even pick the coffee mug I think suits you best today.

I’m also forgetful. I miss social cues. Some aspects of my lifestyle are a little weird. If you want it, and I haven’t offered it, I guarantee I a.) have no idea and b.) want to make it happen. A polite request for something to make your stay more comfortable is always welcome.

You’d be surprised by what throws me off my game.

Once, my mom brought her own pillowcase to my house. I had a newborn, and she wanted to save me some laundry. I spent the next four years searching for one of the pillowcases to that sheet set. Apparently, I cannot handle washing part of the set without losing the rest.

I recently found it. I wish I could tell you where, but this happened a couple weeks ago, and I forget. I know I found it somewhere in my house.

Also, now I have anxiety every time someone suggests using a partial sheet set. Guests have said, “oh, it’s just me, you didn’t need to use two pillowcases.” Or, even more terrifying, “I don’t really need the top sheet.” I always wonder: should I admit that I’m afraid of losing the unused piece of the set?

Don’t worry, I love going out. I just hate getting ready.

I love showing you around town. I love thinking about my guests, and what they might enjoy, and designing a weekend to suit them.

That said, I hate getting out the door. I fuss over departure times, even when they don’t matter. I overthink how many and which cars we should drive, or whether we should walk or take public transit. I get cranky with my family for taking too long to pack up. Generally speaking, I don’t go with the flow.

I apologize. I’ll try not to be unpleasant, but I have a terrible track record. If (when) it happens, it’s not about you, or my desire to do the thing. It’s about getting out the door, which is not my favorite.

Keep me up late at your own risk.

I have a bedtime, just like my kid has a bedtime. It’s around 10:30 or 11:00 p.m. If I stay up too late, I’ll be a hot mess the next day — especially if we need to get out the door for anything. Lack of sleep intensifies pretty much every ADHD symptom, and sometimes I feel like it increases my meds’ drowsiness side effect.

However, most social nuance is lost on me. I have no idea how to extricate myself gracefully from a conversation. If you’re up, and you’re talking to me, chances are I’ll stay up until you say it’s time for bed. If you want to be super helpful, try to wrap up our friendly chat around the aforementioned time window. Say something like, “alright, well, I’ll let you get to bed.” Everyone will thank you in the morning.

I love offering you a private space…for both of us.

I feel rude even typing this, but I get a little batty about clutter. I find it visually overstimulating, and it makes my brain go haywire. I spend a lot of my life battling clutter, if only to clear my own head.

For our first several years in our house, we didn’t have a dedicated guest room. By necessity, guests tended to spread their belongings throughout the house: a keyring here, a newspaper there, a colony of duffle bags in the corner. I hated myself for how cranky this made me.

Now, I offer guests a semi-finished basement room with their own futon, side table, and bathroom. A handful of guests have told me, “oh, you don’t need to set all that up for me. I can just sleep on the couch.”

Trust me: I love making you a little nest, and it makes me feel like a nice friend. It also gives you a place to put your stuff without cluttering my living space. I’m not a terrible person, but my neurochemistry places certain demands on my environment.

Before Coffee vs. After Coffee.

There are two kinds of time in my day: the time before coffee, and the time after coffee. Before coffee, I like to hang out in the kitchen, cook breakfast for everyone, listen to NPR (or music, or nothing), and put a kettle on the stove. Then I eat my egg and toast and take the remainder of my coffee to the couch to read a magazine.

During this time in the kitchen, I feel happy and pleasant — unless someone harshes my mellow. This isn’t the time to start an important conversation. My brain isn’t warmed up yet. While I’m measuring out the coffee or pouring water into the French press — this is an especially bad time to throw me off-kilter with idle chit-chat. If I pour too much water and have to start my coffee-making routine over, I can’t promise I’m going to be able to deal.

Decompression is a good thing.

After all the drama of pre-coffee chit-chat, lost pillowcases, cluttered side tables, and expeditions out my front door, I need a breather. Seinfeld put it best: it’s not you, it’s me.

I’m an introvert with ADHD. This means I’m easily overwhelmed and worn out by all the hurly-burly. My kid no longer takes a nap in the middle of the day, but I still appreciate a slice  of quiet time. If I sneak off to my office to read a book on the loveseat, or to a backyard hammock for a 30-minute rest in the sun, I probably don’t want you to come keep me company — though I do want you to find me if you need anything! Likewise, if there’s something you want to do — take a walk, read a book, spend some time checking your email — feel free to set aside some time for it. I won’t be offended if you want a little down time that doesn’t involve me.

I like you, please come back.

Bottom line: I love having guests. It’s way more relaxing than getting my entire family out the door (see above) for a weekend away. I love sharing my home and my city. I don’t always have my act together, and sometimes that makes me feel disappointed and angry with myself. It’s not because I don’t want you there, it’s because I have this internal struggle happening: I want to cling to my routines and my familiar environment (ADHD’ers don’t always deal well with change, and someone leaning back in a reclining chair can feel like too much change for me). I also want to be the world’s best host, and I don’t want my ADHD to make me look like a failure as a friend or a grownup.

So welcome to my home. I hope you’re 100% comfortable and happy and well-fed, but if you’re not, I hope you’ll ask for whatever you want. I also hope you’ll be sensitive to the fact that I might act weird sometimes, or seem overly rigid about the little stuff, or get cranky and overwhelmed while we’re getting out the door. I don’t mean to be off-putting. I appreciate you, and I hope you’ll come back.

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I have ADHD, and sometimes I can’t spell my own name

I’ve never had real a nickname, but my dad sometimes called me “Jacly” when I was a kid. The joke started when I forgot the last letter of my name at the top of a school paper.

Fourth-grade Jaclyn knew how to spell her own name — obviously — but my attention span wasn’t always long enough to write all six letters.

It still isn’t. I still catch myself writing “Jacly” on official documents. I also forget words in sentences, or I write words with the letters out of order. Occasionally, I find post-it notes with sentence fragments or unlabeled telephone numbers. I got distracted before I finished writing, and now I can’t figure out what they mean.

In the moment, I don’t realize these attention lapses are happening. There’s no way I can tell myself, “hey, focus!” and prevent them. I call myself detail-oriented. I’m proud of my ability to fill out forms correctly and completely. Still, I make weird mistakes all the time — especially when I’m writing by hand.

I don’t remember whether I liked my dad calling me “Jacly.” I can see myself appreciating that someone gave me a nickname. Just as likely, I might’ve gotten my hackles up. All the anguish I remember from my childhood stemmed from my ADHD, though I had no idea at the time. ADHD’s quirks and foibles — like misspelling one’s own name, or throwing a third-grade classmate on the floor after he cuts in line — can come to define us. And that hurts. Maybe it’s who we are, but it’s not who we feel we are.

That dissonance haunted me all through my young life. I wrote in my journal about a desire to leave home and start over. I hated going to school knowing everyone had an opinion about who I was. I didn’t feel like I fit others’ definitions of me.

I still struggle with this, but I try to keep a sense of humor. I try to look for opportunities. Every time I write “Jacly,” I smile and hear my dad’s voice as I go back to add the ‘n.’ I try to view mistakes as opportunities to show my real self: someone who’s neither selfish, nor irresponsible, nor slapdash. I do that by admitting my mistakes, apologizing when necessary, and acknowledging how my actions affect others. I’m upfront about my memory and attention issues. I hope this openness helps people realize it’s not about them, or my feelings toward them. I talk about my post-it notes and my organizational systems because I want others to see I’m trying. I try to laugh at the silly stuff, and keep working on the important stuff.

Because I’ll always misspell my name on occasion. Every once in a while, my post-its — or another system — will fail me. It’ll probably be my fault. But I can practice resilience. I can forgive myself and maintain a decent attitude. I can resist the impulse toward defensiveness, blame-shifting, or turning all that anger inward. I can own Jacly, but reject negative, self-destructive labels. Then, I can brush myself off and keep trying, assuming it’s not too late to add the ‘n.’

ADHD & money: Our experience with a financial planner

A lot of adults with ADHD experience financial stress. Fiscal responsibility requires impulse control, tolerance for boring paperwork, and an ability to plan ahead and defer pleasure spending. We have to stay on top of our bills (and their due dates). And that’s assuming we have a steady job that covers expenses with room for savings.

I’ve always considered myself good with money — ADHD and all — but I want to tell you about my recent experience with a financial planner. I balked at the idea when my husband first suggested it. After all, I (and most of my family) take pride in my ability to handle money responsibly, without asking for help. However, hiring a financial planner was one of my best decisions in recent memory.

Regardless of where you are with money, I highly recommend a financial planner to make sure you’re on the right track. Here’s what the process looked like for us.

Financial planners aren’t just for rich people

While many wealth management consultants only see people with over $1 million in assets, there’s a whole network of planners who take on smaller clients. At first, I thought hiring a financial planner made a statement about how much money you had: enough that you couldn’t figure out what to do with it. But we all need to save for the future, even if we’re not making a ton of cash.

Our financial planner reviewed the full inventory of our assets — from our bank accounts, to our employer-sponsored retirement accounts, to an IRA my grandmother insisted I open as a teenager — and gave us a list of tweaks. His suggestions had little impact on our current lifestyle, but those investments will be worth a lot more down the road. I’d been on the right track, funneling money into long-term savings to “hide” it from our temptation to make impulse purchases. Our financial planner helped us make sure we were saving the right amount, and that the money we saved was being invested wisely.

If you don’t have much, it’s even more important to run a tight financial ship. Our financial planner recommended using automatic transfers. We love them. Money disappears into accounts we’re keeping for retirement, a new kitchen, and our son’s college education. I realized we need to prepare for R’s preschool tuition bill. It isn’t due for several months, but it could hurt our emergency buffer if we don’t set money aside. I also started brainstorming ways we could save on our monthly expenses. I used to think relatively little about money and hope for the best. When there was money left over, I transferred it to savings. Otherwise, our paychecks covered everything we needed. Now I’m more conscious of big-ticket expenses coming up — and how much we need to save — thanks to automatic transfers that keep me on a schedule.

How we found our financial planner

We started our search through the Garrett Planning Network. Most of Garrett’s planners work with smaller clients, and they don’t receive any commissions for their work. In other words, they charge a fee for the hours they spend crafting your plan, and that’s the only way they get paid. They have an obligation to work in your best interest.

After we made a list of planners in our region, we narrowed it to one who looked like the best fit. Then we arranged a get-to-know-you meeting. I used this guide from the Wall Street Journal to brush up on the basics of the business. Before our meeting, our planner asked for a basic inventory of our finances. We met and discussed expectations, made sure we understood his services and fees, and ultimately decided to proceed.

My husband was skeptical at first. I’d done all the initial research, and he had only the planner’s website as an introduction. After our initial meeting, he was completely sold. This was critical: we were trusting someone else with part of our financial future. I wasn’t willing to pull the trigger unless we both felt confident.

Deadlines, deadlines

Not only did our financial planner give us advice we wouldn’t have thought of on our own, he gave us a to-do list. We’ll probably check in with him again in a year or two. I’ve been more motivated to carry out his suggestions than I would’ve if I’d been on my own. If nothing else, I don’t want to show up to our check-in empty-handed.

For adults with ADHD, this readymade to-do list — not to mention having someone else do the mountain of research on financial minutiae — seems like a fantastic idea. A future check-in establishes external accountability, something notably absent in my previous DIY financial management strategy. As hesitant as I was to enlist help with my financial future, I feel like it’s already paid for itself.

What do you think? Have you worked with a financial planner? Do you struggle with money? 

5 random, mundane things ADHD messes up for me

ADHD and everyday life: it’s almost all I write about here. I try to touch on the important issues, the ones that can cripple our relationships, productivity, and self-actualization. On the ground, though, the little stuff adds up. It makes us laugh. It grinds us down. It affects how others judge us.

Here are five random ways ADHD affects my day-to-day.

  1. Maintaining curb appeal. I live in a sweet little neighborhood where most people take pretty good care of their yards. I love taking care of my yard. It’s rewarding, and it gives me quality outdoor time. The problem is, taking care of the yard(s) requires consistent effort. I’m really great at burst effort. I mow the lawn on the regular, but I’ve also been guilty of the following: dismantling a children’s play structure and letting the pieces blow around the front yard for months. Leaving a length of baseboard from a demolition project leaning on my back fence for five years (and counting). Doing a great job mulching in April, then letting weeds take over the flower garden in July. Repairing the structure of our decorative porch column, then leaving it a bare wooden post all winter (and counting). The list goes on. I can’t imagine what would happen if I didn’t even enjoy this stuff.
  2. Keeping gas in the car. I think I put gas in my car every month or so. I used to drive more, and fueling up at a quarter tank was part of my routine. Now, it’s so long between fill-ups that I forget the gas station, and even the gas gauge, exist. I often don’t look at the gas gauge until the orange light comes on. Then, the ADHD dissociation of actions from consequences kicks in. Intellectually, I know my car will eventually run out of gas. On a deeper level, I can’t feel it. It doesn’t seem real. The feeling most people get when the fuel light comes on doesn’t always happen for me. This is why people with ADHD do such dumb stuff sometimes. Yes, part of our brain knows what will happen, but the part that directs our actions misses the memo. It’s almost unbelievable, even to someone who experiences it.
  3. Using wart remover. You know the stuff I’m talking about, right? The directions say to apply it every day for a couple weeks. For four years, I’ve failed to remember this for enough days in a row to permanently remove a wart.
  4. Parenting with consistency. I often say, “well, next time…” and “okay, but from now on…” The problem is, unless I write that down, I probably won’t remember. My highest priority is to  provide a consistent, predictable system of consequences in my child’s life. I feel awful every time ADHD sabotages this, either because my heat-of-the-moment “next time” was impulsive and unreasonable, or because I forgot the promised consequence.
  5. Helping the homeless. I feel distinctly not-okay every time I shake my head “no” or ignore a homeless person. At the same time, I would rather give them a bus pass, a snack, or something similarly useful than straight-up cash. My goal in life is to keep a stock of granola bars within arm’s reach in my car. That way, I can hand a healthy snack out the window when someone is holding a sign at a red light. However, achieving this is a legit project. I need to select a temperature-tolerant, individually packaged snack, remember to buy it at the store, remember to put it in my car, and remember it’s there when I want it. I feel guilty about the fact that I haven’t succeeded yet.

Alright, your turn. What’s an unexpected roadblock ADHD throws up in your life? Share it in the comments, we won’t judge 😉

How much should we help a spouse with ADHD?

Last week, I wrote about ADHD, failure, and resilience. The week before, I wrote about letting go of all my life’s could-have-beens.

But what about the person right beside us — our life’s co-pilot? What if we’re married to someone who has ADHD, too?

Living in a dual-ADHD marriage is complicated. Where does my success or failure stop, and my partner’s begin? Where do my responsibilities to myself stop, and my responsibilities to my family begin? How much of my self should I invest in lifting up another person?

A friend told me once, before I got married, that a marriage is like becoming 1.5 people. You never do anything truly alone. In many ways this is true: our fates are intertwined. We can’t (or at least shouldn’t) give up all of ourselves in service to another person, but neither can we afford to cut the rope and let them drown.

So how much should a partner’s ADHD feel like my problem? How much should I help, support, and rescue?

ADHD is different for everyone

Our family’s biggest blessing and biggest challenge is how different we are. My husband and I come from opposite ends of the ADHD spectrum. His Achilles’  heel is hyperfocus and time management. My focus is all over the place. On the bright side, I can’t stand being late. Rigid systems and lists repel him, whereas I’ve used them as a form of coping and self-soothing since my teens. I have no idea how to relax. He refuses to worry about anything until it’s critical. ADHD manifests differently for everyone. We’re a perfect illustration of this.

While differences allow us to support each other, we can’t let each other — or ourselves — off the hook. If adult responsibilities are divided too unevenly, a marriage can begin to feel like a parent-child relationship. I may be anxious and obsessively organized, but I shouldn’t do so much for my husband that he feels incompetent.

I also have to remember: my ADHD isn’t his ADHD. What feels right for me, may make little sense to him.

Life and marriage are different for everyone

I also have to think of my own sanity. ADHD expert Gina Pera often tells partners of people with ADHD, “put on your own oxygen mask first.” That often means finding a way to make peace with how things are right now. Regardless of how I’d like our team to operate, how can I make sure I write every day — right now? How can I practice yoga daily and go running three times per week? How can I keep others’ behavior from stressing me out? If I’m running myself ragged for someone, it’s not a healthy relationship. I help, I support, but I don’t sacrifice my self-care priorities.

Also, every marriage is unique. I’ve had many people, most of them pretty good friends, tell me things like “I don’t know how you do it” or “I could never put up with that.” What they mean is this: they couldn’t tolerate their spouse, in their marriage, rarely being around to help put their kids to bed. They wouldn’t want to be responsible for mowing the lawn or taking out the trash. For me, in my marriage, these things are tolerable. I enjoy mowing the lawn. Sometimes I ask my husband to take a few days off to stay with our son while I attend a writing conference or retreat. He supports me 100%. He’s never said no, and he’s never complained. As long as the equation balances for me, I try to ignore what may or may not work for anyone else.

ADHD symptoms, in priority order

If I’m asking myself how much I should help my ADHD partner, I have to consider if he even wants my help. How much of a problem is this for him? What are his priorities?

My own symptom-management priority has always been clear: to make sure I can comprehend and stick to a system for keeping myself organized. I can’t stand living in chaos.

On the other hand, I bet my husband would point to my temper. Also, my tendency to start new projects whenever I think of them, never mind the 10 projects I’ve already dragged him into. He’d probably say my ADHD can — when poorly managed — make me negative, inflexible, combative, and anxious.

Being an intolerable person is a problem, I get that. It’s just not as big a problem as failing to be productive.

It’s important to talk each other about what symptoms are bothering us most. Walking into an argument — or a well-intentioned attempt to help — assuming the other person ranks this problem the same way you do is a recipe for disaster.

Setting a spouse up for success

There’s also the issue of teaching a person with ADHD to fish, rather than giving them a free pass. My husband also has trouble coming up with productive ways to spend time with our preschooler on the weekends. He has things he wants to do, and he struggles with how to involve our son. I bought a few books with screen-free and science-y activities for young children. I bookmarked a handful of pages. Then I gave my husband a few pre-selected choices on a Saturday morning. He had no trouble picking one. He and R. went to the store for supplies, returned home, and made sensory “moon sand” in the kitchen.

I kept expectations reasonable. I didn’t berate him, nor did I hold his hand any more than I needed to. I set him up for success because success builds confidence and, in this case, relationships.

Go for what works

The bottom line: it’s a balancing act. I’m trying to find the sweet spot between the health of my family, our relationship(s), and my own sanity. I support and help — and, yes, pick up slack for — my husband. I also demand that certain conditions be met: our family relationships are strong, I’m taking good care of myself, and our home and finances are in order. When my kid feels hurt or disappointed, I’m not writing, and/or I feel like I have too much on my plate, I speak up and demand change. Otherwise, if it works, I do it — even if it’s not the way my friends are managing their home lives.

Does having ADHD mean I can’t succeed?

People often ask me about getting organized with ADHD. I like chatting about organizing at home, too. Recently, my husband said something interesting.

He told me, “But these [strategies] don’t work for me — that’s what ADHD is.”

But is it?

There are scores of apps and organizational systems out there. Does having ADHD mean we’re doomed to fail with all of them?

I’m doomed, but not hopeless

My answer: yes and no. Yes, we’re doomed to fail. No, ADHD doesn’t consign us to a hopeless and chaotic existence. Everyone fails sometimes, perhaps people with ADHD more than the average. Whether that makes us feel “doomed” is a matter of resilience, as long as our symptoms are under control.

For all my praise of David Allen’s Getting Things Done — my ultimate organizing go-to — I’ve failed with GTD many times. But that’s the key: many times. I’ve had to train myself to start over, and over, and over. In order to succeed, I’ve had to make peace with failure.

Of course, sometimes I do feel like having ADHD means I can’t succeed, or I’ll never be as successful as someone without ADHD. I think anyone with any disability feels this way sometimes. It can feel like I work twice as hard because I need to keep my ADHD under control. That’s it’s own project, and it only gets me to the starting line.

Symptom management: always the first step

However, there are ways to make life with ADHD easier.

First and foremost is symptom management. As I’ve said before, I know GTD works for me. It feels right. My project/task management app, Toodledo, feels right. Neither feel easy, but they feel right. And when both became impossible — that is, I truly felt doomed to fail, and became increasingly ineffective — I knew something else was broken.

As it turned out, the medication that worked well for me before I had a kid was no longer effective (this isn’t uncommon — changing estrogen levels can have massive impacts on women’s ADHD symptoms). I went through a brief trial and error process to find a new medication that worked for me. Maintaining my organizational systems became possible again.

I think of this like eyeglasses for my brain. For most of my life, I lived with severe nearsightedness — the “I need my glasses to find my glasses” variety. While I still had limitations with my glasses, I could see well enough to function in the regular world. ADHD meds don’t magically turn me into a “normal” person, but they approximate it well enough, just like strong eyeglasses.

Even if a system like GTD or Bullet Journal or an app like Toodledo is perfect for me, I can’t maintain it with out-of-control ADHD symptoms. In this way, my husband was right: effective symptom management is the first step to implementing an organizational system. Skipping it is like trying to read a tiny-print textbook without glasses.

The right tools for my brain (and no one else’s)

As highly as I value symptom management, I don’t believe meds make me a superstar at every organizational system. I still need to work with my brain, and I can’t impose my favorite tools on the rest of my household. While having ADHD doesn’t stop me from using a system like GTD or Bullet Journal, I’ve had to learn what works for me and what doesn’t. Even if a friend swears by a specific app, cleaning schedule, visual filing system, etc. — I have to know that if it doesn’t feel right, I’m not going to use it well.

And that may be the most critical point: many people can get by with a half-system. Many people can force themselves to get organized with a system they don’t love, or that doesn’t mesh with their thinking style. People with ADHD cannot.

We’ve had to think about this a lot in our home. I bristle at clutter and gravitate toward closed storage. My husband, a visual thinker, dislikes putting anything away if that means he can’t see it. To contain the amoebas of junk that push me over the edge, we use a lot of baskets.

Likewise, you might think Gmail’s Priority inbox, starred messages, auto sorting features, or new Inbox app would help people with ADHD. Maybe they do, but they don’t help me. They make me freak out because they don’t mesh with the way I need to manage my email. Rather than listen to the rest of the world tell me how great they are, I’ve disabled all of it, and I plan to keep it that way.

When you find what works, don’t let it go

That’s how I have to be if I want to succeed as an adult with ADHD. I have to defend and stick to what works. Having ADHD means my field of of stuff that will work is pretty narrow. It means what works for some people might not work for me, and what works for me might seem silly or weird to others.

My system isn’t perfect, and sometimes it fails despite my best efforts. But having ADHD doesn’t mean I have to label myself a failure. It just requires me to be ever-vigilant, making sure I’m using the right tools to control both my symptoms and my inboxes.

How about you? Have you found a system that works for you yet? How do you manage ADHD burnout, and the fear that you’ll never get it right?

Me & my ADHD: Letting go of the careers that could’ve been.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been sure of my path. Each year, I’ve thought, this is what I’m meant to do. And each year has found me doing something different.

By ninth grade, I’d picked my future college: Berklee College of Music in Boston. I’d never visited, but I loved Boston. My future as a musician was a forgone conclusion. Eager to make sure everything was perfect by senior year, I printed the entire application right then and there.

Sounds very un-ADHD — that is, if I’d ended up going to Boston, or going to school for music. I did neither. As tightly as I’d latched onto that specific idea — going to Berklee and majoring in music performance — I got derailed. Someone I respected and trusted told me something I hadn’t considered: music majors practice a lot. Over eight hours per day, he said. I’d have to give up almost everything else.

Everything else: Writing, art, photography, reading, publishing my zine. The idea of turning my back on those many passions — even in service to my greatest one, which I’d used as a lifeline throughout my adolescence — spooked me.

So began a long succession of college majors. I spread my undergraduate career over four majors and two universities.

Ability, interest, and time intersect

I used to think I could do anything. That I hadn’t and wasn’t — well, it gnawed at me. I envisioned my 30-something self as someone who’d earned two PhDs, hiked the Inca Trail, and learned to speak seven languages. While many of my peers honed and narrowed their passions throughout their teens and 20s, I wondered how anyone could settle down with just one life path. The world was too interesting for that.

I’ve changed gears and started over a lot. I’ve been accepted into undergraduate programs in psychology, education, and fine arts, and graduate programs in business and community art. I regret not studying neuroscience, physics, creative writing, or music performance in college. My favorite class senior year was Geology. My favorite class freshman year was Arab-Israeli Conflict and Peacemaking. I’ve held — and loved — jobs in a cabinetry shop, print shop, IT support desk, and community-based non-profit. My strongest natural talent is playing the flute.

I believed I was smart enough to get a PhD in anything. I had it in me to be a successful entrepreneur, I had the potential to write the next Tony Award-winning musical, and my latest blog project was sure to go viral. The only thing holding me back was time: how would I find time to do it all?

As I neared my 30th birthday, I faced a sudden fear that time was running out. I read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. I asked myself, when have I ever focused on one thing for long enough to accumulate 10,000 hours of practice? Eventually, I realized that through all of this, I’ve always been a writer. Before I could use a pen, I’d sit next to my mother and dictate stories to her while she copied my words into construction-paper books.

Not all that shines is worthy

Over the past few years, I’ve pondered my identity and my long-term goals. I’ve realized, finally, that if I want to be successful at anything, I have to learn to let go. I have to let go of my dreams of being a famous musician, a Supreme Court Justice, and a neuroscience researcher. As I failed to do all those years ago, I need to pare my life down and make time for my craft — and I have to keep that craft the same, year after year.

It hasn’t been easy. I’ve been working on the same novel draft since 2009. I’ve gotten tired of it and wanted to quit so many times, I have no idea how it’s gotten this far. Likewise with this blog. I’ve come up with 1001 justifications for retiring it and moving on.

I don’t know how I’ve kept it up. I’ve never stuck with anything for this long. All I can say is, it started to feel good. I pitched my manuscript to agents last August and got wonderful feedback. Now a few are waiting on the full, revised manuscript. People have written me from all over to tell me how much they appreciate my blog, and how much my writing has helped them. To quit now would be to let a lot of people down, not least of all myself.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been a letdown before — plenty of times. But it takes on a different meaning as I get older. The questions at parties and holiday dinners twist my heart a little more. I’m closer to the end of my life than I’ve ever been, and I’m beginning to grasp the consequences of starting over every few years. And so I’ve resolved to let most of it go: all the careers that could’ve been.

Yoking to a path: the anti-ADHD

My 30s have been about choosing a path — one path — and tilling that soil for multiple seasons. Our identities are shaped by the work we do each day. That work is like a marriage: something I choose daily, deliberately, and continue to choose throughout my life. It’s not something that sweeps me off my feet on a weekly basis, nor is it something that should change with everything new and shiny. It requires work, intention, dedication. It’s not always fun or exhilarating, but in the end, it’s deeply rewarding. It’s where I’ve chosen to belong.

USPS strikes again, & why I over-prepare

Recently, someone asked why I wanted a passport for my three-year-old. My husband asked the question, too. We have no immediate plans to travel abroad. Why would I add to my already-full to-do list?

Here’s why: our household’s adults have ADHD. Bureaucratic processes take longer than I’d like to admit. Minor setbacks have a disproportionate effect on us. Sometimes, we answer the call to adventure with an impulsive, “yes!” Other times, we have time to plan in advance, but we don’t.

This isn’t my first time to the passport rodeo. I’ve been burned before. I’ve learned that adults with ADHD should err on the side of preparedness in these situations, not wait until we’re under the gun.

The passport that almost kept me home

My grade-school best friend spent a college semester in Ireland. Of course I went to visit him. After all, I had an opportunity to travel abroad for nothing but the cost of airfare.

Did I plan ahead on this, knowing he’d be studying abroad? Nope.

I had plenty of time to renew my expired passport, but I didn’t do it. I had misgivings about being able to afford my plane ticket. My ADHD brain settled into a rut and failed to consider possible solutions to this problem — like borrowing frequent flyer miles from a family member who flew a lot for work.

By the time my family learned of my plight and offered me the miles, I was in a bind. I barely had enough time to renew my passport with expedited processing. It was expensive and stressful. Even after paying extra, I bit my nails while I waited. I expected to receive it only days before my departure. Any hitch in the process could’ve cancelled my entire trip.

From that day on, I vowed never to let a passport expire again, even if I didn’t think I’d need it for a while. Impulsive, last-minute adventures have always been kind of my thing. This didn’t need to be one of those times, but it ended up being so because I didn’t plan ahead.

Government paperwork & ADHD

Fast-forward to 2016, when I renewed my husband’s and my passports. While I was at it, I applied for one for our son. First-time passports for minors require parents to fill out the application, take a picture of the kid, and show up together at the Post Office to take an oath. Easy, right?

Not if you have ADHD. Then, every step of the process feels like a roadblock: printing out the forms. Sitting down and filling them out correctly. Remembering to take a photo. Remembering to pick the photo up from Target. Picking up the phone to make the appointment at the Post Office. Finally, getting our entire family to the Post Office, together, at the correct time, during a work day.

It took us at least six months to execute all these steps.

A snag, but not a disaster

Once we successfully presented ourselves at the Post Office, guess what? The woman at the desk told me we a.) weren’t on the schedule, b.) had never been on the schedule, and c.) had called the incorrect number to make our appointment.

Only a.) ended up being correct, but can you imagine? Six months of fighting my ADHD, and someone tries to send me out the door at the last moment? I had a fresh dose of Concerta in my system, but I still fought mightily not to make a huge scene. I didn’t want to be rude to the woman, but I felt like she was trying to ruin my life.

It turned out someone else had called to cancel their appointment and ended up cancelling ours by accident. Who could’ve guessed? We ended up completing our application after all, and I didn’t have to apologize for too much bad behavior.

Low stakes? In ADHD-land?

Reflecting on the Post Office incident, I could only feel thankful that I didn’t have a vacation on my calendar. Unlike my trip to Ireland, I had nothing hanging in the balance. I could afford a SNAFU. Knowing our ADHD family, if we were applying for passports to prepare for actual travel, we’d be doing it last-minute. The stakes would be higher, and our little misunderstanding at the Post Office could’ve led to an epic meltdown. I may not have felt comfortable going to that Post Office ever again.

In other words, I was grateful I didn’t actually need the passport I was applying for. I almost pitched a fit, but I fought it off because I had no reason to panic. Being an adult with ADHD is hard. It’s not often I get to take my slow, ADHD time with no repercussions. If I have an opportunity to struggle through red tape when the stakes are low, why not take it?

What chores and processes tend to mesh poorly with your ADHD? How do you keep them from causing unnecessary stress? Feel free to share your own stories in the comments!

Organizing & ADHD: what’s in my library?

A reader recently asked: do you have any resources for decluttering or journaling with ADHD?

What a wonderful question to be asked! I write often about organizing because I find cluttered, messy spaces stressful and overstimulating. A chaotic environment begets a chaotic mind, and vice versa. I suspect I’m in good company among people with ADHD.

Along the way, I’ve written about everything from note-taking on my bathroom mirror to reducing my junk mail, from participating in an online decluttering challenge to getting my visual-thinker husband to put his stuff away.

Of course, I’m a writer, and I’ve kept a notebook since the seventh grade. I’ve shared a peek inside my Bullet Journal once, and I’ll probably do it again.

What I’m reading now & what I’ve read along the way

My journey has been populated with life-changing writing from other people — that’s the reason I have so much to write about! I’ve read a few books about organizing and ADHD, and a few books about organizing in general. I also check in with some favorite minimalism-focused blogs when I need to re-center.

ADHD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life was my first ADHD-specific organizing book. I read it years ago, and I recall it being especially useful for visual thinkers. I’m not a highly visual thinker, but I’m married to one, and I’ve had to learn a whole new world of organizing strategies to combat “out of sight, out of mind” anxiety. Many people with ADHD share this problem. There’s also a book called Organizing Solutions for People With Attention Deficit Disorder, which I know I got from the library several years ago but can’t remember much about. Rather than breaking strategies out by category, it has a section for each room in the house. It’s written by a professional organizer who works with ADHD clients, while ADHD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life is co-written by a professional organizer and a renowned ADHD expert. If you can only get one, I’d recommend ADHD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life.

As for general organizing books, I got a lot out of Unclutter Your Life in One Week. I received the author’s follow-up, Never Too Busy to Cure Clutter, for Christmas, and I’m psyched to read it. If you can’t snag the book, the accompanying Unclutterer website has lots of tips, too.

Speaking of blogs, I keep a few in my list to catch up on from time to time. My favorites are Becoming Minimalist and Be More With Less.

If you struggle with emotional attachments to things, or if typical organizing literature feels cold and unapproachable, I recommend Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up . Some of Kondo’s advice feels like a stretch, especially for adults with ADHD, but it’s definitely worth a read. It helped me navigate my own feelings of guilt and attachment around stuff I don’t use or enjoy anymore.

And now, for what I consider the bookends of my ADHD journey. Many years ago, I read a book called It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys. It changed my life. It doesn’t focus on ADHD, though the author does mention it. The writing exercises spoke to me through my love of journaling and writing things down. As I progressed through the book, the text guided me through an inventory of everything my disorganization was costing me — emotionally, physically, and financially. It was a sobering moment, and the beginning of my realization that I needed help. Later, when I sought diagnosis and medication for my ADHD, this quantification of how it affected my life proved invaluable. It’s Hard to Make a Difference also taught me, then a recent BFA graduate, that extreme disorganization wasn’t an indicator of creativity. I could be a creative person without living in chaos, and I could be happier and more productive.

Finally, I owe the biggest debt to David Allen’s Getting Things Done. If It’s Hard to Make a Difference turned on the lights, Getting Things Done showed me the way out.

Enough from my library. What are your top life-changing reads about getting organized with ADHD?

How I take productive breaks with #AdultADHD

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the value of breaks. On one hand, I’ve had to train myself to pay attention for long enough to make a dent in one task. Mindfulness meditation and stimulant medications have helped me do that. Then there’s the other side of ADHD: learning to pull away at the right time. Here are some of my favorite strategies.

Pomodoro(ish)

If you’re not familiar with the Pomodoro Technique, here’s the gist: you set a kitchen timer for 25 minutes and dedicate those minutes to only one task. This unit of time is referred to as one Pomodoro.

I’m not strict about using the Pomodoro Technique all the time. I do find it especially helpful for my weekly review, when I get sidetracked easily. I use a timer to rotate between emptying my inboxes and completing other review steps every 10-25 minutes. The timer, which sits right beneath my computer monitor, provides some healthy anxiety. The prospect of a forced break keeps my eye on the prize and I’m more conscious of interruptions and tangents.

Boundaries

I’m useless in front of a screen after 9:00 p.m. I’d love to say I “moonlight” as a fiction writer, but I don’t work well that way. I never have. If I’m looking at a computer screen after nine, I’m wasting more time and getting less done than I would at 2:00 in the afternoon.

While it’d be great if I could change this, I don’t think that’s possible without a brain transplant. I now try to avoid screen time at night. Sometimes, this means leaving a project before I’ve reached a good stopping point. This can feel impossible for some people with ADHD. It takes a lot of practice, and it will always feel uncomfortable, but it’s a rote learning process.

Self-observation

If work is going poorly, it can be best to step away. Remember my physics teacher and his beanbags? Sacrificing a time block I intended for writing, bookkeeping, or email can pay huge returns later in the day.

Nowadays, when I feel myself floundering, wasting time, and failing to settle down, I get up. I do a quick office yoga podcast. I set a timer and work for 20 minutes on a physical task like sewing, washing dishes, or organizing my basement. Even when I worked in a more traditional office, I had opportunities to get up: I could check stock for my office supply order, or go to someone’s workstation to address an IT trouble ticket.

Obviously, there’s a risk of ADHD-fueled avoidance and procrastination. The key is timing these breaks and pushing myself back to my desk when they’re over. Not only that, I know there are some tasks I’ll never want to start. In those cases, another break won’t help at all.

Podcasts

When a break won’t help, I try to make an otherwise unpleasant chore seem like a treat or a break. Podcasts can work wonders to reduce dread and reluctance. If I’m dragging my feet on chores, I turn on a funny podcast, like Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids. For longer projects, I use the podcast as a makeshift Pomodoro timekeeper. I tell myself I only need to work for the length of the podcast, then I can take a break.

In a similar vein, I generally only watch television when I fold laundry. This limits my unscheduled television “breaks” and gives me a more positive attitude about laundry. Laundry day means I can sit down and treat myself to my favorite shows!

What about you? What strategies have you discovered to disengage for a healthy break?

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