The ADHD Homestead

Create the life you want with the mind you have.

Category: Mental Health

Through the valley of the shadow of emotional hyperfocus

Let’s talk about feelings. ADHD feelings.

Most people don’t realize, ADHD is way more than forgetfulness and distractability and poor impulse control. ADHD can make our emotions big and scary and maybe even dangerous. Feelings that come and go quickly for others can suck us in, kind of like an emotional eddy.

Growing up alongside a big, gorgeous river, I learned about eddies. They kill a lot of people. They’re powerful and disorienting, and no human can overcome the force of that much water.

But you can get out. You do it by swimming straight down to the bottom, then downstream a ways, and then you try to reach the surface.

It works for feelings, too.

Sometimes, it’s not a big deal (to you).

My ADHD symptoms got worse during our kitchen renovation. All the mess and disruption did a number on my mental health. That I observed and identified this situation — you know, as one of those life circumstances that’ll give a neurotypical person ADHD-like symptoms — was perhaps my only saving grace.

One evening, just before bed, I annoyed my husband somehow. I forget how, and it doesn’t matter, because it wasn’t a big deal. It didn’t need to be a Whole Big Thing. It was a Normal Marriage Thing. A blip on the radar.

Here’s the problem for many adults with ADHD: we tend to latch onto things, and we have a lot of trouble letting go. Poorly managed ADHD blows Normal Marriage Things into Whole Big Things on the regular. It’s exhausting.

Fortunately, I recognized this. I decided — for once! — not to force my husband through a conversation about why he was or wasn’t annoyed with me, and how we could fix it. He wasn’t worried about it, and he wanted to go to sleep. Have you ever kept your spouse up for hours with a bizarre, melodramatic Whole Big Thing whose significance you couldn’t even explain the next day? I have. Let’s just say I wanted to jump on the opportunity to avoid it this time. I got out of bed and removed myself to another room to settle down.

“Forget it” and “drop it” don’t really work with ADHD.

That’s all great, except I don’t know how to let things go. This is why I insist on talking through everything immediately, and why I never, ever want to go to bed angry. I knew I had to drop it, and I knew bothering my husband with drama while he was trying to sleep would make things worse. That didn’t prevent me from suffering.

People with ADHD can get stuck on an emotion. The feeling magnifies itself until it’s overwhelming, even frightening. We can become a person we don’t know. Just like time disappears with task hyperfocus, the spectrum of our emotions disappears with emotional hyperfocus.

It’s easy to sink into a spiral of self-loathing, anger, hopelessness, worthlessness. Once you’re in the spiral, it’s like an eddy: it sucks you down. It won’t let you out the way you came. If you let it overwhelm you, you’ll drown.

There I was, on the couch, gasping for air as those toxic emotions pulled me under.

Swimming to the bottom of the emotional eddy.

I found my way out, albeit by accident.

Don’t ask me how I thought of this in my state of hysteria, but imagined my future self. I pictured myself standing in our yet-to-be-constructed new kitchen. I was at the island, preparing food, surrounded by friends and family. Happy.

I felt the negative emotions dissipate, like a fog lifting.

Turning off a light, touching someone on the arm, or forcing them to get up and get a drink of water can help break the spell of hyperfocus. I suppose I forced my brain to do this in a more figurative sense. I offered a distraction. I walked my brain over to a different corner, forced my mental eyes to refocus, and suddenly I could see the real world again.

Dropping it with my husband took me to the bottom of the emotional abyss. To my surprise, I resurfaced on my own this time.

When we’re out of it, we’re out of it.

I don’t intend this as a how-to, even though I’d love to imagine my words helping someone. Think of this as an ask, of those of you who love someone with ADHD. I want to help you understand how hard this is. How hysterical we get over stuff that’s not a big deal. How, in the moment, it is a big deal. We can lose all sense of self-worth. We attack. We may literally not be able to comprehend the fact that you still love us.

So don’t try to reason with us. Don’t even try to recognize us. Wait for us to come back first, or better yet, try to help find us.

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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?

Why you need to stop putting yourself last

If you’re a parent with ADHD, it’s easy — maybe even automatic — to put yourself last.

I’m not always flush with well-focused energy. Sometimes I think I owe it all to my family. Because I’m always behind on something, I never feel like I’ve earned time for myself.

The problem is, time for ourselves isn’t an earned privilege, it’s a necessity. When you put yourself last, you’re making your ADHD symptoms worse. Taking time out for yourself will make you a better parent and open the door to a deeper, more satisfying relationship with your kids.

stop putting yourself last

Stress is the enemy of willpower

Perhaps the biggest reason to (literally) give yourself a break: it increases your self-control. Parents with ADHD aren’t born with a vast reserve of composure, and many of us have a low tolerance for frustration. Stress — sometimes viewed as an unavoidable byproduct of parenting — reduces self-control even more.

“Stress is the enemy of willpower,” writes Dr. Kelly McGonigal in The Willpower Instinct. “So often we believe that stress is the only way to get things done, and we even look for ways to increase stress — criticizing ourselves for being lazy or out of control — to motivate ourselves. Or we use stress to try to motivate others, turning up the heat at work or coming down hard at home. This may seem to work in the short term, but in the long term, nothing drains willpower faster than stress.”

Sound familiar? ADHD adults are especially guilty of the stress game thanks to our brains’ increased need for stimulation. As Gina Pera explains in her book, Is It You, Me, or Adult ADD?, conflict and stress can become a subconscious form of self-medication.

Relax and step back

One of the best ways to recover from stress is simple relaxation. The human brain wasn’t built for marathons. We need short breaks — real breaks, not hiding in the bathroom while you check Facebook — to disengage our brains from whatever we’re doing. Shoot for something that lowers your heart rate and blood pressure, like meditation or yoga.

You might also want to try stepping back more often and doing a little less for your kids. It will help them learn important skills, not to mention excessive hovering can be detrimental to family relationships.

It’s easy to feel guilty about this, like you’re choosing yourself over your family. Don’t forget you’re part of that family, too. Despite abundant social pressures, attachment parenting, at least in its purest form, isn’t for everyone. Your kids need a stable, sane, well-rested parent. If you’re not giving that to them now, figure out how to get yourself recharged back to your best self.

Strive for a healthy relationship with your kids

Not only will a healthy break help you maintain your sanity, it’ll improve your relationship with your kids. After all, how would you feel if you were in a relationship with someone who:

  • Was always run-down and exhausted because of you?
  • Had no life of their own because of you?
  • Lived in constant fear of messing you up, as though you were too fragile for a real, honest relationship with them?
  • Needed you to feel dependent on them?

If you’re going at full intensity from the time you wake up to the time you collapse into bed, ask yourself: can you spare a few minutes of down time if it means you’re less likely to forget something important or yell at your kids?

Fellow parents: how do you recharge when you feel overextended? Do you struggle to create down time for yourself?

How yoga makes me a better parent (and everything else, too)

As a stay-at-home mom, making time for my own mental and physical health is a challenge. However, nothing is more important for an ADHD parent than taking care of yourself — and keeping your symptoms from ruling the day.

The benefits of a regular yoga practice extend far beyond the mat, making me a better mom (and person) all day long.

Here are just a few ways yoga has changed my life and helped me manage my ADHD.

yoga

I can find stillness anywhere

ADHD predisposes me to overwhelm. I tend to freak out if there’s too much coming at me at once. Not exactly Parent of the Year material, right?

Yoga has taught me to accept myself and find a strong, steady place within.

I’m finally learning to achieve a state of calm independent of what’s happening around me. After years of practicing yoga, that moment still feels precious and fleeting, but at least I know it exists. I know which mental muscles I need to strengthen.

I can regain my balance after a fall

As my favorite yoga teacher once told me, falling is great. It’s how we learn our limits

Yoga has taught me not only how to fall, but how to get up, regain my balance, and try again. Even if I don’t look good standing on one leg.

Family life with ADHD — especially when more than one person has it — creates an ideal space for chaos and blame. Sometimes we mess up, just like sometimes we fall out of a balancing pose in yoga class.

I can be strong and good, even when I’m overwhelmed, even when I’ve lost control. Knowing this gives me the strength to forgive myself and move on.

I’m more mindful

If you’re looking for some all-natural relief from your ADHD symptoms, this is it. Yoga combines exercise with mindfulness meditation, both proven to improve brain health.

Yoga allows me to inhabit my body 100%. It quiets my ADHD brain’s frantic activity, if only for a moment.

From this place of calm, I’ve learned that yoga — and, by extension, life — is as much about holding back as pushing forward, as much about staying in the moment as it is about flow. When we’re mindful, we observe our current state. When we advance in yoga practice, we push ourselves to our limits, but not too far.

Cultivating this awareness and control has improved so many aspects of my life, especially those hit hardest by my ADHD.

I’m becoming okay with discomfort

I describe my ADHD as the “ping pong” variety: I rarely fully experience one thing before bouncing to the next.

It’s tempting to shy away from intense, uncomfortable sensations in our minds or bodies. We may even do this to cope with ADHD’s hypersensitivity.

Once, I attended a somewhat unconventional class that overwhelmed my heart, mind, and body with sensation — I couldn’t shy away. I breathed, sank deeper into the stretches, and felt my body open up in ways I never knew it could. I stayed in one place and paid attention to my feelings. Eventually, I cried.

Yoga teaches us surrender and not hesitation; strength and stillness and not fidgeting or running away. It broadens the ADHD brain’s horizons. As a result, I’m more present in my everyday life, not just on the mat.

I know tiny adjustments change everything

ADHD’ers tend to think BIG, even though “big” usually translates to “impossible to execute” in the real world. Lasting change needs to be sustainable, not sparkly.

Sure, my academic mind has learned this through reading Mini Habits, among other things, but in my heart I’ve learned it through yoga. Specifically, those moments when a good teacher gives me a tiny adjustment that changes everything. A challenging pose suddenly feels strong and effortless and right, thanks not to brute force, but a deceptively simple tweak.

An important lesson for every ADHD household, don’t you think?

How about you? Do you practice yoga, or have you tried it in the past? What keeps you standing on solid ground?

What you need to know about ADHD, impulsivity, and self-harm

We’ve all made jokes about our ADHD. A little gallows humor can keep us from getting too down on ourselves.

But be careful. Impulsivity, time-blindness, and low self-esteem can create the perfect storm — and a potentially life-threatening situation.

ADHD suicide risk

ADHD has a dark side, and several studies suggest it increases suicide risk as much as five-fold.

Relentless emotional volatility and feelings of failure can lead to a lot of negative self-talk: “I’m such a screw-up,” “my family is embarrassed by me,” “I’m a burden,” “I’ll never accomplish anything meaningful,” “my hopes and dreams are worthless because I’ll never come close to any of it,” “everyone would be better off without me.”

For ADHD adults and teens, these thoughts feel like more than a blip, a dark mood that will lift tomorrow.

Time-blindness means we can’t (not just dont — often, we truly can’t) see outside the moment. This moment of weakness becomes all there is. The good times, or even the days when we can see and acknowledge our strengths in spite of it all, don’t feel real. Our perceptions of ourselves lock in on right now, and right now feels like past, present, and future all rolled into one.

It’s at this moment that ADHD-fueled impulsivity — the part of us that fails to consider the longl-term consequences of our actions — crosses from childish and annoying to tragic and potentially fatal.

What to do when it becomes too much

If you’re feeling out of control and frightened, ask for help. Reach out to a friend, go hang out in a public place, take a break. If all else fails, get yourself to the emergency room. As a teenager, I escorted a friend to our local ER’s crisis intervention center and learned firsthand what a lifesaver it can be — even in the middle of the night.

Whatever you do, don’t let yourself believe your problems aren’t real, that it’s “just ADHD,” not a “real” mental health issue. Comorbid disorders are common, and ADHD’s impulsivity and impaired perception of time and consequences can fuel risky behavior.

Unsurprisingly, women and girls with ADHD suffer from high rates of self-harming behavior. Many slip through the cracks and remain undiagnosed until their teens or even adulthood. Girls tend to internalize their struggles more than boys, and ADHD symptoms can manifest differently.

Parents beware: as children mature into their teens and early adulthood, hyperactive ADHD symptoms may fade, but don’t let that fool you. Just because you can’t see symptoms on the outside doesn’t mean your kids don’t need you. In fact, they may need you now more than ever.

Have your or your child had an experience with self-harming behavior? How did you cope, and what would you recommend for someone in a similar situation?

Drown your ADHD in a hot shower

Do your emotions tend to run away with you?

It’s okay, you can answer silently, but if you often find yourself overwhelmed, embarrassed, confused, or even frightened by your emotions, you’re not alone. At least half of all ADHD adults suffer from deficient emotional self-regulation, defined for the lay person as “excessive emotional reactions to everyday occurences.”

There’s a lot to talk about here, especially in light of the high correlation between ADHD and self-harm.

But before we do, I want you to go take a hot shower.

Yes, I’m serious.

When you’re feeling out of control, stuck, or about to say something you shouldn’t, here are three reasons to climb into the shower and stay there until you feel better — or until the hot water runs out.

  1. Dopamine
    That’s right — your old friend. The safe, relaxing environment of a hot shower triggers a release of dopamine in your brain. One of the “neurochemicals of happiness,” it won’t just make you feel good. It’ll help regulate those wild emotions and calm your impulsive reactions.
  2. Quarantine
    If you just can’t resist the urge to keep crying, complaining, or yelling at your spouse (or whoever happens to be in the room), get away. If you don’t want your spouse to know how much he or she just upset you, take some private time in the shower. Work out your emotions — alone. Once you’re calm, you’ll be better equipped to discuss your feelings productively — or just let them go.
  3. Time
    While you’re out of the fray, everyone has a chance to settle down and change gears. In addition to providing an influx of dopamine, the shower is a great place for productive distraction. You can safely switch out of intense problem-solving mode and get into the right frame of mind for a new insight on the situation.

Do you struggle with out-of-control emotions? What self-soothing techniques can you recommend?

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