The ADHD Homestead

Building a good life with ADHD.

Category: Women & ADHD (page 1 of 2)

Women, ADHD, and expectations of kin-keeping

Several months ago, I caught part of an NPR interview about kin-keeping. Kin-keeping describes those little things that keep family and friends connected: sending birthday cards, planning vacations, setting up regular Skype dates, purchasing Christmas gifts. It takes time and energy, and it’s a burden usually shouldered by women.

I immediately thought, wow, what about women with ADHD? If this makes the average woman feel overstretched, burned-out, and inadequate, what about me?

Kin-keeping requires exceptional organization, memory, and executive functioning. The emotional cost of failure is high. And yet, I look at my own family and see, yes, I am the one doing this for us. My grandmother sometimes phones to thank me for it, actually. She tells me she doesn’t know how I do it, or where everyone would be without me.

I don’t know, either, but this simple thank you means a lot. It’s not easy. And the fact that it’s not easy? That’s not easy, either.

 

People, not projects?

I’ve folded kin-keeping into my obsessive organizing habit. “Remember my sister’s birthday” can become a project in my GTD system. When I want to check in with a friend going through a tough time, I sometimes put a sticky note on my phone before bed to remind me to text them in the morning. Most days, this makes me look like a good friend.

I don’t feel like a good friend, though. I wish I could remember important events in the lives of people I love — on my own. No matter how much I love you, without my calendar and to-do list, you’d get the impression I never thought of you at all.

Maybe no one cares how I get there, because the end result — someone feeling loved and remembered — matters most. But women still suffer under societal expectations. We’re supposed to look put-together. We’re supposed to send birthday and Christmas cards on time. We’re supposed to let a friend know we’re thinking of her on the anniversary of her brother’s death. And it’s supposed to look natural. The machinery isn’t supposed to show.

In other words, I don’t give myself credit for remembering these things at the right time. My calendar and GTD systems do it for me. When people say “you’re so organized,” I don’t feel it as a compliment. If I’m organized, it’s only because I need to be. Shouldn’t I just remember, without a whole system of sticky notes and project folders and calendar reminders?

I’m sure everyone needs reminders, just like everyone has experienced ADHD-like symptoms at some point in their lives. But to be effective kin-keepers, women with ADHD need more — more than it feels like we should.

To meet the baseline expectations of “good friend” or “reliable family member,” I need to do more. I need to set up more task management systems. I need to rely more heavily on my calendar. My memory is shorter, and my proclivity for distraction and overwhelm stronger. Managing life in general takes more effort for people with ADHD. Managing kin-keeping, and making it look natural and genuine, feels like walking a tightrope while being circled by vultures.

My family needs me

And yet, without me playing the role of kin-keeper, where would my family be? Because I need to stay so much more organized to meet the basic requirements of being an adult, I’ve made myself a perfect fit for this role. Everything gets dumped into my organizational system, from the electric bill to my sister’s 18th birthday. While that may sound cold in its egalitarianism, I never forget the electric bill, do I? My GTD system will poke me every week to make sure I have a plan for my sister’s birthday, just like it reminds me to look for the electric bill in my email. Ironically, because I can forget so much, I end up forgetting relatively little. I maintain a more airtight system than most people I know.

Maybe, then, this effort of remembering isn’t hollow. Maybe I should honor all of it — my bullet journal, my GTD system, my Google Calendar, my sticky notes — for what it is: the glue that holds our family’s social bonds together. So what if it’s not all in my head? It’s better for all of us this way.

I talk a lot about this and more in my organizing book, Order from Chaoswhich is available for preorder on Kickstarter right now. If you appreciate my posts here on The ADHD Homestead, please support this project and help bring it to life.

 

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Managing GTD contexts as a stay-at-home mom with ADHD

I received this message from a reader struggling to set up David Allen’s Getting Things Done system:

I’ve tried to set [GTD] up so many times, but I get hung up on contexts. Since I’m a full-time homemaker, everything happens at home. I’ve tried dividing my list based on my priorities, and I’ve tried setting it up based on the different rooms of my house. I’m guessing my perfectionism is kicking in, because I can’t settle on anything. I get stuck on the contexts and can’t make it any further.

What can I do right now? That’s a context

I write about GTD a lot, including a book review and a previous post about contexts. Today, I want to talk specifically about contexts in my life as a full-time parent and homemaker.

I’m not just the primary caregiver for my four-year-old son, R. I also maintain our family’s home, finances, and social life. Where my obligations to my home and family end, my life as a blogger and fiction writer begins. It’s a lot.

Contexts sort my next actions list (aka to-do list) based on what I’m actually capable of accomplishing right here and now. This is critical for anyone, but even more so for me. My kiddo doesn’t run the show, but he does impact my ability to get things done at any given time.

Some contexts depend on others

My GTD contexts have evolved to suit my family’s needs. For example, our tools and sewing machines live in our semi-finished basement. Once my son was old enough to play down there, I added a Basement/Crafting context. I’d previously waited to do this stuff until nap or bedtime, and categorized these tasks as House (R. asleep).

Contexts that can refer to others’ status include:

  • House (anytime), House (R. asleep), and House (R. awake), for tasks that require my kid to be awake or asleep (or can be done anytime)
  • Outdoors, which I pull out while I’m watching R. ride his bike
  • Weekend, for when I need a lot of uninterrupted time, and/or I can’t include R. in the project
  • Basement/Crafting

Within reason, I can respond to what R. wants to do. If he’s asleep, awake, wants to go outside for the afternoon, or wants to play in the basement, I have a list of next actions for that.

Some contexts are all about me

As a stay-at-home/work-at-home parent, I make my own day. This is both beautiful and challenging, especially with ADHD. I’ve learned to observe my level of energy and focus and adjust accordingly. Sometimes I’m good to sit at my desk and organize our finances. Sometimes I need to burn off steam by mowing the lawn. Once I force myself to make a dreaded phone call, I find it easier to knock out all the calls on my list.

With that in mind, several contexts describe where I am, either physically or mentally:

  • Computer (any), Computer (desktop PC), and Computer (MacBook), because I have different software on each device
  • Phone (talking) and Phone (texting)
  • Desk
  • Errands

Who am I talking to?

The stay-at-home spouse usually shoulders the bulk of what some call “kin-keeping” duties. I schedule our vacations, plan holidays with family, and keep tabs on what’s happening with our friends and relatives.

Adults with ADHD need to manage this outside our heads. Otherwise, we’ll lose track of something, and someone will feel angry or slighted. I have contexts for each of my parents, my husband, and my grandmother. When I think, “oh, I need to remember to ask Mom about planning a visit,” I enter it as a next action in the Mom context. I reference this list during our weekly Skype call. (Side note: I will forget to check the list unless I make a note on my calendar in capital letters.)

Above all, be responsive

For some people, “home” is its own, complete GTD context. For me, “home” is an environment that changes hourly. Sometimes I’m too tired to sit in my office and work, so I take my tablet to the couch (the Computer (any) context). I can do Phone (texting) while my four-year-old plays with his Legos, but it’s better to wait until he’s at school for Phone (talking) if I can. Sometimes, when I entice R. to the basement because I need to mend a few pieces of clothing, he gets in the zone with his toys down there. Then, I consult my Basement/Crafting list.

I do have a catch-all Anywhere context, but I use it sparingly, and only for tasks I could truly do anywhere. Example: sketching design ideas for ADHD Homestead stickers (keep an eye out for a Kickstarter campaign featuring those this fall). I always have my notebook, so I can do this in a train station, coffee shop, or even on the beach.

Bottom line: I need to take advantage of whatever kind of productive time I have right now. Contexts ensure I have something to do, regardless of my home’s mood and status. That’s a big deal, and it’s a reason to get my contexts right.

Are you at home full-time? Have you tried GTD? How do you make the most of your day?

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ADHD clues: My embarrassing 2nd grade papers

“At least you didn’t do worse than chance.”

I had to laugh. My dad had unloaded a huge, unwanted box of old school papers on me. While most went into the recycling, I found a few gems. Among them, a pattern-recognition exercise where I scored an overall 25% on a four-part multiple choice.

As my husband pointed out, at least I didn’t get below 25%, or I would’ve done worse than blind chance.

What does this have to do with ADHD?

Well, I have a hunch: I can figure out which image doesn’t belong. I think I could’ve done it in second grade, too. But it takes me a while. I’m not a natural visual thinker. The oddball image doesn’t jump out at me. In other words, I have to keep my eyes (and brain) on the pictures long enough to figure it out.

And look at this page of math problems. My accuracy rate was okay, but I left huge chunks blank at the end.

Looking back at my elementary school papers and report cards, I see a trail of ADHD clues.

I see a smart kid who made a lot of silly mistakes on assignments. Who forgot to do homework. Whose attention span was too short to figure out simple pattern recognition exercises. Who got distracted and ran out of time before finishing an assignment. This, on top of the report cards detailing my lack of impulse control or (related, for sure) social skills.And yet, because I was smart — my IQ and advanced reading skills landed me in the gifted program — and a girl, no one suspected ADHD. This was, and remains, common. If ADHD runs in your family and you have introverted, sensitive, academically gifted children, it’s something to watch for.

Grown-ups with late-diagnosis ADHD: do you ever look back at all the clues and wonder how no one knew?

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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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ADHD & personal grooming: do you Epilady?

I rarely talk about products here. When I do, I’m sharing something I find particularly helpful. I haven’t been contacted by Epilady, nor did I get anything for free in exchange for this post.

Personal grooming can be a problem for adults with ADHD. Showering, shaving, clipping toenails, etc. — often, these are tedious, unpleasant tasks. We need to complete them on a schedule. No one with ADHD excels at that.

Hair removal is the bane of my existence. I’m sure a few other women with ADHD feel similarly. My skin is sensitive, I struggle to make time for it, and it’s easy to procrastinate. However, I’ve finally found a solution: an epilator. It’s relatively inexpensive, not too messy, easy to do at home, and lasts longer than a day or two.

#AdultADHD and the value of a long-lasting shave

What’s an epilator?

Epilators — a whole class of shavers, though I’ve only tried the Epilady — look like electric shavers, but work like wax. They remove hair by the root, like a high-speed mechanical tweezer. The manufacturer promises results lasting “up to 4-6 weeks.”

My first pass took over an hour, but didn’t feel more cumbersome than a thorough job with an electric shaver. Subsequent touch-ups took only a few minutes. I’m much more likely to make time for these touch-ups, knowing the results last longer than an electric shaver’s 36-48 hours.

My initial epilation lasted around two weeks — shorter than the claims on the box, but longer than shaving. I suspect people with silkier hair textures will see results closer to the one-month mark, and lighter colors won’t worry as much about stubble.

In any case, I’ve been using my Epilady frequently and with confidence. It irritates my skin less and lasts longer than a regular shave.

Doesn’t it hurt?

You may be thinking, “it sounds like it hurts!” If you’ve ever used an electric shaver and felt it catch, rather than cut, one of your hairs, you already know what a first-time epilation feels like. On the front of my shins, it felt like a constant bee-sting sensation. Afterward, my hair follicles were swollen and red for the rest of the day.

Maybe yoga has taught me to be more in tune with my body, but I needed time to relax after I finished epilating. I felt a little funny: woozy, in the same way I get when my blood pressure runs too low. I drank a lot of water and sat down for a while, and that seemed to help.

On the bright side, subsequent epilations were/are far more comfortable. Two weeks after my first round, I hardly felt it on my shins. Not only that, unlike an electric razor, the Epilady doesn’t irritate my skin. I don’t need to worry about going over the same patch of skin too many times, nor does the humidity (inescapable in our climate in the summer) cause issues.

Why the Epilady is right for this ADHD lady.

I’ve tried pretty much every at-home hair removal technique, with little success. Traditional razors required more time in the shower, and they irritated my skin too much. Inattentive moments led to bleeding cuts. My electric razor caused less irritation up front, but didn’t shave as closely and still caused ingrown hairs. Both provided results that lasted, at most, 48 hours before I had to start the whole process again.

Depilatory creams (e.g. Nair) gave me chemical burns and/or smelled too icky. Wax was messy and painful, which meant I rarely got around to doing it. Some at-home wax kits also irritated my skin, leaving a red rectangle where the wax strip had been.

While the Epilady causes a lot of initial discomfort, that seems to fade quickly. At $70, my Epilady Legend wasn’t the cheapest thing around, but saves a lot of money over disposable products or professional waxing. I also appreciate the option to use it corded or cordless. I forget to charge things, and I’m glad not to need a backup option.

Most of all, I appreciate the convenience. Convenience trumps everything in ADHD households. Without it, important jobs — and certainly shaving one’s legs — don’t get done. Just knowing I won’t have to use it again tomorrow makes me excited to use the Epilady. The long-lasting results give me more leeway on when I “shave.” I spend far less time feeling uncomfortable, either because of skin irritation or pointy stubble.

If you’re willing to endure a painful first day, the Epilady could change your personal grooming routine forever.

Have you tried a product like this? How do you manage the mundane world of personal grooming?

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Guest Post: Women with ADHD — a letter to my younger self

About the author:

S.B.  Castañeda writes about the struggles of #ADHDwomen on her blog, Adulting With ADHD.

Dear Younger Self,

You aren’t feeling very good about life right now. In fact, if I recall correctly, between performance issues at work and losing those music festival tickets, you feel the very, very opposite of good.

Here’s the thing. And I’m not telling you this to let you off the hook (because girl, we need to do something about some of those mistakes you’ve been making), but…you’re not dumb and you’re not losing your mind. You’re living with undiagnosed ADHD.

dear younger self guest post

It slipped under the radar.

You know all that fun anxiety and depression you’re dealing with right now? You’re still going to have it, but once it reaches a manageable level, your doctor will get a clearer picture of what’s really going on. Then you’ll get even more help. And this will be huge.

Remember all those problems in grade school? Nope, you weren’t the loudmouth or class clown. You were a daydreamer, remember? And you had some weird emotional stuff going on.

So here’s the thing: because you were all shy and awkward and would rather die than have attention paid your way, the diagnosis slipped past everybody.

Enter middle and high school. You’ve always been really book-smart and high-functioning. You stayed out of everyone’s way and kept your nose to the ground. Obviously there’s nothing wrong with your learning abilities! Then, away you went — congrats on that college acceptance! At this point, you were aware of ADD and Ritalin, but to you (and nearly everybody else) it was a little boy’s issue. Nothing to concern yourself with.

You were right — something was wrong.

But you know that sneaking feeling you’d get once in a while? It would happen in your quietest moments. It was the feeling that you weren’t meeting your full potential. You managed to graduate college with an average GPA and have an average first career, but you always knew you were above-average. Yet your life was anything but.

And some of the mistakes you’re making are supremely mind-boggling. Remember the moment when all that joking about being senile or having Alzheimer’s stopped being funny? Remember when you actually started wondering what the hell was wrong with you with an unprecedented sense of urgency?

It gets SO much better.

None of this makes sense right now. Even if it did, you wouldn’t believe it. But you’re going to get better. And you’re going to excel in ways you can’t wrap your mind around right now. Just hang in there and keep working on your issues. You’re going to make it to the other side of this, and the view is marvelous.

Hang in there,
Sarah

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ADHD awareness helped me heal — and gave me my brother back

About the author:

Michelle Diaz-Nanasca wrote theater and movie reviews for local newspapers while in high school. She majored in Literatures of the World at the University of California, San Diego. Since college, she has worked as an academic tutor and as a church secretary. Michelle is currently working on a children’s novel. Besides writing, she loves singing in her church’s choir, playing guitar, and playing board games with her husband of seven years, Ariel. The two of them run a YouTube channel called The Board Game Tutors, which features instructional videos on hobby board games.

It’s hard to believe, but a year ago, I knew almost nothing about ADHD. Discovering its presence in my life has led to an incredible amount of positive change.

ADHD-awareness-healing-brotherI’d suffered from anxiety off and on throughout my twenty-seven years. It was often social anxiety: worrying about how people perceived me, whether I seemed kind enough, whether I was a good enough friend. I also worried about stressful events that might happen in the future, and how I would handle them. Halfway  through 2015, I noticed my anxiety becoming more debilitating.

Then something amazing happened. I decided to text my brother. I’d heard that he’d struggled with anxiety, and made progress in coping with it. He’s only three years old than I, but it’d been years since I’d tried to have a close relationship with him. We grew up in a chaotic environment where it was difficult to develop a healthy relationship with anyone.

I didn’t feel like things had changed much between us. I was rather hesitant to share my emotional state with him, but I was running out of ideas.

Anxiety & ADHD: it runs in the family

My brother responded to my text right away with some quick, temporary advice. It was late in the evening, and we agreed to talk on the phone the next day.

The following afternoon, I told him about how tense I’d being feeling. I talked about my emotional sensitivity: if anyone corrected me, even in the most minor way, I would feel ultra-self-conscious. I’d be plagued by insecure thoughts for the remainder of the day, or even week.

He sympathized with me, and then he asked me questions. Whether I had many thoughts at once, and whether I had difficulty transitioning from one task or environment to the next. I said yes, absolutely. I had recently been thinking about the fact that I would have less anxiety if only I didn’t think so much.

Upon careful study, I’d observed that I was usually thinking about at least four things simultaneously: what I was doing now, some event that had happened earlier, something I thought might happen later, and whatever song was currently running through my head. It did seem rather odd that I could think about so many things at once, but how was I to know this wasn’t how everyone thought?

As for transitions, it was excruciating for me to give up an activity I was enjoying and move on to something else. I experienced this every Sunday when it was time to go home from church, knowing I would not return until the following weekend, which always felt like an eternity on Sunday afternoon.

My brother started telling me about ADHD, and how it can manifest much differently in girls. He said my mental hyperactivity was a strong indicator for ADHD, and that girls who did well in school, as I always had, often went undiagnosed because of subtle symptoms. He’d learned that his anxiety was closely linked to his previously-undiagnosed ADHD. He was thinking that I might have anxiety stemming from ADHD, too.

What he was explaining made sense, and perhaps even more convincing was his manner. He seemed so calm and mature—so changed. I could easily recognize how his journey into ADHD awareness had led to healing for him. He told me about exercising, eating healthily, meditating (especially), and looking into medication for ADHD. He also recommended a book for anxiety: When Panic Attacks, by cognitive-behavioral therapy pioneer David Burns.

Education & diagnosis bring hope

Greatly encouraged by discovering an explanation that drew my many struggles together, I began my own study of ADHD and how it affects my life. At the same time, with the help of When Panic Attacks, I began to get my anxiety under control. The book was an incredibly eye-opening read full of simple solutions and common sense. I would recommend its cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques to anyone who has struggled with anxiety or any emotional challenge.

It took several months to get approval for a psychiatric appointment, but, in late 2015, I was officially diagnosed with ADHD.

I’m so thankful to have learned about ADHD for two major reasons: First, because knowing the source of my challenges allows me to learn healthy ways to cope with them. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I am so thankful that ADHD awareness led to a relationship with my brother. He has become one of my best friends, something I never would have expected, and it came about because of our shared experience of learning to manage ADHD.

What about you? How has learning more about ADHD changed your life? Please share in the comments!

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Just a mom with ADHD, visiting the academic buffet

Tonight, for the first time in almost a decade, I’ll be stepping into a college classroom as a student. Before anyone questions my sanity, not to worry. I’m enrolled in an eight-week, non-credit writing course, not a degree program.

Of course, this temporary shift in my availability presents a new challenge for our family. Working hard is my hyperfocus jam. My household has come to rely on the fact that I self-medicate my ADHD by doing stuff around the house. Most of the time, I’m cool with that, but sometimes I miss the good old days when I could climb every mountain and take every class.

For so many reasons, I can no longer climb every mountain. That’s why I’m looking forward to this bite-size academic adventure.

College: the last place an ADHD girl can do it all

Perhaps you’re familiar with the stereotypical face of ADHD: male, visual thinker, academic underachiever.

Perhaps you can also see why so many women and linguistic thinkers go undiagnosed until adulthood. My school years treated me well because they provided a lot of structure and allowed me to taste-test whatever interested me in the moment. I knew how to get an A in just about anything, and taking a breadth of classes is normal — maybe even encouraged. Taking a breadth of jobs in the real world makes you look like a flake who can’t stay employed.

As an undergraduate, I switched between four different majors and two universities. I took classes in philosophy, geology, early childhood development, calculus, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. I learned to develop photos in the darkroom, use 3D modeling software, and speak a little bit of Russian. I held down jobs as a set painter, sandwich maker, and tech support specialist.

My only regret upon receiving my bachelor’s degree (fine arts, with a minor in art history) was that I couldn’t repeat the process over and over until I’d covered every major my university offered.

Since then, I’ve applied and been accepted to two graduate programs: a master’s in community arts and an online MBA. I actually completed half (or so) of my MBA, until I’d used up my AmeriCorps education award. I was having fun and doing well. However, faced with a few years of stay-at-home parenting followed by self-employment, I couldn’t justify spending $23,000 for me to finish my MBA just for fun.

And now: snacking on knowledge

My brother-in-law coined a term for our family’s approach to learning: snacking on knowledge. And for me, right now, snacking seems like the right thing to do.

I have a young child. My 10-year career goals are muddled somewhere between novelist, professor, personal organizing coach, and pro blogger. I probably could get into a degree program (again) and do well (again), but that doesn’t mean I have to.

Aging with ADHD has required me to learn a brand new skill: slowing down. Technically, I probably can do anything I put my mind to. This doesn’t always make it a good idea to try. The fact is, I still have a solid work ethic, but I get tired now. I’m not happy when I overcommit. Life seems shorter than it once did, and I want to check at least one Big Life Goal off my list.

One of those Big Life Goals happens to be publishing a novel, and I happen to have a complete draft. I’m not only taking a practical bite out of academic life, I’m connecting it to a goal-in-progress.

And maybe that’s the biggest progress yet.

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You vs. the world: lets discuss ADHD for at-home parents

“Our family needs a homemaker.”

I love to be needed, but those words stung.

I was trying to convince my husband to keep our twice-monthly cleaning service, but he wouldn’t budge. It was a temporary arrangement for a tough time: during the first nine months of our son’s life, my husband finished a master’s degree and broke his collarbone.

I needed help.

The problem was, once things returned to normal, I viewed this extra help as a small price to pay to get my writing business off the ground. My husband reminded me of our agreement that one of us would be a stay-at-home parent. It didn’t seem fair for me to claim I “didn’t have time” to clean the house.

Maybe it wasn’t, but providing sanity and order to an ADHD household, day in and day out, is exhausting.

Because it’s true: our ADHD family does need a homemaker. We need one adult holding down the fort full-time to keep everything from exploding (or imploding) into chaos.We need someone cleaning, coordinating home repairs, paying bills, opening the mail, and making sure everyone eats — among many, many other things.

But I have ADHD, too, and I have big plans for my life. Specifically, I want to do all the things, and I want to do them yesterday.

In the two years post-cleaning lady, I’ve found a better groove. I’ve forced myself to keep trying. I figured out a way to keep writing while (usually) keeping the house (relatively) clean. R. grew up into a little boy and stopped nursing, which meant I could resume taking my ADHD meds. I’ve mapped out a longer-term plan for my writing that allows me to feel like I’m making daily progress. I’ve learned to accept incremental progress, even if I want instant gratification.

Being the homemaker is still hard. I wouldn’t have it any other way, for more reasons than I can count. My husband has unbeatable job security, and my salary wouldn’t have supported us. I prefer to be in charge. I’m better at structuring my own projects and time.

Our family doesn’t just need a homemaker, we need me. And to be there for our family, I need to be there for myself, too. That means making time for my writing, but also taking care of our home and family. Taking time for myself, but not leaving everyone else to pick up my slack.

It’s a lifelong pursuit, finding balance. I’ll never quite get there. I’ll never perfect the art of slowing down, of accepting imperfection, of resting, of moderating — in any of my roles. All I can do is try.

Lately, I’m trying to be honest with myself about what it means to be a workaholic homemaker with ADHD.

And what does that mean, exactly? If you have ADHD and you’re a stay-at-home parent, I’d love to hear about your experience. How do you make it work? Have you struggled to reconcile your partner’s expectations with your own? What are some of the most important things you’ve learned?

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Book Review: ADHD According to Zoë

ADHD Zoe book review
Zoë Kessler’s ADHD According to Zoë is a fun, accessible read for women with ADHD. While those in Zoë’s demographic — single women grappling with a midlife ADHD diagnosis — will appreciate this book the most, any post-college woman with ADHD will relate. For those with new diagnoses seeking additional information, Zoë offers plenty of references to outside sources.

Disclaimer: I don’t love or agree with every expert she quotes. However, a discerning reader will benefit from Zoë’s reading list. ADHD According to Zoë is a great first book about ADHD, but it’s certainly not the last one you’ll need.

The author’s background in stand-up comedy shines through on almost every page, making heavy subject matter feel light. This will help the reader who feels overwhelmed, down on herself, and at the end of her rope. Zoë is the kind of writer readers warm up to quickly. ADHD According to Zoë shouldn’t be taken as an in-depth strategy guide, but an inspiration for any woman who’s lost hope in ever getting her life together.

ADHD According to Zoe cover artZoë’s anecdotes will give readers plenty of opportunities to smile, nod, and say (sometimes ruefully), “me, too.” Her friendly writing style and unwillingness to give up on herself is contagious. Her words will breed self-acceptance in spite of our many flaws — something every ADHD woman needs, especially those regretting a late diagnosis.

That said, I would have enjoyed a little more memoir and a little less self-help. Zoë is at her best as a storyteller, and we learn what it’s like to be a woman with ADHD through her stories. Since her strategy suggestions are merely a jumping-off point, some of that word count may have been better spent elsewhere.

I don’t agree with every one of the author’s book/expert recommendations, but use your own best judgement. She seems to idolize Dr. Ned Hallowell as a leading ADHD expert, while I — recent indecent assault allegations aside — don’t buy into his marketing of ADHD as a potential “huge asset in one’s life.” Some may find this perspective therapeutic or helpful. I find it misguided at best, a barrier to effective treatment at worst.

However, Zoë also quotes extensively from Russell Barkley’s Taking Charge of Adult ADHD, which is an excellent resource. Like any reference material, the key is to pick and choose your sources, evaluating and comparing them carefully, until you develop a nuanced understanding of the subject.

The bottom line: if you’re a woman over 30 with ADHD, and especially if you’re single, this book is for you. Zoë’s voice and perspective are strong, and she’ll help  you down the path to self-acceptance, which includes letting go of those heavy regrets about your delayed diagnosis.

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