The ADHD Homestead

Create the life you want with the mind you have.

Page 2 of 17

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.

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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?

ADHD brain: Accepting my need for breaks

Well-timed breaks can work magic. I first experienced this in high school. We had block scheduling, with four 90-minute class periods per day. My physics teacher, Mr. Plate, got it: how long 90 minutes can feel when you’re sitting at your desk and using your brain.

When Mr. Plate noticed our class wilting, he’d stop in the middle of his lesson — sometimes his sentence — and say, “go to the back of the room. We need beanbags.”

Then we’d stand in a circle and play beanbags. The game began with one bag. The first person tossed it across the circle to the second, who tossed it back across to a third, and so on, until everyone had gotten the beanbag and it came back to the start. We continued the tossing pattern, adding more and more beanbags, until we broke down in laughter. Beanbags collided in midair, one person would suddenly find themselves with an armful, etc.

It took less than five minutes to fill the classroom with life. We returned to our seats energized and ready to learn.

Mr. Plate understood his choice: lose us for five minutes while we threw beanbags, or lose us for 45 minutes while he plowed ahead with the presentation he’d planned.

time-for-a-break

Breaks earn back their costs

Bottom line: smart breaks give back more time than they take. Now that my work happens at home and I structure my own days, I need to recognize my own need for beanbags — or just a break from my computer screen.

I often resist breaks when I’m on a roll, especially with something like sewing, which offers endless small doses of instant gratification. I’ve tried to train my brain to disengage. When I’m writing, I now know I should break after 45 minutes, even if I don’t want to. I’m now more vigilant for that first small dip in productivity — a signal that my brain needs to switch gears. If I ignore it, I unknowingly slip into time-wasting activities.

Breaks can shake off hyperfocus

Breaks also forcibly disengage our hyperfocus. When I push my writing muscles too hard, I slow down, make mistakes, and end up meandering the internet. This doesn’t happen when I’m sewing, but I may regret spending a whole afternoon in the basement when I had more pressing things to do. Hyperfocus clouds our view of what constitutes a good stopping point. We’re often blind to one-more-thing-itis until it’s too late.

If we break away from time to time, it gives us a chance to reevaluate. I’ve had a terrible time prying my husband away from a task, where no amount of “we’re going to be late” or “you promised you’d help me with X today” will budge him. Yet if I can trick him into walking away for five minutes under the pretense that he can come right back to it, it’s like he’s waking up from a trance. He might even say out loud, “I don’t need to work on that right now.”  A break frees us to ask ourselves, “is this how I want to spend the next X minutes/hours of my time?”

Breaks don’t always feel good

The adults in our household also struggle with a common ADHD fear: “if I don’t finish this now, when will I ever get back to it?” Also: “I wasted some time today, but I still want to feel proud of my progress.” My husband has told me he’s more likely to stay at work all night if he feels he’s used time unwisely, or if he spends too long helping coworkers with their issues. For my part, I have a bad habit of viewing projects in a strict binary: Done or Not Done. If I’ve spent hours, days, or weeks on a project and it’s still Not Done, then I feel discouraged, like it will never be Done. Sometimes this frustration leads to a backbreaking marathon because I can’t bear to keep looking at Not Done.

These are all legitimate feelings, but pushing ourselves too hard won’t solve the underlying problem. We’d do better to build confidence in our ability to come back to an incomplete project and finish it later. We’d do better to learn to manage our productivity during the day so we feel okay about leaving work before bedtime. We’d do better to learn to see the products of our hard work, even if a project isn’t finished yet.

All of this is hard. ADHD is hard. What I really want, more than anything, is a break from ADHD. Failing that, I’m trying to prioritize giving my brain the breaks it needs to keep going. I’m trying to accept breaks when I need them — to recognize when I need them — and not feel resentful, fearful, or guilty about it. It’s a work in progress. Next week, I’ll share some of my break-taking techniques.

Do you struggle to take breaks when you need them? How do you know when it’s time to change gears?

Recap: #askAdultADHD 11/28/16

A Dose of Healthy Distraction‘s Liz Lewis and I hosted our very first #askAdultADHD live chat on Monday, and we had a great time! We chatted about everything from hyperactivity to hormones to video games — and how these relate to life as an adult with ADHD.

We’d love to build on these live chats and include ADHD experts to answer some of your tougher questions. I’m currently considering a monthly schedule, so keep an eye out for the next chat shortly after Christmas.

Did you follow along this time? What did you think? What topics would you like to cover, and what feels unnecessary? What was most useful? Would you participate again?

If you missed it, what would help you join us for the next live chat? Are you not available at 8:30 on a Monday night? Not sure how to follow a live chat on Twitter? Unconvinced the topics we cover will be valuable to you?

Please let me know in the comments!

And, for those who want to catch up, here’s a summary of our conversation:

Join us for the #askAdultADHD Twitter chat on 11/28

I’m pleased to announce something I’ve wanted to do for a long time: on Monday, November 28, I’ll be hosting a live Twitter chat to talk about adult ADHD. Liz Lewis of A Dose of Healthy Distraction will join me, along with anyone else who wants to drop by.

Log in at 8:30 p.m. EST to ask questions, make requests for future blog posts, or just listen to the conversation. Follow the conversation using the #askAdultADHD hashtag, and make sure you include it in any tweets intended for us.

If you can’t make it, never fear. I’ll post a transcript here afterward.

askadultadhd-2016-11-28

 

Declaring relationship bankruptcy after an ADHD diagnosis

It’s been some years — I don’t remember how many — since my husband and I began treatment for ADHD. I use the word “treatment” loosely: we both began taking stimulant medications, and we still do, but treatment means more than that. The journey includes plenty of hard work and learning, not just a prescription.

That learning changed our lives. We both started reading about adult ADHD. We learned about ourselves, each other, and our marriage. We felt like our relationship could start over.

The ADHD diagnosis can give couples a chance to declare bankruptcy in our relationships — in the most positive, healing way possible.

adhd-marriage-bankruptcy

When we owe more than we can repay

When people (or businesses) declare financial bankruptcy, it’s because they owe more than they can afford to pay.

What a thing to consider in a marriage: what does it mean to owe more than I can afford to pay? If you’ve struggled with late-diagnosis ADHD, you have an idea.

Many of us cling to a feeling that we shouldn’t let someone “get away” with bad behavior: the consequences should match the crime. We fear becoming a doormat or an enabler. But in marriage, we bind ourselves to another person. We create a new family, whether it becomes a family of two or sixteen. We shouldn’t underestimate the emotional and financial price of dissolving that marriage. Sometimes we focus so much on standing up for ourselves, we leave no one standing up for our relationships.

While my husband and I might not have imagined it several years ago, our little family is thriving. Our home is full of love and support and, yes, ADHD-related aggravations. Letting go of the past has freed us to build a strong future. We have the knowledge and power to forge a new path. Grudges will only us back.

Letting go, for our own sake

I used to take pride in stubbornness. I cursed my short attention span for my inability to stay angry when someone “deserved it.” As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that I hurt myself more than anyone by holding onto negative emotions. Stress and anger are toxic to our minds and bodies. There was a time when I literally lost sleep over some of my husband’s ADHD-related behavior. I blamed him for my exhaustion and my elevated stress, and this fueled the cycle of anger and resentment.

Eventually, I realized I needed to take care of myself first. I needed to find a way to forgive and, most important, work around him. I needed to find a way to be content and effective on my own — to take control of my own emotional life. With that, I was free to care for myself, but also to support him in his desire to change.

We can’t build up when we’re busy tearing down

Which brings me to my next point: those of us with ADHD know we mess up all the time. We feel awful about it. Knowing others are angry and disappointed only makes it worse.

I remember when my husband rear-ended someone at a red light. In his defense, there were contributing factors, but it was still all ADHD.

I was livid. This was pre-ADHD treatment, so my own behavior — especially responses to frustration — was out of control. Having never been in an accident as a driver, I felt like I had a moral high ground. I wanted to stand in the middle of the road and berate him until I lost my voice.

Luckily, a close friend was in the car with us, and he pulled me to the other side of the road. Then he told me something I’ll never forget: your husband feels bad enough right now. The last thing he needs is for you to add to it.

I’ve remembered this conversation many times over the years. When we hurt someone we love, we don’t need the wronged party to tear us down. We need support. We needed a firm, kind response that will empower us to do better next time.

Letting go, to get to work

In many ways, treatment and education for our ADHD has given us new eyes. How should we ask to be repaid, except with a promise, now that we know better, to do better? What do I have to gain by creating unreasonable expectations, or by holding my husband to things he said before his diagnosis? Old hurts can be difficult to release, but when we learn to let go, we can find great peace, stability, and happiness in our relationships. Even when things go wrong.

For some, declaring financial bankruptcy can be the best first step toward a strong financial future. In the same way, for some couples, a declaration of relationship bankruptcy can be the best way forward following an ADHD diagnosis. All you need is two people willing to own their flaws and keep doing the best they can with what they have.

When have you struggled to let go of an ADHD partner’s misdeeds? How has letting go helped (or hurt)?

A moment of silence

I had a post all planned for today, but it feels inappropriate to carry on with business as usual while there’s so much negative energy still in the air over this election.

I’m seeing many friends and family take to the social media airwaves today, and the message is dire. Many people I love are experiencing real fears, real frustrations, real hurt and anger. That’s been true for months.

At the same time, those of us with ADHD, especially, should remember how easy it is to hyperfocus on negative emotions — to get stuck. How easily our emotions can spiral out of control.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve heard some very troubling things today. Fears and anxieties I never imagined we’d experience here in the United States. But we won’t heal our nation if we remain mired in negativity. No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, it’s important to remember everyone’s views and actions come from somewhere. It may not be a place you understand, but we can’t silence large swaths of our population with brute force, insults, or accusations. It will just bubble up again.

People with ADHD struggle with empathy and civility. Our emotions can feel extreme and out of control. That makes times like this especially difficult.

My advice: make time for silence this week. Take breaks from the news and social media. Be present with yourself. Most of all, don’t feed the trolls. We’ll be back next week to talk about one of my favorite topics: marriage and ADHD.

Sewing, ADHD, empathy, and learning to switch gears

My husband and I inhabit opposite ends of the ADHD spectrum, and we sometimes clash over each other’s use of personal and project time around the house. I’ve tried to develop empathy and understanding for his work style, but it’s hard, especially when my own ADHD hinders that empathetic response. I’ve learned the most — and gained the most empathy — from a hobby I’m shocked to have in the first place: sewing.

sewing-adhd-empathy

A little background on what makes time management a thorny issue for us: My focus ping-pongs between tasks. I love starting new projects. Anyone who shares an office with me will notice, I have a habit of saying a sentence or two every few minutes. This drives my husband crazy.

He finds interruptions unbearable. Once interrupted, he spends a lot of energy sinking back into his task. My multi-tasking, over-ambitious nature aggravates and overwhelms him. He only wants to work on one thing at once. Once he’s in the zone, he finds it nearly impossible to break away. He can agree the task sin’t worth the time, isn’t a priority, should at least be delayed for the sake of family time, sleep, or food — but he’ll still spend an entire day on it. I can’t spend an entire day on one thing, even if I want to.

In short: we have two very different brains. We both have ADHD, but we struggle to regulate our focus in different ways.

An unlikely truce with the sewing machine.

Until my late 20s, I avoided the sewing machine. It required many things I lacked: Focus. An ability to read directions without missing a step. A light touch. Patience. Willingness to forgo ill-advised shortcuts. My sewing projects ended one of two ways: Abandoned due to some mishap (see above) or looking uncharmingly homemade.

Then something happened. First, I started treating my ADHD. My house also needed curtains, and I had trouble finding the right size and color in the store. Curtains felt expensive for their quality. If I wanted the right stuff, I’d have to make it myself.

From curtains grew a desire to make clothing, floor cushions (another item I considered overpriced), and a weighted therapy blanket. With each project, I learned new tricks, new skills.

An object lesson in hyperfocus.

I also noticed something happening in my brain. I got into the zone with sewing in a way I usually found impossible. I’d finish a seam and want to sew up one more raw edge, and then one more. As the finished product grew nearer, I found it harder to put it down.

I mentioned this to my husband and he said, that’s exactly what software engineering is, except there’s always one more raw edge.

It’s the kind of thing that can become an addiction for a person with ADHD — especially one who struggles with controlling hyperfocus and switching tasks. With each raw edge that disappears, our brains get another little hit of dopamine. With that, we’re already chasing the next.

Brains out of (and back in) the corral.

Regardless of whether it contributes to an ADHD superpower, I don’t think hyperfocus feels good. Sure, my husband likes writing software, but he doesn’t like staying at work all night. Once the spell is broken, he won’t defend his decision to sink hours into a Wikipedia rabbit hole. In fact, it hardly feels like a decision at all. Hyperfocus can feel like a superhuman skill, but at some level, we also know we’re out of control.

My new sewing habit helped me understand and develop compassion for my husband, but I used it to teach my brain new tricks, too. I stopped and considered how long I might like to spend on sewing before I sat down at the machine. I forced myself to stop after that time had elapsed, even if my brain screamed in protest. When I burned out on  a writing project, I drifted to my sewing table. Switching to a spacial, manual task allowed the linguistic part of my brain to recharge. It gave me time to decompress and allow new ideas to bubble to the surface. After a lifetime of trying to corral my focus, I learned that switching gears — done wisely — can be a good thing.

It’s easy to give up on ourselves in certain respects: to say, “my ADHD makes me bad at that.” It’s even easier to get angry with a spouse because we feel they don’t get it, aren’t trying hard enough, or just don’t care how their behavior affects us. To my surprise, sewing has taught me a lot on both fronts. I conquered a previously unconquerable skill, and I got a taste of what hyperfocusers are up against.

When do you struggle most to empathize with your partner? What helps you see the world from their perspective?

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