The ADHD Homestead

Create the life you want with the mind you have.

Tag: David Rock

I have ADHD, but I try to be a good friend anyway

Sometimes I ask myself: am I a good friend?

I don’t really know the answer, and that can be both frustrating and exhausting.

Social struggles are common for ADHD’ers. According to Dr. Russell Barkley in his book Taking Charge of Adult ADHD, we consistently report having fewer close friends than our peers.

I worry about this because I have nice friends. I like them, and I want them to continue liking me, but I fear no one really sees my best.

I’m getting better, though. Like anything in ADHDland, being a good friend takes learning, practice, and intentional strategies.

Here are the most valuable things I’ve learned:

  1. I contribute what I can, where I can.
    To make up for the times when I do weird stuff, don’t know the right thing to say, or just go off the radar for a while, I capitalize on the good things I have to offer: a loaf of homemade bread just because. A magazine clipping in the mail. A ride across town in the middle of a work day. I go for the little things and hope they add up.
  2. I’m honest about my foibles.
    In his book Just Listen, Dr. Mark Goulston calls this the “stipulation gambit.” I’m forthright about character flaws that might create misunderstandings. For example, I’m terrible with the phone. If it rings unexpectedly, I’m unlikely to answer it,  and I’m not shy about sharing this anxiety. I’d rather people think I’m neurotic than unconcerned. Likewise with forgetfulness, interrupting, speaking with too much intensity, and monologuing.
  3. I spend less time on Facebook than I used to.
    Scrolling through my news feed fools my brain into thinking I’m connected when I’m really not. It also sucks time away from more meaningful, one-on-one connections: writing emails and texts, arranging visits, or just having dinner together.
  4. I’ve stopped waiting until I feel less overwhelmed.
    It won’t happen. I have ADHD. It’s hard to do, but I try not to let myself use overwhelm and “being too busy” as a reason to defer social plans.
  5. I accept that my friends are a project.
    It feels like cheating to use my calendaring and task management apps to manage friendships. I hope my friends don’t figure out we’re only hanging out because I made our dinner its own project in Toodledo. Including time to think about friends and family during my weekly review feels cold. Then again, I use these systems for everything else I think is important. Why not afford friends and family the same consideration?
  6. I write down gift ideas year-round and squirrel them away in Google Documents.
    I don’t know about you, but I’m far more likely to think of the Best Gift Idea Ever in July than the week before Christmas. My brain isn’t good at generating lots of new ideas under pressure. If I give a home run gift, it’s probably something I wrote down several months earlier. Maybe I even wrote it on the bathroom mirror as I stepped out of the shower.
  7. I’ve read several books on communication and brain science.
    I read to learn about my brain, others’ brains, and how to show my best self to the world. There’s no shame in acknowledging I’m not good at something and working to get better. In Your Brain at Work, David Rock suggests learning to recognize your brain’s inherent weaknesses so you can say, “that’s just my brain” instead of going into freakout mode. It helps. Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to those big ADHD emotions that shut down your rational brain.
  8. I try to be a good friend to myself, too.
    Being kind to myself has — I begrudgingly admit — made me more attractive to others and allowed me to fill my life with good people who care about me. Mistakes happen, though, and it’s easy to become consumed by negative self-talk. In Women with Attention Deficit Disorder: Embrace Your Differences and Transform Your Life, Sari Solden advises against “over apologizing or putting yourself down.” I’ve tried to take that to heart and keep apologies simple, heartfelt, and proportionate to what happened.

How about you? How do you keep ADHD from getting the best of your personal relationships?

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Is it ADHD?

is it ADHDIt’s not uncommon for people to tell me, you know, I love your blog, and it makes me think I may have ADHD.

Believe it or not, I enjoy hearing this feedback. I write for an ADHD audience, but I hope the parenting, organization, and other life strategies I discuss will help everyone.

But how do you know if you have ADHD? Taken individually, all of the core symptoms sound relatable. However, if your symptoms cropped up recently or have come and gone over time, it’s probably not ADHD.

In Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?, Gina Pera writes, “an ADHD diagnosis requires more than a symptom or two. Otherwise, everyone would have ADHD! It requires both a certain number of symptoms and significant impairment — for example, in the area of career, money, education, or relationships.”

Isn’t there a test?

Still confused? Several websites offer online self-tests. Though these questionnaires all have their weaknesses and you should never take the results as a clinical diagnosis, they may point you in the right direction. Here are a few to try:

  1. Amen Clinics ADHD Type Test
    This test attempts to suss out which of Daniel Amen’s seven ADHD subtypes describe you. The questions may connect some strange dots in your life and get you thinking about the lesser-known symptoms of adult ADHD. Amen’s book, Healing ADD, is definitely worth a read for a more comprehensive understanding, but the website alone should provide some insight into whether your case (and treatment) will be straightforward or difficult.
  2. Psychology Today ADHD/Attention Deficit Disorder Test
    Doesn’t touch on many relationship and emotional issues, which the Amen Clinics test does much better, but it does provide situational questions. These may be easier to answer than evaluating a blanket-statement description like “procrastinates often” or “easily distracted.”
  3. Adult Attention Deficit Disorder Center of Maryland Online Screening Test
    Perhaps the least in-depth, this test is based pretty strictly on the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria. That gives you a good idea of what a clinician might ask you at a first meeting, but don’t expect to shed light into any dark corners here. Test claims you can get a lot of information from Section A alone, but I recommend doing Section B also. While the questions are rudimentary, you’ll probably know by the end whether you need to schedule a professional consultation.

How to learn more about your brain.

While online self-tests are certainly appealing if you’re looking for a quick, easy answer, there are precious few of those in the world of adult ADHD. You’ll learn far more by reading a good book by a knowledgeable professional.

For more insight than I can possibly provide here, I recommend checking out some books about ADHD.

Here are the most approachable, high-impact, easy-to-read books I’ve found. All are available in audio format in case you’re one of the many ADHD’ers who don’t enjoy reading.

  1. I Always Want to be Where I’m Not by Wes Crenshaw
    Dr. Crenshaw’s book is especially handy for the under-30 crowd. We gain a lot of responsibility in our mid-20s: often marriage, household management, financial independence, and a self-structured professional life. This can be a time of great suffering for ADHD adults, and Crenshaw’s case studies will hit home for many.
  2. Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.? by Gina Pera
    This book was written for partners of ADHD adults, but I’ve loaned it to several ADHD’ers who’ve found it positively enlightening. Unlike many ADHD books, Pera focuses on ADHD’s impact on our closest personal relationships.
  3. Your Brain at Work by David Rock
    Okay, this one’s not about ADHD, but it gives a great primer on the neuroscience of focus, self-supervision, and success in the face of your brain’s natural limitations. You’ll learn several handy techniques for practicing mindfulness, recharging, and managing your brain’s supply of dopamine (a neurotransmitter critical to motivation and often lacking in people with ADHD).

How about you? What are your favorite resources? Where did you find your biggest a-ha moments?

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The power of split-second mindfulness

While writing my cool ADHD mom post last week, I found several pages of tips for us ADHD parents.

However, as I opened tab after tab in my browser, I noticed a gaping hole. Enough with the cleaning and organizing tips. What about those larger-than-life emotions?

Some people go so far as to claim ADHD helps us create a loving, nurturing, exciting home life for our children. No parent needs ADHD to do that. I worry about subjecting my kid to the less romantic side of my ADHD: inconsistency, unpredictability, impatience, and a tendency to lose my temper.

And let’s be honest: nobody knows how to push our buttons like our kids, even if they don’t mean to (most of the time). Even the most put-together, mild-mannered parents will confess to all kinds of temper tantrums in their moments of weakness.

Often we feel our self-control slipping moments before a meltdown, yet we feel powerless to stop it.

I won’t claim to be an expert, but I’ve had my share of emotional outbursts. Reigning them in has been a pet project since I started the sixth grade.

Today I want to share one quick, tiny, simple trick to help get yourself under control.

It’s called mindfulness.

I’ve mentioned mindfulness meditation as a critical brain-training practice before, but don’t assume the benefits start and end with a a five-minute-a-day habit. Even if you never sit down to meditate, you can stop emotional outbursts in their tracks with mindfulness.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Pause. Use your five senses to identify one thing in the room to focus on. Examples: your computer’s fan sound, the feel of a cool glass of water in your hand, a nice whiff from a jar of coffee beans. I’m most sensitive to sound, so I find something to listen to.
  2. Focus on that sensory input for 15 seconds, or as long as you can manage depending on the crisis. I like to close my eyes.
  3. If you notice your mind wandering to anything else — how angry you are at your kid for using permanent marker on the wall, the laundry you forgot to put in the dryer, a funny text you received from a friend, etc. — don’t give up and don’t judge yourself. Just return your full attention to that sound, smell, or sensation. Try your best to keep your mind empty.
  4. Open your eyes. Lower your voice. Try to deal.

That’s it. Try it now, while you have a moment and the stakes are low. What do you notice? Does it feel a bit like you’re in the eye of a hurricane?

Sometimes, that’s exactly what we need.

Shifting from your brain’s narrative circuitry to a state of mindfulness — a heightened awareness of sensory input from the outside world — forces your brain to change gears. Different brain regions become active and your prefrontal cortex takes a rest. You become more aware of your own inner state, which in turn gives you more control over your thoughts and actions. If you want to learn more about this without getting bogged down in too much science talk, check out David Rock’s Your Brain at Work.

Don’t forget to practice mindfulness with your kids, too! While sitting with my son during a recent emotional meltdown — being two isn’t easy, you know — I started talking to him about the sounds in the room. I took advantage of a short break in his tears to ask him, “can you hear the clock ticking? Tock, tock, tock, tock…” He met my eye and whimpered, “yeah.” I brought his attention to the wind who-whooo-ing outside his window. We sat together in lovely silence, just listening.

Quelling tantrums helps you in the moment, but teaching your kids to be mindful gives them tools to observe and regulate their own emotions later in life.

Next time you feel your self-control checking out, try a few seconds of mindfulness to step away from your mental noise. Then, share your experience in the comments so we can learn from one another.

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Book Review: Your Brain at Work

Your Brain at Work cover imageWant to learn more about your brain’s natural limitations — and how to work around them?

David Rock‘s Your Brain at Work is the book for you.

While our household loves what I call “recreational neuroscience reading,”  the genius of Rock’s book is its accessibility: no nerd cred required. He makes learning about the brain feel both exciting and practical through fun, easy-to-parse language. While ADHD is not mentioned specifically, ADHD’ers will receive game-changing insights into why we behave like we do.

Your Brain at Work employs a theatre metaphor to explain the core concepts. Each chapter opens with a new scene featuring a fictional couple, Emily and Paul, as they navigate various professional and personal challenges. Take One shows Emily and Paul faltering and escalating interpersonal situations to the point of near disaster. Rock walks us through the hows and whys of these failures using theatre language — actors, stage, lights, director — to turn neuroscience into a subject anyone can readily understand. Take Two applies what we’ve learned, portraying Emily and Paul putting their brains to work for a confidence-boosting personal victory.

Despite not mentioning ADHD, Rock seems to have written Your Brain at Work with us in mind. Not only does the theatre metaphor make the subject matter fun and easy to digest, the book is exceptionally well-organized. Rock opens by outlining what we can expect to learn, making it easier to direct our focus. We enter each chapter with a clear idea of what it’ll be about and wrap it up with a nice conclusion at the end.

Your Brain at Work is a critically important read for ADHD adults. The more we know about the human brain’s limitations — and Rock hits on many ADHD sore spots — the easier it is to work around them.

My husband read Your Brain at Work, too, and it gave us new language to navigate challenging conversations. Of the theatre metaphor, he told me, “I hope you’ll use it to tell me when you notice things — like if I have too many actors on my stage.” After attempting (unsuccessfully) to win me over in a disagreement, he later said, “I should never have tried to sell you on that. As soon as I started talking about it, I could tell you were in an away state.”

Don’t know what we’re talking about? You will, and even if it only provides hindsight after an argument, that’s progress.

Rock shows us again and again that with enough brain savvy, we can salvage interactions even after they’ve crashed and burned. Most chapters’ Take One scenes jump off from the previous Take One — not the rosier Take Two. We see Emily and Paul reflecting on what went wrong, then summoning the wherewithal to do better in the next round.

Perhaps most valuable of all, Your Brain at Work introduces pragmatism to highly charged interactions. This helps us puzzle out why we drive others (and ourselves) crazy, and vice versa. We can use this knowledge to communicate reasonably and calmly.

Rock’s techniques and suggestions are a gold mine on their own, but we can read between the lines to understand why others do what they do — and why their behavior affects us like it does.

While the fussiness of the prefrontal cortex, among other things, can make Your Brain at Work feel like a depressing reminder of our deficiencies, it also empowers us to make the most of the resources we have. As we travel through the day with Emily and Paul, we learn to spot tipping points moment by moment. It’ll never feel easy, but Rock gives us hope that a few small changes and a little more knowledge will make it much less hard.

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