The ADHD Homestead

Create the life you want with the mind you have.

Tag: friends

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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Why I don’t commiserate with friends about my ADHD partner

It can seem like a favorite pastime for the over-30 set: we commiserate with friends — almost always same-gender, often accompanied by alcohol — about our spouses’ foibles.

We’ve all done it, and we’ve all nodded along while someone else aired their grievances. In the sober light of day, we might wave this grousing off as harmless. It’s not, especially when someone in the relationship has ADHD. Taken too far, it can be as toxic as the ADHD itself.

happily-married

 

Here’s the problem: We view the world through our lens, and others through theirs. It’s easy for neurotypical third parties to misinterpret ADHD behavior. A well-meaning friend may jump to our defense, labeling our ADHD spouse as abusive or manipulative, selfish or inconsiderate. Surprisingly few ADHD behaviors are intentional or calculated, but most of the world reads it that way. We may read it that way. Our friends, eager to support and defend us, reflect it back.

To clarify: I’m not condoning bad behavior. Poorly managed ADHD can make the whole family miserable.  I’m also talking about my own experience in a normal, loving, ADHD-afffected relationship. ADHD affects all kinds of people, including selfish, abusive jerks. I’m not married to one of them.

ADHD hides other sides of the story.

ADHD can color the way I perceive and react to domestic negotiations. Last fall, I wrote about the challenges of being a workaholic homemaker with ADHD. I lamented the loss of our twice-monthly cleaning service, which was supposed to be temporary but which I tried to make permanent. I wanted more time to write, and I thought paying a cleaning lady could give me just that.

Imagine me telling this story, fresh off the original confrontation with my husband, to a supportive stay-at-home mom friend. What might she say? That my dreams are important, too? Who is my husband to deprive me of this over a relatively minor expense? That it’s 2016, and he shouldn’t expect a woman to be a full-time homemaker while he continues to advance his career?

Here’s the truth: My husband is incredibly supportive of my writing on a daily basis. This summer, he took time off from work to stay with our son while I attended a writing conference. He didn’t think twice about spending the money on the conference, nor did he complain about staying home with R. He has complete faith in me and admires my dedication to my work. As for which parent stays home, he would’ve been happy to do it. Our decision was made on the basis of money and, at some level, who was more in control of their ADHD symptoms.

Here’s another truth: Being a homemaker for an ADHD household takes a lot of time and effort. Having ADHD myself makes everything harder. When a spouse has ADHD, the other partner usually picks up slack from them, too. I’m pulling more weight than the average stay-at-home mom, plus I have my own impairments. Not only that, my ADHD hinders my ability to roll with the punches. I had more trouble dealing with the argument about the cleaning lady than the loss of her services.

If I lack adequate time to write, the culprit isn’t ideology, it’s poorly-managed ADHD. I shouldn’t be asking for a cleaning lady, I should be demanding that X, Y, and Z ADHD symptoms be brought under control. Most important, I should wait for a calm moment to plot my way forward. The problem is, I doubt that’s what a girlfriend would tell me over a glass of wine.

Don’t judge: our worst is the worst.

The bottom line: our family is mutually supportive and egalitarian, and we’re doing the best we can. We make mistakes, we overreact, but we apologize an move on. We know and honor each other’s true selves. Both my husband and I admit we have ADHD, admit it’s a problem, and make an effort to manage the symptoms that negatively impact others.

ADHD happens to good people, and it can make us look bad. In our worst — usually unmedicated — moments, we can look downright monstrous. I’ve dealt with this all my life: an outburst, a temporary loss of myself, an irrational response, and suddenly that’s what defines me in someone else’s eyes. It feels awful, and it’s why I try not to complain about my husband to my friends. Because he’s a great guy, and most of the time my life feels inappropriately fortunate. He’s my family. I don’t want ADHD to define him as anything other than that.

Do you struggle to be fair to your partner while satisfying your need to vent? What have you learned?

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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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