The ADHD Homestead

Building a good life with ADHD.

Tag: impulsivity

Taking a u-turn away from the Big Adventure

Something amazing happened the other day. I turned my car around.

Not as in a three-point turn, which I’ve known how to do since I was 16. I turned around after I’d gone out for a Big Adventure. Unlike a three-point turn, I don’t think I’ve ever done that before.

U-TURNSwept away by Big Adventures

A little background: this week contained four writing deadlines, three of which I’d underprepared for. My husband was home and had taken our son for the day. I had a few hours of unencumbered productive time.

As I write this, I now see the obvious ‘and’: “and I didn’t think twice about using that time to write!” If you have ADHD, or if you live with someone does, you already know the story isn’t going there.

I seized the moment and thought, “now is my chance to buy dirt for the garden!” I filled my water bottle, threw some snacks in my bag, and prepared for a Big Adventure. Of course I’d decided there was only one place I could buy dirt. It was a solid 45-minute drive from home (hence why a kid-free day seemed perfect for the errand). I was pleased that I had all the time in the world and could finally stop at the gas station. My fuel light had been on for a day or two. I looked forward to a full gas tank and a dirt-filled car, and I hoped I wouldn’t be home too late for lunch.

As I started the car and scrolled through my Pandora stations, seeking the perfect soundtrack for my Big Adventure, I started to feel uneasy. I used to love the sparkly excitement that preceded Big Adventures. They broke up the drudgery and made the whole world seem like a brighter place. For an afternoon, I could leave my messes behind, roll down my car window, turn up the music, and get something done. Maybe it’d even be useful, like when I framed those pretty lithographs to hang over the couch. But then I got older. As I got older, I started getting tired.

Need to do vs. need to do now

Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s these new meds, maybe it’s my daily yoga practice. Something’s different. I’ve stopped falling in love with life on Big Adventures and I’ve started getting tired. Tired of throwing caution to the wind and returning to tighter deadlines or a messy house. Tired of starting yet another project I’ll have trouble finishing. Tired of being swept away on a wave of excitement.

I pulled away from the curb, keenly aware of an unfamiliar feeling in my gut: something was saying, “no.” Thanks to age, meds, yoga, or all three, I did something crazy. I listened, even though it meant aborting a mission in progress. It meant breaking the ADHD Code and unlatching my hyperfocus.

Yet once I thought it, I couldn’t unthink it: yes, the garden needed more dirt, but today? Now? At the cost of 90-plus minutes in the car? When I could be working on my four(!) writing deadlines? Surely, I could purchase dirt somewhere else if I needed to. Maybe over the weekend, once I’d completed my work. I decided to put gas in the car and return home to write.

In our household, we sometimes use the fact that something “needed to be done” as an excuse. An excuse for doing it the long way, at the wrong time, and/or instead of being there for one another. That’s because ADHD impairs our ability to direct our attention. There’s no deficit of attention in our home, we just have trouble taming it. We fail to differentiate between what needs to be done Right Now and what simply needs to be done. There is a difference.

Sometimes the u-turn is the biggest victory

My u-turn was almost sabotaged by the gas station around the corner, which displayed a huge sign reading “pumps out of order” when I arrived. Again, if you have ADHD, or if you live with someone who does, you may know what comes next.

I was out to get gas, right? A vision flashed through my mind: I was driving toward the next-nearest gas station when I thought, what if another station has cheaper gas? Maybe I’ll go to the one with a car wash. No, I don’t like that car wash, maybe I’ll head over to Remington and hit the Wash Works. I wonder what gas stations are over there?

I turned around and drove home. With my fuel light still on. Five minutes after pulling away from the curb, I walked back into my house. I made myself an iced coffee and walked upstairs to my office. Then I sat down to write.

These were uncharted waters. I’d never said no after reaching out and touching the Big Adventure. And yet, I felt a deeper, more satisfying thrill this time. It was the thrill of the u-turn.

It’s taken me nearly three decades to get here. Maybe the u-turn is a skill that comes with practice. Maybe I’ll be more choosy about my Big Adventures in the future. Who knows. Only one thing is certain: that u-turn felt like a huge victory, and I hope it’s not the last.

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Use a signal for bad ADHD behavior…and don’t forget to laugh.

Sometimes — maybe even most times — we don’t realize we’re making a scene until it’s too late.

Many ADHD adults are plagued by emotional reactivity, impulsive outbursts, and overreactions. Dr. Michele Novotni, author of What does everybody else know that I don’t?: Social skills help for adults with ADHD, describes this behavior as “ready, fire, aim.” We progress so quickly from stimulus to response, we don’t understand the meaning of the phrase think before you speak.

This is a source of anger and embarrassment for our long-suffering spouses, especially in group social settings.

Angry outbursts at home leave our partners feeling hurt and confused. Paradoxically, these outbursts often lead to periods of calm, and we may not understand why our spouse is still hurting. “Your angry thoughts are like a flash flood,” writes Novotni, “rushing through gullies and then quickly drying up again.”

Granted, overreactions can be funny. I’ll never live down the time I placed my hands over my ears and wailed “I’m so confused!” in the middle of a discussion at the office. They can also propel a situation from mundane to catastrophic in a split second.

These moments don’t need to be a runaway train. You can install an emergency brake: a signal that communicates hey, you’re doing it again instantly and wordlessly.

Words can put an already volatile ADHD’er on the defensive, especially if you’re tempted to say exactly what you’re thinking. Look for a discreet hand sign or gesture. Make sure it’s something you both feel okay about and, ideally, will smirk at even if you’re angry. “Instead of criticism and belittlement, try humor,” suggests Gina Pera in Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?

Our outburst signal was born years ago, at the dinner table. I don’t remember what provoked me. Maybe I’d had a long day at work. Maybe the salt shaker fell over. It doesn’t matter. What matters is I pounded my fist on the table so hard, several months’ worth of crumbs ejected from the crack where the leaves join together.

A tense silence stretched between us as we stared at the line of food bits bisecting the otherwise smooth surface.

Then we laughed until our sides hurt.

Now, when my husband sees me start to tumble into meltdown mode, he makes a tabletop with one hand, looks me in the eye, and lowers his other fist onto it.

Signs are objective, general, and can remind us of a funny moment — even if it’s a dark comedy.

Have you and your partner tried signals to help derail bad behavior? How do you send a message without making things worse?

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Prevent your next unfinished home improvement project

Whether it’s large or small — new living room furniture or an addition on your house — nothing beats the rush of a new project taking shape in your head.

I don’t mean to be a buzzkill, but before you jump in, stop and take an inventory of the unfinished projects already surrounding you. Then read on for some tips to make sure your new project doesn’t end up among them.

unfinished projects

Sketch out a road map

Sometimes, the first, best reality check is to sketch your new idea into your existing plans — or create those plans if you don’t have them already.

Our family recently created a set of home improvement road maps. We decided on priority projects and set deadlines for accomplishing specific benchmarks. For example, we’re repainting our dining room, and we set goals for getting rid of old furniture, spackling holes, and picking a color.

A big, overall road map provides hierarchy for our projects: paint the dining room before the living room, replace the basement door before considering a kitchen remodel.

When the excitement of a new project catches you in its grip, sit down and write a road map. Write out all the steps: planning, prep work, execution, and cleanup. Will you need to hire a contractor? What will you need to do before you break ground, literally or figuratively?

Sketch out a rough timeline. Fit it in projects already in your queue and consider other obligations in the months ahead. Will you be traveling? Busy at work? Hosting a holiday dinner? Volunteering at your kids’ school? If this project stresses you out in light of those pre-existing commitments, don’t do it.

If making a concrete plan or road map sounds intimidating, check out David Allen’s Getting Things DoneStephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective Peopleor even Vicki Hoefle’s Duct Tape Parentingwhich inspired our family’s road maps.

Consider how it fits in

Our road maps inspired me to abandon a longed-for bathroom rehab project. When we listed our home improvement goals and values, I finally considered the why: what value would a new bathroom add to our family life? How did that stack up against other projects on the list?

Despite previously swearing I wouldn’t remodel our kitchen, which is the size of a small walk-in closet, I ended up choosing it over the bathroom. The kitchen is the heart of family life. I can picture our son doing homework at a breakfast bar while I make dinner, giving us time to talk or to pass the time in amiable silence. A bathroom is, well, just a bathroom.

Left to my own devices, I would’ve started tearing apart the bathroom because it’s more fun. Given a chance to reflect on my values, I instead chose to create a special place for loved ones to gather.

Use road maps to think your project through. Make sure it’ll add significant value to your life, and make sure you can quantify that value. If your best defense is “because it would be nice to have” or “because I really want to” or “because I can’t stand my moldy pink bathroom,” hold off.

Wait a week

As you form a mental picture of the sweet reward — a new bathroom, a deck in the backyard, a playroom in the basement — the excitement will snowball until you feel compelled to begin right now.

Slow down. You’re high on life, and that’s no way to start a major project.

Write down all your ideas, create a Pinterest board, and let it go for at least a week. Hard as it may be to believe, this project isn’t an emergency. Nothing bad is going to happen if you wait until next week — or even next month — to start finishing your basement. Let the initial high fade, then assess whether or not you feel like putting in the (likely tedious) work required.

A waiting period also gives you time to talk the project over with your spouse. Don’t forget this step! Bonus points for doing it in a calm, controlled manner. Don’t push him for immediate answers or make it sound like an emergency. Give her time to get used to the idea and present any concerns.

How about you? Do you or your spouse struggle to look before you leap into projects around the house? How do you convince yourself to slow down?

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Link roundup: distracted moms, allergies, messes, and spontaneity

  1. The Distracted Mom
    “It’s a struggle worth sharing since I know I’m not alone in it,” says Carolyn. I’ve been waiting, wishing, and hoping for more blogs about living with ADHD. A mom living with ADHD is just icing on the cake. Carolyn has created a lovely new blog that promises not just to be a strong voice in the adult ADHD community, but a hub of information from around the web. The Distracted Mom logo
  2. A-choo! IgG, Immunity, and ADHD via ADHD Roller Coaster
    Dr. Charles Parker sheds some light on the connections between allergies, food sensitivities, and ADHD symptoms.
  3. The Blessings of a Messy Life via Be More With Less
    I cannot abide a mess. In an ADHD household, this kind of attitude is both helpful and disastrous. Here, blogger Courtney Carver provides some silver-lined wisdom for dealing with life’s messes.
  4. When Being Impulsive is Not Spontaneous via The DIY Librarian
    Oh boy. This one hits the nail on the head for me. Many people claim the spontaneous! fun-loving! zany! ADHD traits as assets, but as I get older, I find myself more and more exhausting. If you’ve ever felt the same, read this.
  5. Sorting Through Sentimental Keepsakes via Unclutterer
    My very unscientific life observations have taught me, ADHD’ers can have a terrible time with sentimental attachments to objects. I won’t speculate today on why that might be, but this post offers some solid advice on managing sentimental attachments while trying to live a simple, less-distracted life.
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