The ADHD Homestead

Building a good life with ADHD.

Tag: memory supports

For my terrible memory, a song

My memory is legendary.

By that I mean, I can shock and amaze just about anyone with my ability to forget. No matter if it’s information I use daily, weekly, or just once. When I was a kid, I asked my parents this question every time we had pie: “can pie tins go in the recycling?” Through store-bought pies of all kinds, for all seasons, year after year, I asked if each and every tin was recyclable. Every time, they told me. I still don’t know whether they told me yes or no.

I do, however, possess a secret weapon. If they’d wanted to shut me up, they only needed to sing to me.

The singing officemate

For several years, I shared an office with a dear friend of mine. He still, to this day, understands music’s power over my brain better than almost anyone. At work, he used that to both of our advantage.

Our desk phones required a passcode to dial long distance. I remember everyone having the code written on a note somewhere near their phones. I must’ve lost mine, and asked him for it, a la the pie tins, every time I needed to make a long-distance call.

One day, he began singing the following to me, in a lilting little tune: “0097310, that’s how you dial long distance.”

I didn’t ask him for the code again. It’s been over four years since I quit that job, and more than that since the organization got a new phone system that did away with long distance codes. He sang me a similar song about the username and password to the company laptop.

Mixtape life story

I can also tell you what albums I was listening to at major turnings point in my life. Eighth grade: Weezer’s blue album. The summer I was 16 and pining for my not-yet-boyfriend: U2’s Rattle and Hum. Two years later, the summer before I left for college and we broke up, I’d moved on to Achtung Baby. Freshman year of college, second semester: The Who’s Who’s Next. Sophomore year: Dashboard Confessionals’ Places You Have Come to Fear the Most. Thursday’s War All the Time. Senior year: a Something Corporate mix CD from my roommate. My first year out of college: Arcade Fire’s Funeral. The summer after my son was born: Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl and Phish’s Farmhouse. It’s almost like I’ve stored the emotions and memories of these times inside the music. Without it, I’d lose my personal history.

Music: the key to my brain

I’m an auditory person. I’ve always had music in my blood, but I don’t even need a melody. I love certain words and phrases, their cadence and ring. I remember voices, even if the people they belong to exited my life half a lifetime ago.

Maybe my emotional attachment to music and sound helps me form better memories. Maybe the affinity keeps my brain engaged and allows me to encode information more effectively. Either way, music unlocks a secret door in my brain. Behind the door lies a rich world of emotion and memory. In a way, music lets me forget one thing, and one thing only: it lets me forget my brain is impaired at all.

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I’ve accomplished nothing…or maybe I’ve just forgotten.

I end a lot of days feeling like I got nothing done. Like my efforts were not enough.

Moms with (or without, let’s be honest) ADHD: I bet some of you can relate.

I push back against this feeling all the time. It’s important to me to feel like I’m enough, but my sense of industriousness and my mood are so closely intertwined. This is why I rarely relax: it doesn’t feel good unless it comes at the end of a long, productive day.

The other day, a thought flashed through my mind as I pulled up to a stop sign: What if it’s not me, but my memory?

I can’t celebrate what I can’t remember.

Of course, sometimes a day is justifiably disappointing. My allergies have been driving me crazy and messing up my sleep. I’ll admit to spending more time on Facebook and snacks as a result. I know what overtired brains do, and mine’s doing it. But why, on a day when I put in a solid effort and cross several things off my list, do I still sit down to dinner feeling disappointed with myself?

During my AmeriCorps service, I submitted weekly reports tracking my progress and my daily activities. I filled them with meticulous detail, and they were never late. I never made time to fill them out at the end of the week, either. I wrote them every hour of every day. Others found this tedious, but the process had tremendous benefits for me. By the afternoon, I don’t remember what I did that morning. By dinnertime, I can’t tell you what I did with my day at all.

Many adults with ADHD struggle with memory. Not only that, I bounce from task to task, even if I intend to spend all day on one project. I do a lot on any given day, but it rarely makes it into long-term memory. If I can’t remember what I do, how must that affect my sense of accomplishment and worth?

memory-and-adult-adhd

As with everything: write it down.

In my current life, no one’s collecting weekly progress reports. I don’t have a performance review or a regular check-in. It’s easy to lose track of how I spend my time. For a few days, I decided to write down what I accomplished.

The results were surprising. I didn’t include base-level responsibilities like child care, cooking meals, or washing dishes, even though these things take a great deal of attention. Even so, I amassed quite a list on Monday: I changed the sheets on the beds, went for a run, did my weekly review, emptied all my inboxes, made sandwich bread, cleaned the downstairs (that includes tidying, dusting, polishing furniture, and vacuuming), folded a load of laundry, made our weekly menu and grocery list, and began to draw a sewing pattern.

It’s a relatively modest list, with no glory, nothing worthy of celebration — unless you have ADHD and remember your previous life, when your ADHD was out of control and none of those things felt possible. For anyone, anywhere, it’s quite enough to fill a day. With my poor memory, I now understand how I can end a day feeling like I’ve accomplished nothing. I work in small bites, and this means I’m often surrounded by works-in-progress. I now (occasionally) finish them at some point, but very few days contain anything to brag about.

Forgetting is no excuse for self-criticism.

Glory or no, it’s important to give ourselves credit where it’s due. Failing to remember what we’ve done for ourselves, our families, and the world is no excuse. My lesson for this week: if I get down on myself for slow progress, I need to start writing notes. I need to pretend I’ll be asked for a report at the end of the week. I need to find some way to remember, because I have plenty to show for myself. I just can’t remember what it is.

Do you feel you have a clear picture of your productivity? Your accomplishments? Do you struggle with feelings of ineffectiveness? How much of this do you think is rooted in reality vs. perspective?

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Want to remember everything? Write it on the wall.

People with ADHD forget a lot — a lot of things, and very often.

We frustrate ourselves. Even worse, we frustrate, hurt, and disappoint the people we love. ADHD is cruelly egalitarian, in that we forget our spouse’s birthday as easily as our dry cleaning.

Even if we lived in total isolation, we’d still generate the same ideas over and over again, wishing we could remember them at the right time.

My solution: shorten the distance between myself and a good container for my thoughts. I call this “storing my brain outside my head” because my brain is such an unreliable container.

I’ve learned it the hard way, again and again: I need to write everything down. Everything. If I catch myself thinking, “that’s too important, I know I won’t forget it,” it’s a huge red flag.

Not only do I have to write everything down, I have to do this before I forget. It happens in a matter of seconds. As a result, I maintain writable surfaces all over my house: post-its, dry erase boards, chalkboards, you name it. Even the bathroom mirror. If there’s anyone out there who considers me a good friend, spouse, parent, or relative, it’s because I never trust myself to remember anything.

Instead, I remain vigilant for ideas — pen in hand.

Collecting ideas

There are some potty training methods that — bear with me here — require constant vigilance, so you’re ready to airlift your naked naked toddler to the potty just as he empties his bladder onto the floor. I picture my brain as this naked toddler. The moment it thinks of something — anything — I need to whisk it to a writable surface.

I should mention I use David Allen’s Getting Things Done system religiously to process all my notes. Allen insists that you need to be able to trust your system — or else you’ll get discouraged. “One of the main factors in people’s resistance to collecting stuff into ‘in,'” Allen writes, “is the lack of a good processing and organizing methodology to handle it.”

When I’m running a tight ship with my GTD system, I’m much more enthusiastic about writing down my thoughts. If you haven’t read Getting Things DoneI highly recommend it.

Our home’s writable surfaces

Bathroom mirror

DSC_3367-001There’s a reason you have so many ideas in the shower. You’re relaxed, relatively free of distractions, and experiencing a nice dopamine rush from the hot water. Your brain is primed for idea generation.

I keep dry erase markers near the bathroom mirror so I can write a quick note before I’ve even dried off. The mirror is also a great place to leave a loving note or drawing for your spouse. When I worked in IT, my mirror notes reminded me to do early-morning server maintenance from home. Visitors occasionally spot our markers and join the fun, too.

Pantry door chalkboard

Our home is on the small side, making a big, common-area dry erase board impractical. Instead, I created a cute and functional chalkboard on our pantry door. It’s not as easy as tossing a few dry erase markers in the bathroom, but it’s a project pretty much anyone can do. I sanded the finished wood lightly, added a couple coats of primer, then applied this Rust-Oleum chalkboard paint. My son has taken over the bottom panel, and we use the larger top panel for grocery lists, reminders, fledgling Spotify playlists, and anything in between.

DSC_3431

 Small dry erase board

I purchased a small dry erase board for my dorm room door when I left for college. Somehow, I managed to keep it for over a decade and through several moves. This former clutter object now hangs on the side of the fridge and collects phone messages.

Post-its, post-its, and more post-its

I keep a pad of post-it notes in almost every room: on my nightstand, on my desk, in the basement, next to the coffee maker, in the car. I order sticky notes in bulk packages meant for large offices. Walking more than 10 steps to the nearest sticky note feels like too much.

Isn’t there an app for that?

I didn’t include any electronic note-taking tools here. There are some great ones available — Evernote, Toodledo, Google Keep, and PlainText, for example — but I find computers and smart phones too distracting. When I unlock my phone screen, I rarely make it to my note-taking app. Several minutes later, I realize I’m checking my Instagram feed and have no idea why I grabbed my phone in the first place. A simple pen and paper works best.

How do you capture ideas, especially when you’re in a place where you can’t easily write something down?

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Now vs. Not Now: keeping perspective when parenting a toddler

There’s a cliche out there about ADHD’ers having two kinds of time: Now and Not Now.

This may equip us to relate well to our toddlers. For them, going inside for dinner feels like going inside forever.

Be careful, though — it also equips us to act more like our toddlers.

When I first experienced stimulant medication, I remember the flood of relief when realized a bad week was just a week long. A new one would begin on Monday. Truly revolutionary.

Let’s face it: parenting a toddler is hard for anyone. Toddlers are adorable, brilliant, charming, and loads of fun. They also grin at you while doing something you just told them not to do. They say no to everything just for fun. They’re prone to protracted emotional meltdowns, and they’ll push every button just to get a rise out of you.

I’m no parenting expert, but if you have both ADHD and a toddler, you’re going to love this little trick.

Your happy toddler memory jar

Remember sweet moments on a tough day

Firstly, allow me to confess I’m blatantly stealing this idea from a post about cooling heat-of-the-moment despair in adult relationships on You and Me — and Adult ADDPerhaps we’re continuing our ADHD relationship theme from last week, but this applies just as well — if not even better — to parent-child relationships.

The concept is simple: you’re saving those joyful, charming moments of toddlerhood for a rainy day. When your child does something to melt your heart (or fill it with pride), write it down on a colorful post-it and drop it in the jar. Some examples we’ve already dropped in R.’s positive memory jar:

  • The day he finally mastered “stop and turn around” while playing outside, after many days of reinforcement and time-outs
  • His love of “squeeze hugs,” where he hugs us as tight as he can while saying “squeeeeeeeeeee”
  • When told him our neighbors had just planted a baby tree and he needed to be gentle near it, he walked around exclaiming “baby tee!” for the next several minutes

When you’re having a rough day, fraught with tantrums and opportunities to beat up on your parenting skills, the notes in your jar can remind you of the Not Now. Sometimes that’s all it takes to see the bigger picture and break out of all-or-nothing thinking.

I even managed to turn our whole afternoon around by pausing to write a positive memory from earlier in the day. We’d had a challenging hour or so, and the morning’s fun activities seemed a lifetime away. After I stopped to inventory those sweet moments, I immediately felt calmer and more equipped to continue our day on a positive path.

If you’re diligent about writing the date on your notes, you can even scan them to your computer or save them in a baby book after you empty your jar. When I invited my husband to sit and read the notes with me when R.’s jar got full, he asked, “do we have to wait that long?” What a great way for ADHD parents to appreciate these small joys.

How do you maintain balance and perspective during tough parenting moments? Share them in the comments — we could all use a little help!

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How to remember everything (the power of writable surfaces)

Forgetting something important feels awful, doesn’t it? Most of our forgetting incidents don’t just frustrate us, they frustrate — or, even worse, hurt or disappoint — our family, friends, and coworkers.

These people’s opinions matter to us. We depend on our relationships with them. We don’t want to let them down, and yet we so often do. What’s worse, ADHD is a cruelly egalitarian disorder. It’s just as easy for us to forget our spouse’s birthday as our dry cleaning.

Maybe you’ve managed to insulate your inner circle from your ADHD’s hurtful effects, but do you ever think of the same idea over and over again, wishing you’d remember it when you could take action?

Don’t beat yourself up about it. Instead, shorten the distance between yourself and a reliable container for those thoughts. If you’ve considered using your brain as such a container, don’t. Write everything down. Everything. Every time I catch myself thinking, “that’s too important, I know I won’t forget it,” it’s a huge red flag.

Nowadays, I rely on writable surfaces throughout my house: post-its, dry erase boards, chalkboards, you name it. Even the bathroom mirror. If there’s anyone out there who considers me a good friend, spouse, parent, or relative, it’s probably because I never let myself stray too far from my writing materials.

Be vigilant for ideas

There are some potty training methods that — bear with me here — require constant vigilance as you watch your naked toddler, ready to whisk him to the nearest potty when he begins to empty his bladder onto the floor. Imagine your brain is like this naked toddler. The moment it thinks of something — anything — you need to whisk it to a writable surface straightaway and deposit that idea into an appropriate container.

Of course, you’ll want to set up a trusted system like David Allen’s Getting Things Done to process all the notes you’re going to write, but the first step — and one you should take today — is writing it all down. Stop trusting your brain and start trusting anything you can write on.

Our home’s writable surfaces

Bathroom mirror

DSC_3367-001There’s a reason you have so many ideas in the shower, and the name should sound familiar: dopamine. When you’re in the shower, you’re relaxed, relatively free of distractions, and experiencing a nice dopamine rush from the hot water. Your brain is primed for idea generation.

I keep dry erase markers near the bathroom mirror so I can write a quick note before I’ve even dried off. The mirror is also a great place to leave a loving note or drawing for your spouse. When I worked in IT, I left myself reminders to do early-morning server maintenance from home. Visitors have occasionally spotted our markers and joined the fun, too.

Pantry door chalkboard

Our home is on the small side, so mounting a big dry erase board in a common area just isn’t practical. Instead, I created a cute and functional chalkboard on our pantry door. It’s not as easy as tossing a few dry erase markers in the bathroom, but it’s a project pretty much anyone can take on. I just sanded the finished wood lightly, added a couple coats of primer, then applied this Rust-Oleum chalkboard paint. My 18-month-old has taken over the bottom panel, and we use the larger top panel for grocery lists, reminders, fledgling Spotify playlists, and anything in between.

DSC_3431

 Small dry-erase board

I purchased this when I moved away to college. Somehow, I managed to keep it through a number of moves and years I’d rather not mention. When you’re decluttering, which I hope you are this October, keep an eye out for things like this. This former clutter object now hangs on the side of the fridge and collects phone messages.

Post-its, post-its, and more post-its

I keep a pad of post-it notes in almost every room: on my nightstand, on my desk, in the basement, next to the coffee maker, and anywhere else I catch myself having to remember an idea for more than five steps in any direction.

Isn’t there an app for that?

You might wonder why I haven’t listed any electronic note-taking tools here. There are some great ones available — Evernote, Toodledo, and PlainText, for example — but I find computers and smart phones too distracting. When I unlock my phone screen, I rarely make it to my note-taking app. Several minutes later, I realize I’m checking my Instagram feed and have no idea why I grabbed my phone in the first place. A simple pen and paper works best for me.

Have you had success using apps? How do you capture ideas, especially when you’re in a place where you can’t easily write something down (like in the car)?

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