The ADHD Homestead

Building a good life with ADHD.

Tag: overwhelm

Stop waiting for a good time to fix it

I’ve been looking forward to preschool.

First and foremost, I feel compelled to point out, because R. will love it. He’s smart and extroverted and he recently asked me to read Maisy Goes to Preschool four times in a row.

I’ve also been counting the days for my own sake. I feel totally scattered, behind on everything, and exhausted by the needs of an ADHD household. Surviving until preschool became my primary goal.

stop waiting

I put all my eggs in that basket: soon, I’d gain four hours per week in a cafe with my laptop. Alone.

Of course, ADHD never gives me a good basket to put my eggs in. The bottom fell out last week, when I received a welcome letter from R.’s preschool listing his first day a full two and a half weeks later than I’d anticipated.

This wasn’t my first time at the “I just have to keep my head above water until _________” rodeo. Still, my reaction wasn’t great.

It stings, when you’ve switched into a time-bound survival mode, to watch the rescue boat disappear back over the horizon.

This experience reminded me why survival mode is a bad idea.

My approach: if you’re struggling and something isn’t working for you, change it.


If you don't like your fate AIDA

Sure, extenuating circumstances happen. But more often than not, we ADHD’ers create a perpetual state of extenuating circumstances. We erect barriers to productivity like it’s our job. The challenge is to figure out what we can do right now.

If you’ve been wallowing in a pit of chaos and discouragement, ask yourself: how can I make my current situation work for me? What small thing can I do right now? How can I take matters into my own hands instead of waiting for external factors to change?

In other words, if you don’t like your life, change it. Even if you can only manage tiny, tiny stepsDon’t wait for change to come to you, and don’t leave your own happiness and productivity in the hands of fate.


Drown your ADHD in a hot shower

Do your emotions tend to run away with you?

It’s okay, you can answer silently, but if you often find yourself overwhelmed, embarrassed, confused, or even frightened by your emotions, you’re not alone. At least half of all ADHD adults suffer from deficient emotional self-regulation, defined for the lay person as “excessive emotional reactions to everyday occurences.”

There’s a lot to talk about here, especially in light of the high correlation between ADHD and self-harm.

But before we do, I want you to go take a hot shower.

Yes, I’m serious.

When you’re feeling out of control, stuck, or about to say something you shouldn’t, here are three reasons to climb into the shower and stay there until you feel better — or until the hot water runs out.

  1. Dopamine
    That’s right — your old friend. The safe, relaxing environment of a hot shower triggers a release of dopamine in your brain. One of the “neurochemicals of happiness,” it won’t just make you feel good. It’ll help regulate those wild emotions and calm your impulsive reactions.
  2. Quarantine
    If you just can’t resist the urge to keep crying, complaining, or yelling at your spouse (or whoever happens to be in the room), get away. If you don’t want your spouse to know how much he or she just upset you, take some private time in the shower. Work out your emotions — alone. Once you’re calm, you’ll be better equipped to discuss your feelings productively — or just let them go.
  3. Time
    While you’re out of the fray, everyone has a chance to settle down and change gears. In addition to providing an influx of dopamine, the shower is a great place for productive distraction. You can safely switch out of intense problem-solving mode and get into the right frame of mind for a new insight on the situation.

Do you struggle with out-of-control emotions? What self-soothing techniques can you recommend?


Sometimes, it pays to pay

Has an area of your home or yard gotten out of control? Do you need a breath of relief?

Sometimes, it pays to pay. Pay someone to get you back on your feet, that is.

When a few loose ends become a lot of trouble

A friend once told me about a job he took over winter break in college. A professor asked him to help clean out his office. When my friend arrived, he found it worse than he ever expected: the professor accessed his desk at the rear of the room via a tiny path through a tunnel of clutter. Visitors actually had to pass under the junk balanced overhead.

Perhaps you’ve experienced a similar situation in your own life. Maybe it’s not the whole house, but just a closet or a room that gradually got away from you until cleaning it up felt too overwhelming. I know it has happened to me.

Looming, unfinished, unattended projects sap our mental energy. If you’re feeling stuck, you may need to close one of those open loops.

Taming the jungle — with some help from a pro

Several years ago, I got fed up with our garden. I’d let it get out of control following a springtime shoulder surgery. Finally, I decided enough was enough.

Rather than add it to the list of overwhelming problems I swore were ruining my life, I took decisive action. My boss had a neighbor who was looking for odd gardening jobs. We were getting a tax refund. While I didn’t want to hire a regular gardener, I had to admit I needed help.

For less than the value of our tax refund that year, we had a gardener take us from here:


To here:


That left us responsible for weeding and upkeep, which felt far more manageable than clearing the overgrown mess it had become.

Pay if you can

I realize hiring someone to give you a boost on household tasks may not be possible for everyone, but it’s worth considering. If money is tight, you may want to set aside an unexpected windfall, such as a tax refund. Or you could calculate how much you spend on one unnecessary thing and put the money in a jar for your project instead. Think cab rides instead of walking or taking the bus, lattes at Starbucks instead of making them at home, ordering Chinese instead of planning your meals and cooking during the week, paper towels instead of real ones, cigarettes when you keep saying you should quit. An exciting reward may even motivate you to create a good habit.

Also, just because you pay someone to redo your garden doesn’t mean they need to come every week to mow your lawn. Hiring a service to scan all your old photographs only needs to happen once if you’ve moved on to digital.  A cleaning service can provide a single-visit deep clean to make it more manageable for you to start a regular cleaning schedule of your own.

Even if you grew up in a household that valued doing work yourself whenever possible, there’s no shame in asking for a little help to reach your full potential. Remember, once a task becomes overwhelming (like a garden that hasn’t been tended for two years or a renovation project that’s left you without a kitchen for 10 months), breaking it into bite-size pieces and getting started again on your own will be tough. If a little money is all it takes to put you back on track, so be it.

Have you benefited from paying a professional to help you with a task that had become an insurmountable hurdle? If you have, please share!


The elephant in your basement: let’s organize that trouble spot

Despite last night’s ice storm, spring is on the way. I promise I can feel it! Before we leap into spring and all its expectations of cleanliness and renewal, let’s talk about the basement. Specifically, how to start digging out of a bad situation.

Let’s face it: basements are too easy to fill with junk. Ours has filled with trash and miscellany three times in the seven years we’ve owned our house. I’ve dedicated a full weekend, and sometimes even longer, to cleaning it out each time.

Now that we have a kid, this isn’t practical (not that it ever was). The basement stays under control — though it’s teetered on the edge a few times — because we need to keep it clean for guest quarters, but there’s a huge closet we haven’t cleaned out in a while.

By which I mean, we haven’t cleaned it out since buying the house. All the stuff that traveled with us to our previous apartment and never got unpacked there went into this closet on move-in day.

In all my attempts to empty and organize it, I’ve never gotten past opening the door.

Recently, I realized this just cannot be allowed to continue. I’m reclaiming the closet. Now, with less time and energy than ever, I need to be smart about the how.

Do you have a spot like this in your home? I know it’s embarrassing, but don’t beat yourself up. Most of us have at least one. As inevitable as it may seem right now, you’re not stuck with it forever.

One bite at a time.

Here’s where that old cliche about eating the elephant comes in: you have to tackle these projects one bite at a time. It’s tempting for us ADHD’ers to take one of two paths:

  1. View a problem as one huge, overwhelming jumble of stuff. Our brains turn into a muddle and we run for the hills.
  2. View it as a challenge to be tackled once and for all over the course of a weekend, wherein we will play loud music, stay up all night, consume staggering quantities of caffeine, and…crash. Once exhausted, we leave behind a bigger mess than when we started thanks to distractions, side projects, and disorganization.

When I feel myself getting excited for a project in the same way a boxer might get excited for a big match, I know it’s time to put on the brakes. I’ve torn down walls, nearly recycled a bin full of my husband’s important papers, and probably done much worse in fits of can-do-it-itis. As soon as I get tired and realize I don’t have a plan, I give up. I once left a spare bedroom torn down to bare studs for a year and a half because I led with the crowbar instead of the brain. Ooops.

If you want to succeed, take small bites. Even if you only toss one thing from the junk drawer tomorrow, it’ll be one more than you cleaned out today.

I know. Slow progress is boring. ADHD’ers find it more painful than most. But for most of us, it’s the only way out of our mess.

Create contained mini-projects.

When I resurrected my dreams of cleaning out the basement, I bought two plastic bins: one for my husband and one for me. I filled them with everything we could digitize and eventually discard. This allowed me to keep moving with my primary project (cleaning out the basement) without letting a new side project (scanning old notes and papers) get in the way.

My bin now lives under my desk and I try to scan one item per day. Some days I forget, but some days I get on a roll and scan several things. There’s no instant gratification here, but it’s better than shoving the bin into my black hole closet for the elusive “one day” when I can scan the whole tub at once.

Don’t let between-bite setbacks derail you.

When I pulled a stack of negatives from the aforementioned bin, I discovered I’d misplaced the negative holder for my flatbed scanner. This was especially frustrating because it belongs in a hanging file drawer directly under the scanner. When I pulled the folder out, it was empty. I spent at least 10 minutes pacing through the house, slamming drawers, and berating myself for losing yet another important possession.

While I did this, no other documents in my bin got scanned.

When we tackle a big organizational challenge, we can guarantee at least one discovery that will make us feel like epic failures. Anticipate it and don’t let it halt your progress. Stopping progress to trash-talk yourself won’t lessen your feelings of failure and inadequacy. Move on and try to find something you can do instead of focusing on the roadblock.

What are your biggest organizing weaknesses? Have you conquered any clutter or unfinished projects recently? Please share in the comments below!


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.


From the archives: Entering the Matrix

This post originally appeared on Mix Tapes & Scribbles on December 5, 2010. I’ve edited for length and clarity here, but tried to remain true to the tone and content. While it feels like a lifetime ago — the “lost room” is now my two-year-old’s bedroom, and I wrote this piece when my brain was just barely full-grown — I like the snapshot it provides of a young professional’s early experiences with stimulant medication.

December 5, 2010

Several months ago, I rearranged our two spare bedrooms to create a  bright, orderly, inviting home office. I’m typing there now, sipping coffee and soaking in the winter morning sunlight.

This was a great move, except for one catch: when I created my office, I left another room behind. A room where we discarded everything — furniture, boxes, any detritus you could imagine — we didn’t feel like putting away.

Every time I entered this room to clean it up, my thoughts scattered in every direction. The overwhelm paralyzed my brain. Without touching a thing, I’d shut the door.

It got so bad, I literally pretended this room did not exist in my house for four months.

Perhaps this was the final collapse that pushed me to seek help.

Yesterday morning I stood in the living room with a pill in my hand, feeling a little like Neo in the Matrix, teetering between two worlds. I tried to remember what I’d told my rational self: if I had a chemical imbalance anywhere else in my body, I’d have no moral objection to medicating it.

More to the point, I was at loose ends, both personally and professionally. I hadn’t gotten into the nitty-gritty of what my life was like with anyone — not even my closest friends. Honestly, it was too painful to discuss.

I’d accepted long ago that I was just going to have to work harder — much, much harder — than my peers to achieve the same levels of success. However, getting by on stubbornness and work ethic alone was feeling less and less sustainable. Outside academia, where I’d benefited from ample structure, competition, and social pressure, I’d lost my footing. My status quo had become anxiety and panic mixed with persistent lethargy. It’s one of the most uncomfortable feelings I can imagine.

So, with considerable trepidation, I took the pill: Ritalin.

Internally, everything went quiet. The curtain call finally came for that frantic need to do 10 things at once — and with it, the head-spinning overwhelm that had chased me away from that lost room in the first place.

This time, when I opened the door, I felt okay. I understood that some things needed to be thrown away, some put away, and others given away. Painfully simple. Obvious. Yet previously out of reach. After a couple hours I’d sorted everything into bags for each destination.

Later, my husband came in to help untangle a huge ball of yarn. As I watched him work, I realized I’d usually be feeling like I was about to climb up the walls. I would’ve gotten impatient, yelled at him for taking too long, tried to rush the process by grabbing at the yarn, and eventually frustrated him enough that he’d walk out, leaving me to work alone.

By 2:00, I was ready for a trip to Target to reward my hard work. I’d found more than enough stray cash during my cleanup to buy a new area rug and a few picture frames for the room.

Unfortunately, I don’t have ‘before’ photos, but if you’ve seen Clean House, you get the idea. By dinnertime yesterday, the room looked like this:



A small miracle. Hope where I’d all but given up.

Sometimes people refuse to believe I have ADHD. I try not to blame them. I can thank my intense fear of failure, humiliation, and disappointing others for my deceivingly put-together exterior.

But I’m always hiding something. Here’s the thing about ADHD: no matter how successful I am where it really counts, I still don’t feel like a successful person. I still feel like there’s something wrong with me. I harbor a deep fear that I may never achieve my dreams or reach my full potential. It’s impossible to relax because there’s always something looming at the edge of my mind.

The act of actually finishing a project gave me a huge self-confidence boost. While there’s no magic cure to make everything easy, stimulant medication feels like a necessary tool right now. Here’s hoping it’ll help me develop the skills to clean up the less tangible messes, too.


What’s standing between you and your goals?

I haven’t accomplished anything I wanted to do before I turned 30.

I’m accumulating things to do every day, but I don’t have time to do any of them.

Have you battled thoughts like these before? You’re not alone. In our quest to do all the things, we ADHD’ers risk ending our days, weeks, months, and years feeling like we’ve done none of the things.

At least, none of the things that matter most.

If you’ve read my previous posts, you know I love decluttering my home. Purging unneeded items has begun to feel liberating, as though every surface I clear allows me to breathe a little deeper.

But what about the other side of decluttering — the intangible side?

Cluttered time, scattered focus.

We don’t just clutter our lives with stuff. We overspend our time and attention every day. By the time we finish saying yes to another volunteer commitment, watching our favorite TV show, scrolling through our Facebook news feed, and reading our way down a Wikipedia rabbit hole, we’re on empty. It’s probably long past bedtime. Worst of all, we’re no closer to reaching our big goals.

Of course, getting organized with goal-setting and time management is a must. But just like there’s no use sorting your closet into labeled bins if it’s full of junk you don’t use, you can’t organize your time if you’re spending it willy-nilly.

Filling your hours and your days with whatever comes along, sounds like fun, or seems like a good idea at the time is exhausting. Your brain literally cannot attend to it all while maintaining a grip on your true priorities.

Unfortunately, the only way to increase your attention to what’s most important is to cut back somewhere else: weed out as much external distraction as possible. This holds true for nearly everyone in our chronically overcommitted society, but none more so than ADHD adults. Since we begin with a smaller pool of focus and willpower, we must spend it wisely.

This year, I’m examining how I spend my time and asking some tough questions: Is this worth the raw quantity of time I’m spending on it? If I used that time to work on my stack of unfinished fiction writing, what could I accomplish? 

Some of those choices will hurt.

Some of our family’s so-called sacrifices have been effortless. We cancelled our cable television subscription several years ago and haven’t regretted it for a minute. Our trio of streaming services allows us to watch our favorite shows intentionally, not by channel surfing or turning on the TV for background noise.

Others have stung a little more. When I began working on this blog two months before its launch, I quit World of Warcraft. I left behind an entire social group, a guild full of nerdy LGBT adults. I still think about my friends there and wish I had access to our guild chat, but the blog isn’t where I want it to be. Until it’s on cruise control, I can’t afford another time commitment.

This month, I deactivated my Facebook account. It’s supposed to be temporary, but I’d love to work out the logistics of leaving the site permanently. Quitting for good will require some bigger sacrifices, though. I’ll have to weigh those sacrifices against the cost to my creativity and personal goals.

Letting go of anything can be painful, but especially so if it’s a favorite downtime activity, a long-standing volunteer or social commitment, or a video game addiction. But don’t shy away just because it’s uncomfortable. Try your best to be objective. Honor your own values and ambitions, not the impulse of the moment or fear of how others might react.

Of course, this is easier said than done. If you’ve been down this road before, what tips can you share? What helped you choose which demands on your time to eliminate? When have you fallen off the wagon?


#LWSLClutterFree: week 4

#LWSLClutterFree square imageADHD friends, this week was the one. As I started week 4 of the #LWSLClutterFree 31-day challenge, the daily projects officially became too much.

Beginning — and ideally ending — a new project every day on top of my other responsibilities was too taxing on my focus and energy. Some projects, like the office and main bathroom, hit on sore spots I already found overwhelming. In the case of the office, 90% of the clutter and mess issues aren’t in my space, so I didn’t know how to approach it.

Many of these projects should have spanned multiple days. It takes time to dig through the mess, donate or freecycle unwanted items, get input from others who share the space, purchase new storage solutions, and put everything back together. There was no way I could have accomplished assignments for our home’s problem areas in one day.

Because I knew another project would be coming my way the next morning, I didn’t even start potentially overwhelming ones this week.

That brings me to my second point: open loops. As hard as I tried to make each day an open and shut case, I ended up with loose ends. Those loose ends finally reached a critical mass and pushed me into ADHD overwhelm.

To get my mood and focus back on track, I spent this week closing as many open loops as I could. I freecycled most of the hangers from our portable closet and got it ready for relocation. I packed up five bags of donation items and scheduled a Purple Heart pickup. I deep-cleaned the bathroom that had so overwhelmed me the previous week.

By the end of the month, I hope to have finished all the projects I started. Our entire life and household may not be clutter-free, but I’ll be several steps closer.

Despite the slow week, I’m feeling good about my progress. I’m even proud of my successful self-regulation once I realized I was getting overwhelmed. Instead of continuing to start new projects I couldn’t finish, I took a step back and asked myself how I could eliminate some of the mental clutter.

Are any fellow ADHD’ers working on this challenge? How did this week feel to you? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments.


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