“Oh, no. I KNOW you’re organized,” the woman said to me.
I stared at her blankly, searching for words. I knew she had made this assumption based on my post that details my weekly checklist… and yet…
What I couldn’t articulate was the extreme necessity of that checklist. How, when I don’t follow that checklist (usually on weeks like this week, when I’ve been swallowed alive by a huge project) my house falls apart and I have to sift through the piles of laundry to find my children.
I have ADHD. No, I’m not kidding. A lot of people think my ADHD jokes are crude and misplaced, but really, I’m trying to make a public service announcement: I HAVE ADHD. Be warned. Converse with me at your own risk.
ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is a learning disorder that is generally diagnosed among children. Most kids grow out of it. (I would like to postulate that this is because they were active children who were falsely diagnosed to begin with, but I’m not a psychologist and have no business even theorizing to that effect.) I, obviously, did not.
Most of my life, especially in my teens, I struggled with the idea of being labeled with a learning disorder. I felt dumb. I worried that others would know. And so I learned the art of appearing to listen. I learned how to survive in a world that could never bend to accomodate my struggles.
When I was 14 or 15, I started refusing to take the medication I had been prescribed. I was too proud, and quite frankly, I was resentful of my diagnosis and of any implication that I was somehow different. Though I’ve considered trying meds again, I’ve never gone back to it… mostly because if my life is busy enough for me to consider medication, I don’t have time to stop, find a doctor, make an appointment… you get the point. By the time my crisis has passed, I’ve completely forgotten I had wanted to find a doctor in the first place.
I have, however, found a more natural form of medication… caffeine. Thus my coffee addiction. Caffeine helps me stay focused and on task; I am a complete wreck without it. Those who deal with me on a daily basis (including my 4 year old) will ask if I’ve had my coffee yet if I seem out of sorts.
How do I cope with ADHD?
- Lists! I make lists for everything: groceries, cleaning, gifts, EVERYTHING.
- When I am absolutely stuck, I ask for help: “JOHN.” “…what?” “Dishes or laundry???” “Huh?!” “JUST PICK ONE.” “Um, ok… dishes.” I know that sounds ridiculous, but I will sometimes literally run back and forth between the laundry room and the kitchen for 10 minutes or more, arguing with myself about where I should start.
- Routine. Just like with children, there is comfort in my routine. And though I love to break it, I am always dismayed at the wreckage that is left in the wake of a day out of my routine.
- Acceptance of less than perfection. OCD tendencies are often present within people diagnosed with ADHD. It has been a slow process, but I’m learning… it’s better to have the cans in the cabinet than to wait until I have enough time to rearrange them by category with labels facing just so. It’s better to hang all of the hangers on the rack than to wait for the moment when I can sort them by hanger type. And it’s better to hang your clothes randomly in the closet than to wait for the moment when you can sort them by sleeve length and color. No, I’m not kidding about any of those. On a normal day, you could find a giant pile of laundry blocking the entrance to my immaculately sorted closet. Or piles of glasses and plates in the sink, but the plates and cups in the cabinets are all facing a certain way.
- A little tidy goes a long way. My cleaning checklist rarely gets completely done. However, I generally fight to finish out the “daily” section of my checklist, just because having a tidy house means I can think clearly. I really have a difficult time functioning within a mess, because all I can think about is all that needs to be done.
- Don’t give in to negative thoughts. It is really easy for me to fixate on negative thoughts or feelings, usually in relationship to something I’ve forgotten to do or something I’ve said impulsively. I practice apologizing sincerely and then moving on. It takes a lot of work, but I don’t allow for mentally flogging myself anymore.
If your loved one has ADHD, how can you better relate to him or her?
- Have tons and tons of patience.
- Wait until you have her eye contact. If you are speaking to her and she isn’t looking at you, she likely isn’t hearing you, either.
- Offer to help often with tasks. Don’t be offended when he can’t let you do something (because it has to be done a certain way), but know there will eventually be a task that mentally overwhelms him that he will gladly throw in your direction.
- Be prepared to be a sounding board. She may very well think and scheme out loud. Help her think through her ideas.
- Don’t be offended by his emotional reaction. We are very impulsive, reactionary people, and the wrong trigger may very well send us over the deep end. Don’t assume that he meant the words he said in anger. Wait and try the conversation again when he’s level-headed.
- Related to that last point: Observe her, and notice when she becomes agitated in conversation. If you notice that she is spiraling towards an angry reaction, call time out and come back to the conversation later. I rarely have an angry reaction (but man, when I do…. not fun.) Part of that is because I can recognize when I’m about to lose my cool; I am usually the one to call “time out” in our relationship.
- Reminders are extremely necessary. Don’t feel rude for reminding frequently. You might even encourage the person to set an alarm on his phone. I, personally, am rarely offended by reminders… in fact, I generally am grateful for them.
As for me, I am no longer the self-conscious little girl who was struggling with her diagnosis. In college, I took an IQ test… I scored 126 (average is 100.) It was absolutely shocking to me. I had always assumed that I was well below average, that I was just a dumb girl trying to appear normal in the crowd. And even with my ADHD, I still graduated from college with a 3.4 (ish?) GPA… having never read a single textbook. Am I normal? No. But I think I’m finally OK with that.