Friday, my co-workers and I went out to lunch. I wasn’t able to finish all of mine, so I brought it back to the office. As I placed it in the fridge, I joked that I was going to put my lunch in the fridge and forget about it for a week. Later that evening, as we were contemplating dinner, I remembered that I left my lunch in the fridge at work. This is a common occurrence for me which was why I joked about it. I was disappointed that I had done it once again. A week night is one thing, but over the weekend, forget about it. I’m notorious for this. I am also notorious for going out to eat, getting a to-go box, and leaving the food behind when we leave. Why am I bringing this up? Allow me to explain what it is like inside my brain.
There’s this interesting thing called ADD or ADHD. Now, I debated as to whether or not I should write this post, because it is a bit controversial. I chose to do it anyway. It is a bit contraversial, because there are people out there who believe this condition doesn’t exist. Then again, there are also people out there who believe the earth is flat and the evidence showing that it is a sphere is a big conspiracy, so there you go. What do I have to say to those who believe ADHD doesn’t exist? Well, we are all entitled to our opinions. However, unless you have extensive personal experience or you’ve studied the subject matter in question and been handed an actual degree from a university stating you are proficient in your knowledge in said subject, you are NOT an “expert” in that subject no matter how much “research” you’ve done online. Remember, the flat earthers also did their “research” online therefore, it is safe to say that the internet cannot fully be trusted. With that being said, I do possess a degree in psychology and I still wouldn’t consider myself an “expert,” so I certainly wouldn’t be so bold and reckless as to assume my Google research trumps anyone’s professional knowledge in any subject matter. Considering I have a degree followed by real life experience, I feel I can speak accurately on the topic even if I don’t consider myself to be an expert. So here it is. What it is like inside my brain.
The Daily Struggle
It takes me longer to do things than it does other people. For example the other night, I had thrown a load in the wash, bathed my son, and set him up on the couch to watch a movie that was 1 hour 14 minutes long. I figured that was plenty of time to finish up. There were a few dishes in the sink I wanted to get to. When I say a few, I really mean only a few. Something that would take maybe 20 minutes at most. Yet, as I was washing the last pan, my son came into the kitchen asking me for a ton of different things. That’s when I heard the music coming from the living room. I walked over and looked at the TV to see the credits rolling. The movie was over. It took me 1 hour and 14 minutes to wash maybe eight dishes. Why is that? I couldn’t for the life of me think of what else took up my time so much that I was still washing dishes over an hour after I first intended to do so. Surely I did not spend that entire hour at the sink washing dishes. I thought back. I had decided to put on a movie and wash dishes. Then I ran downstairs and threw the load from the washer into the dryer, because I heard the spin cycle end. Then I decided to toss another load in the wash. I ran upstairs to take pictures of some things I wanted to list on the marketplace and I hopped on Facebook a couple times, and texted a couple people as well. Then I remembered I planned on washing dishes. That’s how that all went and this happens all the time.
Here’s another example. Yesterday, I intended to clean the house before we left that evening. Nothing major. Just routine weekly maintenence. Clean kitchen table off, clean counters, sweep and mop the kitchen and bathroom floors, clean bathroom sink and toilet. Since this is done weekly, it doesn’t take long. Well, it shouldn’t take long. When I know I’m pressed for time, but determined to get it done, I can finish all that in an hour or less. It took me at least four hours yesterday and I didn’t get all of it done. I was horribly distracted. I had decided around 10:30 that I would do it and had plenty of time. Then I threw another load in the wash. I created a Facebook ad for my t-shirt shop and then boosted that ad. That took some time. I listed a few more items on the Facebook marketplace. I spent some time upstairs organizing more baby clothes and items I planned on listing. I ate two pieces of the pizza my husband made us for lunch. I took my son to the potty a few times. I peeked in on the Michigan vs Nebraska game a couple times. Then I checked Facebook multiple times before realizing that I was stalling to avoid doing what I intended to do and I got moving. While I was in my groove, my husband mentioned that our son needed a bath. Oh good. More for the to-do list. So, something that could have easily been done in an hour took more than four and it still wasn’t finished. This is my life. Speaking of which, I have clothes to put in the dryer.
Yes, I actually did stop writing for a moment so I could put clothes in the dryer. Sometimes it is a time management issue and I’ll explain later why those with my brain struggle with it. Part of the reason why time management is an issue is all the distractions and that’s why it takes longer to get things done. I once tried a crochet pattern for “the easy 30 minute beanie.” It took me four and a half hours to complete. I figured it was the combination of my still sort of being a beginner and being a mother of a young child. Yet my husband pointed out it was more than that. He has watched me work. I’ll sit on the couch crocheting and get a few stitches in, look up at the TV for a bit, go back to it, watch some more TV, go back to crocheting, get up, do something else, sit back down, get up again, and so on. Distractions. Always with distractions. For instance, while I am writing this, I’m distracted by the beautiful sunlight pouring through our picture window in the living room. I opened the curtains, because I love sunlight, but now I have a view of the beauty outside and I keep wanting to look. I’m distracted by the sounds of the cars going by. I eliminated the distraction of a messy house, but replaced it with the amazing aroma of the “Long Island Linen” scented carpet odor eliminate powder I used on our area rug before vaccuming. I just want to sit here and breathe it in while staring out the window and watching the cars go by. The fact that I need a shower is distracting me. The sound of the clothes tumbling in the dryer and the ticking clock in the kitchen. I also am hungry and now I am thinking about lunch. You may think it is easy to be less distracted by little things, but for people like me, it isn’t.
I sometimes do this thing where I get “stuck.” I’ve read that it is a common ADHD thing that most people don’t realize. I’ll be in my “zone” getting stuff done and walk past the TV and stop in my tracks and just start watching it. It weirds my husband out, because I’ll be standing behind the couch where he is sitting. I’ll stand there for 20 minutes or more. Then he will ask if I want to sit down. This tends to hit my “reset” button and I will then remember it I had originally set out to do in the first place and go do that. Or I will have forgotten what I set out to do and stand there longer staring at the TV if something good is on. It isn’t always the TV. Sometimes it is the window. I’ve been known to get stuck staring out the window sometimes too if it is beautiful outside or something interesting is going on. I used to sit in the kitchen in my apartment and watch the cars go by. It used to drive my ex crazy, because he would catch me looking over his shoulder out the window and get mad that I wasn’t paying attention to him. Truth be told, the cars going by were more interesting than whatever it was that he was saying, but he was a psycho and assumed I had some sort of “secret boyfriend” outside that I must have been watching. The truth is, distractions get me “stuck” sometimes. Sometimes it will be the TV or a window. Other times it is my own thoughts and I will stop and appear to just be staring into space, but in reality, im lost in my thoughts. I’ve been doing this since childhood. It is one of the many quirks of ADHD that people don’t always know about.
When people think of ADD or ADHD, they commonly associate it with a lack of attention when in reality, it is the complete opposite. Our attention to everything is heightened to a fault. While someone with a neurtypical brain can unconsciously filter out irrelevant details around them so they can focus on what needs their attention at the moment, it is not so for us. EVERYTHING around us is competing equally for our attention. So while you may not even be aware of all of the things you are tuning out, because your brain is doing it for you, I have to consciously make that decision every second of every day. At any given moment, while I have an important task that needs my attention, I notice that my sock is falling down inside my shoe, my head may be itching, and my bra strap is falling off my shoulder. There’s a conversation going on nearby that has nothing to do with me, the blinking light on my phone alerting me that I have a missed call or text, the hangnail on my thumb, and the pain from my ingrown toenail are all equally competing for my attention and as I try to stay focused on the task at hand, I’m noticing ALL of these things and have to either deal with them or find a way to tune them out. Usually that means ignoring what I know isn’t relevant at the moment, but that doesn’t mean each of those things doesn’t still have my attention. I’m simply just trying to ignore them and it is a struggle. Some things drive me so crazy that I can’t ignore them. I actually don’t use our instant messenger system at work. Mainly because people try to use it to get quick answers to questions that should be documented in people’s charts, but it is also because I can’t ignore that blinking box. I have more pressing matters to attend to, so not logging in eliminates the distraction of the blinking box altogether.
Back before I knew what was going on, I didn’t know how to effectively prioritize all that was coming at me and I would get overwhelmed easily. When I’m overwhelmed, nothing gets done. Now, that I understand it more, I make a conscious effort to prioritize all that is coming at me or being asked of me. Sometimes I need to make a list in order of priority. Other times I may say out loud to someone at work “That is not a priority right now.” It isn’t me being defiant. It is me trying to be efficient. If supplies show up and I’m the only clinical staff member present, patient care comes first and supplies can wait until I have 10 minutes to spare. If I can’t find time to spare, I’ll ask for help. Those with ADHD have a hard time recognizing when they are in over their heads. I used to. We tend to think we are great multitaskers and can handle everything coming at us. Sometimes that is true, but only if it is done in such a way where we consciously prioritize. Otherwise we have a full to-do list with a ton of half done things. I have tons of artwork that I have started and never finished, because I tried to juggle too much at once. Then I stopped and never started back up. That is why we struggle with asking for help. We don’t accurately estimate the amount of time it may take to do all the tasks that need to get done and don’t prioritize. We think “I can get to that after I do this other thing.” Then we finish the other thing and the phone rings or something else comes up and we do that instead.
ADHD comes in many different varieties. The stereotype most people are used to is the disruptive boy in class who can’t sit still, yet most of the time that isn’t what you see at all. I often hear people tell me that if I hadn’t said anything, they wouldn’t know I had it. I don’t fit the stereotype. I’m not the disruptive kid swinging from the ceiling. My type is predominantly inattentive type. This means that although I may be able to sit quietly, my mind is elsewhere. If someone is giving a lecture, I can stare forward and I might hear the first five minutes of what was said, but at some point, my mind begins to wander to my to-do list, what’s for dinner tonight, what bills need to be paid this week, I haven’t heard from one of my friends for a while and hope she’s okay. At some point, I’ll tune back in and realize I’ve missed the last 10 minutes of what someone was saying. All the while, I’m sitting quietly staring forward. Sure, we all do this sometimes, but for people like me, it is all the time. I try to make it a point to catch myself when my mind wanders like that. I also have little quirks when I’m trying to sit still. I fidget, because I’m never, ever comfortable for very long. When every single sensory stimulus is competing for my attention as much as the important details are, it is hard to remain comfortable. I’m likely cold. The tag on my shirt is bothering me. I’m crossing my legs one way only to be uncomfortable in that position and cross them the other way and soon find I’m uncomfortable that way after a while too. My chair may be hard, the back might be pressing against my bra clasp, my foot itches, I have to pee, I have a hangnail that I absolutely have to pick. If you were to observe me closely during a meeting or presentation, you would see that I don’t exactly sit still. If there’s a pen and paper handy, I’m likely to start doodling just to give my hands something to do, take my mind off the uncomfotrable things bothering me, and stay awake and pay attention. Yes, if I sit still for too long, I fall asleep. Doodling actually helps me focus my attention where it needs to be. I walk around clicking my pen so much at work that it probably drives my co-workers batty, but my hands need to be doing something at all times and it helps me concentrate. Just like singing the Meow Mix song helps me concentrate, because it keeps all the irrelevant thoughts from racing through my head.
My ADHD package also includes this lovely accessory called hyperfocus. What this means is that I actually CAN focus very intently on activities that I find interesting. Someone with this addition to their ADHD cocktail can easily get lost in a book for an entire day or even weekend. The problem is everything else gets tuned out. I’ve become so involved in art projects during school, that I would forget to eat all day. Someone with these traits can focus very intently on something they are interested in for a very long time and this is one of the reasons that ADHD is misunderstood. Many with this type are simply labeled as lazy and irresponsible, because they are able to concentrate and work well on things they are interested in, but nearly impossible to focus on something they don’t enjoy. This is actually one of the reasons I thought I didn’t have it for a long time. I could easily focus for hours on my art projects in high school or a paper I was writing. I completely overlooked the fact that these projects took me three times longer to complete than they should and I had to finish them at home where I could more easily tune out distractions by shutting myself alone in my room with music.
My Personal Journey
Prior to figuring this out, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what was “wrong” with me. Once I started going to school and spending time with other kids my age, it wasn’t long before I noticed I was “different.” Early on, my impulse control was nearly non-existent. I would actively do things and have no idea why I was doing them. They would typically be defiant things. Writing on my desk, jumping rope with my scarf in the back of the classroom at the end of recess after we’ve been told to sit down, the list could go on. As I grew older, I was able to control my body more, because my awareness grew and I didn’t want to embarrass myself. This is still a struggle on occasion though as my husband points out that sometimes my body does things that my mind doesnt realize I’m doing, because my brain is elsewhere. I just happen to have a lot more control over it now than I did as a child.
Sometimes I would blurt out weird things. Maybe we were supposed to be quietly listening to the teacher and my mind would wander and I might laugh out loud about a funny thought popped into my head. Or I would want to say one thing, but would blurt out something completely different and sometimes unrelated to what I actually intended to say, because my mind had already moved onto something else. This also happened less as I got older, but it followed me into my 20’s. Sometimes in early elementary, I would simply just not participate. I got behind in first grade, because I simply stopped doing the work. Thankfully the teacher gave me the opportunity to make it up. It wasn’t because I didn’t understand it. I was a smart kid. I just didn’t feel like doing any of it. The assignments were boring and unstimulating, so I just shoved them inside my desk and forgot about them. It didn’t take me long to quickly finish them and turn them in by the end of the year and that was all it took for me to not do that again.
These things were embarrassing to me, because I could tell the other kids didn’t seem to have these issues. Other kids were organized and neat. Other kids had clean rooms. The other girls didn’t have messy hair. Other kids clearly understood instructions. Other kids easily finished their work in the classroom and didn’t have to take it home. Other kids finished their homework quickly if they had it. I was not one of these kids. For the life of me, I could not stay on task. Especially if the work was boring and tedious. I would sit quietly in class, but my mind would be elsewhere. Next thing I knew, the bell would ring and and while everyone else was turning in their work, I was bringing mine home. I always got good grades. It just took me twice as long to get the work done. One teacher noticed this. She made fun of me for it in front of the whole class regularly. She caught me daydreaming a few times and started calling me out on it loudly in front of the other students in class. She likely did it hoping it would help and get me back on task. Unfortunately, it got to the point where I couldn’t look up from my work at all. If I even so much as looked up to read the board or look at the clock, she would say to the class “Oh look everyone! Melissa is daydreaming again!” I specifically recall an incident where we had a two part standardized test. Everyone else finished theirs in a timely manner while I took my time, because I knew it was important and I wanted to do a good job. I stopped for a minute to look up at the clock and she loudly announced “Everyone else is done with their test, while Melissa is still on the first part and she’s just sitting there looking around at what everyone else is doing.” As it turns out, I got EVERY question right on that test. Every single one and I was the only one in the class who did. Some of us take longer than others. She barely acknowledged that I had the highest score. My only relief that year came when a boy transferred into our class who was insanely disruptive. He took the attention off of me for once and I was no longer the star of the public ridicule show in our fourth grade class. We later became friends.
Although that was a tough year, it helped me become more mindful of these odd things and either catch myself and redirect or become better at hiding it. I mainly wanted to hide it, but my hopes were if I could just buckle down and work harder, I would somehow magically change and be like the other kids. That was the key. I just needed to work harder. So I thought. It seemed impossible though. I couldn’t get my work done in class, because I would hear the sound of everyone’s pencils feverishly working and my anxiety would set in about how I wasn’t as far as everyone else and my mind would draw a blank. Then my mind would wander, however by this point I would daydream while looking down at my work. Heaven forbid I look up and risk public embarrassment again. Then I would bring my unfinished work home and have a whole new list of problems. Kids around me were playing. Normal kids, who didn’t have homework, because they finished their work in class were now outside playing or watching TV after school. I wanted to do these things too. I could never decide which was better. Finishing homework right after school or participating for a bit after school before working on homework. I would try to buckle down, but if the tv was on, I would start watching it no matter what show was on. There would be a million other things competing for my attention and I would lose the battle. Then of course my mom would be frustrated with the fact that it was now 10:00pm and my homework still wasn’t done. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t just be normal. Nobody else could either and clearly the problem had to be me. What other explanation was there? I was somehow defective. Broken. But I was smart. How could this be? How could I start writing a story, wait until the morning it is due to finish it before the bus comes, and still be selected to go to the Young Authors conference in fifth grade? I was gifted and smart, so the problem had to be me simply not trying hard enough. Right?
I did not understand. I didn’t really fit in and sometimes felt like a fake. I felt like I had to constantly prove myself, because even though I was smart, I would do and say some of the most incredibly stupid things. My report card and grades sometimes would be the only accurate reflection of what I was capable of, because from the outside looking in, I was a walking, talking, mess. An airhead. A ditz. I was clumsy, because I would be in such a hurry all the time, I didn’t take the time to slow down and pay attention to my surroundings. By high school I became better at either managing a lot of it or hiding it, but people could still tell something was off. I was labeled as “ditzy or airheaded,” because of some of the stupid things I would say or answers I would give. People didn’t realize that part of the reason this was going on was because I tuned out halfway through a conversation or teacher’s presentation and by the time I tuned back in, I had no idea what was going on. I used to ask for the question to be repeated, but stopped doing that after my seventh grade math teacher caught me zoning out and called on me and I asked what the question was. Instead of repeating the question, he repeated what I said and laughed at me. As did the rest of the class. So from then on, if I zoned out while someone was talking, I would simply reply as if I had been paying attention the whole time. I was too embarrassed to admit I stopped paying attention. Sometimes I didn’t even realize it. Unfortunately this would lead to some weird responses and ultimately, I was labeled as an “airhead” or a “ditz.” Back then, I found this to be hurtful, but I eventually stopped giving crap.
I began learning ways to manage my shortcomings, partly because I knew what I was capable of when I put my mind to it and partly to avoid embarrassment. I felt like I needed to prove all those wrong who were labeling me. It isn’t like I could blame them though. ADHD isn’t something you can easily see when you look at someone and if you don’t know someone has it, you aren’t going to all of a sudden figure it out by watching them. Well, I can, but for most people on the outside looking in, the view is completely different. What people see on the outside, may be a person who is a hot mess. Irresponsible and unreliable, because they are always late and always in a hurry. Disorganized, messy, lazy, forgetful, absent minded, inconsiderate, rude, obnoxious, annoying, and scatterbrained. The list could go on. I’ve been called all these things throughout my life prior to finding out what was going on and when I wasn’t directly called these things, it was implied. I began to be able to tell how people viewed me simply by their body language and behavior toward me. I wasn’t any of these things at all, but it appeared that way, because the harder I tried to have my ducks in a row, the more likely those damn ducks were to run off in all directions due to my stress and anxiety over tying to control it.
People can’t see what’s below the surface. They don’t see that the reason someone like me can’t get it together is because time management is an issue. We have a hard time accurately estimating how long it will take to do something and think we have more time than we have. I always would have a massive to-do list and think it was totally realistic. I would also assume it would take me much less time to get ready to leave than it actually would. People with ADHD have a hard time prioritizing, because as I’ve said earlier, our brains see ALL the information coming at us as equal in importance. So, while I was getting multiple tasks thrown at me at work, I was unable to determine what was most important and should be completed first. It would be painfully obvious to others in similar situstions, but for me, the impatient person constantly hitting the bell on the drive thru, the ATM deposits, and my emails, seemed as important as the customer walking in the door. As a result, I always appeared as though I was drowning in my work at my old job. I was horrible at managing my time and prioritizing. I would either cram my to-do list with way too many activities or procrastinate. I’ve been known to dawdle sometimes until the last minute, because I absolutely do not want to do whatever it is I need to do at that time. Sometimes there’s so much to do, that it is overwhelming. If I’m overwhelmed by the amount of things I need to do, I sometimes shut down and nothing gets done. I understand the reasons behind this now as well as the reasons why it leads to misunderstandings, but until I was 31, I didn’t. I hated being misunderstood, so in an effort to avoid embarrassment and being seen as a complete scatterbrain, I developed coping mechanisms.
I began suspecting I might have ADHD shortly before I lost my former job. I used my work benefits to call for an assessment and possibly therapy. I felt like my brain and life were spinning out of control and the more I tried to control it, the worse things got. As it turns out, stress can trigger the symptoms and make it worse and I was under a ton of it at the time. I explained what was going on and I still remember what this idiot said to me. “We all have ADD once in a while. It’s normal.” My mind was blown. I said to him “Oh, do you have a psych degree too? I actually do and I’m telling something is wrong with my brain and you are blowing me off and refusing to help me.” I remember hanging up the phone and deciding not to bother reaching out for help again. It couldn’t be ADHD. I was apparently just incompetent at every aspect of life and I needed to do better. Nevermind the fact that by this time, I had two college degrees, had managed to live alone and support myself for five years and never once late paying a bill in those five years. Nevermind the fact that I was holding down two jobs and volunteering. My brain being wired differently couldn’t possibly be the reason for my struggles. The problem had to be me. I didn’t fit the stereotype. If I managed to get good grades in school, graduate college, hold down work, and functionally live on my own, I couldn’t possibly have ADHD. The problem had to be me. I must be incompetent.
Don’t get me wrong. The man on the phone wasn’t completely wrong. Everyone does exhibit some ADHD like traits at certain points in their lives or maybe they possess a couple of the traits all the time and it doesn’t mean they have it. Oftentimes, these traits tend to come out during times of high stress. The difference however, is that once the event that causes these traits to occur is over, a person with a neurtypical (aka “normal”) brain, goes back to normal. For people like me, that doesn’t happen. What your brain was doing to you during that highly stressful time in your life, is an everyday thing for us. That is our state of “normal.” That’s the difference. That is also why those with “normal” brains have a difficult time understanding our daily struggle. It isn’t daily for them. Since we all experience traits of it at points in our lives, it is easy to believe the misconception that it is either much more rare, does’t exist, or if you have it, you cant function in life, or that it is something that you can just snap out of.
After that horribly unproductive phone call, I decided I simply needed to work harder, make a plan, get super organized, and change my life. Three years went by before I once again revisited the possibility that I have been gifted/cursed with the ADHD superpower. It was during an argument with my husband that it occurred to me. It was one of our arguments that happened routinely. I was struggling to keep up and get it together and he wouldn’t understand why. He would see me running myself ragged and signing up for activities that took all my spare time and leaving no time for anything else. Then I would be tired, stressed, overwhelmed and having an emotional breakdown. Why couldn’t I just stop doing that? It was while he was going on and on about my poor time management skills that it dawned on me. Honestly I have no idea what he said during this time, because while he was speaking, I zoned out and began picturing the next painting I wanted to do. A bright pink flamingo against a brilliant blue background. As usual, I tuned back in minutes later and realized I missed everything he just said. I decided to revisit the possibility of ADHD. The verdict was I do in fact have this and my flavor is the inattentive type with hyperfocus. I began doing as much research as I possibly could to gain a better understanding. I learned there were many different types. This must not be widely known. I have a freaking degree in psychology and I did not know how many types there were. I printed off some of the articles and highlighted what felt as if someone had reached directly into my brain and printed on paper. I brought the article to my husband and told him to read the highlighted areas. “Who does that sound like?” I asked. He looked up at me in shock and said “Holy crap.” This right here was the root of my issues.
Now that I was aware that my brain being wired differently was causing my issues, I accepted it. I accepted the odd things I did and my flaws. Accepting these things helped me understand them and want to learn more about why I do what I do. I read up on it as much as I could and still do. I feel as though the more I learn and understand it, the better I can manage it, because I know the reasons why. I used to try to hide these things about myself, or make excuses, or blame someone else or my environment for my struggles, because it was embarrassing. I stopped being embarrassed and stopped doing this long before discovering the root of my issues, but having a reason and accepting it was very freeing. It was nice to know that it wasn’t me afterall. I wasn’t broken, defective, or incompetent. Not stupid. Not scatterbrained for no apparent reason. I just have ADHD. Now that I had identified it, I chose to learn about it and learn about options. I learned not only how to manage it day to day, but how to actually embrace it and use it to my advantage. That’s right. There are advantages.
There are actually advantages to brains wired with ADHD. Many of us are highly creative individuals. When this creativity is nurtured and structured in a way where it is productive, amazing things can happen. It may take a bit longer, but at the end of the day it is totally worth it. One reason we are seen as creative is because we think outside the box. We come up with ideas and solutions to problems that most people don’t even notice, because they are looking at things within the framework of the box. We think outside the box, because to us, there is no box. We can’t even see that there is a box, because it is buried under our scattered array of thoughts. It sometimes poses a problem, because the most obvious and simple solution to the problem sometimes completely escapes us. We simply can’t see it. On the other hand, the outside the box thinking can lead to creative solutions never tried before, incredible wit, and beautiful pieces of art or literature.
Another advantage is we notice everything. Don’t get me wrong, that is also a downfall. Sure, while I’m trying to concentrate on work, I’m seeing squirrels bouncing around in the tree outside the window and hearing the toilet flush in the bathroom next door. I’m not trying to notice these things. I just do. However it is also an advantage. When we go somewhere I’m noticing everything around me. I notice the strange man watching me exit my car at the corner store. I notice his distinguishing features on the off chance he happens to be some sort of weirdo serial killer sizing me up. Then of course I don’t notice the curb and trip over it, but dang it I notice things a lot of people miss. I notice the vibrant display of colors in the sky during a sunrise or sunset. As I walk into the kitchen at night for a drink of water, I notice the full moon shining through the trees and illuminating the edges of the surrounding clouds with a soft, silver glow. Noticing everything can be a massive pain in the butt, but it can also keep me safe, makes me witty and funny, and makes life beautiful. This is what happens when you have a brain that isn’t wired to automatically filter out information that it seems irrelevant to your current situation.
We can be a heck of a lot of fun. Some of the people I know with the greatest sense of humor, myself included, have ADHD. Many of us may seem fearless or adventurous. Our brains require extra stimuli to keep our interest. This is actually why I prefer college football over NFL. Although sometimes this can lead to some dangerous or every well thought out decisions, if kept unchecked, it can lead to some great stories and memories. The only time I’ve ever been on a plane was when I jumped out of one. It can make some of us life of the party. Not all of us enjoy the attention, but we are still quite fun. My son loves the fact that I’ll turn anything into a song or dance at home.
We CAN be incredible multitaskers if we train our brains to do it right. In a way, multitasking is all we know. Since our brains are constantly telling us that every request and task is of equal importance and it ALL needs to be done right NOW, life can be quite the juggling act. Since the concept of prioritizing is foreign to us, because our brains don’t do it automatically when necessary, many of us have not yet mastered this. When that’s the case, you see people with ADHD taking on multiple tasks, duties, and signing up for activities, but hardly anything gets done or is done very well, because they are spread way too thin. They don’t do it on purpose. They truly think they can handle ALL of it when in reality it isn’t possible. We also then need to learn thst there is a diffence between “handling it” and doing a job well. Sure, you can juggle all those balls at once, but how many fall? How many mistakes get made while we are “handling” this heavy workload we brought on ourselves? However it is possible to learn how to prioritize and narrow things down in order to tackle the to-do list and multitask effectively and when we do, we can be unstoppable. It just takes some practice. We need to learn to recognize when we are struggling and ask for help when needed. Asking for help isn’t weakness and doesn’t mean we can’t “handle it.” It sometimes simply means the difference between handling something and a job well done. When done right, we can be awesome mutitaskers.
It is possible to manage. Now that doesn’t mean meds are not necessary. It depends on the person and the type. Sometimes medication is completely necessary. For some, it isn’t necessary at all to medicate. Either way, I believe it is extremely vital to teach/learn coping skills to manage it whether meds are included in treatment or not. Contrary to what some believe, it is completely possible for someone with ADHD to not only lead a normal life, bit even be wildly successful in their endeavors. ADHD is not an excuse to be used to brush off inappropriate behavior. It should be discussed in order to help others understand the behaviors, but certainly not as an excuse. It doesn’t do anyone any favors when it is used as an excuse. I certainly don’t expect people to just be okay with me if I’m late all the time. “Sorry, you just have to accept the fact that I’ll always be late and say inappropriate things without thinking first. It is my ADHD. I can’t help it.” No. Although we can’t help how our brains are wired which can lead to behaviors we also can’t help, it isn’t an excuse for us to just act how we want. With medication, coping skills, or both we can manage it.
When I first learned I was dealing with this, I was surprised to discover that I had already developed coping skills that helped me along the way in life. I tuned out distractions at home in high school by shutting myself alone in my room and cranking loud music while doing math homework or art projects. I had a calender next to my computer when I lived alone and I had all my bills written on it so I never missed a bill. I color coded noted for homework. I doodled in my margins of my notebooks in class, because I was able to listen better when my hands were doing something. I wrote down important dates in a planner when I was in college. I woukd set out my clothes for work or school the night before. When I started attending medical assisting school, I would color code the calender and immediately go home and do the reading and homework for the week so that it was done. I had developed routines. When I lived alone, Wednesday was cleaning day, because Thursday was garbage day.
These were things I started doing long ago when I didn’t know what s wrong, but I knew something was and I just wanted to be normal. I discovered a pattern that I was usually extremely organized in one area of life, but a hot mess in others. The area where I was extremely organized was the area I was most successful in. When I lived along, I was very organized at home, but not so much at work. It is a miracle I didn’t lose that job sooner. I became extremely organized at my current job. I color code my work schedule. I color code the doctor’s schedule, because it helps me quickly see what each patient may need. I go through the schedule ahead of time, because the less I have to think about when the time comes, the less I will forget something and the more efficient I can be. I have a system of folders that I keep things in at work and know where something is if I need to find it. If I’m in a position to do so, I will do something the minute I’m thinking of it so I don’t forget later. I write everything down.
When I need to multitask, I carefully plan it out. If I’m trying to do laundry as well as mop the floor, I know the mop is in the basement near the washer and dryer. That means I can take a load with me downstairs, put it in, and grab the mop on the way up. When I bring it back down, I can throw the load in the dryer. Maybe this is how most people do it without thinking, but for me, it takes a conscious effort. I do the same at work. If I need to do something, I think of what else I also need to do that I can accomplish when I walk in that direction. I recognize when I need to ask for help and do so in order to be efficient.
I began studying my behavior to see where my trouble spots were. I misplace things. I forget things. All the time. Not just when I’m stressed or in a hurry, but every day. There’s just too much going on in my brain to remember everything all the time or pay attention to what my body is doing regularly. The reason for misplacing things was explained to me that by the time my body is doing one thing such as putting something away, my brain is already 10 steps ahead on to something else. That’s how a wooden spoon could end up in the trash, milk on the cereal shelf of the pantry or leftover chili in the Tupperware cupboard. My body is doing one thing, but my brain is on to something else already. Knowing and accepting that I have this tendency has made it easier to control it. I have a certain place where I keep important things. I always put my keys and work badge in the same place every single day. This way, I’m not late for work, because I spent 20 minutes tearing the house apart looking for my keys that somehow ended up in the dog food container. My husband has finally hopped on board with this as well. It took him a while to realize that if my important items aren’t kept in the same place, I get crazy while I’m frantically looking for them. It isn’t that I’m bad at looking for things. It is that with my brain, if something isn’t where it is supposed to be, it could be anywhere because I wasn’t paying attention when I put it away, so it is best to just keep things where they belong. Now when he uses my car, he doesn’t just leave the keys anywhere anymore. Seriously, I once found them inside the pocket of his jacket that was draped on the back of a chair in the garage. He now leaves them in the same place. It isn’t “my” spot, but it doesn’t matter, because it is a spot that I know about, and he is consistent. If I look in my spot and my keys aren’t there, I look where he leaves them.
I’ve also taken the setting out the clothes one step further. Now I set out all my clothes and my son’s clothes for the week. One less thing cluttering up my brain and one less thing slowing us down in the morning. Just grab and go. This eliminates being overwhelmed with too many choices or trying to put an outfit together only to find one necessary piece of that outfit is dirty. Or everything is dirty. I get it all washed over the weekend and put together before the week starts. Hassle eliminated. This may seem a bit “anal” to some and if it were someone with a neurtypical brain, I might agree. However for people like me, this extreme organization, planning, and creation of routines is absolutely necessary in order to function well. By using these tactic, it doesn’t eliminate the brain clutter. That is always there. It just keeps the important things from getting buried underneath the brain clutter.
I still misplace or forget things, but by using these tactics, it happens less frequently. Of course times of stress or urgency can bring it out more. At work, when things get crazy and I have multiple people or things demanding my attention at once, it is more likely to happen. I’m also more likely to get agitated, because I’m trying to keep priorities in line still and remember everything and I’m overwhelmed. Usually I just need a minute to pause, regroup, and remember what is top priority at that moment in time and go from there. I may also need to write a few things down so I won’t forget. Sometimes I’ll even ask someone to remind me.
If I’m feeling rushed, I will likely forget something. Especially at home if we are getting ready to go somewhere. I begin early and set up a routine and steps to ensure we don’t forget anything. I make lists. It is important for me to follow that routine and steps. So when I’m going along in the routine and my husband stops me and asks me to do something else or reminds me to do something that I’ve either already done or is a few steps down the list, it throws me off. I’m likely to forget something else. I appreciate reminders if they are something I’ve truly forgotten, but if I’m rushing around and I get stopped, it could likely lead to something else being forgotten. Same with if I’m being rushed out the door. If I’m being rushed, I will forget something. So, if he rushes me and something gets forgotten and then he gets frustrated with me for forgetting, there’s a good chance I’ll turn into the Hulk. Men, you have a brain too. Use it instead of expecting your wife to remember or think of everything.
This is still a work in progress for myself and my husband. This is very important for those living with someone who has ADHD to remember. You are dealing with someone who has at any given moment a million thoughts circulating in their head. If you can help eliminate some of that or not add to it by rushing them or by not interrupting their flow, you can be a tremendous help. Things will get forgotten if you add to the stress level by rushing, so be their backup if that’s the case. If something was forgotten, well, you forgot it too, so don’t be too hard on them. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be held responsible, I’m simply saying that it is important to take into account that our brains operate differently than yours, so help if it is needed. Of course that also means we with ADHD need to be mindful of our areas where we struggle, so we can ask for help or develop and use the coping skills that work best for us. It is a team effort.
This isn’t something we can just “snap out of.” We can just all of a sudden decide to “be normal.” That doesn’t mean we can’t function normally though. There are different varieties which means treating it to ensure normal functioning means something different for each of us. However I feel you can’t just throw meds at it and call it good. Some people do require medication, but adding coping skills to manage it on a regular basis on top of that can lead to a not just a normal life, but a successful one. It is important for those of us who have it to not only accept the fact that we struggle, but to identify our problem areas. Nobody is perfect so we don’t have to pretend to be. Once you accept this, it is easy to identify problem areas. Once those problem areas are identified, problems can be predicted. You can also learn ways to deal with them. I’ve listed what works for me. This things may work for others, or they may not. It is important to find what works best for you and use it. I’m still learning and developing new strategies daily. If you are a parent of a child with ADHD, start helping your child find ways to manage their problem areas while teaching them to accept this as part of who they are and it doesn’t mean there’s something “wrong” with them. As adults, we need to accept these thing about ourselves if we want to learn how to manage it well. It is better than trying to hide it, deny our problem areas exist, or make excuses. It is also important to remember not to use it as an excuse while not doing anything about it and just expecting others to accept it. You can always to something to manage it, but as an adult, it is up to you and nobody else. You can ask others to help you, but ultimately managing it as an adult is your choice and only you will know what the best way to manage it is. It may be a process of trial and error, but it can be done. I hope people find this to be helpful. My journey is still a work in progress and likely always will be, but my hope is to offer help along the way to those with it and those looking to understand those with it.
By the way. When I say it takes us longer to do things, I’m not kidding. I started writing this a week ago. It may take us longer to do things, but we still get them done.