adhd and me: life with distractions

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me telling myself no to potato chips

here’s the thing in my life i am consistently inconsistent. i will start a hobby and nearly half way through completion…i’ll just walk away. i’ll make a decision about going into another advance degree program. i’ll line up all the information. do thorough research on which program best fits what i need and then…i go do something else. i once decided i wanted to garden. i researched which plants grow best in my environment. i bought bulbs and seed packs and even started to till then i got distracted and walked away. the bulbs and seed packs are still in my basement.

 

projects, hobbies, the drive for new occupational adventures they come and they go. i use to worry about me. about this thing i do that gets me so gung-ho about something one minute and in the next breath on to something else. and when i say i’m gung-ho, i mean i’m 150% in. you wouldn’t want to get in between me and my new next best idea. because you are gonna get plowed over. big time.

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this is jessamyn stanley. she’s amazing. one of my ‘ideas’ is to be like her.

like right now in my house there are 3 paint colors on my son’s wall because his room needs ‘a big boy make over’. my own bedroom looks like my closet threw up because i’m in the process of re-designing my ‘look’. the basement has every retired piece of furniture i’ve ever owned from a three legged entertainment center to the kitchen table i bought for my first apartment. why because i’m going to have a garage sale or call the salvation army for pick up or paint them and use them in a new decorative design for my living room…it just depends on the day of the week or the month…i’m going to do something with all that stuff…just watch.

 

i start my day in complete ‘grown up’ mode.i convince myself that i’m going to wash my car and clear that crap off the car port and put up a hammock. like that will be the plan. but when i get outside it’s such a pretty day that i just go to the beach. seriously. i go to the beach. so the car doesn’t get washed. and the car port continues to look look the Sanford’s front yard.

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Sanford and Son

are you getting the picture?

now mind you in my professional life…i’m focused. put me in an office and i will problem solve, collaborate, coordinate and initiate till you send me home. every goal will have an objective and every objective will have an action step. my emails will be signed ‘together we achieve more’ and followed up with a personal phone call. i love being a social worker. i mean in the core of who i am its what i was born to do. i am passionate and truly believe in the work i do. and i don’t play games when it comes to it. i get it together and i get the job done.

but in my life…away from the office…away from helping…i don’t got it together. i’m all over the place AND my mind wonders. and i ain’t just talking about your typical day dreaming either. here’s an example: in the time that it takes me to complete this sentence i have also made the decision to have bacon for breakfast, that the tree outside my window HAS to come down, and asked myself if three glasses of water in that particular cup equals 48 ounces of water or 36, and how many times will i need to go pee after having drank between 36 – 48 ounces of water in the next hour. like you don’t want to spend a day in my head man, you’ll get whiplash. for reals.

my mama used to say that i ‘tuned’ people out. my teachers would snap their fingers at me and then demand something they assumed i wouldn’t be able to deliver on like the answer to the last question they’d written on the board. friends would admonish, ‘you never pay attention when it counts.’ and we won’t even get into the arguments i had with boyfriends about where my attention was…

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Mrs. Ross was my lifeline in high school.

but i had this one teacher who got it. she got me. she knew that i wasn’t necessarily bored or being disrespectful and insubordinate. most importantly, she didn’t think i was crazy. she noticed that in the middle of instruction i would just wonder off course. she also noted how frustrated it made my other classmates. and because she needed them to be able to work with me, she decided to do something to help me get back in the game. she nicknamed me, Walkabout.

 

Walkabout is a spontaneous journey through the wilderness of one’s choosing in an effort to satisfy one’s itchy feet, a need to be elsewhere, the craving for the open road, that space over the horizon…yes… something like that… you can’t quite touch it so you have to go find it because it’s you just know it’s there…Or maybe it just feels good to go walking around

it was and is the most accurate description of my mental wandering. so when she called me Walkabout it was my cue that i was mentally checked out and needed to check back in again.

she first called me Walkabout in private but after asking me questions about if i was doing this mental wandering in my other classes. then she started calling me Walkabout in class. i think my classmates thought she was teasing me. but what she did was throw me a life line. her calling me Walkabout was my first strategy and it lead me on a for real journey to discovering adhd (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and how it impacted me.

so here’s today’s confession…

i am an adult. i am a mom. i am a social worker. i have adhd. my adhd symptoms include impulsiveness, disorganization, poor time management, poor planning, frequent mood swings, a hot temper, problems following through and completing tasks, and trouble coping with stress.

in a nutshell i’m inattentive and impulsive.

here’s how i handle it.

overcompensation
this isn’t the healthy of strategies that i have in my arsenal to manage adhd but it’s something that sticks for me (sidenote: i don’t recommend it). as an kid i overcompensated for the mental disorganization by making sure me and my possessions were physically organized. every single thing in my room had a place. my clothes had to be on me in a certain way. i wanted to be clean. and i would have a colossal tantrum if anything was out of place. i have a high sensitivity to physical stimuli too…like i couldn’t stand loud noises, strong smells, or even the feel of certain fabrics against my skin. so i’d close myself off, yank tags out of my clothes, and refuse to wear certain outfits my mother bought. like there was this one dress that itched me so bad i made myself sick so i could go home to take it off. i don’t do this anymore but…

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impromptu hill climb with the kiddo.

as an adult i overcompensate for poor planning. especially in my work life and as a mom. sometimes i can look a little obsessive-compulsive but it works for me and keeps me together when it counts the most. everything that i do has a plan attached to it. even if i’m acting on impulse, which I do all the time. in mom mode i use my strategies (see below) so each step i take works. i also bring others in the loop. i find that by including other people in my plans i become accountable and follow through. i’m the oldest in my family so my sense of responsibility is marrow deep. if i’m accountable i will make it happen.

 

grounding
i use grounding techniques to help with day dreaming and my mood swings including my temper. most psychotherapists use grounding techniques with their clients who are managing anxiety. i use it to manage my adhd symptoms.

Grounding is a technique that helps keep someone in the present. They help reorient a person to the here-and-now and in reality. Grounding skills can be helpful in managing feelings or stress. They help someone to regain their mental focus from an often intensely emotional state.

here are my all time favorite grounding go-to’s:

  1. deep breathing countdown (which is really effective in meetings and when addressing my 9 year old temper tantrums; it usually only takes me to a count of 5 to get it together but there are days when i must go to 20; i count in my head it’s more soothing and allows me to quiet the other mental chatter)
  2. check-in (i’ll phone or text a family member or friend; sometimes my check-in is just to assure myself that i’m not alone in this; other times i check in, report on the benign, and go back to my day)
  3. list it (i find that when i physically write a list no matter what for it brings me back; so my scratch notes on agendas can be grocery lists, places i want to visit, or other things i’d rather be doing; either way it gets me back)
  4. hand massage (starting at the palm of my right hand i’ll give myself a hand massage; this strategy is extremely effective in stressful times; if i have to switch hands its been a long hour)
  5. quick temple rub (with both hands on the side of my forehead i’ll rub with gentle pressure along my temple and across my forehead; ahhh)
  6. pray (silently i pray; sometimes all i say is ‘thank you’ and its enough to get me back in the game; amen)

stress management
here’s the thing i’m still not really able to deal with stress. and i know you’re thinking ‘nobody deals with stress!‘ but the way stress rests in the bodies of people negotiating adhd is different. its like it whittles its way into our bones making everything ache or burn. and it could be little stuff like the invites to your kid’s birthday party came back with the wrong date and even though everything else is cool as a pie on a window seal you’re about to blow your stack because…impulsivity. so stress takes on a different meaning and what stresses you out brings you down a lot faster.

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me after a nearly 4 mile walk with friends

so…most of us with adhd aren’t even able to clearly identify the things that trigger our stress because EVERYthing stresses us out. we’re in constant sensory overload, people. so it might not be that things aren’t going good at work or that our marriages are on the brink of collapse or we have to figured out if mom should just live with us. no.

 

we get stressed when they run out of baskets at the grocery store because if we get the big cart we’re going to buy big things and we ain’t got big money in our checking account…see impulsivity add in inattentive and you don’t want us in target on sale day.

so the strategies i use to manage stress are critical to my physical, mental, emotional, and financial health. i’ve got a few that i try to apply regularly, such as

i walk (you’ve seen my pictures of me trekking; walking is my ultimate go to for dealing with life; my goal is to walk at least 5 times a week for 30 minutes each time)

i practice yoga (i don’t go to them classes; today’s classes are bananas; i do the sun salutation and i have several ‘grounding’ poses i use in every day life like mountain pose)

i meditate (i even have an app for this it’s called headspace; i’ve used it at work with a few of my kids too; it’s amazing)

i write (this blog has been a life line for me; thanks for reading)

i read (my son thinks i have a reading ‘problem’ but its been my main go to for stress relief since before kindergarten)

 

i know that each of these strategies help me. when i can create time in a day to practice all 5, it’s like nirvana up in here! but i’m a mom. i have a full time job. i have community and family obligations. and i have adhd. so even though these things would help me have happier, saner days i’m not always able to do them. and then there is…impulsivity. like i really battle my impulsivity and most days i win but when i’m on vacation i don’t even try and control it. so shit goes undone.

medication
i don’t use medication to manage my adhd. it’s not one of my strategies because i’m high functioning in my work environment. but if it were problematic at work i would use the medication. my recommendation to parents of children diagnosed with adhd and adults managing it is always to test drive as many strategies as you can for management which may include medication. but know going in that you’ll need more than one strategy to really get a grip on all the symptoms.

and i’m learning. after 45 years it’s finally sinking in that i’m not a failure. i’m not crazy. i can manage this thing. i know that i will be okay and that things that really need to get done will get done…eventually.

so…every single day of my life, i wake up and start again. i wake up and make a deal with myself and God to do better, to be better. sometimes my ‘better’ is making a meal plan for the day and sticking to it. sometimes my ‘better’ is getting one load of laundry completely done in a day (that’s washed, dried, folded, and put away). and sometimes my ‘better’ is watching my son’s soccer game without once looking at my phone to take a picture but to just watch it every second completely present till the end.

here’s to better days…for you and me.

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and laughing…i laugh alot

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Jeana rooks says:

    A friend posted your article on FB and i began reading it, hoping for a few skills to help my 12 year old dtr. I hve finally come to the realization ahe has ADHD Some days i just want to cry! Its tough having one child breeze through life and the other lost, stressed out and always questioning herself. I cried reading your journey, it gave me more then a few skills. It gave me hope. Hope that she will grow up to become the beautiful flower child she was created to be and hope that i can parent her and walk in her journey.

    1. Thank you for reading. I am so glad you found some assistance in my story. The struggle for girls managing ADHD is real. For most of us, the symptoms aren’t even recognized until we’re in upper school. If nothing more I hope your daughter knows she’s not alone. There are many many more of us. And everything really will get better.

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