Parenting with ADD: Just when you thought this job couldn’t get any harder!

Hello, I’m Jennifer and I have Attention Deficit Disorder. I’m also a mom and a writer.  I am not a doctor or any sort of heallth professional.  I’m not giving any advice here; just telling my story.

Here’s my story:

I was a smart kid. I like to read books and write stories. But I struggled in school and was often told I was not working to my potential. My parents called me a “difficult child” so often, I thought that was my middle name. By high school I was tired of the embarrassment every time I forgot homework or to study for an exam and I stopped going to classes all together. I managed to skip an entire month of school before a live human called home to inform my mother of my absence. It’s a dirty little secret what a kid can get away with in school when they aren’t being disruptive. I finished high school at a community college were I was a dream for teachers who were used to dealing with kids whose problems were bigger than my inability to stay focused and organized.

Eventually I went to college where I sat front and center for minimum distraction, tape-recorded every lecture and studied twice as hard as my classmates. Being handed a syllabus on the first day of class was a revelation to me: a piece of paper with every single assignment, exam and due dates listed for the entire term. What a concept! Plus, if I lost one, they were usually posted online or kept in a stack outside the professor’s office. I liked my classes and being in the academic environment.

As I moved into my career I found new challenges. About halfway through my first day of work at my first real job I realized I was in way over my head. I hid in my office and tried to force myself to know how to do my job. Adding fuel to the fire was an extremely impatient and intimidating boss. I lasted a year and learned to do the work, but not how to manage the boss. My next job was another deep lake of uncharted territory. The difference in this office, however, was a kind and patient boss who welcomed questions and truly enjoyed mentoring others. I learned that no one expected me to have all the answers and more gets done when I’m honest with myself and others about my strengths and weaknesses.

Then I had kids. Every coping skill I’d acquired to navigate my adult life went out the window.  As a single person I’d been able to dedicate entire Sundays to re-ordering my house after a busy week.  I could take work home to finish during my most productive evening hours and sleep in the next day if I needed to.  When I became overwhelmed with the world I could turn off my phone and keep the demands at bay while I regrouped.  Not anymore.

Not only did the hormones of pregnancy and breast-feeding do a number on my head, but I also had this little crying bundle of need that refused to wait for me to gather my thoughts. No more silent Sundays to prepare for the week, no more staying up late to take advantage of creative bursts (not without a huge price to pay at 6 a.m. anyway).  After a while I found my sea legs and got back into a routine. Then came baby number 2.  That was over 4 years ago and I’ve only recently come out of the fog.

My diagnosis came in the nick of time as I floundered in motherhood. That I may have ADD had been suggested to me many times since graduating high school (apparently I’m a total spaz), but I’d never had the guts to investigate. At 35 I met another mom with ADD who, upon our second visit informed me that I needed to be tested and handed me a stack of books on the subject. (She’s a total spaz too and sometimes a lack of impulse control is a good thing.)

I found a great psychologist who gave responsible and comprehensive testing before making a diagnosis. The testing was done in two separate two-hour sessions and evaluated intelligence (your basic IQ test), memory, concentration, and impulse control. When the doctor gave me my results I cried big crocodile tears. I am NOT a crier. But I’d spent my whole life feeling like a screw-up, watching people just as smart as me succeed in school and work while I struggled just to find my keys everyday. Now I knew why.

After a day of crying, awareness set in. A diagnosis meant treatment. Treatment meant relief. After a month of treatment I felt better than I had since…ever.  The anxiety that had plagued my entire adolescence and adulthood was gone. I floated through my days feeling like whatever I was doing at that very moment was just fine. I felt like I could do anything and quickly tried to do everything. In retrospect, not a good idea. If you’ve suffered from a balance problem that made it impossible to learn to ride a bike and then somebody gave you a pill that fixed the balance problem, would you instantly know how to ride a bike? Treatment helps my ADD but there are a bunch of skills I couldn’t learn until now. Learning new skills takes time.

It is hard to explain the fog of ADD to people who do not have it. They rarely understand the daily impact it can have on one’s life and how hard I work just to blend in with polite society.

Here are some examples:

  1. Doing one thing at a time is an exercise in extreme self-control. While brushing my teeth I see a dirty towel on the floor that reminds me of the clothes in the washer which should be done by now.  Still brushing my teeth, I head down to the laundry room to put the clothes in the dryer. Once I’m there I finish brushing my teeth and set the toothbrush by the sink next to the washer. I put the clothes in the dryer, start a new load and go on about my day. Later that night, as I’m getting ready for bed, I spend 25 minutes looking for my toothbrush because why in the hell isn’t in the cup with all the other toothbrushes next to the bathroom sink?!  Multiply that example by 15 more just like it and you have my typical day. Now, when I brush my teeth, I force myself to stay in the bathroom by repeating “one thing at a time” over and over in my head. Just don’t ask me to stand still at the sink.
  2. My lack of impulse control makes people think I am a rude idiot. Impulse control is a big struggle for folks with ADD.  I’m very social and love having in-depth conversations, but I often interrupt or blurt out things others may have kept to themselves. My interruptions can be perceived as ego-mania or disinterest in what others have to say and, therefore, rude. The most frustrating part is that the more interested and engaged I am in a conversation, the stronger the impulse to interject. For me, dinner party conversations require a silent mantra of “don’t interrupt, don’t interrupt, don’t interrupt.” Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes I work myself into a state of silent anxiety, leaving others to assume I’m bored or in a bad mood.
  3. Making plans scares the crap out of me. There are moms who like to schedule play dates weeks in advance and then there’s me.  Ask me what I’m doing next Thursday and I’ll give that “deer in headlights” look.  I have no freaking idea what I’m doing next Thursday–EVER! So I’ll tell you that I will go home and check my calendar. Once I’m home I will a)forget the conversation entirely; b)check the calendar but blank-out on what day I’m supposed to be checking; c)remember the day and check the calendar but lose your phone number or my cell phone.

So how do I cope?  Well, I’m still working on that out but I have found a few things that help:

  1. Mantras.  I repeatedly remind myself to keep doing what I’m doing now and nothing else.  It’s tiresome and not always possible (such as when a 4 year-old who needs assistance in the bathroom is screaming “I’M DONE!”) but it helps.
  2. Allies. At this point in my life I’ve whittled my friends down to people who don’t care that I’m always 15 minutes late and never send birthday or thank-you cards. They know that I love them and that I’m the one to call when they need a laugh or a shoulder to cry on, or want to hang out on the spur of the moment. When making new friends I generally set the first social event for anywhere other than my house so I don’t have to cancel due to the seven piles of unfolded laundry that will inevitably consume my living room by then. I’m also very direct about my “scattered brain” and make lots of self-deprecating remarks, thus giving anal-retentive types the opportunity to check their expectations at the door or self-select out of my friend circle.
  3. Help.  Every morning I take a little pill that replaces the hormone my thyroid stopped making after the birth of my first son. My hypo-thyroid is hereditary (Mom has it, Grandpa had it) and I never question it’s validity. So why is it that for me and so many others it is such a struggle to accept medical intervention for parts of our brains that don’t function properly? ADD is hereditary and medication helps, yet I resent the need for it. I slip into feeling that I can somehow will my brain to stay focused and alert. From there it is a slippery slope to the land of anxiety and self-hatred. So I take the meds; see a counselor; and try alternative treatments such as biofeedback, which I hope will someday make the meds unnecessary. I also try to read any one of the good books I’ve been given on the subject of Adult ADD. But, as my husband points out, they should really come as Cliff Notes.

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned to do is be kinder to myself. I don’t use my ADD as an excuse for my every last character flaw, but I have (mostly) stopped beating myself up for keeping a chronically untidy house, never finishing the baby books that were supposed to record my son’s first years, and making endless “to do” lists which I promptly lose. Like Popeye, “I ‘yam what I ‘yam!” The other great thing about this approach is it has given me permission to stop internally and externally apologizing to the few people in my life who just don’t get it. I’ve found that judgments are a lot like radio stations: if I don’t listen I don’t even know they’re there. Forgiveness is a powerful thing and often the hardest people to forgive (especially us moms) are ourselves.

Perhaps the biggest act of kindness I’ve bestowed upon myself is to acknowledge the positive qualities ADD has given me. One positive result of my ADD is that my inability to keep life organized has made me highly adaptable to most any situation or environment. Having so many “flaws” also gave me a huge sense of compassion for others which was essential when I worked with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. But my favorite part about having ADD is that, at an early age, I learned to divert attention away from my mistakes by making people laugh. This skill eventually led me to the stage where I perform stand-up comedy. The endorphin rush of an audience full of people laughing their butts off is thrilling and addictive, to say the least. And by the way, I’m pretty sure there isn’t a single stand-up comic that doesn’t have ADD–it’s practically a job requirement. So if you have or know someone who has ADD, please be patient and remember: we might always be 15 minutes late for the party, but we’re damn fun when we get there.

© Jennifer Sparklebritches and Poop In My Hair, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to and Poop In My Hair with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Parenting with ADD: Just when you thought this job couldn’t get any harder!

  1. Self-knowledge is such an important life skill, and you seem to have it in spades. I’ve just read a book called the seven keys to calm by a.m. matthews, who basically says everything is always changing and once we accept that calm about everything else is easy to attain. Be well.

  2. martha

    This is a great description of life with ADD, Jennifer. It’s funny to me how similar some of our experiences have been, except for me college was a complete nightmare. I had no organizational or time-management skills, having been raised by a mother whom I am now fully convinced also has ADD. For me, being a mother has been my “therapy”. I knew I had to get it together to save my kids the childhood of chaos and embarrassment that I endured. Marrying a super-organized control freak was actually a good thing for me, too, as I learned about lists and schedules and how to make them work for ME in MY way.

    When it was finally suggested to me by a mental health professional that I have ADD, I was floored. I became angry and defensive. “I don’t have ADD, I’m just lazy and self-indulgent!!” I felt so defective and hopeless. Then I felt relieved. I only wish I had known sooner. Maybe if I’d been disruptive and hyperactive as a child, I would have been diagnosed earlier. Instead I sat quietly, daydreaming the years away, feeling like an incompetent loser. (Or skipping classes to run on the treadmill instead, trying to quiet my racing mind.)

    If you’re interested in a good book for adults with ADD, that’s actually written FOR people with ADD, check out _More Attention, Less Deficit_ by Ari Tuckman. 🙂
    http://www.amazon.com/More-Attention-Less-Deficit-Strategies/dp/1886941742

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