Relationships are Hard Enough

Relationships are hard. When you or your partner has ADHD, it gets even more difficult. Just as a check-in, does this sound familiar:

“So, did you go to the store and get what I asked you to pick up?”

“Of course. Here.” I hand her the OTC medicine she had told me to pick up. She examines it. Then, with a granite-hard face, looks up at me.

“This isn’t what I asked you to get.”

“Yes it is.”

“No. I wanted ointment, not cream. You got cream. I texted you specifically what I wanted.”

“Really? There’s a difference?”

“If I had wanted cream, I would have asked for cream. How can I be more explicit? What do I have to do to make this more clear to you? And, did you get the rice, broccoli and chicken?”

“Uh oh,” I say in a small voice.

“Which one did you forget?”

“The rice.”

She looks down, shaking her head. “I texted the list to you. It’s right there in your phone. What more do I need to do? When you agree to get what I ask for, then don’t, it makes me feel like you’re not listening to me, that you don’t care.”

“That’s not it. Of course I care!”

“Well, what happened? It was only four items. You messed up two of them?”

“Do you think I did this on purpose? I’m sorry! I messed up. I’m really sorry.”

Shaking her head. “Sorry doesn’t matter if this keeps happening. You had a specific list!”

“I’m sorry. I was in a rush. Traffic was terrible. I forgot my phone in the car. I didn’t take it in with me. Regarding your medicine, I saw ointment and cream…I picked the wrong one.”

“So…if you’re not going to take your phone into the store, why should I bother texting you the list? What’s the point? Maybe I should just go to the store myself from now on. Even though it’s less convenient, at least I know we’ll get everything we need.”

Resigned sigh. “Maybe you should…”

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Been there? Done that? Has this happened to you? This is the part of ADHD that really sucks. No matter how diligent we are, there will be times when we’re off our game. The result is a two-fold negative. First, your loved one is disappointed, hurt, frustrated, angry, inconvenienced. It’s hard to be on the receiving end of an ADHD moment. For the one with ADHD, you might feel stupid, ashamed, guilty, hopeless. The more often it happens, the more depressed you might feel.

Really, it sucks.

And this type of scenario can happen at any time when we get off our program. Or when we’re in a rush, feeling overwhelmed. Or when we’re experiencing a lot of stress. There are pressure points and triggers.

One of the things you might often hear is: “Why don’t you manage this? This is completely avoidable if only you managed it better, right?”

On the surface, of course. But, much of ADHD isn’t on the surface. It’s nuanced and subtle at times. We might be managing the big stuff – remembering to take our meds, keeping a good calendar, eating right. But, there are times when we’re feeling the stress from being overwhelmed, or we’re just struggling to manage everything we need to manage.

To a “normie”, it seems incredibly inconsistent when one moment we’re highly focused, creating a masterpiece – and the next we can’t remember to pick up coffee on the way home from work. A “normal” person manages these little things (and quite often doesn’t have the skill or hyper-focus to create a masterpiece). So, while on one hand we’re doing miracles, on the other we can’t get simple tasks done – routine chores and requests that need to be done in order to maintain harmony.

ADHD is a neurological/biological medical disorder. We, and those whom we are with, often forget this. Unlike other disabilities, it isn’t readily apparent. I bring this up not to make an excuse, but to remind that a person with ADHD isn’t normal.

And it can create havoc in a relationship. Any kind of relationship. Whether with a spouse, family member, friend, employer, teacher or anyone else, ADHD “moments” have an effect. These moments build over time. While family members tend to have more tolerance (what choice do they have?) and learn to do work-arounds, friends, employers and others often do not have such high levels of tolerance.

A loved one will typically work hard to help and to create workable solutions. But even the most patient and loving spouse has a ceiling. The person with ADHD needs to have empathy, an understanding that living with their disorder isn’t easy for a “normie”. Communication is important, as is a sense of humor. The person with ADHD must also be open to hearing how their behavior affects others – and demonstrate humility rather than defensiveness. That’s hard.

In an employment situation there likely won’t be as much tolerance. Business values the types of behaviors that people with ADHD often find challenging. Organization, multi-tasking, meeting deadlines, being on-time, curtailing mistakes – these executive functions are valued in a business setting.

Do you have a job with a lot of moving parts which challenges you organizationally, leading to overwhelm, stress and brain fog? An employer may decide that you are not a good fit. They may be right.

Even if you are in a situation that seems to be a perfect fit, there will still be routines. If you don’t have a system for handling the dull stuff, you may just undermine your perfect situation.

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I know. It can be really frustrating. There will be times when, literally, you just want to sell everything and become a gypsy – leaving everything and everyone behind. You don’t want to hurt people anymore, and you don’t want to feel like a failure yet again.

While there will always be a logical, systemic way to manage your challenge areas, I’ve found that something else is needed, too.

A spiritual connection is also important. When stuff happens, especially when you’re going through a series of ADHD moments and you’re feeling hopeless, having an active prayer life or a connection to the divine is absolutely necessary to manage the emotional side of the disorder.

For me, and for many others I know, having daily conversations with God is especially helpful. Combined with the other good things we do to manage the disorder (meditation, nutrition, etc.), having a talk with God can be extremely liberating.

I’ve said the following more than once: “God, I’m having a tough time right now. It seems like my disorder is getting the best of me right now. I recognize that my behavior is affecting others negatively, and I’m not feeling very good about myself right now. God, I’ve made amends to the people I’ve affected, but I need your help to feel better about myself.

“God, I know it is not my fault that I was born with this disorder. But I am grateful that you have given us ways to manage it and make it better. I realize that I won’t be perfect in this, so I forgive myself for the mistakes I’ve made and for letting down my guard during times of stress. I am thankful that there is a prescription I can follow to bring more sanity into my life and into the lives of those with whom I am around.

“I also recognize, God, that you have created me for a purpose. That, despite this disorder, you have blessed me with gifts that can be used to help others. And in helping others, in utilizing my gifts, I find my purpose in your perfect will. You have made me for a reason – and it is good. I am grateful for the purpose you have given to me, I will be gentle with myself, and I will open my heart to your love and experience your peace. Thank you, God.”

This prayer, or something like it, always centers me. It creates a perspective that actually takes me out of my self-centeredness and gets me focused on the things I do well, and what I can do to help others.

For me, it works. Perhaps having a connection like this will work for you, too. Just keep in mind that if you’re breathing, you have a purpose.

The Calendar is Your Best Friend

 

Josh W. is a fairly successful nonprofit executive with nearly 25 years experience in the industry. His resume includes a number of fairly public accomplishments along with successes that no one but his colleagues would know about.

For most of his career he operated without the knowledge that he had ADHD. So, while he experienced a number of accomplishments, he admits that it was a constant struggle. “Every day seemed like an exercise in survival. I was accomplishing things but still would come up short. It was hard to enjoy a success because I was always running behind on other projects.”

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Every Monday, Josh made a habit of creating a list of things he needed to get done for that week. The list was comprised of many new items, tasks with a deadline, and catch-up actions carried over from the previous week. Sometimes his list would have 15-20 items. “It would get way too long…and it didn’t even include stuff that would come up during the week!”

Recently Josh was confronted by his boss who told him that a key fundraising partner had grown so frustrated with him that he no longer wanted to work with Josh. It wasn’t that he didn’t like Josh, or recognized Josh’s talent, it was that Josh’s responses and follow-through were so inconsistent that he felt his own effectiveness was being compromised.

“I thought that this relationship was just fine,” Josh says. “In fact, I thought it was the best it had ever been, so I was shocked when I heard what was said about me.” At first he didn’t believe the feedback (denial…sound familiar?), but he went back and looked at his email record over the past year and discovered on several occasions where he missed small deadlines, or simply didn’t follow through on some tasks he said he would get done.

“Immediately I felt ashamed,” he said. People with ADHD, even high achievers, have lived a lifetime of suffering from low self-esteem. It is especially poignant when the behavior in question puts a job or relationship in jeopardy. “Obviously my failure to follow-through wasn’t intentional.  It was a result of not managing my ADHD. Because my to-do list, my system for getting things done, was so inefficient, it led to a loss in trust with an important person, and also fed the deep-seated belief that I am, at the core, incompetent.”

Unfortunately, forgetfulness, distraction and inefficiency are all hallmarks of unmanaged ADHD. Heck, even when it is managed these traits are present! So, what is the answer? How can people with ADHD become more efficient, preserve trust, and not feel like they are in a constant state of survival?

A part of the answer is in making the calendar your best friend.

There are a couple of things ADHDers avoid like the plague: planning (too confining) and completing (we get distracted).  It’s not that we don’t like to get things done – we do. And, it’s not that we aren’t amenable to a good strategy. But, without a solid structure we will go sideways.

A calendar – especially an electronic one – provides incredible structure. It becomes even more effective when the calendar is shared with others. This creates a level of accountability that will help strengthen focus. So, here are some rules to consider when creating a rock-solid, ADHD-proof calendar.

Rule #1  Begin with hard deadlines. Whether it is turning in a report, completing a project, or making an important appointment, the hard deadline (something with a specific date and time) gets put on the calendar first.

Rule #2  Insert standing meetings and appointments. Whether it’s a doctor’s appointment or a staff meeting, get your standing meetings on the docket so you don’t double-book.

Rule #3  Increase the time needed to complete a task. Here’s something really important to remember if you have ADHD: it will take you longer to get something done versus the time it takes a normie to get things done – especially tasks that are dull and routine in nature. So, if you think it will take an hour to get a report done, factor in two hours on your calendar. First, this gives you enough time to get things done. Second, if you finish earlier, well, then you have time to chase more shiny objects!

Rule #4  Schedule details. Let’s say you have a project to complete that will require you to make phone calls, write some things, have a conference call, etc. Pencil out every single detail and put them in chronological order, and then put each of those details into your calendar. If you have a phone call to make, even if it needs to take place a week from now, put it in your calendar. Do this and you won’t forget any detail.

Rule # 5  Schedule “down time”, hobby time, and other times you’ll need for re-charging. Don’t short-change yourself on this. Neuroscience has taught us that after times of intense focus (and for us, every moment of focus is work!), we need some down-time to refresh and re-charge. If we’ve been in a period of hyper-focus, the re-charge is essential.

Rule #6  Keep your calendar visible. Keep a sidebar open on your computer, on the desktop of your cell phone or tablet. Also program reminders into your calendar visual and audio reminders.

 

So, for anyone with ADHD the calendar can be your best friend, and the best defense against feeling like you’re incompetent.

 

Sometimes, Having ADHD Really Sucks

There are times when having ADHD really is a blessing. For whatever reason, when we were born our wiring was different. The advantages of this wiring is that we tend to exhibit a higher degree of creativity and dimensional thinking, among other traits.

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I like to think that mankind would never have progressed without people whose wiring was different. ADHDers are risk takers, adventurers, explorers, inventors, creators. We will walk into the unknown places and dive into the world of shadows.

While this insatiable hunger for novelty has led to incredible cultural progress, the dark secret is that we must walk into the line of fire because our brains need the stimuli.

Let’s face it, boredom feels like a kind of slow and torturous death. Routine, structure, linear systems and thinking…these are the bane of existence for an ADHDer. And yet, to make our way in this world, we need to manufacture a way to build structure.

This process is maddening. For most normies keeping a calendar or mowing through a list of priorities, balancing a checkbook, remembering to walk the dog, or keeping a closet orderly are fairly simple and easy tasks. Not for the ADHDer. Activities like these are as difficult as crossing the Pacific Ocean in a row boat.

Undiagnosed and unmanaged ADHD is really messy. And, it really sucks. The longer it goes unrecognized and not addressed, the worse it gets, the crazier we feel, the weirder people think we are.

We screw up relationships, lose jobs, isolate, get depressed, live a life of not so quiet desperation.  Statistically we know that these things are true. If we continue to be round pegs trying to fit into square holes the frustration and dissatisfaction will continue to grow.

So what can we do? How can we put this mad life to an end and begin living a life that we love? I think there are four important things we have to do to set the stage for living a satisfying, soul quenching life.

Don’t fear a diagnosis. Embrace it. The moment you accept that you have a neuro-biological medical disorder called ADHD, the better off you will be. There is a reason why you act impulsively, forget stuff, and have difficulty keeping your desk organized. Embracing the diagnosis brings relief and clarity, opening the door to a new possibility for a satisfying, authentic life.

Take care of your brain. That is, do what you can do to improve brain function. Take your meds, vitamins and supplements. Eat healthy foods and cut the junk.  Exercise. Meditate, Take breaks, especially after a period of intense mental activity. Reduce bad stress. Quit worrying. Seek forgiveness.

Practice spirituality. A spiritual connection is essential. This connection helps us to get out of our heads, focus on a purpose bigger than ourselves, see to the needs of others, fill the emptiness inside of us, provide  sustenance to our souls.  Whatever your spiritual connection might be, practice it daily. The spiritual connection can help bring sanity to what might seem a crazy life, can create grace and mercy where there was once admonishment and self-destructive negativity, cover us in love rather than blame.

Take directed action daily. Have a goal and work toward it. Do at least one thing each day that brings you closer to this goal. Something you may have to do is take a look at what you are doing. Are you in a job that takes best advantage of your skills and natural talents? Are you in a mutually supportive relationship? Take a look at the life you’re currently living – is it authentic? What doesn’t fit? Will you make the changes you need to have the life you love? Directed action every day will take you deeper into what strengths you need to nurture, and what things you need to let fall away.

None of these things are easy, but, you are an amazing creation of God. You have everything you need right now to succeed. Get real and get help. Having ADHD doesn’t have to suck.