This is a slightly modified version of a status message that I put on Facebook earlier this evening:
I have mixed feelings during awareness days & months such as today's World Mental Health Awareness Day. An awareness day is good – I enjoy the decision – but you know what's better? Ongoing discussion, year-round. When I see companies using awareness hashtags it often feels disingenuous, like they're doing it for the sentiment metrics. Awareness days are good, as long as the discussion is ongoing beyond the campaign. Awareness days are a conversation starter. It's up to us to keep that discussion going.
According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, in any given year, 1 in 5 Canadians experiences a mental health or addiction problem and by the time Canadians reach 40 years of age, 1 in 2 have – or have had – a mental illness.
Here's how my mental health affected me today: The noisy team that I sit next to were extra noisy, with phone meetings and chatter among themselves. I have sensory issues (related to ADHD). I stayed at work an extra hour and a half to get something done and emailed by “end of day”, because my brain wasn't working in top form because SENSORY OVERLOAD. I did spend an hour in a “focus pod” until my laptop battery died (I didn't think I'd need to bring the charger in with me for a couple of hours), but even in the absence of noise, the pods are small rooms with fluorescent lighting. I get anxious and claustrophobic. I get distracted when people walk past.
By the end of the day, I felt that I was losing my shit. I left work feeling exhausted. I was mentally and emotionally spent.
And now I want to hide in bed, but laundry must be done and I want to do some writing.
(P.S. This is the writing.)
I teach (or will teach – it's in beta testing) an ADHD management tool that I created called PRIME – the PRIME ADHD Management System. Each letter stands for an element of wellness. If one if out of balance it can derail you. The more in balance you are, the more letters in PRIME describe your lifestyle, the more managed your ADHD is.
The “E” stands for environment, as in physical environment.
My sensory issues, related to ADHD, make me sensitive to light and noise and sound. The sound of boisterous laughter, while joyful and making my heart happy, can irritate me a lot.
I don't know if it's a coincidence or not that World Mental Health Awareness Day happens during ADHD Awareness Month, but both are brain health issues.
As my summer business goes on hiatus, I'm gearing up to add much more content to this website, and finally get to those coaching programs. Watch for more blog posts this month.
And please, if you're an adult with ADD/ADHD, let me know what I can help you with. It will help me put together my coaching programs.
Send me a quick message and let me know what your challenges are and whether you prefer group coaching or 1:1 coaching, a short 5-6 week program, something mid-range like 3-4 months, or a long-term/year-round program. I'll set up a survey in the next couple of days but at this moment it's late and I'm tired.
If only it were that easy. Those of us with ADD/ADHD can tune people out when we're hyperfocusing (those of us who hyperfocus) but day-to-day, chatty people are a distraction. I get anxious and frustrated when multiple conversations are going on around me or more than one person is talking to me at the same time.
Another trigger: The sound of people speaking with vocal fry. You know, that croaky, vibrating voice that makes it easy to imagine the speaker's larynx vibrating. Sometimes I speak in vocal fry, and then immediately feel the need to apologize, even though not everyone is triggered by it.
This is the photo I'm using because it's licensed for reuse.
This is the photo I wanted to use, but I don't have a Shutterstock account.
2. “Just focus” or “Just do it”
(“It” being the task.)
Focus is not the result of willpower. You can't simply tell yourself to focus and be done with it. Focus is controlled by brain chemistry. The brain of a person with ADD or ADHD triggers fewer neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, which control focus and mood. ADD is a neurological disorder.
3. “Think positively”
Positive thinking and talking it out are only parts of the solution. It's way more complex than that. There are neurotransmitters and brain health involved in those automatic negative thoughts. You don't tell an obese person to “eat less”. You don't tell a person with ADD or depression to “be happy”. I have done a shitload of meditating. I've talked to angels. I've had heart-to-heart conversations with the child version of myself as if I've time-travelled to see her. I've interrogated my inner guide, who's one smart woman, by the way. Your inner guide is too. “Think happy thoughts” may have worked for Wendy in Peter Pan, but it's not enough. Those inner gremlins are evil sons of bitches and although it is necessary to squash them, it's not as easy as flipping a switch. It takes patience, training (sometimes), time and conscious self-love.
4.”You'd hate [place + environmental trigger]”
“You'd hate that restaurant. It's always crowded”.
“You'd hate that store. It's so loud.”
“You'd hate my office. There's no privacy.”
There's an element of hate in there – yes, people hate crowds – but the word misses the point because it's not about hate, it's about discomfort.
I am sometimes physically unable to function in a way that feels normal when I'm overstimulated. Sometimes loud bars trigger me. Sometimes I'm triggered when the music – or talk radio – is just quiet enough that it sounds like a whisper. Sometimes it's a crowded subway. Or the music that a store is playing. When I used to go to clubs I hated when people touched me with their sweaty bodies. When smoking was allowed in clubs and bars (and everywhere else) I was less bothered by the smell if I lit up too.
Sensory overload is real. I hate the feeling. Loud sneezes startle me. One time, my partner woke me up by turning on the light and the TV. The light and sound sent me into sensory overload. I ran to the bathroom, closed the door (which I never do when it's just us at home) and sat on the floor in the dark hyperventilating and trying to catch my breath. I felt like a child having a freakout. He never did it again.
The above refers to autism but sometimes people with ADD experience this.
5. “Must be able to multitask”
Even in non-ADDers, multitasking results in poor productivity. Employers are finally realizing this.
Some multitasking can be done but it needs to be active and passive, like reading while listening to wordless music. Some passive activities can be combined with active activities, but I don't recommend combining active activities.
Interestingly, it recently occurred to me that one of the reasons I don't like to drive is that I don't like the focus it takes or the multitasking.
I eagerly got my drivers license at the age of 16 and renew it every time I get a renewal notice, but I mostly stopped driving a few years later, except when it was required by a job. After a few minor scrapes (I knocked the mirror off a Jaguar and left a note, for starters) I thought I was a bad driver. I didn't really need to drive because I've only lived in cities with good public transit.
I've been learning to drive stick shift. Remembering to press the clutch while shifting or remembering which pedal to use when (I'm not talking break vs. gas) takes practice. I think that ADDers can make poor drivers or excellent ones. It is amazing how muscle memory kicked in on my second lesson. I had a few panicked moments (“OMG we're coming up to a steep hill, WHAT DO I DO??”) but I was fine. Until I stalled getting into a parking spot. 🙂 I appreciate the focus it takes. It takes a lot of focus. Because my muscle memory isn't fluent yet, I have to focus on the inside of the car as well as the outside. With an automatic transmission, it's mostly the outside you have to think about.
(Spinning around blindfolded and then trying to pin the tail on the donkey. Getting disoriented. I know that poor Ralph isn't spinning in this scenario but I couldn't pass up an opportunity to include him, and the concept is there.)
It feels like this:
It's very much this…
For me, at least. It's why I prefer guided meditations over silent ones. My mind wanders less if I have a voice to focus on. “Monkey monkey underpants”, indeed.
Let's try this again…
It is not any of these things:
a lack of trying
a lack of wanting to do better
satisfaction with mediocrity
ignoring on purpose
poor life choices
being inconsiderate. If we're late or don't call, it has nothing to do with you.
It's also neither blessing nor curse. I like to think of mine as a gift, but often it's a gift that I would prefer not to have. It's what you make of it, not what anyone else tells you it is.
It's not a lot of things.
…a neurological disorder. Neuroimaging studies have shown structural alterations in several brain regions in children and adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Here's a study published in medical journal The Lancet earlier this year.
….lower levels of dopamine.
…a difference in the temporal lobe at the front of the brain.
One study concluded that the size of the brain of a child with ADD was 3% smaller than the size of the brain of a child without it.
33% of kids with ADD never finish high school, so they end up in jobs that don’t pay well. That is if they can keep a job. Adults with ADD are more likely to get fired more frequently and experience unemployment.
Ideally, when we concentrate, blood flow should increase in the brain, especially in the prefrontal cortex; this increased activity allows us to focus, stay on task and think ahead. In the brains of most people with ADD, blood flow goes down when they concentrate, making it harder to stay focused. In other words, the harder they try, the harder it gets!
Some personal anecdotes:
Sometimes I get headaches from focusing too hard.
It takes me longer to catch on to easy things.
I crave routine.
Change can be overwhelming and the idea of change can be even worse. Not to say that I'm inflexible or can't be spontaneous, but I get used to things.
If I don't have notes in front of me to use as a reference, I'm screwed. Except for tests, though I always did better on reports and essays.
I like playing games such as Whack-a-Mole or video games that require clicking on fast-moving objects/hand-eye coordination because I like the focus required.
I'm not a mom. I choose not to be and one of the many reasons for that is because I think that I'm impatient with kids. Truth is, that's in my head. I'm really nice and don't lose my cool out loud, I just think it, and appreciate when people refer to their kids as “less than perfect”, shall I say. I never want to be that parent that drags their kid around and get short with them, yelling out of frustration, getting angry over things that aren't worth getting angry over. As it is, I sometimes do that with my dog and I feel terrible about it – especially because she can't speak English and when she verbalizes, I guess.
(An aside: She's really smart. She DOES answer me if I ask her multiple choice questions such as “Do you need to go to the bathroom? Is it dinner time? Is it bedtime?” The way she answers is by cocking her head when she hears the right word.)
Turns out, one symptom of ADD is a short fuse.
I babysat a lot as a teenager. One summer, I helped the next door neighbours at their cottage on the weekends. It was a great gig until the boy was being bratty, I snapped and called him a “moron” and understandably wasn't asked back. (I don't remember past that, but clearly, they drove me home.)
That's the only time I didn't keep my cool when babysitting. When my young (under 10) nephews test my patience I'm as nice as can be because I imagine them in therapy years from now dealing with their aunt issues, whether said concern is warranted or not. I ask them to “please” stop and tell them how they're making me feel. I relate it to them. I was a very sensitive child (an empath, while I'm using labels) and I still remember how horrible it felt when adults were impatient or short with me. I don't want to make a child feel that way.
I've been thinking about parenting with ADD – because you know, Mother's Day is this weekend and I wanted to share timely content.
Here are some tips for you, from this former babysitter, aunt, and non-parent.
1. Carve out some “me” time
…especially at the start of the day.
Wake up earlier than you think you need to, even by 15 minutes, and do a meaningful ritual. Examples of activities to choose from: Journal. Meditate. Do yoga.
I discourage ADD-ers from having too many morning routines, so pick. My guess is that journaling could be the most useful, as you can write your to-dos, your concerns, your feelings and more. You can bitch about your kids. Dump your brain onto the page.
My mom, who ran a business when I was growing up, used to get up early and do Jane Fonda videos.
Keep a notebook or multiple notebooks with to do lists. Online, I like Evernote. It allows you to organize your notes into notebooks and your notebooks into notebook “stacks”, so you could have one stack called “family” and create notebooks such as “schedule”, “activities” and “to dos” (with reminders). You can create one notebook per child if that helps. You can have a notebook that contains meal plans, one for errands. etc. You can also share notes with your partner.
3. Keep a family calendar
Google Calendar, or iCal if you're Apple users.
I see this one in families all the time.
Use the multiple calendar feature, assigning calendars to “chores”, “extra-curricular activities”, “social” or anything else that makes sense to you and your situation. Colour code them. Some of us LOVE colour-coding.Share them with your partner and your children if they're old enough (keeping track of your teenager's plans). Print copies and stick one to the fridge door.
Share them with your partner and your children if they're old enough. Encourage your older children to enter their own plans. Print colour copies and stick one to the fridge door.
4. Don't multitask
That seems difficult for parents but if you can, hold off the child that's interrupting you.
This is the picture I'd use to depict this, but I won't pay for stock photos.
5. Date Night
If you're in a relationship, make date nights a priority. You should do this anyway. If you like going out for dinner, hire a babysitter for the evening. If you want a quiet evening in, send your children for a sleepover. Have child-free time to reconnect with your partner.
Please don't try to be Super Mom (or dad) and go easy on yourself when you mess up. You will mess up. You will feel shitty. Your child(ren) will be fine. You won't forget the big stuff and if you briefly do, you'll be reminded. (“Mooom, I'm hungry!” “Mooom, I have no clean socks!”)