Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Hallmark of the Adult ADHDer

There are a lot of people out there running around these days saying things like "oh, I must have ADHD because I change the tv channels a lot" or "gee, I am bored all the time at work so I must have ADHD".

I think I have found the foolproof measure of if someone is, in fact, and adult ADHDer. And this marks my first foray into the type of blogpost I find most annoying in the ADHD blog genre: the "this is true of me as an ADHDer so it must be true of everyone" post.

Back to the task at hand and enough of the meta-analysis...this it goes beyond distraction, irritability, impulsiveness, forgetfulness. Technically it falls under the category of "impairment" as a symptom, but it's so much more aggravating than that.

Sustaining of routines...the proof is in the difficulty sustaining routines. I swear to God...see, if you have a normal brain, and you have a problem with being bored, you can easily address that with a few weeks of therapy and signing up for a new cooking class. If your problem is boredom at work, and you have a normal brain, again, a few weeks of therapy and a new perspective or a new JOB should fix the problem and show you the way for what you may need to do if you run into this problem again.

If you have ADHD and you are always bored...and you seek new activities...you will seek MORE new activities and more and more...you are heading down the road to compulsively seeking new activities. I'm not talking about people who just like to try new things, ohhhh noooo. I'm talking about people like me who cannot simply do one thing at a time, but also cannot say no, and end up overcommitted before they have even realized they are busy in the first place. It's a bit of a drug. It's exhausting. It leaves you in a state of constant frazzle that no normal brain would ever allow a person to achieve, but which the ADHD brain requires! Alright, alright, which MY ADHD brain requires.

If you have ADHD and you are bored at work, a new job will never fix the problem, because you will eventually (and probably quickly) become bored at the next one. You leave and find a new one before you even learn how to work through the problem, over and over and over (or get fired over and over and over)...you never learn to break the cycle because you can't. Even if you go to a therapist and they don't figure out your problem is ADHD for years (um, hi, that would be me again) you might learn how to have terrific insight, how to manage your anxiety and frustration somewhat but you have NO idea how to actually address the actual problem. You remain anxious, frustrated and bored!

This lack of routine exists despite our actual symptoms it seems...if we had a terrific ability to cultivate routines, we would not be impaired and hence would not need a diagnosis.

Now then, let's discuss some of my common ADHDer challenges, their solutions, and then the REAL reason that I can prove I'm an ADHDer: the imperfection of those solutions, and why they are imperfect.

ADHDer issue #1: remembering to take medication, or as Hallowell/Ratey say "how to remember to take the pills that help you remember to take the pills". I have this great donut shaped thing with the days of the week on it that helps me to remember to take the pills. When I remember to look at the donut shaped thing. I was on a roll for a while, but in classic ADHDer fashion, once I fall off the wagon, I fall hard and have to shoot myself in the ass a few times before I am able to get back on track. I'm in the middle of getting on track with this after a rousing round or two of "wait, did I take it? did I not take it? I don't think I took it...but can't take it now because if I already took it I'll freaking OD...". I don't know when I fell off the wagon but it probably had something to do with me having a moment of anxiety about having one more thing to remember to do and ended up here. It seems like there should be an easy way to fix this...but there's not. I am just going to have to fall on my ass a couple more times, then it will move to the top of the list in my brain again and I'll be okay for a while. The ADHDer brain only has an extremely limited amount of RAM you see, therefore, once anything is added to the queue everything else shuffles and it ain't pretty. Something will have to fall off the list...the pill donut, for the moment, is the thing that fell off the list. The therapist asked me where I put it...I didn't know...I don't even know the moment that I stopped using it. Kind of like when you throw a ball for a dog and it doesn't quite see where it went so it just keeps running...or sort of runs in the direction of the ball and runs back to you without the ball and you're like "dude, dog, I can't throw it again if you don't bring it" and the dog stares at you because he has no freaking clue where the ball went. The trick is to find a really clever way to get the dog to go back and get the ball. Wait maybe the trick is to just go and pick up the ball. Uh....

ADHDer issue #2: I had a system for doing homework. My system got thrown off. I am totally floundering. Might sound like OCD but it's not really like that. It's not that I have to complete a certain ritual, like with OCD, it's that once my routine is thrown off, re-establishing it is a monstrously huge undertaking. ADHD is the crack in the record that makes the needle keep skipping, and MAN, is that every annoying in the middle of the song. Changes in routine fuck me up, big time, every time and honestly I'm not sure how I'm going to get through this finals week. I keep resetting the needle but the flow just isn't happening.

ADHDer issue #3: turning in my time sheet at work. Something about filling in those little boxes just makes my head scream. This task makes me almost descend into an actual temper tantrum. A while back I started doing it two days early because that helped me to get it done. It was either early, or not at all...well there was a holiday on a Monday one week. ARGGGGGH! I have not been able to reset the routine since then. NORMAL PEOPLE DO NOT HAVE THESE PROBLEMS. Yes yes, I know, put it on a calendar, blah blah fucking blah, I don't want to hear it, I've set timers, I've put in on the calendar...I'm just going to have to figure out how to sort it out on my own. Somehow. Somehow that doesn't involve my mind literally growing instant wings and taking flight at each separate box. Wonder why ADHDers are irritable, that's why, imagine spending all that energy literally trying to pull your mind towards you, several times a minute to complete a simple task, a task that your logical mind actually understands is not difficult, which makes it that much more frustrating that you can't anchor your mind to do it...

There's so many more...but the dividing line for ME between the capabilities of my ADHD mind and those of normal brains, always lies right there along the frontiers of routine. And after several months of relative improvement I'm not going to lie, it's annoying as heck to find myself stuck again trying to re-figure out how to get the same things done. Overall I think this is THE most annoying symptom for me. I mean crap, I'm sitting here and I can SEE the problem. I can SEE it. My self-awareness is the damn reason I went in for evaluation...but the other reason I went in for evaluation was that there was indeed nothing logical I could do to "fix" myself. Medication has closed some of the gaps between logic and ADHD for me, but not all of them. And the realization is crystal clear at the moment that life is always going to be like that...and man, that's a fantastic (insert sarcasm here) notion to re-visit...over and over...and over...and over...and over and over...

I'm going to go grab that pill donut RIGHT now and put it in a really visible place. OH...I just realized why I've been hiding it. From the dog. Got a new dog. Right. Now I remember. Yes, I seriously just remembered that, just this very minute.

Out of sight, out of mind could not be a more literal issue for me.


  1. I love your block, fellow newly diagnosed in my 30s high achiever here.

    But your first foray into this genre just proves the point that there is no hallmark.

    Routine saved my life before concerta. I think I became a teacher just so that I'd have a job where bells would ring to tell me to do the next thing, not leaving me to my own devices of working for 8 hours on one trivial task, or just sitting and surfing the web all day.

    I followed a rigid routine, and kept the same job for 13 years, mostly because I couldn't trust that I wouldn't descend into utter chaos if I tried anything new.

    Being on medication now I can trust myself more and can have a richer life. I had an awesome ability to cultivate routines--and a ton of impairment nonetheless.

    It never fails to amaze me how difference this disorder manifests--one ADDer can say I have ADD so I can't do x, another says because of my ADD I can only do x.

    Anyway, thanks for the post and this blog. I enjoy it.

  2. Hurrah! Greetings and hello!

    See, that's why I hate the "this is what ADHD does to me so it must do it to everybody" posts, they are NEVER correct, lol.

    I have actually heard of others who stick to routine in the way that you describe. I myself actually latched onto some serious rigidity about certain things too, so I think that's a more common coping mechanism that the larger world would realize. There have been some periods in my life where I easily could have been diagnosed with OCD at a superficial glance...

    I went on a date...wait, did I just say that? Yeah, I guess I did, and I guess it was...last night with another adult ADHDer and he is another who has had the same job for yeeears.

    After the date...came home and was up until 3 cleaning. I had told myself I would do it that day, and could not rest until I had. I guess that's where rigidity appears for me. I know that if I don't follow through it's not just a matter of "oh, I'll do it tomorrow" it's "oh shit, I was going to do that a month and a half ago", and I don't like that feeling so I frequently forego sleep in order to follow through on my committments to myself.

    I say "whatever works". My mental health team says "you need to sleep"...whatever...they're not the ones who have to deal with my lack of follow through if I don't do these things, lol...

  3. Remembering to take meds...I have to remember, or else(you know). Scared the crap outa me the first time I screwed up. I "HAD" a pill organizer at first, with 14 little doors w/little compartments' w/days of week,A.M,P.M. written on each door...Great! I am so clever!

    NOPE! One evening, I was gonna take my P.M. pill(9 of em) and the compartment was empty! Oh crap, I looked at the P.M. and A.M. compartments, and the P.M. tues. was full, but it was thurs. And the A.M. tues. was empty! Also another(maybe wed.)was A.M. full...Uh Oh.

    After I did all the math, and so on(took me an hour to count dates of refills, how many gone etc...In all the bottles),I had missed at least two that week!

    I cannot let this happen again, It is a matter of life or death for me.(sounds like I am over dramatic,,I'm sorry)

    If I told you what all the meds are for, you would probably reach through this puter screen and slap me for making that mistake...lol. I now, won't stand up,before taking my meds in the A.M.,before getting out of bed, and count the # of pills in my hand, and then down the hatch! Same thing at night, only in reverse(gotta stay standing b4 gettin in bed. I'm lucky to be alive,and I can't forget that!

  4. Gah, dont you hate that Scott! I know, I know, we're all lucky to be alive, but those moments of frustration can be genuinely frustrating sometimes.

  5. heya!

    33, f, diagnosed @30 yrs old. Not that I didnt know of course. My whole family was diagnosed at some point with ADD. However - if you cry and you have a vagina you must be bipolar - so I had to undergo a year of crap comatose meds before they would believe me. off topic - sorry. meds wore off.

    here's my statement. i see what you mean about the routine thing. really i do. I explain it to folks like this - there is really no transition between thoughts. I dont slide from thought a to thought b the way normal people do. if i come home, keys in hand, and run to get something to drink, then those keys are going to be in the fridge later. there was no transition from coming in the door to getting the orange juice.

    i need my routines because of this. I dont do routines so that i can remember something - i do it because i WONT remember something. now i never remember clipping my keys to my bag strap, but i know they are there.

    here is my advice -

    dont try to make yourself fit routines. make your routines fit you. dont try to remember to take your meds. you wont. ever. thats ok. but you will remember your coffee. or brushing your teeth. or something like that. My adderall hangs out right next to the coffee maker. In the winter, I do not bother making a scarf/gloves/hat routine. I cant stand running back into the house each time i forget something. I have a pair of gloves that lives in my car, a pair that lives in my coat pockets and a pair that lives in my bag.

    and my other advice is this. us adhd folk can focus, we just focus on EVERTHING. no one thing can block out other stimuli easily. its overwhelming. create yourself super stimulating stimuli. My keys are color coded. my timesheets, much to my bosses dismay, had stickers on them with smiley faces, frowny faces, faces that described my mood. it was funny and it made me excited to fill out the sheet that day. It was that or no timesheets at all damnit. seriously.

    just make your routines revolve around who you are, and make what you need to do REALLY REALLY BIG. And fun. because you know you wont do it otherwise.

    thats just my advice.

  6. DAMN! You are a brilliant woman...I do have SOME cool ways to remind myself of certain things, but not of others...see this is why we have to talk to other ADHDers about this shit, because your suggestion of connecting routines to other important things and making them BIG FUN is brilliant. Let's see. Well I always remember to feed the animals because THEY remind me, lol. Oh here's one really funny thing I used to do, speaking of BIG FUN (I HATE accidentally leaving the ice cream in the fridge because it's in my hand when I realize I want water and go for the fridge instead of the freezer...gah!)...speaking of BIG FUN, I used to order Devil Duck pencil toppers at the law office I used to work at. That way, wherever I left pens and pencils around the office, people would bring them back to me, otherwise I'd go for through like 30 writing implements a day. The bonus was that then the attorneys wouldn't steal my pens either because they'd get back to their offices and go "WTF is this!?".

    I wish everything in life was as appealing as a Devil Duck pencil topper.

    I have TOTALLY read that about women ADHDers getting diagnosed as bipolar. Big difference between having BIG feelings and BIG reactions and literally having your emotions hijacked with no trigger. I just crack up because I remember being in college and having a counselor say to me "if there's one thing I know about you, you're not nuts...but you DO have REALLY BIG reactions and emotions and there's nothing wrong with that". I guess at least he didn't MIS-diagnose me...

    Winter...you know what I just did? I got a few drawers, bins, that are CLEAR plastic so I can SEE what is IN them. One of them is for all winter stuff. It's the winter drawer. Every few days I have to go around the house and grab all winter things and throw them back in the drawer. They remind me themselves of course, because suddenly I notice that there's scarves and shit laying around everywhere.

    But this idea of connecting remembering to literal FUN...I am SOOOO going to meditate on THAT.

    FUNFUNFUN. I am so in the mood for FUN...

  7. OMG, how did I miss your story about time sheets on the first pass. Those fuckers are the bane of my existence. I cannot handle filling them out. In fact I'm avoiding filling one out right now! I know it makes sense to nobody but myself and apparently YOU that this is a chore but it has nothing to do with the end product. I would probably rather eat live insects, at least that's exciting. But live insects don't pay the bills. Maybe I'll ask if there's another way I can report my hours...I can ask that question in this office without people thinking I'm annoying, that's one of the advantages to having three ADHDers all working together in one office! I just never thought to ask before...