One of my life-hacks as an ADHDer

So, well, I stole this tip in part from a fellow ADHDer. It was a cover-story about a family of 4 where every single one of them suffered from ADHD. In the first few minutes, the mom mentioned casually that she always has the date of the last water-change of the aquarium on a sticker in the front, which usually prompts enquiries from visitors.

 

And voilá! Just like that, I had the solution for a problem of mine! I own an aquarium and, for those who don’t know, you’re supposed to change one percentage of the water (25-30%) every week or every other week, depending on how many living animals are producing nitrites in the aquarium. In my case, there are not a lot of fishes (it’s severely underpopulated) and I have plenty of plants, so I can stretch this for a longer time, but it’s not advisable. But I do. Because I forget. Because I remember when it’s a bad time to change water, and then I don’t remember when I have the time. Or I remember, but I figure out I changed it recently enough. But, but, but…

 

At one point, this problem became so bad that the plants actually…. crapped out on me -even if the fish were still pretty happy. The pants basically crapped out on my because algae took over – which is not pretty but doesn’t bother or harm the fish one single bit.

 

Well, I replenished the plants in the aquarium and for a couple of months, I have this stuck on my aquarium:

aquarium

It tells me when I cleaned it the last time, how often I’m supposed to change each filter component (there’s 3, they neither need to be nor can be changed simultaneously. How am I supposed to know when to change what out of the top of my head?!) and when I last changed each. As you can see, today I I cleaned it and changed the “Biocarb”. The Nitrax needs to be changed as well, but I’ll do that one with the next water change.

 

What you can’t see from the foto: this is written on a piece of paper and the paper was then covered in transparent film that goes over the edges and, in turn, fixates the paper on the aquarium (over the filter, so no blockage of nice bits, and yes, the filter is usually turned to the wall, but I have the aquarium as a sort of central room space divider). After every time I do a swap, I swab the last date with the makeup-pads and nail-polish remover I keep next to the aquarium and fill the new date in with a special marker. And voilá! Everything looks nice and is well kept.

 

What are some of your life-hacks as an ADHDer (or non-ADHDer, for that matter)?

ADHD and acceptance – food for thought

You would never tell a Parkinson’s patient “just get a grip on yourself!”. You would never tell a Schizophrenic “Just don’t listen to the voices.”. But us ADHDers so often hear “You just need to focus”

Or “you just need a plan”.

 

Or “that happens to me too, that’s no excuse”.

 

We (as in Society in a generalized way of speaking) accept an incredible amount of ailments and conditions of the mind. If a doctor or a news article explains that it has to do with a malformation of the brain (saaay, in the pre-frontal cortex) and/or with a chemical imbalance in the body (with saaay, dopamine), everyone is willing to accept that and even go to the extent of feeling sorry. In the very least, they try to respect and take some distance if they personally can’t deal with the person’s symptoms, but they don’t blame the person in question.

 

But with ADHD, well sure, we don’t hear voices. We are very clumsy, but we don’t persistently shake like people who are afflicted with parkinson’s. And yes: Parkinson’s and Schizophrenia are, for the patient and those surrounding them, WAY much worse than ADHD. But ADHD still is a condition. We still have to deal with it, whether others have it worse or not. But we drop things, we forget stuff, we procrastrinate, we fall into bouts of depression and anxiety.

 

So maybe we just need to be careful, get a planner, just do it and just have a bit more confidence and think positive. Hey, because everyone else can do it, right?

 

I once saw a big outdoor poster of an organization for helping families of those who have mentally challenged (do we still say it like that?) children. I remember staring at the woman standing with the child on that huge poster and intently staring at the child, wondering. Wonnnderiiing… because the child looked mentally challenged, but not quite. Quickly, my hyperactive brain came with an idea for a story: a single mom of a mentally challenged child struggles with lack of money and lack of help with her child. As a last resort for getting some money, she goes to a casting session for a poster of a foundation that helps families in need who have children with mental illness, trying to make money off of her child and its condition. When it’s her turn, they look at her kid and say “I’m sorry m’am. Your child just doesn’t look retarded enough for what we want.”

 

I sometimes think this is the trouble with ADHD.

An ADHD anecdote

So here’s an ADHD anecdote that happened to me a couple of days ago. Mind you, “normal” people will occasionally misplace things that will lead them to such intricate stories, they’ll have a good one to tell for the rest of their lives: usually repeating to me the same old story whenever I tell them the next weird one that happened to me. Yes, I get it, you once misplaced something and remind that to me whenever I tell you the story of one of the things I misplaced this week. You’re so ADHD. Hahaha.

 

But I digress! So, here it is: I’ve been having some trouble with my sciatic nerve and more often than not, it’s acompanied and eventually worsened by the stiffening and inflamation of muscles surrounding the nerve on the lower back. So a couple nights ago, I decided I was going to fall assleep with a warming flask on my back. So I put a pot of water on the stove (I own no kettles).

 

Now, normally, during the day, whenever I put something on the stove and leave the kitchen, I won’t allow myself to sit down so I won’t forget that I’ have something on the stove – somehow I can’t sit down when absent-minded, so this works fine. It’s a strategy I came up with before the diagnosis, when I nearly burned the kitchen down trying to boil a couple of eggs.

 

But it was night, PC was shut down, nothing I had to do standing up, so I set the alarm clock in the kitchen. I went into my room and proceeded to rub some anti-inflamatory ointment on my lower back. Then I washed my hands and got a bit distracted in the mirror. But not a lot. Just enough, that I realized it was night time, I was in desperate need of boiling water and had nothing to do but stare at it.

 

So I did. I went into the kitchen and impaciently stared at the water. It was far from boiling. There were only now tiny bubbles of air forming on the bottom. But with my typical impatience, I decided it might be hot enough, turned the stove off and poured the warm water into the flask. I made some mental excuses like “You always pour the water too hot, anyway!”

 

Satisfied, I went into the bedroom and proceeded to lie down on my stomach on my bed, place the warm flask on my lower back, and then tried to cover myself up til the head, while on my belly the whole time. A complicated task that more often than not makes me feel lonely, but I was awesome that day! I did it so well and so quick!

 

And then I opened my e-book and *BEEP-BEEP ….. BEEP-BEEP*. The alarm clock in the kitchen went off. I didn’t forget to turn the stove off, but I forgot to disengage the alarm when I took the water off the stove.

ADDmitedly a rough couple of weeks – staying positive (longread)

Staying positive is hard. The hardest part for me is knowing that it’s not all up to me. A better part is knowing I’m getting help. I’ve been getting help from doctors even before I knew I have ADHD.

Just today I was lying in bed, remembering how awful it was just 2 years ago when it started. I got fired from my job as a statement from the new Operations Director because I was getting too chummy with the union’s committee at work. I had been living for two years in a country that felt like a big tub of water repelling little ol’ olive-oil drop that is me.

I remember how awful sleeping was, back then: I felt tired but I just lay in bed. You know how when you’re falling asleep, in your last moments of consciousness you feel your body getting heavier, sinking in and having that one last thought “This is it, I’m going … I’m delightfully sinking,weeeee…”; do you know that feeling as well as I do? Well, I didn’t have that feeling back then. I lay there, eyes closed, tired and yawning with my eyes closed. Yawning until my closed eyes stated getting teary from the exhaustion. Yawning. I didn’t fall asleep, I fell into unconsciousness. I know this because I know I was eventually not awake. I knew this because it was very violent when the alarm clock went off. When it went off, I woke up like something exploded. It was the only time when I knew what it was like feeling disoriented for a couple of seconds, panicking because I didn’t know where I was and what was going on.

The doctor helped. He got me to sleeping regularly in a short time. I moved away from Austria. I moved back to Germany where I felt welcome again. Like I can connect with people anywhere. It was hard making the change at first. Later, the meds helped. What helped the most, though, was not stopping. Because I didn’t stop, when I felt better, I found everything standing right where I left it – I didn’t have the overwhelming and positivity-cancelling feeling of having to pick up the slack.

Having a tendency for depression and anxiety – that was non-existent in my teens and explosive once I got to college – it’s long been one of my mottos: “keep doing stuff. Eventually, if you get to the point you’re happy, you have most of the work done already!” 

Back in April I got an old used bike from a co-worker. From trying to fix it alone to joining an internet Forum and meeting some nice helpful people, with all my ups and downs I ended up getting a 2nd hand bike on E-bay in end of July and, end of August, doing a Tour of about 45km (30 miles) with people I met on the forum. I felt like I was on my way to changing my life. I had also gotten a job offer I quite liked. From whining and complaining that I was lonely and bored during my phone calls with my best friend, I had something new to tell – ok, still feeling a bit lonely, but not bored. It felt like the things I’d been working hard on were finally paying off!

And then I went ahead, and right after the job interview, I crashed my bike. I crashed really hard. I finished my planned tour – crazy gal that I am – but at home, I realized that I needed a doctor. I still could muster enough courage to do a trial-day on my soon-to-be new workplace, but after that, the muscles started bitching and moaning that they were gonna clench up nice and tight to compensate for the fall. I got immobile. I tried my best to go for a walk one hour a day and try to go window shopping, not sit on my ass all day.

But I did sit longer than usual and combined with the new pill I had started a couple of months ago, my left leg cramped up first. Then it wouldn’t let go. Then the pain became unbearable and I couldn’t walk. I had had a DVT – a Deep Vein Thrombosis. I almost couldn’t believe it, because even though I’m obese, I’m not morbidly obese. I walk on a regular basis, I have very low cholesterol and it’s simply not a common thing at 33. It was the pill (that I started taking because of mind numbing pain when on my period) and the sitting. I’m going to be home a total of 6 weeks. I have to bandage and rebandage my left leg several times a day until my “tailor-made” compression stockings are done because I have to keep the leg compressed. The bandage makes it hard to walk normally.

I had to cancel my trip to my best friend: the plane ticket to go to her in France had been a gift from her, non-refundable and we had both looking forward to that trip for months now, mentioning it every week in our phone calls. Because of the DVT, my doc forbade it.

Hit another financial crisis: the little help I got from the state had to be renewed, and because I have a new job in two weeks, instead of saying I still get the money before I get the new job, they decided they can only decide it in December – after I have proven them that I still have a crappy job for two weeks and not so crappy job come mid-October. So after paying lots of medical bills (which are teeny tiny in Europe, but there was a lot of them and I don’t have much), I have no money to pay for my cell and my electricity, even after I asked family for money.

I have been a sobbing mess most days and though I have new ADHD meds, I think they’re working better, but I can’t even tell because well…. it’s an extraordinary situation right now. So it’s hard to stay positive. It’s hard because, although I kept moving, there is still some slack to pick up (the financial slack, that one wasn’t 100% my fault). It’s very hard because I realized, being single and having family and friends far away, that there is no one to help me on my day-to-day life. I’m not completely alone, but there just isn’t any kind of support in the type of mild sickness that almost knocks you off your feet but still leaves you some autonomy. And that sucks.

I had a bitter glimpse of what the future might be like for me despite my best efforts; a glimpse of how poor and inadequate even the best of my efforts are and it’s hard not to panick. It’s hard not to go bonkers. So I sometimes panick and sob. I think this is normal. I’m still thankful for some things.

I’m thankful for being the kind of person who can at least still truly enjoy some little things. In a while, I’m going to the supermarket on foot (can’t afford my bus ticket this week) to fetch a can of pineapples. Because I’m going to bake a one-person-version of a recipe from the french baking-book my best friend gave me for my birthday. And the sun is shining, so I’m gonna be listening to my music, strutting and smiling and happy for at least 5 minutes.

And 5 minutes in 24 hours isn’t much, but if it’s all I can get right now, I’ll gladly take it! Because that’s what staying positive is. It’s not ALWAYS being positive. It’s being able to acknowledge the good parts and marvel at them when they come unexpectedly; it’s being able not to poop all over it just because you feel like crawling in a corner and dying for the other 23 hours and 55 minutes of the day.

Well, gross exaggeration on the crawling and dying part, but you catch my drift? ;)

“Victims” standing up for themselves

Kinda had another fight with my sis a couple of weeks ago. She, a regular person, is of the opinion that our society is a big meanie that doesn’t leave any room for people with mental disabilities (syndromes, abnormalities, special snow-flakeism, whatever) like ADD/ADHD. Me, having ADHD, well I got my feathers quite ruffled. While I have no problem with calling my mind abnormal or saying I’m disabled or that I have an attention deficit, I have a big… no a HUGE problem with people trying to put me in the role of the victim. So not only are you telling me I’m not normal, you’re telling me I’m sub-par (which isn’t the same) AND I’m a poor helpless little thing who can’t function unless the cream of society enables me to do so? Well, screw you very much.

A couple a days ago, there was another “incident” at work. I work on a bench opposite to the section chief. When the section chief is done pouring batter into about 20 cake-pans, he starts pushing the pans in the oven 3 at a time and he expects someone, ANYONE in the room to notice and wordlessly run to help him.

Not only that, he sometimes decides it’s a good idea to shout at the closest person (usually me, but only because of the working place arrangement, it’s not personal) when they fail to help him. So I was dividing my sparse focus between what I was doing and my wandering mind – sometimes I notice him, sometimes I don’t. Last week I didn’t. The colleague working behind me actually did (!) and promptly helped him. Not happy enough that he was getting help, my section chief, imagine that, started shouting at me for not helping him (!): “It’s amazing! It’s amazing how you fail to help! Just look away and screw the rest! Can’t count on you for help!”

This sort of daily abuse is especially hard for someone with ADHD and anger issues, but it’s still abuse. Well, my meds were actually working fine that day, so instead of unbearable anger, I felt deeply annoyed at the most, shrugged and told him “I’m totally focused on what I’m doing, didn’t notice.” which prompted my colleague into joining the bullying “Sure you are, where as I’m totally unfocused on my work and notice stuff like this!”

Fuck…

I kept my jolly face and admitted my mistake with sarcasm “Of course you are unfocused. I wasn’t trying to imply anything else!”. Still, my section chief kept angrily yapping at me, about my excuses, about this, about that, so I turned to him and said in the most jolly tone of voice I could muster “Look, you’ve known me for MONTHS now. How can you still expect me to notice? How can you still think I’m doing it on purpose, really?” eventually, the chief kept going on with his angry banter, but a friendly grin had creeped onto his face. Crisis averted. With a lot of nerves and effort. And ritalin.

Here’s the thing: the ADHD patient in me is annoyed and insecure because, once again, I didn’t notice something obvious that someone else in the room noticed. I felt that I wasn’t dealt a whole hand for this game. Again.

But the human in me can’t help noticing that f***ing asswipe of a human being would rather open his mouth to humiliate someone instead of opening his mouth to ask for help. And THAT has nothing to do with me, ADHD or society’s ability to accommodate any sort of minority.

Longread – How getting the ADHD diagnosis changed my life

Almost everyone knows the Serenity Prayer

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,The courage to change the things I can,And the wisdom to know the difference.

You’d think I wouldn’t like it, being an atheist and all, but my values are pretty much the same values of any major religion. I do like it. Sometimes, you don’t need a God to grant you serenity. Sometimes something earthly like a diagnosis will do. In my case, my ADHD diagnosis in January (has it only been 4 months?…). Here’s how it helped.

I learned when to say to myself “f*ck it” and when to think “screw you”

The meds help, they’re a blessing. That hiddeous jolt of bad adrenaline that made my heart race and my hands jitter at just the slightest insinuation that I was doing something poorly is simply not there if I took my pill in the previous 5-6 hours. Today a colleague tried to pin a mistake on me. I know she is one stubborn piece of work and when she didn’t listen to my explanation of my actions, I said “ok” out loud and thought “well f*ck you very much, b*tch”. And I didn’t even smirk when a couple of hours later the turn of events showed loud and clear that mistake had been entirely hers. I learned to identify with which people it’s worth explaining what looks like my fault and is actually not. I learned that if these “trigger-people” are always going to assume the worst anyway, I’m better off doing things my way and with the least effort possible. I also learned with which coleagues I have to take my second pill sooner (with some, it’s enough if I take it when the shift ends. With others…. eeeeeh…. I’m gonna be taking the next one 6 hours after I took the first)

A propos “my way”

I learned that, some things, I just can’t do like the others

It was a strain my whole life, trying to do things like others. I knew something was different and I tried to minimize that by copying exactly other people’s methods. Which is disastrous. In my current job I have to juggle MANY different things at the same time – (I never could multi-task properly, typical ADHD) – two ovens, one of them with 5 slots; several different kinds of pastries: one tray puff-pasty, one tray another sort of puff-pastry; croissants of two different sizes; this cake is to be reheated and put on a wagon, this cake is to be reheated and be put on that table over there…. It probably sounds overwhelming for a layman but it’s not for a professional. Unless you’re me, of course. It took long enough, but when my colleagues now push me to organize all this the way they would do it, I learned to say “Yeah, that doesn’t work for me”. And if they insist, I insist “I have to do it like this, if I don’t, I screw up.”. I still get the job properly done and they still point out a bunch of stuff that I supposedly did wrong. I have yet to hear a complaint from the boss or the customers, and until I do I’m going to refer to my “screw you” thinking technique.

I learned when not to say “f*ck it”

ADHDers are unorganized and always late. Well, kind of. I always hated being stood-up so much that I obsess about time and always plan one half-hour more than I think I will need for a particular trip – this will rarely get me to my destination earlier. I also had some bad experience with being unable to find certain documents, so ever since I moved out of my parents’ house, I bought a big file where I keep all the important stuff, and that file is always near the computer (because you can do so much of paperwork online). This is something I’ve been doing way longer than I know about my ADHD. BUT: My place is a mess. I was always very messy. The cleanliness of my house is…. non-existent, for the most part. I’m working on it by not saying “f*ck it” when a sport I tidied up starts getting cluttered again. Even if I don’t progress in my organizing and cleaning, the stuff I’ve decluttered since my diagnosis has to stay decluttered. It might sound stupid, but before the diagnosis, I actually managed to delude myself into thinking that one day, I’d be all “growed” up and would finally snap out of it and clean everything and everything would be fine the rest of my life, oooooooh it’s just a 20 year old phase (started when I was 13). I now know it’s something I need to work at a bit harder than others, I can’t just wait-and-see.

It strained some relationships

It was, sadly, not all good. But such is life. And having it rough with people certainly made this aspect of the diagnosis understandable, but sadly not bearable.

The first person I told, a sister, was way too overjoyed. She had been telling me for years that “you had ADHD when you were a kid! You bet on it!” and her only proof was that at 11pm I sometimes didn’t want to go to bed because “I still have to play some more!”. The fact that she thinks I had ADHD and that she was actually completely unaware of what the symptoms are on an adult doesn’t matter – we’re an I-told-you-so-family. Now she feels she can psychoanalyze me that much more and some of our conversations are that much harder.

The second person was a friend of 10 years. She smirked in my face and said she doesn’t believe in ADHD, it’s a fake. I don’t know what I was expecting, she doesn’t believe in cholesterol either. Yeah, you heard me. I have to admit, knowing her, I have to admire how this otherwise rough-edged woman tried to spare me and said “The important thing is you are on some kind of medication that you feel helps you.” but I still have to live with the fact that one of my dearest friends now believes that I’m some sort of blind idiot who is being fooled by a doctor and subject to a placebo effect.

Another one actually used the word “placebo effect”, she doesn’t believe in psychiatry. She believes firmly, because of a bad experience in her family, that psychiatrists will ruin people’s lives by leading people to think there’s something wrong with them. I actually should have seen this one coming, I knew about her issues…

I stopped telling people. Most of my family doesn’t know. One day, the meds had worn off, and I confided (blurted, more like) in my big sister (16 years my senior and practically my mother) that I was diagnosed with ADHD. She flipped! She accused my psychiatrist of being an incompetent fool and misdiagnosing me, that you can’t just see someone once and decide they have ADHD, that it takes months of testing. She too insinuated that I’m under placebo effect. I think this one actually hurt the most. She wouldn’t even listen to me – it’s typical for my family – she wouldn’t hear that I wasn’t diagnosed in one single session and she won’t acknowledge that diagnosing a child (as she would know as a teacher) and an adult are VERY different things (ask a child if they have trouble focusing and they won’t even know what the hell you’re talking about).

It’s too much of a hassle. I’m thankful that my best friend accepted it from the start. As a bonus, she knows the deal: her 14 year old cousin has ADHD so she’s well informed about the condition. I’ll always remember how happy I was when she said “Ha! First thing that came to my mind when you told me was our train-talks. How I’d be talking when we were riding the train and you’d go “I’m sorry, can you repeat that? I totally zoned out!” although you’d been staring at me the whole time“.

And because I have to have some sort of statement on my blog posts: This is NOT a journey! It’s just life. It’s a learning process.

The art of listening

I was talking with one of my sisters recently and she started venting about our other sister. See, sister A was complaining about work stuff: shit her boss does, shit her colleagues do and, mostly, shit her boss does and why her boss shouldn’t do it the way she does and and and. To this, B demanded of A to give her 3 good reasons why A wouldn’t open up her own business “if it’s that easy!”. But you see, A never wanted to be a business owner, so she couldn’t give B more than that one reason – which seriously trumps any other reasons – and B just wouldn’t shut the hell up. B demanded more reasons. A was upset. Obviously!needed to vent but she wasn’t allowed. Because had many opinions and many ways to show the error of her ways (this behaviour is, by the way, one of the many things that makes B a total bitch in my eyes and the reason why I actively avoid her).

Well… It’s hard to be a good listener and to me it’s hard to even stay focused on what people are saying (jump to minute 1 of this video if you want to get an idea of what it’s like being in my head) but amazingly, I managed to clench the insane need to say “That’s what YOU do with me all the time! It’s annoying as all hell!”. Instead, I managed to shout “Oh my god, that is SO annoying! I HATE when people do that to me! I just feel like yelling, shut up! I just need to open up, it doesn’t mean I need help! I’ll ask for help when I need it, shut up!”

obviously and thankfully didn’t see herself in my vague accusations. I will eventually tell her that offering help when I don’t need it feels rather insulting, but instead of being a nag myself, I managed to be supportive. I’ll nag her some other time, we’re still young! But this made me realize how tricky listening to people is. Sometimes we think giving advice shows caring and good listening skills, but there are good chances that it’s not the case most of the times. It’s at least something to consider.

Let me tell you, personally, the best listeners are my best friend, who will invariably listen to all I have to say and just comment “Fuck, friend… sucks…” or another awesome friend who, after I got fired in January, and after listening to all the crap my boss was pulling, instead of offering advice just looked about to explode and said “I would love to come across that woman on the street, really. I’d have a couple of things to say to her.”. None of these helpful comments include advice.