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Before I was diagnosed as having ADHD, I had a lot of beliefs about myself. And about what ADHD was. And therefore, why I couldn’t have ADHD.
A belief is not the truth. But these had become my ‘truths.’ And what we believe limits us more than anything else.
A thousand psychological studies prove the power of limiting beliefs. Or of positive beliefs. No matter how stupid that belief may be.
If you tell students the test is easy, they will do better. If you tell them it’s hard, they will do worse. If you tell the teacher these students are gifted, they will score higher by the end of the term. Tell the same teacher these kids are troubled underachievers and in a few weeks the classroom will be a war zone.
Beliefs Are Everything
I can tell you, it’s disorienting. For many the dread of a diagnosis turns to relief. “There is an explanation!” A roller coaster ride. Some people love roller coasters. Others scream in terror.
But getting diagnosed? There was anger, sadness, and lots of regret about how much life might have been had I known sooner. But also relief. It was a tornado of emotions, one a lot of people experience, and it lead to the video Now You Tell Me?
Once you know that you’ve spent your whole life in a wrestling match with this invisible opponent, it’s… mind blowing.
Taking apart beliefs is intimidating… and exhilarating. Let’s explore some common perceptions and misperceptions that ADDers have about themselves.
1 – Massive Denial
THE BELIEF: “ADHD? I don’t have a mental disorder. I don’t rant or rave or have delusions. My brain is fine. Sure, I make mistakes but everyone does. I am unique, but I am NOT abnormal. I just need more self-discipline.”
When my Doctor told me, “This ultrasound shows that your gall bladder has a problem,” I assumed it was true. He had visual proof.
Yet when another Doctor suggested my brain wasn’t functioning ‘normally’, I was mortified, “Not me!”
Why the denial? Well, to start with there was no Xray or Ultrasound image that the doctor could point to and say, “See… those blobs… that’s your ADHD.
It’s also because when my gall bladder went wonky, I felt wonky. I wasn’t myself. It was clearly ‘abnormal.’
My ADHD brain came hardwired this way. Mine is inherited. ADHD is over 75% genetic. (For some folks it’s a head injury, or premature birth, and other causes.)
I was always like this. This is my normal. Which, yes, I sensed was abnormal, or different from most people. But growing up, I had never experienced anything else, so I couldn’t compare. So, “This is just how I am.” Later on, as I was considering trying an ADHD medication I realized how much I relied on another stimulant, caffeine, to focus. And the difference it made.
2 – Wilting Power
THE BELIEF: “Everyone says if I would just try harder and stick with it, I’d be great. And they’re right. But I do try and I can’t stick with it. I’m a quitter. No will power.”
This was a big one for me. I never finished my taxes, which was proof I had no willpower. I’d written hundreds of episodes of television, but that was just cause it was fun, and didn’t count.
I was in awe of friends who could spend six hours straight and complete their taxes. Magical!
Meanwhile, I could spend hours, days, even weeks mastering the sleight of hand for a magic trick. Clearly I had will power. But it was selective. After taking on my ADHD, I can do both, master a magic trick and also get my taxes in… Actually, my accountant does that. Which is a great ADHD Strategy: GIVE IT TO SOMEONE WHO IS NATURALLY GOOD AND DOING IT!
3 – I Am Not Reliable
THE BELIEF: “I can’t be trusted. But I desperately want people to trust me. I do incredibly well for a while then, BAM, completely blow it. Do I fear success? Why do I seem to sabotage my finances and relationships? What’s wrong with me? I’m such a stupid loser!”
ADHD is not a lack of willpower. Actually… it is. But what is will-power? It’s a process that goes on in your brain, one that
A ‘lack of willpower’ is a lack of fuel, neurotransmitters, the brain chemicals that carry messages and form memories. And we’re a bit low on them, especially Dopamine and Norepinephrine.
It’s not morality.
It’s biology. Neurology.
But I know so many ADDers, including yours truly, who mistook their ADHD for Depression. And so many women who have ADHD are misdiagnosed as having Depression. In fact, a lifetime struggling with undiagnosed ADHD, we often end up in Depression, or struggling with Anxiety. Doctor’s call is a ‘Secondary Disorder.’ Depression is far easier to diagnose that ADHD, so that’s often as far as it goes. The person goes on an Anti-Depressant, when the real problem is unrecognized ADHD.
4 – I’m Not Like Those ADHD Kids
THE BELIEF: “First of all, ADHD is a boy thing. And those kids are hyper. Trust me, I wasn’t bouncing off the classroom walls. Quite the opposite. I was quiet, never a problem for the teacher. The reason I barely passed was that I was lost in thought. Spaced out. Forgetful. The teachers all agreed I had potential, but as my Irish mom said, ’You were always off with the fairies.’”
The thing about the human brain is that it doesn’t come with an operating manual. But over the decades Doctors have created a kind of Repair Manual. It’s controversial. It’s always being revised. It’s hopelessly inadequate to describe what’s going on in the brain.
And it’s pretty useful in many ways.
It’s called the DSM, or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. The fifth edition, heavily revised, came out last year.
The DSM lists 18 Symptoms in children. It explains the subtypes of ADHD. Those who are predominantly Inattentive, struggling with focus, follow-through, procrastination, memory, losing things. And those who are also dealing with the Hyperactivity, the restlessness, and the Impulsivity, being driven by a motor.
Oh yes. It’s complex.
As many Doctors have told us, no one has all 18 of the symptoms of ADHD in equal amounts. To qualify as ADHD a child has to have 6 out of the 9 in each category. And they have to be impairing. In multiple-situations.
But then, by adulthood, should it still be 6 out of 9? That brings us to:
5 – Close But No Cigar
THE BELIEF: “I read a list of ADHD symptoms and sure, some rang a bell, but who isn’t forgetful and a bit jumpy nowadays? I was boisterous as a kid, but every class has a troublemaker. Plus, there are a bunch of the symptoms that didn’t apply to me at all. Sorry, no sale.”
By age 40 I had found ways to manage my undiagnosed ADHD. Mostly I avoided stuff where I struggled. After learning about ADHD, I could see that my coping strategies were really hit and miss. No wonder. Hard to hit a target you can’t see and don’t know is there. Recognizing that I can hyper-focus, but I’ll try to do 9 things at once, and don’t prioritize what’s important to do first, means I work with my coach when I’m overwhelmed to help sort out what’s crucial, what’s important to get to eventually, and what’s a ‘nice to have someday.’
Rather than my old, pre-diagnosis strategy, of trying to finish everything and working 7 days a week with little to show for it.
So basically, if something is causing you problems, well, it’s a problem.
And that’s an important distinction. As Dr. Steven Kurtz says in ADD& Loving It?! says, “No one is coming to see me because they have nothing better to do.” People are coming in complaining about being depressed, despairing, burnt out, angry, frustrated, and on the verge of divorce, bankruptcy, exhaustion, or even suicide.
And somehow sensing they are underachieving. (A big one for me.)
What shocked me was that when I started dealing with my ADHD–through Yoga and mindfulness, a stimulant medication, coaching, and ADHD-friendly tools–things changed. Sometimes rapidly.
The only challenge was remembering to do the yoga, use the calendar, and call my coach when I was stuck. It’s as if I would forget that I had ADHD and I’d be telling myself, “Just try harder. Focus on this. Pick one. Just do something…”
Ridiculous, I know. But then the hardest thing to change can be your beliefs.
(By the way, these 5 beliefs are taken from Chapter 1 of ADD Stole My Car Keys which I wrote with Dr. Umesh Jain. To discover all 155 of the beliefs, behaviors, challenges, and yes, the potential strengths of ADHD adults, the book is available in soft cover, or to download immediately.)
By Rick Green
Which aspect of your ADHD do you dislike the most? Which trait, or if you prefer, ‘symptom’, does the most damage?
It’s a valuable question to ask. For several reasons.
One payoff for identifying the trait that undermines you the most? It requires you to focus, and you won’t drown in good intentions, trying to manage every symptom at once. (A recipe for overwhelm as I found out after when first diagnosed.)
Another payoff? Mastering the bugaboo that most sabotages you makes it so much easier to take on the next symptom you want to eliminate. (Or more realistically, that you want to reduce to insignificance. Hey, everyone loses their keys now and then. Wouldn’t losing keys once a month be far better than 4 times a day?)
And if you want to get a sense of the many ways ADHD impacts your life, our book lays out 132 surprising traits, behaviors, and beliefs that we struggle with. As well, we reveal 23 potential strengths.
The Most Bang For Your Buck
As you’ll see, there’s a lot of ways ADHD undermines us. The one particular challenge that undermines you, and affects others around you, that’s the one to work on first.
It’s worth spending a few minutes a day imagining what life will be like once this ‘problem’ is no longer running your life. Or ruining your life.
For me, the biggest challenge was procrastination. I knew that if I developed the habit of taking action right away, without delay, my life would be easier, simpler, and more rewarding. Procrastination was Public Enemy #1, and Private Enemy too, impacting my work and my personal life. And yet…
I Always Procrastinate – About Everything!
But as my wife pointed out, I definitely didn’t procrastinate all the time.
When there is a work deadline I have to meet, I come through. Often just in time.
She reminded me that I’ve created hundreds of TV and radio programs and a score of stage productions, and never missed a delivery date or had to cancel opening night. I know that ‘the show must go on.’ And it always does. No matter what it takes.
Alas, far too often, what it took was all of my energy, time, and vitality. At the expense of my family, my friends, and my health.
Today I’m a bit less productive, but far happier. In ADD & Mastering It!, Patrick McKenna and I take a fun romp through 36 strategies and tools we personally use for dealing with the biggest challenges of ADHD/ADD, especially procrastination around big projects. Of course, I used to procrastinate over the small stuff too.
Procrastination Can Be Small
For example, I always put off washing the dinner dishes until the morning.
I know, it’s a trivial procrastination. The consequences are hardly life threatening. I never let the food scraps pile up until they morphed into some kind of parasitic, fuzzy, blue bacterial life form. Not since University, anyway.
By the way, to understand how lazy I was, I put off doing the dishes even though we had a dishwasher… Which makes it even more embarrassing.
Yet, every night I’d convince myself I was too tired and, if I didn’t immediately flop into bed and begin snoring my body might collapse. I would promise myself to get to them in the morning. And, sure enough, at some point over the next day or two, I actually would.
This was fine when I lived alone.
My Wife Grew Up on a Farm
My wife came from a big family with lots of farmhands at every meal. Letting dishes pile up was never an option. (And the family didn’t have a dishwasher. It was all washed by hand.)
So whenever I left the dishes until the morning, my wife would quietly do them. No drama. No excuses. She put everything away. Wiped the counters… Because for her a messy kitchen was off-putting.
Since I usually make our breakfast, I eventually noticed that walking into a clean kitchen with lots of open space, nothing to work around or push aside… Well, it felt good… Surprisingly so.
When my wife was away for a day or two, and the dishes piled up, it actually began to bother me. I’d seen a vision… of something better.
Now I clean the kitchen before bed. Extraordinary. Usually it’s more than just loading the dishwasher. And yes, sometimes I still leave particularly horrifying saucepans to soak until morning. But mostly, the kitchen is clean when my head hits the pillow.
It’s Small – But It’s Big
If you don’t have ADHD, this miraculous transformation may strike you as somewhat trivial, or incredibly stupid. “This guy is excited because he no longer procrastinates about doing the dishes? Can’t wait to hear about the battle to dust the book shelf.”
However, if you have ADHD/ADD, or live with someone who does, you probably appreciate why this small victory matters. With ADHD, every victory matters. Especially the unexpected ones.
The chance that I would suddenly move to China and become a monk at the Shau-Lin temple, well, sure, that was remotely possible. But the idea that I would do dishes and clean the kitchen before crawling into bed, especially since they could easily keep until the morning?… That seemed beyond the realm of possibility. This wasn’t a huge goal for me. “Doing the dishes” wasn’t a habit I was trying to build. It wasn’t on my Bucket List. More like my F$%# It List.
How Did Mr. Green Become Mr. Clean?
Rather than rely on willpower or grit. I simply used several of the dozens of ADHD-Friendly strategies Patrick McKenna and I demonstrate in ADD & Mastering It!
A key trick is what we call, Reframing.
I reframed the task. Rather than see the messy kitchen as an onerous chore, which is one possible interpretation, I reframed it as an ‘opportunity.’ An opportunity to start the next day with ease. An opportunity to do something that makes my wife happy. And an opportunity to prove that I can accomplish things even when I’m craving sleep.
I also saw it as a chance to challenge my assumption that it was a huge job. It took about 1/3 as long as I guessed it would. Timing yourself, another ADHD strategy Patrick and I use in ADD & Mastering It!, is a great way to develop solid Time Management skills.
Reframing is simple. You create a better perspective. Rather than see the pile of greasy dishes, I pictured a spotless kitchen… and then took 7 minutes to clean, wash, and tidy up so that reality matched the vision.
Instead of feeling guilty, I want to be feeling absurdly pleased.
The Surprising Payoff
It feels silly to admit how much better I feel when the kitchen is spic and span. But the next morning when I come down to start making breakfast the usual ‘Ugh!’ is replaced by, ‘Ah! Nice.’ It actually sets a whole different tone to the day.
Rather than nagging myself, laying on a guilt trip, I found that picturing how I would feel to be greeted by clean, clear counters first thing in the morning made the decision easy. I made it a game to see how fast I could declutter and clean up. To my shock, I actually quite enjoyed it.
And yes, I know, it sounds ridiculous. But I’ve found this technique works, providing real motivation, whether I’m trying to procrastinate about exercise, making a difficult phone call, or writing a challenging script.
I succeed with ADHD by focusing on the result, envisioning it finished, feeling the pleasure of a job well done. Rather than seeing only what needs to be done.
By Rick Green
Even my unreliability was unreliable.
Now, looking back, I’ve had a kind of epiphany and it has to do with structure, habits, organization. One that would NEVER have happened without the diagnosis.
And not just getting diagnosed, but learning everything I could about this processing style and figuring out which of the many ‘symptoms’ were ones that I had been unknowingly struggling to overcome.
Not all of the ‘deficits’ were problem. Some were situational. Being able to hyper-focus was great at work. Having a mind that roamed constantly was wonderful for creativity. But it was havoc for relationships.
Me: “Sorry, I missed that. What were you saying, honey?”
Loved one: “Never mind. It doesn’t matter.”
WELL AIN’T THAT A RELIEF
But then I assumed that with medication and meditation and some lifestyle changes I would become normal. And function like everyone else. I assumed that in November, when I would buy my agenda for next year, as I had done for decades, this would be the year I would actually use it.
I was diagnosed around 2001. For the next seven years I continued buying agendas, and filling them. I’d even turn to November and write, “Buy a new agenda.”
Each new agenda was my constant companion… for anywhere from 4 to 17 days.
Then the sheer number of notes, reminders, ideas, and to-dos became so huge it was stupefying. And disheartening. Soon enough I’d be ignoring the agenda, forgetting it was there, losing and then rediscovering it. Time would pass, then I’d stumble across it, vow to start again, and resume filling it up. The result was 10 pages full of my writing. Then 20 to 40 blank pages. Then 10 to 15 pages of notes, reminders, ideas, plans, goals. Then another 5 week gap. Then pages full of good intentions and important to-dos.
(Note: I have since learned that productive people have VERY short To-Do lists.)
EVERYTHING’S GONNA BE DIFFERENT! SMOOOOOTH SAILING!
I kept doing the same things that had never worked before. But here’s the thing– I figured that now that I was mastering my ADHD, it meant I would change and be ‘better’ and then these things that worked for ‘normal’ folks would work for me.
Silly, silly boy.
I wasn’t going to become ‘normal’. I think I’ve deliberately spent my life pursuing what isn’t normal or expected. The whole ‘road less travelled.’
So about three years ago, I stopped buying agendas. Yes, I miss their crisp pages. Neat rows. Just waiting for me to pour my chaos into it and watch it magically fall into order.
Every new agenda was the promise of joy. And within a few weeks it was a source of guilt, a reminder that I was never going to change.
No more. I decided I was done with agendas.
It was strangely liberating. New territory. Freedom. But not anarchy. I still needed something. I just wasn’t going to use something that had NEVER worked before.
Now we use a dry erase calendar. It’s huge. It’s colourful because we use an array of bright markers. Each month is the size of a sheet of Bristol Board. It covers two walls of Ava’s office. Then upcoming appointments get loaded into our linked together online calendars and the daily reminders show up automatically on phones and computers.
I’m still not consistent with the virtual side of this, but I LOVE the big calendar. There it is, the whole year. Red for live events, interviews, and webinars. Blue for all other work stuff. Green for family stuff. Black for Dr. appointments, yoga, classes, car servicing.
I’m not suggesting that you try this. Unless it really appeals to you and whoever else would be involved in using it.
But the fact that it is so huge, so ungainly in a way, is part of the point.
This is what I need for it to work.
ONE OF THESE THINGS IT’S NOT LIKE THE OTHERS. AND IT’S ME.
Most people seem to be able to get away with a small agenda.
I have about 40 square feet of wall that looks like a Jackson Pollock painting. Or a John Nash (A Beautiful Mind) conspiracy theory chart.
But that’s not the epiphany.
The epiphany is that at some point, this may stop working for Ava and I.
Or, okay, for me. Ava actually likes this mega calendar as much as I do. She’s visual. She wants to see it. Out of sight, out of mind.
But if it does stop working for me, well, that’s okay.
That’s to be expected.
I have ADHD, remember?
Often, when I’m giving a talk, one of the first questions is about getting organized. People lament that they tried a particular organizer or agenda and, “it worked great for about 5 months and then I didn’t use it.”
They see the situation as a failure.
I light up, “Wow, so you found that you can be organized. There are systems that can work for you. This one worked beautifully for 5 whole months. Then it didn’t. So, just switch to a new one. Use that new one for as long as it works. And then switch to another. You may even find that you can switch back to the old one that stopped working.”
PERSPECTIVE IS EVERYTHING. CHOOSE ONE THAT EMPOWERS YOU.
Give yourself permission to do whatever it takes.
If you need 9 sets of keys scattered around your home, work, and car, so be it. If you have to take a huge box of receipts and statements and dump it on a bookkeepers desk, so be it. (And if you worry that a bookkeeper will cost you money, consider how much of your time and energy you waste on paperwork that never gets done. And how badly you feel. And how it saps your motivation. That’s energy, time, and motivation you could now use to go out and make enough money to pay for the bookkeeper and still have enough left over for ice cream. )
And there is a second insight that has come out of all of this.
I’ll blog about it next.
Right now, I believe the calendar says, “Ice cream.” No.
Hmm. (Where’s the marker… Ah… I’ll do it in black… there we go.)
Oops, gotta run out for ice cream.
Register now for our three part Webinar with Dr. Charles Parker for ADHD Awareness Month!
Please Help Us Spread The Word!
In August, PBS stations in the U.S. began running ADD & Loving It?! as part of their pledge drives. If you DID NOT see it on your local PBS station in August, please write to them and tell them that you’d like to see it during the November/December pledge drive! http://www.pbs.org/about/contact/
PBS listens to its viewers and when enough people write or call, it makes a difference. If you enjoyed ADD & Loving It?!, or if you haven’t seen it yet, please help us to help get it on as many PBS stations as possible and raise ADHD awareness.
By Nancie Kohlenberger
The ADHD partnership. If you’ve been in a relationship with someone with ADHD for more than a year, the initial whirlwind of courtship has most likely worn off, and you may be asking yourself, “What was that all about? What happened to those very romantic times we had in the beginning, when I seemed to be the highest priority in his/her life? Is this the same person I was with back then?” A hyperfocus courtship can be a very normal part of the ADHD relationship, and it can often seem to end with a THUMP! Suddenly you wonder how the TV and the internet became so fascinating, when they just didn’t seem to matter much at all in those earlier days.
That’s because the ADHD brain was practically vibrating with all that pleasurable dopamine that was surging through it during those initial stimulating times. The attention and hyperfocus on you was very exciting for a while. But when the chemicals calmed down, so did your partner, and then as is often the case, the next shiny object moved in to take your place. Now, I’m probably being a bit dramatic here. All relationships need nurturing to keep the romance going. But we find* that in ADHD relationships, the frequent complaint of the non-ADHD partner is that when the attention of their ADHD partner is gone, it can be very challenging to get it back.
The other thing we hear is that when the couple gets married, the ADHD partner, whether male or female, often gets overwhelmed and so household chores don’t get done, there’s no structure for the kids, and the responsibilities of the non-ADHD partner can seem enormous. The ADHD partner often wants to focus on the things that draw their interest, rather than the things that need to happen to run a household. All of this can cause friction, arguments and ultimately resentment on both parts of the equation.
So, how does a couple thrive under these circumstances? Well, first of all, it is important for the non-ADHD partner to not take the behavior of their ADHD partner personally. A symptom, (whether it be distraction, procrastination, or perpetual lateness), is a symptom. It doesn’t mean he/she doesn’t care. And, the ADHD is not going away, but with work and perseverance, it can be managed. This, of course, is the job of the ADHD partner, and we encourage the best possible treatment to get symptoms under control.
Education is so important for both partners. We really encourage the non-ADHD partner to ask their ADHD partner what it feels like to live in their skin, and in their brain. Insight and empathy can be amazing healers, and can really enhance the bond between you. There are so many resources available, like this column for example, that information of all kinds on the subject is easily accessible.
Very importantly, giving up blame is a critical step. Often, if your partner is not changing in the ways you want them to, it is not their fault. They may be trying harder than you think, and it just takes longer to develop new ways of being when their brains don’t always co-operate.
When communicating, try your best to give feedback in as neutral a way as possible. At the same time, listening non-defensively will go a long way in keeping the connection positive. Acknowledging your partner for all of their beneficial contributions is so valuable. Compassion and forgiveness are vital ingredients in the ADHD/non-ADHD relationship.
Attend time is also key. That means spending time together when no one else is around, and there are no interruptions (including no cell phones or texts). This gives both people the opportunity to tune in to each other and remember what brought them together to begin with. It is recommended that you find new activities to become involved in. Forging new roads together can really be a fun way to build in commonality and togetherness.
And certainly, not least of all, is always keeping your sense of humor. Seeing the funny side of situations, and remembering to laugh is a vital component to a successful relationship. On date night, go see a funny movie now and then, which can really help keep things on the lighter side. After all, you know what they say about laughter…it really is the best medicine and can work in some ways that Adderall can’t.
Join Nancie Kohlenberger and Rick Green for a free, live Webinar. Click here for details and to register.
*Some parts of this are based on the book, The Couple’s Guide to Thriving with ADHD, by Melissa Orlov and Nancie Kohlenberger, published April 2014.
Nancie Kohlenberger is a psychotherapist in private practice in CA, and a Marriage Consultant, nationally and in Mexico and Canada. She can be reached through her website at www.transformurlife.com.
By Wilma Fellman
ADHD COACHES looking to add the “Career Piece” to your coaching “toolbox?”
Career Services Specialty Training (CSST) Class for Coaches: Starting SOON!
Join a 6 week, Distance Learning Class (a partnership with the Edge Foundation, Wilma Fellman, M.Ed., LPC & Victoria Roche, MSW, PCC) starting the end of June, and receive 13 CCEU’s for successfully completing the class! You will also be able to use the letters CSS following your credentials, to indicate you are a Career Services Specialist!
We work hard, interact, have fun and welcome you to check us out!!
Classes are limited to 20 coaches:
June 26 through August 7, 2014
Thursdays at 11:30 am Eastern, 8:30 am Pacific
Fees for Non-Edge Coaches $750, Fees for Edge Coaches $600
October 16 through November 20, 2014
Fees for Non-Edge Coaches $750, Fees for Edge Coaches $600
For registration or more information, call Denise von Pressentin at 206.632.9497 or email her at [email protected].
More information can be viewed on the website at: https://edgefoundation.org/coaches/cceu/