Sunday, July 14, 2019

Dealing with ADD

My sisters used to laugh at my detailed lists. When I wasn’t looking, they would slip over and add, “Breathe” and “Go to the bathroom” to my list of things I needed to get done.

I was just that crazy detailed, they said. Then they would chuckle. 
The cleaning schedule--printable lists in pretty colors win the day.
As an adult, I diagnosed myself with ADD—Attention Deficit Disorder. Or maybe it’s ADHD, with hyperactivity thrown in. When I first began reading about adult ADD in a library book, I had the sense that someone had crawled in my ear and was describing everything they saw in my head.

This isn’t the exact test I took but it was something like this, and these were definite yeses for me: 
1. I have difficulty getting organized.
2. When given a task, I usually procrastinate rather than doing it right away.
3. I work on a lot of projects, but can’t seem to complete most of them.
4. I tend to make decisions and act on them impulsively
5. I get bored easily.
7. I often get distracted when people are talking; I just tune out or drift off.
8. I get so wrapped up in some things I do that I can hardly stop to take a break or switch to doing something else.
10. I get frustrated easily and I get impatient when things are going too slowly.
15. I often find myself tapping a pencil, swinging my leg, or doing something else to work off nervous energy.

This came from the ADDitude website, a super-helpful resource.

Here are some ways this malady manifests itself:
1. Everything is equally loud. In a crowded room, I hear all the conversations at once and it’s really hard to focus on conversing with YOU. In my kitchen, the cobweb in the corner, the dirty dishes, and the slimy lettuce in the fridge all “yell” at me in equal volume. I might stand there, kind of paralyzed, not knowing what to do. Then I might organize the spices.
2. At the same time, I can ignore clutter and piles, walking right past them for days and weeks without actually seeing them.
3. I have a constant fire hose of creative ideas spraying around in my brain.
4. Daily housework is unbelievably tedious.
5. I over-promise and under-deliver.
6. It is hard work to stay with a task and not get distracted.

While daily functioning is hard, it’s not impossible. I’ve raised a family and finished many projects, after all. Most of my plants are still alive, and you wouldn’t be grossed out by my bathroom. 

The biggest differences between my “normal”* friends and me are:
1. They know what to do next. Somehow, they seem to have a clear blueprint in their heads for what needs to be done that day. They know where to begin, and they move from task to task until it’s done. They don’t have much chaos or crises. Also, they know what to do without writing it all down. It is amazing.
2. They can stick with one task until it’s done. I once worked with some other women to make food for a big event. One woman in particular worked hard and fast at making tortilla roll-ups, without a break, for three hours.
I was helping her, so of course I felt compelled to keep up. I mean, the shame of taking off to run around the building to work off my nervous energy, as I felt sorely tempted to do. After an hour, I felt like bugs were crawling up my arms and legs. Two hours in, the bugs had turned to mice. Three hours, and the circuits in my brain were shorting out, sparking and zapping, heading for a meltdown.
I finally took a break.
3. They can hold still in church. I act like a 4-year-old. I own a fidget spinner and sometimes I use it. I cross my legs and swing my upper foot and pop the heel of my shoe off and back on.
4. They remember commitments, names, and the salad for the potluck.
5. But they also can’t look at little plastic animals and give them all personalities and spin a long story about them, so there’s that.

Recently someone asked me for advice on raising a child with ADHD.  Here are some ways I cope as an adult, but these tips are relevant for children or adults. Most ADD adults are secretly about 7 years old.
1. Remember: making it work is good. Shame is bad. You will be tempted to explode in disbelief—How can any normal person need a list or a timer or a chart for this simple task??? Don’t.
Yes, getting up is an accomplishment.
"Puff" isn't what you might think, since I live in Oregon.
It's actually using my Advair inhaler.
2. Lists and routines are life savers. I have a morning list that includes everything that needs to be done before I do any big projects or leave the house. It doesn’t include breathing and going to the bathroom, but it does include such very basic basics as making the bed, feeding the chickens, and taking my vitamins. Marching down this list is tedium and drudgery, but it also saves me from chaos. And chaos is the unhinging of us ADDs.
Then there are evening routines, Sunday morning routines, getting ready for a trip routines, and on and on. The more I can refer to a list, the more likely it is to all get done.
In addition to lists for routines, I also have lists of people to call, emails to write, and to-do's of every kind.
3. Gimmicks, charts, timers, and rewards are our friends. With my mind spinning ideas for fun and creativity, laundry and weeding and dishes seem like drudgery, and they look overwhelming. Also, if I stick with one thing too long, the bugs start crawling up my arms. 
One of the most effective techniques is to take a piece of graph paper with big squares [try this printable] and make a list down the side of all the tasks that will take a long time. Maybe working outside, writing, cooking, and paperwork. I pick out a few pretty crayons and color in a square each time I work at a task for 15 minutes. Then I can rotate on to the next task, if I’m getting bored, or I can stick with the current one for another round.
That’s where the timer comes in. It helps to keep me focused. Then, coloring in the square is my happy little reward, and looking at the chart keeps me from getting distracted from the day’s big jobs.
This is where normal people, YOU, perhaps, are saying, “Are you kidding me? Just grow up already. Coloring a chart?? At age 57? Too weird.”
That’s why not many people have ever seen my charts.
The other day my fine husband, of the super-organized brain, great efficiency, and 5 balls juggled in the air at all times, came in for lunch when I was coloring a pretty square. Purple! Yay! 
He saw me. 
In some embarrassment, I over-explained what I was doing. 
“Hmm,” he said. “Whatever works for you.” 
There was not one iota of shame. He didn’t think I was silly. He thought I should work with whatever motivated me.
That is how you should be toward the chaotic little ADDs in your life.
This is an actual chart.
"MCP" is Muddy Creek Press, my catchall term for everything writing-related.
"Vesh" is PA Dutch for laundry.

4. Learn one skill at a time. By “skill,” I mean very basic skills that you might think don’t need to be taught. Your ADD child or even teen might need you to walk them through a routine of coming home from school: coat on the hook, homework on the desk, shoes by the door. Change clothes; hang them up.
Using a timer is a skill, and putting it back in the same place every time so you don’t lose it. 
5. Ask normal people how they do what they do. Learn from them. A few months ago, I was talking to my efficient daughters about cleaning the kitchen. “How do I just do the basics and make it look nice but not get distracted with cleaning out the silverware drawer?”
They said, “Pretend it’s someone else’s kitchen! If you were asked to clean Aunt Laura’s kitchen, you would do the dishes and clean the counters, but you wouldn’t do all the detail work.”
Brilliant! It works!
6. Let them tap and fiddle and fidget, even when you’re talking to them. Give them Silly Putty in church if you have wooden pews.
7. Make sure they have time for play, creativity, thinking, running around outside, and putting their finger in the loop on the fly swatter and twirling it around and around for a long time.
8. Let them know that God makes all kinds of people and He made them like this for some amazing and good purpose. 

In addition to ADDitude, I like to follow FlyLady. She tells chaotic people how to make life work.

What works for you or the person with ADD in your life?

*Note: For efficiency’s sake, I use the word “normal” for people without Attention Deficit Disorder, but we know they all have their own quirks, and some of them are even a teensy bit boring and predictable.


  1. Thank you. This is so very true. My husband ( not at all a list person) doesn't understand it. He is like, all you do is write lists and lists... You don't need to write a list for everything! (Sister is the same way lol 😂) and my brain is like, Yes I do! And the Flylady system is the only cleaning system that makes sense to my brain. (Though I still struggle at times.) And this entire post I felt was about me... Yay, color coding.😁😂📃📄📋 So thank you very much for the wonderful encouragement. ❤

  2. I have a husband with ADD and a son with ADHD. All your words ring true!

    1. Bless you. I know "we" aren't easy to live with.

  3. This would explain a lot. Like, why cleaning my kitchen turns into a 2-hour organize the pantry, spice rack, and entryway ordeal every time. Thank you for the suggestions! I have always been a list person, time to find some big graph paper!

    1. Sarah C. - OR, you end up procrastinating cleaning the kitchen because you have learned that it WILL turn into the 2-hour ordeal. That's where I am.

    2. Sarah--I added the link to printable graph paper. Good luck!

    3. To "Unknown"--I hear you on that.

  4. "Get dressed" on a daily "to do" list? Absolutely. Otherwise it'll be lunch time and you're still in your nightgown. Or does that happen only to retired ladies with ADD? Mind you, a great deal of work has already been accomplished by then, but it's not going to be obvious to anyone who observes this shocking lack of propriety. I love the idea of coloring in squares to mark 15-min. intervals of work done on big tasks. I can't wait to make my own such charts. When I told Hiromi about this idea, he said cheerfully, "Whatever works!" I think he's made from the same pattern as Paul, despite appearances to the contrary.

    1. Awww, so glad your husband and Paul are cut from the same cloth in this regard.
      And thank you for the empathy. Yes yes on why "get dressed" needs to be on the list.
      Here's a link to a printable chart:

  5. As Fly Lady says, perfectionism makes us procrastinate. We think we don't have time to do it "right" so we might push it off or don't do it at all. It's easy for me to work on one project and neglect others that may be even more important. Miriam thinks our parents both had ADD. I feel like I'm becoming more ADD-ish as I get older. Yes, Fly Lady has been a big help to me, too. LRM

    1. Wow, if your parents had ADD, they prove that amazing things can be accomplished in spite of--or maybe because of?-- this trait.

  6. Christine in Maine7/16/2019 6:42 AM

    Very much appreciated this peek into your life--a humble, helpful glimpse. Sometimes encountering different ways can seem intimidating; my slower, methodical approach, I'm sure, could be viewed as laziness by those who run at top speed. But God made us unique; we need each other. Thank you so much for sharing this slice of your life!

    1. You're welcome, and Amen! We need all kinds.

  7. Deb Jantz in Nebraska7/16/2019 7:28 AM

    This article was a life saver! I never understood myself. Never dreamt those 3 letters explained me! I almost cried realizing I wasn’t alone! Thank you so much!

    1. You're so welcome and I wish you all the best!

  8. You sound a LOT like me! Almost every one of your points you listed sounds just like me...except for the ideas floating around in my brain. I do have an over-active imagination, but not when it comes to story-writing! And you can show me your list, because I like to color at my age too! ;)

  9. This is amazing - like a quick trip through a foreign country, in which a few landmarks remind me of home and the rest is fascinating and informative. Thanks. I am in awe of how much you accomplish before breakfast.

    1. Laughing. Thanks for visiting! And trust me, the only thing on that list that gets done chronologically is getting out of bed.

  10. Thank-you - I'm glad I'm not the only person who has "get dressed" on a to-do list! And I might find some of your tips really help. My lists are electronic: I struggle with paper lists because I either lose them or forget to check them.

    It might be worth noting that there are a wider range of things than ADD that would produce a similar set of results, so your advice may be useful for some of the related conditions as well. I relate to everything you're saying about distractibility and so on, and to everything you're doing about it, but I don't have ADD. I was initially diagnosed dyslexic (which isn't actually silly) and then autistic (which is absurd), and was finally recognised as dyspraxic with neurological visual impairment problems, which is probably correct. The specialist who diagnosed that ruled out AD(H)D, as the two often co-exist. I also come out as INFJ on the Myers-Briggs scale, which rather compounds the problem: it isn't a personality type given to organisation or application, but it is one that tends to suffer from the lack thereof.

    Breaking down tasks as much as you need to is something I've found very important. A special needs teacher I know used to break down every stage of tying shoelaces for the kids she taught. She'd get them doing one movement of the lace and do all the others, and then she'd teach them the next as well when that had really sunk in. If a child is struggling with something like the coming home routine, it may be worth trying to break it down more. In some cases it might help, for example, to get a child into the habit of putting their shoes away, and give them time to enjoy being competent at that, before starting on hanging their coat up. It's important for anyone who's trying to support us to understand that. I've often suffered from people demanding that as soon as I start doing something, I should be normally competent instantly, and that is a serious motivation not to try, as one doesn't get into trouble for failing completely, but only for succeeding partially.

  11. Such excellent ideas. I use a timer All. The. Time. Iliterally got my Master's degree 15 minutes at a time. FlyLady is fabulous. She doesn't work for me now since I work outside the home each day. But I still use many of her ideas. Timer and Control Journal (my personal book of lists) are my favorites. Look, there's a squirrel!

  12. Dorcas, you've been giving me courage for a long time, because I keep seeing myself in your writings. But this one is the most encouraging yet. I'd print it off, but then I'd have to find a place to put it. I tried Flylady based on what you wrote here, but all the emails (and of course I have to read them all because I might miss the one thing that will change my life forever) are just too distracting. But thank you so much for writing this and sharing your reality.