…but, in the midst of all the chaos, I'm learning how to handle change, small step by small step.
by Frank South
“The world is what you make of it, friend. If it doesn't fit, you make alterations.”
-Stella in “Silverado” (Lawrence & Mark Kasdan)
Moving day is fast approaching and everyone in my family is handling the increasing tension differently. My wife Margaret, the only one in our house not diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD), and our 14-year-old ADD/ADHD daughter, Coco are in the living room packing.
“That’s just stupid, Mom,” Coco says.
“Coco, I’m warning you, don’t talk that way to me.”
“Why? I’m not calling you stupid,” Coco says, “I said what you said was stupid.”
I’m in the bedroom reading, trying to avoid a brewing panic attack and trying to ignore the voices, rising in intensity.
“Enough. That’s it,” Margaret says.
“No! Don’t take my laptop!”
Sounds like a scuffle out there. Oh, no, footsteps coming this way. I concentrate harder on the Nevada Barr mystery I’m reading, wedge my head right into the book.
“No! Stop! You can’t!” Coco screams from the living room.
Margaret storms into the bedroom, drops Coco’s laptop on the dresser, plows onto the bed next to me, and crosses her arms.
“Your daughter’s lost her mind,” she says.
“Uh, okay…” I say.
More screaming rage in the living room and then more footsteps come this way. It’s an invasion. Coco, livid, stomps up to the bed next to me and yells at her mother lying on my other side.
“You don’t even listen to me, you just get mad and mean!”
“Coco, I’m not talking to you,” Margaret says, “Go to bed.”
“No, I won’t! It’s not fair!”
I jump out of bed. Now, I’ve always tried to model myself after never-say-die type characters like Scott Glenn as Emmett in Silverado, or Vivien Leigh as Scarlet O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. I never wanted to be the one who quit under pressure. I never thought I'd one day find myself throwing my hands up in defeat, yelling, “This is too much. Stop. I can’t handle this!” But right now, standing between my wife and daughter, I’m doing exactly that.
Coco bursts into tears and runs into the living room, and I follow. Between sobs, she says she didn’t mean to yell at mom, she’s just feeling bad because now she’s decided she doesn’t want to move to Georgia after all. She hates change. I can’t help it -- I burst out laughing. “Me too,” I say, “Change makes me want to throw up.”
A crooked smile cracks through Coco’s sobs, and, as she turns over, I think she mumbles “You are so weird,” into her pillow. I realize Coco’s right -- I am weird.
When she and Margaret started to argue, I was in the bedroom fighting off a panic attack that I realize now, I had manufactured myself. With procrastination and avoidance, I’d wound myself so tightly with fear that I could barely move. The pressures were really there -- the move, writing deadlines -- (What about calling all those therapists like I promised you I was going to do? But that would mean really admitting I am leaving my present one -- something I'm not yet willing to do.), a speaking engagement, and a TV-pilot rewrite that I have to do in record time (before we move), which, if I do a good job, might actually get shot and put on pay cable.
But I deal with these kinds of pressures most often by putting off doing anything about them. It’s an old ADD/ADHD habit that keeps creeping back -- waiting until the deadline pressure builds up to such a degree that either I am forced to take care of business or crack up. It’s a fifty-fifty shot. Thing is, if you keep playing chicken with your sanity, you’re likely to end up in a secure hospital wing playing with your food. Okay, maybe not that bad. But for me, it’s at least not healthy. I’ve started on beta-blockers for the panic attack physical symptoms, and more importantly started breaking down tasks into smaller, more manageable monsters that can hopefully be corralled one at a time.
Later that night, after the dust settles, Margaret and Coco decide to sleep together out in the living room in the middle of all the boxes and bubble wrap. From behind my book in the bedroom I can hear them talking in whispers in the dark.
In the morning, they both apologize for putting me into the middle of their fight. But, as it turns out, I’m glad they did. Sometimes it takes a little drama to realize you need to make some alterations in your world. And there’s no place better for that than in the middle of some people you trust.
Note to readers: We’ll be moving and getting resettled during the next month. I’ll be back with more “ADHD Dad - Better Late than Never” in June.