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The Hardest Part of ADHD for My Family and Me

Spin the wheel and pick a challenge. You never know exactly what it’s going to be that day.

“What’s the hardest part of being ADHD?” I ask my six-year-old. I’m driving and I can’t see him, but I know he’s wrinkling up his face in serious thought.

“Remembering people’s names,” he says. “I don’t remember people’s names and that’s hard. I still don’t know the name of the African-American kid from Swim and Gym.”

He does have massive trouble with names. We homeschool, so sitting still or extended attention spans aren’t a problem. But names. My son can play with the same kids for months and still come out not knowing who they are, even as they yell, “Bye Blaise!” I know this because of his homeschool co-op, in which he knows the names of maybe two kids. There are 15 kids in his class. They interact and play regularly — this isn’t a desk-based class. Yet still, I have to remind him “That’s Tradd” or “That’s Liana.”

[“Mom, What Does ADHD Mean?”]

How can you make friends if you don’t know names? Try inviting these phantom children to a birthday party, and see how well that goes (we gave Blaise invitations with my phone number, asking parents to text an RSVP). He invited that Liana he didn’t know, along with some other kids. But he’s made far fewer friends than he would have if he called people by their name, made play dates, and introduced me to their moms.

“What’s the hardest part of being ADHD?” I asked my husband. I’m sitting on the couch and he’s at the computer, facing away from me.

“Nothing. Everything. I don’t know.” Bear has a hard time admitting that he has the disorder, since he’s undiagnosed but exhibits clear and obvious symptoms. He sighed and ran his hand through his hair. “Probably the burnout after you’ve been going, going, going hard for a long time. I’m feeling that with teaching lately. I used to be able to teach all day, come home, and feel fine. Now I’m exhausted.”

He has been exhausted lately. Bear wakes up at 5 a.m., ideally hits the school doors at 6:30 a.m. His students arrive at 8 a.m. Then he’s on, with a usual lack of a planning period — because he’s always called to a meeting or to substitute. His day ends at 3:30 p.m., sometimes later, depending on departmental meetings or tutoring. Hours and hours of quick quips, of finding papers, of making sure no one’s texting, again. He has to juggle quizzes while he works on his online class. Bear multitasks to the max. It’s the ideal job for someone with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD).

[10 Things I Wish I Knew As a Kid with ADHD]

When he gets home, he’s tired. He shucks off his polo shirt, shoulders into a tee, unlaces his boots, and collapses on the bed. Sometimes I have to rub his back, which has seized up from all the tension. Sometimes he’s snoring in five minutes. But the kids come in and jump on him, and he has to be on again, at least for the time it takes to click on Animaniacs. The ADHD serves him well at school. But it drains him, sucks at him, leaves him wrung out and exhausted. And he still has to cook dinner.

The hardest part of ADHD for me? I don’t have to think about it — time management challenges. I have a very difficult time judging how long it will take me to get ready to go somewhere — I might wake up an hour too late or two hours too early. Then I overestimate or underestimate how long it’ll take to drive there.

Or I start driving at the wrong time, because my challenges extend to screwing up what time things are supposed to happen. For example, this morning, I knew I had to leave for a 10 o’clock play date. I almost marched the kids out the door at 9 a.m. — just because there was somewhere to be, and 9 a.m. seemed like a reasonable time to start getting there. As it was, we were 15 minutes early and missed the host, who had gone to buy chicken feed. This is typical.

I also forget appointments. I can’t remember a doctor’s appointment if my life depended on it. I have to input them into my iPhone, with double reminders, to have a fighting chance of getting there at all. I frequently double-book play dates — because despite having a regular weekly schedule, I can’t remember what it is. Imagine a world where you know you do something on Tuesdays, but you can’t remember what. Or you forget your regularly scheduled, every-week co-op on Friday mornings and plan something else instead. This is my life.

[The Art of Having ADHD]

We all have our most hated parts of ADHD. For my son, young as he is, it’s names. For my husband, who has to be ADHD-on all day, it’s the exhaustion that comes after. For me, running a household of three kids and trying to make sure they’re fed, educated, and amused, the most crippling part of ADHD is time-sense. It’s hard to know what anyone’s most difficult ADHD hurdle will be. It depends on so many things. But one thing’s for certain: ADHD can be hard, and there’s always some part that’s the hardest.