Guest Blogs

Chaos in the House: A Love Story

A single mom with ADHD and a family of three pulls off the ultimate juggling act — sort of.

I was only diagnosed last year, but I didn’t get the nickname “Messy Jessie” for nothing. You can always find me in the house: follow the trail of stuff I leave behind. As a single mother of three boys under the age of eight, a full-time college student, a girlfriend, a daughter, a maid, a cook, a taxi driver, and a sleep-deprived woman, life with ADHD is not easy.

After my marriage ended, I made an impulsive decision to move into a place I could not afford. Two months after the first impulsive move, I made another one, moving in with my “rebound relationship.” The kids were miserable, and so was I. I was trying to figure out who I was after my marriage and to be in a relationship, while attending full-time college classes. After two months, I made another impulsive move. I rented a two-bedroom condo from an old boss. It was a tight squeeze. I moved with no warning. I didn’t even pack; I just woke up and did it.

After these sudden changes, I put the kids in therapy to help them deal with it all. I found a therapist who made house calls. This way I didn’t have to drag the kids to appointments. She worked with the older boys, but she and I often talked about the struggles I had adjusting to life as a single mother. She was wonderful. Each week when she came to my house, I told her the same thing: “Donna, I swear I just cleaned! I can’t get over what a mess it is again!” She looked at me one day and said, “You have ADHD.”

[Self-Test: ADHD in Women and Girls]

Soon after I was formally diagnosed, prescribed medication, received therapy, and did lots of reading about ADHD. Of course, I have plenty of challenges. One of my greatest weaknesses is not taking care of myself before bed. I can’t tell you the last time I washed my face or brushed my teeth before hitting the sack. By the time I finally lie down and remember to wash up, I run out of energy to get up. I wonder if the “remembering” thing is a challenge for all people with ADHD.

My forgetfulness never had more serious consequences than the time I didn’t change my contacts. My ADHD symptoms almost made me go blind. I forgot to change my contacts — the directions say I should change them every six weeks — for six months. I am very lucky I can see, but I did a lot of damage to my eyes.

I strongly believe in leading by example. How can I expect my boys to clean up after themselves, put the things away, and stay organized, if I can’t do any of those things? It has been a constant internal struggle for me. I want them to make their beds, but I never remember to make mine. I want them to put their clothes in the hamper, but mine are all over my floor. I finally started explaining to them that mommy’s brain doesn’t work like other people’s brains. I’m wired differently.

Now that my middle son was diagnosed with ADHD, I tell him, “Your brain and my brain are just alike!” He is so sweet. He thinks that I’m not on time a lot, which is partially true, so he made me a rubber-band keychain and attached a watch to it. It was the funniest thing I have ever seen, but you know what? I use it all the time. It is one of the best ADHD gadgets I have found.

Life with ADHD is a learning experience. I am always looking for ways to make life easier for my mixed ADHD household. My oldest son loves chess, and I feel horrible that I don’t have the attention span to learn or play with him. Everyone in the house learns how to work with each of our “deficiencies,” and we all work on ways to learn from each other. I have to laugh at myself sometimes, and say, “Duh!”

[Never Good Enough: The Emotional Toll of Motherhood]