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Forget Meds! Shopping at Target Is the Best ADHD Therapy

I planned to go to Target for toilet paper, and left with a $243 bill. Just another shopping trip for an adult with ADHD.

The following is a personal essay, and not a medical recommendation endorsed by ADDitude. For more information about therapy, speak with your physician.

You are a mom with ADHD. You’ve tried various treatments, possibly medication, behavioral therapy, and diet-based interventions. Some of them worked. Some of them didn’t. Regardless, you have accepted yourself as a person with ADHD, who will deal with symptoms for the rest of your life. You will battle your disease. Sometimes, you will win.

Other times you will go to Target.

Target should plaster a big, bold warning sign on their sliding doors: ADHD MOMS ENTER WITH CAUTION. Instead, Target doesn’t help. It enables with the sweet, sweet scent of Starbucks. Most adults with ADHD love coffee, because it’s a stimulant and it helps our brains work. So upon entering the big red bullseye, most ADHD moms beeline to the coffee counter, where they purchase something—probably espresso, probably venti, and definitely over-caffeinated.

[Free Download: Parenting Guide for Moms and Dads with ADHD]

Humming with the sweet liquid love of dark caffeine, moms with ADHD snag a cart. Then they’re confronted with Target’s other early stumbling block for the attention deficient, The One Spot—three aisles of junk that all costs around $1. ADHD symptoms include impulse control problems, and I don’t know about you, but I have major impulse challenges when it comes to $1 Glow Stix packs, $1 seasonal decorations (Christmas trees, Easter eggs, or witches’ hats!), or a $3 pack of Marvel superhero socks. No one with ADHD can escape The One Spot, especially if she has kids, and especially if those kids want things, like Star Wars notebooks, fuzzy Cinderella crowns, or foam weaponry. Run as far and as fast as you can.

For me, that tends to be right to the women’s clothing section. Target clothes are cheap, generally well made, and attractive—and usually on sale. Moms always need a new wardrobe, because we’re always trying not to look like moms. Target caters to this with the latest styles in discount form. So ADHD moms wander into the clothes. Our impulse control problems begin again, because that shirt is on sale and super cute and you have to have it. ADHD can also cause problems with time—we have no idea if 10 minutes or an hour has passed. The woman’s section is a giant time suck for us. The more time we spend there, the more clothing we buy.

These time challenges keep an ADHD mom in the clothing section (perhaps migrating over to workout wear) for long enough that her children start running away and hiding in the clothes racks. We don’t notice this at first, because most women have inattentive ADHD. As the kids get louder, we do notice, but we’re laser-focused on shopping, so our discipline generally consists of “Now, now, children.” Little ones may be lifted into the cart and ignored.

Once we’ve torn ourselves away from the clothes, we get out The List. Every mom with ADHD makes a list when she goes to Target, partially in a misguided attempt to stay on task and partially in a misguided attempt to remember everything. But first, we have to cruise the clearance racks for every child in every size. This takes a while, because we hyperfocus and examine every garment. Our impulse control comes under the aegis of saving money: “That tiny T-shirt costs only $2.”

[13 Survival Strategies for Moms with ADHD]

Now we do The List. Except that the kids are clambering to look at the toys, and since we’ve dragged them along, it’s the least we can do. They descend into the madness of Barbie and LEGOs, and rather than trail along behind them (that’s annoying), we get out the ADHD drug of choice—the smartphone! We pray that Target has good reception and keep half an ear on our kids while getting in some serious Facebook time. Except we hyperfocus and don’t realize that the toddler is taking all the Stormtroopers off the shelf. Oops.

Then we’re on The List, for real this time. It probably includes groceries. We buy six to 10 more food items than The List indicates, because the stuff is there and it’s stuff we need or it’s stuff we like or it’s stuff that’s on sale—we love Nutella, OK? Then our impulse drive kicks in again. We have to check the end caps and see what’s on sale. People with ADHD are usually bad with money. We buy some discounted housewares.

On the way to the checkout line, we develop a burning need for makeup, because nothing says impulse buy like purple lipstick. Plus there’s probably some makeup-ish stuff on the list. We probably hyperfocus on eye shadow for a while, much to the consternation of our children, whom we vaguely realize are on the edge of melting down.

[What to Do When SuperMom Has ADHD]

In the end, the bill’s nothing that we imagined—$243.80. How did that happen? We came in for only a few things on our list. Like toilet paper.

We forgot the toilet paper.