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How to Settle Your ADHD Brain When You Have to Call 911

When I have to call 911, the panic and overwhelm threaten to flood my ADHD brain. But then I remember these stress management techniques to stay present.

“911. What’s your emergency?”

I don’t usually panic when I hear that. I’ve called 911 far too often for far too many years because of my daughter’s epilepsy. Sometimes my ADHD becomes an obstacle, however. It’s a good thing that I’ve developed a system for dealing with emergency medical service (EMS) operators and the emergency personnel who arrive within minutes during those emergencies.

I suppose I’m no different than any other person. Despite years of training and practice, there’s still a little part of me that wants to freak out while my child is in an emergency. I have a system that holds me together, but it doesn’t take much to get off script. A non-seizure emergency or an unexpected accident can catch me off guard and let emotions have their sway. However, I’ve studied how other people overreact during emergencies, and I know exactly how ADHD affects me during those same moments. The rush of panic and fear, mingled with frustration from answering the EMS questions, overwhelms my ADHD mind.

What the EMS operators don’t know is that while the emergency is happening, I can’t focus on their questions. Even when my daughter has a seizure, focusing is difficult, no matter how much practice I’ve had. Adults with ADHD are notorious for being overwhelmed by information, having hot tempers, and having a low tolerance for frustration. All of those conditions come into play when my kid is having an emergency and the phone operator wants to make sure there are no weapons or pets involved. I know they are doing their job, but I want to focus on my child.

This ADHD mental assault is compounded when the police and paramedics arrive. One time, I had six paramedics, two police officers, and a student-in-training in my home. Talk about pandemonium! Can you imagine how fractured my concentration gets during those moments? The more questions they ask, the more irritated I feel with their interruptions. Each question feels like a violent tug on my attention. Despite the fact that they are only trying to help, the stress of the moment brings out the worst of my ADHD.

I can’t plan on random emergencies, but, unfortunately, I can count on my daughter having a seizure again. Here’s how I ensure that the medics get their information while I am left free to comfort my child.

Put all emergency info on a note, and have the note on hand.
I put all our information in the Notes app on my iPhone, and hand them my iPhone when they arrive. One EMT is always designated to fill out the paperwork. Calmly ask who is writing down notes, and hand that EMT your prepared note. I have my name, my daughter’s name, my address, her condition, her current medications, her previous medications, the names of her doctors, and their phone numbers, among other things. If the EMTs have more questions to ask me, I add them to the note for the next time. If I have to travel to the ER, I repeat the process when I arrive.

This is advice anybody could use, but for adults with ADHD with emotions like bottle rockets going off in their brains, it is very important to train to become calm. My problem isn’t becoming hysterical or paralyzed with fear, as I’ve seen others do. I become frazzled, or worse, grouchy with ADHD frustration, which doesn’t help the professionals trying to do their job.

For whatever reason, I can answer questions about my daughter’s symptoms and condition while comforting my child, but questions about minutia, like phone numbers and street addresses, feel almost physically uncomfortable to answer during a crisis. Now when the EMTs arrive, I don’t get flustered ADHD-style. I don’t stammer. I don’t blink blankly with wide-open eyes filled with panic overload. I hand them my prepared information, take a deep, cleansing breath, and pay attention to the one thing that my mind craves to focus on: my child.