The Heat Is On, and My ADHD Brain Is Melting
I locked my daughter and I out of the car, it was still running, and it was 100°F.
Do you find that your ADHD worsens during the summer?
The kids are home from school. There’s more commotion. Even if there isn’t a summer trip to take up your time and money, there are plenty of summer activities to drive the family to. I feel more like Mr. Bus during summer than the school year and I have less time to myself.
On less busy days, though, I still have a hard time getting things done. The kids are home. The TV is on. There are meals to plan. Oh, and all the extra cleaning! Out of all the distractions to overload my brain, however, the real culprit is the heat. There’s something about temperatures over 85°F that make me feel as if I’m thinking through sludge. The hotter I get, the slower my mind becomes. I’m also more prone to make stupid ADHD mistakes.
You won’t believe what I did to my 14-year-old daughter and me the other day. We had been running errands all afternoon when we decided to stop for something to eat. We were both in good spirits — laughing and kidding as we got out of the car — when I suddenly realized I didn’t have my car keys. They were locked in the car! I wondered what we were going to do to cool off in the 100°F weather when I noticed that the car was still running. I had locked myself out of my car twice already this month, but now I left the car running, too? What on earth was going on with me?!
Since we only lived a mile away, I decided to hoof it back home, borrow an apartment key from the leasing office, and come back with my extra car key. So off we went in the heat. We cooled off a bit when we got home, then walked back. I was feeling pretty good about having avoided asking anybody for help. That’s when I discovered that my car’s back door was unlocked. We laughed ourselves silly for a while. What a stupid mistake to make! All that walking in the sun for nothing. When I discovered later that the back hatch was also open, I was too stunned to laugh. Apparently, I don’t do very well in 100°F weather.
Not everybody with ADHD has a meltdown in the summer heat, but I’ve talked to enough people over the years to know that, for a lot of adults with ADHD, heat makes the condition worse. Living in hot, arid Utah for 30 years has helped me acclimate a bit to the heat, but if I didn’t want to have another embarrassing incident occur, I had to take charge.
> I changed how I hold the keys when I shut the car off. I hold onto them tightly, and I mentally check to make sure I am still holding them before I shut the car door. This tactile change helps enforce a new habit.
> I invested in some sunshades for the windows to keep the car slightly cooler. Every little bit helps.
> I feel silly saying this, but now I open the car doors to let the heat out before getting in. I was always in a hurry and didn’t do this before.
> I blast the AC. I’ll pay for the extra gas if it keeps my mind cool. I’ve been frugal all summer, but my brain was boiling in my skull. No more.
> I plan shorter errands during the heat of the day.
> Lastly, I determined that I would not make any more mistakes. In order to make this more than an empty promise, I became mindful of my actions each time I got out of the car.
I needed to change my routine, implement new tactile feedback, and think smarter before my brain melted into a puddle. Thanks to these new coping strategies, my ADHD isn’t locking me outside of my car anymore.