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My Daughter’s Distraction Is Contagious

ADHD by proxy is real. For me the worst symptoms are distraction and disorganization. They’ve lasted way more than six months, and have been persistent enough to substantially impact my functioning in two or more areas of life.

In his book CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap: Strategies for Coping in a World Gone ADD, psychiatrist and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) expert Edward Hallowell, M.D., theorizes that the pace, pressures, and multiple demands of modern life have created in “neurotypical adults” (Read: Non-ADHD adults) a culturally induced form of ADHD. As usual, Dr. Hallowell is onto something. As the parent of a child with ADHD, there are times when I feel like the poster-child for the “crazy” in CrazyBusy, and, based on the honest, heartfelt comments left by this blog’s viewers, I’d guess that many of you have felt that way too.

As long-time readers may know, I’ve identified a specific subtype of the CrazyBusy phenomenon that wasn’t covered in Dr. Hallowell’s landmark book. (Perhaps he’ll include it in a future, updated edition!) Some time ago, I coined the term “ADD/ADHD by Proxy” to describe the ADHD-like symptoms (disorganization, distraction, reactive-hyperactivity (frantic chasing)) that develop in some parents of kids with ADHD, induced by living with and parenting said kids.

ADHD by Proxy is real. It’s serious. It’s me. I offer these recent (embarrassing) symptoms as proof:

• I put dirty laundry in the dryer instead of the washer, and didn’t realize it until I tried to turn the darn thing on. (Where do I put the detergent?)

• One day in February I packed my snow boots in Natalie’s backpack instead of her own, and then picked up one of hers and tried to put it on. (What the…?!)

• I squirted Jet-Dry in the detergent-thingy in the dishwasher, instead of in its designated compartment.

• I said to my 13-year-old son Aaron, while registering him online for Little League baseball, “You’ll be in the 11- to 12-year-old group this summer, right?”

When I recounted these incidents to my husband (“Do you think I have early onset Alzheimer’s?”) he tried to reassure me, “You’re just distracted.” Distracted! That’s it! I’m having a flare up of ADHD by Proxy.

Now, here’s the strongest proof yet: Friday morning, Natalie and I were rushing through the last few get-ready-for-school tasks; she was brushing her teeth while I found her glasses.

“You’ll have to clean your glasses at school. We’re out of time,” I said.

Natalie’s backpack wasn’t in the hallway; it wasn’t in her cubby. “Is your backpack still in the car from yesterday?” We both went outside to check. Found it. Ready.

Now, where are my keys? I went back in the house. No keys hung on their designated hook. No keys on the kitchen counter. No keys on the dining room table. No keys in my jacket pocket.

“Mom, we’re going to be late!” Natalie called.

“It’s okay, Nat. I’ll use my spare key.”

Disaster averted.

I backed out of the driveway. Made a total of five turns, some left, some right. I drove 45 miles per hour on Lincolnway. I went down a big hill and up again. I pulled into Nat’s school’s drop-off circle. One of our neighbors stopped beside me. Roll down your window, she signaled and mouthed. “There’s a set of keys on the trunk of your car!”

“Oh my god!” I threw open the door and jumped out. There were my lost keys, sitting right where I left them, on the gently curved, slippery surface of the trunk of my car. There’s absolutely no rational explanation for how they stayed there. (Maybe a guardian angel noticed my Gift of Adoption key chain, and swooped down to take a closer look!)

Distraction. Disorganization. Lasting way more than six months, and serious enough to substantially impact my functioning in two or more areas of life. We have our own Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-worthy diagnosis, folks.

No, I don’t really have a case of ADHD that came on in adulthood. As I’ve written before, I have 30-plus years of always arriving at least 10 minutes early to prove it. But I’m convinced that I’m living with a child who makes me act and feel a lot like it some of the time. Inventing the name “ADD/ADHD by Proxy” is my way of bringing a little humor to the reality of what many parents like me find ourselves dealing with: being overwhelmed, anxious, exhausted, and depressed. And, by giving it a name, I hope to give a little credence to the idea that we parents sometimes need our own “treatment.” Frequent breaks. Long walks. Time with other adults. Meaningful work or projects. Sometimes we need a few sessions with a therapist; many of us find we need prescription medication of our own.

Would you write a book to help parents like me, Dr. Hallowell? Could you devise a treatment plan for parents with ADHD by Proxy? (Or, perhaps, prescribe a vacation?)

Friends: Do you believe in ADHD by Proxy? If so, share your kid-caused ADHD symptoms in the comment section below, and please, tell me, how do you recover your previously working abilities to stay organized and focused?