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ADHD Is Not the Boss of You

ADHD is just one aspect of your life. Learn how choosing the proper treatment, staying organized and learning when to ask for help taught this writer to take control of her ADHD.

Adult ADHD Treatment: Managing Symptoms and Evaluating Options
Adult ADHD Treatment: Managing Symptoms and Evaluating Options

I am writing myself, and all of you, a little reminder: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) does not make our choices for us and is not the sole voice in the choir of our waking thoughts. Every day you and I have choices. Here’s a bit more about how I take control of ADHD:

1. Choosing to Treat ADHD

Part of my adult ADHD treatment is learning which choices are available to me, and making the most effective ones.

For me, because medication is part of my treatment, my first choice most mornings is to take it before I get out of bed. This clears the fog of confusion that plagues me when I wake up. Clearing the fog makes me less grumpy and when I’m less grumpy, I’m better able to prioritize my actions and thoughts.

2. Considering Every Option

I like options, even though too many of them overwhelm me. When I’m stressed — I have a husband, three step children, two dogs, and two cats swirling around me while I’m trying to think — I remind myself to sit down, review the situation, and list my options. I write them down because, duh, I have ADHD, and I don’t remember things unless I do. So I look at my list and try to make a plan.

3. Prioritizing

Sometimes I draw pictures of all my choices, especially if particular tasks suggest a visual approach. I do event-planning and, to keep myself engaged, I draw a person in the middle of a poster board (me!) and big talk-balloons above my head, filled with the things I need to do. I number them to remind me which ones to do first.

[Self-Test: Could It Be Adult ADHD?]

4. Asking for Help

If I find it hard devising the list, or the plan that follows from it — because I’d rather be, oh, I don’t know, learning the tango or eating a sandwich – I talk it over with my therapist. She frames things in a way that make choices less overwhelming, and then lobs them back in my court.

5. Starting the Day Off Right

I can choose to stay in bed too long, and have a rushed, crappy morning, or I can choose to get up on time. Then I can choose to leave the house on time or let my mind wander. This takes work, because my mind loves to wander and I have lots of ideas in the morning. I can choose to pack a snack, or be miserable an hour later when I’m at work and feeling hangry (hungry plus angry equals hangry!). I hit the mark more often than not.

6. Practicing, Practicing, Practicing: Symptom Management

I can choose among a lot of little things, too: putting my ATM card back in my wallet, filling my gas tank, instead of only asking for $5 worth, because I can’t sit still long enough at the pump. I can choose to sort my laundry when it comes back from the ‘mat … instead of starting off the day with wardrobe confusions or underwear shortages.

7. Remembering That the Little Things Mean a Lot

I mention these minutia of daily life for two reasons:

[Life Is Too Short for Shame]

For Those Without ADHD: Understand that mundane details mean more to us than they do you. These are the devils that regularly frustrate us. You may not think these are real chores for us, but that’s the point. It is in the nature of ADHD, and its impact on people’s lives, that small things are difficult, that we must approach them mechanically. Hyperactive adults aren’t intentionally aggravating you. ADHD isn’t about the big disruptive things that people do. It’s best defined by the little things that shouldn’t be so hard.

For Those With ADHD: I find it helpful — and I hope you do, too — to think of the day as a series of choices to be made. I don’t always make perfect ones, but I try for a decent batting average. Each day I remind myself of the penalties of not making better choices (and I do mean remind, not torture, myself). By good-faith efforts at making better decisions, we do not cure ourselves, but we manage the symptoms that would otherwise be making decisions for us.

It’s not easy, but do we have another choice? We do, but I would argue — I just did — that it’s probably not the better one.

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  1. Love this article Katy. You hit the nail on the head. My favorite point is the last one about how the little mundane tasks that are so easy for those without a.d.d. are a challenge for those with. I finally discovered habit tracking about a year ago and it has had a huge impact on those details finally, slowly, becoming part of my automated thinking. We have to put things on lists that non-addiers do not. Also love your “lets not use this as an excuse” approach. Its so much healthier.

  2. EVERY numbered section applies to me. I needed to read an article like this! Thank you tremendously, Katy.

    What *seems* more important than the six others, for my future success at deriving maximum benefit from this gift: Starting the Day Off Right, #5. I’m not a morning person, which is probably a common symptom of ADHD—and yet I have an even bigger problem than that. I’m a night owl. What a vicious cycle I am mired deep within; how can I get up on time when I almost never get to bed on time? Pun intended, I’m always late for what is arguably the *most* important way I can take control of my ADHD.

    A vicious cycle is extremely difficult to completely and permanently break in one place. What I know will work better, now, is slowing it down in every place possible. That can be done, I believe, by equally weighting all seven of your listed control mechanisms. Each way is just as important as the others. I need to practice so many things. I often ask for help only after I’ve wasted time trying to do something myself. I’m great at considering the options when a decision is someone else’s to make, not mine.

    

Prioritizing is difficult when I have a dozen things to do and a dozen things I’d rather do. The little things are frequently ignored to instead wrap my cerebral tentacles around something “bigger and better”. Taking my medication—which used to happen regularly at the start of the day—now happens after I’m done hastily preparing for, traveling to, and settling in at work. If I could just achieve more, sooner, I wouldn’t feel like I have to make up for lost time. I’m not winning at this game and I’m tired of playing.

    Ultimately, I cannot continue to stay up late (or stay up all night 1–2 times per week) and unleash the amazing person locked within. I can’t live the life I am meant to live by being nocturnal. Here I am yet again, at midnight, doing something not on my list with nary a pillow in sight. Maybe this time, it isn’t a worthless distraction. Maybe this time, I made the right decision. Controlling my ADHD has to consume me ravenously and insatiably: minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. I certainly don’t lack hunger.

    

Katy, your seven control points are my new buffet. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and the snacks in between shall only come from your simple menu. A well-balanced diet is going to be my salvation, and I already feel salivation—coating the mouth of that amazing person inside me. On seven small pieces of paper I will write those seven ways to nourish him, and put them where I most often look: car dashboard, work & home computers, phone lock screen, wallet, home away from home, and bedside alarm clock.

    …Tomorrow. I’m going to sleep now.

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