The Adult in the Room: I’m Not It!
Keeping track of my responsibilities — like taking out the garbage, and paying bills — can be hard as an adult with ADHD. Here’s why adulting ain’t easy.
I’m 34 years old. I have three sons, two dogs, one husband, and a house, plus student loans, medical bills, and a yard. This calls for some serious “adulting.”
Except that I have attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD).
My contemporaries “adult” with ease. They grew into it; they know how to trim the hedges on weekends and remember to pay the water bill. For me, the diagnosis makes it difficult. There’s a whole list of things I can’t adult. And that makes my life difficult.
1. Garbage. Every Wednesday morning, big green super-cans line my street. They’re accompanied by tidy blue recycling bins. The smelly truck rumbles up the road, emptying one after another. Except for mine, because we forgot garbage day again. And even if we remembered, we remembered at the last minute, so we didn’t have time to drag down the recycling. My recycling bin teeters full next to my side door; a month of beer cans makes us look like hopeless alcoholics. It falls on me occasionally, but I keep adding to it: The Earth must be saved!
2. The Yard: When we moved in, we had immaculate front and back yards, complete with perfect borders and stepping stones. Now it’s a jungle out there, since we live in the subtropics. Sweet gum has taken over every wooded area. Weeds choke out the plants. I didn’t know thistle could grow as tall as I am. The lawn’s mostly in need of mowing, and someone once thought the house was vacant based on the state of our hedges. Kids’ toys are scattered among the brush. We haven’t sprayed for mosquitoes, and we forgot to kill the fire ants, so the kids can’t play out there. It’s a quarter acre of mistake, and we need someone to Bush Hog the whole thing.
3. Paper Clutter: Mail. Other people get mail and open it. I get mail and forget about it for a day or so, and drag in three whole days of it from the mailbox at once. It’s overwhelming, so I set it on the kitchen table. I keep meaning to open it, especially the ones that are bills, but something always comes up. By “something,” I mean “gut-clenching panic.” I have piles of mail in my dining room from 2013, which I can’t bring myself to open or throw out.
4. Bills. The mail issue complicates bill paying, because you can’t pay bills you haven’t opened. But this also applies to basic bills, like utilities. They send the bill. It gets lost amid the detritus of life. They send another bill. It worms its way into a pile of papers that no one’s going to look at for weeks. Then, finally, I turn on the water and nothing comes out. So I have to drag three kids to city hall to cough up the cash, plus a fine. This seems to happen even when we look out the bill.
5. Paper products. I’m a hippie. I try to use as few paper products as possible, but there are some I can’t compromise on: I need paper towels to clean up dog poo, and I need toilet paper to wipe my butt. There are five butts, actually, and the little ones use inordinate amounts of toilet paper. Reams of it. Rolls of it. This calls for constant vigilance to keep us in toilet paper, a vigilance that I don’t have. Everyone with ADHD has, at some point, wiped their butt with a tissue if they’re lucky, and a paper towel if they’re not. I know my family has. Judge away.
6. Library books. These are, theoretically, free. You go to this monument to books and select some to take home, with just a swipe of your card. You can take out a ridiculous amount, or any amount at all (this becomes important with small children, whose books are only 20 pages long). Parents can accumulate a library of their own visiting the library. Except three weeks later, those books are due back. This sounds reasonable at the time. But I can never quite remember to take the books back, even when they send me e-mails, even when I drive by the library every day, even when I know the fines are mounting. In the end, those free books can cost me $60 in penalties. And it’s not like I’m reading them. Adult fail.
7. Clean car. When normal people open their car doors, fast food cups don’t tumble to the curb. I envy the moms who can see their minivan floor. I don’t mean to make a mess, of course. I mean to keep the car clean. But one fast food cup at a time, kid’s book by kid’s book, diaper bags, infant carriers, and Splenda packets and umbrellas and clothes, and my car’s a disaster. I can’t keep it clean, no matter how hard I try. When my psychiatrist suggested this was a symptom of ADHD, I wept.
8. Bare necessities. If we’re headed to the beach, I forget sunscreen. Going for a hike? I forgot the bug spray. My diaper bag’s never properly stocked, and I’m always borrowing a wipe from someone. I don’t mean to forget stuff, and I can remember it, if I think of it beforehand, set it out in an obvious place, and then remember to look at in that obvious place. This sequence of events rarely happens. If it’s out of the ordinary, assume I’ve forgotten it.
So ADHD makes it hard to adult. I manage to keep my kids fed, clean, and loved; I do my laundry and even sometimes fold it. The dishes get done, even if it’s only once every few days. ADHD doesn’t affect every household task. But while my peers are happily adulting, I’m muddling along as best I can. The world expects me to be a grownup, but my brain makes it difficult. Sometimes it’s frustrating. Sometimes it’s enraging. But mostly, I’ve learned to expect it. After all, it’s hard to adult.