6/26/2016

A "Moving" Family Drama

When I helped my father move, I finally discovered that his attention deficit was the reason we often felt so disconnected.

Life in the Fast Brain | posted by Kristen Caven

Going back to our hometown is always a challenge for Enzo’s dad and me. Half of my generation relate to the chaotic ballet of a “Divorced Family Christmas.” At their best, holidaysare exhausting because you have to pack in so many celebrations. At their worst, they are compounded with uncomfortable emotional challenges. If you marry someone whose parents are also not together, and also live in the same town as yours, and you have an adorable son that everyone wants to spend time with, taking trips back home wear you out. But you do them anyway, because you love your family.
Every single thing on the “hurt me” list was connected to his ADHD!
— Kristen Caven
A few years ago, the stress level spiraled out of control when we visited my dad, who was in the process of moving. We had planned to help him with the move on Friday, but when we dropped in to say hello on Monday, it was clear they would never be ready. The furniture that would have to go in the trucks was still three layers deep in I’ll-get-to-that-later and where-did-I-put-that clutter that had been building up for years. Always ready to help in a crisis, I excused myself from all the fun family day trips we’d planned with the other family branch, and rolled up my sleeves. On the first day, I made a pathway through the basement office to get to the bundle of cardboard boxes he had purchased a year ago to prepare for the move.
Long story short: I knocked myself out helping him. The process was frustrating, the communication convoluted, the emotions confusing. On Thursday, Enzo and his dad came to help move, almost as planned. Toes were stepped on and shins were banged, but the three of us felt good working together as a family. We smiled at the “Grandpa Gerf” train memorabilia that had been special to Enzo as a child. We laughed at the three wi-fi routers we found, in their original bags, under piles of clutter. No wonder he could never make a good connection!
But on Friday, my dad got mad at me for something he thought I had done, and he unloaded on me. Our relationship was damaged, perhaps permanently.
It took me months to process what had happened that week, and on that final day. I worked with a therapist during this time to unravel our relationship. She had me make a list, without pulling any punches, of all the ways he had supported me and all the ways he had hurt me throughout my life. Being the dutiful daughter, the sweet one, it was hard for me to make the second list. My impulse was to make excuses for all the hard stuff (“But he was going through a divorce”) and forgive him, or just let those feelings go before I felt them. (It’s hard, with ADHD, knowing how you feel sometimes, anyway.) But somehow I got through the list, and it was very long.
Then I stepped back and took a look at it. The good and the bad were very inconsistent.
Then I saw his ADHD.
Every single thing on the “support/love” list was truly him—the talented, educated, fluidly intelligent, and altruistic daddy I loved and felt close to. Every single thing on the “hurt me” list was connected to his ADHD! All of the not listening, the forgetting birthdays, the not keeping promises, the incompletions and interruptions and inconsiderations, the criticisms, the fixed thoughts, the inability to switch tracks, the mis-reading of my emotions. All of these things had confused me, disconnected us in many ways, and, at times, hurt me deeply.
Above all, his vituperous emotional sensitivity, especially to feelings of rejection or judgment, had damaged all of his other relationships with our other family members (I was the only one of seven kids who showed up to help him move). He had finally set his phaser on stun and pointed it in my direction.
Being able to see the invisible, insidious patterns of ADHD enabled me to take this family challenge more seriously, and to start new conversations with my dad. Because I want to love him for who he is. And I do.

6/13/2016

Coffee For Your Kids? Three Ways of YES.

Make the COFFEE connection for bright-eyed and bushy-tailed kids.

Life in the Fast Brain | posted by Kristen Caven
Most right-thinking adults will agree that coffee is a terrible thing for kids. Kids don’t need what adults need—a crutch to wake up, an afternoon pick-me-up, a kickstart for the mind, or an excuse for a “special moment” with a friend. Kids need to run around, nap, and get to bed on time. But the world of ADHD is an inside-out one, where “up” is sometimes “down” and “in” is sometimes “out.” And from where I sit, I can count at least three ways coffee is great for kids.

#1: When COFFEE Is an Acronym

On a long summer days and longer cold vacation days trapped inside, our house rule is to do the following each day: · 
  • C: Do a CHORE 
  • O: Do something OUTSIDE 
  • F:  Do something FUN 
  • F:  FIX something that is broken or needs attention 
  • E:  Get some EXERCISE 
  • E:  EAT some delicious, healthy food.

Obviously, these things can overlap — when you are washing the car you are doing a Chore Outside and having Fun while doing it. Or when you take a picnic bike ride with a friend who has a broken heart you are Fixing something, getting Exercise, and Eating.

#2: When It’s Coffea Cruda

Many kids with an ADHD diagnosis have trouble sleeping. For them, here is a homeopathic remedy called Coffea Cruda, which is made from unroasted coffee beans. Homeopathy being a hair-of-the-dog remedy, Coffea Cruda does the opposite of what coffee does: It calms you down when you are jangled.
I take Coffea Cruda (it comes in little white sugar pellets that dissolve under your tongue) in the middle of the night when my heart is beating fast because I drank coffee at a dinner party. My little guy, from about age 9 or 10, self-administers this remedy (it’s very safe) on nights when his thoughts race like sports cars in his head as he lies there in the dark. For us, Coffea Cruda is one of those mythical “magic bullets.”
I have talked about this remedy in other places, and have gone 10 rounds with strangers in comment wars, who have insulted me for my stupidity for “believing” in homeopathics. But you don't have to believe in them any more than you do with Western meds. Some work, some don't. It's just a different approach.

#3: When It’s Actually Coffee

The first time I heard a friend say coffee calmed down her hyperactive son, I couldn’t believe it. She never struck me as a crazy person, but that was just, well, crazy. Then I saw the results. And then there was another, equally sane friend, whose diagnosed son also drank coffee. When I finally began learning about ADHD, I understood that stimulants have a calming effect on ADHD brains. (One doctor told me that people with ADHD who take cocaine calm down!)
And then there are the ADHD-PI (Primarily Inattentive) kids, who have a hard time getting their brains to turn on sometimes. In these cases, coffee works like coffee does for most adults.
This is where I tell the embarrassing parenting story about how I taught my son to drink coffee in high school, mixing it bit by bit with his morning cocoa, because he had to be at school by 8:30. But that was part of him becoming an adult and learning to use the delicious crutches that nature (and Starbucks) gives to those who need the stimulation of mainstream coffee culture.
In other words, you might want to think twice about giving up coffee for New Year’s — it might be just what you (or your child) needs.

11/08/2015

A Date With Your Family

How we learned to not lose our minds and keep hope alive with e-z family meetings.
Somewhere around when Enzo hit middle school, we realized we needed to up our game if we were to keep up with the demands of a busy family of THREE. (Don’t laugh, oh you mighty mothers of many…! If you count my five careers and thrill-circus family of origin, it feels like more.) We had tried talking about our week every Saturday morning, or Sunday night, but we always forgot or were too busy or too tired. Finally Enzo pointed out the obvious: we should have our family meetings on Monday nights, after we’ve all been back to school/work for a day and know what might happen in the week ahead.
We go down the list and talk about each item, checking each one off once the activity has been recorded in the proper place, on one of our personal calendars or devices, or on the main family calendar.
— Kristen Caven
We brainstormed on all the bases that need to be touched each week, and I sat down and made a Word doc and got totally into making the Best System Ever: down the left side of the grid, a checklist of topics to be touched on; across the top, WHO would facilitate the meeting on the first, second, third, fourth, and sometimes fifth week. We put it on a clipboard with a pencil and hung it on a pushpin stuck into the kitchen door.
So every week at dinner (which we decided a few years ago would also be Meatless Monday, for better or worse), Enzo’s dad “Dave” gets the clipboard out. (It is highly recommended that you have one person in the family who can stick to a routine remember this.) We go down the list and talk about each item, checking each one off once the activity has been recorded in the proper place, on one of our personal calendars or devices, or on the main family calendar. The details have been changed and finessed over the years, but the structure has, amazingly, held together for nearly a decade!
First you have the must-dos: Educational, Professional, and Personal. This is where we report the tests, haircuts, and meetings that are on each of our radars. Then we have the social obligations. (We just like this word, even though we are clear that socializing can and should be fun.) After the must-dos, we have a list of may-dos. Once we see what the week looks like, we sketch out what to have for dinner each night, or who will make it. At the bottom of the chart, we note all the birthdays of that month, special projects, and who is going to do what on chores day. After the first year or so, we got wise to the system and put “Family Fun” on the checklist. Now we always try to make a plan on a Monday to take a bike ride or go see a movie on Saturday, so we have something to look forward to all week long.
Once we realized we were on an ADHD roller coaster, we added a “Coaching Checklist” at the end, to remind us to look at the white board where Enzo’s goals and plans for world-domination are sketched out or listed or crossed off.
The problem with this system was, at one time, that it felt too structured, too obsessive. But the beauty of this system is that you can change it at any time you like (but the beginning of the month is the best since you start with a fresh page). We have added lines for “Sunday Reflection” and “Sports” as we’ve learned what each family member values and wants company with. Our best new addition was suggested by Parenting Coach Lisa Fuller (if you sign up for her newsletter you get a free guide on family meetings): the first thing we now have on the list is “Things We Appreciate.” It keeps us on the up and up!

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10/11/2015

Coach Me If I Fall…

Yes! You should get a coach! Or two! Or three!
Life in the Fast Brain | posted by Kristen Caven

I got the greatest letter from a reader the other day:
The ADHD mind needs an adrenaline rush to be productive.
—Dr. Greg Devore
I read your articles on ADDitudemag.com and what you wrote REALLY resonated with me. My question is did you find a solution or help to manage life (especially your business)? I feel like I need help of some kind–a business coach or an ADD coach–something. But don't have a way to choose one from all the MILLIONS of options.
This is such a great question, and one so central to my life, that I felt it deserved an entire blog post. Or two. Or twelve. But let’s start with one, let me try to drill down to the crunchy center of this question: Do I need a coach?
Looking back over the years, I realize that I have always worked best when I have some sort of coaching going on, by any other name. In college it was a weekly meeting with my adviser. At certain points in my adult life, it’s been a mentor, a writing partner, a class, a therapist, or a healer of some sort or another—the key being someone who would pay attention to what was going on with ME on a regular basis and thus get me to pay attention to myself. Sometimes it was working through a book that resonated with me. The best help I ever got, though, was a coach I found through SCORE who specialized in artists.
I found Martha Zlatar (ArtMatch) serendipitously—someone at my church was raving about how she really understood the nature of the art business. When I met her, she explained to me that artists are unlike other business people in that they really need to feel emotionally connected to the work they do. (Does that ring any bells? Like the ADHD Interest-Driven Mind?)
Over the years, Martha has helped me break down the many swirling tasks in my life. My actions got more powerful when I learned how to direct my attention with more intention. She’s helped and encouraged me come up with systems that work for me—like my “Me Mondays” and “Finance Fridays” checklists.
Having a coach has been incredibly helpful in the accomplishing-things department. However, there are challenges and impulses that come with ADD that can undermine good goal-setting and achievement; it helps to understand what they are. For me, my strength is also my weakness.
The ADHD mind, says Kaiser’s Dr. Greg Devore, needs an adrenaline rush to be productive, which is why we add extra stress to our lives. A neurotypical person, when they have too much on their plate, will say no thanks to a new opportunity or impulse, and take things off of their calendar. When I have too much on my plate, however, I tend to take on more. I recently realized that keeping “too busy” helps me get things done. The stress of having at least two more things on my to-do list than I actually have the bandwidth for creates the pressure my brain needs in order to feel motivated. And even though I fail at some things, I can, with this superpower, accomplish so much more than other mortals.
Another thing I now know about myself is that I have to switch things up. I used to feel bad that I couldn’t sustain a system I’d a) paid good money for or b) loved a year ago. But once I realized I need novelty in order to keep my attention, I was able to build creativity into my self-management systems. (For example, I now keep a Google calendar AND a notebook where I doodle around my to-do lists.)
Arianne Benefit, the coach who wrote about the creative temperament and ADHDunderstands this tension, identifying the “sweet spot” that gets you into the flow. (Hint: it’s between your comfort zone and the danger zone.) She can help her (Agilizen) clients figure out where their strengths are. And working from your strengths is always the way to success.
Whether you hire someone (follow your intuition and don’t over-think it; pick someone, get what you can, and switch to someone else if it doesn’t work), get help from a family member or friend (find a book or online system to guide you), or co-coach a colleague—I say go for it! Coaching is essential to those of us blessed with extra-distractibility. Our minds are powerful things—and good coaches remind us that we’re the boss of them!
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9/13/2015

The Future's So Bright...

When your kid gets into a college that's right for them, you know you did something right!
Somehow, we did it.
This is what it feels like to WIN parenthood.
— Kristen Caven
On the nail-biting roller-coaster-ride of high school report cards, my husband "Dave" and I had stopped taking for granted the fact that Enzo would go to college, even though that had been his goal, and our assumption, all his life.
I had learned, in the struggle, that students with ADHD have the highest rates of dropping out of high school. We had learned to cheer when he managed to bring home a ‘C’ in a class he had struggled with.
We were prepared for the rejection letter from his top college choice, his fancy “reach” school. The counselor we’d hired to help point us in the right direction had impressed on him that there was only a 4% chance of someone with his grades getting into a program that only accepted 11% of applicants anyway… but a .0044% chance was, to him, a positive thing, still a chance, and he did some good writing on the application process.
But we weren’t prepared for the other rejection letters from his “target” and “safety” schools. But rejections come to every student these days, even the ones with 4.2 grade averages who apply to state schools.
And we certainly weren’t prepared when he told us he had been accepted to a college that he had applied to on a lark, the one where all his brilliant friends were going—one we were sure he could never get into! The day we visited campus and he enrolled, I was so impressed, every time we turned around, at what a good fit it was for him. My heart just kept soaring, and I laughed at myself for thinking, “This is what it feels like to WIN parenthood.”
Now, of course, the true test is whether he will be happy there (we think he will) and be able to stay on task (we think he will) and complete his transition into adulthood. But the lesson I learned was profound.
I learned to trust him. For all the effort and worry we had put into matching him up with the perfect school, into helping him because he misses details, he got what he wanted by following his heart. We had given him the support he needed, but mostly we had supported him in figuring out what he wanted. And when you are living with an interest-driven mind, you need to be able to listen to yourself.
I just couldn’t be more proud.
Next Blog » Coach Me If I Fall…
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9/09/2015

TED Talk: A Difference In Cognition, Not A Disorder

HERE we go...!



8/15/2015

A Junk-Juggling Journey

An Italian Walkabout becomes an Italian Schlep-About if you travel while ADD.
Life in the Fast Brain | posted by Kristen Caven
So there I was out in the world on my own, something I’d dreamed of doing when I was in my twenties but could not seem, in spite of my facility with languages, to ever pull things together enough to achieve. There is something universal and romantically attractive about a Walkabout, where you just go out in the world and let your impulses take you where they will.
My anxiety, before the trip, was centered around my suitcase.
— Kristen Caven
Except I had all this stuff. In my blog about Italy, which is some of the best hyperactive and impulsive and unpaid writing I ever hope to do, I talked about all sorts of interesting things, but what I did not write about in that venue was: How. Much. Time. It. Took. To. Pack!
My anxiety, before the trip, was centered around my suitcase. I scoured the internet trying to figure out if they wear jeans in Italy. I printed out lists, and still went around in circles. It’s hard enough to pack for a trip when you don’t know where you’re going, but when the trip changed radically, my suitcase just got fatter. Plus I wanted to do some shopping.
I stayed with a friend in an Ikea-furnished apartment, a tiny space with lots of well-organized drawers and shelves and fold-out gizmos and gadgets. My huge suitcase took up half the living room, and the piles around it took constant grooming. It’s true that with ADHD, our living spaces can sometimes reflect our cluttered, distracted minds, but away from my own drawers and shelves, I couldn’t find anything. I would sort my souvenirs and turn to the next pile, then forget where I had put things a second ago.
I am totally embarrassed to say that I took hours every day to dress and rearrange my suitcase. My emotional state, worrying about my friend at home, didn’t help either. Then one day I remembered to take my new medicine. I don’t know if that was the magic, or if the focused afternoon of exercise, communication, and stimulation got my mind to find the gear I needed, but something certainly changed. We spent the afternoon sightseeing, then drank delicious wine and ate amazing food and stayed out late driving around Rome. I was tired when we returned, but my mind was energized and clear and I was tuned in to my motivation...and I managed to get myself sorted out in record time! When I left the next day, everything was in its place and I didn’t forget a thing.
(Well, that’s not exactly true. I lost three gloves and left a box of overflow items… but I made it to the train on time!) I had a brilliant trip home.
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