Muddling Through the Action Shots

You never know when to push and when to let them take the lead.

Life in the Fast Brain | posted by Kristen Caven

As a parent, there is a transition one begins to make when your child hits middle school, no matter what kind of child you have. At one point we manage our kids; in adulthood, they manage themselves. In that in-between time of the ’tween and teen years, there is an awkward dance in which one does not know the rhythm.
It’s like they ask for the car keys and get in the front seat, but never start the motor up.
— Kristen Caven
The best parents make the effort at this time to take the transitional role of a coach. But navigating that line can be extra maddening if your kid is attention-challenged. It’s like they ask for the car keys and get in the front seat, but never start the motor up.
In my son’s senior year of high school, there were many scary moments when it seemed the transition from Mom in the driver’s seat to Enzo in the driver’s seat would not be a calm one. This is true, I’ve discovered, for many parents of ADHD teens. Instead of giving Enzo the keys and letting him take over his life when the time was right, it often felt more like a stunt scene in a movie where the passenger crawls into the driver’s seat at high speed on the highway.
It’s mostly because of one thing: that form the school district sends out, saying you, the parent, are responsible for your child’s attendance.
If it had really been up to him, he’d miss a lot of classes. There is some chemical in his brain that makes waking up harder for him than for other kids. It runs in the family. When we were college-age, I was the only person in the world who could wake up my brother. (To be fair, I could do it only with the antics of one certain teddy bear.) I can’t do that anymore. Stuffed animals are powerless against the Morning Sleep of Enzo.
It’s not just sleep, either. It’s getting to appointments. It’s keeping commitments. It’s sticking to a schedule and remembering what his goals are. Sometimes Enzo was great at these things, an example to us all, but you know what they say, the hallmark of ADHD is inconsistency. The possibility of him missing something crucial (like which school to show up to for the untimed ACT you fought so hard for him to be able to take) might actualize just when we thought everything was under control. (Yeah, that.)
When Enzo was a year away from college, we still didn’t know if he would go. All of the parents were baffled by the efforts we, and our kids, had to undertake. It wasn’t this complicated when we were kids; we got ourselves into school and didn’t come out a hundred grand in debt. There are so many marks to hit: tests, applications, interviews, plus all the schoolwork. We struggled to find the fine line between helicopter mode and missing deadlines.
I had a funny conversation at that time with the father of Enzo’s gal pal, Bizy. We laughed at how both of our ADHD kids did fine when you put the work in front of them, but they couldn’t get themselves started. He and I both have ADHD, and joked about "taking meth," I mean, about the sort of pressure we had to put on ourselves to get started. He laughed and misquoted Flannery O’Connor: “She would of been a good woman if someone had held a gun to her head every minute of her life.” We both realized that, as parents, that gun was a GPA. That gun was a test score.
This is how we muddle through the action shots.
Kristen Caven is a mother and a writer, a mover and a shaker, and a creative force in her community. To her, ADHD stands for “Awesomeness Development & Happiness Directive.” Learn more at www.kristencaven.com.
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Ablution Performance 101

Simple hygiene is sometimes beyond the ADHDer.

Life in the Fast Brain | posted by Kristen Caven

I have this amazing girlfriend, whom I shall call Gladiolus. We met in kindergarten and became close friends in high school when we agreed that one shouldn’t wear plastic in one’s hair. (It was the ’80s.) She has a delightful sense of humor and a fully engaged mind. Over the years, we have assembled a group of delightful, engaged human beings around us, and we have, as mothers, made some more.

Whenever I travel to her house for a visit, I am in awe of her bathing sensibilities. Her various bathrooms are always clean and appointed not only with soothing colors but interesting and uncluttered arrangements of vials and doo-dahs, all of which, upon closer inspection, have interesting and meaningful and beautiful things on the labels, including organic ingredients, funny sayings, deep thoughts, or comic insights.
Gwendolyn’s bathrooms reveal the orderly thinking of a composed mind. The steps of her ablution are evident in the accessories: matching shampoo and conditioner, milled soap inside a loofa, and a neatly hung razor under a mirror in the shower. The products make it clear what one’s shower tasks are, without any distractions. Around her bathtub, beautiful containers full of scented bath products and sample packets are artfully arranged near neatly stacked jars of salt and sugar scrubs and a wooden bristle brush. All of these are emblems of her personal motto, which you find in the signature of her emails: “Be well, find joy, and exfoliate.”
Yet for all this attention to little luxuries (a bath at her house will take me hours, because I have to open every jar and smell every product), Genevieve can prepare herself in minutes flat and be ready for the day. Her ritual takes her into the bathroom for short dips between making food and getting dressed. By 7 a.m. the dogs are walked, breakfast is ready, her eyebrows and jewelry are on, and all she needs to do is take out the hot curlers and put on her shoes.
These are the thoughts that run through my head as I get out of the shower at her house and rummage under the sink for a towel. She showed me where they were when I came in, but doing things in the right order is never my strong suit; I put foundation on my face as an afterthought. I am grateful for the feminine culture we’ve shared over the years; my own ablution performance went from a loathsome childhood routine to a pursuit of pampering and rituals of self-care.
Gwyneth and I raised sons together. We both provided them with soap and toothpaste and the things boys need to grab in the shower. I tried for years to impart the “5 things” bath/shower routine that took me 34 years to come up with (shampoo, condition, wash face, shave, and I know there was a fifth thing, oh yeah, soap up the armpits) to Enzo, but the bottle of teenage cleanser never got any emptier, even when he swore he’d washed his face. I learned to consider it a triumph that he remembers to brush his teeth nightly and flosses when told.
At 18, though, he really does smell nice. He has finally found an ablution routine that makes his brain click. I have to give Old Spice credit for manufacturing creative, funny matching shampoo and deodorant flavors for young men. And I have to give Gardenia credit, too: It was her son who turned Enzo on to “scent layering,” a new fashion frontier for boys.
Kristen Caven is a mother and a writer, a mover and a shaker, and a creative force in her community. To her, ADHD stands for “Awesomeness Development & Happiness Directive.” Learn more at www.kristencaven.com.


The Three R’s for Ruling Your ADHD

ADHDers need rituals, routines, and sexy rewards to keep us happy and on task.

Life in the Fast Brain | posted by Kristen Caven

A person with ADHD may have a highly organized mind, an incredible ability to focus, and a clarity of vision beyond the normal scope, but anyone with executive function problems still has problems following steps, noticing time, and keeping to a program.
Understanding routines, rewards, and rituals energizes our minds and focuses our attention.
— Kristen Caven
Three powerful R’s for managing ADHD recognize this dichotomy. Understanding routines, rewards, and rituals energizes our minds and focuses our attention.
Routines are patterns of action that we have internalized so deeply we can do them habitually, “on automatic.” Without routines, we have to think about everything we do. When you have ADHD, it can take up to 10 times longer to start a new habit than it does most people, because our novelty-seeking minds get bored, distracted, or have better ideas. But without thought-free routines for the repeatable tasks of self-care, putting things in their place, and getting where we need to go on time, life can be chaos. Having patterns that work for us is essential, so we have to be creative and persistent in forming them.
A carrot in the front of a donkey and a stick in the back is the classic illustration of the rewards-and-punishment system that works for most human beings. But what we are learning now with Positive Psychology tells us that sticks don’t work as well as carrots in terms of motivation. And with an ADHD brain, a better picture would be the donkey eating a carrot as it walked, because future rewards are not as motivating for us as taking pleasure in doing things.
Building rewards into the work helps us get more done, and more eagerly. I got a key-hanger on vacation, so whenever I look at it, I remember good times and loved ones. Talking to other moms while making dinner gives my mind something to do while my hands are moving. Watching half-hour episodes of Sex and the City always makes folding laundry fun.
Rituals are like routines that allow for more reflection and soul rewards than boring daily tasks. Creating rituals around health and wellness keep us focused on the outcomes we want—dedicated exercise clothing makes working out feel special; going to the dentist or to give blood together makes it a date. Rituals around work keep us in touch with our higher purpose: We prepare for meetings by choosing an outfit and packing up our props. If we are pilots, we consciously go through safety steps before take-off. Rituals around connection—like going to church with our families, reading to kids before bed, having meals with friends—all carve out time on the calendar for things that enrich our souls.
A complex and interesting life, which is the birthright of anyone with a complex and interesting ADHD brain, becomes functional and successful with the support of an intricate web of overlapping and rewarding rituals and routines, so craft them with care!
Kristen Caven is a mother and a writer, a mover and a shaker, and a creative force in her community. To her, ADHD stands for “Awesomeness Development & Happiness Directive.” Learn more at www.kristencaven.com.
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Go Ahead and Treat Yo’self

A TV show meme teaches that ADHD hacking can be fun.

Life in the Fast Brain | posted by Kristen Caven
On the popular TV show Parks and Recreation, two characters make an annual holiday out of splurging on ridiculous luxury items. In my house, we started using their battle cry in the context of managing ADHD symptoms!
I say, “Treat Yo'self” when I’m making a protein shake in the morning or taking my herbs and vitamins.
— Kristen Caven
I say, “Treat Yo'self” when I’m making a protein shake in the morning or taking my herbs and vitamins. I say it when my husband goes out for a run. I say it when my son puts on his headphones and cranks up the tunes to relax or to study.
One of the reasons I failed to get a diagnosis for so long was because I was so successful at Treating Myself. I had built a lifestyle around my ADHD treatments, so seamlessly that my symptoms were rare, and it was hard to tease out what I’d be without my hacks.
For starters, I don’t work 9 to 5. I chose a stimulating and creative career that involves face-to-facing with other people, intense thought, and problems to solve. I also have a cabinet full of homeopathic and Chinese herbs for the tough moments, that work as well as pharmaceuticals. Plus there’s that arsenal of self-help books and journals (not to mention a list of girlfriends to call) for getting myself through the funks, teaching myself to be a better listener, and getting organized.
But let’s face it, there is nothing like retail therapy to soothe an edgy internal state. Once I get into the swing of it, I love our family's marathon shopping season that starts at Hannukah, goes through Christmas and Valentine’s Day, with about a thousand birthdays between it. I spend hours online drilling down (a different skill than surfing) for the perfect thing. Hunting for sales activates all of my best ADHD qualities. The dopamine rush of OMG, those earrings totally match my new lipstick can turn a bad day into a good one. (Yeah, there is that downside of the credit card bill at the end of the month. It’s the unfortunate side effect of this type of Yo-self Treatment.)
But I will say right here and right now that I totally dream of a future, like the one in the last season of Parks and Recreation, when “elbow dazzling” becomes a thing!
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Compared to What?

Diagnostic questions can be confusing when ADHD is “normal.”

Life in the Fast Brain | posted by Kristen Caven

In my family, I’m the together one. I’m the one who shows up, completes a task, and makes the necessary connections to make things happen. I pay my bills (automatically, of course). I reframe negativity and keep people positive. I make amazing things happen in my life, when I put my mind to it. So when I was screened for ADHD, time after time, I had trouble answering, or even understanding, the questions.
ADHD is normality, to me. I grew up surrounded by people who were late, lost things, forgot things, had moods, drama, and wild ideas, people who were night owls and nappers.
— Kristen Caven
When I brought a test home, my husband laughed at the question, “Did you have ADD as a child?” He asked, “How would you tell?” I did daydream all the time, but I never acted out or failed a class. I was the middle child (the peacemaker) and the only girl. Unlike my brainy brothers, I never lit fires at school or had insomnia so badly my life fell apart—so my parents never perceived me as the problem child. They were the ones with problems, not me.
On the question, “Do you sometimes find yourself talking too much?” I had to ask, “Compared to what?” I am surrounded by people with intense thoughts and flocks of words flying out of their heads. Among them, I have learned to be a good listener and a restrained and reflective speaker.
“Do you say inappropriate things?” Inappropriate…for what? We are outside-the-box thinkers. “F--- that,” says my husband. Practically everything on TV, the Internet, and in the movies is inappropriate. We just call it like we see it, like we feel it.
ADHD is normality, to me. I grew up surrounded by people who were late, lost things, forgot things, had moods, drama, and wild ideas, people who were night owls and nappers. “Do you have trouble keeping track of things?” Well, how often is sometimes? How often is often? I lose my glasses in the house weekly, but I have taught myself to always put my keys on the hook, and I usually know where my child is. My desk is a nightmare, but I can always put my hands on things when I need to.
Clinical tests are so, well, clinical. ADHD is so contextual. It is hard to define and understand ourselves, especially when we are distracted by details and can’t remember things. And with such change-able consciousnesses, it is hard to say what is really what sometimes. “Do you often feel misunderstood?” Yes, most definitely I do!
Kristen Caven is a mother and a writer, a mover and a shaker, and a creative force in her community. To her, ADHD stands for “Awesomeness Development & Happiness Directive.” Learn more at www.kristencaven.com.


The Secret ADHD Test for Your Friends

Are your friends blessed with the Awesomeness Development & Happiness Directive? How do you tell? How do you tell them? And how can you help?

Life in the Fast Brain | posted by Kristen Caven

OK, parents, raise your hand if you have a friend who’s got a kid who is, you know, all those special things ADHD kids are, and of course so is your friend (which is probably why she is your friend, because you like the interesting ones), and you don’t exactly feel like you can say to her, “I bet you have ADHD,” because she is just like you were: She held things together.
You don’t exactly feel like you can say to her, “I bet you have ADHD,” because she is just like you were: She held things together.
— Kristen Caven
What will probably happen, though, is that by 9th or 10th grade she will be baffled by the fact her brilliant child is failing, and she will go through the same agonizing diagnostic process you did with your kid, and then find out she is in Holland, so to speak, and then go get herself figured out as well, just like you did. And then you will have another ADHD buddy!
But. You have ADHD and it’s really hard to be patient, and you hate to see your friend struggle like you did, and you want to blurt things out.
So. If you are one of the readers who raised your hand in the first paragraph, maybe you will like this secret test you can use on the sly. It’s much less confusing than the clinical tests, which ask you all sorts of irrelevant things.
1. Do you have an amazing ability to focus? Do you have an amazing intelligence that can power through a problem? Do you give things 1000%?
2. Are you happy in a highly stimulating environment where you can switch your intense focus from one person to the next, or one thing to the next? Do you feel alive when people or things are coming at you and you are connecting with each one and moving it on its way? Like at parties, in sports, or in jobs where things are never dull?
3. But you also get spaced out or overwhelmed, too?
4. Do you miss appointments sometimes? Or show up really late? (I know you do, because it’s happened to me.)
5. Is reading hard sometimes? Do you start reading and get distracted? Would you rather skim and surf and text?
6. Do you hate following directions; you’d rather figure it out on your own?
7. When you are done with one thing and into another, does that first thing fall off your radar?
8. Do you feel like a superhero sometimes? Do you think of others as mere mortals, sometimes, when you recognize how unusual these skills are? Do other people see this and think you are amazing? Or do other people find you incredibly annoying?
9. Do you have powers of observation that others don’t? Does your associative mind make you see all angles that others are missing?
10. Do people sometimes think you are a jerk? In spite of the fact you are so awesome?
11. Are you a notoriously bad sleeper?
12. Are you allergic to paperwork?
13. In yoga class, does your mind just keep clicking along when you are in savasana? Do you get your best thinking done when you’re supposed to be doing something else? Like, um, going to sleep? Do you work things out in your mind while having sex?
14. On the computer, do you work best when you have five programs running? Can you pull together a meal easily with four pots on the fire? Are you a brilliant networker, get-it-don-er, or social media natural, even though your links don't always work? Do you have more than one best friend?
15. Do you have those days when dropping one ball causes a domino effect? Or those days when you just can’t seem to get in the flow? When your mind is skipping like a scratched record or CD? Do you have those days when everything you try to do requires you to do three things first? Do you sometimes find yourself going in circles?
Now, when you are slyly administering this test, maybe one question at a time, your friend will think nothing of it, because that’s just who she is. After a while, if she answers yes to most of them, you can pretend to suddenly discover this blog and send her the link.
And at the bottom of this blog there is a link to a “real” ADHD test. And then you can teach them the secret handshake!
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The Thing Is…

Making excuses for a loved one with ADHD is beyond exhausting.

So, I have this certain family member who I have known all of my life, who I have loved more than anyone, and who has given me so much I don’t even know where to begin. The thing is, a lot of people don’t like him.

He has taught me so many things, like how to take apart your gas stove and put it back together (it’s so simple! You don’t have to call for service). And how to cook the most delicious ratatouille from the garden without following a recipe. And how to talk to anyone about anything. He also taught me to always keep a spare key handy, to save ten percent of everything I earn, and to be sweet to little old ladies. He is super charming, and smarter than most humans. The thing is, he can be completely impossible to communicate with.

I really don’t mind that he forgets my birthday, because he eventually remembers and I know he loves me and the un-birthday gifts are always really great. The thing is, my husband notices. And he gets really protective of me.

But I love that he exposed me to the beauty of religious thought, the mysteries of medicine, and the importance of not putting anything on or in your body that is advertised on TV. The thing is, he also has to be right about everything.

This person has taught me to be super tolerant and understanding of the odd ones, the ones who communicate in weird bursts, or talk constantly, or say things that might seem rude. He’s taught me to look for the good in people.

This guy is wicked smart. If you have the time or patience to listen to him go on about how the world got to be the way it is, you will be so impressed by his knowledge. But try to get a word in edgewise, and you’ll end up feeling frustrated. In fact, he is so smart he knows what you are going to say, and finishes your thoughts for you. At different times he’s been labeled dominating, megalomaniacal, bigoted, and a sexist pig because of this insensitivity. But in his heart he is none of those things. He’s a good man, a doctor with great bedside manner, and an asset to his community. He is just hyperactive. The thing about that is, when his charm runs away with him, he’s socially awkward and rude.

This person has an inability to listen to someone else’s heart, since his mind is always racing to conclusions. His own thoughts are louder than yours, when you are talking to him, and, the older he gets, the less likely you will ever get to point B in a conversation…though you will cover points C, F, M, P, S and T before returning to point J. He doesn’t read facial expressions or tone of voice particularly well, so he might think you are really upset when you’re not. He is truly uninterested in thoughts that don’t originate from his own mind, and criticizes people when he seems to be giving them compliments.

The thing is, he is also really loving and altruistic. He has a great sense of humor, he is talented and educated, eager to please. When he is not distracted, he is kind and generous, and desperately caring. I wish other people would see this, and talk about it. I wish it were the old days, when people would give people the benefit of a doubt and not focus on the fact that they are jerks. Because I know he is. I have made room for him all of my life. And I would really like to talk about something else for a while.

The thing is, understanding what ADHD is can help others be compassionate. And it can help a person work through their own self-sabotaging habits.