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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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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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.
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TED Talk: A Difference In Cognition, Not A Disorder

HERE we go...!


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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Tuning In To Make Tough Choices

Making choices (not an ADHD strong suit) means figuring out what you need.
Life in the Fast Brain | posted by Kristen Caven

I haven’t sent a blog for a while. I got a little distracted!
Prioritizing and making choices is not my strong suit, since I like to say 'yes' to everything.
— Kristen Caven
It boggles my mind how neurotypicals can just plan things and do them. For me, life always tends to take some interesting detour. I’m not sure if this is due to ADHD, but I know the universe responds to your thoughts… and like my father before me and my son after me, and so many curious and creative people I know…my thoughts go in a lot of directions.
I have been traveling abroad. I can’t believe I actually made it happen! But I set a goal, five years ago, to go to Europe for my next milestone birthday. I had no idea how to achieve this dream, but I just kept thinking about how happy it would make me. And somehow, it all came together.
Except that on the night before we left, my traveling companion, upon whom I was relying to help keep me focused and on track, went into the hospital! Of course I took it personally, had crying fits and shook my fists at the sky going “Why? WHY?” Then I just had to figure out what to do, which was agonizing. Prioritizing and making choices is not my strong suit since I like to say yes to everything. I wanted someone to tell me to stay home, since the thought of going alone kind of terrified me. But my friend, beatific in her hospital gown and paper brain surgery hat, held my hand and gazed lovingly into my eyes and said, “Kristen, I'll be fine. Do what you need to do."
What is it about ADHD that makes it so hard for us, sometimes, to know what we need? Is it that we are so easily distracted and drawn to whatever person or idea is in front of us? Or is it that every emotion, every desire, feels equally important? When the pressure is on, it is even harder to make a decision. Fortunately, after the crying fits, I remembered I DO have some self-sorting skills in my repertoire.
When I’m out of touch with my inner guidance system, here are the top four things in my toolkit: talking to friends, talking to my mom, writing, and taking a walk in nature. My friends were great listeners, but I found myself tallying up their opinions and not hearing my own. When I talked to my mom, I realized I didn’t have enough information yet—and was at least able to decide to postpone my ticket for a day or two rather than canceling it. The next day, I tried to write it through. While writing, I could hear how jumbled my thoughts were; only a walk outside could clear my head.
Putting one foot in front of the other, as humans have done for millions of years (12 miles per day, on average, according to Brain Rules by John Medina), I was able to tune in to my interest-driven mind, and to hear the smallest voices inside, the ones that hadn’t been clear. I could finally hear what I needed.
Ultimately, what it came down to were two things, the first being Enzo. I needed to set an example for him of how to move through a hard time, even when it’s super scary and you have to go on faith. I also needed to let him have the experience of time without mom—waking himself up in the morning, feeding himself, taking a few more steps towards being a grown-up.
And the second one was the tiniest whisper of happiness that called. Even though my heart was broken about visiting art museums, I realized there was a mountain I wanted to climb. I needed to stick by my dream and celebrate my Nth year of being me!
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The Fluid of the Brain

A visit to a craniosacral therapist and an introduction to an obscure but pleasurable—and highly effective—ADHD treatment.

In the scene in Young Frankenstein just before Dr. Frankenstein (as played by the hilarious Gene Wilder) turns the monster’s life around, he strokes the bewildered face of his creation (played by the delightful Peter Boyle) and cries out, “If I could just find a way to balance hiscerebro-spinal fluid, he would be right as rain!”
Loud, opinionated voices call it quackery, drowning out those who have experienced positive results.
— Kristen Caven
I burst out laughing (as one does, watching this comedy classic) because screenwriter Mel Brooks really got that one right! Craniosacral therapy can really sort you out.
When Enzo fell down the stairs at age three (a long and horrible story that includes an exuberant puppy at the top of the stairs that got between dad and the toddler), I took him to a chiropractor, since a cracked tailbone as a teen had taught me how a good chiropractor can speed up the healing process. The doctor offered to do someCraniosacral therapy. I said what?
She showed me the picture of a boxer in the midst of getting smashed in the face, and you could see how misshapen his head was. “Our skull has joints,” she explained, “that don’t move very much, but when they get out of whack they can cause a lot of problems.” It really helped Enzo, and he loved the treatment so much he’d often ask me for a head rub before bed. “Do it just like the chiropractor did it,” he would insist.
It wasn’t until years later, when I was being treated for my whiplash n’ concussion, that I learned CST is used, sometimes, for ADHD. This was no surprise to me, since my head always felt so much clearer and less foggy after a treatment. “There was one guy I knew,” the doctor told me as she pressed her fingers into my skull, “who was having so much success helping kids with ADHD that the Ritalin people smeared his business and he had to fight to keep his license.” Which, if it is true, is quite a shame. ADD meds are so powerful and effective and well-established that “The Ritalin People” need not fear natural care. As a matter of fact, they could afford to help the little guys—maybe by funding some blind, controlled scientific studies, to legitimize the truckloads of anecdotal evidence. When physical trauma is at the root of their symptoms, people need true healing.
I went online when I got home, and did some research on CST and ADHD. There are pages of stories and studies that show CST's positive benefits for hyperactivity, impulsivity, and sensitivity. Of course there are also plenty of studies that show it is ineffective (knock it off, Ritalin People!)—and loud, opinionated voices that call it quackery, drowning out those who have experienced positive results. A few months later, an upper-neck specialist shone some light on why it works sometimes: we have an intricate network of blood vessels where our skull meets our spine. If the top vertebra, the Atlas bone, for example, is twisted (you can sometimes feel a bump on one side or the other), it affects blood flow to the brain, which is why head trauma can cause symptoms resembling ADHD. Sometimes ADHD is genetic, sometimes it is situational/environmental, so obviously CST won’t resolve every case. But there are some stories about there about highly troubled children whose behavioral issues simply disappear once they get their cerebro-spinal fluid balanced.
Overall, CST is exceptionally gentle, feels good, can’t hurt you, and has many health benefits—it can even help with the common cold. It is safe to use on small children, and a good practitioner will teach you how. Head rubs at night calmed Enzo and helped him sleep. CST can be used instead of or in addition to chiropractic care. I think more people should know about it—especially those who feel they are living with a “monster” they wish were "right as rain."
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