5/04/2017

Third Time’s the Charm

There’s an art to getting out the door and staying married—and I discovered it. Or, I should say, my husband did.
Life in the Fast Brain | posted by Kristen Caven

I was so proud of myself, in my late 20s, that I had finally gotten my leaving-the-house foibles figured out. When my boyfriend (and-future-father-of-Enzo), "Dave," moved in with me, I remember crowing about how awesome it was that I could now get out the door with only three trips back inside.
"I remember crowing about how awesome it was that I could now get out the door with only three trips back inside."
— Kristen Caven
His reaction surprised me. It was critical, not supportive. “That’s unacceptable,” he said, glowering at me from the passenger’s seat, where he had been sitting for the past 15 minutes. Actually, I think he laughed and said, “That’s ridiculous. When it’s time to go, you go.” Whatever he said, his strict attention motivated me to start keeping my keys in the same place, to have two pairs of glasses, and to put lipstick on in the car.
I was so proud of myself in my 30s when I recognized how often I made it out of the house on the first try. When there was dressing up involved, or a small child in tow, I’d make allowances, but, by golly, I had really improved! “Dave,” however, who always knows where his stuff is, and who mystically follows the same routines at every dressing and departure, was still less than impressed.
His constant frustration became a source of enlightenment when he met my Great Uncle Zazen.
Uncle Zazen is married to Enzo’s Great Auntie Twinkle, who, when my mother asked her to be my godmother, embraced the “fairy” aspect of it and made me a wand. She is a highly sane person who knows she talks too much, has trouble keeping track of things, and needs to dance or ice skate every day in order to get anything done. (She is also of the generation that does not believe in ADHD, so we are not going to go there.) We were at a family wedding, clustered in rooms together, and all trying to get ourselves out the door. “Dave” noticed Uncle Zazen sitting calmly on the couch, reading a book. He was startled by his serenity.
My uncle explained that, as a practicing Buddhist, he had learned not to try to control her flow but to relax and let it happen. When he is ready to go, he explained, he sits down and relaxes. He does not get up off the couch until Auntie Twinkle is on the porch… or actually in the car and it is started (a sure sign she has the keys). “Dave” was agog. This moment changed his life, and our marriage. Now it doesn’t matter how many times I have to go back. He is happily engaged in a pastime of his choice, with a few more minutes to watch or play.
And I rejoice at how far we have come, each of us: Me in the realm of being more deliberate and prepared, “Dave” in the realm of being patient and peaceful. One less struggle is one more triumph.
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.

4/21/2017

Ablution Performance 101

Simple hygiene is sometimes beyond ADHD ability
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.
A bathroom sink representing ADHD hygiene
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 legs, 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.

3/25/2017

End of the Mother Road

With Enzo off to college, my ADHD mind struggled for structure.

Life in the Fast Brain | posted by Kristen Caven

When I became a mom, I loved being the one who would make the world come alive with my morning routines. Opening windows, making food, and getting the kid where he needed to go were powerful actions. But, on the other hand, I struggled with the routines. The early years were the hardest and the sweetest; the hours sucked, but I was well paid, with baby smiles and toddler phrases. The last few were a different kind of grind.
But without the tight schedule of day-to-day parenting, I had to come face to face with my own ADHD, which I had treated with the stabilizing structure of motherhood.
— Kristen Caven
When Enzo drove off to college (in his own car, which he had been saving up for since he was eight!), I had mixed feelings, as every parent does. Alongside the “Oh, my God, how will I ever live without seeing that face every day” was this thought: “Thank God—it was either him or me.
When he was a baby, little E was the cutest, perkiest little bright-eyed thing. Especially at six. Fricking. O’Clock. Mornings had been a different kind of hard since he forgot how to wake up. Since he started sleeping through the nice-mommy morning wake-up back-rubs.
I had to invent the mean mommy, the passive-aggressive mommy, and the annoying mommy who would pick up his cell phone and start checking his text messages, because nothing wakes you up like that particular flavor of adrenaline when a parent is snooping. I mean nothing: not loud noises, not alarms, not light, not music, not having the covers torn off. (Except maybe squirt bottles. And I felt too guilty to do that more than once.)
The constant roller coaster of success and failure wore me out. When Enzo finally left, to a place he had chosen, to an idyllic college life that was made possible by 18 years of pushing and pulling by his parents, my own life as supermom and ├╝ber parent volunteer (because kids of parents who volunteer do better in school), also ended. I worried like crazy, knowing how much extra attention he had needed from me. It was time. But was it really? Some moms never stop nagging. I didn’t want to be one of them.
Enzo loved being on his own! He loved being surrounded by friends, calling his own shots, and the challenge of having to rise to the occasion and learn to wake himself up or else. I loved being on my own, too. I could start work at 10 a.m., or at 5:30 if I felt like it.
But without the tight schedule of day-to-day parenting, I had to come face to face with my own ADHD, which I had treated with the stabilizing structure of motherhood. I watched some days slip away in busy-ness and distractions. On others, I rocked my life and blew my own mind. On the one hand, I finally found time to excavate notes from the past few years and research from ADD School, and to organize my desk files. On the other, I managed to completely overwhelm myself with new problems, new projects, and throw myself into work with the professional intensity that I had craved for years. (And now I’m tired.)
It’s been a challenging year for us both. Of course, we all expected success, and we still do, and there are many scales with which we measure that. But out there is the reality that he may fail; a lot of kids don’t graduate. And there is the reality, every day, that I may fail, too. If I do, I’ll try to be a good example.
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.

2/20/2017

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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1/21/2017

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.

12/21/2016

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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11/27/2016

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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