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.
Next Blog » Coach Me If I Fall…
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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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The Mid-Year Check-in

An interview with Dr. Adelaide Robb gives great guidelines for parents dealing with teachers…but takes an awkward turn, thanks to ADHD.

Life in the Fast Brain | posted by Kristen Caven

This fall, I was granted an interview with Dr. Adelaide Robb, a big-time psychopharmacologist with ongoing research studies in mood disorders, schizophrenia, and post traumatic stress disorder, and Chief of the Division of Psychology and Behavioral Health of the Children's National Health System, which aims to combine psychological and psychiatric services to treat the medically ill child.
I felt let down by the school I work so hard for as a parent volunteer.
— Kristen Caven
It was during that busy time of my son's senior year when I was frantically trying to get ACT accommodations, and being denied because extra time on tests, though it is something all of Enzo's teachers provided, was not explicitly stated in his 504 plan, so I was crying some days, feeling let down by the school I work so hard for as a parent volunteer, and hugging people on other days who stepped up to help with this problem. I was also falling behind with work deadlines, watching my creative goals fall by the sidelines, and pursuing treatment for my own issues of distractibility.
I managed to miscommunicate with Dr. Robb's publicist, so the day I was prepared for an interview she didn't call, and the day we rescheduled I was rushing around between appointments. In other words, I was in high ADHD multitasking mode and my first attempt at medication was making me feel—well, different. And then she called. TEN MINUTES EARLY. And I was flustered.
Here's the interview, which is packed full of super helpful advice for parents who can use some guidance on what steps to take to help their kids.
And here's the awkward behind-the-scenes intro that I had to find time, find software, and learn software to edit out…
And now this information has missed the time frame for which it was intended…but it will to be useful at any time to parents who need it!


Let Them Fail?

The hardest part in getting help is letting your kid's problems show.

A 9th grade single mom called me, distraught. “I know my son has attention problems,” she said, “and I don’t know what to do.” She went on to describe a history of rat-nest backpacks, forgotten homework, impulsive decisions and other familiar-sounding struggles.
The sooner you can let him fail, the sooner you’ll get the help you need.
— Kristen Caven
My mind went back to those desperate ninth grade nights, when the red marks would start showing up on the online grading system. Until then, we’d believe our son was doing just fine. All the teachers would just tell us what a pleasure he was to have in class, and for the most part, he liked school and understood what he was learning. But in spite of his good attitude and a good work ethic, his world was crumbling around him and he couldn’t see it. He wanted to take care of things himself, but when we’d open his binders, it was like peering into the abyss. We’d help by sorting papers and trying to triage the problems. There were plenty of pep talks, but the feelings of overwhelm drained and distracted our whole family.
Enzo passed ninth grade only because he had two parents involved on his side in The Big Struggle—pushing through feelings of blame, shame, and resentment. I tried a few times to wake him up at 4am to finish his homework like Obama’s mom did for her son, but I couldn’t wake myself up—we all needed our sleep to prepare for the marathon of constant do-overs. Every single marking period was a white-knuckle ride, made worse when overworked teachers didn’t sound the alert until a few days before the end of the term. Every single report card caused a family blowup as our high expectations of our GATE-identified child were challenged again and again. We began to whisper, then say out loud, maybe he’s just a C student. By tenth grade we were much less hopeful...and completely exhausted.
“The reason that our son got a 504 plan,” I explained to this parent, “is that his grades were spiraling downwards, and we couldn’t keep him on track by ourselves anymore.” Other parents we knew had brought paperwork from specialists showing a learning disability, but their students were stonewalled from getting help—because in a public school, B students do not appear, mathematically, to need accommodations. This mom’s bright young quarterback had been to a private middle school on a scholarship, where differences were not seen as disorders. The teachers there had bent over backwards to help her charming son succeed—and not because they had a legal obligation to do so.
I gave her the best advice I could. A letter from the private school would help, but the sooner she could get her son a referral, the sooner the school would be on her side. “Tighten your seatbelts,” I said—hating what next came out of my mouth, but wanting to save her the pain we’d felt—“the sooner you can let him fail, the sooner you’ll get the help you need.”


Guess What?! (Ta-Dah) You’re ADD!

At last, someone sees me through my own eyes.

Life in the Fast Brain | posted by Kristen Caven

The most amazing thing happened after I quit my out-of-pocket therapist who Just! Didn’t! Get! what I had been trying to tell her for a year. (That sometimes I don’t know who I am when I wake up on an unstructured morning. That I have trouble sticking to routines she suggests and my days get away from me, or that I’m overwhelmed by all the wonderful things in my life.) Although kind and caring, she felt doubtful whenever we talked about ADD. She kept measuring me by the same confusing tests that required me to have been a problem child, which I never was.
Your symptoms hide under competence, confidence, and wisdom.
— Kristen Caven
On the day we parted ways, I flipped through my Attention Issues Class manual and found the name of a therapist in my health plan in another city that had been scribbled on the back. And finally, after years of educating professionals, on my nickel, about ADHD, someone saw me as a complete and complex person, and not a set of numbers on tests.
After just a short time together, Dr. Aha said what I already knew, “When you have problems, they are ADD problems, but you’ve developed so many successful ways of working with your mind and coping with your differences that your life mostly works (except when it doesn’t), and you don’t appear to have a disorder.” But he’d seen a lot of cases and saw me on the spectrum with (ta-dah!) combined-type ADHD.
“I can see why others wouldn’t catch it,” he also said. “Your symptoms hide under anxiety, but they also hide under competence, confidence, and wisdom.”
“Yes, sometimes I seem to have it, and sometimes I don’t,” I agreed.
“But inconsistency is the hallmark of diagnosing ADHD in adults,” he said.
I KNOW!!! RIGHT??? In college, my teachers called me “consistently inconsistent.”
I felt so relieved, so validated that a knowledgeable professional had finally seen me through my own eyes. (Driven by Distraction was already on his shelf; I didn’t have to loan him a copy or educate him on what ADD was about.) He understood that my challenges with forgetting things, being confused, feeling disconnected, losing track of things, and having trouble starting and finishing things, were the cause of my anxieties, not the symptoms.
He asked the right questions. Like, “is your house a mess?”
“No, my husband gets us to clean it for a family fun time on Thursdays.”
“What did it look like when you lived alone?” (Clever doctor!)
“Creative chaos, so I’d have friends over every month to force myself to clean it.”
And then, “Do you fidget?”
“You don’t seem like you’re fidgeting”
“I can hide it,” I said. “I am always clicking my teeth to a tune in my head.”
“And you’re getting my full attention, too,” he said. I just wanted to jump up and hug him. He understood that my symptoms disappear when I’m engaged in personal interaction.
I told him what my frustrated father once said about me, something that sounded a little mean but that really defined my Life Issue.“You don’t do anything half-assed. You do things four-fifthed assed.”
Dr. Aha smiled when he heard that. He knew what it meant. And, after years of trying to understand, finally I knew what it meant, too.


You’re Not ADD (Part 6): You’re a Virgo

How many ways can you explain away your personality?

Life in the Fast Brain | posted by Kristen Caven
“I will always have this tension inside me,” I explained to my husband once, as we pushed our baby around the lake on one of our weekly walk/talks. “I’m a Leo/Leo Rising, with my moon and all my other planets in Virgo. I’m like a lion in a cage with all of this powerful artistic energy that can’t come out except through the perfectionist side of me.” This was the emotional “stuck point” that I came up against year after year… the painful feeling that I could never truly accomplish my goals. That I could never be fully understood, that I could never truly get traction because I’m always at war with myself somehow.
But when it all comes down to it, neither Astrology nor Psychiatry can help you when your glasses are on your head and you can’t find them.
— Kristen Caven
My understanding husband would laugh at the paragraph above. Not necessarily because I left out his eye-rolling, but specifically, the fifth word after the quotation—“once.” I explained this known fact about myself enough times that he would bring it up sarcastically in our arguments about incompletions. “Yeah, I know Leos can’t remember there’s laundry that needs to go in the dryer, bla bla bla…” (But he’s a Cancer/Gemini cusp, so I’m used to the different sides of his personality…)
Astrological readings have brought me a nice perspective in my life, the two or three times I’ve done them. (Learning Mars is in my house of marriage helped me stay married, since I’d probably have these spats no matter who I was with.) Astrology has helped me be more accepting of other peoples’ personalities (Capricorns, for example, don’t tend to like talking astrology), but more importantly, to be accepting of myself. The good Astrology books I’ve read have helped me understand that our stories may be somewhat sketched out, but we are free to shape them for better or worse, since every human quality can have a negative or a positive expression. These understandings have helped me strive to be a better human being.
When I began my journey to understanding ADHD in adults, I spoke to a friend whose life keeps taking those telltale turns one’s life takes when one can’t keep one’s thoughts inside one’s head…. “For me,” she said. “It’s just because my Mercury’s in Virgo and my Sun is trine with both Pluto and Uranus. Plus I’ve got Chiron conjunct North Node.” I very nearly blurted out, “I wonder if there’s a pill for that…?”
Anyone who is not Astrology-averse must wonder about its relation to modern Psychiatry—since, after all, we are talking about the same human minds that have been on the planet for millions of years. Both fields are observations on the subtleties of the mind, tied to available science (Psychiatry: Chemistry; Astrology: Astronomy), more complex than people realize, imprecise, and, I might add, mutually maligned. In Medical Astrology (yes, it’s a thing) there’s been some research into the connection between natal charts and ADD that points back to chemical sensitivities.
But when it all comes down to it, neither Astrology nor Psychiatry can help you when your glasses are on your head and you can’t find them. That’s why it’s good to have a husband.


You’re Not ADD (Part 5): Want some Prozac?

Trying to get a diagnosis can be quite a thrill ride.

On my health plan, they have a process by which people are diagnosed with ADHD. First, you go to the 2-hour talk on Adult Attention Issues, where they pass out a test. Then you wait three weeks and they send you a letter. Yes, you have it. No, you don’t. It’s like getting accepted into college... or not. If you do, you get some meds and 4 appointments with a therapist who may or may not know anything about ADHD in adult women.
“When you have ADHD,” the teacher droned on, “you need to be entertained or you lose interest.” I wanted to bolt after twenty minutes of her slow-moving, monotone presentation.
— Kristen Caven
If, because they have awesome services in the Pediatrics department, you ask your child’s psychiatrist something like, “I think he’s this way because of me,” they won’t really talk to you; they’ll say to go stand in line in the Adult department. (If you cry, because you don't understand and are desperate to ask questions like "is it because I was a terrible mother and could never teach him how to floss every night because I can't remember to myself?" Well, they’ll close the door extra-fast.) So, you just keep worrying and having all these questions that no one will answer until you do all your listening first.
In the Adult Attention Issues session, which is standing room only, they describe every aspect of what it feels like to have ADHD. I sat through this meeting twice, five years apart, and had to sit on my hands to keep from raising them every two seconds to chime in with additional information, since it was all so familiar. The test is full of questions that make you sound like a loser, which I’m not. On some questions, I had to be perfectly honest and answer both “Rarely true” and “Always true,” since one answer is correct when I’ve got fun things going on in my life, and the other is correct when I’m feeling overwhelmed. I wanted to explain this to someone, but no one ever asked me what I meant.
The first time I went through the process, they said I was on the borderline, not “disordered” enough to have ADHD, and the psychiatrist kindly offered me some Prozac or other anxiety medication. But I am not a fearful person, I told her, just an overwhelmed one. I only really worry about one thing: can I keep my shit together without dropping all these balls I seem to attract? Besides, I am keenly aware of my body and highly sensitive to medications; I even ask the dentist for a half-dose of novacaine. So Prozac? Thanks but no thanks.
The second time I went through the routine, same story...except now you had to wait 3 months to talk to a psychiatrist if you were 'borderline'. I decided to go ahead and take the 6-week Adult Attention class while I waited. It was all I could do, again, to keep from blurting out and being the cleverest one in the room. “When you have ADHD,” the teacher droned on, “you need to be entertained or you lose interest.” I wanted to bolt after twenty minutes of her slow-moving, monotone presentation. The woman next to me was just as agitated at the poor organization. We supported each other in chiming in. But the teacher said, “please hold your questions and comments until the end.”
One day I got a call, asking me not to return to class. I was baffled and hurt, feeling like I did in first grade when the teacher saw me as a trouble-maker after I screamed from a bee sting. The concussion had added to my antsiness, but was I really as disruptive as they said? Turns out they had intended to kick my confidante out of class for other awkward reasons, and the teacher (who assured us she didn’t have ADD), mixed us up. But I couldn’t take any more. They gave me a refund and I went back to square one.


The Fast Lane Towards the Future

I've gotten us lost, I've made us late, and I can't stop tearing up. We're visiting colleges with our son, and it's bringing up big feelings.

Life in the Fast Brain | posted by Kristen Caven
Enzo’s in the driver’s seat. I’m next to him and his dad, “Dave,” is in the back, relaxing, reading a book. We are weaving in and out of the fast lane on our way to visit a college in L.A.
Tears are leaking out my eyes, and I want to hide them — except I lost my sunglasses two weeks ago.
— Kristen Caven
planned ahead for this trip. I put in hours of researching, building a Google Map and printing out parking passes, scheduling several school visits per day and a trip to Disneyland in the middle to celebrate his last high school summer vacation. This morning, however, we were late to the first tour, since I had everything packed but my glasses…and we had to turn around and go back.
Without wifi, I can’t access the Google Map I made. We’re trying to use Waze to avoid heavy traffic. Leaving the first school, I program the name of the second into the car’s GPS, and between one road map and another, I soon manage to navigate us onto side streets where we go more than 7 miles per hour…but stop at every light. Now we’re late for the second school tour, too.
When we pull up in front of the building the car’s GPS brought us to, twenty minutes late for the tour, we are confused by our surroundings. Turns out the car found us a satellite campus. I look at the college map I printed out, which has no relation to this place we are in, and notice the address under the logo. I program that into the car instead, and we turn around and go back the way we came.
The breezy chatter we’d been enjoying all morning has stopped. My mind is now going in loops, bargaining with the executive misjudgments I’ve made in the last few hours. I'm wondering if it’s ADD or anxiety or just this… this feeling that is welling up inside of me, subconsciously sabotaging my well-laid plans, this feeling that we are driving to what might be Enzo’s new home a year from now, far away from our family.
Tears are leaking out of my eyes, and I want to hide them — except I lost my sunglasses two weeks ago.
I hold back my sobs, because I don’t want to distract Enzo from the amazing job he’s doing driving on this trip. He’s got his license now. He’s getting his life together. He’s less afraid of being on his own than he should be, knowing what I know about what he doesn’t know aboutthe demanding world he’s growing into. He hasn’t noticed I’m taking notes at all these talks because he isn’t — because neither of us will remember all the details and dates of this crucial information. But I don’t want to shake his beautiful faith in himself.
We pull up to the right campus and see a group of students gathered around a fountain in the distance. I make Enzo pull over and jump out with his dad. Shaky, I get in the driver’s seat and go find a parking spot to have a little cry and pull myself together. Because somehow — and I don’t know how but it always does — this is all going to work out just right.


In the Driver’s Seat with Enzo!

Now that my ADHD teen has the keys to the car, he's borrowing the keys to my blog.

Life in the Fast Brain | by Donald Caven | posted by Kristen Caven
I’ve been driving in one way or another for about ten years now. When I was seven, I got my first Mario Kart game on my hand-me-down GameCube. I played that endlessly, not aware that there was anything more to cars and driving, until one day, at around age ten, I borrowed Need for Speed from my neighbor, and everything changed. I started with my first car, a bright red Mazda, and went nuts. I beat all the races, I bought all the cars, and my knowledge of automobiles grew.
When I drive by myself, there’s no self-esteem ding when I make a mistake. Which I do — I'm new at this.
Fast forward seven years to today, and I’m now in my second month as a licensed driver. Yes, a licensed driver on real roads, the kind that that require driving with an actual car. Actual roads are strikingly different from the world I speed around in on my Xbox. I can’t “press Y to rewind,” I can’t participate in underground street races down at the shipyards without my parents disowning me (or going to actual real-life jail), and I can’t win races or buy my dream Lamborghini. Driving in real life is slower and easier, and a lot more fun in some ways. But still, it’s got its share of new challenges.
In my eyes, driving in video games has a few key advantages over driving in real life. Fancy cars like Bentleys and Porsches and Ferraris are commonplace, and everyone is driving one. In real life, though, I’m constantly distracted by these luxury sports cars that appear every once in a while going the other way down the highway. Every time I see one of these, I point it out to share the marvels of automotive technology to my passengers, but...“ENZO! KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE ROAD!”
I admit I can be a distracted driver when I’m surrounded by exotic cars. But what is harder is when my parents criticize something about my driving, be it nit-picking or an actual, legitimate concern. Fortunately, one of the ways around both problems is to drive by myself. When I drive by myself not only is there no audience to excitedly point out cars for; there’s no self-esteem ding when I make a mistake. Which I do — I'm new at this.
Possibly the most stressful part of driving with ADD is having back seat (and front seat) drivers. My wonderful mother and father are great to drive with—one at a time. However, on occasions where the three of us are all in the car, things can get hectic. Sometimes one of them starts to give directions, and the other chimes in to correct them. Often, the opposing set of directions will result in us getting to the same place in the same amount of time, but no matter which set of directions I follow, I end up in the middle of the tension. Then I have to do my best to tune out the arguing and try to listen for directions from my choice of parents. It makes me miss driving in a virtual world, where the only people yelling in my ear are my friends, who I can more easily ignore than my parents.
Here are a few suggestions — okay, Mom, requests — for helping a young ADD driver:
  • Be kind. We get it, even if we still seem a little bit distracted.
  • If we mess up, we understand that we’re messing up. We have ADD and we’re rebellious teenagers and we're learning; we’re not doing it to bother you!
  • One set of directions is enough. We finally made a rule in our family that only the person in the passenger seat is allowed to direct the driver. (Certain people — I’m not mentioning names here — sometimes have trouble following this rule...)
  • Be a good role model. If we do something, and get snapped at for it, it’s hard to keep our eyes from rolling when we see you doing it when you’re driving!