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!
Previous Blog « All in the Family


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.


Like That Bumper Sticker Said...

Ever wonder where your child got his ADHD from? Figure it out!

Life in the Fast Brain | posted by Kristen Caven

“Insanity is hereditary,” the bumper sticker says, “you get it from your kids.” Snarky, hilarious, but wait: Maybe it’s true?
My kid pushes me to be better, more dedicated, and more courageous.
— Kristen Caven
How come so many of us don’t accept the ADHD label for ourselves until after our kids get diagnosed? It’s because we think our kids are normal, just like us. For example:
  • • When Enzo was three and couldn’t eat a sandwich unless he was walking around, I shrugged and said, “My little brother was just like that.”
  • When he was eight, nine, and 10, and so on, his teachers complained that he was always reading books during class. I shrugged and said, “So?” I did that, too.
  • When he hit 13 or 14 and couldn’t wake up in the morning, I remembered my big brother being the same way.
  • When I think he’s not listening because he’s fiddling with an iDevice, I remember my own mother complaining that she wanted eye contact, and thinking how much better I could hear her when my eyes were doing something else.
  • When he thinks that his room is clean but I can’t see the floor, I remember not seeing my own detritus, or understanding the concept of organizing a drawer.

When our kids actually fall through the cracks in today’s test-crazy school environment, however, in ways that we didn’t when we were younger (or we almost did but forgot how many times adults saved our own butts), we learn that they’ve got these special brains.
And we think, “Wonder where s/he gets that from?” (Side note: I just met the guy who invented the she-slash-he pronoun when he was a professor. Would you look at that? I’m distractible, too.)
My kid pushes me to be better, more dedicated, and more courageous. He pushes me to persevere, and to fight for him and for myself — and to be more forgiving of myself, just as I forgive him. Our kids teach us to be more honest with ourselves, to look in the mirror and see ourselves for what we are.
That’s the toughest part about getting co-diagnosed. When we are trying to grasp the big picture about our child’s ADHD patterns of lying, forgetting, and boredom, we have to admit to ourselves that we lie, are bored, and forget our agreements more than just once in a while. We have to see who we are and stop making excuses like “it’s totally normal" and "everyone does it....” We have to own the fact that our impulses can also get the better of us, and our distractions keep us from moving forward when we are doing everything right.
Having grown up in a family where forgotten birthdays, double-booked dinners, and outside-the-box activities were the norm, I get how insanity runs both ways. I have spent almost as much time waiting for my son as I did waiting for my father. And ha, ha—he’ll get the same treat, some day, with his son or daughter.
He will also be an awesome dad, because awesome runs in the family, too.


A "Moving" Family Drama

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

Life in the Fast Brain | posted by Kristen Caven

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


Coffee For Your Kids? Three Ways of YES.

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

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

#1: When COFFEE Is an Acronym

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

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

#2: When It’s Coffea Cruda

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

#3: When It’s Actually Coffee

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