Most adults with ADHD report having problems managing their emotional lives. Holiday events present opportunities to observe how internal experiences relate to external events. For example, if you are hosting an event, expect your uncle to pick a fight about politics, your mother-in-law to ask if you are ever going to have children, and your sister to present evidence that your mother liked you best. Your gut will resonate with all of those voices!
Nothing can trigger strong feelings more effectively than conflicts in our families. Those relationships are important, including the difficult ones. If you truly don’t care about your differences with a difficult family member, then what is the meaning of your angry thoughts? What is your story line that is so disturbing to you? As a young adult I thought there should be no bad drivers on the road. The thought disturbed no one but me, and it spawned some road rage.
Try this exercise before the holidays: Imagine the last conflict you had with a difficult family member, or a conflict you might expect to have. Sit with it until you feel like you are actually there, right in the middle of it. What feeling comes up? Can you locate it in your body? What happens when you observe the feeling—not the thought—as a physical sensation. That’s what a feeling is. What happens when you invite it in, like a valued guest, without judging it or trying to change it. What happens when you simply let it wash over you and subside like a wave in the ocean. Where does the wave go?
Suspending certainty is a way to cultivate a flexible mind, and a flexible mind is a healthy one. This doesn’t mean that you should not trust your experience; you are the only expert on your experience. You just don’t have to trust the first thought that springs from a rush of emotion. After all, a thought is just a thought, and we don’t choose our feelings…feelings find us. They are rooted in our histories, often in multi-generational experiences, and they are a natural part of our biological makeup. Feelings should be respected.
As for unrealistic expectations for an ideal holiday experience, abandon them! My mom would always idealize the annual Christmas event that she planned for her siblings and their families. Despite her best efforts, her family never seemed to enjoy the event. It was part of Mom’s ritual, when our guests were gone, to say that she would never do it again. She repeated the experience many times, with the same ideal and the same result.
You don’t have to host an event just because you always did. But if you choose to host, suspend any beliefs about how it will go…either way…fulfilling or disappointing. Keep a “don’t-know mind.” A wise teacher once said, “A don’t-know mind can do anything.” There’s no need to be an expert on the future. Expect the cast of characters be who they are, and your feelings to be what they will be. See what happens when you don’t try to engineer an outcome, or wish you could change someone.
Let it be.
Defensiveness is a bigger problem than you might think, and I find it hard to convince anyone that they are being defensive. Confronting it gets a defensive response. It’s the same with denial. I know how hard it can be to inhibit the impulse to defend yourself when accused. I doubt that you’ve ever heard anyone say, “Of course, I’m being defensive, and for sure, I’m in complete denial…I can’t deny it.”
So, what is its opposite? I once heard marriage researcher, Dr. John Gottman, suggest conveying this message to one’s partner as an antidote for defensiveness: “There is something important to you that I’m not getting; tell me more so I can understand.” That’s hard to do when someone you love has a gun pointed at your head. Don’t tell my wife I said that; I try to make it look easy.
The inclination to be defensive may result from (1) being impulsive and (2) being inclined to defend your best intentions. If you have ADHD and are impulsive, you might be blind to the effects of your impulsive behavor…and the effect of your defensiveness. The focus of your attention may well be trapped in your own bubble. You cannot see outside of the bubble when locked inside of it. You may be thinking only about how offended and hurt you are. That’s a big problem because getting stuck there precludes having a flexible mind, one that can observe self and other at the same time. Being certain of your innocence, and your partner’s bad intentions, are not features of a flexible mind. Suspending certainty is more useful.
You may think that allowing influence gives some self-serving advantage to your partner in an argument. But failing to allow influence is one of the most common mistakes that marriage partners make. Think for a moment about whether there is a true need to be right and to prove your partner wrong. Proving your partner wrong creates loss for both because the partnership loses when either partner loses. Asking your partner to tell you more, so you can understand what she is feeling and thinking, is not the same as saying, “You win; I’m wrong,” which is not much better than saying, “I’m right, and you’re wrong.”
What is better than winning an argument, and proving your partner wrong, is arriving at this destination: “I now have a better understanding of what you were trying to tell me.” When you give that gift to your partnership, your partner is likely to be flexible in response, and motivated to understand you. Mutual understanding is much better for a partnership, and feels more like love, than mutual blaming.
Defensiveness is like insulation. It protects us from the elements, from the discomfort of embarrassment or guilt, or from having our weaknesses or limitations exposed. But humility can be useful in a marriage partnership. Embarrassment and shame are at the top of my list of uncomfortable feelings, but I have benefited more from tolerating the discomfort of those emotions than from fighting to avoid or escape them.
I have become my puppy’s retriever. He drops his ball while running, it bounces under the sofa, and he barks a command for me to fetch. I retrieve his ball with a walking cane. He doesn’t give me a treat for my trick, but retrieving his ball pleases him, which pleases me. My habit of working to please others has a long history.
I have become a retriever of personal items. I retrieve my wallet, eyeglasses, and cell phone from restaurants, banks, and homes of friends. I return to the office to retrieve items that I need at home, and return home to retrieve items that I need at the office. But I have a strategy for keeping track of keys, and I never lose them. My wife tells me, “You always say that when you lose your keys.” When I reply that she’s lost her mind, she reminds me that I’ve lost that too.
I place items that I cannot afford to lose in an obvious place so I can retrieve them. I put boarding passes and gift cards in my underwear drawer, on top of my Haynes briefs, because I open that drawer every morning. In sight…in mind.
I still lose my train of thought, words from the tip of my tongue, and my pocket change when I tilt my driver’s seat back too far. I lose my place several times per hour when reading, I lose bookmarks, and sometimes I lose my books. I haven’t lost my Kindle, but I haven’t yet retrieved the charger.
I no longer lose bets because I stopped gambling at age 19. In my second year of college, I sold my used books back to the bookstore for cash because some fool was willing to bet straight up on the world series. The St. Louis Cardinals were defending champs and certain to win the series. Collecting on my bet would allow me to retrieve my books and have a surplus of cash.
The Cardinals won the first three games, putting me in the position to retrieve my books and have extra cash after one more Cardinal victory. In a historic rally the Detroit Tigers won four straight games, and I dropped out of school. I lost not only the bet, I lost my books and my parents’ trust.
But don’t call me a loser. I’m a retriever.
Who could understand the experience of a parent of an ADHD child better than another parent of an ADHD child? Thanks to Lisa Allen, a parent with compassion for these parents and their children, and to a few other parents who answered her call for help, a local group will be launched in Franklin, TN next month. For parents outside of the Nashville area, you can search through CHADD or ADDA for local groups and online support. If you don’t have a live support group in your area, don’t be afraid to start one. You can find help online for starting a group, and you can ask a professional in your area to help you. Check the resources page on this website for links to national organizations and other websites.
Parents supporting one another in groups can create opportunities to enhance the quality of their children’s lives and prevent problems that could limit them. ADHD children can learn to live well with their different brains as they grow. Support groups can also provide a forum for professional helpers to provide information on topics like relating to a child with this neurological difference, learning about differences in parenting a neurologically atypical child, learning and sharing strategies to prevent potential problems, learning how to advocate for ADHD children in school, and finding professional help.
Here are the details on the new local parent support group from its founder, Lisa Allen:
Our first meeting will be a social event!
When: September 5th
Time: 6:30 – 8 pm
Where: THE GOOD CUP on Hillsboro Road in Grassland
This will be a time for everyone who can come to gather, get to know one another, hear from the organizers of the group, gather some resources we have put together, and hear about what we have planned for the year to come. It should be a fun time of fellowship and introduction.
The Good Cup will have coffee and cookies from the Triple Crown Bakery available for purchase.
Our formal meetings will be held from 6:30-8:00 pm at the Cottonwood Club House (180 Cottonwood Drive) every 1st Thursday of the month (with a few exceptions). They will begin on October 3rd. We have some great speakers lined up for the year. We want this to be a place and time where parents of children with ADHD experience encouragement, support, fellowship, and education.
For more information and to be added to our email distribution list, feel free to contact Lisa Allen at 615-423-9878. Feel free to invite friends you know who might find this helpful. Also, please spread the word when at doctor’s appointments, school meetings, or when among friends.
Last week I found some old notes I had composed on a lined sheet of paper and folded to use for a bookmark. The notes illustrated some paradoxical aspects of acceptance and change. I vaguely recall developing examples of paradox when preparing for a workshop. I don’t know if the list was inspired by the book I was reading, or if the paper was simply a handy bookmark within my reach.
Here’s an edited version:
- Trying to get to sleep will keep you awake.
- Trying not to think is thinking about not thinking.
- Trying to be calm is being anxious about not being calm.
- Failing to accept a poor working memory contributes to relying on it.
- Wishing your mate would be a better partner makes you not such a good partner.
- Trying to be confident is doubting yourself.
- Wishing not to feel pain makes needles hurt.
- Trying to meditate (effort) is not meditating (relinquishing effort).
- Avoiding uncomfortable situations gives birth to anxiety, which is uncomfortable.
- Trying to feel better is rejecting a feeling…instead of relating to it.
- Trying to be positive can be negative; acceptance requires no labeling.
- Avoiding the feeling of embarrassment obstructs learning from mistakes.
- Attacking someone for confronting you supplants their concern with your own.
- Denying that ADHD affects your relationships is harmful to your relationships.
- Being is not trying to be.
In the past two years, my proposals to present at two different national conferences were accepted. The successes inflated my self-esteem, just as this year’s rejection deflated it. I was hurt and deeply disappointed to learn recently that I would not be on a conference agenda this year. Disappointment soon turned into anger at how I got the news. I received the conference announcement and saw pictures of all the presenters. I scrolled through them and didn’t see mine. Then I wrote to the organization, suggesting a more respectful way of notifying those of us who didn’t measure up.
The reply from the organization’s events director was immediate. What proposal? There was no evidence that I had submitted a proposal, even though I had met the deadline and completed every item in the application process…so I thought. In that moment I remembered getting an email message from the events director hours before the March deadline. “You still haven’t provided the TITLE of this presentation.” I replied right away with the title. But replying to an email is not the same as entering the title into the portal. Oops!
Self-compassion for a self-defeating experience was not a consideration for at least two weeks. It seems in order now. Acceptance of uncomfortable feelings is…uncomfortable. I was humiliated at first. I indulged in self-pity and self-righteous anger, and then I became determined to know what happened. Once my investigation revealed the answer, the relief was fleeting. Attaching to a negative thought was easier. One brief moment of mindfulness had been consequential, and a familiar feeling swept over me. Embarrassment got its hooks under my skin. To make matters worse, I became embarrassed that I could not transcend embarrassment.
This is hard for me to acknowledge publicly. I know there is life after embarrassment. I know deep down that avoiding the discomfort of embarrassment is less useful than allowing it. I know that I can act in some constructive direction if I can decline the invitation to fight my irresponsible self, this phantom self that I’m capable of constructing. There is a better path. I can start writing my next book, as planned, using the proposal outline. I can propose to present at another organization’s conference, as I did two years ago.
I can choose either to allow my feelings or avoid them. Avoiding is easier and more comfortable. I could have avoided secondary embarrassment by embellishing this story to make me appear better than I am, or make the situation seem funnier than it is to me. I could have pre-empted criticism from others by harshly criticizing myself…I have a long history of doing that.
Here’s my takeaway. Tripping over my own feet on occasion does not mean I am failing to walk the walk. In Living well with ADHD, I referred to a Dorothy Fields/Jerome Kern song from 1936, “Pick Yourself Up,” originally written for a movie. I pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again. I’m not beyond the effects of ADHD symptoms. They can derail me in pursuit of a valued goal. Perhaps I need humbling experiences to remind me of the power of mindlessness, equalled only by the power of mindfulness.
Today, my butt is back on the meditation cushion. Meditation fixes nothing and heals everything. I will sit quietly…with simple ease of being…then pick myself up and start over.
Footnote: If you look up “Pick Myself Up,” you will read that it was composed by Jerome Kern “with lyrics by Dorothy Fields.” Female lyricists were not so visible in the thirties and forties. Who would know that Dorothy Fields co-wrote over 400 songs? Among her best-known are “The Way You Look Tonight,” “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” and “I’m in the Mood for Love.”
All of us have bad days now and then. Some people have bad hair days and some have bad ADHD days. I’m best at preventing ADHD-related problems when I wake up each day and say to myself, “Today I have ADHD.” I didn’t do that last Monday, nor did I meditate in the morning. I’ve been off my game lately, and I blame it on my new puppy. It’s easy, and he doesn’t deny responsibility.
Last week, I agreed to meet with someone who is starting a new support group for parents of ADHD kids. I was eager to help, and this mom is doing all the right things. I added the meeting to my schedule, but sadly, not immediately following our phone chat. I entered her name and “Starbucks” into my calendar. I vaguely recall discussing which of two Starbucks would be most convenient, both being about halfway between us.
I crated my puppy at 8:45 a.m. on Monday and drove to Starbucks, pleased to be arriving on time at 9:05 a.m. for a nine o’clock meeting. I carried a copy of my book so Lisa could identify me. I saw only two women sitting alone, each of whom replied, “No, sorry. I’m not Lisa.” I asked an employee if he had recently served coffee to someone named Lisa. No he hadn’t.
Okay, I must have gone to the wrong Starbucks. The other was just five minutes away. Now I’m fifteen minutes late. Same story: “No, sorry. I’m not Lisa” and “No, I don’t recall serving anyone named Lisa.”
It took me ten minutes to find her phone number. At 9:30 I left a message of apology for my mistake. I told her voicemail box that I first went to the wrong Starbucks, which made me late to the correct one. I’m so sorry for inconveniencing you, I said.
An hour later, I received a return call from Lisa, gracious to say that maybe she was mistaken, but I doubted that. She doesn’t have ADHD. Turns out I was 48 hours early. We had scheduled the meeting for Wednesday, she said, and at the first Starbucks I had driven to.
I drove back home and took my pup to the park, then let him ride with me back to the wrong Starbucks where I had left my Red Sox cap. I’d called ahead, and yes, they had it. By the time I arrived home, Wilson was carsick and threw up on the passenger seat, adding another unplanned task to my growing list. I could hear the voice of an old Zen teacher: “Life’s like that sometimes.”
Vanderbilt baseball coach Tim Corbin told his team last week, after Duke had pounded them in the first game of their series 18-5, “It’s just a loss…that’s all.” Vandy went on to beat Duke easily the next two games to continue their run in the college world series. My “bad day” last week was just one loss…one day…that’s all.
This morning, like every morning, I have ADHD. I often tell my clients, “If you have ADHD, act like you know it!” I have vowed to resume doing that!
So, I chose a guided meditation on my Insight Timer app yesterday morning, and began sitting quietly on my back porch. Just as I began, I heard lawnmowers coming around the corner of my house. Of course, it’s 7 a.m. on Monday! I had a choice in that moment: Radical acceptance or pushing back and attaching to my to rising frustration. I said to myself something a wise teacher once said to me, “Now you have something to work with.”
Mother Teresa said something like this: “If you want to learn to meditate, don’t go to a mountaintop in India, go to New York City.” In other words, practice mindfulness right where you are, in the middle of a mess.
Three years after the publication of Living Well with ADHD, I am still a little shy about promoting it. With some distance now from its launch in 2016, I am trying to be more comfortable highlighting its value to readers. I want to tell you why and where you should consider purchasing it.
Many readers have told me that Living Well helped them accept their neurological difference, change their outlook, and achieve important personal goals. Some have said they have more confidence after reading it. I’m pleased that it has been useful and I’m grateful for the comments, but confidence is not a gift bestowed by an author or therapist. It comes from within, an effect of knowing your strengths and challenges and embracing both. It is an outcome of your willingness to be who you are with no apologies. You are one of seven billion people in the world, and still there is no one else like you; no one with your DNA, your history, and your life experience.
If you have ADHD, or care about someone with the disorder, here is why you may want to read Living Well with ADHD. It is not another book about changing yourself. It is about accepting yourself as you are so you can do some good with the tool that you were given. The very notion that you must change your brain disrespects the part of your anatomy that makes you uniquely you. It is important that individuals living with ADHD understand this. All of us, regardless of neurological differences, belong in this world and have a right to define our purpose. I’m less interested in brain-change than brain-acceptance. Using one’s brain effectively involves more than thinking about it, although it is both subject and object…we think about it with it. There is no other organ like it. It is a way we identify our selves.
Don’t misunderstand; sensible brain care is good for everyone, regardless of whether you were born with this difference. All of us should give mindful attention to eating healthy foods, exercising, getting adequate sleep, meditating, and refraining from abusing alcohol, sitting for hours without breaks, and worrying incessantly. A healthy brain, and wise maintenance of it, allows us to use our tool productively and achieve something of value with our lives. I read those books on brain care and find them useful; I just don’t write them.
I am drawn to spirited, creative, and resourceful people with ADHD, and I’m committed to being useful to them. I wrote my book over a two-year period while working full time. It was a serious commitment of time and effort in the interest of enhancing lives. When readers pay for a book, they are contributing a small amount relative to the author’s labor of love.
You can purchase Living Well with ADHD online or at bookstores. If you wish to support the ongoing efforts of the author, consider buying it directly from me through my website (terrymhuff.com), or from the ADD Warehouse (addwarehouse.com). My publisher, Specialty Press, Inc, is part of the ADD Warehouse family. I am grateful to Dr. Harvey Parker for believing in my book and investing in it. Supporting authors and publishers of books on ADHD supports the labor of individuals who understand your challenges and want you to live a fulfilling and meaningful life. If you cannot afford the full price, by all means, check it out at your local library, or buy a discounted copy from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
A heartfelt thanks to my readers and support group members who, like me, believe that we all belong and we all benefit from accepting and supporting one another. We don’t live in a vacuum, but in relation to others and to this earth we temporarily inhabit. This coming Labor Day, ADDNashville will celebrate its fourteenth birthday.
I’m reading a new book, written by a friend: Belonging: Feeling Loved, Comfortable, and Safe, by Paul Carlo, PhD. Dr. Carlo challenges his readers to examine the nature, importance, and history of key relationships—with family, friends, community, and all of life. He writes about being mindful of the reality that we are all connected. We share life with others, and with this world we live in. Acting from that awareness contributes to our physical and emotional wellbeing. The very survival of our planet may depend on consciousness of our interdependence.
We need each other more than we know. I often challenge ADHD clients to suspend certainty in their presumptions about others, and their notions of what others presume about them. We may share more similarities than differences within our ADHD tribe, and some of our challenges may be universal, but we are also unique. Our personal stories are not the same. ADHD grows up in different families, marries different individuals, has different careers and different life experiences.
I had a good start in life, growing up with parents who loved and protected me. I didn’t choose them; I was just lucky. Among my fondest memories are these snapshots of each parent.
My father’s protection: When I was a toddler, one of my father’s customers invited us to attend a social event at their home in Nashville. We dined outdoors in candlelight under a covered picnic area, downhill from the family’s home in the woods near Radnor Lake. After dinner, thunderbolts suddenly bombed us and dispersed the guests. My dad quickly put me on his back and jogged up the path to our car through the rain. His little passenger’s arms were around his neck, face pressed against the side of his father’s head. Dad was a giant that night, stronger than the thunderstorm.
My mother’s encouragement: Mom played piano by ear. Hearing melodies from the forties and fifties, my brother and I learned to harmonize as toddlers. Mom had us performing for guests, at talent shows, and one night in front of a large audience at the Ryman. We were not gifted, just precocious harmonizers. Mom convinced me that I could do anything I wanted to do. If I ever complained that I couldn’t do something, she would say, “Can’t never did nothin’.” Her encouragement inspired confidence. She once told me I had a good voice and could be a radio announcer. I believed her then. Her voice is the reason I got a broadcast license while in college and found jobs in radio for extra income.
My connections to peers and teachers were healthy in the early school years. That changed when I started high school. A traumatizing event made me fearful of others for the first time in my life. I masked my fear by appearing aloof. I began to underachieve academically. I acted out and sometimes tried to appear tougher than I was. I was expelled from high school two months before graduation. I seldom had a second date with any one girl in high school. I didn’t let them see that I felt intimidated. I went out with interesting women in college, but I did not know how to relate to them. Showing interest seemed to backfire, but acting disinterested protected me from rejection. I would head for the exit at the first sign that a loss appeared to be on the horizon. Occasionally, I would learn later that I had broken someone’s heart. I had no idea because mine was already broken due to my distorted perceptions.
There was nothing called ADHD when I was a young adult, but I know that rejection sensitivity is common in the ADHD family. When faced with perceived rejection, we may act defensively or attack. We disconnect rather than remain connected. We avoid or escape uncomfortable feelings instead of holding our place. We deny responsibility for hurting others by defending our good intentions. But denying our capacity to cause pain is denying the reality that we are all capable of it. To believe we are beyond causing pain is like believing we are beyond aging and death!
We are capable of acting mindlessly or mindfully. Mindful awareness, acceptance of self and others, and mutual effort bind us together. We all belong.
Here is a story I have heard too many times. I received an email message last week from a woman in East Tennessee who had suffered enough from effects of ADHD, only to suffer more from the disappointing and sometimes insluting responses from uninformed mental health professionals. I don’t blame the professionals, as we are all naive until we are not. Those of us who specialize in helping adults with ADHD need to reach out to communities who are not informed about the disorder and the complementary roles of different professional disciplines that can help. We need to insist that our local mental health professionals have access to education about ADHD. Recognition of adult ADHD is relatively new…just under three decades…and more work lies ahead to bring services to under-served communities.
For the sake of efficiency and privacy, I trimmed a little of K’s email message and deleted the name of a mental health agency. K gave me perimission to use her email message in this blog.
I am located in Jonesborough, TN (near Johnson city and Kingsport). I have been to many different counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists in this area, and I keep getting the same result. Mostly people who have information on ADHD that is decades old and have no clue what to do with it. I keep getting told things like, “You can’t possibly have ADHD because you did so well in school,” “Adults can’t have ADHD. It’s only a childhood disorder that you grow out of,” “Adult ADHD is very rare,” and many other ridiculous things. It is very frustrating to go to a professional and know more about your disorder than they do. I have done lots of research on Adult ADHD, read many books, etc. and I wish I could just treat myself, but that doesn’t work very well 🙂 It is also very frustrating because, everyone I call says that they treat adult ADHD, but then when I come for the appointment, they don’t have a clue. I have recently been asking if they specialize in ADHD, and you would be surprised at how many say they do before you make the appointment, and then when you come, it turns out that they have almost zero experience with it. I have had therapists tell me that if I would just “try harder”, I could do it, or “there is nothing we can do for ADHD except medication”. I even saw an ADHD coach in Asheville, NC, and after working with him for several months, mainly making lists and schedules that I could never seem to stick with, he said, “well, I gave you all of the tools, and you wouldn’t stick with it, so I don’t know what else to do for you”. It has been very frustrating to say the least.
I just recently made an appointment at _____ thinking that, since they are the largest mental health provider in this area, they would have at least one person who could help with ADHD. I called and asked for someone that specializes in ADHD, and they told me that they didn’t have anyone specialized, but that they saw a lot of adult ADHD, and many of their practitioners could help. So I scheduled an intake, and they said they would place me with someone who could help. I saw her yesterday, and she told me that ADHD in adults was practically nonexistent, because you grow out of it as you get older. She said that no one in their practice saw many patients with ADHD. She went on to tell me that she had never treated a patient who actually had ADHD, because they all actually have bipolar disorder. By the end of 45 minutes, she told me that I had bipolar disorder, and I “definitely don’t have ADHD”. She claimed that my “hyperfocus” was actually “goal directed behavior”, that my hyperactivity was hypomania, and that I need to be put on mood stabilizers. This was despite the fact that I was diagnosed with ADHD at age 7, and re-diagnosed as an adult about 5 years ago with combined type ADHD. After doing some research online, it turns out that ADHD is commonly mistaken for bipolar disorder, especially in women. It is very frustrating that, apparently, in our area ADHD is being commonly misdiagnosed as bipolar and that the knowledge level of practicing psychologists is so inadequate.
I have looked, and there does not seem to be any support groups for adult adhd here. It would be great to start one! Though there might not be very many people if they are all being misdiagnosed. I tried going to a support group in Asheville, NC for a while, but it’s about a 1.5 hour drive, and it just wasn’t feasible to go all of the time.
I have requested that the Tennessee Chapter of NASW (National Associatoion of Social Workers) offer training on adult ADHD for professionals in East Tennessee, as they did in West Tennessee in 2017.