As an adult ADHD sufferer with severe organizational and time management issues (and by severe, I mean crippling, suffocating, chaos-causing issues), I have found myself becoming increasingly overwhelmed by the volume of housework, kids’ school organizing and personal to-dos in the past few months. In true ADHD style, I find myself dealing with a zillion unrelated to-dos by running around in circles, flapping my arms and yelling at everyone. Here’s a heads up: this method does not work.
Oh, I’ve exhausted myself, trying to manage this life of mine. If effort and intention counted for anything (they don’t), I’d be winning. I work hard to get my ducks in a row by moving things around desks, shelves and calendars, setting alarms and reminders and strategically placing post-it notes everywhere. The problem is, ADHD ducks don’t stay in rows. You put them there but as soon as you line up the other ducks, the first lot go wandering off like stoned hippies chasing butterflies. Oh, the frustration! The increasing pile of unfinished jobs has all but suffocated me.
So, how do I deal with it? With more flappy-screeching, of course.
Unfortunately, the more I chase disobedient ducks while shrieking at the world, the less I actually get done. Which leads to more running in circles and an increasing sense of personal failure, coupled with an overwhelming anxiety about it all.
This is the perfect recipe for rampant insomnia (hello, my despicable nemesis), which affords me plentiful time in which I can quietly and deeply ponder my worthlessness. Being a creative soul, I often also used this time to beat myself up with the brutal poetry stick. I won’t share the poems because we all came here to smile and, well, suffice to say, these are not Dr Seuss-esque. All this nocturnal self-flagellation is, of course, a far more productive use of awake time than, say, getting actual work done (sarcasm is a fabulous pain buffer). It also has the added delight of rendering me perfectly incapable of facing the following day with any prospect of success.
Until an investment I made twelve years ago paid off.
You see, twelve years ago, the most compassionate and generous man put a ring on my finger and agreed to take my crap for the rest of his life, in return for me doing the same. (Don’t tell him he got the short stick, okay?)
Darren had borne witness to this flapping, shrieking downward spiral for almost a year and was at a loss as to how to help his wife who all but chomped his head off at any suggestion that she might not be managing. (Oh, you have no idea how much fun it is to live with a stubborn, proud, flailing woman who can’t take criticism gracefully.) Instead of heading for the hills, screaming like a schoolgirl, he chose to react by planning a getaway for our family. Despite his own gargantuan workload, he organised an entire trip away with no help, so that I could remove myself from the chaos of unfinished projects and un-ticked to-do lists and figure myself out.
We spent a blissful week in Kalbarri (aka Paradise), a small town on the West Coast of Australia, where the five of us fished and hiked and collected shells and walked on endless unspoiled beaches and played board games and held hands and b r e a t h e d. I started to smile. The chaos in my cluttered brain began to calm down. I was starting to see trees, where I once only saw an unsurpassable forest. I realised that I had found the answer. It became abundantly clear in one word:
As soon as we arrived home, The Great Declutter began.
Anything in my life and home that isn’t absolutely necessary is being removed. I got the kids to purge their cupboards of any clothes they don’t wear, regardless of whether they still fit or not. I am doing the same with toys, kitchen ware, my wardrobe and my study.
The same rule applies to my mind.
I have created a system for organising my to-dos (which I will be sharing soon). It seems to be working for me and keeping me on track. My ducks seem to be remaining somewhat obediently in their rows and I am (semi) calmly facing them one by one. I am also working on accepting that I have limits and that there are only so many ducks I can successfully wrangle. It’s hard to accept that, even with enormous effort, I can’t manage what other ‘normal’ people can with ease. It’s been a humbling road (and continues to be) as I learn to accept my ADHD as a physiological difference, not a moral failing.
I have looked at all the jobs that need to be done and asked myself two questions:
“Does this have to be done by me? Can I delegate?”
“Can I lower my standards when doing this particular job?”
I’ve realised I don’t need to be doing every little job and asking for help is okay. I’ve also realised that chores like laundry folding (which I have been painfully anal about to the point of refolding clothes that other people have folded) do not have to be army-perfect. Just like that, I’ve cut the job by more than a half. Creases are a price worth paying for a happy home, let me tell ya.
The result? This week, I have been calmer. I have achieved more. I’ve yelled less. I’ve slept a lot more. (And when I’ve had insomnia, I didn’t write any mean self-hating poetry.) Judging by his gaping jaw and sideways glances, Darren is clearly unsure about what to make of this non-flapping woman who has replaced his hysterical wife.
I have actively worked on making my kids accountable too. I want my kids to understand that being a part of our family means participating in the running of the home, too. This means not only doing chores (which they already do) but taking personal ownership of doing them without me needing to prompt them. Nagging my kids to do what I need them to do is exhausting and soul-sucking. They hate it and so do I. While we were away, I decided that this was going to end.
I have a bold and mind-blowing statement to make. Are you ready?
I have my three kids doing chores without having to nag them. I also have them choosing to do extra chores and delighting in doing them.
Yessiree, you read that right, girlfriend. The screaming-nagging-banshee-mama days are mostly (hey, perfection is overrated anyway) over. And you’re in luck because I am a sharer and I’ll be letting you in on the system I came up with that has, quite literally, changed our lives. Because I want to make it pretty for you, I’m not ready to share just yet. Be sure to follow this blog (if you’re not already) so that you don’t miss out when I do.
Before I say goodbye, I have one last little thing to add.
We all pretend that we are happy, on top of things, secure and confident. The truth is, nobody is perpetually any of these things. We are all vulnerable and we are all struggling with something. This morning, a mum at the school said to me, “You are always so calm and happy.”
I’m going to ask you one little favour. As you go about your business today, take the time to look people in the eye – really look – as you pass them by and then give them a smile.
That mum who seems to have it all together may just be using her smile as glue to stop herself falling apart.
That arrogant mum who never says hello may just be painfully shy.
That mean mum, yelling at her kids in the car park may just have heard some difficult news.
Let’s choose to be kinder, more compassionate and more honest.
What are you struggling with today?
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