- Turned an abysmal under-the-stairs crap aggregator into a well lit and organized pantry.
- Bought new mixing bowls in a useful range of sizes.
- Bought a set of dry goods containers to organize the pantry.
- Replaced a bunch of plastic food storage containers with Pyrex ones.
- Added a set of over-the-door shelves to store tea, cocoa, etc.
- Landed on a recipe app (Paprika) and started feeding it my old recipe bookmarks.
- Fixed the lighting situation in my office.
- Got an air purifier, which has done a ton to handle my winter “closed in the house with pets” sneezing spells.
- Bought a nice pan for pancakes and bigger cooking projects.
- Added a bench with shoe shelves and an under-the-seat storage space. I know where all my winter hats, scarves, and mufflers are now.
- Made a camera storage space in the living room, with a safe holder for my favorite walking around lenses and easy access to a USB-C charger so I can “dock” the camera at night and always have a fresh battery in the morning.
- Bought decent but inexpensive wireless chargers and put them in strategic places in the living room, office, and bedroom.
- Bought a leather sling magazine rack for parking laptops and tablets in the living room instead of leaving them on ottomans and chairs.
- Added a Hue and accompanying routine to make the kitchen sink light come on if someone goes downstairs at night.
- Added a broom and mop holder just inside the inside garage door.
- Working harder to use the library for reading material instead of buying it from Amazon.
It is a little strange to me that this has all happened in January. This is traditionally my month to sink into a sort of muzzy and irritable low power mode. I’ve always assumed it’s just SAD catching up to me. When I inventory changes to my recent routine or behavior, I come up with:
- Much less sugar intake. Desserts on weekends and honey in my tea, but otherwise pretty abstemious.
- Switching from coffee/sugar to tea/honey. I have read that tea has a slower caffeine ramp than coffee, so it’s also less spiky and crashy.
- Switching to a consistent 5:30 waking time, which has done a lot to smooth out mornings. Less of a rush out the door to catch the last possible train downtown, and more easing into the day with time for things that make that better, like being able to read the morning news over tea.
I believe those things help a lot. I feel less emotional volatility, even when I have neglected my sleep a little while waiting for the hard 5:30 wake up to drive better bedtime behavior. I feel less rushed and don’t lose time during the day to mid-morning commutes as I try to build my day around a handful of Belfast meetings. My energy level in the morning feels more consistent and steady.
Underneath all this, and why I am typing right now, is also my ADHD.
It has been on my mind lately because it has been on the minds of others, as well. Erynn Brook tweets about it a lot, and a friend recently pointed me to her. A colleague told me about their struggles with it. Another friend has been getting treatment.
I talked to my dad a few years ago about my particular situation:
“We got this idea in grade school that something was up: Your standardized test scores and all the IQ tests said you were smart, but school was hard for you.”
Mom added on, “your teacher said you were 100 pages behind in math, but I’d stood over you and made you do a lot of it. I looked in your book bag I found almost all of it stuffed in a folder, most of it done, just not turned in. I knew something was wrong.”
Hindsight is 20/20. They did not see all this from a cool remove when I was growing up: All they knew was that I was “plenty smart”—well into gifted and talented territory, in the 99th percentile in vocabulary and reading, reading Aldous Huxley in fourth grade—but that I “wasn’t trying,” or “didn’t care,” or was “making a choice.”
“You’re not forgetting … you just don’t want to remember.”
“Don’t tell me you’re sorry. You always say you’re sorry. Sorry means you’ll never do it again, so don’t say you’re sorry until it won’t happen again.”
Their frustration inflected into punishment for not doing homework or chores, with groundings or having all my books taken away, or simply having to sit through another harangue about my laziness. When we began to host foster children with intellectual disabilities , the harangues took another turn: Was I not ashamed for being so gifted and doing nothing with it while these poor children would have given anything to have my gifts? When a school field trip my senior year took us to a public mental hospital, the teacher selected me and a few of the more grown-up kids to go through “the severe ward,” where there were children with profound intellectual disabilities. I got a stomach ache and cried because the guilt was unbearable.
And along the way I had learned to lie to protect myself from the harangues and punishment. If I forgot a chore or fucked up something at school, I Iied to cover my tracks. So I had “liar” added to “lazy,” and hot saucing got added to the repertoire of punishment, maybe because it seemed sort of biblically poetic, like the sort of thing Leviticus or Proverbs might suggest as a remedy for your broken, disappointing child.
So, they “knew something was wrong” despite me being “plenty smart,” but that was all there was to that. I had to go to a child counselor for being “willful” at one point … a stigmatizing experience I was told to explain variously as “a medical appointment” or “family business” if challenged by the attendance office, but never as “counseling” or “therapy.” There was not, however, any treatment forthcoming for ADHD until I sought it myself after four frustrating, precarious years in college and some early adult decisions that cost me opportunities, friendships, and someone who wanted to be my mentor but couldn’t countenance how erratic I was. I had no words for that mentor, because I had no words for what was wrong with me. I just knew I was a lazy, underachieving liar and a tragically broken person who’d had an IQ of 150 bestowed upon me by good genes and plenty of books in the house, but squandered it through defects of character.
I did finally get help in my 20s, but only for the brain chemistry. I viewed the medicine I was taking as a sort of chemical restraint, or a crutch that would keep me from toppling into some terminal failure mode now that I was out of structured environments. I found myself standing outside myself, watching this preternaturally calm person navigate social interactions with the flattened affect of a foreign language tutorial rendered as a David Mamet play: Pleasant, accommodating, attentive, but ultimately detached; HAL 9000 wrapped in human skin.
I went off the medication as I entered a new relationship, and as I slipped back into hazy, undirected, forgetful, slow-motion impulsivity, I lost it. The collected, well-groomed, on-top-of-it, focused person was replaced by … me, and the transformation could not be unseen by my soon to be ex-partner.
I learned from my brother, years later, that all the setbacks and difficulties early adulthood involved were read by my parents, 500 miles away, as my character failings taking me where they surely must: Some sort of addiction. As someone who’d stopped even drinking alcohol and had gone vegan, I had no context for why they said they simply couldn’t help me. Apparently it was more out of sadness than anger, because they believed the professional development courses I was talking about to actually be a transparent lie to get drug money, since we all knew my repeated efforts at self-improvement were always stymied by my laziness and sloth. The eventual chat with my brother, a decade later, was clarifying.
People familiar with my biography may now understand why the army felt like the next logical stop on the line.
While ADHD stays with you, other things happen as you age. Some things get easier, or you just learn a few things that help and cling to them. I picked up a few habits of thought that largely controlled the worst of my impulsivity, for instance. I developed a sort of “check and double-check” for things that could be a problem for someone with attentional problems, like crossing a busy intersection, using power tools, or riding a motorcycle. Those things can be exhausting, and I can still become very irritable if I’m with someone who is demanding my attention while I’m trying to do those things safely, but over the years as I matured and developed, I got to a place where I could hold a job or deliver on a contract and conceive of having a child of my own.
I met other ADHD people over the years, and because I had come to terms with my own issue by adopting a very locked down, cautious approach to the world, I found myself hating to be around them. I’d never gotten help for the stigma I was raised with, had a gnawing sense of the precarity of my own cobbled together set of protective measures, and viewed a lot of ADHD-related behavior as morally defective. That made my own backslides and lapses even harder; reminders that I was still fundamentally broken. Seeing it in others was often unbearable. We see in others what we hate in ourselves. I don’t know when I was exposed to that idea, but it did stick and I try to remember it when I feel a flash of disproportionate impatience or irritation with someone who seems to be dealing with the same attentional issues I do.
The past 15 months have been incredibly challenging. Alison had a series of injuries and some misdiagnosed, misdirected physical therapy that left her unable to work outside the home, and sometimes unable to do much at home. Ben’s an active kid we want to support, so there was plenty of transportation stuff to do. I went through a patch at work in the first half of that period where I was worried for my job and feeling trapped, but I was the sole provider for the first time in 15 years. There has been little to anchor on or build a routine around.
Over this time, we slipped into some habits around food and home that weren’t great. It was easier to just order in or eat apart. There wasn’t a lot of energy to go around to keep house. Ben finally noticed it and pushed back, and it became clear to me that between injuries and my job anxiety, he was looking for tokens of normal we weren’t providing. We pulled together more of a domestic routine, but we have largely lived with the kitchen and household inventory of someone who has recently thought they might explore housekeeping beyond frozen pot pies and PopTarts : A loose collection of mismatched stuff to make a simple meal, crammed into disorganized cabinets and competing with a second collection of dubiously useful kitchen electrics that seemed like they would somehow make all this householding we were to be up to more simple and easy.
That long list at the top is a small series of rebellions against an unpleasant status quo that has begun to lift both because Alison’s recovery has entered a phase were we can begin to imagine her daily pain easing, and because I have backed into a few habits—better diet, regular sleep, an anchoring routine, and probably self-medication with English breakfast tea—that have allowed me to slip a fingernail under a bit of the knot and worry at it.
Looking back over the structure of this, I thought, “I don’t know if this is useful, starting with a list of minor domestic achievements that cover the first screen. You have buried the lede.”
Looking back over the content, I thought, “this is very confessional, and you are coming out from behind some things about your upbringing and life that you’ve been happy to obscure with irony and misdirection.”
Looking back over some of the biographical moments, I thought, “some people may finally understand, and other people may be hurt.”
But someone recently told me they appreciated that I spoke openly about having ADHD at all. That it lessened their own sense of stigma, and that it was important for people to see a leader owning this thing about themselves. I buy that.
So we’ll leave this as is, like a time capsule.