Queen of the Distracted

Imagine life in a house with 6 kids - now imagine if 5 of those kids and their father have ADD/ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) - that is our house! Welcome to an inside view of my life and our home dominated by ADHD... THERE IS NEVER A DULL MOMENT!

Ladies and Gentlemen! Boys and Girls!

"Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls!"

Those were our oldest daughter Rachel's first words, from the time she was a toddler she would belt them out proudly standing on the arm of the couch. At the time we had no idea what ADHD was or that it would play such a central roll in our lives.

Since then we have learned a lot, not the least of which is how many individuals and families suffer in silence. We have experienced first hand how misunderstood and misrepresented a disorder can be.

As a family we decided to take action - to risk embarrassment and labeling to get this important message out to the world. Come join our family, share in our lives, and see ADD/ADHD as we see it...
A gift with a heavy price tag.

WELCOME to life in the ADD/ADHD House!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Dear Dr. House,

Dear Dr. House,

All the children have signed a petition.  They insist that it is time to give their youngest brother afternoon medicine.  In fact, this comes up just about everyday from around 5:00 pm until bedtime.

It came up a lot this afternoon as he was riding his bike from the front to the back door.  He would pop his head in and laugh maniacally, slam the door, and then race to the other door to do the same. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

Personally, the kicker for me was when I walked into the hall after cub scouts and found him gagged and tied at the wrists and ankles.  I thought maybe the older boys scouts had reached their limits, maybe this was their form of a petition. 

I was not sure whether to be relieved or concerned when I found out J.J. had done this to himself.  He proceeded to show me exactly how one would go about gagging and tying oneself up with a piece of rope, his cub scout belt, and his Webelos scarf.  He was very excited.

You know, afternoon medicine has come and gone in our house.  At different times it has helped with anxiety because of racing thoughts, helped control over-stimulus, frustration, raging tempers, impulsive mouths, random full bodied attack hugs, it has even helped some of our brood get to sleep at night (including my husband, Mark).  Up to this point I have not considered his good-natured obnoxiousness medicine worthy.  As a whole he has been more comedic relief and entertainment.

Until recently, he has been able to reel it back in when reminded.   However, he came to me the other day and asked me to make an appointment with you for himself.  He said he is finding it really hard to control his thoughts and actions, he thinks he needs afternoon meds.  Regardless of the outcome, it is certainly time to address it.  Until then I have to go, he is riding off on his bike, with a wooden stake in hand, looking for vampires.

Thanks for your constant good care,


* Dr. House is our psychiatrist. He is wonderful and can only be compared to the TV Dr. House in intelligence, otherwise his is just the opposite.  He is kind, compassionate, empathetic and my kids get jealous of each other when their siblings have an appointment and they don't.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Frolicking: The Return of the Boot

When I heard the cries of anguish from the front yard I have to admit I thought she was being over dramatic.

Rachel has always been  know as the highest ranking drama llama in our house.  As a young child we called her Sarah Heartburn.  She was always nigh unto death with some ailment or another.  Ironically, she's the healthiest kid of the bunch.  Rachel was ever trying to be the sickest and never getting ill.

When she was little all her younger siblings got the Chicken Pox.  All but the baby at the time had the vaccine.   All but Rachel got them.  She wanted them so badly she wore her sisters' germ ridden clothes, jumped in their old oatmeal baths, and rolled in their blankets.  She marked the calendar with the date that she would come down with them; then changed the date, changed it again, and again.  She even prayed for them.

Rachel's still waiting for those Chicken Pox.  I keep telling her that if she didn't get them then, it's just not happening.  She's still adamant they will come, though now she's sure they will arrive when she's nominated for a Grammy or on her wedding day.

Injuries are a totally different story.  She dipped heavily from the klutz gene side of the pool.  That would be my side.  ADD/ADHD is not the only genetic disorder floating around our gene pool.  There is also a benign form of Ehlors Danlos, which causes very loose ligaments.  Because of it, our kids joints pop in and out all the time.

Five of the six kids have ADHD and five of the six kids have Ehlers Danlos.  The odds of that happening in one family are very low.   Good thing we don't gamble. 

Start Ehlers Danlos, add a Klutz gene, plus a serious case of ADD/ADHD, and you have a recipe for disaster.  Those who have been following the blog for sometime will remember Rachel ruptured the ligaments in her right foot last April at her prom  (see posts:  All Roads Lead to the ER -- Even the Road to Prom and Black Boot and Bucket Lists).  She was in a walking boot for six months.  To her credit, Rachel worked tirelessly to strengthen her ankle after she was out of the boot despite her continued pain.

Now it's Spring, the grass is tall and green, the wild flowers are blooming, and apparently she felt the urge to "frolic."  Frolicking, by the way, was her own description of what she was doing.  She frolicked for a few steps into the tall grass in our front yard.  Then reality grabbed her by the ankle and down she fell.  See frolicking a field where the dogs lots dig holes; where the grass is beautiful and tall, is not a good idea.   

Impulsiveness won again.  She is back in the boot.  Now she looks back and realizes that if she had thought about her choice in frolicking locations she might not be hobbling around in that big old boot less than a year from the last time she injured it.

Isn't that just how it works with impulsiveness and ADD/ADHD.

Action, then thought, then regret.

From the outside, the consequences seem mostly physical.  It is, however, not lost on the mom in me that she adds this experience to a pile of other impulsive acts and regrets.  They add up and certainly can take a toll on self esteem.

Keeping their self esteem intact and helping them to feel empowered is one of the constant battles I fight with my children and for my children.  More than the average, these kids, our kids, stock pile mistakes and feelings of inadequacy.  If we don't take an active role in helping them learn to process these feelings they start to feel like they are broken.  That it is not just a ligament, that they are intrinsically broken.

Life can not be successfully navigated if you feel broken.

There is something about the way the ADD/ADHD brain functions that takes that stockpile of mistakes and regrets and magnifies them.  Then, at the least opportune moment, throws them all right back into the forefront of the mind.  Making it impossible to see anything but the inadequacy.

I never want my children to see themselves as incapable.  I do not want them to have an inflated sense of justification or unreasonable sense of perfection either.  Neither is a good place to be.  Both are easy to fall into, much like a hole covered by beautiful, tall grass. 

So, I apologized to her for thinking she was being over dramatic when it first happened.  For sending the message to hop on back up to the house.  For grumbling as I dug the crutches out of the hall closet.  I call off the sharks, who look a lot like her siblings, when they can't let her frolicking go with out teasing her about the results.  I remind them and her that we all make mistakes.

I make a point of taking time to let her talk about her feelings.  We try and teach her to recognize what is really going on and to talk herself off the ledge.  When it seems that the past regrets are starting to fall in on her we stop and make sure that she is on top of the pile not underneath it.  No more deep holes.

** I was a little late getting this up...we went to the doctor, got x-rays, wore the boot, went back to the doctor -- no more boot!  Not nearly as injured as last year, thank goodness! 

Monday, April 25, 2011

Social Skills, One of Life's Great Mysteries

I was sitting across the table from a teacher at my daughter's school.  He seemed more than a little shocked when I acknowledged so openly her complete lack of understanding of social skills.  I said to him, "Look, it is what it is.  How silly would it be for me to pretend that she doesn't have issues with social interactions?"  Still a little baffled, hesitantly he asked, "Does she know she has this issue?"

I laughed out loud, "Yes!  Just ask her, she'll be the first to tell you."

I am sure that there are times when people are thrown off by our openness and honesty about the collective struggles in our home.  They don't expect it.  We see no point in hiding or pretending these things don't exist.  How can you work on overcoming a problem you don't acknowledge?  How can a child measure progress or learn coping mechanisms if they can not recognize that there is an issue?

I have an even bigger concern, that if my children constantly see me trying to hide their issues or pretending they doesn't exist they will feel I am embarrassed or ashamed.  I would not feel embarrassed if they had diabetes or asthma, why should I be ashamed that their brain is wired differently than other peoples?  I do not want them to ever feel ashamed that they have ADD/ADHD or any of the other co-occurring disorders that have come with it.

For the record, that does not mean I have never been embarrassed by some of the choices they have made.  

I proceeded to tell him one of my favorite examples of her lack of understanding in social situations.  She was in junior high and one of her class mates made the mistake of asking her what she had done over the weekend.  She came unglued, unleashing her outrage.  How dare this person ask such a private question?  Why would she share such intimate information with someone that was little more than an acquaintance?  How could they pry like that into her private life?

It was hard to stop her mind from racing and calm her down.  Even harder was explaining the concept of small talk and polite conversation.  "Oh," she said.

She has worked hard over the years to at least respond appropriately to some of the more common interactions; but, she still has her issues. Communicating is something that she has improved on, by leaps and bounds but not something she has mastered by a long shot.  She is caught between not knowing what someone really means in a conversation and the right way to respond.  In between, is a space just big enough for the impulsiveness of ADD/ADHD to squeeze in.  She often acts before she has really considered what is meant and how she should respond.

Sometimes she realizes mid-sentence that she has said the wrong thing, occasionally she stops and fixes it before moving on.  Sometimes she just doesn't figure it out until it comes back around and she is shocked by the outcome.

Take today for example, it's Easter Sunday.  Her Young Women's leader is talking about Easter dinner and asks Mariah what our plans are.  She responds and never gives it another thought.

It was all good until her leader's husband showed up to invite us to their house, worried we had no food for Easter.  What?  I wasn't sure how he got that impression and then he explained, it all made sense in a Mariah sort of way.

See Mariah was not sure at all how to respond to her leader's question.  She wasn't outraged at the intrusion, progress for sure, but she was still a confused.  She opted for a conservative response. "Oh, we'll throw something together and call it Easter dinner."

This is only a couple hours after talking about roast and cheesy potatoes on the way to church.

We use these moments as teaching moments.  Trying to explain what people mean and how other people may take the communications and social cues she send out.  She hadn't seen the underlying potential for concern in her response.  That someone would think we had no food for a descent Easter dinner, that they might envision us eating PB&J.

As we talked about it she shook her head, "I just really don't get this stuff."

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Where's the Gaffers Tape?

Been a little busy the last few weeks. 

My husband, Mark, has been working on a film for the last two and a half years, Finding Hope Now, in addition to his regular day job.  Most of that time he has spent working the day job then going straight to work on the film for another 8 to 10 hours at  ""the studio."    By the time he would finish working on the film at night there was no way he could have been safe to drive the hour plus it takes to get from the studio to our home in the foothills. So, we decided, all week he would sleep in a recliner, at the studio.  Then on Saturday afternoon he would come home and be home until Monday morning when he would head to work to start all over again.

This has been our life and routine for the last 2 years since the movie finished filming at the end of June 2009.

Now that the presentation cut of the movie is done, in the hands of those who will sell it, and is already winning awards at film festivals it was time to move the operation back to our home. Time to set up a home office to finish the details on the visual effects.

This physical transition started a couple weeks ago and has required a lot of help.  We needed to move every item in the living room/classroom so that we could accommodate an office space.  Moving stuff, sorting stuff, throwing out stuff, cleaning stuff all take a great deal of focus.  On a good day, when everyone is medicated, I am not sure we could hit that mark.

But the physical transition is nothing compared to the mental and emotional transition.  

In the last couple weeks we have mixed our exhaustion from this long hard two and a half years with anticipation, excitement, anxiety, and a whole lot of ADHD.  We have hit on just about every ADD/ADHD nerve in one way or another.

I have noticed a few things during my 20 years of marriage to my husband and his ADHD.  Transitions are hard.  He puts all his heart, soul, and hyper-focus into a project.  He stays driven and fixated and when it ends there is a sense of loss that comes with it.  Even a feeling of being lost.

Mark is a very positive person.  He can maintain that positive attitude through experiences that seem too dark and dreary for me.  When a project ends, however, it is a totally different ball game.  That is the time he is most vulnerable to depression.  This is true even when he is heading right into another project.

The process of coming down off these intense emotions, fixations, urgency, and hyper-focus of a project is like plunging into deep water off the edge of a cliff.  There is a moment, near the bottom, where you are trying desperately to find which direction is up, you are hungry for air, you may even think you are going to drown.  I have seen it repeatedly.  Enough to know that he always finds his way.  Enough to remind him of all the other times he felt the same way.  Enough for him to recognize that it is happening.

I do not believe that even knowing it's coming will keep it from happening.  It is how his brain is wired, how it chemically functions.  The most important thing that years of similar experiences has taught him is to watch for it so he can curb the experience a little.

Finding Hope Now is the longest personal project he has ever done.  The longest he has had to maintain those intense emotions to finish a project.  It's also not completely finished.  It is transition of stages.  While the bulk is finished, the presentation cut, as they call it, the details are still being worked on.  This is a good thing.  If everything were to change at once it would be a much harder.  As it stands he can focus on the beginning of the transition while preparing for the rest of it.

First, we had to deal with moving the studio home.  The studio was quiet, almost silent, and solitary.  In our house quiet and solitary are two things we have heard of but are not really convinced exist.  The first day he was home was so over stimulating that when one of the kids indicated that we might be short on butter for dinner he jumped at the chance to drive to the nearest store, a half an hour away, to get some.  He just needed to get out and clear the slate a little before he got too overwhelmed.  The last thing he wanted to do was lose his temper or tell everybody, "I have to leave for a little while."

He worries that we might think he prefers the quiet solitude of the studio to being home.  He feels guilty that he gets overwhelmed and needs a break from the excited, frenzied energy that radiates here.  He would prefer to be home; but, he does have to get used to coping with the over stimulating environment.

To add to it all the kids are transitioning too.  They are so excited and happy to have him here every night.  It is, however, a little surreal after his absence the last couple years.  He can't move with out someone jumping to ask, "Where are you going?"  Poor guy can't change his clothes after work or go to the bathroom without the third degree.

It reminds me of a time when the kids were smaller.  He had been working a lot of overtime, in order to spend time with the kids before they went to bed he would come home for dinner and then go back to work.  One night he fell asleep on the living room floor.  Those little darlings tied his arms and legs up with his neck ties so he couldn't get away.  He slept through the whole thing.   He was a little shocked when he woke up.  If I were him I would be a little worried, they're all older now and he has taught them the usefulness of gaffers tape.

We talked on the way to go get butter, that first night back.  We decided that documenting his journey, our journey through this transition would be good to post on the blog.  Most of the time I'm focused on raising our ADHD brood but truth is, it effects our home from all angles.  All of these kids will grow up to be adults with ADHD.  Their struggles will change as the demands of the adult world take over.  They will need the experience of others, especially their father, to help them avoid the pitfalls, anticipate the cliffs, and deep water.

I have to admit I am feeling a little possessive too.  That week of him being home passed too quickly and rolled right into his trip to Houston, Texas for the Houston WorldFest International Film Festival.  It was hard for everyone to let him go after we just moved the office back home.  It was a successful trip though, he came home exhausted and passed out asleep in his chair.

I have one question,  where's that gaffers tape?

It's Been Too Long

It seems like forever since the last post.

I have to admit that I have been overwhelmed the last couple of weeks and while I have been writing and have lots to write about (too much really), I have not been finishing them or posting them.  It makes me feel guilty sometimes.  Mostly, because blogging has brought to the forefront of my mind what a perfectionist I am.

Yep, that is right, a perfectionist in a house dominated by ADHD.

Actually, it is a trait that both my husband and I share.  The difference is he is never afraid to act, despite his perfectionism.  I am sure that has a lot to do with impulsiveness and other ADHD traits.  I am always afraid to act, almost paralyzed in the face of things not being perfect.  Really, the translation is, I want everything worded right, I want the right pictures and stories.

It trips me up and as much as it may help me, in certain circumstances, it freezes me in others. 

In the mean time, all these day to day things are happening and I don't get them up. I get a dashboard full of half written posts and you don't get to know the little things.

Like Jaren standing in the front yard with goggles on, shaking his fist at the sky, wooden stake in hand.  Screaming at the top of his lungs, daring the vampires to bring it.  Did I mention it was the middle of the day. 

My daughter keeps telling me I need a Twitter so that I can just post life as it happens.  A constant stream of ADHD.   I haven't decided yet, I am just trying to get the actual Queen of the Distracted website up at the moment.  So we can expand and add some of the features that we have been waiting for the website to add.

In the meantime, there are about four posts almost ready to send out into the world via internet.  So check back often.  Lots has been happening in our family; good, questionable, and crazy.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Down the Rabbit Hole of Distraction

Rachel sings as she works - the little woodland creatures have yet to come join her and help like they do in Disney movies but I guarantee you they can hear her.  She is a vocalist and boy does she have a set of lungs.  She insists that this helps her work but I am seeing more wandering, singing, and staging than working.  I keep asking her to take the volume down but clearly we define quieter differently.

In the mean time, there is a raging argument about whether spoiled milk should be kept or thrown out.  I know, this seems like a no-brainer decision, but Mary is a junior scientist.  We got her a book for Christmas with all kinds of things that can be made out of stuff you have at home.  She has found the grossest one and latched onto it.  She is going to make plastic out of milk and some other things.

She is trying to defend keeping the curdled milk in an effort to not waste the good milk.  Mariah and Fernie are disgusted by the thought of keeping the spoiled milk.  I suppose they are pretty sure they will accidentally grab it early in the morning and it will glob out onto their cereal.  They are getting pretty loud about it.  They are working in the kitchen.  Though there is definitely more arguing going on than working.

I will resolve the issue by telling Mary that her experiments are worth using good milk.  It is not a waste to me.  I don't want curdled milk in the refrigerator either.

Hunter is supposed to be cleaning the living room.  He has found Sid's tennis balls that are floating around the house.  Sid is our Aussie, she is obsessed with tennis balls.  The tennis balls have reminded Hunter that he is learning to juggle.  He has now totally forgotten that he was cleaning the living room and is jumping around trying to dance, juggle, and is singing circus theme music. He needs redirecting to remember he is doing a job.  He spends the next 10 minutes repeatedly apologizing for getting side tracked.  I repeatedly tell him to stop apologizing, I know it was not intentional.

Jaren is also on living room duty.  He is trying to convince me that he can do plenty of work while holding his spy case in one hand and with a blanket wrapped around his shoulders and head.  I am not buying.  Seems to me that two hands are better than one.

We know attention deficit -- we see it when one distraction leads to another and another.  We live while trying to stay on task as it seems everything is pulling you in opposite directions.  Even though I am not ADD/ADHD I can see that my husband and children often feel drawn and quartered by their own thoughts.

It definitely gets frustrating when you are trying to get things done, like daily chores.  When I see the quickest path between two points as a straight line and everyone else sees no lines.  Frustrating for me because life seems to move so slowly in the direction I need it to move.  Frustrating for them because they are trying so hard to control their direction but can't seem to resist the diversions.

Hannah, who doesn't have ADHD either, and I exchange glances that scream, "It's time for a non-ADD day."

Some might say it's time for some heavy discipline.  Crack the whip, so that they won't get distracted during chores.  Punish them for not staying on task.  I am here to tell you that no amount or type of discipline will keep them from getting distracted.  It is the way their brain functions chemically that leads them down the rabbit hole of distraction.   Like an asthmatic can't completely control their reaction to an irritant in the air or a diabetic can't completely control their blood sugar by willing it to be so.  A person with ADHD cannot completely control their intake of  the stimuli around them. 

Coping mechanisms are our goal. We define a coping mechanism as a skill that helps you cope life.  A skill that helps you make life work for you instead of against you.  It is not just skills that help you when you are overwhelmed or in crisis. 

Coping mechanisms are everyday skills.  In this case it is what do you do with the stimuli when it hits you over the head or tugs on your shirt and tempts you?  How you judge what reaction would be appropriate for the time and place?  Is it okay to embrace the diversion, maybe even run with it?  Learning to control what they do with the stimuli has been more important than just getting whatever task needs to be done.

Someday they will be out of the house and their won't be singing, and tennis balls flying, and arguments raging.  Someday they won't have me to walk around reminding them what they are supposed to be doing.  Certainly, no one there to ground them for not paying attention.  Then they will need to know how to redirect themselves.  Punishment, alone, while it may make my life easier now will not make their lives more productive later.

For now, chores take as long as they make them take.  If they can control the diversions then they will finish pretty quickly and move on.  If they are sucked in by the diversions then it will take them a long time to finish.  Natural consequences are the greatest tool in our toolbox.  That combined with a little "learning experience" (as my mom used to call them) to point out the natural consequences.  That is how we manage and teach. 

I will have to admit, though, it is hard not to laugh at their diversions.  Redirecting someone with any sense of authority is difficult when you are laughing. Then again how do you not laugh when after the window air conditioner is removed and the window is standing wide open your teenage daughters start singing songs from Titanic and acting like they are standing on the bow of the ship in the wind.

They say that life is what happens when you have other plans - in our house life is often what happens when we are distracted.