“Why is your desk so messy, Mama?” my five year old asked me once.
I gulped. I knew this was a teachable moment. But I didn’t have it in me. My daughter had touched upon a raw nerve. I had spent my whole life feeling so ashamed about what I once believed were character flaws: my disorganisation, distractibility, forgetfulness, impulsivity and difficulty making simple decisions. I just don’t remember. I don’t remember so much.
What I do remember is accidentally burning rice porridge on the stove last week. This is my new quarantine low. Because of my ADHD brain, I am constantly distracted.
Strategies that usually help me not burn the house down are setting visual and auditory cues. My calendar reminders, timer and my toaster timer are my friends. My burnt rice porridge incident reminds me that auditory cues only work when I can hear it. Note to self: don’t go upstairs and end up not hearing the timer.
I had a recent coaching call with an autism support advocate. I felt so seen, and she helped me realise that my behaviour and my daughter’s match the Pathological Demand Avoidance profile. My daughter and I both have an overwhelming, anxiety-driven need to be in control, and often resist ordinary demands as a way to regain control. She also added that ADHD often co-exists with PDA.
I felt so seen, and she helped me realise that my behaviour and my daughter’s match the Pathological Demand Avoidance profile.
That’s when so much of my life-long scattered thinking and impulsive behaviour finally made sense. It had never, ever occurred to me that I have ADHD. Realising that my ADHD brain was the cause for so many of my organisational and emotional struggles was a huge relief. It explained the state of my closet, desk and even my fractured friendships. The friends with whom I have weathered the biggest storms are either neurodiverse themselves, or understand neurodiversity.
And yet, my concept of ADHD was a little (or big) white boy jumping off the walls. That’s not me. That’s not my daughter. Then it clicked. My daughter often needs instructions to be repeated several times. She daydreams. She is impulsive. She has trouble regulating her strong emotions. She struggles to sit and focus on learning how to read, or write. When I ask her preschool teacher how she’s going, “tired” and “trouble focusing” are the most commonly used descriptors.
My daughter and I are both deeply creative and extremely disorganised. I manage to reign in my impulses most of the time. But when it comes to online shopping, when I am stressed, well this is why I don’t have a credit card. After a rough stretch, when packages start arriving, my husband raises his eyebrow and asks, “Another one of your impulse buys?”
I manage to reign in my impulses most of the time. But when it comes to online shopping, when I am stressed, well this is why I don’t have a credit card.
I’ve lost my passport multiple times. I’m glad to report that I haven’t lost any of my children.
My husband is patient. He sees my struggle. He is also neurotypical. He can tell when I’ve spaced out while he’s speaking to me, and often needs to repeat himself. “Breathe” and “slow down” are two of my husband’s favourite phrases when I start revving up.
My spontaneity is both my bane and also my gift. I have a deep wellspring of creativity to draw from. I adore puppet play and use it to entertain and connect with my kids. I can tell them stories at the drop of a hat. I can write articles and books quickly, and with very little sleep. Similarly, my five year old daughter puts on the most wonderful role play shows with her little sister. She is incredibly artistic, intuitive, and when is calm, deeply compassionate.
I teach my daughter about the zones of emotional regulation, and the importance of breathing, especially when she starts feeling anxious. My next step is to teach her how to meditate.
I know that meditation helps me. But it has to be small doses, and regularly. By the time I’m too agitated, then I’m too revved up to sit down and meditate. I need to move my body. Exercise helps then. Laughing at stand-up comedy shows until I cry helps too.
What helps is saying out loud, “there is too much happening right now.”
When I start to feel flooded, it helps when I take deep, steadying breaths. What helps is saying out loud, “there is too much happening right now.” I do this to slow myself down, to let my daughter know that I’m getting overwhelmed, and to model what she can do too. At five, when her flight-fight-freeze response is triggered, she either bolts, screams, hits, or slams the door shut.
At 35, I try not to do that anymore. But it’s been harder, these days, to keep calm. When I am feeling more vulnerable than usual – global pandemics tend to do that – I start to wonder if it’s time for me and even my daughter to try ADHD medication. I’d have to do a Telehealth session with my psychiatrist. And then source medication. And then trial it and see how I feel. There are so many steps. It always feels like too many steps, just out of my reach. This world run by neurotypicals wasn’t designed for me or my daughter. But I will fight to give her the support I never had, when I was a child.
Noor Abdul is a freelance writer.