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Coping with ADHD as an Adult

Note: I have also published this post on Medium. If you like it, please go there and give it some applause. 

Like many women, I wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until I was an adult. More specifically, I was diagnosed at 32. Do the math and you’ll realize how recently I’m talking about here. In fact, it’s been less than six months since my diagnoses.

For me — and I’m sure others had the same reaction — being told I have ADHD was at once both surprising and completely NOT. I wasn’t expecting a new diagnosis when I went to what was supposed to be a routine psychiatrist visit. All I anticipated was refills on my existing prescriptions. But during the appointment, the conversation turned (as many do) to my dissertation and the troubles I was having. That led to talk of work habits, focus, and so on, and out of that came a diagnosis.

But it was also not all that shocking. I’ve suspected in the past that I had ADD/ADHD, but never pursued it with a doctor. In school I always got really good grades, so there was no reason for anyone to think anything was amiss. But living in my own head, I have known for a long time, on some level, that I don’t function the same was most others do.

The diagnosis clicked a lot of things into place. I started reading about different ADHD symptoms, especially how they manifest differently in woman and girls. Most of the early studies looked at hyperactive boys, which informed the cultural perception about what a kid with ADHD looks like. Girls are more likely to be inattentive than hyperactive, and are also more likely to work to push their symptoms down to blend in. Thinking about it, so many things I do made sense. I tune out during conversations. I reread the same page or paragraph several times because I wasn’t paying attention. I’m terrible at organizing physical space. I forget tasks almost as soon as I decide to do them. I fidget. All sorts of things that I thought were annoying quirks, or worse, personal failings, are most likely symptoms of my ADHD.

That’s comforting. Having a name for many of the things I do makes it easier to find ways to work with or around my symptoms. And even though it hasn’t been that long, I’ve come up with several tips and tricks for coping with life as an adult with ADHD.

  • Declutter like mad. I know the concepts of decluttering and minimalism get derided as whims of the privileged — and maybe they are in some cases — but they really help if you have organization issues like I do. Less stuff means less organizing.
  • Don’t work at home. I’m employed as a freelancer, so I don’t have to go into the office every day. However, I get nothing done if I try to write from home. If you’re in the same boat, try a membership at a coworking space (I use the Croissant app to work from different places) or just find a cafe.
  • Use a digital organizer. At work we use Asana to organize our tasks. I use Evernote for personal things. There are many different workflow apps out there that do similar things, see which one feels best to you.
  • But don’t discount analog. As much as I love my apps, I need to write things down. I carry my bullet journal and my Passion Planner everywhere I go. I have to take detailed notes during meetings or I forget things, and I’m too easily distracted by other apps if I try to use my phone to do so.
  • Label everything. Everything. Indicate which shirts go in which drawer, which boxes are for mementos and which are for yarn, which shelf is for pants and which is for purses. Everything.
  • Put things where they belong. To quote my friend and her awesome book, put things away, not down. All those labels and boxes are useless if you drop stuff wherever you feel like.
  • Find an outlet. If you find your brain racing or yourself fidgeting, figure out what helps you control that. Knitting while I watch TV helps my brain from wandering off, plus I bought a Fidget Cube for times when I can’t knit but need to do something with my hands. Whatever works for you, do it.
  • Self-bribery. I have to set mini goals for myself that come with rewards if I want to get anything done. For example, when I finish writing this post, I get to grab something to eat. Like your average Labrador Retriever, I am extremely food motivated.
  • Outsource when you can. Cleaning and organizing are my nemeses. My roommates and I split the cost of a monthly cleaning service, which takes one thing off everyone’s plate. It also motivates me to tidy up, since the cleaner can get more scrubbing done if there isn’t clutter in their way. If you can afford something like this, it’s extremely helpful.
  • Accept It. Honestly, even with all the workarounds and medications, there will be some things about you that work a little differently. That’s perfectly OK. As long as you can do the things you need to get done and aren’t hurting anyone (yourself included), there’s nothing wrong with you.

Do you have any tricks that work for you, if you’re an adult with ADHD?

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