You may not have seen me here as often as you should have this past month. I’ve had a hard time getting my articles written. And the only thing I’d done wrong was attempt to be an involved parent in the ways I know best!
It shouldn’t be that way. OTHER parents join the PTA and volunteer at every school event. OTHER parents haul their kids to sports that meet for multiple hours at a time multiple times weekly. OTHER parents lead scout troops. OTHER parents do all this even with a full-time job outside the home!
OTHER parents, it’s true, MAY not do all of that with ADHD.
I feel like I write about having ADHD a lot, and maybe it sounds like I’m making excuses, but the truth is I’m just learning more and more all the time about how it affects my life. Five years ago I probably would have just fallen into a hopeless depression without knowing why. Now I’m more aware of what my brain is actually doing, and of how it keeps gunking up whatever I myself am trying to do.
This month I got a first-hand look at what my brain does when I overextend myself.
My daughter has always pestered me to volunteer for school parties and field trips and other events where parents help out. Most times I’ve had the handy excuse of my work hours conflicting with the event. This is odd because I only work 20 hours a week for the library, which gives me more at-home time than most parents. And yet, I still never have time for anything!
But a few weeks back she had a proposition I couldn’t pass up. She and three of her friends had formed a team for Battle of the Books, a trivia contest the fourth grade holds every year. They would be assigned six books to read over six weeks, and have a game show-style tournament against other groups of four at the end of that time. They were encouraged to meet outside of school once a week to discuss and review each book, and for that, they would need a grownup sponsor. “We all decided,” she informed me outright, “that you need to be our sponsor because you’re a librarian and you know stuff.”
She had a point there. I did have a professional advantage over most of the other parents in the whole school that way. I know how to lead a book discussion. Furthermore, her brother had done the Battle of the Books when he was in fourth grade, too, and I’d gotten to see how his sponsor (a second-time sponsor herself) had run things. I’m not sure I would have had quite as much confidence that I could do so, otherwise.
So I said, with conviction, “Yes, I can do this!” And I was absolutely right. I could sponsor their team, lead their discussions (even though half the team preferred to spend the meeting doing gymnastics instead of talking), write up study guides for each book. I was, in fact, good at it.
The problem was that, while I had Battle of the Books stuff to work on, I forgot how to do everything else.
It’s similar to the hyperfocus I develop right before Christmas. It’s not that Christmas stresses me out, it’s that the-rest-of-the-world-insisting-to-carry-on-as-usual-while-all-I-want-to-do-is-get-ready-for-Christmas stresses me out. My brain likes focusing on whatever is NEW AND/OR UNUSUAL AND/OR EXCITING in my life and will block every humdrum ordinary task out.
Whatever else I might set out to do, my brain would whisper, “shouldn’t you be reading this week’s book?” Yes, I would answer, but I also need to go to the grocery store and make dinner and do the dishes. I would try to get my daily grownup chores done, but the nagging voice in my head kept me from doing a good job at them.
And, to be frank, my brain will take any excuse to avoid the dishes even at the least busy of times, so those just built up.
I’d sit at my computer to try to write an article, and my brain would whisper, “don’t you need to write up this week’s study guide?” And I’d say, yes, I do, but I’m behind a week on articles, and my brain would answer, “Ah, but this article idea is going nowhere, and four children are depending on you to write the study guide.” And in a muddle, I would flip back and forth between the two, then click open Twitter, then read something there that got me thinking about neither the article nor the book, and I couldn’t come back to either.
Annoyingly, with all the children’s books I’ve read in my life and career, I had only previously read one of the six books I had to lead discussions on, and that one just once in my childhood—all I remembered was the basic premise. I not only had to read, but take notes while reading, which is exceedingly annoying to someone who never learned to do that for school.* And about half the books weren’t to my taste to begin with, which made them harder to want to read, so even to this former bookworm, it felt like a chore.
So I would wander between Battle of the Books and Everything Else, only able to accomplish anything in fits and starts. Because I made the Battle first priority, I was able to present my daughter’s team with a well-prepared study session each week, and that’s all I could pull off.
If anyone asked me a question, wanted me to call them back, asked me to turn anything else in during those six weeks? I apologize now. It probably slipped my mind.
The brain fog got worse and worse over time. I was pretty sure my brain was broken. “Don’t say that about your brain!” my inner disability-advocate scolded. “Your brain is DIFFERENT, not broken!” Oh, stop with the euphemisms, inner advocate! My brain is different as a general rule, but right now, it is not working at all, therefore it needs to be fixed!
For the last of these weeks, I couldn’t even think about making dinner. The rest of the family stepped up and took that over, luckily. Otherwise, they probably wouldn’t have eaten.
Finally, the Battle arrived, and everyone was revved up. I gave my team a couple of disappointed looks when they missed questions I knew they should have known the answers to, but that was good for me: only once did a question come up that I hadn’t gone over with them, so I did my part thoroughly at least. They came in 4th out of the dozen-or-so teams, which was the best possible outcome: the highest they could have gotten without having to move on to the inter-school Battle with the winners of the other elementary schools, and another four weeks of books and study guides.
We took them out for ice cream. We’d all survived, even me. And that was a definite win.
*I mean, we were TAUGHT how to do that, but because I absorbed all the facts we needed to know during class, I never bothered with that STUDYING thing.