It’s late August. The kids are in between school and camps.
Trails of stuffed animals and toy cars and books line the floors, but if you look closely, you might grimace—when was the last time I vacuumed? A colorful assortment of crumbs huddle beneath the dining room table, while half-finished coloring projects cover its surface.
A thought about something I need to do for work runs through my head, and I sprint to type it into my phone before it trickles out again. Wait, what was I going to do? Oh, that’s right. Invoices! I type.
“Mom! I’m hungry!” my daughter yells.
“Mom! Look at this!” my son hollers.
As I stumble toward the kitchen, I eye an unopened bill on the counter. I calculate the number of weeks its been sitting there. Crap. I run back to my phone. Pay bills! I type in.
“MOM! I said I was hungry!” my daughter reminds me.
“Mom! I want you to watch me!” my son demands.
A storm of panic roils in my head.
Why is this so damn hard? I think. Life? Adulting? Parenting? Why can’t I just get my sh*t together? There’s the mess—and then there’s the judgment about the mess. The comparisons to friends who appear to have their lives in order. Who don’t seem to be waiting for a stray dog to lap up the ecosystems evolving under the table.
In the far reaches of my over-filled mind, I think, you should check out that website again. The one about ADHD.
Later, while my daughter splashes around in the bathtub, I find a checklist for women with ADHD. Do you often feel overwhelmed? Do you have trouble achieving your goals? Are you embarrassed to have people over to your house because of the mess?
Hell yes, I answer in my head. Before I finish reading the article, I text a copy to my husband. “Sound like anyone you know?!?” I type.
Over the following weeks, I do a lot of research on ADHD and women. I find that while boys are often diagnosed with ADHD in elementary school—because their symptoms manifest themselves in ways like being disruptive, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness—girls tend to slip under the radar, being labeled as spacey or daydreamers, and their symptoms tend to ramp up during puberty.
I flash back to middle school, when my grades inexplicably plummeted. I envision my parents sitting down with me to ask if I knew what my seventh grade science teacher meant at the parent teacher conference when he said I was “looking around all the time.” I picture my school folders, so stuffed with stray papers that I often couldn’t find homework to turn in—even when I’d completed it. I remember old lockers and apartments that looked like they’d been ransacked, and how it took me 10 years to get my bachelor’s degree because I kept changing majors and schools.
I think about how my brain shuts down when I go someplace like the mall, or the trampoline park, or my kid’s classroom, because of all the stimulation.
I feel a strange mix of excitement and sadness. Excited that there might be a physiological reason that the primary emotion in my life seems to be overwhelm. That there might be ways to get help.
And sadness that I am just figuring this out now.
What might my life look like if I’d known about and managed my ADHD earlier? Would I have written a handful of books by now? Zoomed through college? Been better at managing money? Would we have invited friends over more often? Would I have been a better wife, daughter, and mother?
Would I have more self-confidence, instead of the eroded self-esteem borne of decades of beating myself up for being disorganized?
These are questions I can’t and won’t know the answer to. So after some grieving for how things might have gone differently in the past, I’m looking at the present and future.
I’m setting up systems to make sure I’m steadily working toward my goals. I’m talking to other people who have ADHD to learn more.
Yes, my house is still messy.
But now I know it’s not simply because I’m a lazy or broken—it’s because my brain is wired differently. And the same wiring that renders it difficult to parse through complex information or keep my kitchen counters clean is also associated with high levels of creativity, curiosity, and sensitivity.
And I wouldn’t trade those for anything.
Author: Lynn Shattuck
Image: Nik MacMillan/Unsplash
Editor: Catherine Monkman