I was diagnosed with ADHD almost 35 years ago, so I’ve had plenty of time to develop coping strategies. At this point in my life, my brain runs pretty smoothly. It have small setbacks but I know what to do or whom to call for help.
But last week, my ADHD brain went haywire. There were too many things happening at once and I could not think straight. Everything seemed equally dismal and I was just immobilized with indecision.
Someone suggested that it was a choice.
They explained that since I clearly had the skills and was usually able to plow through a lot of work in a week, I was CHOOSING to be confused and overwhelmed. (Who’s got a fidget for me to throw at her?)
I can’t wish away my ADHD
I can choose to develop coping strategies and I can choose to implement those coping strategies but the rate at which I initially learn them is not a choice, and the rate at which I can choose to implement them is, initially, also not a choice. Every day, we ADHDers “enjoy” an opportunity to learn a new strategy. At every important life juncture, we need new strategies. We can’t just rest on our laurels. We enter new situations, have relationships with new people, learn a new skill – for all of these we need to keep developing strategies.
Implementing changes in the strangest situations
I’m learning new strategies every day because I don’t enjoy the same things I used to enjoy. I find I have to develop coping strategies for things I used to love to do! I used to love going to Disneyland, even as an adult. The last time I went (in January, 2015) I vowed never to go again. It was crowded and noisy and not that interesting anymore. I sat quietly at a restaurant and read my Kindle while my friend went on a bunch of kiddy rides in Fantasyland. Also odd was my enjoyment of the roller-coaster type of rides there. I have always hated roller-coasters. I’m changing.
Being able to do something is different than having the capacity to do it
As for meltdowns and brain implosions – those aren’t choices, and neither is my ability or lack thereof to wade through the noise and the pictures that fill my brain at those times. And it’s the same with your child. Being ABLE to do something and having the mental, emotional, or physical capacity to do it are two different things. Having an ADHD brain implosion is like having the flu or spraining an ankle. (Maybe I should call it a “Brain Sprain.”) It limits my capacity to do the things I normally do quite well.
If I sprain my ankle, I didn’t do it on purpose. I’m not CHOOSING to limp and be in pain. I still have the ability to walk, but not the capacity or the space/energy. I will walk again but I can’t just wish away my sprained ankle. I can’t just choose not to have a sprained ankle. During my “brain sprain” I was just kind of staring at the wall. I could do a few things but not what I had planned. I starting imagining myself on skid row, unable to hold down a job because my brain was just FRIED and I wondered how long it would last. That’s where my head went – straight to fear.
Check out this video on Capacity vs. Capability:
If I was so completely confused and incapacitated, imagine how overwhelming it is for your children!
When your children “can’t” do their homework, “can’t” clean up after themselves, “can’t” be polite, it has nothing to do with ability (except maybe with the h.w.) and everything to do with their capacity in that moment. So what would you do if your child were sick or limping or had a black eye or was sad? Would you get angry? Would you repeat ad nauseum, “I don’t care! Get over it! You’re just being stubborn! You’re just choosing to be in pain/unhappy/confused/scared!”
“How can I help you?”
Next time, when your child has a meltdown or a fit of stubbornness, ask him or her, “How can I help you?” or “What do you need from me?” or “What would make this easier?” And then help them! Don’t do their work but help them do their work.
Sometimes, we just can’t get out of our heads on our own.
Copyright 2017 Yafa Luria/Margit Crane All Rights Reserved
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