Discovered this morning that I left the stove burner on all night. Said a prayer of thanks for still having a house. And a family!
Middleaged friends, are you this bad? Is your brain your enemy sometimes?
About 10 years ago, I told a therapist I was worried I was going to get into a car accident because my mind seemed so foggy when I was driving. I couldn’t focus on cars or traffic signals because I was constantly distracted. The kids were about 5 and 3 years old, so obviously they distracted me in the car. (And at many other times during the day. Well, MOST other times during the day. Okay, ALL day.) The therapist suggested that, like many middleaged women who work and have children, too much was going on in my life. If I truly worried I was going to get into a car accident (and I truly was), I needed to do something about it. I wanted to knock her down and pull her hair: what the hell did she expect me to do? Give away one of the kids? Spray lavender on my pillow and take to bed for a week?
The cloudy feeling receded a bit as the kids got older, and thank God I never did get in a car accident or burn down the house (yet), but I still felt so foggy at times. I couldn’t get things done. It felt like more than the effects of a busy life. I thought I was lazy or flaky. And Paul was beginning to get frustrated, because I promised to do things that I’d promptly forget. Example:
Paul: You going to the grocery store today? Can you pick up some coffee?
Me: Yup. We also need spaghetti and peanut butter. I’ll add coffee to the list.
(next morning) Paul: Where did you put the coffee?
Me: Oh, shit. I forgot. Shit! I also forgot spaghetti and peanut butter! In fact, I forgot the list. But I did get deodorant and paper towels, so that’s good news.
(Following morning) Paul: Did you get coffee?
Me (annoyed): Why can’t YOU get the coffee?
Paul (more annoyed): I WOULD have gotten the coffee yesterday, but you said you’d get it! I’m going to work. (Walks off in a huff.)
(Following morning) Me (in my head as I think about a nice hot cup of caffeine): Shit! Forgot the coffee!
Paul (coming into the kitchen whistling, opening the cabinet, taking out the coffee): Don’t worry about stopping at the store. I got the coffee.
Me (later, in the soda aisle to get ginger ale for a sick kid): Ah, there’s the coffee! Yay for me! I remembered! (On the way out to the car) Shit. Forgot the ginger ale.
Really! This happened time and again.
(I’m struck how often I was reduced to saying “shit” when I was annoyed by my behavior. I’ll never forget what my dad said to me once, in a tone of kindly wisdom, “Jen, try to get through life without all the shits and fucks.” Oh, well.)
Also, I’d constantly plan two events for the same night. I’d remember both events, saying to Lizzie, “I can’t wait to see your concert on Friday night,” and then to Paul, “We’re going out with so-and-so Friday night.” I’d look forward to both events. They existed in separate compartments in my mind: I was aware of them both but wouldn’t make the connection, until the day of the event, that I’d double-booked myself.
Worse, I’d forget things from one minute to the next. Like this: Have to pee. Go to the upstairs bathroom. There’s no toilet paper. Go downstairs to the laundry room for toilet paper. See the dogs have no food. Feed dogs. Start to head back upstairs. Then remember! I have to move the laundry from the washer to the dryer! I do that. I go upstairs. I dry my hair. I realize I have to pee. I go into the bathroom. No toilet paper. I curse myself. I go downstairs. I notice the dogs have no water. I fill their water bowl. I start to go upstairs. Seriously! Halfway up, I remember: toilet paper! I get the toilet paper. I go upstairs and pee. I congratulate myself. It has now taken me an hour and a half to go to the bathroom. I felt like life was a series of staccato moments chained together by little blank spaces, instead of a steady stream of minutes that flow from one to the next.
I had felt this way off and on for my whole life (I was “dreamy” or “lost in my own world”). But after kids, as life got crazier, I sometimes felt scarily insane.
Then Paul came home one day after hanging out with friends and said, out of the blue, “Do you think you might have ADD?” A friend of his had been describing his wife’s behavior and explaining that she had ADD, and Paul thought, “Sounds just like Jen.” I thought, “What? I’m the farthest thing from ADD.” I didn’t bounce off the walls. I didn’t blurt things out unintentionally. I didn’t run around at top speed all day, forgetting things right and left, hopping from one subject to the next, getting halfway through tasks without… wait. Yes, I did. Huh.
I investigated and learned ADD is a disorder that makes your brain unable to regulate the speed at which it does whatever the brain does. Sometimes it’s slow. Sometimes it’s fast. It’s uneven. This causes forgetfulness, spaciness, an inability to finish tasks, procrastination because beginning a task feels totally overwhelming in its details. And when I finally manage to focus on something, and something or someone interrupts me, and I have to swim up from where my mind is, I get frustrated. And crabby. (Ask the kids. A few days ago, Michael said, “Mom, when you get mad, your lower jaw juts out and you look like a bulldog.” Great.)
Also challenging are places where too many things are going on at once. Just thinking of those pop-up Halloween stores gets my stomach churning, literally. When the kids were younger, when they didn’t know what they wanted to dress up as, it was torture: being pulled in opposite directions to look at fake knives, fake blood, fairy wings; being dragged back across the crowded store to check out light-up antennas, with a quick stop at the electronic dead baby — look, Mom, push this button and it crawls toward you and its eyes turn red! (How charming) — refusing this, agreeing to that. And then they’d change their minds about the entire costume and you put everything back and start again. I’d get so anxious I’d want to rip my skin off.
A couple of years ago, the kids got old enough that I could give them my credit card: they could spend $30 each and I would wait in the car. The first time I did that, they took too long, and I had to go into the store to drag them out. It was cold out, and I left the car running so it would be toasty when we came out. But Lizzie needed advice about her costume, and she had to try it on, and then it was ripped so we had to try to find another one in the same size, and I got roped into admiring the dead baby, and, you guessed it: We finally got back to the car half an hour later, and I realized I had left it running the whole time. All I could say was, “Don’t tell Dad.”
As you’ve guessed by now, I had a bunch of tests, filled out a bunch of questionnaires, had Paul fill out a bunch of questionnaires (even my mother had to fill out questionnaires), and indeed, I was diagnosed with ADD. Which in a way was a big relief. It’s my brain! I’m not just an idiot/lazy/stupid/forgetful!
I take Concerta, and that helps quite a bit. But it wears off. Or I foget to take it (obviously). Or I run out of it and forget, day after day, to pick it up at the pharmacy (how does someone with ADD remember to pick up their ADD meds if they’re not taking their ADD meds???) So I still do things like running out to get milk and coming home with a scarf instead. Or leaving the house to drop off a form at the kids’ school, realizing I need to pick up my dry-cleaning, grabbing some lunch and running to Walgreens for vitamins, and then going home and seeing the school form still sitting accusingly on the passenger seat.
But there’s a beautiful thing about having an official diagnosis of ADD: it makes Paul so much more understanding! Often, before all this, I’d do something flakey, and Paul would say, “Well, didn’t you think about it this way…?” and I would see the obvious solution, and wail in frustration, “I’m sorry! My brain doesn’t work that way!” Now I know the truth: my brain really DOESN’T work that way.
I don’t use it as an excuse, but I do use it as an explanation. And now, I have come up with ways to remind myself of things and make lists and ask for other people’s help. And when I do forget something, Paul knows that I’m doing my very best and is sweet rather than irritated (though sometimes still frustrated), and he helps me remember things, or he’ll call to remind me. Of course, the loving kindness is a bit condescending: if I forget something, he’s likely to pat my head and say, “Your poor little brain.” Which is cute. But kind of annoying.
I must add that Michael’s fifth grade teacher would be upset with me if I didn’t note that ADD has really wonderful attributes that go along with it: intense creativity, the ability to think around problems in different ways, the ability to micro-focus on things that bring us enjoyment, which means we are often successful at the things we love… She was instrumental in changing both Michael’s and my perception of how he can get through school while dealing with ADD, and her strict instruction to me was: BACK OFF and let him succeed or fail on his own. So I did, and he’s succeeding beautifully, and I love him, and I will be grateful to that teacher for life (Hi, Jill!).
But right now, today, I wonder what else I have forgotten to do, and feel frustrated and angry. I know my brain will click along the best it can. I know my brain is wonderful, in fact. It’s just a little quirky. And of course I know that everyone feels crazy like this sometimes. ADD just makes it all that much harder.
Other people sometimes amaze me. I was doing dishes the other day and Paul came into the kitchen to get water. I asked him to grab me some paper towels from the laundry room. He said he would after he got his water. He got the water, then opened the fridge because he was hungry. Nothing he wanted to eat there, so he closed the fridge and opened the cabinet. Nothing there, either. He left the room. Then he actually brought me the paper towels! Is that strange, or normal? There is no way on God’s green earth — just no way at all — that I would have remembered the paper towels after the distractions of water, fridge and cabinet. It seems like such a little thing, but really, the request would never occur to me again. I hate it!
Or maybe I’m just slowly losing my mind. That seems like a very likely possiblity, as well.
PS: Yesterday I put the ice cream away in the refrigerator. You’d think my brain would at LEAST send out an alert when it comes to ruining ice cream.