My ADHD life coach once told me that changes in routine are particularly difficult for a person with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD). This definitely explains why I sometimes feel like my grip on the mountain of family life goes from firm and reliable to sweaty and millimeters away from sending me slipping to my demise.
With four kids, these perilous slides happen when we go from one sports season to another, when we switch around extracurricular or therapy appointment schedules, when out of nowhere there’re a couple days off of school for the teachers to professionally develop (I love that teachers professionally develop, but I got a schedule to keep), when holidays mash up the norms, or even when the sun up and decides to set at 4:45pm instead of providing us leisurely light and play late into the evening. All of these changes, minute and big, require adjustments for us mamas and papas.
The thing that didn’t seem obvious until my life coach said it is that neurotypical people are a tad quicker and more intuitive than ADHD-brained people in making adjustments when changing circumstances require it. Then there’s me: “Oh! It’s not a soccer night? What’s that you say? Soccer ended two months ago? No, I don’t know where the lousy basketball shoes are for practice in five minutes. The cleats are handy… wear those instead.”
It takes me forever to switch out sports gear between seasons, to switch out routines between seasons, to switch out clothes/outerwear between seasons, to switch out transportation schedules between seasons.
And – don’t forget – to communicate all those switches to the various members in my family who manage to scatter at just the moment I’m about to make an announcement just so that I can think I said it to everybody when the one who really needed to hear had to emergency poop or ran to watch a squirrel out the front window (don’t you hate it when they do that?).
But SUMMER. Summer is by far the season when my grip on the mountain of family life slips the most. From mid-August until late May, I pretty much know which end is up and which is down, but in June and July it’s like a tornado up in my head.
In typical ADHD fashion, summer is ending and I’m just now catching up to its cumulative impact on my psyche. Summer used to = bliss; now summer = relapse. For the last few years, it has set my wellness back big time. Having a handle on why makes me feel less insane (Since I know I’ll forget, could someone please shoot this essay back to me right around Memorial Day 2020? Thanks.).
Here’s the why: For most families, including mine, each and every week of the summer brings a wildly different pattern: vacation requiring packing and travel coordinating one week; day camp requiring 40 forms, a 6-ounce snack, and immunization records tattooed behind the kid’s left ear next week; early mornings swim team practices and afternoon tennis lessons the following week. Right about the time that I have one week’s routine down, it’s the weekend. Time to reset. Different times to memorize! Different forms! Drop offs and pick ups in different parts of town! Different mamas and papas helping with the carpool! No wonder I don’t know which end is up and which is down!
It usually takes a couple hours in a coffee shop with no interruptions and ear buds to coordinate the details leading up to each bite-sized, week-long schedule (which exhausts my thinker) and then epic ninja moves to execute said bite-sized, week-long schedule (which exhausts me period).
Before too many weeks of this, my wellness troubles begin surfacing. I try not to tank. I think I’m gonna do it better summer after summer, that I’ve learned the perfect organizational tips and tricks to keep me on track. That I’m on the appropriate med regiment to reduce my ADHD symptoms to stay clear-minded, and not to tumble into overwhelm. That I’ve got just the right amount of help and brain rest and self-care in place to keep my psyche safe. But despite all of that, it seems to catch up with me predictably every year right in the middle. Around the time everyone’s maniacally shooting off celebratory explosives, I’m beginning to crash and spiral. This is when my heart starts pounding out of my chest and I stop constructing complete or coherent sentences and I snap when someone interrupts me from anything and the Tetris scheduling seems impossible, and inner doubt has a hay day beating me up, and it’s all too much, and I’m anxious, anxious, anxious.
Here’s what I’m saying to you: IT’S OK. If this is you at any point in the summer (or anytime you can’t get consecutive normal weeks under your belt), it’s OK.
Summer is hard for parents of youngish children who have neurotypical brains. It’s nearly impossible for you and me. EVEN when we’re doing everything right. The “here we go again” that resounds in our consciousnesses may happen every summer for the foreseeable future and, if it does, that’s something we can deal with.
Take a page from my playbook and write out a super kind note to yourself that says something like this: “Dear Tricia, You have ADHD, and it’s for real. Know that everything it takes to run your family and your life is way more difficult for you than it is for others. This means you gotta take care of yourself more than others have to take care of themselves. This also means you gotta give yourself a crap ton of grace. You really are rocking it and you really are intelligent and when you don’t feel you are either, be patient. Also, layer on the self-care, consult with your ADHD-specialized psychiatrist, and did I say be patient? Breathe and be patient. Now is not forever. Healing, a better grip, and inner calm always return in time. Hang on. Remember: You rock! Love, Tricia”