Grown Up And Still Struggling:
Journal Of An Adult With
Attention Deficit Disorder

I sometimes encourage the people I work with to keep a record of their progress. But when one client told me that she had actually started a journal shortly before she began seeing me, I was very pleased. I asked her to allow me to publish the entries that pertain to ADD, so that people in the community can identify themselves and learn from the coping techniques that helped her. The journal offers all readers a rare peek inside the life of an adult with ADD - and will help adults, parents and teachers recognize themselves, their children or their students so that they can get the help they need.

Monday, May 25
I'm starting a journal - and I must say that I am looking forward to writing down my thoughts and feelings. I've tried to keep a journal many times before, but somehow, as many times as I tried, it never lasted for long. My most successful journal has six entries. That is a record! The others mostly have one or two. I don't know why I never actually kept at it, especially since I love writing. But I guess I can add my almost-empty journals to the list of other unfinished projects in my life - like the skirt I started to sew (it's out of style by now), the letter I wrote to President Bush (I kept forgetting to buy stamps) and a thousand other things.

It's worst when I get forgetful and abandon important projects, like studying for an exam or cleaning up after myself. Then I not only have to deal with my own ineptitude, but also with other people's reactions.

But I'm rambling about this problem I have and that's not really what I intended to do when I decided to keep a journal. Anyway, even if all of this is a bit embarrassing, it's refreshing to look at myself objectively. I can do it in the pages of this journal, if only because it is so private.

Wednesday, May 27
Why am I such a scatterbrain?
Where in the world did I put my library card?
Why did I miss the bus?

I am absolutely frustrated and furious at myself. Does everyone forget where they put important things? Does everyone miss buses and appointments as often as I do? For the record, I am a perfectly normal, very intelligent woman. I have a BA in English and I am going for a Master's Degree in Education. So why can't I get my act together?

In retrospect, I never was able to get my act together. My childhood was marked by disorganization and clumsiness. I never had pens or loose leaf paper, my briefcase was always a mess and I was a chronic latecomer. I remember several particularly painful episodes.

Fourth Grade - We had to do a history project about the Pilgrims. I decided to make a puppet show, complete with scenery and props. First I spent three hours looking for my puppets. Then I bumped into the glue bottle and spilled glue all over the box. The whole thing was a mess. But the worst part of it was that I left the project instruction sheet in school, and didn't know that the main requirement of the project was a written report. I didn't do the report, the puppet show didn't work out and I got a big red question mark on my paper instead of a real mark.

Seventh Grade - My teacher got married, and the class chipped in to buy her a beautiful engraved gift. The engraving shop was close to my house, so I volunteered to pick it up. But then I left the gift at home. My classmates were so mad; they spent the entire recess yelling at me and calling me names. I'll never forget how awful and low I felt.

Ninth Grade - It was the beginning of high school and I was determined to do things right. One week into the school year, I needed to buy something in the morning. I gave myself five minutes for the errand. It took fifteen. I remember how shocked I was to realize that I was running late! By the end of the year, I had earned the dubious honor of being the girl who "sat detention the most in the grade."

I thought I outgrew my problems, but after this morning's hassle, I see I still have a major problem with organization and time management.

Thursday, May 28
More of the same.

I had to hand in a report and couldn't find it. I thought I was going to pass out from shame. My professor stood at his desk and waited while I riffled through hundreds of papers. Why wasn't it in my file folder? Why? Why? Why?

Thursday Night, 12:30 AM
I found my library card. It was in my cosmetic bag. I must have gotten distracted while I was putting it away and put it there without concentrating. I tend to get distracted very easily. I think that's why I have a hard time finishing projects.

Tuesday, June 2
Reading over the past entries, I am beginning to see a pattern here. I think I have ADD - Attention Deficit Disorder. It makes sense, based on what I learned in my Psychology class about the condition. ADD is a neurological condition characterized by some of my typical behaviors.

- Difficulty sustaining attention
- Difficulty following instructions
- Losing things necessary for tasks
- Disorganization, surrounded by clutter
- Making careless mistakes
- Chronic daydreaming
- Difficulty complying with rules
I also learned that although ADD and its sister condition, ADHD - Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder - are usually associated with school age children, the condition does not pass with time. As a matter of fact, in order to be diagnosed with Adult ADD, symptoms must have begun in childhood. That makes sense, considering my history.

So now my problems have a name. That's a bit of a comfort, because if I know the enemy, I can tackle it.

Tuesday, June 9
Over the past week, I've been reading everything I can about Adult ADD. I am positively certain that I have it. My history is so classic! Even the fact that my parents believed I outgrew my problems is typical.

All of the experts agree that ADD manifests itself very differently in adults than in children. That's because adults are more socially conscious, so they make a greater effort to conform. For example, I may have been a bit messy as a child, but now I work very hard at looking neat and put together. Also, I would never look out of the window during a lecture, because I am more aware of outward appearances; but my mind can still be very far from the classroom. And I find time management and organization as challenging as ever.

I have to learn how to get around the way my brain is wired!

Sunday, June 14
I am going to get help with my ADD. ADD is impacting my life in a very major way, and I deserve to give myself the tools I need to cope with it. Today's assignment - finding a counselor.

Wednesday, June 17
I found an excellent counselor, and made an appointment. Today she helped me understand that I am not lazy or inept at all - although over the years I definitely did get that feeling. She told me that there is no cure for ADD, but that she could teach me coping techniques to help me get around it. It felt good to be validated and understood.

We also discussed time management. It started because I was apologetic for being late to my appointment and she asked me if it happens often. Does it!

My counselor told me that one reason people with ADD have trouble with time management and organization is because they are not detail oriented, but are more focused on the "big picture." Time is just a detail surrounding everything else in life. It is, however, a crucial detail.

For many years, people with ADD were advised to wear a watch and consult it often. But people with ADD are easily distracted and don't remember to check their watches. My counselor suggested a watch with a buzzer or vibration feature, set at strategic times. We decided that I'm going to set my cell phone to ring in the morning at ten-minute intervals. That way, I'll be able to pace myself, so that I don't find myself lost in time. It might also help me develop a better sense of time that will carry over to the entire day.

Sunday, June 21
Organization is my big issue.

It always was. As a child, my briefcase was always a mess of papers. As an adult, it's much worse. I can never find anything. I find myself buying duplicates and triplicates of things, just because I can't find the one I'm looking for. It's an expensive problem, and the funny thing is that sometimes, even when I have four of a given item, I can't find one!

I discussed it with my counselor, and she gave me some coping techniques that might make a difference. They might sound obvious to most people, but for me, it was helpful to learn them.

Group like objects together. In my room, for instance, it means keeping all of my hair products in one place. That will be a change for me. Right now, I have one brush on the windowsill near my bed, one in the bathroom and others scattered around the house. (I actually had to look for them before I wrote this, because I wasn't sure exactly where they were.) I also have hair bands in different places. This is a hallmark of ADD, because people like me are typically too distracted to think about where to put things. Personally, I usually just put things down wherever I am standing.

Create an address. Every item should have a place to "live." It should return to that place whenever it is not in use. I was taken aback when I realized that I don't know where my brushes belong. It is impossible to put things away if "away" doesn't exist. I am going to sit down and create an address for everything I own.

Contain all objects. It's not enough to keep objects together; they must be contained. That means that I need to buy containers that will keep things where they belong. For my hair implements, it means buying a clear box big enough for all my things. Also, I will label each container in big attention-getting letters. That should get through the ADD-fog I so often live in.

Monday, June 22
The skills I wrote about yesterday can be adapted to my class work.

I'm trying to think of something I use a lot and lose a lot. I think the best example would be a pen. Usually, when I need a pen, I have to fumble around my book bag. My notes are written in red ink, magic marker or pencil - depending on what writing implement I come across when I need to write. This has been an endless source of frustration to me.

But suppose I group all my pens, and give them an address - maybe the front pocket of my bag - and contain them in a case. Do you think I would always have a pen when I need one?

Thursday, June 25
The more I think about ADD, the more I realize that it's not all bad. One of the reasons I usually get distracted is because I am thinking deep and profound thoughts. This correlates with research that shows that people with ADD are generally very intelligent and creative.

Subconsciously, people with ADD often feel that they just can't be bothered with simplistic things like where to put a brush or a particular piece of paper. Of course, this belief is part of the ADD mindset. It is probably why Albert Einstein's hair was always a mess. He couldn't care for it while he was developing brilliant mathematical equations!

On a similar note, I read a story about a professor who met a student on a sprawling campus and asked him if he had noticed if he (the professor!) was coming from the direction of the dining hall or not. The student said that yes, the professor was coming from that direction. To which the professor responded - "good. Then I have eaten."

Total distractibility; total genius!

So I will cheer myself for the resilience, intelligence, and creativity that come along with ADD, and make me who I am. But I will also do everything possible to stay on top of my ADD, so that I can have as much control over my life, my time, and my environment, as possible.

© Rifka Schonfeld, Director SOS, copyright 2010.