parent opinion

'I suffer from time-blindness.' The daily mental load of being a mum with ADHD.

It’s well documented that the mental load of motherhood is overwhelming, especially when you're a sole parent. 

If you add ADHD it becomes so much harder to stay on top of everything. 

The daily challenges are unimaginable for those who don’t have ADHD.

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How it affects people varies enormously. What can make it hard to understand is that the symptoms of ADHD are problems that everyone has. The difference for someone with ADHD is how often these things impact them. 

In other words, how often we deal with intense emotions, have difficulty with organisational skills, control our impulses and how well we are able to ‘regulate’ our attention.

People with ADHD experience these challenges all day every day. 

What we really need is for others to understand just how hard it can be for us to manage and for them to have zero judgement. If we’re taking medication, it’s because it’s necessary in order for us to function.

It can be confusing to others because at times we’re able to focus on certain things really well, while for some tasks it can be like 'nailing jelly to a wall' (I love this quote so much as it is SO TRUE! Check out the awesome TED Talk about living with ADHD by Jessica McCabe to understand even better.)

My day is SO frustrating!

Here’s a snapshot of how a busy day goes for me if I don’t take my medication:

The biggest challenge for me day-to-day is that I constantly lose my place. And if I don’t take my medication, it happens so many times that I lose count. For example, if I’m at my computer working, perhaps writing an article like this, I will have laser-sharp focus, focus so intense I’ll put off going to the toilet or doing my neck exercises despite some pretty intense pain.

But when I can’t ignore my bladder anymore and finally go to the bathroom, I’ll see the empty clothes horse that I put up when I put some washing on to remind me to hang the washing out. (I do this so I don’t forget and end up with mouldy washing). 

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Then, after attending to my seriously distended bladder, I’ll start to hang out the washing.

Part of the way through I might think to myself, I’ll just pop the kettle on so it’ll be ready for me to make a cuppa once the washing is out. 

Then I’ll find myself getting a clean cup from the dishwasher. And before I know it, I’ll find myself unstacking the dishwasher, then remember the clothes will be really crumpled if I leave them till later. So, I’ll pop a couple more pieces of clothing out.

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But in the meantime, the kettle boils, so I’ll go to the fridge to get some milk. I’ll realise I forgot to take my supplements earlier (or did I?) so I’ll grab them too. As I finish the milk, I’ll go to pop the container in the recycling and realise it’s full and that the recycling truck is due by today so I’ll take it out.

When I get back inside, I will realise I’m halfway through putting the washing out, emptying the dishwasher, making a cuppa, and taking my supplements. 

Suddenly, a reminder will go off on my computer that I have a Zoom meeting starting in ten minutes. 

I’ll turn that off, go and have my supplements - both of which stay in the fridge and it’ll take two trips to put them away instead of using both and putting them away at the same time.

I finish making my cuppa and putting the clothes out and then my elderly mum rings asking if I have time to give her a hand to attach a document to an email.

Of course, it takes longer than expected but we get there in the end. I finally sit down again at my desk and realise that I am 10 minutes late for the meeting I was reminded about only twenty minutes earlier.

Severe memory problems are my worst symptom

This, my friends, is how having a terrible working memory impacts me.  

While medication does improve my symptoms hugely, I still struggle with these challenges every day. 

When I do assessments during follow-up appointments with my doctor, it’s estimated that my symptoms decrease by approximately 80 per cent.

I don’t lose my place anywhere near as often and can generally remember what I’m doing from moment to moment. 

It makes managing my load, and therefore my quality of life, unimaginably better. 

It got to the point where I would miss an important appointment, leave the front door open when I went out, leave meat in my handbag (I know right?! So gross...) leave a hot plate on or do something this worrying every day.

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My memory problems have always been bad, I once left my cello on the tram when I was a kid! But they’ve gotten a lot worse with perimenopause which often affects memory.

For me it has been extreme, though now that I’m medicated, I can function so much better.

But some people still think I shouldn’t take medication. 

For the record, I exercise regularly, meditate a lot, prioritise sleep, I’m good in terms of self-love (self-trust is improving slowly), I eat a very healthy diet and take supplements such as saffron as some studies show it works as well as medication. 

I’m sure all of these things help, but they do not come close to helping me as much as medication does. 

The examples above demonstrate my poor attention regulation, difficulty prioritising and time-blindness. 

On top of this, throw in how well I can tolerate stress because living like this is so freaking stressful! I’m pretty good at dealing with big stress, but I find day-to-day stress really hard to manage.

The worst things about ADHD are the stigma and shame

Stigma and shame are two of the worst things about ADHD. 

As I have mentioned, ADHD impacts everybody differently. I recently asked a large group of people with ADHD what the hardest thing was for them and what helps the most. 

Here’s what they said, broken down into a few different themes:

Most people agreed, the most awful part of having ADHD is the stigma and having feelings of shame, inadequacy and the flow-on depression, anxiety and other mental health problems. 

This is made worse by being judged by family members and others as being lazy, useless and overly sensitive. Many of us also experience complex PTSD from the trauma of falling short of other’s expectations over and over again for our entire lives.

The solutions this group found most helpful included medication, practising self-acceptance and self-compassion, educating family and friends, support from family and friends and especially from others with ADHD. 

While not many people mentioned this, research shows that CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and anecdotally trauma therapy, are often both very helpful too.

Personally, the most helpful strategy for the emotional impact of ADHD has been meditation and mindfulness. 

Research shows I’m not the only one who has had this experience. 

During my training to be an ADHD coach, neuropsychologist David Nowell, PhD stated: “A good life for someone with ADHD is an aware life”. I couldn’t agree more. Aside from medication, meditation has had the most benefit for me.

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Memory, organisation, time-blindness and focus

Problems with memory, being organised, focusing, prioritising, being on time and simply getting things done seem to be a huge challenge for most of us when it comes to functioning day-to-day. Losing things and forgetting people’s names are often a constant source of frustration (and financial drain!)

Life is so complex these days, and we’re all expected to be good at everything. We need to manage everything from our personal admin, our finances, our health and fitness, and a social life - all while keeping on top of our workload, both at home and at work. 

And if we don’t there’s a real sense of shame for not 'having your act together'.

While there are various ways to help manage these symptoms of ADHD including medication, outsourcing, accountability, devices such as phone reminders, Siri and countless other apps, understanding from others also goes a very long way.

The social impact of ADHD

Social problems are also really common, with both friendships and intimate relationships.

Many of us, including myself, find it hard to find a partner. In my case, I think it's because I’m anxious about things going wrong. The emotions I experience with rejection (or disapproval of any type) have been so overwhelming at times that it has made building a strong connection really difficult.

This is because I am wired differently and it’s much more difficult for me to manage my emotions, as is the case for most people with ADHD. 

This has caused me a lot of trauma over the years… though I do like myself much more now than I ever have before. 

So I’m hopeful this area of life is improving.

For me, as is the case with many others, a number of my closest friends are also neurodiverse. They just understand me better. 

I’ve also had some trauma therapy of late. Specifically, I’ve been trying a type of trauma therapy called EMDR that I know has really helped others with ADHD. I’m feeling much more optimistic about the future of my relationships at this point in time, so that’s a good start.

It’s not all bad!

After reading this article, it might seem like a stretch to turn around and say that there are actually some benefits to ADHD. For most people, there is far, FAR more suffering that takes place than there are benefits.

However, I strongly believe that this is because of the flow-on effects and that when (and right now it’s a big 'when' because sadly this rarely happens…) ADHD is well understood, lots of strategies are put in place, accommodations are made where necessary and most importantly, ADHD receives good quality treatment, people with ADHD are able to enjoy the benefits.

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The fact is that people with ADHD often have incredible minds and if the stars align, can achieve incredible things. 

A lot of seriously successful people have ADHD including many entrepreneurs such as Sir Richard Branson, and the world's most famous marketer, Seth Godin.

In my experience, we are very sensitive people. I wouldn’t change myself in this regard in a million years, despite the challenges. 

But the biggest benefit by far is creative thinking. Research backs that ADHD does indeed enable people to think more creatively and problem solve with more originality than neurotypical people.

Finally, I want to add that there are also perfectly valid reasons for not taking medication for ADHD as well. 

How different people manage it is very personal. But one thing applies across the board. Not judging people who are struggling in any way is key.

Accepting people as they are and educating ourselves about how different brains work is a great way to make the world a better, more understanding place for all of us. 

Feature Image: Supplied.

Susie Hopkins has been teaching people evidence-based ways to manage stress for nearly 10 years. She is the founder of Lilo Wellness and has a Masters of Public Health, a Registered Nurse and a qualified mindfulness and yoga teacher. She has also completed ADHD Professional Certificate Training and is an avid advocate for neurodiversity.

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