Topic Spotlight: ADHD

Mental health has been a topic that has been getting a lot of attention lately and for good reason. Of course it has always been an issue, but with the COVID-19 pandemic of the seemingly last 20 years it’s really come to the foreground. A lot of good has been said on the matter to help anyone suffering from depression, anxiety, etc. But today, I want to take a moment to talk to a specific group who is at a greater risk for this kind of suffering.

People with ADHD.

People like me.

ADHD is a neurological “disorder,” though I say that in quotation marks because I prefer to think of my brain as wired in a way that is less compatible with the priorities of our society than others and not disordered. But semantics aside, people with ADHD, especially those who go undiagnosed or are undertreated, are at a greater risk than “normal” people for depression and/or anxiety due to low self-esteem and frustration. Who wouldn’t be depressed if they frequently heard that he or she was “lazy” or not “living up to their potential?”

I cringe to think of all the times I’ve told my own little ADHD-er that he just needs to focus, as if he weren’t already trying his best.

There are plenty of times that I truly enjoy being inside my own head. I’m rarely bored as I bounce from one idea to the next! Sometimes I’ll blurt something out and my husband will give me a weird look and ask where that came from. I’ll just laugh and explain that he said a word that reminded me of a lyric in a song which reminded me of that one time when that one person said that thing, but she really meant to say…

But there are plenty of other times when I would rather be anywhere else than inside my head. Like all the times in high school when everyone knew me as a “smart kid” but my grades weren’t good enough to get on the Distinguished Honor Roll. Or the countless times I’ve been late because I just can’t seem to get my act together. Or the time that I discovered that I had somehow managed to miss several weeks of lectures and completely missed an important detail my professor had announced, which resulted in an extra hour of work and anxiety that nearly ruined a weekend away with my husband. 

That was two weeks ago.

At 31, I am way more organized than I was ten years ago. I’m usually on time to appointments and I don’t miss assignments. People call me organized, but the truth is I am obsessive about getting dates on my phone calendar so that I don’t double book myself. I am a planner out of sheer necessity. It has required a lifetime of hard work and trial and error to get to this point of “togetherness” and I’m proud of how far I’ve come, but it’s exhausting!

I had the idea to write an ADHD post for this blog a week or so ago. In my head, it was going to be a kind of “how to do grad school with ADHD,” but I decided that it would be best to put it on the back burner for now. After all, I really should be reading an article at the moment. 

But then I got sidetracked by this video interviewing two children, one with ADHD and one without. Apparently October is ADHD Awareness month, so I thought I’d get this out before the month is over!

If there’s anyone out there reading this struggling with ADHD, know that you aren’t alone. You aren’t weird. 

Unless, of course, you wear that label as a badge of honor!

Surviving (and Thriving) as a Parent in Grad School

Not long after I graduated with my undergraduate degree, I began to get the itch to go back to school. The only problem was that I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, and for some reason my husband wasn’t on board with spending tens of thousands of dollars without a clear purpose!

Seven years and three children later, I’m finally pursuing an advanced degree, and let’s face it, grad school is no walk in the park. We all face our own challenges. As students with children, however, these challenges are a little more challenging.

Obviously there’s no one-size-fits-all technique for completing a graduate degree while parenting. Each student’s situation is unique. For my part, I occasionally do some freelance writing and proofreading, but my main gig is as a homeschool mom of three destructive darling boys who are at home with me 24/7. With some ADHD and autism added to the mix, our world is rarely boring.

As crazy as our house can get, through trial and error I’ve figured out some strategies over the last two semesters that have helped me not only survive grad school but also thrive while I’m at it. The following are all suggestions that have helped me. Feel free to take whatever works for you and make it your own!

Plan when and where you’ll work.

Have you ever heard the saying “Fail to plan and you plan to fail”? Well I don’t know about you, but it’s very true for me. Sure, I might get the important things done, but I’ll be super stressed about it and probably won’t do it well.

For my part, I require my boys to take a quiet time every afternoon. They think it’s an hour long, but it’s really an hour and a half. (Sidenote: I didn’t lie to them. I just never corrected their assumption!) They are in separate rooms, and I’m on the couch. It’s good for them to have time to play or read independently, but let’s be real. This time is for me. 

After taking care of my basic physical needs (power nap, anyone?) I get to work. This is when I get the bulk of my school work done.

I’ll often do some more work after the kids are in bed, but I’m also careful to reserve an evening or two to spend time with my husband. He’s kind of important to me!

Figure out what helps you focus.

Once you figure out when and where you’ll do your school work, figure out what helps you to focus. I like to make sure I have all of my stuff together at the beginning of a study session. I find it very irritating to get up when I just sat down. 

Some of the things I try to remember are my noise canceling headphones, a cup of water or tea, my Chromebook, and lapdesk. I also keep a sweater or blanket on hand in case I get cold.

I’ve also curated a playlist on Spotify called Study Playlist. I know, the originality of the title is astounding. Only soothing and/or inspiring instrumental pieces are allowed on this exclusive list.

Take the time to make a game plan.

Online classes are the best and the worst. I love the flexibility they offer, but they lack the structure that I desperately need. So I create my own. 

At the beginning of each week, before I tackle any course work, I review and write down all readings, lectures, and assignments for the module. It helps me to visually see in one place everything that needs to happen. I also get a small thrill from crossing things off of my list, but that’s a whole other discussion.

Once I have it all in front of me, I break up the work in chunks. I usually focus Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday for reading, Thursday for lectures, and assignments on Friday and Saturday. When everything goes according to plan, that leaves me Sunday to rest and be with my family. It sometimes actually happens!

Take care of yourself.

This really should be the most obvious point, but it unfortunately usually takes the back burner. Between children, work, school, and any other responsibilities you’ve taken on, adding one more thing to the list probably doesn’t sound feasible. The reality, however, is that you can’t afford to not take care of yourself.

Make sure you’re getting enough sleep to meet your personal needs. Eat foods that nourish your body and don’t just fill up space or give you a dopamine hit. Move your body to keep the blood flowing. And for the love of all that is holy, lay off the coffee! Caffeine doesn’t actually give you energy, it just blocks your brain from receiving the signal that you’re tired. This often leads to us pushing ourselves beyond our limits which makes us even more tired, creating a vicious cycle.

Graduate school is a daunting task for anyone. Whether you’re parenting a newborn or teenagers, working full-time or job hunting, you can figure out a way to make it work.