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What Cleaning With My Son Taught Me About Our ADHD

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Living for the past few years has been more like surviving.

I have read from numerous sources that the attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) mind lives in a constant state of fight or flight. For me, that translates into a constant state of anxiety. Everywhere I look in my home, I feel shame about another chore I have no idea how to start, or where any of the items in the piles of clutter belong, because nothing really has a designated home.

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My son said to me after a productive day last week, “Mama, I don’t like it when you clean, because I can’t find anything.” I laughed a bit, and stopped. There was so much truth in that statement… out of a 4-year-old. I am not sharing this for pity; I am sharing it so whoever may read this will understand why I am so overwhelmed.

Why I don’t have people over.

Why getting out the door is so very difficult.

Why I am always breaking plans.

Why I can spend $200 at the market; and not have anything to make a complete meal.

Why, some weeks, I can be on top of my game. I can be so on top I forget the feelings of inadequacy which clouded my mind the week prior.

Why, no matter how pretty and organized my planner looks, I never use it as a planner. I am incapable of planning ahead, so I use it as a journal to remember all the things I did that day, down to what we had to eat at each meal.

Why I never got a degree, even though I excelled at each major I tried.

Most importantly, why I understand my son so much more than anyone else. Why, when I see the panic cross his face in a public restroom when the toilet flushes automatically, my heart cracks a little. I know exactly that sensory overwhelming feeling.

This is how I am able to intuitively know that when he is disciplined, he is not crying because a toy was taken away; he’s crying because his feelings were hurt, because he was yelled at. He is harder on himself mentally at 5 years old than most adults. He sees the differences between himself and his classmates. He has cried to me: “Mama, what is wrong with me?! Why can’t I be normal like my friends?” His self-esteem has taken a huge hit from noticing this difference. He berates himself often. Try as I may, I know my words barely touch that pain. The only thing I can do is hold his hand, and wait for the storm to pass; to let him know I love him, and will always be there.

First things first — I’m not lazy. I’ve thought that for 38 long years. These are all problems with executive functioning.

My son is not spoiled. He does not need more discipline, less sugar or less screen time.

He needs understanding from everyone. He needs love above all else, and positive reinforcement; patience, and concrete explanations. And hours outdoors exploring, plus copious amounts of sensory play.

I/we have not told him yet of his diagnoses, but it was recommended by our group of specialists that we do share it with him. I’m looking for an age-appropriate book to share with him, as we both connect over books. I have told him that I understand his frustrations because I am just the same as he is. This one sentence has helped him immensely. He now comes to me with questions about feelings, and we talk and figure it out.

I must remind myself often this is a neurological disorder. It is no one’s fault. I can be blamed often for being too lenient, not disciplining enough.

I have heard from too many professionals to not use the word “bad,” or use harsh words or punishments; that is what I follow. Why? I know how much it destroys an already-fragile self-esteem to have someone call you these things.

I know when those words are used in reference to myself, I internalize them, add them to the negative tape on constant repeat in my mind…. oh, and before I forget the point behind this post?

After a particularly overwhelming day, my mom came to help me clean up and calm down. She asked my son to put the silverware away. He looked at her puzzled. It was in the dish strainer. She started to joke with him about him not knowing where the silverware went. I jumped in and explained to her that I’ve never put it away. It belongs in the strainer, in his and my minds. This is the way my brain has worked. She helped us put it away, and rearrange my kitchen to be more user-friendly.

Image via contributor

Originally published: August 22, 2017
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