Guest Expert

Coping With ADHD

Katherine Ellison’s Secret Trick

Like millions of literally millions of other parents around the world, I cope with ADHD as a double-whammy. Not only has my child, now 16, been diagnosed with the condition, but so have I.

I’m actually grateful to my son, whom I call “Buzz” in the memoir, “Buzz: A Year of Paying Attention,” for sending me on this path of self-discovery. Were it not for looking over his shoulder as he answered the diagnostic questionnaire,I might never have understood some of the fundamentally hereditary reasons for what until then was a lifetime of mysterious behavior.

A key thing I now understand about my brain, which puts much of my past in perspective, is that like so many people with ADHD, I ((heart icon)) novelty. Scientists believe they’ve in fact discovered a gene mutation that makes people like me and Buzz particularly eager for all things new and shiny. For much of my life, I (unconsciously) followed this yen with a tailor-made career of being a foreign correspondent – chasing news throughout Latin America, Africa, and Asia. I settled down, moving back to the California suburbs, soon after he turned four – and that’s when my troubles began.

How does one chase novelty as a part-time author and freelancer, juggling assignments between long hours of routine schlepping, cleaning, cooking, and complaining? I’m here to tell you: it’s an art. Over the past ten years, as my two high-energy boys have become teenagers, I’ve learned that without adding frequent doses of new stuff into my life, I become much too grouchy to get the mothering stuff right. So I’ve consciously pursued novelty, both in the topics I write about and a few collateral pastimes.

Eleanor Roosevelt famously recommended that people “Do one thing every day that scares you.” A little bit of risk gets the dopamine levels up, and gives you something to think about when you’re shoving those wet towels into the washing machine. My latest project along these lines is to take classes in Improv. For years, I’d dreamed about it, but never had the courage to sign up until recently. I started going with a friend, and somehow managed to continue after she dropped out. The guiding tenets of Improv – to be spontaneous, agreeable, and positive – also serve me well as a mom.

The classes are every Saturday. At first, I thought it wouldn’t be fair to take the time away from my family. But once I and everyone else saw how refreshed I was when I returned, they encouraged me to keep at it. (I did my best not to think about whether that meant my husband and sons would spend the entire time glued to the TV.)

Perhaps getting up on stage and winging it every week isn’t your thing, but it’s worth asking yourself what is, and then exploring it. Brian Little, a lecturer at Harvard, uses the phrase “restorative niches” to describe an important tool in the search for happiness. Everyone needs a little niche away from domesticity, even if it takes a little work to find the right one. This one helps me cope with ADHD. What works for you?

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