Yesterday my life changed.
My darling boy has emigrated.
He was unhappy and wanted a new challenge. London and the UK wasn’t doing it for him anymore. On the surface he had it good – job with a steady income, loyal friends, loving family, faithful dog, great flat mates. But inside he was sad. Nothing or no one could help.
So back in the Summer he made a quick (impulsive?) decision to quit everything he knew and try something different. Bravo to him and his tenacity, determination and perseverance to keep striving and moving forward.
He has followed in his sister’s footsteps to discover whether Tel Aviv in Israel is the right place for him to live a happier life. There’s a good chance that this will work. Living in a vibrant, modern city of young people, all year round sunshine and a stone’s throw from the beach – what could possibly go wrong?!
Before he left, he stayed with me and my hubby for a few weeks. We were reminded just how ADHD has an impact on everyday life. Of course there was the usual disorganisation, bad time keeping, chaotic mess, damage to stuff and full-on energy.
But we noticed that there was also a stark display of the dichotomy between things he can control and things he cannot control.
Let me explain.
My son tends to catastrophise and builds up scenarios in his head of a major drama or that everyone is deliberately winding him up. Whether it’s Putin launching an imminent nuclear Armageddon, a small ache turning into a deadly cancer or a conversation with a bank employee who is trying to defraud him.
These are not based on a reality. They are ideas and thoughts. But they can completely debilitate him as he then spends hours going down the Google rabbit hole and stays up literally all night researching and making himself exhausted and unwell. He will chase people on the phone and demand answers to problems that don’t exist. None of this is in his realm of control.
On the other hand, things he can control get ignored. Paying off a parking fine before it gets escalated, organising the paper work for his visa, getting his clothes washed and organised. All this stuff gets left.
So my son is in a constant of anxiety, nervousness and panic as he is chasing the things he can’t control, whilst mindful of the stuff that he needs to do. I can see the impact that has on his well-being and it is not a nice place to be.
So why does he live in the drama of stuff which is out of his control, rather than sorting stuff that is in his control…?!
What is going on?
People with ADHD are chasing the dopamine fix that is chemically lacking in their brain. The drama (although may have a negative outcome) creates that rush of dopamine and gives that feeling of buzz, interest and stimulation.
Compare that to a boring task like washing or filing papers which gives no chemical release and so gets ignored. A person with ADHD is living in the moment and finds looking forward tricky. So although my son knew he should pay the parking fine, he put it off and used his energy to research ‘what does it feel like to die from a nuclear bomb’.
Our young people with ADHD have experienced so much rejection. In school from the teachers when they were blamed and shamed. Friends who find our children too much, too sensitive, too unreliable. So in real life when things go slightly wrong, people with ADHD tend to immediately feel like they are being mugged off, lied to or rejected. Then this stuff overwhelms, makes them feel sensitive and emotional and this leads to more dramatic scenarios about rejection. My son had a problem with his bank card and got so wound up trying to talk to someone he was then convinced that he had been defrauded. He then spent the next 5 hours trying to cancel not only the card but the newly acquired bank account. He used up so much energy and emotion on a scenario that wasn’t a reality. It was a drama in his head.
Another reason why our children with ADHD are living with this state of drama, is that their brains are buzzing with ideas, thoughts and opinions. Boring stuff, like packing a suitcase, gets pushed to the back of the pile. Instead the brain is jam packed with scenarios that may or may not happen which seem to stimulate the neurotransmitters.
How you can help
Establish a loving, non-judgemental relationship with your child. You want them to come to you when things get too much. No blame. No shame.
Sometimes the only way to stop the drama, is to change direction with distraction. Together write up a list of suggestions what they could do to calm themselves when they are feeling heightened or emotional. This will look different with every child, but may include hugs, running, listening to music, sitting alone, massage or a warm bath.
When the drama is in full-swing, they will need your calm reaction. Avoid blame, “I told you so” or punishments. Instead, offer help and support to work the situation through. You also need to be calm, so work out what you need, before you can reach out to help your child. Look after yourself.
It may take time for their feelings of rejection or panic to subside. My son has described the process as ‘getting through the tunnel’. Once the drama is over, our children can move on pretty quickly so avoid bringing things up.
Offer facts and evidence to help dissipate the drama. It may need you to keep repeating the same things, but they need reassurance and kindness.
Starting on the boring stuff is hard. So give a helping hand. Break the task down into manageable chunks, be a body double, make it a fun competition, offer a reward when it’s done (for my son this involved watching an horrendous Lindsay Lohan film together).
So, drama will happen. You cannot stop the runaway train. You can just be around when your child needs you.
I want to finish with an extract from a poem entitled ‘On Children’
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,Kahlil Gibran ‘On Children’
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
All you can do is empower your child to understand what ADHD means for them.
Then be a strong bow and set the arrows free to fly and soar.