Tuning In To Make Tough Choices

Making choices (not an ADHD strong suit) means figuring out what you need.
Life in the Fast Brain | posted by Kristen Caven

I haven’t sent a blog for a while. I got a little distracted!
Prioritizing and making choices is not my strong suit, since I like to say 'yes' to everything.
— Kristen Caven
It boggles my mind how neurotypicals can just plan things and do them. For me, life always tends to take some interesting detour. I’m not sure if this is due to ADHD, but I know the universe responds to your thoughts… and like my father before me and my son after me, and so many curious and creative people I know…my thoughts go in a lot of directions.
I have been traveling abroad. I can’t believe I actually made it happen! But I set a goal, five years ago, to go to Europe for my next milestone birthday. I had no idea how to achieve this dream, but I just kept thinking about how happy it would make me. And somehow, it all came together.
Except that on the night before we left, my traveling companion, upon whom I was relying to help keep me focused and on track, went into the hospital! Of course I took it personally, had crying fits and shook my fists at the sky going “Why? WHY?” Then I just had to figure out what to do, which was agonizing. Prioritizing and making choices is not my strong suit since I like to say yes to everything. I wanted someone to tell me to stay home, since the thought of going alone kind of terrified me. But my friend, beatific in her hospital gown and paper brain surgery hat, held my hand and gazed lovingly into my eyes and said, “Kristen, I'll be fine. Do what you need to do."
What is it about ADHD that makes it so hard for us, sometimes, to know what we need? Is it that we are so easily distracted and drawn to whatever person or idea is in front of us? Or is it that every emotion, every desire, feels equally important? When the pressure is on, it is even harder to make a decision. Fortunately, after the crying fits, I remembered I DO have some self-sorting skills in my repertoire.
When I’m out of touch with my inner guidance system, here are the top four things in my toolkit: talking to friends, talking to my mom, writing, and taking a walk in nature. My friends were great listeners, but I found myself tallying up their opinions and not hearing my own. When I talked to my mom, I realized I didn’t have enough information yet—and was at least able to decide to postpone my ticket for a day or two rather than canceling it. The next day, I tried to write it through. While writing, I could hear how jumbled my thoughts were; only a walk outside could clear my head.
Putting one foot in front of the other, as humans have done for millions of years (12 miles per day, on average, according to Brain Rules by John Medina), I was able to tune in to my interest-driven mind, and to hear the smallest voices inside, the ones that hadn’t been clear. I could finally hear what I needed.
Ultimately, what it came down to were two things, the first being Enzo. I needed to set an example for him of how to move through a hard time, even when it’s super scary and you have to go on faith. I also needed to let him have the experience of time without mom—waking himself up in the morning, feeding himself, taking a few more steps towards being a grown-up.
And the second one was the tiniest whisper of happiness that called. Even though my heart was broken about visiting art museums, I realized there was a mountain I wanted to climb. I needed to stick by my dream and celebrate my Nth year of being me!
Next Blog » A Junk-Juggling Journey
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The Fluid of the Brain

A visit to a craniosacral therapist and an introduction to an obscure but pleasurable—and highly effective—ADHD treatment.

In the scene in Young Frankenstein just before Dr. Frankenstein (as played by the hilarious Gene Wilder) turns the monster’s life around, he strokes the bewildered face of his creation (played by the delightful Peter Boyle) and cries out, “If I could just find a way to balance hiscerebro-spinal fluid, he would be right as rain!”
Loud, opinionated voices call it quackery, drowning out those who have experienced positive results.
— Kristen Caven
I burst out laughing (as one does, watching this comedy classic) because screenwriter Mel Brooks really got that one right! Craniosacral therapy can really sort you out.
When Enzo fell down the stairs at age three (a long and horrible story that includes an exuberant puppy at the top of the stairs that got between dad and the toddler), I took him to a chiropractor, since a cracked tailbone as a teen had taught me how a good chiropractor can speed up the healing process. The doctor offered to do someCraniosacral therapy. I said what?
She showed me the picture of a boxer in the midst of getting smashed in the face, and you could see how misshapen his head was. “Our skull has joints,” she explained, “that don’t move very much, but when they get out of whack they can cause a lot of problems.” It really helped Enzo, and he loved the treatment so much he’d often ask me for a head rub before bed. “Do it just like the chiropractor did it,” he would insist.
It wasn’t until years later, when I was being treated for my whiplash n’ concussion, that I learned CST is used, sometimes, for ADHD. This was no surprise to me, since my head always felt so much clearer and less foggy after a treatment. “There was one guy I knew,” the doctor told me as she pressed her fingers into my skull, “who was having so much success helping kids with ADHD that the Ritalin people smeared his business and he had to fight to keep his license.” Which, if it is true, is quite a shame. ADD meds are so powerful and effective and well-established that “The Ritalin People” need not fear natural care. As a matter of fact, they could afford to help the little guys—maybe by funding some blind, controlled scientific studies, to legitimize the truckloads of anecdotal evidence. When physical trauma is at the root of their symptoms, people need true healing.
I went online when I got home, and did some research on CST and ADHD. There are pages of stories and studies that show CST's positive benefits for hyperactivity, impulsivity, and sensitivity. Of course there are also plenty of studies that show it is ineffective (knock it off, Ritalin People!)—and loud, opinionated voices that call it quackery, drowning out those who have experienced positive results. A few months later, an upper-neck specialist shone some light on why it works sometimes: we have an intricate network of blood vessels where our skull meets our spine. If the top vertebra, the Atlas bone, for example, is twisted (you can sometimes feel a bump on one side or the other), it affects blood flow to the brain, which is why head trauma can cause symptoms resembling ADHD. Sometimes ADHD is genetic, sometimes it is situational/environmental, so obviously CST won’t resolve every case. But there are some stories about there about highly troubled children whose behavioral issues simply disappear once they get their cerebro-spinal fluid balanced.
Overall, CST is exceptionally gentle, feels good, can’t hurt you, and has many health benefits—it can even help with the common cold. It is safe to use on small children, and a good practitioner will teach you how. Head rubs at night calmed Enzo and helped him sleep. CST can be used instead of or in addition to chiropractic care. I think more people should know about it—especially those who feel they are living with a “monster” they wish were "right as rain."
Next Blog » The Mid-Year Check-in
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The Mid-Year Check-in

An interview with Dr. Adelaide Robb gives great guidelines for parents dealing with teachers…but takes an awkward turn, thanks to ADHD.

Life in the Fast Brain | posted by Kristen Caven

This fall, I was granted an interview with Dr. Adelaide Robb, a big-time psychopharmacologist with ongoing research studies in mood disorders, schizophrenia, and post traumatic stress disorder, and Chief of the Division of Psychology and Behavioral Health of the Children's National Health System, which aims to combine psychological and psychiatric services to treat the medically ill child.
I felt let down by the school I work so hard for as a parent volunteer.
— Kristen Caven
It was during that busy time of my son's senior year when I was frantically trying to get ACT accommodations, and being denied because extra time on tests, though it is something all of Enzo's teachers provided, was not explicitly stated in his 504 plan, so I was crying some days, feeling let down by the school I work so hard for as a parent volunteer, and hugging people on other days who stepped up to help with this problem. I was also falling behind with work deadlines, watching my creative goals fall by the sidelines, and pursuing treatment for my own issues of distractibility.
I managed to miscommunicate with Dr. Robb's publicist, so the day I was prepared for an interview she didn't call, and the day we rescheduled I was rushing around between appointments. In other words, I was in high ADHD multitasking mode and my first attempt at medication was making me feel—well, different. And then she called. TEN MINUTES EARLY. And I was flustered.
Here's the interview, which is packed full of super helpful advice for parents who can use some guidance on what steps to take to help their kids.
And here's the awkward behind-the-scenes intro that I had to find time, find software, and learn software to edit out…
And now this information has missed the time frame for which it was intended…but it will to be useful at any time to parents who need it!


Let Them Fail?

The hardest part in getting help is letting your kid's problems show.

A 9th grade single mom called me, distraught. “I know my son has attention problems,” she said, “and I don’t know what to do.” She went on to describe a history of rat-nest backpacks, forgotten homework, impulsive decisions and other familiar-sounding struggles.
The sooner you can let him fail, the sooner you’ll get the help you need.
— Kristen Caven
My mind went back to those desperate ninth grade nights, when the red marks would start showing up on the online grading system. Until then, we’d believe our son was doing just fine. All the teachers would just tell us what a pleasure he was to have in class, and for the most part, he liked school and understood what he was learning. But in spite of his good attitude and a good work ethic, his world was crumbling around him and he couldn’t see it. He wanted to take care of things himself, but when we’d open his binders, it was like peering into the abyss. We’d help by sorting papers and trying to triage the problems. There were plenty of pep talks, but the feelings of overwhelm drained and distracted our whole family.
Enzo passed ninth grade only because he had two parents involved on his side in The Big Struggle—pushing through feelings of blame, shame, and resentment. I tried a few times to wake him up at 4am to finish his homework like Obama’s mom did for her son, but I couldn’t wake myself up—we all needed our sleep to prepare for the marathon of constant do-overs. Every single marking period was a white-knuckle ride, made worse when overworked teachers didn’t sound the alert until a few days before the end of the term. Every single report card caused a family blowup as our high expectations of our GATE-identified child were challenged again and again. We began to whisper, then say out loud, maybe he’s just a C student. By tenth grade we were much less hopeful...and completely exhausted.
“The reason that our son got a 504 plan,” I explained to this parent, “is that his grades were spiraling downwards, and we couldn’t keep him on track by ourselves anymore.” Other parents we knew had brought paperwork from specialists showing a learning disability, but their students were stonewalled from getting help—because in a public school, B students do not appear, mathematically, to need accommodations. This mom’s bright young quarterback had been to a private middle school on a scholarship, where differences were not seen as disorders. The teachers there had bent over backwards to help her charming son succeed—and not because they had a legal obligation to do so.
I gave her the best advice I could. A letter from the private school would help, but the sooner she could get her son a referral, the sooner the school would be on her side. “Tighten your seatbelts,” I said—hating what next came out of my mouth, but wanting to save her the pain we’d felt—“the sooner you can let him fail, the sooner you’ll get the help you need.”


Guess What?! (Ta-Dah) You’re ADD!

At last, someone sees me through my own eyes.

Life in the Fast Brain | posted by Kristen Caven

The most amazing thing happened after I quit my out-of-pocket therapist who Just! Didn’t! Get! what I had been trying to tell her for a year. (That sometimes I don’t know who I am when I wake up on an unstructured morning. That I have trouble sticking to routines she suggests and my days get away from me, or that I’m overwhelmed by all the wonderful things in my life.) Although kind and caring, she felt doubtful whenever we talked about ADD. She kept measuring me by the same confusing tests that required me to have been a problem child, which I never was.
Your symptoms hide under competence, confidence, and wisdom.
— Kristen Caven
On the day we parted ways, I flipped through my Attention Issues Class manual and found the name of a therapist in my health plan in another city that had been scribbled on the back. And finally, after years of educating professionals, on my nickel, about ADHD, someone saw me as a complete and complex person, and not a set of numbers on tests.
After just a short time together, Dr. Aha said what I already knew, “When you have problems, they are ADD problems, but you’ve developed so many successful ways of working with your mind and coping with your differences that your life mostly works (except when it doesn’t), and you don’t appear to have a disorder.” But he’d seen a lot of cases and saw me on the spectrum with (ta-dah!) combined-type ADHD.
“I can see why others wouldn’t catch it,” he also said. “Your symptoms hide under anxiety, but they also hide under competence, confidence, and wisdom.”
“Yes, sometimes I seem to have it, and sometimes I don’t,” I agreed.
“But inconsistency is the hallmark of diagnosing ADHD in adults,” he said.
I KNOW!!! RIGHT??? In college, my teachers called me “consistently inconsistent.”
I felt so relieved, so validated that a knowledgeable professional had finally seen me through my own eyes. (Driven by Distraction was already on his shelf; I didn’t have to loan him a copy or educate him on what ADD was about.) He understood that my challenges with forgetting things, being confused, feeling disconnected, losing track of things, and having trouble starting and finishing things, were the cause of my anxieties, not the symptoms.
He asked the right questions. Like, “is your house a mess?”
“No, my husband gets us to clean it for a family fun time on Thursdays.”
“What did it look like when you lived alone?” (Clever doctor!)
“Creative chaos, so I’d have friends over every month to force myself to clean it.”
And then, “Do you fidget?”
“You don’t seem like you’re fidgeting”
“I can hide it,” I said. “I am always clicking my teeth to a tune in my head.”
“And you’re getting my full attention, too,” he said. I just wanted to jump up and hug him. He understood that my symptoms disappear when I’m engaged in personal interaction.
I told him what my frustrated father once said about me, something that sounded a little mean but that really defined my Life Issue.“You don’t do anything half-assed. You do things four-fifthed assed.”
Dr. Aha smiled when he heard that. He knew what it meant. And, after years of trying to understand, finally I knew what it meant, too.


You’re Not ADD (Part 6): You’re a Virgo

How many ways can you explain away your personality?

Life in the Fast Brain | posted by Kristen Caven
“I will always have this tension inside me,” I explained to my husband once, as we pushed our baby around the lake on one of our weekly walk/talks. “I’m a Leo/Leo Rising, with my moon and all my other planets in Virgo. I’m like a lion in a cage with all of this powerful artistic energy that can’t come out except through the perfectionist side of me.” This was the emotional “stuck point” that I came up against year after year… the painful feeling that I could never truly accomplish my goals. That I could never be fully understood, that I could never truly get traction because I’m always at war with myself somehow.
But when it all comes down to it, neither Astrology nor Psychiatry can help you when your glasses are on your head and you can’t find them.
— Kristen Caven
My understanding husband would laugh at the paragraph above. Not necessarily because I left out his eye-rolling, but specifically, the fifth word after the quotation—“once.” I explained this known fact about myself enough times that he would bring it up sarcastically in our arguments about incompletions. “Yeah, I know Leos can’t remember there’s laundry that needs to go in the dryer, bla bla bla…” (But he’s a Cancer/Gemini cusp, so I’m used to the different sides of his personality…)
Astrological readings have brought me a nice perspective in my life, the two or three times I’ve done them. (Learning Mars is in my house of marriage helped me stay married, since I’d probably have these spats no matter who I was with.) Astrology has helped me be more accepting of other peoples’ personalities (Capricorns, for example, don’t tend to like talking astrology), but more importantly, to be accepting of myself. The good Astrology books I’ve read have helped me understand that our stories may be somewhat sketched out, but we are free to shape them for better or worse, since every human quality can have a negative or a positive expression. These understandings have helped me strive to be a better human being.
When I began my journey to understanding ADHD in adults, I spoke to a friend whose life keeps taking those telltale turns one’s life takes when one can’t keep one’s thoughts inside one’s head…. “For me,” she said. “It’s just because my Mercury’s in Virgo and my Sun is trine with both Pluto and Uranus. Plus I’ve got Chiron conjunct North Node.” I very nearly blurted out, “I wonder if there’s a pill for that…?”
Anyone who is not Astrology-averse must wonder about its relation to modern Psychiatry—since, after all, we are talking about the same human minds that have been on the planet for millions of years. Both fields are observations on the subtleties of the mind, tied to available science (Psychiatry: Chemistry; Astrology: Astronomy), more complex than people realize, imprecise, and, I might add, mutually maligned. In Medical Astrology (yes, it’s a thing) there’s been some research into the connection between natal charts and ADD that points back to chemical sensitivities.
But when it all comes down to it, neither Astrology nor Psychiatry can help you when your glasses are on your head and you can’t find them. That’s why it’s good to have a husband.


You’re Not ADD (Part 5): Want some Prozac?

Trying to get a diagnosis can be quite a thrill ride.

On my health plan, they have a process by which people are diagnosed with ADHD. First, you go to the 2-hour talk on Adult Attention Issues, where they pass out a test. Then you wait three weeks and they send you a letter. Yes, you have it. No, you don’t. It’s like getting accepted into college... or not. If you do, you get some meds and 4 appointments with a therapist who may or may not know anything about ADHD in adult women.
“When you have ADHD,” the teacher droned on, “you need to be entertained or you lose interest.” I wanted to bolt after twenty minutes of her slow-moving, monotone presentation.
— Kristen Caven
If, because they have awesome services in the Pediatrics department, you ask your child’s psychiatrist something like, “I think he’s this way because of me,” they won’t really talk to you; they’ll say to go stand in line in the Adult department. (If you cry, because you don't understand and are desperate to ask questions like "is it because I was a terrible mother and could never teach him how to floss every night because I can't remember to myself?" Well, they’ll close the door extra-fast.) So, you just keep worrying and having all these questions that no one will answer until you do all your listening first.
In the Adult Attention Issues session, which is standing room only, they describe every aspect of what it feels like to have ADHD. I sat through this meeting twice, five years apart, and had to sit on my hands to keep from raising them every two seconds to chime in with additional information, since it was all so familiar. The test is full of questions that make you sound like a loser, which I’m not. On some questions, I had to be perfectly honest and answer both “Rarely true” and “Always true,” since one answer is correct when I’ve got fun things going on in my life, and the other is correct when I’m feeling overwhelmed. I wanted to explain this to someone, but no one ever asked me what I meant.
The first time I went through the process, they said I was on the borderline, not “disordered” enough to have ADHD, and the psychiatrist kindly offered me some Prozac or other anxiety medication. But I am not a fearful person, I told her, just an overwhelmed one. I only really worry about one thing: can I keep my shit together without dropping all these balls I seem to attract? Besides, I am keenly aware of my body and highly sensitive to medications; I even ask the dentist for a half-dose of novacaine. So Prozac? Thanks but no thanks.
The second time I went through the routine, same story...except now you had to wait 3 months to talk to a psychiatrist if you were 'borderline'. I decided to go ahead and take the 6-week Adult Attention class while I waited. It was all I could do, again, to keep from blurting out and being the cleverest one in the room. “When you have ADHD,” the teacher droned on, “you need to be entertained or you lose interest.” I wanted to bolt after twenty minutes of her slow-moving, monotone presentation. The woman next to me was just as agitated at the poor organization. We supported each other in chiming in. But the teacher said, “please hold your questions and comments until the end.”
One day I got a call, asking me not to return to class. I was baffled and hurt, feeling like I did in first grade when the teacher saw me as a trouble-maker after I screamed from a bee sting. The concussion had added to my antsiness, but was I really as disruptive as they said? Turns out they had intended to kick my confidante out of class for other awkward reasons, and the teacher (who assured us she didn’t have ADD), mixed us up. But I couldn’t take any more. They gave me a refund and I went back to square one.