A User’s Guide: ADHD is a mental health advice column you won’t forget, thanks to advice from comedian and mental health advocate Reed Brice. He has a lifetime of experience with ADHD, and as such, has the skinny on what to do when the whole world feels like a china shop... and you’re a bull in roller skates.
Any questions? He can’t help you with where you last left your keys, but most other ADHD-related questions are fair game. Shoot him a DM on Twitter or Instagram.
I’d been working at my desk for nearly 3 hours when the most embarrassing “KEVIN!” of my life happened. You know what that is, right? Like in "Home Alone” when Catherine O’Hara and the family are fully on their way to France and she suddenly realizes lil’ Macaulay isn’t with them? And O’Hara has a full-throated panic about it?
In this case, “Kevin” was my wallet. My coworkers were startled — but not surprised — as I screamed that I’d left my wallet in my car outside. I live in LA so I maintain the melodrama was partially justified! As I walked up to my car, the sitch was worse and better than I thought.
My wallet was not in my car but instead laying on the ground, next to my driver’s side tire. Nothing had been taken but my dignity and trust in myself.
“How?” was all my incredulous work husband asked, to every detail involved. But I didn’t know. I didn’t remember.
Hell, I didn’t remember getting out of my car that morning. I was stone sober, just feeling dumb and scared.
I booked an appointment with a psychiatrist the next week and we’ve been working on my terrible memory ever since! How’s your head, sis?
We already have the research that shows folks with ADHD have variability in our short-term (or working) memory. Ironically, it may be our hyperactivity and restlessness that often gives us the slower reaction time.
To those of us with ADHD, Judith Kolberg and Kathleen G. Nadeau, the authors of “ADD Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life,” also call it the “out of sight, out of mind” nature.
Why though? Here are some of the possible reasons we lose track:
- Distractibility. Any little thing can be a landmine of time suck when you have ADHD. An ill-timed phone call or a mind-boggling item being advertised to you on social media (“who needs a hand crocheted beer can koozy?”) can put you back hours once it all snowballs! Nobody hates being distracted more than I, like the time I was in the bed of a truck barreling down Route 66, and– nope, no time! Don’t get distracted!
- Hyperfocus. When we’re zeroed in on our work, we get so into the moment that everything else falls to the wayside, forgotten. Like me, that day at work. I let my work so overwhelm me, I wasn’t even aware of how I was moving through space (nor where I was leaving my wallet in said space). I finally put the puzzle pieces together that I’d put my wallet on the floor on autopilot while arguing with the producer of the project I was working on. Fun day!
- Time-sensitive tasks. We with ADHD do better in general with a good routine, but life isn’t always going to play out neatly, so we have to be mindful! Freelancer gigs and one-off jobs that have to happen at a certain time tend to be the ones that fly straight out of our grey matter because they aren’t cruising along the well-worn neural pathways of a daily, weekly, or monthly scheduled routine.
A tool kit to keep important stuff in sight and in mind
Besides medication, therapy, and an on-call personal assistant there to tell us what we forgot before we forgot it (what do rich people do on their assistant’s birthday, anyhow?), we have to come up with ways to battle a junky memory.
Here are a couple of things to try (…do them now before you forget):
- Work with your calendar. The most up-to-date and itemized calendar app doesn’t matter if you don’t check it and use it. If you’re like me, still getting on your feet in terms of treatment, you’ll need to get in the habit of checking the calendar at least twice a day and cross-referencing your e-mails, texts, and carrier pigeons for double bookings or stuff that you plum forgot would be A Thing Coming Up.
- Don’t use an alarm or reminder that won’t annoy you! And use more than one if only one doesn’t work. Don’t use anything you can get used to and start mentally dismissing as part of the environment, like a hanging wall calendar with stuff for February, when it’s September (just another self-call out, nothing to see here, keep it moving).
- Correct yourself immediately. “I’ll take care of that tomorrow?” In what universe has that ever happened, sweetie? When you realize you forgot something, go take care of it the moment you realize and can do so.
- Build daily, weekly, and monthly routines you can stick to with that actively-used calendar of yours. You won’t ruin your personal spontaneity and joie de vivre by remembering to do your laundry once or twice a month, I promise Champ.
Mostly, keep working on those stress levels. It plays havoc on our ability to focus in the moment and retain things later.
You deserve better than a sieve-ass brain that won’t cooperate. I know I do. So I set my 6 alarms every night and reaffirm that I’m in a process I’ll be managing for the rest of my life — this isn’t a one-and-done!
You’re gonna have a “Kevin!” moment now and then — that’s just part of the ADHD gig. Accept this and you can work on it. Just stay calm and go Do the Thing.
Reed Brice is a writer and comedian based in Los Angeles. Brice is an alum of UC Irvine’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts and was the first transgender person to ever be cast in a professional revue with The Second City. When not talking the tea of mental illness, Brice also pens our love and sex column, “U Up?”