March 6, 2023

The wind whipped a relentless barrage of icy needles against my face as I tried to enter our keycode without dropping my tea, 2 bags of Tim Hortons Chilli, bag of groceries, and overflowing purse – all while pulling up on our door handle in a weird angle so that the latch would actually release.

It was a juggling act worthy of a circus performer, and I was failing miserably.

After not hearing the satisfying swoosh and click of the door latch releasing on our door, I was ready to give up. To sit there and sob – outside, on the porch, with frozen-burned hands and hard, icy, rain whipping against my face.

Over-reaction? Maybe? But if you have ADHD, chances are you can relate.

The ups and downs of living with ADHD can be frustrating, overwhelming, and downright comical, but mostly, it’s a lot to deal with, right?!

Do you ever wonder how we go from being fine to being very much not, why it happens so often, and how to make it stop?

I think about it A LOT and have a big list of reasons and strategies that (clearly) don’t always work. But today, I have a different theory, one that goes beyond over-stimulation, overwhelm, and even the neuro-science of ADHD.

To explain, let me tell you about my day up to that point.

The Lead-up To The Meltdown

1.04 p.m

I arrived at my favorite coffee shop, and despite being emptier than usual, there was still an air of bustling energy, making it bright and welcoming.

Nothing could get me down, not even the realization that I forgot my phone at home when I tried to pay for a tea with the coffee shop app. In fact, I was glad because I hate being tied to my phone anyway.

Though I was a bit annoyed when I sat down and realized I forgot my glasses at home too, walking across a big parking lot to the pharmacy in the cold gave me a little dopamine jolt worthy of a high-risk sport.

1:41 p.m

With that extra hit of dopamine, I was feeling pretty good when I got back to the coffee shop, especially when I saw that my favorite window seat was now free, and the barista offered me a warm, fresh tea!

But I won’t lie; when I turned on my laptop and found that the battery was down to 14% and I forgot my charger, I started to think that maybe I was being delusional. Still, I decided to do what I could until it died.

2:36 p.m

It was only when I tried to use my tablet and found that its battery was down to 9%, despite charging it overnight, when I decided it was time to give up and go home.

I hopped into the car and headed back home – a scenic 15 min drive – which was made even prettier by the previous day’s storm. The ice storm was just beginning too, so I was feeling grateful for all of the mishaps that sent me home earlier than planned.

I was even feeling excited. I was going to surprise my husband with some chilli from Tim Horton’s, which would be so cozy with today’s weather. And since I wouldn’t have to cook dinner, I could let myself fall into hyperfocus if that’s what my brain wanted to do. Ya, all was good!

2:59 p.m

By the time I got to the drive-thru window at Tim Hortons, I was feeling a lot less chill as I tried to pay for our chili. It turned out that I had left my debit card somewhere, probably at the drugstore, while I was chatting up the cashier. 

Thank goodness for the old business bank card  I’ve put off canceling for over a year.  I guess procrastination isn’t always a bad thing!

Now, with chili safely in the car and the storm getting a lot worse, I was looking forward to getting home, putting on a thick fleece sweater and eating my chili!

3:11 p.m

As I rounded the corner to our street, I got stuck in a slushy, icy mound of snow. But, loving a minor crisis, I was almost gleeful as I ran home to get the shovel I bought to keep in the car for exactly this situation!

Digging myself out with the storm raging around me, I felt like a bit of a badass. But as the icicles from the rain formed in my hair and I couldn’t wrap my freezing cold hands around the shovel anymore, there was a rising rage inside me. 

At this point, it was impossible for me to reframe forgetting my favorite hat and mittens at the coffee shop.

3:54 p.m

Finally parked in front of our house, I gathered everything up and locked the doors. Remembering that I should put the wipers up and turn the heat on high in the car, I did all that without letting anything I was holding touch the slushy ground.

I felt like a hero for remembering that, but, everyone has limits. I clearly hit mine.

So, as gusting wind and freezing cold rain pellets whipped against my face I swear I would have just sat there and let the ice-storm take me if I didn’t hear the satisfying swoosh and click of the door latch releasing on the second try. 

Why Did This Happen

Is it even a question? Every single one of you with ADHD knows exactly why. 

  • overstimulation 
  • the ADHD version of a multi-car pile-up on the highway
  • and less obvious, ADHD medication crash time.

We can manage up to a certain point, but then BOOM…we can’t.

My mind was starting to see these meltdowns from a new perspective a few days earlier when I was with a friend (also ADHD) who was in the midst of a full-blown meltdown.

In her case, and mine, things not going well weren’t JUST about them not going well at that moment or even that day. There was a bigger message we hear in those situations.

“If I can’t even get this right then failure is imminent and there’s no hope for me.”

Sadly, this revolting stew of fear, shame, and feeling helpless makes sense to me, especially if you were diagnosed late.

If I can be frank, it’s a really hard feeling to reframe, especially in the midst of a meltdown. Because the truth is, succeeding in this neurotypical world can be really hard.

The Hard Reality

Sometimes it can feel like we’re being thrown at the foot of Mount Everest in a t-shirt and flip flops, with only a daypack filled with cans of beans and no can opener, and then being told to climb.

The cruel twist is that we’re shielded with a magic spell that hides the fact that we aren’t dressed properly and have all the wrong tools. So as we work as hard as possible to keep up, others end up thinking we’re lazy, weak, or dumb as we give up, succumb to the elements, or beg for help.

For me, understanding that that’s what it can be like has been really valuable.

But, if you’re anything like me and are solution-oriented, you’re  probably thinking:

  • I need strategies to avoid forgetting things
  • I  need a growth mindset so I can see opportunities when things go wrong
  • I  need to reframe my experiences

And yes, those are all true. But sometimes, we can do all that, and it’s still not enough.

  1. My leaving-home routine was interrupted because my cat threw up as I was packing up to leave, and I got distracted. 
  2. I reframed like a superstar (to a point). 
  3. I am always looking for new strategies to help me avoid the same mistakes.

But sometimes, clearly, it’s not enough.

What I’m saying is that sometimes we didn’t do anything wrong, and even though I started this post not knowing exactly what the point of it was, I can see it so clearly now. 

Sometimes, you don’t have to change or fix anything!

Finding hope and resilience in the chaos of living with ADHD

People are always trying to help, but I’m tired of hearing the same suggestions to reframe, adopt a growth mindset, and use more strategies. Although their intentions are well-meaning and true, these suggestions can add to the shame and pressure that we already feel on a daily basis. 

It can be especially difficult when we’re putting in tremendous effort, but still struggling to manage everything and no matter what we do, it’s not enough.

But that doesn’t mean I’m ready to give up, and I don’t think you should either.

I will continue to live by the motto that every con has a pro, and I will approach problems with the confidence that there’s a solution. Plus, if I can create something to help myself and others, I will!

Accepting that sometimes our strategies won’t work, or we won’t have the capacity to reframe a situation or adopt a growth mindset in a particular moment is also a crucial strategy. It’s equally important to take care of ourselves in those moments.

What Now

Part of why I created Mindflows is because I became frustrated with always needing new strategies, forgetting about strategies, and wanting (or needing) visual tools to help me. And because it can be so time-consuming and overwhelming to make them, I often wouldn’t.

I thought to myself, “it can’t just be me.” But making them for more than just me made me feel justified in spending the time and energy on them.

The ADHD Rescue Kit is an excellent resource for getting started! But if you need even more, I am bringing more membership tiers soon. So if you don’t see them on the site, come back soon, and you’ll have more options.

About the author 

Susanna Miles

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