Nate comes home tonight from an extended business trip and I’m a little anxious. I like to call it the “Re-Entry” process, and it’s not without a few challenges. I think it has to do with a few common characteristics in the ADHD brain, notably transition difficulty and anxiety. (Ironically, his anxiety feeds mine)
Transition can be challenging to people with ADHD. It is easy to see with my son. If I abruptly said it’s time to stop playing Lego’s and get ready to go, he would throw a tremendous tantrum. But if I gave him a 5-10 minute warning, transitions were easier on everyone. It can be the same for Nathan, not the Lego part, but the transition from one project to another.
For Nathan, anxiety is also a co-condition he struggles with. We’ve learned over the years a clean and organized home with systems and routines eases his anxiety. I like to call it the “bento box” lifestyle wherein everything has its place. If he perceives the peas to be mixing with the mash potatoes, he quickly becomes anxious, and moody. Lucky for Nathan, I have a talent for organization, and do fairly well cleaning house.
When Nate travels, I miss his company, his laugh, warm kisses and his big personality, but I also look forward a daily life where the potatoes and peas touch. We eat simple dinners, rarely make our beds, walk guilt free past our pile of shoes in the entry, and sleep soundly with dirty dishes in the sink. It’s not as exciting as when Dad’s home, but it’s a little less stressful.
When Nate comes home, it’s hard to say how much of the “re-entry” difficulty is due to transition, anxiety, or the sense of order… but the mixture leads to some interesting results. On one occasion, Nate came home late and needed time to decompress before bed. “Want to watch a tv… read… talk?” I asked. He didn’t respond. He was quiet, but I could see the thoughts racing through his brain at lightning speed. With his jaw clenched and his eyes darting around the living room, I prepared myself for the familiar barrage. Like a squirrel on Monster Energy drink, he popped off random comments and questions:
“We have too many books. Look at all the books. We need to get rid of some. I hate Inuit Art. That whale sculpture drives me nuts. I hate it every time I look at it.”
“Why? I ask cautiously, looking around the living room at the books on the bookshelf wondering how much is too much.
“The dorsal fin is too far back. I hate it… Is the downstairs a mess?
“No. It’s fine.”
“The kids don’t respect the house.”
“Honey…they’re kids.” I replied with an air of realism in my voice.
“I know. It’s just that I work so hard to have a nice house and it seems like there’s always stuff that needs fixing… We have too much stuff. No more buying stuff. The sink is dripping… The roof has moss on it. Have you looked out Madeline’s window?”
“Nate. It’s a house. It’s going to need maintenance.” I replied calmly.
“I know. I’m sorry…. I hate that lamp. I’ve never liked it…. Why is that light bulb brighter than the other?”
“Because when you replaced the left bulb, you put in the new florescent kind. He got up off the couch and walked over the refrigerator and opened it up. “God… the fridge stinks! What is all this shit?” I knew it was more of a rhetorical question, so I ignored his comment and remained on the couch watching TV as he haphazardly picked up a few leftover containers, eyed them, and threw them back in the fridge. I let him rant and was determined not to let it effect me.
“Do you know how long those boxes have been stacked in the corner downstairs?” he asked as he popped open a bottle of sparkling cider.
“Since we moved in.”
“Do you even know what’s in them?” he asked with a tone of doubt.
“Mostly old photos.”
“How long are they going to stay there?”
“When I get to it.” I replied unruffled.
“How did Cole do on his test?”
“How’s Maddie doing?”
“Good, but we need to talk about college costs.”
“Well, you’re going to have to go back to work. You might have to get a job at Pottery Barn or something” he said matter of fact as he turned back and opened the fridge again, mumbling something negative.
Turning back to me, he continued to blurt out whatever popped into his head, “There’s piles of shit everywhere! …And those shopping bags upstairs in the laundry room. What are you doing with those? I’m going to take a picture of them and send it to Barry. His wife is a pack rat too.”
“So why are you telling me about Barry’s wife?”
His comments were starting to sting. “Fine. You want to take a picture of some shopping bags I have stored in the laundry room and send it to your friend so you can lament about your wives being ‘pack rats’ go ahead!” I got up off the sofa and walked away. “Pottery Barn. Are you kidding me?”
Before the ADHD diagnosis, I internalized all the comments he made. I thought the comments related more to my ability to keep a clean house or my job as a mother. I didn’t realize I could never fully calm the anxiety and chaos in his brain by fixing things. “OK… I guess I’d better clean up the bookcase and make sure the books are organized by genre. I’ll move the whale sculpture into the kid’s room, call a plumber, call a roof guy, buy new light bulbs, get a job…” My anxiety increased along with his at all the new tasks I felt I needed to do in order to have harmony in the house.
We’ve learned a thing or two since that particular “re-entry” and recognize a lot of the patterns for what they are. Moreover, I try to maintain a sense of calm and thick skin when his anxiety takes a personal turn because it’s not about me. It’s ADHD.