This week I explore caregiving and ADHD, shedding light on the emotional rollercoaster, practical challenges, and strategies for caregivers with ADHD.
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Coping With The Emotional Rollercoaster
Navigating the Medical and Legal Maze
Handling Unpredictable Situations
Seeking Support & Staying Connected
Self-Care for the Caregiver
Mentioned in this episode:
Twenty-Four Seven: A podcast about caregiving Ep. 54 – How To Advocate For Yourself At The Doctor When You Have ADHD
Welcome back to the “Adulting with ADHD” podcast! Today’s episode delves into the challenges of being caregiver with ADHD.
According to the Oxford dictionary, a caregiver is a family member or paid helper who regularly looks after a child or a sick, elderly, or disabled person.
More than 20% of the US population is considered a caregiver.
In this episode, we look at caregiving through an ADHD lens.
OK, let’s get into this episode of Caregiving & ADHD.
Caregiving tasks, especially for someone with ADHD, can become a roller coaster of emotions and to-dos.
When we talk about caretaking, it’s not just about elder care. It can be looking after a child, a friend, or any loved one.
I asked some of my favorite ADHD caregivers what their best advice, and immediately what I heard were calendars, lists, alarms, and self care. It’s no surprise that the most basic executive function and emotional regulation challenges extend to caregiving.
Here are a few ways I have noticed an impact from my own personal experience and what I’m doing to cope:
The Emotional Roller Coaster of Caretaking
Caretaking isn’t just about the physical tasks. It’s an emotional ride. Balancing ADHD while trying to be a pillar of support for someone can be overwhelming.
The most emotional stuff for me usually centers around grief …. Of what could have been, if what’s going to happen. But other times, it can be about not feeling appreciated or, if it’s a family member, perhaps unresolved childhood stuff. To an outsider, it can look silly the things that set us off, but when you’re in it you get it.
So what do I do about it? Here are my lessons learned the hard way: I take lots of naps, CBD, coloring books, etc. I literally put myself in time out, so much so that my 6-year-old (who totally gets it) will explain this to anyone who’s asking where I am while I take this space. We don’t stigmatize it, we don’t let it get turned into more drama. Mom’s in time out, nothing to see here.
When I’m not in the heat of the moment, I try to do things that are fun and relaxing for me in between caretaking tasks or work. We’ll get to more on self care in a minute, but really this is about having other things in my life I can lean into for joy, comfort, etc. Sometimes it can feel bleak and like there’s no end. You need the tea and the coloring books, even when it may seem silly or frivolous sometimes.
Other things that help:: paying attention to triggers, talking to someone (a loved one and/or professionals who can share options), take breaks often, break tasks down into smaller parts, be realistic in what you’re trying to achieve.
And also, look for glimmers: I recently saw glimmers described on Instagram as “the opposite of triggers … “something that brings you a moment of pure joy”.
The term “glimmer” was actually coined by Deb Dana, a licensed clinical social worker, in the 2018 book The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy: Engaging the Rhythm of Regulation. My therapist refers to it a lot, so it must be good.
Navigating the Medical & Legal Maze
Many of us find ourselves grappling with the intricacies of the medical and legal world. Doctor appointments, medications, legal documents – all while managing ADHD can feel like an uphill task.
One common challenge I’ve experienced is communicating health updates and related items. This can be communicating the right type of formula to a grandmother or sharing an elderly family member’s health status to countless other family members.
I haven’t really cracked this one yet, but somebody I know started pre-emptively sharing screenshots of the doctor’s notes. Sure seems like a good idea to me, assuming privacy isn’t an issue. There are probably proper apps for this, too – if somebody out there has a good system for us to share let us know! Also check out my episode with Jenn Welch in the archives – while her tips are on self-advocacy in the doctor’s office, many of it applies here. I’ll leave a link in the shownotes or you can visit the Patreon to find the exact episode.
Unpredictable Adventures & ADHD
With ADHD and caregiving, unpredictable situations are a given. But here’s the silver lining: our ADHD brains are wired for adaptability. We can think on our feet and adjust to new situations, even if they’re unexpected.
Perhaps that’s why they say ADHD people make great first responders.
Per ADDitute magazine:
“EMTs, police officers, and firefighters must work well under pressure and make split-second decisions. These jobs allow you to work in a variety of settings, while providing the kind of adrenaline-pumping excitement that helps many individuals with ADHD focus their minds. When others start to panic in chaos, the ADHD brain kicks into high gear allowing you to see problems clearly and complete the task at hand.”
Here’s my personal take:
When something has happened to somebody I love, the first thing I want to do is to understand it. Think back to when you first learned about ADHD. A lot of us spent a ton of time researching everything we can.
While that can be helpful, it also can be a lot. And downright dangerous if you aren’t consulting the right information. I remember becoming a parent for the first time and panicking over every single bodily function that child had. Our pediatrician advised us to stick to the resources were given and not to Google.
That’s stuck with me ever since, and I’ve applied that advice to other caregiving scenarios as well. This can be hard, especially for those who won’t simply get dressed and go to the doctor after you’ve refused to play another round of Dr. Google. But my approach is the same – decide what your reliable sources are and stick to those when the going gets tough.
This approach to medical information also applies to people: I would determine who the inner circle is – of medical professionals, the patient, the most immediate caregivers – and not re-evaluate your course every single time an outsider offers insight. That’s a crazy-making game!
Seeking Support & Staying Connected
Building a network and having a sense of community is essential for both emotional and practical support when you’re a caregiver with ADHD.
And while that inner caregiver circle I mentioned earlier is my go-to source of information and decision-making, I actually go outside of this circle for emotional support and help when the going gets super tough. Let me explain.
This was a practical decision on my end, because due to geography and level of involvement the people in my caretaking circle aren’t all in the same place with processing the information and emotions involved with the caretaking. I try to avoid giving people closer to the situation the additional work of managing my understanding of the situation and resulting feelings. That said, sometimes these people end up helping me organically (when it can’t be helped) and it is nice to be in the company of others who truly get it.
Outside of my caretaking circle, here’s my support dream team: I have a therapist who I lean on for the heavy lifting. I’m also talking to my spouse or best friend about stuff, but being clear that I’m not looking for advice just for somebody to listen and validate my feelings. Before Elon ruined Twitter, I also would turn to my online ADHD community as a sounding board as well.
And last but not least, podcasts on the subject have helped me feel less alone. One that I recommend is Twenty-Four Seven by TPR, I’ll leave the link in the shownotes.
Self-care for the Caregiver
Taking time for oneself is not a luxury; it’s essential to continue providing care without burning out.
When I neglect self-care, I notice my patience thinning, and my mood dipping. Recognizing this, I’ve prioritized setting aside moments just for me.
Whether it’s a short walk, listening to a podcast, or coloring, I make sure to have self-care options at the ready. It helps recharge my mind and body, making me better equipped for the challenges ahead. Meditation apps like Headspace also help, as well as anything with water like a swimming pool or hot bath. And if there’s room in the budget, I’ve never turned down a good massage. Your mileage may vary!
Many therapists and counselors specialize in caregiver burnout. The same goes for apps.. Remember, it’s not selfish to take care of yourself; it’s necessary.
Navigating the journey of caregiving, especially with the added layer of ADHD, is no straightforward task. It’s a dance of emotions, logistics, unexpected twists, and turns, and an ever-present need for connection and self-care. But remember, while ADHD might pose its unique challenges, it also brings with it creativity, adaptability, and resilience. By leaning into our strengths, seeking support, and always prioritizing self-care, we can not only survive but thrive in our roles as caregivers.
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