Wednesday, April 06, 2011

ADHD & Li'l Bedlamites Make Horrible Co-Writers

Can a full-time dad with ADHD find time to write a novel? After a year trying, I can safely say, "ARGH!"

Dancing Bedlamites © Douglas Cootey

Although ADHD has been and will continue to be my greatest obstacle in completing this novel, family has proven to be my greatest external disruption. Take today, for instance. I woke up wondering if my debut novel was interesting enough. I've been working on it off and on for over a year and beginning to be bored with it. Maybe something else would be more exciting? Maybe there's not enough peril?

ADHD and a bit of Depression are mixing with my morning, and after less than 45 seconds of this I think "Shut up." I'm not going to abandon this story in the last fifth of the book after working so hard to come this far. Besides, the next chapter features phantom cats with big teeth. Perilous enough? Sheesh.

And in a blip I'm back on track.

Family, on the other hand, is like a freight train loaded with diarrhetic elephants crashing through my wall when my toilet is plugged. I have little choice when emergency happens, and I find myself frantically hunting around for the metaphorical plunger and the keys to the minivan while putting on shoes, then pants. It's complete bedlam.

My 16 year old is home sick today, so I can still have a normal schedule, but if the 12 year old was home sick, there would be a change, not the least because she loves to talk. And talk. And talk. Nevermind the 9 year old with cerebral palsy and epilepsy who requires constant supervision. Otherwise, things get broken. Or she'll somehow manage to dump an entire cracker box full of crumbs all over the TV, couch, rug, and, inexplicably, the folded laundry in an entirely different room. Don't even get me started on the random emergencies my 19 year old has while living on her own in college. An entire day can get lost dealing with my girls.

I'm not complaining, mind you. I helped make the li'l darlings, and as a full-time dad it is my job to take care of them. I just can't expect to get anything else done when I'm doing that. Writing a book while being the ringmaster of my very own circus requires a great deal of organizing. Although I expected myself to solve or eliminate some of the problems I listed with my Splintered Books Project, family was not one of those items that could be eliminated.

Many great artists and thinkers in history were horrible family men. Even the venerable Benjamin Franklin was a lousy husband and father. If I wanted to abdicate my responsibilities and pretend I was a single guy again, I suppose I could accomplish all my dreams, assuming ADHD didn't still get in the way. I know of men who have done just that. They loved the act of making babies, but weren't so excited with the results, so they walked away from family.

But that's not the path for me.

Sometimes our lives are the greatest contributor to the chaos of our ADHD lives. But there is no Inbox Zero method to simplify family. Family is chaos. What else would you expect with a household filled with immature dependents? The trick is to learn coping strategies to help minimize the chaos.

What I found helpful in the here and now was to learn to write when the girls weren't home. But when? Most ADHD people I know are night owls. We get wrapped up with something that engages our mind and forget to go to sleep. Or, as was the case for me, the house was finally quiet at night. Years ago, this worked well for me. I'd take care of the kids during the afternoon and into the evening, then get to work after 10pm when the house was finally quiet. But after years of insomnia I was more and more tired at night and less able to work. In essence I was working full-time during the day, then moonlighting and sleeping less. I was burning out.

I needed to turn my schedule around and work BEFORE I got tired when the kids were at school—a simple solution that was a lot of work to implement. I also spent months training the kids to respect my writing time if I was still writing when they came home. It took a lot of reminders, and they still have a tendency to walk up to me in the middle of a thought and start chitchatting about their day, but over all I am much better off than I was a year ago.

Writing a book while taking care of family isn't easy with ADHD, but then it isn't easy without ADHD either. We need to learn to be flexible with the chaos and to not get adamant about keeping a standard words per day count that matches our less saddled peers. For many of us, writing a book is a side project and not a source of income yet. Family still remains the first priority. An unfinished book will sit there waiting patiently for you, but the unfinished child will be a legacy of failure that will haunt you for decades to come.

With luck, I'll finish both book and family to everyone's satisfaction. Now if only I could find that plunger.