Tuesday, March 24, 2015

ADDressing the Issues of Tax Season

I don't know anyone who likes to do taxes. Even some accountants I know don't like to do them.  It is likely the number one task people postpone and avoid.  Even folks who don't ordinarily procrastinate push off doing their taxes.  However for adults with ADD/ADHD, tax season can be particularly challenging. 

Surveys suggest that a significant percentage of the ADDult population didn't file taxes on time in the past 5 years and many "rarely" or "never" filed on time.  What's worse )for them) is that a large percentage of those people didn't file extensions and many didn't file their taxes at all in the past 3 years or more.  

There are many reasons ADDults struggle with doing their taxes, but most are based in their challenges with executive functions and can manifest as disorganization, overwhelm, forgetfulness and lack of interest.  Even more to blame than the aforementioned root causes are the emotional responses to these issues, which include anxiety, shame, denial, feelings of low self-esteem and self-efficacy. And, it's these feelings which lead to continued anxiety, avoidance and denial. 

Although some ADDults struggle with formulating systems to keep track of important papers and documentation, the bigger problem is NOT an inability to devise a system, but instead, the lack of maintenance of the system.  This leads to a whole mess of piles and disorganized paperwork, so in order to actually DO the taxes, there is a boatload of work to do just to gather and organize the necessary documentation and this often includes finding it.  
Even folks who hire accountants to do their taxes still have some of these issues because their accountants can't actually do their taxes until the required paperwork is received and in some semblance of order. What is great about having an account, though, is that you will receive an organized list of exactly what you need, including specific deadlines. And often, the accountants will remind you and check in on you to help you comply. (Hey, accountants provide accountability! Great tag line, huh?) 

So, if you do not or cannot retain an accountant, for whatever reason, how can you get your taxes done on time and with less stress?  The BEST way to begin to get yourself more organized, is to determine specifically how you are NOT organized.  What actually happens to create the chaos? When you figure that out, you will have a better grasp on what systems you need to put into place.  In addition, the best and most basic strategy for dealing with tasks and projects that are overwhelming is to break them down, break them down and break them down some more.  And then, START on SOMETHING.   Mark Twain said it best:

The secret of getting started 
is breaking your complex and overwhelming tasks 
into small manageable tasks and then 
starting on the first one. 


LOOKING FOR MORE SPECIFIC TIPS AND STRATEGIES FOR ORGANIZING AND PREPARING YOUR TAXES?  STAY TUNED FOR PART II OF THIS BLOG, COMING NEXT WEEK. 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

IT'S NOT ABOUT THE *%@#$&* DRESS!!!

Dear Carmela and everyone who dismissively, nastily and superciliously ordered people to stop talking and commenting about the dress

It's not about the stupid dress! DUH.  I don't give a rat's tushy about the dress.  This is about something much more important.  People are having a visceral response to this because it not only perplexes, it scares the living daylights out of people.  This reaction, Carmela,  and the rest of you pompous, holier than thou folks, is about the fact that we're being told that what people see with their very own eyes, in broad daylight, in a photograph, may not be what we actually see.  

When I was a freshman in college, I took a philosophy course.  I still remember learning about Bertrand Russell and his question about whether we are all just "a brain in a vat".  For those of you not familiar with this British philosopher and mathematician, I am referencing his musings about the existence of matter.  He challenged what we knew about ourselves and reality by asking how we KNOW we are not just a brain in a jar, and what proof we have that we are not just imagining everything.  In a way, all of this hubbub about the colors in the dress reminds me of these questions.  I mean, if what we have known to be true for our entire lives might not be so, that we really can't trust our own eyes or brains, what does that mean?  I think it's pretty scary.  We can leave the people who are actually color blind out of this discussion.  This isn't about differences in anatomy, mild variance in perception, trickery, illusion or magic.  It's also not about the age of the viewer.  That would make the explanation much easier to digest.  (From an intellectual perspective, not an emotional perspective, as I just got my first prescription for progressive lenses yesterday.) 

What if it weren't just about color?  What if objects we think we see are not actually there?  Or, what if we see objects that we are told aren't really there?  Or people???  Typically, these scenarios would warrant a psychiatric diagnosis.  Whether or not scientists are able to provide a credible explanation for this bizarre and fascinating phenomenon, it still shakes the core and foundation of what we know and trust to be real and true.  If we truly cannot believe our own eyes, what else might we not be able to believe that we never before questioned? 

So, to Carmela and everyone who said, "Enough" and "Stop" and "Who cares about the stupid dress" and anything else that ordered folks to drop the subject, not only do I say "NO", I wonder about your capacity for curiosity and more importantly, whether you actually understand underlying cause of the commotion.  

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

MENOPAUSE and/or ADHD?

A RIDDLE:

Me: What do menopause and ADHD have in common? 
You: What do they have in common? 
Me: What do what have in common? 


If you are a woman (of any age), you know that hormones can affect your body and your mind in various ways.  If you are a woman of "a certain age", you likely know that your changing hormone levels also affect you in many ways, most of which are not much fun. 

However, what you may not know is that many perimenopausal and menopausal women experience ADD-like symptoms,  because hormonal fluctuations affect brain chemistry.  Due to lowered levels of estrogen, women with ADD often experience a worsening of their existing symptoms and new symptoms can manifest.  In addition, the dropping levels of estrogen, which can be as much as 65%, can also affect both serotonin and dopamine, two of the key neurotransmitters found in the brain.  

What does this mean in practical terms? Lowered levels of estrogen can cause the following: increased difficulty concentrating, memory dysfunction, word retrieval and other cognitive problems, and less mental clarity, or 'brain fog'.

It's difficult enough being a woman with ADD but if you are in perimenopause or menopause, your symptoms are often exacerbated, and according to Dr. Patricia Quinn, M.D., a developmental pediatrician and director of the National Center for Girls and Women with AD/HD, "for some women, the decline is sudden and dramatic." 

This cartoon probably looks familiar to most women, (and men) with ADD.   I'm sure this kind of thing happens to everyone once in a while, but for those of us with "ADDed" gifts, it can be a way of life.  For women who are not used to experiencing these occurrences, I imagine it can be extremely frustrating, if not downright scary to feel that your memory is not working as well as it used to.  If you are a woman with ADHD, it's probably not at all frightening and likely even commonplace, to walk intently into a room and then promptly forget why you are there.  And, this can occur a few (or more) times per day and not just occasionally. It's also not particularly scary, though it is frustrating, to be in the middle of a sentence and completely forget the word we were about to use, or even what we were talking about!  Sometimes, we find things in really weird places and demand to know who put them there, although it's a bit more difficult to shift the blame if you happen to be the only one at home.  (Um, yeah, I found the masking tape in the fridge last week.) Yes, really. 

Even if you've become accustomed to some of these occurrences, they can still be exasperating, especially if they now increase in number and frequency. Some women find that were once speed bumps are now roadblocks.  

In addition to notable cognitive differences, many women experience an onset or increase in feelings of fatigue, low energy, brain fogginess and apathy or even depression. If you are a woman with ADD, these symptoms may not be new, but again, they could worsen and if you're on medication for your ADD, you may find that the meds don't appear to be working as well to control your symptoms.


SO WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?

What is paramount, as with new or worsening symptoms of any kind, is to see a doctor to determine the cause and get treatment options.  If you suspect that you could be entering menopause or perimenopause, see your gynecologist to confirm this diagnosis.  If you already have ADHD and your symptoms appear to be getting worse, you will likely need to see your gynecologist and your ADD specialist, especially if you are currently on medication for the ADD.  If you are not currently treating with a professional for your ADD, The National Resource Center of ADHD advises to visit a specialist who is familiar with ADD in adult women. 

If you are a woman in your 40s or 50s, have had some brain fog and other ADD-like symptoms for all or most of your life, but now they just feel out of control and unmanageable, it's possible that you have undiagnosed ADD, and the lowered levels of estrogen now make it much harder to cope.   Physicians often diagnose ADD/ADHD in women who are in perimenopause or menopause.  If you are are menopausal and also have ADD (whether just diagnosed or not), it's important for your gynecologist and your ADD specialist to communicate with each other about diagnosis and treatment. 

Although it's normal to experience symptoms from your altered brain function, whether due to menopause, normal aging and/or ADD, there are ways to improve your brain's performance: 
  • Brain training exercises;
  • Getting the right kinds of exercise;
  • Eating brain healthy foods;
  • Some form of meditative practice;
  • Actively socializing;
  • Learning new tasks;
  • Increased self-care, and my own favorite and self-prescribed treatment, 
  • Laugh, laugh, laugh, cry and laugh!  Often.

Friday, February 13, 2015

IS YOUR MEMORY WORKING?

Every Friday (well, most Fridays, when I remember) I post a "FRIDAY FUNNY' on my Syndala Facebook page.  This morning, this is what I posted:

It is amusing, and I LOVE Dory.  However, for many people with ADD/ADHD, our memories often don't work the way we want and need them to.  In the case of ADD, the issue is not typically problems with short term memory, as many seem to label it, but with working memory. 

WHAT IS WORKING MEMORY?

Working memory is NOT 'memory that works', as I have heard Dr. Ari Tuckman say on a few occasions.  Working memory is one of the key executive functions affected by ADD/ADHD.  It is our ability to hold and process some information in our minds while simultaneously attending to something else. Working memory is also responsible for retrieval of words or information from our longer-term memory.  

Here are some examples of the way this can manifest for people with ADD/ADHD (and for others whose working memory is not functioning optimally). 
  • Completely losing what you were about to say next, while in the middle of a sentence or thought;
  • Forgetting a word that you do know, but which completely escapes your mind when you are about to use it;
  • Test-taking, reading comprehension, written and verbal expression;
  • Forgetting a person's name immediately after an introduction;
  • Forgetting what you JUST said or did, i.e., where you put your keys 10 seconds earlier
Although everyone likely has experienced these situations occasionally, for folks with ADD, this is a frequent occurrence and a barrier to optimal functioning.  And though it can often be humorous, when it is a true impediment, it's not always so amusing.  


For children and students, this can be a serious problem in school, because working memory is crucial to learning activities.   Some ways you might see it manifested in children and teens: 
  • Appearing as though they have not paid attention, such as forgetting all or part of instructions or messages;
  • Losing their place in complicated or multi-pronged tasks;
  • Difficulty taking notes in class, perhaps because they forget what was said when they are concentrating on writing or spelling it;
  • Trouble with test taking;
  • Easily distracted
These struggles don't only apply to children, but they absolutely can be barriers to scholastic success and learning.  

Fortunately, are brains are a bit malleable or neuroplastic, and therefore, they have the capacity to be "trained".  There are also many structures and strategies that we can use to support ourselves and others so that these deficits don't ultimately become barriers to our personal and professional success and self-worth.  

It is critical to understand what is happening, why, and that it's not a reflection of intelligence or innate ability to learn.   As a coach, mother of a daughter with ADD and  as a woman who also is wired this way, THIS is what is paramount to me.  Although the struggles from the underlying ADD/ADHD can be troublesome, derivative blows to self esteem and self worth are usually more in the way than anything else and can sometimes be tragic.  THIS is why I am passionate about working with people who have ADD; because once we understand it and how it manifests for us personally, there are countless ways to address the obstacles so we can achieve our goals, our dreams and live successful, fulfilling lives.