ADHD and Me

I have a good life, but in some ways the past couple of years have been a struggle. I’ve gone from being very productive almost every day to being hardly ever productive on any day. I can’t focus. I start one project but quickly lose interest and am distracted by something else that needs to be done. As a result, nothing ever gets finished. I’ve been mired in creative quicksand.

A Problem

Meanwhile, I’ve noticed some other disturbing character quirks. I’ve always had some memory issues. Kris used to call me Mr. Short-Term Memory (after this Saturday Night Live skit with Tom Hanks) because I’d often forget things she had told me. (To my credit, I often remembered things she didn’t.) In the year that we’ve been dating, Kim too has expressed frustration with my memory. Even when I intentionally focus on what she’s telling me, I’ll sometimes forget what she says.

And over the past year, I’ve developed a strange habit: I leave doors and drawers open. This first became apparent when I began spending time at Kim’s house. “Why did you leave the microwave open?” she’d ask. Or, “Did you mean to leave your toothbrush out?” I was mortified when these things happened because I was trying to make a good impression. Then the same thing began to happen at home, in my apartment. I’d come into the kitchen and two cabinet doors would be open. Since I was the only one in the house, I was obviously the one who’d forgotten to close them, and it baffled me.

Plus, of course, there are the constant messes. I’ve always been messy, but the piles seem to have grown out of control over the past couple of years. My desk is constantly cluttered. Right now, I have an entire room in my condo devoted to crap that I need to sort.

Oh, and did I mention I procrastinate constantly? I do.

Lately, things have come to a head. I’m working on some big project, projects in which I’m part of a team. I have a long list of things that need to get done, both for these projects and for my own work. I have a tough time prioritizing. I’m overwhelmed by it all. I pick things from my to-do list at random and get them done, but often the things I choose are chores like “Buy bird feeder” instead of “Reply to WDS speakers”. As a result, the people I’m working with have been very frustrated, and I don’t blame them.

Note: One of my greatest frustrations over the past few years is the fact that I can no longer read. I used to love to sit down with a good book and lose myself in its pages. But for maybe five years now, I haven’t been able to do that. I don’t have the attention span. I try to read, but after a few pages, my mind has wandered, and I’m thinking of something else to do. I miss reading for pleasure, and I miss reading for work.

An Answer

In November, I started seeing a therapist. After only three sessions, she suggested that perhaps I have a mild case of ADHD. A month later, she suggested that I talk to my doctor about ADHD/ADD meds. And three months after that, she changed that from a suggestion to a command.

She spent an entire session giving me tips on how to cope with ADHD, how to be less messy, how to prioritize tasks, how to pay attention. She also told me to go see my primary care physician and request one of three drugs.

I met with my doctor on Tuesday, and he listened to me talk about my therapy sessions. I showed him the notes I’ve taken. (If I didn’t take notes, I’d forget what we talked about…because I’m ADHD.) He listened to me carefully, and then agreed to prescribe a low dose of Vyvanse. “But I don’t like doing this,” he said. “This stuff can be addictive. It’s not as bad as Adderall, but it can still cause problems. There are a lot of side effects. For instance, you’re not going to want to eat. Also, you may not sleep well. Try it as your therapist recommends, but I want you to come see me in a month so we can talk about how it’s affecting you.”

ADHD Tips and Tricks

I filled the prescription, but then had second thoughts. I did some research on the internet about how to cope with ADHD without using drugs. The Vyvanse website itself has a list of 10 tips for adults with ADHD. I also liked this list of tips for managing symptoms and getting focused and, especially, this list of 50 tips on the management of adult attention deficit disorder.

Reading through these articles, I found a number of gems, such as:

  • Organize at home with a “launch pad” where I can collect keys, glasses, wallets, etc. This is something I’ve had to teach myself to do. When I don’t put my stuff in the “launch pad”, they’re as good as lost.
  • Practice the 10-minute pickup. Every evening, spend ten minutes quickly tidying the house. I don’t do this, but I should. I want to make it a routine before bed.
  • Kill clutter. Clutter is the enemy of the ADHD mind. When my desk is cluttered, I feel overwhelmed. Each piece of paper represents an incomplete action, something that I need to get done. If I can keep the clutter and disorganization to a minimum (by using a physical inbox, for instance), I can feel less overwhelmed and stay on task better.
  • Exercise, eat right, and get plenty of sleep. When I posted about my ADHD on Facebook, I received 41 response from folks sharing their tips for dealing with ADHD. The top recommendation was to adhere to smart physical fitness. For the most part, I do this already, but I could be better.
  • Impose external structure on my life. One of the best ways for ADHD people to get control of their lives is to create some sort of formal structure. Make schedules. Make lists. Develop rituals. Keep file folders. Etcetera.
  • Carry a notebook. People with ADHD have too many things in their head, so they’re not able to focus on one thing at a time. They get distracted by new thoughts and ideas. By carrying a notebook at all times, I have the chance to do a braindump whenever something new occurs to me. This is a habit I’ve had intermittently for many years, but I need to make it something I do always.
  • Make lists. In the past, I’ve noticed that I’m much more productive when I have a to-do list. Again, I’ve made these lists intermittently in the past, but I need to make them a part of my regular routine.
  • Meditate. So many people, from my therapist to my girlfriend to my blog readers, have recommended that I learn to meditate. I’ve tried in the past, but only half-heartedly. I don’t have the patience because — surprise! — meditation is tough for the ADHD mind. Still, it’s an important skill, and I want to learn to do it.
  • Listen actively and patiently. Repeat information. Perhaps the part of ADHD I hate most is the memory problem. I feel terrible when I forget things Kim tells me. (I used to feel bad when I forgot things Kris told me too.) I want to be a good partner for her, and when she has to repeat requests or retell stories, I feel like a fool. Being a better listener should help with this. (Though, as I’ve said, I already try hard to listen well.)
  • Create reward systems. This sounds so juvenile, but the experts seem certain that one great way to stay on task is to set up a system of rewards for getting work done. So, for example, I might allow myself to watch an episode of The Big Bang Theory whenever I finish a writing assignment. Or I can give myself permission to walk to lunch at Jade Teahouse if I finish a big project.
  • Own your behavior. One final important tip: Don’t use ADHD as an excuse for being a flake. When you forget something, own it. When you don’t get work finished, admit it, and do better next time. Don’t use the ADHD as a cop-out. Acknowledge that it’s there, but also realize you’ve got to be a productive member of society and a good partner.

I liked these tips (and more besides), but after reading them, I was still feeling overwhelmed. There’s so much I need to do in order to start being productive again. Where do I begin?

I emailed my therapist. Meanwhile, both Kim and another friend cautioned me against overthinking things. (Another symptom of ADHD!) Miguel and Kim were right: I was overthinking things, as I often do. So, when my therapist told me to take start taking the meds, I complied.

Wow. I’m glad I did.

A Future

I was worried that the Vyvanse would make me edgey and irritable, that I’d feel anxious and nervous. When I take pseudophedrine for allergies, I often…well, I often freak out. It’s like having way too much caffeine, and I feel overwhelmed. Since Vyvanse (and other ADHD meds) are similar, I was afraid I’d suffer from the side effects.

I didn’t.

Instead, I gradually felt calmer. I felt more confident in myself and more in control of my surroundings.

For instance, I took my Vyvanse this morning at 7am and then climbed into the bathtub to read this month’s book group book (The French Lieutenant’s Woman). At first, I was distracted. I couldn’t focus on the page in front of me. I kept reaching for my iPhone to look at email and Facebook. I picked up an issue of Men’s Health. But after about half an hour, my mind had settled. I felt calm, both physically and mentally.

I didn’t want to read, so I got out of the bathtub, shaved, dressed, and got to work. I pulled out a dry erase board and created an “ADHD Command Central” on which I listed all of the things I need to do, broken into three categories based on priority level. Top on the list? “Write for More Than Money”!

Perhaps more to the point, I then sat down and wrote this post from start to finish without a break. I didn’t once flit away to check Facebook or email. I didn’t get up to pour another cup of coffee. I didn’t suddenly remember that I needed to do laundry. I didn’t get distracted by the stack of stuff in my physical inbox. I just wrote. And here I am, more than two thousand words later, almost finished with this article. And it only took me an hour to write.

This is the old J.D. This is the productive J.D. This is the J.D. who gets shit done. I like it.

I’m not excited about the idea of remaining medicated long term, but after a day and a half of using Vyvanse, I’m willing to stick with it for at least a little while. If it helps me be productive, then I’m all for it. And if it helps with my personal relationships, that’s even better.

In Praise of Traffic Circles

From the first time I drove on English roads in 2007, I’ve been in love with the roundabout.

Roundabouts are seldom used in the United States. There are a few around Portland (and, especially, in Lake Oswego and Bend), but mostly we favor traffic lights. But traffic lights create congestion. From what I’ve seen in the U.K., roundabouts allow for a constant flow of traffic. They may even breed drivers who are more polite!

This morning, Jason Kottke shared this video, which describes how one village in northern England decided to do away with a traffic light and replace it with a double roundabout. In the process, they created a more usable public space, decreased the speed of traffic, and yet maintained good traffic flow.

Traffic circles aren’t always great. The Place de la Concorde in Paris (and the Arc de Triomphe, actually) can have nasty gridlock, for instance. But generally speaking, I’m a fan, and I think we should try them more here in the U.S. (Or maybe other cities and states already use them? I’ve never noticed them elsewhere, but maybe I haven’t been to the right places…)

Note: When Kim and I were driving across England last month, our one frustrating afternoon was made more frustrating because we didn’t understand British traffic terminology. People kept telling us to go left at “Elk Island” (where “elk” may have actually been some other word). Well, we kept driving past where we thought this island ought to be. It was only after I stopped to ask for a third set of directions that it dawned on me that sometimes a roundabout (or traffic circle) is called an “island”. D’oh!

Norway in a Nutshell

After a week in Paris and a week driving around Great Britain, Kim and I moved on to the third leg of our European adventure. We flew to Oslo for a four-day crash course in Norwegian culture.

The real reason we were flying to Norway (and the entire impetus for this trip, actually) was to join Chris Guillebeau in celebrating the completion of his quest to visit every country in the world by the time he turned 35. His 35th birthday was April 7th, and a couple hundred friends and colleagues gathered to congratulate him for finishing his ambitious global adventure.

Before the big party, though, a smaller group took a two-day train tour (called “Norway in a Nutshell”) from Oslo to Bergen — and back again.

On the train from Oslo…

A Norwegian village…

Kim and Michelle, riding the rails…

The train from Oslo climbed the mountains to the western side of Norway. We saw lots of frozen lakes, snow-covered mountain cabins, and frosty fields. Eventually, we transferred to a second, smaller train for the descent to sea level. There, we boarded a ferry to take us through a majestic fjord to nearby Bergen, where we spent the night.

We didn’t intend to wear matching black turtlenecks, but it happened…

Sleepy Norwegian village at the top of a fjord…


While in Bergen, Kim and I met with Henrik Larsen, a long-time reader of Get Rich Slowly. Henrik runs a very successful Norwegian financial blog and is a charming fellow. He spent several hours showing us his home town, leading us through the streets and up the funicular for a panoramic view of the city.


Kim knows how to deal with trolls…

J.D. and Henrik at Fløien, Bergen.

Henrik points out parts of Bergen to Kim as they ride the funicular.

Oslo to Bergen (and back) Group Tour
The “Norway in a Nutshell” group…

Kim and Benny Lewis sing songs on the train ride back to Oslo…

Back in Oslo, we had time for a single morning of sight-seeing. We took in the Viking ship museum and the Kon-Tiki museum, but didn’t have time for anything else. In the evening, we joined a bunch of other folks for Chris Guillebeau’s “End of the World” party.


End of the World Party in Oslo, Norway

End of the World Party in Oslo, Norway
Chris Guillebeau talking to the party-goers…

End of the World Party in Oslo, Norway
Kim and J.D. hitting the dance floor…

I don’t have a lot to say about Norway. Our time there was brief, and we didn’t get to do much. We enjoyed the time we spent with Henrik, but to be honest, the rest our interactions with people weren’t that great. That’s unusual. We had many great experiences on our trip, but Norway was the exception. Maybe we need to see it in the spring or summer, when the landscape and the people have had a chance to thaw.

1000 Miles Across Britain

After renting a Paris flat for one week, Kim and I began the second leg of our European adventure. We boarded the Eurostar train at Gare du Nord and zipped across the French countryside, under the English Channel, and into the heart of London. There, we rented a car.

Day One: London to Bath

We had a car, one week of free time, and no real plans — except to be in Bath by nightfall. Using, I’d booked a room at the Lansdown Grove Hotel. First, though, we had to get out of London.

While I reacquainted myself with driving a manual transition on the left side of the road, Kim played the role of navigator. As always, we made a great team. We gradually made our way from the heart of London to the surrounding highways. After an hour on the M4, we took to the country roads. And as dusk fell, we drove into Bath.

It took us a little bit of time to find the Lansdown Grove Hotel. (During our search, we managed to set off the car alarm at a gas station — with Kim inside the car.) But once we found it, we had a relaxing evening.

The Lansdown Grove Hotel is a charming place, at least by my standards. It may be one of the oldest hotels in Bath, and it certainly has one of the oldest clientele. Kim and I — both over 40 — seemed to be the youngest guests by two or three decades, but that just added to the appeal of the place.

We were both excited to see that our room included a bathtub. In fact, the bathtub was huge and the water was hot (so hot that the hotel had posted warning signs). While Kim settled in for a much-needed soak, I went downstairs to ask for a wine opener. That simple request turned into a half-hour search for a corkscrew, one that ultimately proved futile. “All of our wine comes with twist-off caps,” the barman told me. “Only our most expensive bottle has a cork, and nobody ever orders that.” I laughed and bought a bottle of prosecco instead.

Day Two: Bath to Coventry

The next morning was bitter cold. It was also the start of a four-day holiday weekend in the U.K. Many businesses were closed for Good Friday, but fortunately we found a bookstore where we could purchase a road atlas.

Note: The bookstore we found was fantastic. While we browsed the stacks at Topping and Company, the staff served us French-press coffee and offered suggestions for touring England by car. Kim and I were both impressed by the variety of titles available. If I return to Bath, I intend to devote an hour or two to this store.

After picking up the atlas, we spent a couple of hours wandering the cold streets of Bath, including a quick stop at the Roman baths themselves. We also discovered we both like Cornish pasties. Eventually, we decided we’d better hit the road.

At the ancient Roman bath

We had a choice: Make tracks to the north of England or take our time on the country roads. Since we had no particular place to go, and since I wanted to see the stone circle at Avebury (something we rushed through the last time I was in England), we opted for the country roads. This worked well for a while.

Driving in England is much the same as driving in the United States. There are three main types of roads: freeways (and highways), city streets, and country roads. The highways and city streets are almost identical to those in the U.S. But it’s on the country roads that things often differ.

For one, country roads in the U.S. are generally wide open, surrounded by nothing, and it’s possible to zip along at a fair clip. That’s not how it works in the U.K. The country roads in the U.K. used to be bridle paths and carriageways. They wind and twist and turn, and they’re surrounded by hedgerows, which often obscure vision of the countryside and oncoming traffic. It’s fun to drive on English country roads, but it also takes a l-o-n-g time to get anywhere.

We discovered this after Avebury. We made good progress for a couple of hours, but then we hit a streak of bad luck. First, we got caught in a queue (what we would call a “traffic jam” in the U.S.). After escaping the queue, we found ourselves in a seemingly never-ending series of small towns. When we finally reached Coventry, we decided it was best to call it a day, far short of where we expected to be. We started searching for a hotel. We had no luck. Instead, we found ourselves in the middle of the country again.

We stopped at a pub to ask directions to the nearest hotel. A kind young woman wrote out instructions to the nearest place to stay, but following them put us on a dead-end road in a housing development. As we drove out, we spied a man out for a walk with his dog. He seemed to find his chat with Kim amusing and he directed us to a nice place nearby. But his directions also proved tough to follow, and we ended up in the next town. Eventually, we gave up. We spotted a Holiday Inn Express and stopped for the night.

After three hours of bad luck, we ought to have been in bad moods. Instead, we ordered fish and chips and a couple of pints of beer. Our moods soared so that we even ordered another plate of fish and chips. It had been a long day, but it ended well.

Day Three: Coventry to Carlops

After our bad luck the previous day, we decided not to leave anything to chance. As fun as it might be to see the English countryside, we opted instead to hop on the M6 motorway, the major freeway along the west side of the country. The views were mundane, but we made great progress for several hours.

We made such good progress, in fact, that we decided to take a scenic bypass, exiting the motorway to cut through the heart of the Lake District. Our friend Chris grew up there (and used to be a boxing champion of the area many years ago), and he’d given us his mother’s phone number in case we had time to drop in.

For two hours, we wended our way on country roads, looking at the hills and the lakes. We stopped to take photos and to admire the vistas. “I wish we had more time,” Kim said. “It would be nice to spend a few days here.” I agreed, but as it was, we didn’t even have a time to phone Chris’ mom.

Instead, we got back on the motorway, hoping to reach Carlisle by evening — or maybe even Glasgow. And here our luck improved.

We were nearing the Scottish border when we saw a road sign: GLASGOW 95, EDINBURGH 97. We couldn’t believe our good fortune. We could make it to Edinburgh by nightfall!

We exited the motorway and took to the country roads, heading north into the Scottish hillsides. We passed through small towns and little clusters of houses. As we approached Edinburgh, it occurred to me that it might be fun to stay in a bed and breakfast for a night. We began knocking on doors as we passed them, but nobody was taking boarders on the night before Easter.

In front of the fireplace at the Allan Ramsey Hotel

Finally, in Carlops, we found the Allan Ramsay Hotel, which was built in 1792 — and feels like it. (In a good way.) The owner rented us a room (we were the only lodgers for the night). After getting settled, we went downstairs to the pub, an atmospheric place with low ceilings, dim lighting, and warm fireplaces. It felt like the sort of place a traveler might have stayed in 1792. We enjoyed it too.

Day Four: Edinburgh

On Easter morning, we completed our journey north. We drove the last ten miles to Edinburgh, arriving in time to tour Edinburgh Castle before checking in at The George Hotel.

In the evening, we ate dinner at French restaurant. We had plenty of wine, which was very French, but after our week in Paris, we steered clear of the cheese. We were just cheesed out.

Day Five: Edinburgh

On Easter Monday — a bank holiday in the UK — we met an acquaintance for lunch. Amy Gross, who writes a fantastic wine blog had connected us with her friend, Frank Cusack. Frank was a valuable resource as we planned our trip, providing tons of tips and advice. He and his family met us for lunch at The Dome in downtown Edinburgh. We enjoyed good food and good company for two hours.

Then, in a very kind gesture, Frank had us hop into the family minivan. He drove us around the downtown area, showing us the sights and making recommendations. After our personalized tour, he dropped us at The Royal Mile. We strolled the street, looking at the shops. We stopped for a whisky tasting. I bought a scarf. Kim looked at jewelry.

Tasting whisky is a diverting pastime…

Eventually we found ourselves at the bar of the Hotel Missoni, where we ordered fancy drinks and chatted up the bartender while he trained a new employee. When we were ready for dinner, we stepped next door to Ondine, a popular new place in Edinburgh. We shared a giant seafood platter, with oysters, crab, lobster, clams, mussels, and more.

Note: There is a huge Italian presence in Edinburgh. There are Italian restaurants everywhere, the way there are Mexican restaurants all over the west coast of United States. And there are many Italian people working throughout the city.

Day Six: Edinburgh

In addition to connecting us with Frank, Amy Gross had recommended we try One Spa in downtown Edinburgh. I was a little skeptical. I’d never been to a spa, and it seemed a little spendy. But I wanted to treat Kim to a bit of relaxation, so we booked a morning together. It turned out to be a brilliant move.

We spent three hours in the “thermal suites” — heat rooms and saunas of all sorts — and the hydrotherapy pools. Very relaxing. And to cap it off, I enjoyed a 25-minute head massage while Kim had an hour-long back massage. The whole experience reset our moods. It was wonderful.

In the evening, Frank picked us up at the hotel to drive us to dinner. First, he gave us a driving tour of the city, pointing out landmarks and telling stories. Next, he took us to the Sheep Heid Inn, the oldest pub in Scotland (established in 1360!). Finally, he drove us to Angels with Bagpipes, one of Edinburgh’s most popular restaurants. Frank introduced us to the chef and to the owner, and then we sat down in a private room for a lovely meal.

Note: Kim and I are grateful to Frank for his hospitality. He made our stay in the city much more enjoyable than it might have been otherwise.

Day Seven: Edinburgh to London

I woke on Wednesday with an upset stomach. I couldn’t even finish my coffee.

We loaded our luggage into the trusty Renault Megane and started south. We made good time, once again enjoying the beauty of the Scottish countryside. The trees were still bare, but it was clear that spring was just around the corner.

Once we connected to the motorway, we made good time. “We may reach the hotel early enough to be able to unwind and relax a bit,” Kim said. But once again, luck was not on our side.

First, there was a terrible crash on the M1 motorway, closing it to traffic in both directions. We were stuck on the freeway for an hour before being able to exit. Then it took us another hour to crawl south to the next junction.

During this time, my upset stomach became worse, turning to nausea and stomach cramps. Plus, Kim began to get sick too. By the time we finally reached London — three hours behind schedule — we were both in bad shape. The 60-mile trip around the M25 ring road seemed to last an eternity.

Although we’d eaten very little all day, we simply climbed into bed and tried (without much success) to fall asleep.

The finaly tally from our rental car, which cost us $400 for the week.

Final Thoughts

I’d never rented a car for an extended period of time before this trip. I was a little apprehensive. It seemed expensive. In the end, though, I was glad we’d made the choice. Over the course of one week, we drove over one thousand miles across Britain. We enjoyed some great scenery, but even more than that, we enjoyed a lot of freedom. We were able to make up our itinerary as we went along.

Kim and I both found that we enjoyed our tour of the country much more than expected — especially the time in Scotland. We both feel like we ought to return sometime (probably during the summer or early autumn) to explore the Lake District and all of Scotland at a more leisurely pace.

For this trip, though, our time exploring Britain was over, and it was time to fly to Norway.

At the Scottish-English border on a cold, clear day in April