This Is What ADHD Is Really Like

by Brittney Herz
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I wake up at 5:30 a.m.; she’s been up since 3:30. I could hear her in her room moving things around, playing, talking to herself. She occasionally came out to check that I’m still there. That we’re all still there. No one has left.

Get her a drink and medicine. Try to put on morning cartoons so I have a little time to get the sleep out of my eyes, but they’re not the right cartoons. She knew we would put on a movie and I just put on PBS Kids. That wasn’t right. It’s not a break down; it’s just an uncomfortable voice asking, “Why, why is this on? Mom, why is this on? Mom, this isn’t a movie. This is TV; Mom, why? I don’t like it.”

I put on a movie. She watches five minutes of the Pets movie, her favorite right now, then starts doing flips off the couch. She crashes to the floor so hard she wakes up her baby brother. I’ve had about six sips of coffee. I tell her to please try and sit long enough that I can get the baby up and dressed.

I’m gone for the five minutes I asked for and come back. She’s ripped a chunk of hair out. I ask her if she wants to go run outside and let off some steam and she says yes. “Go put on socks,” I say. But there’s scissors on the table and an envelope right next to it, so obviously that envelope needs to be cut, right? She makes a beeline for the table and starts cutting our insurance bill into a snowflake.

“Please, go put on socks.” But the hallway is long and it’s more fun to walk like a dog. She barks. Wakes up her father. “Just, get your socks,” I say. She’s in her room for a while, then comes running asking, “What can I do?” I say she can put on socks. “Oh right,” she says. The same thing for shoes, coat, and hair brush.

She finally gets outside, and I see her talking to sticks, petting rocks, and swinging so high. She’s good there. It’s a good spot.

Twenty minutes later, she comes in, hands red, cheeks pink. She sits and has a drink and starts asking “what can I do” again. She needs to know what she can do. I tell her to let me get dressed. We head out and she talks to me while we do errands. We make up stories in the car. She tells one about an evil rabbit that lives under ground and only this one princess knows how to tame. The rabbit doesn’t like anyone but this princess. She brings home a friend and he bites her. So, the princess lives alone to make the rabbit happy. Then it’s my turn, then hers again.

We get to the grocery store and she runs out of the car before we’re in park. I scold her. I know it’s exciting and she knows that inside we will buy things she likes, and she can’t wait to get in and see what’s there.

She wants cakes, cupcakes, candy, Popsicles, Pop Tarts, juice boxes, Lucky Charms. All I see is Red 40, Yellow 5, and Blue 2. Sugar and cornstarch. “No, honey, we must find something else.” She’s straining again. She’s pulling her hair again. “Please don’t pull your hair.” Her teeth grind but she calms down at some alternatives. Goldfish crackers, Apple Juice, and Annie’s cookies. It’s not a breakdown but it was a close one.

We get back in the car. She wants her tablet. I didn’t charge it. She’s bored with stories now, she’s bored with the car, she needs her tablet. Her mind is racing and can’t focus on anything but her tablet. I don’t have an alternative. “I’m sorry,” I say. She starts crying. It’s still not a breakdown. But my knuckles are white on the steering wheel prepping in case this is the one that does it.

Do I have a snack? Yes, always. It’s not the right snack. She wanted what she had this morning. I grabbed something different. The crying turns into a growl. The growl into a shriek; I’m supposed to provide the basics. Even still not a breakdown, though to the untrained eye it may look like it.

Then we go see a friend. She is snappy, but not bad. “Oh, she seems so much better,” they say. “She seems to be doing well,” they say. I nod, because right now yes, she is doing well. Then it’s time to leave. It’s no longer crying and growling; it’s screaming. It’s clawing at herself. It’s drawing blood on her arms and legs. She rips her clothes and throws whatever she can reach. We aren’t supposed to leave yet. The game wasn’t finished. How can she finish if we just…leave? Now is the breakdown.

The ride home is filled with the screams. I get hit with several items she was able to find in the back seat. My seat is getting kicked. I finally lose it. I scream. I scream so loud my voice breaks. Then her fit turns to a sad cry. Why was I so mad at her? She was trying to make me understand how serious of an offense it was to make her leave. Why couldn’t I see that? She’s panting, she’s out of breath, she’s about to throw up. We pull over, and we get out and she gets sick on the side of the road. I ask her if she’s okay and she says yes. Now “what can I do” she asks, totally calm. I tell she can be patient, until we get home.

Dinner is gross. It’s not what she wanted. She won’t eat. She doesn’t get a snack if she doesn’t eat and she says, “That’s fine” because she doesn’t want one. She kicks her brother’s chair trying to get him to look at her. Why isn’t everyone interested in what she is saying? She is talking nonstop while her father and I are trying to update each other on how the kids were, what we’re doing when they go to sleep, and how the morning will go. She starts making yipping sounds, clicking, singing. I tell her to say excuse me and she yells that she did. She did not.

I try to bathe her brother, but the second I’m out of sight she starts crying, “Mommy, Mommy, no.” I cave and let her father bathe him. We sit in her room doing puzzles, coloring, anything I can to not let her mind to playing dolls because that always ends badly. Then it’s time for her bath. “No,” she says. “We haven’t finished.”

I’m doing it again. I’m making her stop something she wants to keep doing. I say we can finish as soon as we get out. The growling starts. I hug her and tell her to think about how the bath is going be. Nice and warm, and calm. She needs the calm.

Her brother is trying to sleep and she’s still singing, yelling, and talking like I’m next door instead of right next to her. “Please lower your voice,” I say. But why? What she’s saying is important. I need to hear every word and clearly. It’s time to get out, the water is getting cold. She’s okay with that tonight. I sigh with relief. Until we see her nightgown isn’t clean. It’s just shirt and pants tonight. Tonight, that’s not okay, last night it was. It’s 8:30.

She collapses and flairs and kicks and screams. Her hands go to her hair again. Why do I keep doing this to her? Why didn’t I know she wanted a nightgown tonight? She doesn’t vomit this time, but it takes until 9:15 to be able to talk.

We still do stories. Now she’s hungry. I get her an apple and she’s okay with that. No breakdown over that part tonight. She cuddles up to me as we read two books. She wants a third and a fourth, but we have to stop at three. She fusses, but again, not a breakdown. I kiss her and tuck her in. In the corner is my sitting spot. A pillow, a blanket, and my phone. I sit until she falls asleep. Tonight, that takes another twenty minutes. Last night it was an hour.

I try to have a ten-minute conversation with my husband before passing out in my own bed. I’m woken up at 2:30 a.m. because “there’s a monster, in the pipes,” she says. She gets on her mat next to my side of the bed and tosses and turns and tosses and turns. I fall back asleep. I wake at 4 a.m. and she’s not there. She’s standing next to the bed looking at me.

“What can I do?” she asks.