ADHD / Adult ADHD / Anxiety / Coping Strategies / Pets Gone Wild

ADHD: Steep Learning Curves

One of the special features of ADHD that I find the most perplexing, and at times frustrating, is the steep learning curve that I sometimes require, for seemingly simple things.

Case in point: Dog care.

Until the 33rd year of my life, I was a cat person. I had cat from birth to the present, and I have two now that I’ve had for 13 years. Had a dog growing up, and while we loved and enjoyed him, I wouldn’t describe our family as dog people, more like cat people who happened to have a dog around.

Well one day I got the bright idea that I should have a dog. I had wanted one earlier, but because of my often mobile, frequently-moving lifestyle, decided that it wasn’t a good idea. Then I was 33, decided I was staying where I was, and thought a dog would be a pretty sweet companion. I did my research. I read about all kinds of dogs, so that I would at least have a rough idea of what to expect, and what types of dogs have what types of activity levels.

The way I’m describing this, it makes me sound really measured and unspontaneous, which is pretty funny. It’s not that I’m a loose cannon, it’s more that when I set my mind to something, I become a bit obsessed, to a degree that has ADHD written all over it. Hyperfocus central. When I say I read about dogs, I mean I was online reading every resource there was to read, learning about the history of breeds, reading about the history of dogs, reading about how to train dogs, reading about what to do with puppies at various stages of development, reading about trainers, training styles, watching dog videos.

My boyfriend at the time told me “no dogs” because he was a cat person. Well, as it turns out, our relationship went down the toilet soon after my dog obsession began (not be`cause of the dog obsession, I swear…no really). At that point I was pretty sure children and getting married weren’t going to be happening, so I factored that information into my dog search. I decided I would keep an eye out for a rat terrier (apartment-sized, less aggressive than Jack Russell’s, minimal formal exercise needed, no grooming required, trainable if terrier-like) through a rescue group.

Well a friend found me a chihuahua-rat terrier mix and that was four years ago.

A month later I got married and acquired three children.

The acquisition also included a shepherd-lab mix.

I now had two dogs.

And I am STILL struggling to set a dog care routine.

Our dogs are well-loved, eat regularly, are in good health (the vet concurs), but this whole routine thing is just really stressful. I’ve gotten as far as (obviously) taking them out to pee first thing in the morning, and then for a walk at a specified time. Rest of the day is a free for all. It is often the case that I  can’t concentrate on anything else if I know I have to go do a walk or a something at a specific time. I’ll obsess about the fact that I have to go do the “thing” later – I think this is part of the joy of a dual diagnosis of ADHD and an anxiety disorder. I have learned to use my anxiety as a tool, which is great when I ABSOLUTELY MUST REMEMBER a particular thing, but the flip side is that if I feel something is important, I cannot stop thinking about it until it’s done because I’m afraid that I will forget it.

I also can’t always predict when I will be focused…so if I am finally able to focus on something, the last thing I want to do is get up, walk the dogs, and flush my focus down the toilet. If I’m in a groove, I have to stay there.

Not everything in life can be made more perfect through seamless calendaring and use of timers. Sometimes I really need to be able to turn the friggin’ timer OFF, not on, in my overly vigilant brain.

As I was walking the dogs today, at a random, non-routine time, the thought occurred to me that there are people who do this every day, on a schedule, and you know…they just do it on the schedule. You know, like that’s totally normal and not a constant struggle.


They walk dogs at an appointed time! They feed dogs at an appointed time! Who knows what else they might do with dogs at an appointed time, the possibilities are ENDLESS.

My small dog sometimes tucks himself into bed at 10pm on his own. My big dog reminds me that it’s time to go for a walk (for our one routine walk event of the day). This involves a lot of staring, and sometimes even this doesn’t give me the hint, which is when the paw comes out and she starts clawing at me. OK FINE, WALK TIME.

I guess it’s nothing to beat myself up over, but I sure feel silly that these kinds of simple things in life are elusive to aggravatingly challenging.

I’m going to stop at my success with the half routine, and not bother with getting elaborate about what we do with the rest of the day. These are really the two most important items anyway, the morning pee and the first walk of the day. The feeding is never a problem to remember because an empty bowl in an obvious place is a visible reminder. I like to be proactive and try new strategies, but I also like to pick my ADHD battles and not excessively torture myself with the impulse to “fix” everything that I could perceive to be “wrong” with me (I have a perfectionist streak that isn’t always helpful).

And that’s that.


10 thoughts on “ADHD: Steep Learning Curves

  1. What can you tell me about the gaming industry and the hooks it has on our ADHD young adults? This is a common problem; is anyone doing anything about it to bring it to light, to be addressed? Gaming is stealing my son’s life, soon his jobs, and adding sheer frustration to our home; nothing matters but his connection to this game and the status he holds on it……….cannot address because he is over 18, no teeth do I have to get us some help; we are held hostage by this gaming and the his explosive behaviours………….any ideas. L Carroll

    • Well, it’s not really an area of expertise for me, but coincidentally, I just read this Time Magazine article yesterday. I was prepared for it to be an awful article, like so many on the topic of ADHD, but it actually had a few useful nuggets in it, and might give you a place to start on the topic of kids, ADHD and game addiction, here’s the link:

      It is true that some of us use the stimulation of video games to self-medication. There are, of course, many ways that we of the ADHD tribe do this. My own methods vary, though I do seek out self-medication much less now that I take medication. He definitely needs to learn to see the impact of his behavior on the rest of his life. Depending on his age, maybe he would also be receptive to reading this article as a starting point.

      (Sorry you are struggling with this…and that he is too. It’s hard to make healthy choices when you just don’t feel quite right.)

  2. Don’t beat yourself up. Sounds like with dog care, marriage, new kids, your blog, and whatever else; you have a lot of balls in the air. The good thing abt dogs is that they are patient with us and will remind us. Suggestions: a recurring alarm on your cell phone (I use one for therapy. I’ve been going for 4 yrs), delegate (3 kids & a husband & only u r the only one to walk the dog?), or reframe the dog walk as something you should do every day & will help ADHD & anxiety- exercise. I know easier said than done. Great blog.

    • Great suggestions…one thing I am working on is simply taking more things off of my plate, period. As in, eliminating them. Indeed, I am the only dog-walker in the house. Our kids just aren’t quite ready for that task yet (two of them are too young to wander the neighborhood alone, the oldest just isn’t quite ready for the responsibility…we have a pair of dogs that come with their own challenges…the big one is reactive and the tiny one is so tiny that it’s easy for the kids to get TOO excited when handling him without supervision). My husband’s plate is also very full so interestingly, it just works out that he is the key point person for the kids and I am the key point person for the dogs. Anyway, blahblahblah…man, I just can’t stop talking today. Your suggestions are great and probably the exercise framework could be a useful one to get into my rotation. I mean…I ideally I could also get dogs to ride bicycles but that’s probably not practical thinking…

  3. If you are at all like me, the steep learning curves feel like cruising around a corner in (flat) Boston one minute then finding yourself climbing a San Franciscan hill in an under powered moped the next minute. In less than ideal conditions.

    I am amazed every time I see my fiance do the same thing, at the same time, every day – it seems like magic to me.

    The under powered moped incidents come without warning and I have yet to find a good way to predict them. With that said, It’s nice to be reminded to celebrate the small successes, measured against our own – perhaps erratic – pace. Thanks for that!

    Cheers from the flat streets of Boston.

    • “I am amazed every time I see my fiance do the same thing, at the same time, every day – it seems like magic to me.” – Oh, those moments when I notice the “normal” things that people do every day…they feel so strange to watch!

      Argh, under-powered moped incidents, what a great description. I sometimes describe it as “my brain is on a ten-minute delay”. I can just feel that I can’t process things sometimes and there’s nothing I can do about it. I’ve gotten to the point where I just accept it and incorporate it into my day. When I worked in a proper office I would say things like “give me ten minutes and I’ll meet you in your office” with the info sought. Or…sometimes I would have to go back and check the post it notes on my desk to see what I wrote down because I wouldn’t even necessarily be able to recall if I’d talked to someone on the phone, but I would have written down the important info because I’ve trained myself to do that. Fun times.

      Thank you for reading…having lived in both New England, and in San Francisco, I’m digging the geographic references.

  4. i lol’d at your hyperfocus central allusion. I just recently moved down the hall to a larger apartment and while throwing out garbage I forgot that I was actually throwing out the next box to be moved to the new apartment. Even though as I left the apartment I said to myself, Self, don’t forget that this box goes to the apartment. Non-ADHD’ers just don’t get it. That’s why I give them the boot. I need people around me who get. Thank you for this blog. I’m not alone.

  5. Katy, You are amazing! Your writing is both honest and funny. After all — it’s not like we have cancer (I hope) or some other life threatening disease. After spending the day tricking myself to read my e-mail I’m so happy I found your blog. I have to run now — the alarm just went off for me to give my Ausie his medicine. 🙂

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