ADHD can be comorbid with CPTSD. The symptoms of ADHD significantly overlap those of CPTSD. It can be a case of the chicken or the egg. Trauma may cause ADHD symptoms to become more severe. Or, ADHD brains may suffer more from early trauma. Either way, understanding ADHD can be very helpful for those who have suffered childhood trauma.

Those of us who have ADHD have kryptonite. You know kryptonite right? It’s the little green glowing rock that brings Superman to his knees. When Superman is doing his thing, kicking butt and being a boss, along comes Lex Luther with that little green rock and suddenly, Superman is sapped of all his strength. That is kryptonite.

Kryptonite for ADHD brains is boredom. I know, all of you neurotypicals out there are snickering to yourselves a little bit. 

ADHD Brain Chemistry

ADHD is the result of a deficiency of a neurotransmitter called norepinephrine. This neurotransmitter is buddies with dopamine, the thing that controls our brain’s reward and pleasure center. That has impacts on a number of different brain functions. One of those functions is how we motivate ourselves to accomplish a task.

Often we are given advice from neurotypicals that just don’t work for us.

“Pull your socks up.”

” Quit procrastinating and get it done.”

” Stop being lazy.”

How would Superman deal with those well-meaning suggestions?

“Hey, Superman, quit being lazy and just throw that kryptonite away man!” It is literally the same for a brain that does not produce enough dopamine. It’s the reason why ADHD brains can be amazingly, fantastically productive when doing something pleasurable. Then, that same productive brain literally shuts down when faced with a menial task.

My Personal ADHD Kryptonite

I’ve been an educator for more than 20 years. I also have ADHD and CPTSD. As a teacher, I thrive in the fast-paced atmosphere of a grade one classroom. I could work for hours on setting up my classroom, creating teaching materials, or researching innovative teaching techniques. When the time would come to prepare report cards? Kryptonite. BAM!

Now, I am highly motivated to do a good job, to hand things in on time, and to communicate well with parents about their child’s learning. The motivation was not my problem. I would open up that blank page and immediately shut down. In order to fight this particular kryptonite, I had to develop a coping strategy.

ADHD Kryptonite Busting

Step 1: about 6 weeks before the reports were due I would calculate the number of comments I needed to write in order to complete the task. 24 students multiplied by an English, Science, Social Studies, Math, and General comment equal 120 comments. Over 6 weeks, that meant I had to finish 20 comments each week. Breaking the task down into pieces was essential. 20 comments feel much better than 120.

Step 2: Now I had to ensure that I wrote 20 comments each week to stay on track. Time for some dopamine (AKA bribery). I had to be tough with myself but also hold out that carrot. So, no Netflix until the job was done. Then, a celebration Netflix marathon once my 20 comments were written. It was not easy but I kept my eye on the prize.

Step 3: Week one and two usually went along great and by week three I was struggling. I didn’t give in and watch Netflix, but I would suddenly need to micro-organize my closet or research how to remove stains from my couch. Each time I opened that document to start comments, my brain would groan. Step 3 involved breaking down the task even more. 20 comments per week meant 4 per weekday. Now I would allow myself a reward after every 4 comments.

Step 4: celebrate my accomplishment and try not to think of doing it all over again in 3 months. Actually, it made me kind of feel like Superman to finish those report cards.

The role of the ADHD Sidekick

Coping with report cards is something I figured out after years of frustration, struggle, and feeling like a failure. The strategy works, sometimes. It is currently August of 2021 and my taxes aren’t done. I’ve opened that page hundreds of times and suddenly been compelled to clean my fridge. Taxes are currently beating me down.

Sometimes a sidekick is necessary.

My son was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 5 by a psychologist. She told me that he was a very well-adjusted, intelligent boy. He also spent the whole session on his head, upsidedown on the couch. Yep…ADHD. It was probably incredibly boring to chat with this older woman. Being upsidedown allowed his brain enough dopamine to manage a conversation.

I’m my son’s sidekick. Now that he is almost 15 we spend a lot of time jokingly blaming each other for his forgetfulness.

“Why didn’t you have a shower last night?”

“Why didn’t you remind me? I have ADHD, remember?”

“Yeah, well I have ADHD too so I forgot to remind you!”

But truthfully, it is easier to help him complete his tasks than to do my own. Plus, I understand his challenges very, very well.

A sidekick can help us focus on our goals. It takes a subtle balance of nagging, humor, and letting go.

Sidekick Strategies

I bought my son a vibrating watch and I help him set alarms for things he wants to remember to do. At 6:00 every night that watch vibrates and I hear him thunder up the stairs to take out the recycling. The rule that works for him is to stop whatever he is doing when that watch vibrates and does his task. I’ve always done the same. When I get an email asking me to do something, I do it right away. I am far more likely to get it done right then and much more likely to forget if I close that email.

When he struggles, I try to reinforce for him, the goals he has set. I remind him of the strategies we have put into place Then, I give him a hug and tell him that I am proud of him for battling his own kryptonite.

I am proud. Because ADHD also comes with incredible creativity, a deep sensitivity to peoples’ emotions, and the capacity for outstanding achievements. When we battle that kryptonite, we truly are superheroes!

Michelle is an educator, an artist, and a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. When diagnosed with CPTSD in September of 2020, Michelle began to document her journey on her blog, . She seeks to connect with others on the journey and dreams of creating a charity to offer funds for victims of childhood trauma who cannot access trauma therapy due to cost. Her artwork and her writing help her to express her feelings about this long and challenging journey. She lives in Calgary, AB, Canada, with her two children.

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