Sometime along the road to “rehADDilitation” it comes to one’s attention that words have meanings — new meanings! What follows is a beginning compendium of words which many people with AD/HD have been hearing, and using, for years, without truly grasping their fullest and most accurate meanings. Some people find it amusing to make light of such errors, but the cognitive lapses responsible for “not getting it” are serious business. Relationships at home and at work are all affected by our use, and misuse, of words and the concepts they are intended to convey.
Leaving means your hand is on the doorknob. It does not mean you start gathering up your stuff, looking for your coat, grabbing a few things to take to the dry cleaners, making out a quick grocery list, perching on the edge of your chair saying, “I’m coming …” in a pressured tone. Leaving means your hand is on the doorknob. Or, in the case of dinner (more on this coming), it means you are in the room where dinner is about to be eaten; only then, of course, we call it Arriving.
Arriving is what you do when you have an Appointment. An Appointment means you will be at a specified place at the specified time to meet the person with whom you are making or have made — the appointment. It does not mean ten minutes later than that, or phoning from the freeway exchange closest to your house at that specified time and saying, “I’ll be a little late…” when you know full well your gas tank is near empty and it’s a 15-minute drive on a good day and the appointment is now. Appointment means you are already there at the specified time and place.
Yes means yes. It means you are agreeing to or with something; you are making a Promise. Uh-oh, a Promise? Yes, a Promise to be at, for example, an appointment; if they say, “Can you be here at 11:00 o’clock?” and you say “Yes,” that is a Promise, and you have just Promised to honor the Appointment. Furthermore, in order to do so you will be Leaving (hand on doorknob) wherever you were before that, with time enough to get there at the Appointed time.
(Everything, you see, is related to everything else. If your hand is not on the doorknob, you will not be Leaving, getting to the Appointment, or honoring your own mouth saying “Yes,” when asked about that 11:00 o’clock slot the doctor or hair stylist or teacher has saved for you.)
Yes also means you will Do something, like bake those cupcakes, spend 90 minutes volunteering in the school library, take the car in for its regular servicing within a thousand miles of its warranty agreement (to which, by signing your name, you said, whether you realize it or not, “Yes,” which you now know to have been a Promise), picking up your kid and his friend after soccer practice, and at the Appointed time, too, which you are only able to do because you had your hand on the doorknob when it was time for Leaving.
Driving about the countryside, or the cityscape, with children who have Things To Do (what? them, too? things to Do? who will teach them? That was a Promise you made implicitly, when you said “Yes,” to parenthood), is but one of the many things one needs in this life, to Do. There are many more, and most of them don’t pertain to children, but to oneself. You do the leaving, the promising, the doing.
Never mind that AD/HD makes it so very difficult to Do what one knows; and is not a problem of knowing, or not, what it is one is supposed to Do. It’s the Doing part of life that is so hard. A story I know to be true, is of a girl at age ten and entirely unable to swim, who went to sleepaway camp, and — chagrined to be asked if she knew how to swim, gave an answer which was technically true but functionally untrue (partly out of a fantasy that today of all days she would, in fact, be able to Do it, and partly because she conveniently took the question literally [she knew how, but couldn’t actually Do it], and partly because she could not face the shame at being the only ten year old unable to swim) she said, “YES.”
When asked to demonstrate, she blindly leapt into the pool, sputtered, sank, and had to be fished out (shame: that most excruciating of feelings it almost always seems preferable to delay, but putting one’s hand on the doorknob of shame means it Leaves a lot quicker think about that). That is an example of knowing what to Do and being unable to actually Do it. Most difficulties encountered in adulthood are those which one can, in fact, Do, but the conditions have to be just right, and it’s a job of considerable proportions to observe and ascertain what those conditions are for any given task which one must Do (which is where an ample dose of healthy self interest and often a coach come in handy).
For now we’ll take one small-but-important example of something one must Do, which applies to a family, or a couple, to roommates, and to people who live alone. Making Dinner means preparing food in such a manner that when someone arrives at the table the food is Ready (this one will be taken up later, too).
Making Dinner does not mean just cooking food. That’s called Cooking (we’ll get to that later [and that is not a Promise; it’s Thinking Out Loud]), and it is only one part of Making Dinner. Making Dinner means, in addition to food preparation, preparing the table for use (so the day’s debris is not in evidence; which does not mean it’s been shoved down to the far end, or to the middle of the table out of the plate area; it means the day’s debris (and we covered that in part when defining clutter as anything that’s in your way) has a home (its own home) to go to at dinner time.
Debris (or clutter, if you prefer) is not invited to dinner. When a human person comes to the table, dinner has not been made unless the table is clean and set with plates and implements for eating and drinking, as well as things to drink, and things with which to serve the food onto one’s plate. (Flowers, and candles, and nice tablecloths all come in the advanced course, so skip them for now — they will only make dinner late.) Making Dinner, then, is preparing the food and the way for people to put their hands on their forks and begin to eat. Otherwise, you cannot say, “Dinner is ready, I made dinner.” You can only say, “I cooked food.” Anything else is a little broken Promise (oh no, there that is again, come back to haunt us!), assuming the agreement, with others or with oneself (promises to oneself are harder to keep, so we’ll have to put that on the list of Things To Write About Another Time), was to Make Dinner.
One more, for today: Bedtime means your body is getting into bed. It does not mean turning off lights, checking the doors, letting the dog out again, calling for the cat, starting up the dishwasher, stepping in the shower real quick, or any of those things you do before Bedtime. Like having your hand on the doorknob is what Leaving means, having your body in the bed is what Bedtime means.
(All of this is beginning to show you what Time is about, which is one of those things you have been hearing about for years and if you looked at your watch within the last two minutes I bet you don’t know, if I asked you right now, what time it is, because you didn’t really register it only that it is, or isn’t, time to be leaving, or eating dinner, or bedtime, or honoring that “Yes” you said two days ago.)