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Vignette From a Mentoring Relationship

By Mary Beth Burns, Ed.D. – In the last edition, we read an informal letter of introduction Emily had received from her new mentor, Sara. What we didn’t know was that before Sara wrote that E-mail, she had cautiously weighed her options concerning how and when she would begin her relationship with Emily. After all, when she told Dr. Burns in late November that she would be was interested in working with Emily she hadn’t given careful consideration to the number of obligations and responsibilities that the holiday time can bring.

At first, Sara considered asking Emily if she wouldn’t mind waiting until after the holidays to start their work together, but then she remembered how thirsty she had been for knowledge and support when she first was diagnosed, so she decided to make the time to contact Emily. Yet in retrospect, Sara realized that if she wanted to fully enjoy the holidays with her husband and two children, she would have to be a bit more mindful concerning what additional tasks she took on during this time.

Sara decided right then and there to ask Dr. Burns to place a note in her file indicating that next year at this time she would prefer not to be assigned any new mentees, especially between mid-November and the end of December. She also posted small sticky notes on her computer, next to her phone and on her dresser mirror reminding herself it’s okay to say no!

Following is Emily’s response to Sara’s letter…

Dear Sara,

Thank you for taking the time to write me. I know how overwhelmed I feel at this time of the year, so when you E-mailed right after Dr. Burns contacted me I immediately experienced a feeling of hope. Does that sound strange to you? Here we are in the beginning stages of getting to know one another, yet with such a small gesture you have truly inspired me. In other words, when I received your E-mail I thought to myself, maybe some day I will feel together enough to take the time during what is the most joyful, yet dreaded time of the year, to reach out to someone. Right now, I am not able to do such a thing. To be honest, some days with all the shopping, wrapping, decorating and baking that needs to get done I barely feel I can make it through another day. Well anyway, I digress.

You asked me some specific questions, so let me try and answer them. You wanted to know what books I’ve read on AD/HD. Well, to be honest I have several books on AD/HD, but I can never seem to find the time to read any of them. Maybe that would be a good place for us to begin. So, how do you do such a thing, Sara? You know, complete one simple task like reading a book? If I could completely read a book, cover to cover, and then remember what it was I read, I would feel like I was on top of the world!

Well, I’m sure you have some wonderful ideas, so I will try to patiently await your response. Realistically, I could not even begin to think about picking up a book, no matter how important or good it was until after the New Year anyway.

Finally, have a happy holiday and thank you, Sara. I am so grateful for the opportunity to converse with another woman with AD/HD.

Emily’s response to Sara’s suggestions…

Dear Sara,

My planner is working out beautifully! I can now, with one glance, get a realistic idea of not only what my day holds, but the whole week as well. I feel far more organized and in control of my daily schedule than I ever have. For example, if it’s not written on my daily calendar I just don’t drop everything like I used to and do whatever it is that popped into my head. Instead, I assign whatever the chore or task is to another day. This way, I know that whatever it is that needs to get done will get done sometime in the near future. The result is I no longer get distracted and veer off course. I also don’t feel that if I don’t do at that very moment, whatever it is I just remembered, that I will forget it altogether.

I can’t tell you how overwhelmed I used to get because I had no system or idea of what I was going to do on any given day. That often meant I was left running in nine directions and with little sense of where I was going, or what I was doing. Even better, since I started using a planner I don’t feel so anxious these days. Scheduling my time in such a structured way has relieved me of the habit of worrying how I was going to get everything done in a timely manner. Last but not least, I no longer have sticky notes all over my computer, refrigerator and car dashboard!

I spoke to Jenna’s Girl Scout troop leader and her cheerleading coach about whether or not they thought there might be another parent I could carpool with. Jenna’s troop leader responded immediately. She told me that over the past few weeks two other moms had asked her the same question and that she had put them in touch with each other, but it hadn’t worked out because they live in opposite directions. However, she was pretty sure that one of the moms lived fairly close to me, so she gave me her number. Now we alternate picking and dropping the girls off at their meetings, which has not only been nice for us, but for our daughters. The girls have formed a closer friendship and have been going back and forth to each of our homes. I haven’t found anyone yet to carpool with for cheerleading practice, but the coach promised me she would make an announcement at the very next parent meeting.

I also took your suggestion and asked my husband to help me get Jenna to school in the morning. He not only agreed to drop her off at school on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but he also offered to take responsibility for helping her get out the door on those mornings, lunch and all. So, guess what I did? I signed up for a morning exercise class on those two days, which is something I always wanted to do.

I loved your idea about having a girls’ night out with Jenna, so I scheduled in my planner a girls’ night out for the first Friday of every month. Jenna and I decided we will go out for pizza and a soda or to a movie on those nights.

Sara, I just can’t thank you enough. These small changes have made such a difference in the quality of my day. I feel so much more directed and grounded lately. My husband even remarked the other day that he noticed things seemed to be going better around the house. No more rushing out at the last minute to get milk for the morning cereal, or phone calls from the hair salon about a missed appointment. Now that’s progress!

Dear Emily,

Wow! You have made such incredible improvements in your day-to-day living. You should be very proud of yourself. Now, you asked me for some suggestions on how to get better organized. It’s important to consider when in search of organized space that knowing where, when and how to get started can be a feat in and of itself! So, let’s start at the beginning.

The first step is to choose the space where you most want to focus your efforts. Choose this space carefully. The task after all must be manageable and progress imminent.

Therefore, don’t choose a whole room to tackle at first. Instead choose a distinct space such as your desk in your home office, the closet in your bedroom, or the kitchen cabinets above the sink and the stove. If the task is too overwhelming you will find yourself frustrated and powerless in your efforts to overcome the “clutter monster” that has invaded your home.

Second, you must schedule several chunks of time that you can devote to this project, and then do your best to protect that time. After all, this is not a pleasant job and you have been doing a wonderful job of avoiding it thus far. It is also important to choose this project time carefully, because any interruption may serve as an opportunity to meander off-task.

Third, recruit a warm body (watch out for the too many cooks thing here), because you’re going to need all the help you can get. Having a friend or friendly relative to assist you will help you stay focused and will certainly make the whole project more enjoyable. One good way to do this is to approach a friend in a similar situation. After all, it’s much more fun cleaning up someone else’s stuff! Plus, as you work with your friend you will experience the ups and downs of decluttering and may begin to get a better idea of how you would like to proceed on your own clean-up project.

Well, you have been given the first part of your assignment, Agent Emily. Report back to me regarding this first set of instructions and I will advise you on how to best proceed on this mission. Good luck!


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