November 28, 2023


Amazing parenting technician

Put Your Oxygen Mask on First: ADHD Self-Care

4 min read
Quang Anh Ha Nguyen via Photo by Quang Anh Ha Nguyen:

For more than a year, I felt increasingly “off” – a feeling brought on, no doubt, by the pandemic. My brain fog was making everything feel squishy. Unfinished projects were piling up. I was forgetting things. Losing things. Losing my temper. I had started taking long naps. I couldn’t be present, mentally or emotionally, unless something was on fire.

As a parent with ADHD raising two children, one of whom is autistic, I needed to get a handle on things. What could I do to bounce back?

The answer was in a key rule I had forgotten: Put on your own oxygen mask first!

So, at 42, I created my own oxygen mask — a document I call my Individualized Excellence Plan (IEP).

Why My IEP Is My Oxygen Mask

As a teacher, I’m used to reviewing student Individualized Education Plans – documents designed by teachers, parents, and support personnel to help a student with learning needs achieve success in school. Students with special needs often require accommodations and other supports to achieve their personal best.

[Read: Not Neurotypical – a Survival Kit for ADHD Moms]

Borrowing inspiration from IEPs, I wanted to draft my own plan for success to help me harness the best of my brain and manage my ADHD – something I had not devoted much time to.

When I got my ADHD diagnosis at age 26, I was relieved. It was an explanation for the struggles I experienced throughout my life. But I didn’t think I needed a plan moving forward.

I was always a high achiever and managed an unusually high level of “busyness.” I simply accepted that waffling between fog and focus was my norm. I even declined the ADHD meds the doctor had prescribed.

Within five years of my diagnosis, I was married. Within five years of marriage, we had two small children. Life kept changing and I kept managing and moving things around. But was I making forward progress? It didn’t feel that way.

[Read: My ADHD Diagnosis Connected the Dots in My Life]

Crafting My Individualized Excellence Plan

I asked myself six questions as I crafted my plan to succeed with ADHD:

1. What are my goals?

Like most parents, I want to fulfill all of my responsibilities — and more. I want to be mentally and emotionally present to help my kids thrive.

2. What are my strengths?

I’m creative and resourceful. I’m comfortable meeting and talking to new people. I learn quickly, especially when there’s an urgent need or if the topic relates to my interests and values.

3. Where do I struggle?

Executing plans is hard for me. I have time blindness and poor working memory. Sometimes, my hyperfocus kicks in and I can catch up on tasks at the eleventh hour.

But my pattern is to “mask” – I don’t admit or even realize when I’m drowning. I don’t know I’m in bad shape, and I start to miss things.

4. What kind of instruction do I need?

I need solid deadlines and tasks with a clear beginning, middle, and end.

And while written instructions are helpful, my brain chemicals need help. I need to hear things out loud to understand and remember. I learn best during live instruction and in-person meetings, when I can talk with other people.

5. What kind of environment do I need?

Again, I work best when I’m around people in structured blocks of time. My ideas become complete through dialogue with others. If I’m on my own for too long, I struggle to get things done.

I need visual anchors like signs and labels. Also, having a defined place for everything helps reduce the frequency at which I forget or lose things.

6. What kind of assessments do I need to track progress?

For work projects, scheduled follow ups to discuss the task and face-to-face feedback helps me. At home, it’s helpful to regularly assess our family goals and progress. I often need help to set this up, though, and to make sure these check-ins happen.

From Surviving to Thriving

For so long, I didn’t realize that I needed help. But after outlining my own IEP, I finally feel like I can breathe. It’s a blessing to have found such clarity.

I’ve seen progress already in the last few months: more projects completed; fewer appointments forgotten; fewer items lost; socks clean and matching.

Though it’s not an official document, my plan was created with the help of my family, close friends, and coworkers. It’s intended to benefit them as well, and I’m growing more dependable and present for them.

My IEP is not a free pass to get out of responsibility – it’s the opposite. My IEP signals my commitment to understand my own neurodivergence.

Try on Your Own Oxygen Mask!

You don’t need to be neurodivergent to benefit from your own individualized plan. Begin with the questions I listed above to start to understand how you best function.

Put Your Oxygen Mask on First: Next Steps for ADHD Parents

Myra is a wife, mother, and teacher from Toronto who loves to write about #theBIGInSmallThings. When she’s not trying to find her keys or wallet, Myra loves drinking bubble tea and skateboarding with her family.

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