Dealing with ADD and The Holidays

At our house, the holiday season has always been a special time of problems as well as joys.  The excitement of the holidays, the additional social interactions, the special demands of gift-giving and receiving, and the departure from routine all may be either especially stimulating or especially stressful -- to all of us, but especially to those in our family with ADD.  We always want to have a happy, loving, yummy holiday time.  Instead, we typically would either end up all yelling at each other, or in tears, by the time the holiday actually arrived.

Holiday Socializing -- My ADD husband is very sociable and the extra parties were lots of fun -- as well as opportunities for excessive drinking.  He never *meant* to get drunk, but he would be having so much fun that he wasn't paying attention to just how much he was ingesting.  My efforts to restrain him were not taken very seriously.  I finally gave up and took on the permanent role of designated driver, out of self-preservation -- and he finally really overdid it and ended up *extremely* ill.  We discussed it the next day while he was still unwell (very quietly and calmly!) and he realized what I'd been saying all along was true.  Nowadays we keep the parties and the drinking to a minimum, and he listens when I suggest he's had enough.

Gift-Giving  -- The holidays also present a lot of stress for him in regard to gift-giving.  His relationships are largely superficial -- he doesn't understand people well enough to know what kinds of gifts people would like.  He'd rack his brain for weeks before the holidays without success, then at the last-minute impulsively bought gifts that were often inappropriate.  I had tried giving him a list of possible gifts, but it didn't help much.  Even if the list had "fleece bathrobe" on it, he'd get stuck on trying to decide on a color, or length, or wouldn't be able to figure out where he could find it.  I used to feel that if he really cared, he would be willing to put the effort in, but I came to see that it was actually his desire to please people that was mentally paralyzing him.  Nowadays, I give him a specific list of gifts I would like, with exact information -- size, color, any other details, where to buy it and how much it costs -- and encourage others he exchanges gifts with to do the same.  (The internet has become a real help in this regard, we can also point him to a particular webpage.)  I know some people feel that gift lists are a strident and unthoughtful approach to gift-giving, but it has been a real stress-reducer for him!

Clean-up, Thank-you's -- The aftermath of the holidays is also an area of traditional tension.  Nobody particularly likes cleaning up and putting things away when the holidays are over, but for the ADDers in my family, it's an even bigger problem.  After the "highs" of the holidays, the aftermath seems like a much lower low than for the rest of us.  (Since they also have Seasonal Affective Disorder, it's hard to say how much each disorder contributes.)  We've found that playing jazzy or rock and roll music during these activities helps -- the tempo gets everybody moving, and  we often sing along, which makes the whole situation more enjoyable.  Thank-you notes for holiday gifts are also a low priority for the ADDers.  Fortunately, all their thank-you's can be sent by email, so they can use a template and personalize just a little -- and we've agreed they will copy me on the email.  If I don't see anything in my inbox after a few days, I will calmly pester a bit, but I won't nag until it's done -- I'm willing to help them remember, but I'm not going to take responsibility for getting it done.  Usually the notes get sent -- and if not, they reap the consequences!

KISS -- (Keep-It-Simple Solutions) In general, we've found that it's important and helpful to try to keep the routines and environment as close to normal as possible for the ADDers.  Whenever my husband gets away from the structure of his routines for more than a few days, he starts to "lose" his good habits due to the distractions.  We've come to treat his decorating activites as just another yard project to be discussed and tracked at our thrice-weekly formal meetings, and we also discuss the scheduling and progress of his shopping.  I try to do my holiday baking at times that will impact him the least -- same for my holiday shopping and cleaning.  Finally, as much as I would like to be able to have a more elaborate holiday season, I've accepted that this just isn't practicable in our family.  We've figured out over time just what we can and can't handle, and we stick to what's reasonable for us.   I've given up sending out holiday cards; instead I try to send out greetings after the first of the year when I have more time.  While it's true that all this does in some ways put a bit more of a burden on those of us in our family who don't have ADD, most of it can be dealt with through advance planning -- and a good place or two to stash everything holiday-oriented out of sight until it's needed, so it doesn't distract!  The last few years, we've been able to enjoy our holidays without the yelling or tears, and to be more in the spirit of the season.