In high school, after my life went off the rails and before it got back on the rails, I spent some time going to a private school for, shall we say, kids with Life Challenges(1).
At said school, we had a class called “Life Management.” Since we were Kids With Life Challenges, one of the goals of the program was to try to teach us, insofar as it was possible, the skills we would eventually need to
move out of our parents’ basements live independently. Skills like grocery shopping, balancing checkbooks, and paying bills.
This should have been a Really Good Thing.
Unfortunately, like many Life Skills curricula written by people who do not have Life Challenges and thus cannot actually imagine what it’s like to live with them, our Life Management curriculum was not very effective in helping us to develop mechanisms for coping with our actual difficulties.
Like, I’m pretty sure most of us came into that class knowing that we would eventually have bills, that it was a good idea to pay them, and that it would probably help to keep them all organized somehow and come up with some kind of system for making all that happen — and, yet, those were the ideas the course focused on.
What the course did not account for was the reality that, for many of us, actually making that happen was a way more complicated ball of wax than it was for the average Jane or Joe. It wasn’t that we didn’t get the basic concept (“You will have bills, and you should pay them.”). It was more the details of the concept that were the problem (“Okay, but how do I put together a system to keep it all organized that’s so simple a Golden Retriever could do it?”).
By way of analogy, it was kind of like going to a watch-making class in which the curriculum demonstrates of a bunch of working watches, reveals how to wind old-fashioned pocket watches, and informs you that you need to build watches … but then doesn’t tell you how. You graduate and are installed in your seat at a watch shop, and suddenly you have this pile of gears and minute screws and casings and goodness only knows what else, and somehow you are expected to turn all this stuff into a real, working watch.
If you’re like most people with ADHD, you wade in, do your best. Often you turn out semi-working watches, with parts left over. Just as often, you turn out failures. Amazingly, you sometimes even turn out a working watch or two (in fact, if you’re like most people with ADHD, you do so more often than chance alone would predict — but not often enough).
Then the next batch of watch parts comes in, and they’re for watches built on a different plan, and no instructions are included. Oh, and did I mention that no two watches in the set ever use exactly the same plan? Instead, there are minute variations from watch to watch — and it’s up to you to figure out what they are based on the jumble of parts at hand.
So you’re back to square one. Perhaps you even try to design a “system” for building watches, only to discover that the system you design is horrendously over-complicated, or doesn’t account for exceptions, or is inflexible ad absurdum.
That was pretty much my experience with Life Management.
In short, I arrived at the threshold of Adulthood (such as it is) with a clear understanding of the fact that I needed to pay bills and keep my life organized (lessons I had already learned anyway both from previous schools and from my Mom, who is amazingly good at things like paying bills and being organized), but no clear concept of how to do so in a way that I — a person with ADHD and the time-sense of a not-very-bright Golden Retriever(2) — could handle.
Flash forward to now. I’ve tried everything, pretty much. I have designed so many overly-complicated watch-building systems it’s not even funny. And yet I still get confused and screw up. All the time. Because, you know: ADHD plus Golden Retriever Time.
So this month I’ve decided to try a new non-system. I’ve decided, simply put, that every day I will try to pay two bills. Right now, I’m not even going to worry about which ones. If they’re on the top of the pile, they get paid … or maybe I should pay the ones at the bottom of the pile, to create a First-In, First-Out flow — wait, you know what? That’s too much complexity. I’m just going to grab any two bills from the pile and pay them. Et voila.
The idea is that this will make sure the bills get paid on time, and also that I don’t get completely overwhelmed by a giant stack of bills when too many bills arrive at once. (Sometimes, you guys, life is weirdly hard in ways that are, frankly, kind of annoying and stupid.)
The reality is that some days I will forget. That’s fine. There are thirty days in any given month, and we do not (amazingly enough) have sixty recurring bills.
I’m hoping that the act of sitting down in the office to pay two bills will also remind me to enter recurring auto-payments into the checkbook and Quicken. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. We’ll see.
So there you have it. A zillion words about a topic that should have taken, like, seven: “I will pay two bills every day.”
I’ll keep you posted on how it works.
That’s it for now. Pre-emptive make-up math class today (because I’m missing my class tomorrow); tomorrow I’mma hop on the Megabus and roll off to Chi-town for the 2014 ADTA Conference. Woooooot!
- In retrospect, I’m glad that I did. Some of us loved that school; some hated it. For me, it wound up being a good thing in many ways: it was there that I figured out how I learn; how to be the extremely hyper, textbook-case-of-ADHD kid that I was (and, I guess, am?) and still make good grades. It was also tiny, even compared to my previous school (which was pretty small), and that worked for me.
- Dogs seem to kind of understand time in terms of “Now” and “Not Now.” If it isn’t happening Now, it either happened or will happen Not Now. The concept of “a week from now” or “three hours from now” is, to a greater or lesser extent, lost on them (except in the sense that they can tell how long ago their people left home, quite possibly because the dwindling scent of their people acts as a sort of “clock” for them).
Most dogs are actually a little better at time than I am — they’re like, “Ohai, dinar alweyz hapin arond dis taimz, Ai go sit at bowl nao.” Meanwhile, I am like, “Oh, crap! It’s 7:30 PM and I’m starving and I haven’t thawed anything!” Unfortunately, since I am not actually a dog, I am forced to be responsible for things, like feeding myself and my husband.