I’ve always thought of myself as someone who has a good memory. Ideas, concepts, random facts… these I can often conjure up at will without  breaking a sweat.

But after my ADHD diagnosis, one of the many epiphanies I’ve had in the process of rethinking my entire life has been about memory memory.

It turns out that for day-to-day functioning, I…

Can’t Remember Stuff

OK it’s not that I don’t remember stuff. It’s more that I do remember stuff:

  • at the wrong time
  • in the wrong place (or context)
  • only with an elaborately-devised scheme of visual reminders, calendar events, alarms, and other nonsense.

Chores, Bills, and Other Responsibilities

Trash day? I’ll remember it the next day. Or when I hear the garbage truck picking up the neighbor’s garbage (assuming I’m home).

Pay that really important bill? I’ll remember it just in time to already owe the late fee.

That really important thing I need to discuss with a certain person? I’ll remember it right after I hang up the phone, walk out of the meeting, or otherwise when I’ve missed the opportunity.

Need something important from the store? Send me! Better yet—send me to pick up one really important item and add 2 or 3 less important items to the list just because I’m already going to the store.

Without fail, I’ll come back from the store with all the items except the most important one—you know, the whole reason for the trip to the store in the first place.

Functioning at Work

Many years ago, I had the great fortune to work for an organization whose policy it was to pay for a Day-Timer® for any employee that wanted one. After drooling over the catalog for days and days, I put together an order for a massive 2-page-per-day system.

I also had a habit of spending time every morning in solitude, thinking about my day over a cup (or 5) of coffee.

That combination proved to be magical. I maintained to-do lists, calendared appointments, and journaled activities religiously. It took some time to develop the habit, but once I began to experience the benefits, I stuck to it!

And boy was I glad I had developed that habit. After starting my first business as an IT consultant, it kept me on track.

I often joked that if I lost my Day-Timer and you found it, you could live my life for me and I would have no idea what to do.

But it wasn’t a joke! I came to rely so completely on that system, that it actually alarmed me.

I’m just being efficient!

What I told myself then—and for years since as digital tools have replaced the “ink on dead-tree” tools—is that instead of trying to remember things the way other people always seemed to do, I used these external systems and triggers because I preferred to use my mental horsepower for more important things.

Back then, I was often lost in thought trying to work out a technical problem. Oh wait! That’s still what I’m often doing. Hmmm….

Prospective Memory

A while back, on an episode of Taking Control: The ADHD Podcast, hosts Nikki Kinzer and Pete Wright talked about the difficulties associated with ADHD and memory—especially prospective memory.

As prospective memory involves remembering and fulfilling an intention, it requires episodic memory, declarative memory, and retrospective memory, followed by supervisory executive functions. All of these are controlled by the frontal lobe which is situated at the front of the cerebral hemisphere.

Wikipedia: Prospective Memory -> Neuroanatomy -> Frontal Lobe

This was my epiphany regarding my “can’t remember stuff without lots of external helpers and systems” issue.

You Mean This Isn’t a Character Flaw?

…or lack of discipline?

The problem comes in when important things that other people are counting on me for get missed. And it’s hard for people who do not have ADHD to understand why this happens.

To them, it might just seem like you don’t care.

But as Nikki & Pete pointed out on their podcast, usually the person with ADHD is just as shocked and horrified that something didn’t get done as the other party.

And therein lies the rub.

So… rather than trying to discipline my way out of needing all the calendar entries, triggers, journals, notes, and visual reminders, I’m realizing that I just need to embrace them.

It’s taking a lot of work, but I’m slowly getting there.