by Peggy Maslanka
Margaret, a woman with ADHD, always tried so very hard to achieve her ideal of the perfect holiday. She cooked, entertained, and bought presents according to this ideal, not only for her own husband and children, but for extended family and friends as well. But over the years, she noticed that instead of feeling happy and proud about the lovely Thanksgiving dinners she served and the magical Christmases she created, she felt depleted and depressed.
The holidays capture the imagination of women who have ADHD, because they speak to her creativity, her deeply held feelings about the significance of these special times, and her enjoyment in the excitement and stimulation that surrounds them. They can imagine themselves creating the most sumptuous Thanksgiving meal, the most beautiful holiday decorations, and the most thoughtful gifts for every loved one. And they eagerly anticipate sharing all this with extended family and old friends.
But often, this very ability to imagine perfection and to demand it of themselves conflicts with the increased challenges that the holidays bring, especially those around organization. Usually, the perfection cannot be achieved, and this can lead to the feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness that constitute depression. Even if it is achieved, the cost is so high, that depression is still the result.
One busy Thanksgiving time, Margaret’s husband argued for buying prepared dishes that required only a few minutes of heating the microwave. Margaret balked. That was cheating! But then she began to think about all the recipes she wouldn’t have to follow, all the ingredients she wouldn’t have to search for in the overwhelming supermarket, all the evenings she wouldn’t have to spend preparing a dozen different dishes, and all the stress she wouldn’t feel trying to coordinate everything to be served at the same moment.
But how could Thanksgiving dinner be perfect without all her traditional, homemade dishes and desserts?
A creative, open-minded thinker, Margaret decided to write a description of what actually made Thanksgiving special for her. To her surprise, she couldn’t remember enjoying any of the things in her description since she’d taken on the task of cook and hostess. She hadn’t enjoyed the anticipation of people arriving – it just made her anxious because she wasn’t ready for them yet; she hadn’t enjoyed the delicious smells because she was too anxious about getting everything in and out of the oven at the right times; and she hadn’t enjoyed the meal itself, or the beautiful feelings of love, appreciation, and togetherness, which were the whole point of the day, because by the time she sat down, she was so overstressed and exhausted.
Maybe all her beliefs about what constituted the perfect Thanksgiving dinner actually made it less perfect.
So she took the plunge, and served the prepared foods. They weren’t quite as delicious – but they were fine. And instead of feeling stressed beforehand and depressed afterwards, Margaret felt pleasure in the day, the company, and the meal. And the next day, because she actually had some energy, she wrote a description of what actually made Christmas special for her. The word “perfect” was nowhere to be found.