Some time ago, I came down for breakfast and discovered a curious stack of bottles in the kitchen. It was a resolute stack. It knew it wanted to be there. I knew I didn’t want it to be there. One was a vitamin bottle, another an allergy pill bottle, and a third a prescription pill bottle. The three of them were stacked on top of one another in the middle of my otherwise pristine and shiny counter.
It drove me bananas.
Why was it there? I knew it was thanks to my husband, but why was he doing this? It was different than the way he usually left his things. This was intentional, and that bugged me even more. I thought, “He’s standing there stacking this thing for the niftiness of it, probably admiring it for some physics or mathematical property and walking away without a care for how the house looks.”
I unstacked the bottles and put them back in their little nook.
The next day, the stack returned.
This seesaw continued — him stacking, me unstacking.
I should mention that my husband and I both have ADHD. He’s brilliant, unruffled, and messy. I’m creative, a worrier, and organized. We make a great team.
But the combination sometimes presents its challenges, as with the enigma of the tower of bottles in the kitchen. What’s more, even after our diagnoses (mine came well after his), I still spent so many years in the dark about ADHD and how we each manage it. That all started to change for me when I decided to become an ADHD coach.
In the midst of our stacking and unstacking, I happened to be in coaching training and learning about “externalizing” as a strategy for managing ADHD issues with memory and forgetfulness. Externalizing has many forms — paper and digital planners, buzzers, alarms, vibrating watches, timers, visual cueing — you name it, it’s out there.
I marveled at these tools and admired those with ADHD who sought out these strategies, experimented with them, and incorporated them into their lives.
So there I was, admiring folks who used cues, while at the same time, over in my kitchen, getting peeved about The Stack, and unstacking it.
Until one day it hit me.
Wait a second. Is this—? Could it be—?
I went downstairs when I heard my husband making dinner.
“Honey,” I asked with curiosity for once, “why do you stack those pill bottles? I never really asked you.” He shrugged with a simple matter-of-factness.
“It’s a way to remember to take my pills. I’d been forgetting. If they are stacked, it tells me I haven’t taken them yet.”
I closed my eyes. It was stunning to see how easy it was for me to assume and not delve further. Truthfully, it never occurred to me there might be anything else to understand about my husband’s bottle stacking. Yet there I was, blind to something so remarkable.
Talk about humbling. Talk about how celebratory I suddenly felt, too, about living with ADHD.
There’s a creative current that runs through our ADHD self-management systems that we sometimes don’t see or acknowledge in ourselves. We come to the table with self-knowledge already in place, knowing through trial and error what has worked and what hasn’t, that we don’t often give ourselves credit for.
In the kitchen that day, when my husband revealed his own self-care solution, I was so proud of him. And I realized there is much yet for me to learn — about him, myself, and others with ADHD.
I’m so ready.
So if you see a tower of stacked vitamin and prescription bottles in the middle of my kitchen counter right now, please know that it is not due to madness or some passive aggressive stunt. It’s due to brilliant self-awareness.
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