Recently, I’ve noticed a pattern in my clients that I call the “tipping point”. The “tipping point” is basically a time in people’s lives when, for various reasons, the strategies they have been using to compensate for their ADHD challenges no longer seem to be working. This “tipping point” is often experienced along with feelings of overwhelm and chaos. Up until a “tipping point,” people have been able to balance known or unknown challenges with ADHD with strategies they may not have even realized they were using. Up until the “tipping point”, they had been able to adapt and cope well with their symptoms, even going as far as being under the radar for an official diagnosis of ADHD (in other words their symptoms were not interfering with their functioning). But for some reason a life change – it could be a job promotion, relationship change, a school change, or any myriad of different things – renders the current strategies ineffective and over time there is a sense that things are no longer “going well” and in fact, life seems to be falling apart in a big way.
Here are some life situations that could be possible “tipping points”:
Warning Sign #1: New Problems at School. Often, when higher elementary or middle school hits, students begin unraveling as they experience more responsibility in juggling multiple classrooms, more homework and larger classrooms. Suddenly it seems like nothing is working anymore. They can’t get things done that they want to get done, everything sort of goes into chaos, things start to come undone. Their schoolwork starts to suffer; they may have trouble concentrating in class, forget to hand in homework or start to experience difficulties with old friendships. Often, no one recognizes these warning signs as being ADHD-related because the students previously had managed or were able to compensate for their challenges. Parents and educators start to feel helpless when a previously successful student seems to become unmotivated. Students are told they just need to try harder. Everyone is unsure how to get the child back on track and the students begin to feel stupid, lazy and incapable.
Warning Sign #2: Inability to Cope After Significant Life Changes. Some people with ADHD experience their first “tipping point” after a significant life change…even a positive life change such as getting married or moving into a new home. These major life celebrations are anticipated with great joy, but may often be a change that “tips” the balance. Perhaps you’ve been able to balance your own life and your own schedule and where you put things up until now, but then you get married and now your spouse has a different way of doing things or expectations of the way things should be organized that differ from your views, not to mention having to deal with the extra stuff in your space. Slowly you notice that things are not working as well as they had before, and because this is supposed to be the happiest time of your life, you think there must be something wrong with you…right? Wrong! Significant life changes such as getting married, having another child or moving homes can often upset an unknown balance.
Warning Sign #3: Unable to Transition Successfully Into A New Role at Work. Up until your “tipping point” you have been performing really well in your job. So well, in fact, that you are promoted. Slowly you may start to notice that you are not doing this new job as well as everyone expected, and you begin to isolate yourself, dread going to work and may eventually get fired. What happened? You reached your “tipping point”. Not because you didn’t deserve the job, but because changes in work often come with changes of staff, support, work space, etc. that throw you off.
Warning Sign #4: Change in Family Dynamics. If you find yourself with new responsibilities and changes in your family, such as taking in an elderly parent, adding members to your family, or getting a new roommate, the additional responsibilities, change in routine and stress can gradually sink in and leave you overwhelmed and unable to cope as you have previously. It is so easy to begin to think you are a terrible mom, unfit for the responsibilities of a family or may be destined to living alone. It’s not YOU, you were thrown off-balance, and your ability to compensate for your ADHD with your old routine, structures or systems is no longer working. But instead of seeing the truth, that it isn’t anything you’ve done wrong, or know that you can fix this, you’re filled with undeserved guilt and shame.
Warning Sign #5: Physical Injury. People often experience their “tipping point” when an ADHD-management strategy such as exercise decreases or activity level changes. Unbeknownst to many people with ADHD, participation in sports and/or daily exercise provides some additional Dopamine to our brain and helps to create structure and routine in our lives that help to better manage ADHD symptoms. “Tipping points” are common for high school athletes who have earned success not only in their sports but academically, only to go off to college and experience failure for the first time. Without the rigorous physical training and structure of high school, they begin to slowly fall apart. Another common “tipping point” for people with ADHD is when they have experienced an injury and have to decrease their activity or exercise level. This change in routine and absence of daily Dopamine boosts can challenge previous steadiness, energy levels and ability to focus and life begins to wobble.
As you can see, there are many reasons, often beyond your control, that might lead you to your “tipping point.” Click here to learn ways you can keep yourself from tipping over the edge. But, in the meantime, if you recognize yourself in these “tipping point” warning signs and are ready to get help, click here to schedule a call with me and we can talk strategy!
Remember: a “tipping point” means that you are at a crossroads and you have a choice which way you will react- you can continue down that path to chaos and overwhelm, or you can get restructured and relearn ways to to cope and get back on track!
Now that you know how to identify a Tipping Point, click here to learn some strategies on how to get through one.
My tipping point came when I had to cope with the chaos in my life after our teenage son committed a crime. I’ve managed to work through many changes, losses, and crisis, but this situation affected how I “felt” about coping. I’m very optimistic but it seemed as though nothing I had used previously to help me manage my life was helping me; all my systems were failing me.
In retrospect, I’ve managed it admirably. I’ve learned a lot in the process. The single most salient thing I learned was that my “coping skills” weren’t failing; the load was simply too much for my existing system to bear. Since I couldn’t reduce the load (you can’t sell your children or opt into the witness protection program at will) I needed to look at our problems impartially and that required some outside assistance.
I found a psychiatrist and scheduled an appointment. I didn’t know what to do but I knew my thoughts, my burdens, and my problems were complicated enough that the insight of a trained professional would help. In the first visit we discovered that I have AD/HD. I am 51 years old and had never even considered that. My son has AD/HD. My husband has AD/HD. I have spent years studying AD/HD and helping our family embrace it. I’ve been to every doctor visit, school meeting, testing session, and counseling appointment they ever had. I’m the one who read the books and the blogs. How could I NOT have known? Because I hadn’t reached my tipping point.
Of COURSE my strategies, systems, and personal ideals made me the perfect helper to assist my son and husband. I had developed and tested these methods on the front lines of MY OWN battles! Working hard to succeed in life (without the benefit of help with my AD/HD) had caused me to continually craft, adapt, and hone my life skills.
I’ve added medication to my arsenal of tools. I’ve stopped doubting myself when I “feel” like I know what will help them because I found out sometimes I really do just know. I quit expecting them to “try harder, do better” all the time.
I love everything about my family. I love the fun, the fascinating conversation, the brainy zany way we approach everything. And I love the hard work devoted to bring change, the tenacious pursuit of growth, and the humility developed through our repeated failures. Now that I’m seeing how much I’ve willingly overcome to get to this point…I love who I am so much more than I did before. The tipping point isn’t like a scary volcano; it’s a natural relief mechanism.
Hi Kimberly! Thank you for your wonderful comment. We have more in common than you might realize! Your comment is complete as it is…I just wanted you to know how much I appreciate you sharing! Keep in touch ~ Laurie Dupar
Hi. My tipping point is separating from the military after a 20+year career as an officer. I found the military as a great pacing item for me. Now in the civilian world, well, there are some struggles of purpose and attention.
Hi D! Thank you for your comment. I have a young son in the military with ADHD who is doing well, and your comment was a reminder in many ways that a change of life such as military to civilian life can also be unbalancing. You mention purpose and attention…especially for people with ADHD, when we are not crystal clear about those it is often hard to get motivated, follow through, move forward etc. What are you doing to reconnect with your purpose? I would love to hear back from you! ~Sincerely, Laurie Dupar
I’m discovering your site today and appreciate the insights you share. Very much so! I had many tipping points over the years (now 57), but they never contributed to reveal to me that I had ADHD, and that there was help. I just kept going, and going, and going…
Lately, though, I embarked on a project which ended up exhausting me to no end, and reminded me of my limitations, which I now assess as being part of the ADHD condition. That’s when I started looking for help.
Looking for appropriate medication was the first step, and now I’m looking for interactive help, i.e. with a human being. I wasn’t sure if I should prioritize finding a psychiatrist/therapist or, like my wife suggested a few times, an ADHD life coach.
Any thoughts you could share?