ADHD and losing keys (again!)

We all do that, just this morning I wasn’t sure where my handbag was, however, I located it within 10 minutes in the car once I’d worked back through where I’d been! Frustrating yes, but for ADHD this is more than a once-a-week type occurrence, this is a persistent issue with losing things such as your phone, keys, wallet etc. The issues extend into forgetting not only where physical objects are but also appointments and meetings.


Losing things: In childhood

As a child, this may present as losing things at school, drink bottles and uniform/sports kit. However, the schedule for a young child is usually highly managed so, whilst frustrating for the parent, the usual outcome of losing things can be minimised. Usually, this is by significant adults ‘naming’ items and encouraging the child to perhaps use laminated lists to ensure at the end of the day the right number of items return home, or it is a least highlighted early if something is missing. Not all fail-safe methods, but it’s at least reducing the stress of the issue for both child and parent.

Many ADHDers may not even find real difficulties starting until university/their first job, suddenly the structure of others’ managing them is gone and naming things isn’t as popular at age 19/20 as at age 9/10! The drink bottle is suddenly your keys and having a list you get out in public may not be desired.

Losing things: In adulthood

How this is managed into adulthood, in my experience, appears to depend on how it was managed in your childhood. If you were shamed for the ADHD trait of losing things, adulthood may see an ADHDer feeling more overwhelmed, more emotional dysregulation when it occurs and also a tendency to defend at all costs.  

What does defending oneself from criticism look like? This may mean blaming others, lying to protect yourself from the shame, pretending it hardly happens (recreating reality), shutting down and avoiding meetings altogether rather than admitting your car keys were lost, being late and having to deal with the knock-on impact.

If your parents managed the symptoms with you as a child by helping you find tactics to limit the impacts, helping with separating the ADHD disorder of losing things from the child themselves, then all of this may mean acceptance of ‘self’, being honest and finding tactics will be more easily navigated into adulthood.

How can counselling help?

So, what can be done? Most ADHD therapists know this is harder than saying just put them in the same drawer when you come home. I lived with this issue with a partner pre-diagnosis – I remember thinking "How hard can it be to put them in the same place?".

Some suggestions on a practical level may be to have a basket/small crate in each room and on the stairs (if appropriate), to limit the places they are thrown, but also extend the places this can be. Using technology like key fobs that have apps, or ones that make a noise to identify where they are. Making sure someone of significance (where possible) has a spare key for example. Using technology to have payment cards on a phone as well as on your wallet increases your chances of not losing them by 50%!

On an emotional level, we work on dealing with the feelings that come up, the emotional dysregulation that may take place when something is ‘lost’ and the knock-on impacts like missed appointments that may ensue. Calming techniques, such as simple mindfulness, breathing tools or using meditation apps (ideally a combination to make sure the tools never get boring for the dopamine-seeking brain!).  

We can also work in counselling on dealing with the shame and ways of dealing with others when things are lost or missed. Ultimately we want to try and reach more self-acceptance and knowing the ADHD symptoms are not the person inside, just a disorder they are contending with.

Getting the right therapist to help you is the key, they need knowledge and understanding but also real true connection.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Southampton SO16 & Chandlers Ford SO53
Written by Zaenia Rogers
Southampton SO16 & Chandlers Ford SO53

I am an Integrative Counsellor, not specialising just in ADHD, but personal knowledge of living alongside it in my household has meant I've acquired a lot of experience and knowledge and look to pass this on where possible. I have also worked extensively with clients with low self esteem, anxiety and depression.

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