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ADHD Transition Triumph

ADHD transition triumph: solving surprise party startle!
ADHD transition triumph: solving surprise party startle!

I’ve written before about how difficult transitions can be for those of us with ADHD. In my post, 8 Gifts for ADHD Kids, gift #4 was transition time. Even ADHD adults need extra time to switch from one activity to another.

This weekend, I looked forward to being taken out to dinner for my birthday. We’d arranged to meet at my friend’s house, and proceed from there.

I arrived punctually, only to find that some of my closest friends were already assembled. There were helium-filled balloons, presents, bottles of wine, and a huge spread of incredible home-cooked food.

In short, more than a few of my favorite things. But also an unexpected and therefore overwhelming array of stimuli to take in on a moment’s notice.


I’ve thrown many a surprise party myself. Turns out, it’s easier to be on the planning end of things. When I’m planning one, I know it’s coming. Strange how you imagine what you’ll feel when you’re on the receiving end.

I’d always wanted a surprise party. In fact, this year I shamelessly begged my friends to throw me one. It’s a testament to my trusting nature (read: gullibility) that I actually fell for it. I believed all the plausible excuses my heretofore trustworthy friends threw my way in the days leading up to the event. (Ok, it was also a testament to their self-restraint and acting abilities, as some of them have pointed out).

Sink or swim

The night of my surprise party, all that fastidious preparation disappeared in a flash flood of friendship. It was sink or swim.

Should I ever have been so lucky as to be blessed with such an honor, I’d fully expected to be awash in a love Tsunami. That night, I tumbled beneath the surface, tangled in transition trauma.

I realize now how much prep I actually go through before participating in any social event. It’s not as easy as throwing your bathing suit and some sun screen in a bag and driving to the beach. Ya gotta learn how to swim.

This weekend taught me that prior to a social occasion, I arrange my mood, my clothes, my attitude, my vocabulary; I ponder what subjects might be discussed, I visualize the room I’ll be in, who else might be there, and so on. No wonder it takes me so long to get ready to go out. No wonder I’m exhausted before I arrive.

The night of my surprise party, all that fastidious preparation disappeared in a flash flood of friendship. It was sink or swim.

My ADHD treatment has been more of a lifeline than I’d realized. I was thrown into the deep end and I survived.

Your joke is my stroke (and I’m not talking front crawl)

I used to think that if someone jumped up behind me and scared me, or decided at the last minute to take me to a different movie, or committed some other heinous act of cruelty, that they were doing it deliberately to torture me. In response to the startle to my system, I’d react in anger or irritation. I’d feel sick to my stomach, adrenaline raced through my body. I had no idea others didn’t react or feel the way I did about sudden shifts. I didn’t know I was transitionally challenged.

The fact that I’d always wanted a surprise party is evidence of two more ADHD bugaboos: lack of self-awareness and inability to foresee consequences based on past experiences (ok, there’s a third: extremely poor recall; I can’t even remember a lot of past experiences, let alone factor them into present-day decision-making).

There’s hope!

Saturday night proved that I’ve learned to swim. I may not be doing the butterfly yet (transformation takes time), but I managed to crawl to safe shores. I hung back, quietly allowing myself to take in my surroundings. In silence, I recognized that I’d swallowed some anxiety, and I let it go by practicing the number one rule of swimming safety:  DON’T PANIC!

Zoë (I reasoned to myself), these are your friends. They’re here to celebrate you. Some of them have driven a long way to be here. Look around – they’re all smiling and welcoming; try to relax. This party is for you. It’s ok.

Once I reached the other shore, and felt my feet on solid ground, it was ok.

And after that, it was a blast!


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ADHD Transition Triumph

Zoë Kessler, BA, B.Ed.

Zoë Kessler is an award-winning author, journalist, and speaker specializing in women and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD / ADD).

A frequent contributor to ADDitude Magazine, Kessler has also created video, standup comedy, and guest blogs on ADHD and Marriage covering ADHD-related topics.

Zoë, an internationally recognized ADHD expert, has been interviewed on radio and featured in magazine articles, documentaries, and books on the topic of women and ADHD across North America.

Her newly-released memoir ADHD According to Zoë - The Real Deal on relationships, Finding Your Focus & Finding Your Keys (New Harbinger Publications, 2013) about life with ADHD is now available.

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APA Reference
Kessler, Z. (2012). ADHD Transition Triumph. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 22, 2020, from


Last updated: 9 Jan 2012
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