Most people get upset from time to time, often those who have ADHD are troubled a little more often. One of the most frequent pieces of advice is “don’t let it bother you.” The advice is well meaning. Some are able to push their troubles away easier than others. They can pretend that everything is honky-dory and just go on with their day. But often neurodivergent people, such as those with ADHD or Autism cannot bring themselves to be complacent. Even if they don’t feel like there is anything they can do about a situation, the problems eats at them internally and depletes their confidence.
By now, just about everyone has heard of Greta Thunberg, the girl from Sweden who has become an international authority and inspiration on climate change. Greta is on the autistic spectrum, which may be part of the reason why the issue bothers her so deeply. Even as a young girl, she began to think of one action at a time to try an influence the way people thought about climate change. She made changes in her own life in order to reduce her own carbon footprint.
But this isn’t about climate change, specifically. It’s about listening to your own instincts and honoring the things that bother you in a way that is productive.
When I am complacent, I push things under the rug. I do things that feel good at the time and am easily bored by things that are good for me. The other day, I had an altercation and for a change I didn’t cower. I stood up for myself. I spoke up. It did not change anything major, but it was a step for me personally.
But my biggest confrontations aren’t with others. They are with myself. They come from seemingly small things, like making a phone call to cancel a service I was tricked into starting. They come from choosing healthy groceries over convenient or taking a walk instead of watching TV. It’s about seeing who I want to be in a bio, and living up to it.
I am no Greta Thunberg, but I admire her conviction immensely. I care about the environment, but I doubt I will go to the lengths she does to make her point. I do, however, want to be a person that limits meat, dairy, and processed food for the sake of my own health and that of the planet. I want to start using “ugly food” programs in order to eat organic more often.
I want to get back to reading more often and keeping large electronics to a minimum – like watching shows on a tablet instead of a big TV. I want to batch cook from scratch and pre-portion my own frozen meals for those times when I really want some extra convenience.
I want to create a schedule that honors my ADHD brain and makes the most of its possibilities. For me, that means longer hours and shifts in focus between money making ventures and other worthy pursuits.
I want to start when I start, and be done when I’m done. Knowing where to start is hard. Touching on all the options will be hard. I know myself enough to realize that there will be lost hours, and sometimes lost days. But there is no time to dwell on the moments of imperfection. There needs to be learning within forgiveness.
I want to sweat the small stuff just enough to make progress, but not enough to feel like I am drowning. I want to self sustain and slowly get ready to do one better.
So what bothers me? The easy way out. Taking more than I need of things, whether or not I “qualify.” So often we are encouraged to get what’s coming to us that we fail to see what is truly available if we strive to get more for ourselves, and for others. My own complacency and satisfaction bothers me, and my past failure at being that one small part of the whole.
Every time I fall I splat down like soft clay, and lay there waiting to take the mold of someone else’s boot. No more. I might not succeed at everything, but I want to feel my best in my own skin, and I can’t do that if I can’t be bothered.
I am late on my blog, but the good news is I had developed a sort of subdued consistency, Something that isn’t an easy task with ADHD and excessive stress. With house members gone for the bulk of the day I have been getting more writing done as well as a little more exercise and cleaning. If everything goes mostly as planned I will be living alone with my dog by the end of the year. Right now, this is how I want it. I am peopled out. But they are here now. All. The. Time.
A Lightened Load, Heavy Again
Why are they all here? That perpetual pandemic, or a possibility of it, has come into play. My grandson has a cold. I believe strongly that he has a run of the mill cold, possibly an ear infection, but he has a Covid-19 test pending, and it will take a few days to know the results.
I don’t have a lot of close contact with my grandson, and I feel no different than usual. I am 50. I feel much more confident in my ability to dodge the common cold than Covid. I think I would be much sicker if Covid was in the house. Either way, I am isolated. I am anyway.
My grandson’s parents are a bit less than well, but this too could be a cold. They are in their 20s. They have been hovering over their son with no precautions, and forgoing sleep for recreational pursuits.
My daughter got her tools to work from home. My grandson’s father has made temporary arrangements to work from home too and is not taking it well.
If things were normal, I would take my turn. I would turn on a show on my TV in my room/office and let him watch something age appropriate with my dog. Or he could color. Or play learning games on my tablet. But they have made me an enemy for simply loving their child, so my involvement right now is minimal.
My heart has gone past broken and is all but numb for its own protection. But working is hard. Focusing is hard with so much extra going on. My motion is slower, but if I stop it will just be worse. It will be two steps back instead of one, and I cannot afford that.
Where to Move, Where to Pause
I am mostly determined to still move forward, somehow, even in the midst of chaos and distraction and blatant disrespect. I had just started therapy via zoom, but without privacy, I have had to postpone for two more weeks. Hopefully, the end of this chapter and the beginning on the next will be in sight. I feel wronged, and when I feel wronged I just want a tsunami to wash it off and give me a clean slate.
When I return to therapy, I am supposed to have goals, things I want to accomplish as part of therapy.
I want to hit the fast forward button that brings everything full circle, so that I can move mostly forward with a wiggly wannabe straight line. I am not naïve enough to think I can operate in an actual straight line, and I am knowledgeable enough about my own mind to realize how highly unlikely it is for me to achieve this.
I want $1500 in monthly income, which is nearly triple what I have now. I want an environment that is a functional mess, rather than a chaotic one. I want to be less isolated from those who may be supportive, and to stand strong when things are unfair. I want to admit anger and disappointment, without allowing it to consume me. I want to learn to take better care of myself, and retain that is a noble pursuit. I want to not step on others as I do this. I want a clear conscience in my methods.
My therapist cannot make this happen. She is a human being, not a magician. Even in therapy, you need to live your life, and your sessions are like highway markers to make sure you are still moving forward towards a somewhat better life.
Regardless of where we are in life and the challenges we face due to whatever obstacles are getting in our way there is a necessity to take care of ourselves. Even small children start caring for themselves in small ways and become more independent, proud, and confident in whatever life pursuits they may encounter.
For too many, growing up starts to get a little restrictive, and we wind up making choices between what we need to do and what is actually good for us.
The hyperfocus part of my ADHD has helped me do many things in my life. It’s helped me finish books in a day or two. I’ve stayed vigilant on diet and exercise programs and lost large amounts of weight. I have made plans to get many articles done in a day or clean large areas of my home.
Sometimes, I even manage to execute some of my plans. Sometimes making the plans wears me out, and it takes me a bit to move forward. The downside of lending so much focus to one thing is that you end up living life like a one trick pony that looks a lot like “A horse of a different color” from The Wizard of Oz.”
You do one thing well for a while and the other stuff slips. Eventually you notice one of those “other” things has slipped so much that you have to pick it up and fix it. So you focus on that, meanwhile the other thing you’d been working on goes to pot. You beat yourself up chasing your own failures and mistakes. Pick up one ball. Drop another. Round and round it goes.
What Depression Taught Me
For a long time I have been sad a lot. I’ve felt both depression and the Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria that goes along with my ADHD. RSD is episodic, I have found. Some small thing can be a trigger. It might be something someone else says that most will take in stride, but for you it makes you cry or go into a rage for hours or in some cases days. It can be a dropped glass. Anything. It is a horrible situation for you. It is not exactly nice for those around you either. The episodes are largely irrational, but they pass. The sun rises again.
Depression is a weighted chill that you wear like a fat suit with the zipper stuck. Your whole life is pressed down and in slow motion. Getting out of bed can take the amount of energy comparable to running a 5K and won’t bring any kind of runner’s high with it. It hurts your heart. It hurts your soul. It digs into your bones like a blanket of ache. And you have no idea when or if you will ever feel better again.
It is here when something’s gotta give. You find someone or something or both that helps you start putting one foot in front of another again. Something that loosens the zipper of the frozen fat suit. There’s no cure. You’re still cold. Even if your heart feels a little lighter, you carry that phantom with you, and it whispers. You can ignore it and it will pick the most inopportune time to rebel. Or you can try to honor it. Listen.
Starting With Balance on Purpose
Balance is not something that comes naturally to me. I have to work at it. It has to be a conscious effort. I need to give it a level of hyperfocus priority. Various events and situations in my life have brought on crisis mode, or at least a sort of pre-crisis mode. It is now a time of do or die. I can no longer afford to curl up like a pill bug.
I need to make positive steps across different areas of my life. I need to work more, more efficiently, more consistently, and more profitably. Years ago I would have told myself this is my top priority and thrown everything else by the wayside to make that happen, and I would have just turned into a big fat pill bug. Professional care is important, but so is self care. Incorporating more exercise and better nutrition. Taking time for household chores. I am walking into this draft of my life knowing myself a bit better. Knowing that if I giving something effort for 10 minutes, or 20, or an hour is what I have in me, to honor that reality. When I switch from one area of care, I make an effort to go to something else important. I step in for as long as I can, as long as I am effective and efficient in one area, and I step back. The time will come when my “pushing through” switch is activated. For some, one thing at a time is a necessity, and I totally respect that. But that is not me. It is time to stop trying to make it me.
Practicing Daily Affirmations
I have created a modified daily planner of sorts. It works on any calendar or notebook. It reminds me to be kind and forgiving to myself on all my ventures. It allows me to give myself credit and rewards for moving forward and to stop punishing myself all along the road to the finish line. It brings a dose of positivity and a celebration of my own existence. It’s like that quote, “Every day is a gift, that’s why they call it the present.” Here’s my daily Q&A
Good Morning, Gretchen. Today is a new and glorious day. How will you honor and celebrate yourself today? ( Pick an act of self care to make a priority)
What promises have you made to yourself, and others for today? (must do)
What else would you like to do? (realistically)
How will you structure this day to make it as positive as possible? ( I might pair or group tasks in order to assure that different types of priorities are included)
Congratulations, you’ve done your best. You deserve a rest. (Decide when the bulk of your day is ended, and give yourself a proper chance to recharge. Forgive yourself for whatever was missed.)
A lot of people would probably look at my loose “schedule” and say that it is too easy. Not long ago I probably would have said the same thing, and sometime in the future I will probably say it again. The thing is, being hard on myself really hasn’t served me well. For now I do what I can, inch forward. Tomorrow is a new day.
One of the things I struggle with is completing tasks. Sometimes, I don’t even want to start something I know needs to be finished in a short amount of time. I am not a rip off the bandaid and embrace the burn type of girl. The burn sucks. I avoid it as much as possible.
To do lists are a highly regarded productivity strategy, and I am only able to manage them in a limited capacity. I keep my lists short, and often it is more about just making progress than completing something in its entirety. Getting started is a feat in itself sometimes, as is pushing through the midpoint, as is dotting all the “i”s and crossing the “t”s.
Leaving things half done drives a lot of people bonkers. I get that, but I am probably going to keep doing it. For me at least, this is one of my ADHD inevitables.
My brain wants to compartmentalize. It thinks of writing work, with several subcompartments. Household chores and responsibilities. Mental and physical fitness. Emotional fitness. Practical future planning and more. It knows the necessity of being productive and making progress in all things.
Although hyperfocus is a trademark “perk” of ADHD, I find myself resistant. It’s the eggs and basket scenario again. And I am a true basket case. I am even resisting a hard schedule, which I know I need. I have managed to make a handful of promises. Like basic sharing guidelines for my Facebook Writing Page and my promise to put out a new blog post on Tuesdays.
My content writing comes from a queue right now, for the most part, although it is my goal to feel stable and consistent enough to have a few private clients.
My independent ventures are important, because this is where I grow. This is where I practice making promises to myself and keeping those promises. This is where I let them ripple around me until I feel stronger.
Good Intentions and Grouping Tasks
I know it is generally a good idea to start a task and see it through, but that doesn’t always work for me. I get bored, or distracted by other thoughts and start to feel deflated. I may latch onto a thing that carries artificial importance, like progress in a game, or checking social media. What’s better is to find something that needs to be done and is different enough to provide a contrast and keep my interest. I am realizing that what works best is to pair tasks. It is then that I tend to have the best results.
I might pair doing laundry with working on a content writing assignment. Or doing a walking workout with working on my blog. Between tasks I can do some of those other things, or I can even reward myself with small treats. Keeping the reward centers in the brain active is an important part of staying productive, and it is something I have to work on.
I am attempting to use a modified Pomodoro schedule, one that has me working for 25 minutes, followed by a 5 minute break, although I may modify a bit, allowing for a 10 minute break instead. If I decide on a pair of contrasting tasks, like dishes and writing, the task feels more “new” and the time spent on it is better spent. I’m less likely to lose focus, slow down, or give up, and overall each task will take me less time than if I were to simply “push through.”
However I choose to structure each day, the important thing is to try my best to honor that structure, at least until I can come up with a better alternative
There’s a whisper in my brain that I don’t always listen to, but I’m always glad when I do. The phrase, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” When I first started freelancing, that meant, “Don’t always work in the same place.” So, I would check out a few different coffee shops, a couple libraries, even the food court in the mall. Sometimes I would sit somewhere without Wifi and do offline work, just to switch it up. I am not new to writing, but with my ADHD consistency and organization is hard. With Covid-19 looming large, nomadic writing is not practical. Switching my work environment might mean changing rooms, or maybe having a random snack or beverage, or writing/producing different types of content. Somehow, I have to find ways to switch things up in a different way. I often have to scare myself or risk embarrassment in order to properly motivate myself. And somehow, I need to have fun with it.
Sometimes, like now, every word is a challenge, and with every challenge comes guilt. I am trying to build something real for myself even as my heart is breaking. I want to do the kind of writing that feeds my soul. That is what sustained me for so long, in childhood and even while I was raising my own children and I lived with undiagnosed ADHD, along with anxiety and depression.
When I wrote some part of me could feel normal, sort of. I could reach a few that got it, or at least part of it. But now, I am pulling olive branches off tree after tree only to see each incinerated. My eyes burn from the smoke. My limbs and heart ache from exhaustion. And still it is hard to turn around and throw up my hands. If I let my knees buckle, I will flop to the floor, boneless. I will try to reach up and find nothing stable to lift me. So I have to stand. Walk. One word in front of another.
Confession, I’m Kind of in Crisis Mode
I have not been independent. I’ve taken care of personal bills, sort of, with writing, but I have been living in my mother’s house with my daughter and her son. I had been helping a lot with caretaking, and there has been one other room mate. First, a friend of my daughter’s from college, now my grandson’s father.
They will be moving out soon, and even under the same roof my daughter and I are becoming more estranged. I will not provide detail, but my grandson’s father and I clash, a lot. I think he is one of those people that doesn’t “believe” in ADHD, or thinks a person should outgrow it or will themselves better.
It is the best for everyone that I don’t keep living with them, I know, even if I am not ready. It is hard to get ready while they are here. The air is harsh and negative and painful and I can hardly bear it. I want my freedom even while I have little idea of how to sustain it.
My daughter deserves freedom too. She seems to think that leaving me will help her find it. Chances are, it will help, but I worry it will not be enough.
ADHD is Real, Even in Women
Traditionally, boys get diagnosed with neurodivergent conditions, like ADHD and Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) more often than girls, but more and more experts are noticing a more even spread, and an vast failure to diagnose many girls and women. In a patriarchal society, girls and women are expected to adjust and alter who they are to fit in in a “man’s world.” Thankfully, girls and women of all abilities are beginning to defend their rights to be themselves.
Right now, my daughter and her ex-husband do not want to understand or care about my struggles. To her credit, she has done a lot for me, especially when my productivity level was even lower than it is now. I also made more than a few financial and emotional sacrifices for her.
It’s an Uphill Battle
I am fifty, and have been out of the traditional workforce for a decade. My freelance progress has largely eroded because of my sacrifices, my physical and mental health issues. My confidence has dwindled, but it is trying to come back.
One benefit of age is the ability to know yourself, to look inward honestly. I know for my work to work, I have to feel legitimate. I have to feel real. I have to feel worthy. They want to believe that with age there is supposed to be increased knowledge and competence, but that is not always the case. Sometimes, I will say the wrong thing, fully believing it is right. Sometimes, I will try something different, and fall on my face. Sometimes, I will be okay.
Hormones Matter, Whether We Want to Admit it or Not
With women increased hormonal activity during pivotal times can aggravate neurodiversity and mental health issues. Girls have been diagnosed with ADHD less often than their male peers, in part because outward hyper activity is not present, or at least limited. Inside a female ADHD brain, however, there is a pinball machine caught in a tornado. You may not be bouncing off walls, but it is just as unsettling to be bouncing around your own mind.
Girls often bear this burden quietly, but start having more noticeable symptoms of ADHD at the crack of puberty. Many are diagnosed in their early teens, but it is also very common for no diagnosis to come at all until adulthood. I was diagnosed at 42.
Pregnancy may heighten ADHD symptoms too, and so can “the change” or the perimenopause or menopause stage. While I haven’t had official medical confirmation that hormones played a role in reduced ability to concentrate, I do believe that there is evidence strongly suggesting it.
What Do I Need?
I wish that I had specific answers to this question, my life would be so much easier if I did.
Money for survival is up near the top. I need to present enough skills to earn money to survive, and my best bet is to achieve this in a nontraditional way. Not only am outside the box, but I am not even sure where I would look for the box.
The pandemic complicates my options too. I had a medical condition a few years back that made breathing difficult. Mask wearing brings on a lot of anxiety and I can barely manage for a quick shopping trip. I don’t know how I could wear one throughout a workday.
I sometimes don’t even feel like I have the “good parts” of ADHD anymore, like the hyperfocus. I do, though, it just presents itself in less user-friendly ways, like being obsessed with getting to a certain level on a game, or watching a show, even if I have more important things to do. Unimportant things feel important in the moment, and then I find myself regretting not doing what I was supposed to.
I remember in high school being able to sit on a bench in a crowded lunchroom and write like no one was there. In 7th grade, I finished all my workbook assignments for the year in less than three weeks, so I could spend the time writing a screenplay instead. When I worked full time downtown, I would write on the bus, tuning out the noise around me. I could make the most of small snippets of time. I could produce things I was proud of. Now there is too much fear ricocheting. Too much uncertainty. Too many broken pieces. Not enough glue.
Lately I have heard mantras that I want to believe. The creativity is there, the words are there, you need to be patient. You need to give them a chance. And the popular, “it’s okay to not be okay,” but that is hard to swallow when not okay might turn into something even worse.
Quite honestly, I don’t have to be wonderful, but I need to be okay. I need support. I need to know that I am not alone, and to use my power to let others know who are in similar predicaments that they are not alone either. I need to take advantage of whatever tiny little rewards I can manufacture in my life, whether it’s treating myself to a few M&Ms after I accomplish some small task, or I feel my little dog’s soft fur under my chin during a panic attack. Or when she seems to just know when the anxiety is rising and sending a chill deep through me, and she lays against the small of my back so I know that there is at least one thing warm in the world.
I have always been proud of being a sort of nonconformist. I never tried to be popular. I followed enough of the rules to be generally respectful, but do not allow others to change who I am. I am a control freak, but only as it applies to my own life.
When my grandson was born I started weaning myself off of my ADHD medication. My psychiatrist was fairly liberal with dosage, so I was on an extended release Adderall along with an additional short acting pill in case I still had to accomplish something later in the day.
Being medicated for my ADHD did a lot to help me focus, and allowed be to get by as a freelance writer. Not every day was productive, but enough of the days were that I usually felt pretty decent about what I was doing. However, the meds did make me extra irritable, and sometimes the rage would overtake me in a way that frightened me. I did not want to feel that way with an infant grandchild. Rage is a scary emotion, and your own rage can be the most frightening of all, especially when you don’t understand it.
Revelations My ADHD Diagnosis Brought About Life and Writing
Although it was right around my 42nd birthday that I was diagnosed with ADHD , I had a feeling for most of my life that my brain did not work quite the same as most people’s. Injustice upset me, and I wanted things to be fair even as I knew that was unlikely. I took it for granted that one way or another life was going to hand me the short end of the stick, and I just needed to make the best of it.
I wrote from an early age, made up stories where characters would suffer worse fates than mine. I felt less unfortunate, and like I had something within me that could set me free eventually. At age 50 I am still waiting for this.
Anger is Not Wrong, It Just Needs the Right Direction
One truth I keep going back to is that if I am in a position to help someone, I will do it. I will turn my life completely upside down without a second thought. This is just what I did for my daughter and grandson. I have no regrets, but it has taken its toll. I turned all the anger that I felt about the world, and my situation, and my deteriorating physical and mental health and I breathed it in as guilt. I lost my functionality. I lost days at a time to tears and anguish. I decided I couldn’t keep living like that. I had to reclaim my life, and that was probably going to mean reclaiming my own anger in a healthy way.
Despite my difficulties, I have rights as a human being, and as an adult, and I deserve basic respect. I deserve to interject my personality into the air and not have it barreled over as if it does not matter. When I denied this to myself, I had regular serious breakdowns. I was not giving myself the right to be angry, nor express those feelings. Lately, journaling has helped a lot in that respect. Doing things as simple as choosing the background music playing in the house, rather than letting one person dictate it has helped. Headphones have helped, for listening to podcasts and audiobooks that reinforce by own beliefs and give me an opportunity to grow have helped, even when they might not be something I want to share with everyone.
The sadder and more broken I am, the harder it is to form original ideas and have creative thoughts, which is pretty important as a writer. The pandemic has heightened many of the challenges I already faced, with Social Anxiety and Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria (RSD).
RSD is a common byproduct of ADHD that leads to grand adverse reactions to rejections that others see as minimal or trivial. In some this shows itself as breakdowns with excessive crying and depressive symptoms. In others this may show itself in fits of rage, that can lead to verbal attacks and perhaps even physical attacks or property destruction. It is also sometimes referred to emotional dysregulation.
I have had RSD episodes periodically throughout my life, sometimes with greater spaces between them. It seems that crying would be safer, but I have come to wonder if it always is. Internalizing pain just allows it to recycle within you. It amplifies your own doubts about yourself and makes you more vulnerable to the next attack. Things like focusing, being productive, or even being a decent example fall by the wayside, and you spiral with guilt. Only forgiveness can really free you, because everywhere you go, there you are.
If you are a child or an adult with ADHD, or some other condition, or probably just anyone alive the Universe has likely wronged you somewhere along the way. If you are brave you can stand before the external demons, look them in the eye and say. I deserve better. I am rarely so brave. Forgiving yourself is an act that needs to be set on an autoloop, and it means at least attempting to find little bits of olive branches, whether anyone else grabs onto them or not.