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.
Photo by author, the day the bunny mom told her bunnies it was time to leave the nest
Now I will have to pull up the old tomatoes. Reassess how I am going to handle the whole thing next year.
My Medium Life
It wasn’t just this blog that suffered. I was less active on Medium for a while too, and my earnings took a dip. I have emerged, however as somewhat of a poet. At least half of what I post there is poetry. Based on various factors, I think I can get somewhere around $40 per month from there. Making anything from poetry is satisfying. Having written articles while content writing for several years, and getting paid more, it upsets me more when mere pennies trickle in on the longer stuff.
That’s a big part of my slacking hiatus. I had a depression flare-up, and it was all I could do to tread water.
But not all poems are sad. Consider this recent one as well. Autumn Yardwork
Author’s grandson, playing in leaves; photo by author
One of the things I have had to figure out has been how to put the right amount of pressure on myself, so I can move forward without feeling like I am on a too hectic of a roller coaster. To some extent, I believe I will always feel somewhat like I am on a carnival ride, but I am finding if I can catch those emotions when they first start to brew, I can channel them into poetry, and get back to functioning much quicker than if let them eat at me or build until I burst. I still write articles, essays, and blog-type posts, but poetry has become my big thing.
I’m doing some other experimenting too. I’ve started selecting poems to imprint on graphics suitable for Instagram. Like this.
I’m also trying to figure out Kofi for a little added support
Links provided on my blog to my Medium work are “friend links,” meaning those who are not paying members won’t see the paywall. Membership is dirt cheap though, just $5 a month for all you can read with no ads, and $50 if you commit to a year. Even when I was down in the dumps I earned back the fee writing in the Medium Partner Program, and I have the satisfaction of knowing I’m helping ou other writers as well.
I am a royal screw up. I don’t say this to put myself down. I’m simply stating a fact. For the most part, I’m okay with it. That doesn’t mean I don’t try to find ways to be a better me. I simply know that I am not going to correct all my flaws. I am going to do things the wrong way pretty much every day. I’m going to try, and miss the mark over and over and over again. Some days this will bother me more than others. Hopefully, I will take it all in stride more often than not.
Letting People Accept Me as I Am
If you are still reading, you perhaps are a royal screw up in your own right. Maybe not as bad as me. Maybe worse. Congratulations. Screwing up means you try. It means your efforts matter, even if they are not always successful. It means things do not come easy to you, and you get back on your ostrich and try again. (Yes, I suppose it might be easier to get a horse, but how would you know it’s me?)
Later today, people are supposed to be stopping by. An old me would be frantic, rushing to make everything perfect before their arrival even though it will only be a few minutes. I will make an effort to clean, but I am not going to drop everything so I can present myself differently than I am. There are neatniks in the world, but I am not one. I prefer some basic order, and I am trying to do better with that. It will come in small increments, and I am likely to drop the ball often. I will keep picking it up. I will remind myself that juggling is hard.
When I try sometimes others will appreciate the effort, and sometimes they won’t. They will look at their own values and priorities and they will decide what they would do to correct my behavior “if they were me.” The only problem is… they aren’t me. If they were they would be doing exactly what I’m doing. Chances are, they are dropping a ball somewhere in their lives as well and they will keep trying to pick it up time and time again. Maybe it is well hidden. Perhaps they are the only one that knows.
Slowing Down, Shifting Priorities and Making Progress
For the past few months I have done a good deal of writing on Medium.com as a way to earn a bit of money writing what I want to write. To read there without limitations, people need to spend $5 a month or $50 per year. These fees are distributed to writers. On my blog, I distribute “friend links” that provide access to my work. That means blog followers can read it, even if they aren’t paying members. There’s an option of not putting something behind the paywall as well, but most of the time I prefer to be paid.
I have not written new fiction in a while, but I have posted the first chapter of my novel, No Sensible People, on Medium, and over time I will post the other chapters as well. The first chapter installments will be behind the paywall. Other chapters will be unlisted, but links will be provided. My blog followers will have access to “friend links.”
The characters in my novel, like me, are royal screw-ups … in completely different ways than I am, mostly. I enjoyed getting to know them. I look forward to visiting them again. Perhaps you would too.
Here are the friend links for the first chapter– these include audio as well, and each will link to the next section as it becomes available.
Gretchen Lee Bourquin obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Literature/Creative Writing in another life, and worked in disability care, customer service, and education administration — and as a single mom of two, now grown, kids- before delving into freelancing as a content writer. She’s enjoying the opportunity that Medium provides to get a little more personal and put the creativity back in her writing. Follow me on my Facebook Writing Page, Twitter, or WordPress