“This is the Breath I’m Working On”

This isn’t a break/fix post…it’s more a rambling story.  Hang in there.

 

A couple of months ago, during a very, incredibly busy time of my life (school, kid stuff, work stuff), I was hit in the head by a flying cat.  Ok, stop laughing…yes this is a true story.  I have a kitchen island, and across from it, a countertop along the wall.  The cats jump back and forth (angrily, I might add), when they are about to be fed.  One of my cats, Pixel, is a very large older gentleman, who weighs about 14 pounds.  One morning at around 7am, I bent down to get the cat food cans out of the cabinet below the counter.  As I was coming up, I felt this WHAM! On the left side of my head, just above the ear.  Pixel had attempted to jump the gap between island and counter at the exact moment my head was coming up to counter height.  All his momentum, plus the thickest, hardest, part of his skull collided with the thinnest, most vulnerable part of my skull.  I staggered around for a minute, cursed a lot, and begrudgingly finished feeding my would-be assassin.  Stupid, but minor, I thought…so I went on to work.  

 

Around 2pm, I started to develop a wicked headache.  I attributed it to pollen (it was March, after all), and kept pushing forward.  After work, I was unloading groceries from the trunk of my car, when I pushed the hatchback downwards to close it.  The downward force was way too much momentum for me to counterbalance, and I nearly fell over.  “Whoa!  Am I drunk?” I thought.  How weird!  But…I kept going about my day. I had college papers to write.

 

As I took the dogs out potty, I tried to step sideways and again lost my balance completely.  Ok, yes, this is weird. Something is wrong.  As I did my school work, I couldn’t remember words.  I had trouble forming sentences.  I discussed this with my sister-in-law, who said Get thee to the ER!  So of course I…mulled it over longer and decided to schedule a Teledoc visit.  Well…here’s where things got bad.  I scheduled the visit…for the next day. By accident.  Then, after I realized my mistake, I couldn’t figure out how to change it. I struggled for an hour with their (super easy) website.  I was having trouble reading, and worse, comprehending anything.  I ended up having to call Teledoc’s customer service (who straightened out my scheduling issue).  The irony is…I work in technology. I’m extremely adept at tech stuff, and literally worked in tech support for 10 years.  I was dumbfounded by a website.  This was bad.

 

Teledoc was great and told me Do Not Pass Go; Do Not Collect $200. Go Straight to the ER.  So I went.

The ER people were great, though, I felt humiliated asking for a CT scan for a Cat Injury.  I’m pretty sure they were convinced I was beaten by someone, but they were nice enough to only ask once if I’m “safe at home.”  My answer “Other than the murderous cats,” was not as funny to them as it was to me.

 

So…anyway…long story a bit longer…I was concussed. And in a full blown migraine as a result.  Apparently that’s pretty common.  I was put on “brain rest,” and ordered into a dark room for 3-4 days.  I was to follow up with the primary care doc by then.

 

I had a migration the coming weekend at work; I had several college papers due; I had laundry, dishes, vacuuming…I didn’t have time for a cat-cussion.  I was told to stay off screens (no phone, no tablet, no computers).  I was told I should be back to normal in a week.

 

Uh…ok, that ended up being very un-true…but the important part of this story (and why I’m sharing this with you) is the ensuing meltdown, and the place I got to after.  I was/am a massive overachiever.  Before I got my adhd under control, I was a wanna-be overachiever…but now I actually am.  I was in my last semester of college, worked full time, mom full time, plus I was learning Spanish, and reading and writing daily for growth.  I was really into my routines and checklists, which were on the computer, and I couldn’t access.  My head was a mess, but I was so afraid of drifting out of my structure (which was my lifeline) that panic quickly took over.

 

As I sprawled on the futon in our loft, in the dark and still wearing a sleep mask, I ruminated over all the things I’m supposed to be doing. Then I’d remember I’m on brain-rest and supposed to not think.  Well, fo r all you adhd peeps who have tried meditation, and ‘clearing your mind,’ you get how hard this is, right???  

 

After a couple of days…I got to a point where I would start to ruminate and panic, and I’d think, “You know what? Let me just get through THIS BREATH. This one RIGHT HERE.  THIS. IS. THE. BREATH. I’M. WORKING. ON.”  and then I’d say that for the next breath. And the next.

 

Panic would rise up when my thoughts would drift to overdue papers, or how my boss was surely going to fire me…and I’d just come back to “Let me just get through THIS breath. THIS is the breath I’m working on.” Over and over and over. For DAYS.  

 

Do you know what happened?

I got through it.  It took weeks.  It was a slow, painful recovery. I had linger effects for months.  But it took almost 2 full weeks of brain rest (and near-total darkness) before I got through the migraines.  I had to go to a neurologist (which ended up being a blessing…), and what’s more, I learned the power of “this is the breath I’m working on.”

 

When I start to panic, fret, or ruminate, I can instantly bring myself back into calm now.  After nearly two weeks of saying that mantra all day, it is one of the most centering tools I have in my tool box.  I can’t adequately explain the power of it to you, but feel free to try it yourself and report back.

 

I think for me, it’s similar to another mantra I heard about (“Right now, this is how it is.”)  I think both really “give it up” to the fact that we are where we are…and acceptance just might be our only option.  I think mine also gives me focus, and internal focus of something I can do at that moment.  So it’s helpful for me in that way.

 

Anyway, long story, short: breathe.

Book Review: The Queen Of Distraction…

Today I want to briefly talk to you about a book that helped me start to revisit the impact ADHD was having in my life.  Even though I was diagnosed in my early  thirties, initially I didn’t believe the diagnosis, much less take it seriously.  This book really shifted my perspective: The Queen of Distraction: How Women with ADHD Can Conquer Chaos, Find Focus, and Get More Done, by Terry Matlen, MSW.  

I listened to it quite a while ago (Aug 2018), and I’m just now getting around to reviewing it (hahaha, irony…), but so much still sticks with me every day.  Specifically, the details about emotion regulation, hyper sensitivity, and hormones.  THIS is the book that helped me realize I’m not crazy or defective, and suggested ideas for planning around the way my biology wants to work.  Of the three specifics I mentioned, the difference in how ADHD women (and girls) experience emotion was so freaking liberating to me…that alone is worth the price of the book.  Seriously. I am forever changed by this knowledge, and frankly, reassurance.  

I’d like to also share that this book is very accessible, even (and especially) if you aren’t an academic.  It’s an easy read (or, in my case, listen), and the author really brings the technical into the practical.  It’s certainly a great book that came into my life at the perfect time, and I owe it (and Ms. Matlen) a huge debt of gratitude.

 

Duplicates Galore!

TL;DR

 

Problem:

You realize you need something, go to find it, get sidetracked looking for whatever it was, then an hour later find yourself back in the original room and realize you still have to go find whatever it was.

 

Solution:

Whenever feasible, keep duplicates of things everywhere you are.

 

Full story:

 

This is a tough one, and it doesn’t apply to everything, of course.  I’ll tell you what it works well for (for me).  

 

Let’s say I’m about to read something on my phone. I realize I need my reading glasses.  I get up, walk over to where I think they are, and as I’m heading there, my son says, “Oh hey, what’s for dinner?”  I detour to the fridge, gaze into it and say, “How about XYZ?” He says sure, then I realize the milk has expired.  I pour it out, put it into the over-flowing recycling bin, which I decide needs to be taken out RIGHT THEN.  As I’m carrying the recycling bin through the garage, I see the tire is getting flat again on the car, so I grab my phone to put a note to take the car to the shop…which I can’t read because I still haven’t gotten my glasses from my purse.  

 

My solution to this was: buy multiple pairs of reading glasses.  They are literally $10 at Wally World, for non-rx versions.  But also I wanted blue-light blocking, which I ordered on Zenni Optical, but those I did this slowly over a couple of months (as budget allowed). Now I have a pair at work on my desk, at home on my desk (home office), in my purse, and on my nightstand.

 

I did the same thing with lotion, Chapstick, tissues, pens (I have a certain type of pen I like), highlighters, Mio, sugar substitute, etc, etc.  For example, I actually really like the EOS lip balm, so every grocery trip for  several months, I added one to my cart. They are about $3-4 for one “ball.”  Which isn’t a huge amount, but my budget can’t handle buying 10 at once.  Now I have one on my nightstand, one in the kitchen drawer, one in my purse, one in each car, one on each desk (home and work), and a couple in storage for back up.  

 

Here’s a trick I learned from “I Always Want to Be Where I’m Not,” along the same lines:  Have trash cans EVERYWHERE.  In some rooms I have two or three trashcans, but every room has at least one.  I’m way more likely to throw something away when there is a trashcan in reach, than if not.  And then trash doesn’t pile up all over my house.  In my weekly cleaning routine, emptying the trash can(s) for each room is part of the schedule.

 

Letter to a friend on 10 second breathing

I have been a bit slack about posting. Lots of irons in the fire here, and unfortunately this blog gets back-burnered when time is short.  Recently, I wrote to a friend about the reason she should be taking 2 minutes to breathe for 10 seconds when she is stressed and really daily whether or not she is stressed.

 

I’m posting the email here because I think it’s good info, and a pretty quick summary, even if it’s kinda rambling.

Hi!

Sorry for the late email! Long day!

Here’s what I want to share:
There is a very long nerve that runs from your brain stem/limbic area of the brain to your heart.  Consider it a dedicated circuit between the brain and the heart.  The role of this nerve is to control the heart if you are in mortal danger.  It pretty much shuts down your extraneous (at that moment) systems (such as digestion) and makes your heart pump fast and VERY CONSISTENTLY.

Normally your heart beats vary in length and frequency.  This is known as Heart Rate Variability.  High HRV or Low HRV can actually be a great measure of your health.  Lots and lots written about it.  When your HR is very variable, that means that your parasympathetic is in control.  This is the “autopilot” you want to be flying the plane.  It means you are calm, relaxed, and able to easily function in the pre-frontal cortex area of your brain.

If your HRV is very low (you have a very consistent heart rate), it actually means you are in a state of arousal, you are ready to fight, flee, or freeze.  Your digestion is an after thought, and crucially, you aren’t able to use areas of your Pre-Frontal Cortex.  This part of the brain (responsible for decision making and executive function) “costs” a lot to use. It eats up glucose very fast, and gets exhausted quick…also, it may make you pause while you consider the best course of action to run from the lion, or try to talk it out of eating you. By then it would be too late, so when in a state of arousal, the PFC is actually shut off.  Since the carpool being backed up, an urgent conference call, and spilled coffee…won’t actually eat you…the problem is that our PFC is shut off precisely when we need it the most for modern life.

How do you get it back?
One method is to engage the parasympathetic nervous system, force the vagus nerve to tell the heart to slow down, and allow cortisol levels to drop.  This is called “vagal toning” and there are a LOT of woo-woo kinds of things (‘hippie-dippie’) out there about this.  However, there is a lot of science behind it in actual psychology research journals.  Two common methods BACKED BY RESEARCH are slowing your breathing down to 4-6 breaths per minute for AT LEAST 90 seconds, or humming for at least 90 seconds.

Since humming can draw attention to yourself, and slowing your breathing can be done relatively unnoticed, this is my go-to. However, if you are alone in your car, or are braver than I, feel free to hum! 🙂  Feel like adding power? Hum WHILE doing 10 second breathing.

You want to get down to 4 to 6 breaths PER minute.  That means, one full breath every 10 seconds…or 5 seconds in, 5 seconds out.

Why greater than 90 seconds?  Because that’s how long it takes for a pump of cortisol to burn out in your body.  If you can break the cortisol release cycle (I’m stressed – cortisol is released, now I’m stressed AND anxious, and my body is on edge, omg why am I shaking, great a headache! How can I present now!?!?! OMG more cortisol just was released…thanks a lot!), Then you give yourself a BIG LEG UP.

It might not cure all the things that stressed you out, but it keeps you from making it worse, by then worrying “Is this a heart attack? is this a panic attack? My stomach is in knots, maybe it’s stomach cancer?”

Is that just me? Oops?

So…here’s some other super cool vagus nerve info. You are less likely to have a heart attack if you have high HRV.  Also, if you have a heart attack and then practice 10+ second breathing every day, working up to 20 mins, you recover faster, and have less of a chance of a second heart attack.

What’s more, you should do 10 second breathing EVERY DAY. Whether you are stressed or not.

Even if you only do it once a day, for two minutes…it impacts your body in amazing ways.

When I’m doing it, I watch the second hand and I think “THIS is the breath that I’m working on…”
then..”Now…THIS is the breath that I’m working on.”  And so on.

It’s very grounding and keeps me fully present.  I can do it in meetings, and sometimes I do.  I can do it in the car…But it’s currently in my “Lunch routine.”  I eat, then do 3 mins (I’m working up to 5 or 10), then I might do a small meditation or light reading for 2 mins.  Notice, the 10 second breathing is it’s OWN THING.  I consider myself in HRV training, and meditation is necessary and important, but different and I keep them separate.

Once I get to 10 mins of 10 second breathing, I might try to make it 12 second breathing (5 breaths/minute).

Thanks for reading this far if you actually have! Sorry to ramble.  It sounds complicated, and invasive in life, but I’m telling you it’s not. And you can work it into anything. Like maybe that’s your stoplight thing. Maybe during potty breaks (though you’ll have to tell me how humming in public toilets goes over…I feel like that would make great Twitter humor). It doesn’t matter. The more you do it, the better, but once a day for 2 mins is super impactful.  When I started I did it at least 4 times a day (breakfast, snack, lunch, dinner – I figured if I tied it to food, I wouldn’t miss it 🙂 ).

ok – enough rambling! Hope that helps!

Time wasting and Opportunity Cost

TL;DR

Problem:

You continually put off things that you really need to do in favor of what you feel like doing right now

 

Solution:

1 – Recognize when you are choosing.

2 – Determine all the options you are choosing amongst.

3 – “Play the tape forward,” and imagine (vividly) living with the consequences of doing

4  Recognize the opportunity cost  of not doing each option.  If you choose 1, you can’t do any of the others.  What are you giving up?

 

Full story:

 

So, let’s talk about opportunity cost, and what it means for an ADHD person.

 

Wikipedia defines Opportunity Cost like this:

 

“…the opportunity cost, or alternative cost, of making a particular choice is the value of the most valuable choice out of those that were not taken. In other words, opportunity that will require sacrifices.” (Link.)

 

Usually this in reference to financial decisions, for example, if you invest in stock XYZ, you AREN’T investing that same money in ABC…which means whatever benefit you could have had from ABC stock gains is lost to you. But can apply this concept to any “scare resource.”  Guess what is a scare resource for ADHD people (and really all people these days)? Time.  Time is your scarce resource. (Even if you are unemployed and live in your parent’s basement).  Start thinking about the opportunity cost of your time investments.

 

For example: If you have a paper due Friday, you have laundry, dishes, and vacuuming to do, grocery shopping, and you need to visit your family before they disown you.  If it will take you 10 hours to write the paper, which can only be done after work, you have 2 hours each night needed to write the paper.  Assuming you get home at 6pm and are in bed by 10pm, your capacity each night is 4 hours.  If, Monday night you think, “Oh I have ‘Plenty of Time’ to work on the paper…I can go see Mom & Dad!”  That takes all four hours because they live 30 mins away, you stay for dinner, and we all know your mom can talk…

Now you have 16 hours of capacity left (over 4 nights).  When weighing the decision to go see Mom & Dad versus working on the paper you must consider the opportunity cost of choosing time with Mom & Dad over working on the paper.  There isn’t a right or wrong answer here.  Maybe tomorrow Mom & Dad are in a terrible wreck…you will be happy you invested those 4 hours with them and not on a paper no one will ever remember.  The key is, you should CHOOSE WITH AWARENESS of the opportunity cost.

 

Now it’s Tuesday night, and you have to cook dinner, do the dishes, and vacuum as the dust bunnies and pile of dirty dishes in the sink are out of control.  You have chosen cleaning over paper.  The opportunity cost is that now you are seriously diminishing you’re a) Ability to do quality work on this paper and B) Quality of life when you finally sit down to work on the paper.  You will be a stress puppy because you left it to the last minute and cut every corner you can. You and I both know this.

 

 

Dr. Wes Crenshaw talks about this in his book “I Always Want to Be Where I’m Not,” which, btw, I love the title of this book. I can so relate to this.  I’ll review the book in a later blog, but for now, let’s just talk about what he calls “Playing the Tape Forward.”

In order to see the opportunity cost of anything, you must be able to play the tape forward. This is, according to Dr. Crenshaw, the ability to imagine the future consequences of doing, or not doing, any specific action.  ADHD peeps, notoriously impulsive, have major issues with this!  No surprise there.  However, if you can’t see the potential outcome of doing or not doing anything, you will never be able to weigh the opportunity cost.

 

So, step one is RECOGNIZE WHEN YOU ARE ABOUT TO MAKE A DECISION!!!  This is harder than you think.  And it goes to (yet another blog post to come) Microchoices.  These are the teeny, tiny, infinitesimally small choices we make all day that add up to the totality of our lives.  Maybe there’s a better word, or someone has already coined that term for something else…but this is how I define them in my life. And recognizing when I’m making a microchoice is CRUCIAL to this entire process.

 

Once you start to notice where you make a choice, be it big or small, you can identify the alternatives available in the choice.  Let’s say you recognize that when you come home from work every day, you have grand plans of all the things you want to tackle before bed.  Instead, once again, you find yourself zoning out in front of the tv until it’s long past bedtime.  When is the moment of choice?  When you plop down on the couch and pick up the remote.  Tomorrow (cause it’s too late today), when you are about to plop on the couch, you will need to stop and consider your other options.  Yes, I know you will FEEL like “relaxing” for just a minute.  You are choosing none-the-less.  And this is the perfect opportunity to make choices that will change the ease of your life.

 

So it’s tomorrow, and you are heading towards the couch. You think, “This is just what that blog was talking about.”  What are your alternatives?  You could, instead of plopping on the couch, quickly go change into your running shoes and get out the door before you have a chance to change your mind.  Or, you could work on that Business Plan for the new business you dream about starting.  Or you could do the pile of dishes in the sink, which will make your spouse supremely happy, and result in a more harmonious marriage.  It doesn’t matter what your options are, you need to play the tape forward for each one.  Then you need to understand that when you choose one, all the others are off the table to you.  You don’t get the harmonious marriage and get to sit on the couch night after night.  That’s not the way the world works.  Your biz won’t ever take off if you know more about Game of Thrones than your new venture.  You will probably end up with a heart attack at 55 because you “felt” more like “relaxing” than putting all that effort into running.  I’m not being mean; I’m being realistic.  And you need to be, too.

 

Everything you choose shuts off ALL THE OTHER OPTIONS.  

 

I used to think, erroneously, that I’d “make up for it later.”  Do you do that?  Ok, well, if I spend “just a minute” checking Facebook, I’ll “work faster” on that paper later, and just get it done in less time.  Or I’d somehow clean faster, or drive faster.

 

That’s called “magical thinking” and is not how reality works.

 

When I chose to scroll through Facebook, I’m giving up EVERYTHING ELSE I want to accomplish.  That’s my opportunity cost.  EVERYTHING ELSE.  Do I still scroll through Facebook? Yes, sure.  But, for very small spurts of time now, as I’m keenly aware of what I’m sacrificing.  When I say yes to a meeting request, what can’t I do because I’ll be in that meeting? 

 

Opportunity cost is everywhere.   Not just finances and not just time management.  If I give my attention to this person at the party for 3 straight hours, I’ve missed out on meeting many other people.  If I wear this outfit today, I can’t wear it tomorrow to that special dinner because you and I both know I’ll never finish the laundry by then.

 

…And so on!

 

What are some opportunity cost scenarios you’ve experienced in your daily life?

Not just for yogis: Meditation as an ADHD intervention

TL;DR

Problem:

You have an incredibly short attention span, especially when things are boring.  You are easily distracted by random internal or external things, and it is virtually impossible to get you back on track once your thought train has derailed.

 

Solution:

 

Really, really, really give meditation a try.  The neuroscience behind why this works is extremely compelling.

 

Full story:

In full disclosure, I didn’t start meditating to relieve ADHD symptoms.  I started at the suggestion of my therapist to address the crippling anxiety I was having about practically everything in my life.  

 

Meditation is extremely difficult for people with ADHD. Let me not sugar coat this at all: It’s nearly impossible.  Which is kinda why you really need to do it.

 

For me, the only thing that worked to get my butt to sit down and try meditation was an app called Headspace for the Iphone (I’m sure there is an android version, too…).  Headspace worked for me because of their tracking of my “Run Streak” (consecutive days of meditating), and how extremely guided it is in the basic and many other packs. 

I had over 380 days in the previous runstreak!

 

There are really great animations to explain the new concepts, and basically “normalize” something that seems pretty hippie-dippy to a lot of us linear thinkers.

 

Some of the research I found discussed the brain changes that are visible on fMRI after only 10 hours of meditation.  I’ll have to look it back up, but basically the areas of the brain that show neuroplasticity after meditation are the areas of the brain where ADHD peeps could use a little more help.  Several books and articles on ADHD started tying all the threads together for me, and explained that you don’t meditate to clear your mind, you meditate to PRACTICE clearing your mind.  That’s a very subtle but massive distinction.  

 

What that means is, you WANT your mind to drift, so you exercise the “muscle” of redirecting your focus.  As frustrating as that is when it happens, the skill you are building is accepting that our minds drift, and then redirecting yourself back to your focus when they do.  As an ADHD perfectionist, when my mind would go off down a rabbit hole, I’d beat myself up once I realized I was off-task, and had no idea where I was on the task I should have been working on. Sometimes I would literally sit in my office at work and cry.  I told myself how stupid I was, how lazy, etc., etc.  The battle then became to NOT lose focus (which is pretty impossible), instead of refocusing back to where I was when I lost focus.  

 

Another great book that can help you embrace this “alternative” intervention for focusing is “10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story” by Dan Harris.  When I read his book, I had already been meditating for over a year and a half.  Unlike Mr. Harris, though, my meditation sessions are very short, and sprinkled throughout the day.  Maybe someday I’ll get to the point where I can devote 1 hour to meditating, but currently I need that time for other things.  But this book really helped mainstream and normalize meditation for me.  I felt, honestly, a bit embarrassed mentioning it at all when discussing my ADHD interventions.  Also, since I originally started this to address the anxiety, for a long time I didn’t see the impact on my focus.

 

The improvement in focus was super subtle.  In fact, I can’t even tell you when I started to notice things improving.  Once, in a meeting, when I found myself looking out the window and day dreaming, I realized I was off focus, brought my attention first to my breathing for two or three breaths, then I was able to resume focus on the speaker.  When I am overwhelmed it’s extremely easy for me to lose focus.  I will bring my attention to my breathing (literally focusing on my stomach expanding and contracting with each breath), and then go back to the thing I should be focusing on.  And sometimes I have to do this six times.  Welcome to ADHD.  What’s new is that I don’t hate myself for it, or tell myself how flawed I am. I tell myself I’m grateful for the opportunity to exercise my re-focusing muscles.  And in that way, I’m significantly more than 10% happier.