You are afraid to start anything because you don’t want to try unless you get it perfect. This leads to massive procrastination on many fronts of your life.
Embrace a philosophy of Try-Observe-Tweak.
This is a great philosophy, and of course one I can’t claim credit for. Unfortunately I’ve heard it from so many places, I can’t tell you all of the sources, nor who is the original to give credit to. And there are lots of different variations, acronyms, etc. Pick one you like and go with it. If you think you deserve citation, you are probably right…email me, and I’ll fix it.
Before I embraced this philosophy, I was constantly “stuck.” I was completely frozen with “not knowing” the full process I’d need to take or how to do anything the most efficiently. As I’ve previously said elsewhere, I had a bizarre disdain for “backtracking” anywhere in my life. This could manifest in running Saturday errands. I’d need to plan out my trip perfectly to minimize the time and distance driving. However, I’d spend so much time thinking about all the variations and alternatives, I’d actually not get out of the driveway. Then once on the road, in my distraction, I’d miss the turn I needed, and my perfect plan was out the window anyway. I’d get very, very angry at myself.
At work this looked like any task becoming a ‘big amorphous blog,’ and my not being able to find the starting point. I’ve talked about this before, too, as well as other things that helped me out of that rut.
Being stuck, or frozen, like this is perfectionism, plain and simple. I rejected this label for a LONG time. “How can I be a perfectionist when I do everything half-assed???” File that under “Things a perfectionist would say.”
One way out of perfectionism is to view everything in terms of data gathering. Your first attempt, pass, etc., is just to get info. First time taking that SAT? It’s to find out where you need to focus your study time (your weak areas). First time interviewing? It’s not to get the job (if you do, though, awesome!), but to practice interviewing. This is the try portion of the Try-Observe-Tweak Cycle.
After you try, you analyze the data you get. What worked well? What didn’t. What could have gone better? What don’t you know now that will help you in the future? This is the observe phase.
Then, you tweak your approach with your knowledge gained, and you start the cycle over. You try again. And observe again. And tweak again. Rinse and repeat as needed.
Having the little Try-Observe-Tweak idea has been enormously helpful to me. When I hear my perfectionism creeping into my thoughts, I remind myself I’m in a try phase. I’m just data gathering, and I’ll get this eventually. This is how my routines came about…slowly, over months. I finally came to realize my routines and checklists are always changing, and being rigid about them is useless. It seems contradictory, but it actually makes sense. Everything is adapting and changing as we go. Perfectionism is just a form of rigidity in an every-changing world.
That said, I think that “quality work” is not the same as perfectionism, and I’m not excusing you to do a poor job on things or “phone it in.” In that case, realize you might need two or three attempts to get the quality where you want it, but perfection will always be impossible.
You are continually choosing to do the easy thing instead of what you should be doing.
For example: You keep bingeing Netflix instead of doing the dishes, eating the doughnut instead of the veggie sticks untouched in the fridge, or participating in office gossip with the coworker instead of working on your report dur in 15 minutes.
Think about yourself in the future, having to clean up the mess you are currently making. For me, I call this “Being kind to future Donna.”
Imagine your future self having to deal with two (or ten) days of dishes instead of the current pile. Imagine future you in the heart ICU wishing you had chosen carrot sticks for 40 years instead of doughnuts. Imagine yourself 15 mins from now wishing you had 15 more minutes to finish the report.
Before this idea came to me, I struggled A LOT with how to “push myself” to do the thing I knew I should be doing, but I never could get past the “I don’t feel like it” excuse. The consequence of doing the thing were always clear to me, but “I’ll feel like it later” was a quick justification for not doing it RIGHT THEN. (Spoiler: You don’t feel like it later, either.)
One day I felt very upset at my past self for not making life easier on my current self, and I wished I could go back in time and tell that version of me to be kind to future Donna. I have weird conversations like this with myself all the time. Yes, I probably should see someone about that. The next time I was about to make a bad micro-choice, I stopped and thought, I need to do this to be kind to future Donna. I vividly imagined my future self having to deal with the mess I created/left for myself to deal with later (in this case it was a literal mess, shredded paper towels all over the living room courtesy of the dogs).
That was really motivating for me. Suddenly I started realizing all the things in my daily life are actually tasks to improve the life of Future Donna. At night I prep the coffee maker so in the morning Future Donna can just hit one button in her sleepy stupor. I brush my teeth and floss so Future Donna doesn’t need dentures. I meal prep on Sundays so Future Donna doesn’t make bad food choices during the week.
Come to find out, this is a known intervention. In several of the books I read last year, including this one on willpower and this one on procrastination, if we can imagine our future selves vividly, and identify with that version of us more, we will make better choices consistent with our long term goals. Studies on retirement savings, for example, showed that if we imagine our future selves vividly, we make better savings decisions now.
So, I didn’t come up with anything new or earth-shattering…but merely stumbled on something researchers already knew! Once I realized that, I made sure to employ this strategy ALL the time!
Nothing ever gets done. It’s not so much that you procrastinate (though you do do that), but that when you are able (and motivated!) to do something, the tools you need are in a different room (or that person is unavailable, or something else which is a road-block to doing the thing).
Break the task down into the smallest possible steps and stage the task progressively over time.
*Thanks to my work/quilting friend, Jessie, for this tip!
This was a major contributor to my inability to get things done. And I feel like it’s best illustrated by a story:
The backdoor doorknob was loose on my house. This was the outside door, so it dawned on me that rain would seep in, and I would eventually have to replace the entire now-rain-damaged knob. In the past this would have gone like this:
Day 1: *notices loose doorknob. “Oh! I need to fix this. Probably just needs a screw tightened.”
Day 2 – 486: exactly the same as above.
Day 487: *doorknob falls apart in my hand. “Oh, crap. I need to move now.”
Here’s the problem, in my head the conversation went…”Where’s the screw driver set? Hmm…garage? Kitchen junk drawer? I’ll have to find that. But I need to leave for work in 5 mins, I’ll do it tonight.” Later: “Oh I’m out here in the garage, and I see the screw driver set, but I’m heading into the car to go to dinner and don’t have time to go fix the doorknob, I’ll grab that when I come back…” Which, of course, never happens.
Ok, so here’s the solution: Fixing the doorknob isn’t a task; it’s a project. You need to really, really understand and accept that. Maybe for non-ADHD people it’s just a task. But for you and me (ok, maybe just me), it’s a project. There are many, many steps and potential hurdles which can derail me (or you).
In B24, a task can have checklists, which is a major reason I have embraced this tool for all my life management (blog post coming, someday). However, in OneNote (or everNote, etc), you can simply create a hierarchy by hitting return and indenting. Boom, subtask list.
Now, here’s how I got the doorknob fixed within a couple of days of discovering it loose (instead of a year and a half later):
When I notice doorknob is loose, I create B24 task with checklist of all teeny, tiny, infinitesimal steps.
When I find the screwdriver (usually because I see it while doing something else), put the screwdriver in a place where I will move it progressively closer to the back door the next time I pass it. In my example, when I was getting into the car, I passed the screwdriver set. I stopped and put it at the threshold of the garage door (the one that goes into the house). I literally have to pick it up when walking into the house (once home again), or trip over it. Either way, I’ll remember it. (Side note, if you have many little people, this might not work for you…I don’t, so it works for me.)
Because when I walk in the door, the first thing I do is take the dogs potty, I immediately walk with the screwdriver set to the backdoor. I put the screwdriver set down on the chair by the door. I take the dogs potty (not fair to make them hold it longer while I figure this out).
When I come back in, I’ve forgotten to fix the door entirely, and rush to do something else. However, the next time I let the dogs potty (like 2 hours later), I see the screwdriver set, pick it up, and take it outside while I take the dogs potty. I choose the correct screwdriver tip and put it in the screwdriver base while the dogs sniff around for an excruciatingly long time.
After the dogs are finished and I’ve bagged the results, I open the door and immediately start fixing the knob as the dogs are walking in. Once it’s fixed (in seconds), I put the screwdriver tip and base back in the container, walk to the garage door, drop off the poop bags in the trash on the way, and put the screwdriver set on the threshold of the garage door. Then, of course, I wash my hands.
When I head to bed that night, I open the garage door to turn on the exterior driveway lights. I notice the screwdriver set. I pick it up, turn on the driveway exterior lights, and place the screwdriver set back on the garage shelf where it belongs.
Would this have taken a whole day for a normal person to finish? I don’t know. Maybe. Is this better than the alternative FOR ME? Absolutely.
Fixing the doorknob got done. The doorknob didn’t get ruined (or the door, for that matter) by my extreme lack of action.
The fundamental aspect of this story which I wish for you to take away is that if you are resisting doing anything, or if you are unable to complete anything, you might want to ask yourself, “What is the teeny, tiny, infinitesimally small step that is next required to do this?” You don’t need to have the whole thing mapped out. Just literally the next step. And if you are always saying “I don’t have time to do the whole thing right now,” that’s a great potential candidate for applying this intervention.
It’s pretty simple: What are the tiny steps that make up that task, and how can you do them progressively over time so that it gets done?
Solution: Include a time buffer in everything, which I call “The Explosive Diarrhea Buffer.”
Let’s say you have to drive from Charlotte, NC to Raleigh, NC. You are due to where ever you are going at 6pm. You know that it takes about 3.5 – 4 hours to make the drive, assuming you don’t speed and construction is minimal. What time should you leave? Would 2pm sound like a reasonable answer given all the info? It’s probably a safe bet for an ADHD person to answer around 2pm.
Now…let’s say all the other information is the same, however, you woke up with crippling, explosive diarrhea. You must find a bathroom every 15 minutes, and you start to wonder how many stops this road trip will now require. If you have to find a rest stop every 15 minutes, now how long will that drive take? Now what time would you leave? 12pm? 11am? Either of those should give you plenty of pit-stop time, depending on the severity of your stomach distress and bathroom spacing along your route. For extra credit, imagine instead you are traveling with your recently toilet-trained 3 year old nephew. How many pit-stops do you need now?
Consider it “Time Insurance.” You have car insurance (assuming you own a car). You probably have health insurance of some sort. You might even (and should, if you don’t) have life insurance. Yet those are all to cover hopefully rare events. While crippling, explosive diarrhea is (also hopefully) a rare event, it’s actually way more probable than dying outright or getting in a car wreck. Not purchasing Time Insurance for something more probable than death seems silly.
“But that’s a waste of time,” you might respond. “I’ll not have to stop 18 times, and I’ll end up in Raleigh 2 hours earlier than necessary.” That’s OK. Raleigh isn’t closed. You can find a Starbucks, or even a parking lot somewhere to plant yourself with your smart phone, the Kindle App, or Audible, or bring a real book, Duolingo, Sudoku, puzzles, whatever. That’s not wasted time if you always keep book or some other opportunity for learning with you. Or God-Forbid, talk to your friends or family that came along with you. Building relationships isn’t wasted time, either. Further, you don’t consider the car insurance premiums you pay out all year long to be wasted, yet you haven’t gotten into a wreck in 20 years. Time and money are both resources. You can’t eagerly exchange money for protection, but not be willing to see the value of exchanging time for protection.
So, apply this to anything that is time bound. Essay due in three weeks? What if you get the stomach flu at the beginning of the third week? Plan accordingly and put a buffer in your schedule, starting now. When you are scheduled to study, and you think, “Man, I don’t feel like studying. This paper isn’t due for another three weeks, anyway! Netflix sounds really good right now…” Recognize you are in the midst of a micro-choice. At that VERY moment, picture a week of explosive diarrhea keeping you away from the keyboard (cause please don’t be the guy that brings his laptop into the bathroom…). Picture having to tell the professor, “I had a week of explosive diarrhea, can I have an extension?” Then do the hard thing, not the easy thing. Work on the paper.
Now, could I have substituted “Flat tire” for explosive diarrhea as an example of an unexpected disaster setting you back on your schedule? Sure. There are two reasons I didn’t. The first is that a flat time is a big, single-time setback. It might delay your road trip 2 hours, but it’s all at once. It doesn’t progressively eat away at your schedule like a thousand potty breaks. That’s real life. Real life eats away at your goals in tiny little increments. Second, explosive diarrhea is memorable. It is vivid, both hilarious and cringe-worthy, and it affects everything from driving, to essays, to cleaning the garage, to you-name-it. A flat tire interferes only with anything relating to driving. It sticks out in your memory, it’s relatable, and it applies to many more real-life scenarios. Now that explosive diarrhea is seared into your memory, you will allocated time insurance for all your tasks, and when facing the micro-choice to do or not do the task, you will be able to easily recall this to motivate you to do the thing you are avoiding. You’re welcome, AND I’m sorry.
Driving, I’d have ideas and then forget them by the time I got home. I don’t want to pick up my phone to put stuff in the notes app, and I refuse to enable Alexa or Siri.
(Also: I’d forget where I was going on my errand routes. I’d miss turns, or completely forget to go to stores or people’s houses.)
Install a small dry-erase board in your car, and keep dry erase pens with eraser caps attached to it.
A major ADHD source of problems for me was any time I was in the car. This manifested itself in a couple of ways.
I would forget the destination, or destinations, I intended for the trip. I spent a lot of time “backtracking” because I forgot to stop here or there for this or that errand. For some reason, backtracking is a major issue for me. I despise it to a really unhealthy level. The scorn I’d heap on myself for being inefficient was breathtakingly harsh (I’d never say such things to another human being). It makes sense in the context of time being so valuable, I guess. Still uncalled for. Of course there were many times I completely forgot where I was going and would have to pull over until I remembered.
I’d see something that triggered a “Oh I need to remember to…” thought, which would quickly leave and be forgotten until the next time I drove past whatever it was that reminded me in the first place. I’d once again think “Oh I REALLY need to remember to…” Then, of course, promptly forget again until the next time I drove by. It was a vicious cycle.
Once I was aware of this pattern, I was able to try to work around it. But the first solution I tried was horrible. I’d repeat things over and over until I got home, or park, and then would type furiously into my phone. I’d repeat the next location over and over until I reached that location, then I’d start repeating the next location until I got there. This worked poorly if another idea came up that I needed to remember or if other people were in the car with me and dared to try to talk to me. If I was repeating my next stop over and over, and I passed something that reminded me of something I needed to add to my to-do list, I was totally screwed. Should I repeat the next destination? Or the reminder? What was I doing? Where am I going? Shit. I just missed my exit.
I also tried taking notes on my phone, but dangerous…so that didn’t last long. I tried voice memos on my phone, but since I have Siri disabled, as well as most things that would use the microphone (security concerns), I had to log into my phone (I don’t use the finger print scan), open the voice memo app, then start recording. I might as well down some tequila before getting into the car if I’m going to do all that.
Then I tried writing down everything in notepad. Several problems arose with this. First, it would get pushed to the back seat when my son rode shotgun. Second, it would end up on the floor, then I’d have a thought I wanted to capture, and I’m suddenly stretching trying to reach the backseat floor…and drive. Tequila, anyone? Third, I was going through a lot of paper, and constantly buying new pads. I’d take the notepad into my office or house, then forget to return it to the car.
What I need, I thought…is a dry erase board for the car. As I mulled this over, I really felt like it needed to be very visible. Dash-mounted would be great. But not huge…I’ll need to see out the windshield. But how to attach it?
Through a series of amazing coincidents, I actually ran into two people who gave me the answer. The first had a magnetic phone mount that attached to their car air vents. The other was buying a locker sized magnetic dry erase board for their high-schooler.
And this solution was born:
There are two magnetic air vent phone mounts, and the magnetic locker-sized dry erase board sits right on top. It’s removable, obviously. Half the board lists my “Trip Plan” the other “Notes.” When I get in the car, still in my driveway, I write down all the locations I need to drive to, in the correct order. When I leave each location, I cross them off my list, so I know where I am to go next. If thoughts come up during the drive, I repeat them to myself until the next stop light, and jot them down (or have a passenger in the car write down what I need captured).
Later, I came to learn that the previous attempts to solve this issue (repeating things over and over) was actually incredibly harmful. When I write the post on reducing decisions, it’ll all become clear. Stay tuned!
Full Story: (Warning, this is really long, but I didn’t want to serialize it.)
Most of my family of origin is significantly overweight, yet I was skinny until I was about 11 years old, then I broke my foot one summer and the weight piled on. For years I struggled with my weight, then during a college course (in my thirties!) on Health and Fitness, I managed to lose 90 pounds. That was incredibly short lived, however. The steps that took the weight off quickly stopped working, and despite all my efforts, the weight piled back on. It also didn’t help that I broke my toe, derailing my half-marathon training.
Fast forward almost a decade. I was at my heaviest (315.6), suffering from many, many health problems (fibromyalgia, sleep apnea, depression, anxiety, etc, etc), when my sleep apnea doctor recommended I try Keto (the Ketogenic Diet). I looked into it, and it looked gross, so I passed. Almost a year later, another doctor, simply recommended I read the book “Why we get fat…and what you can do about it.” I bought the book on Audible and listened to it straight through in one day. Then I re-listened to it. And again. This was around March 20th, 2018. By March 24th, I had given up sugar, flour, rice, and potatoes. I was still drinking some shakes high in fructose, as well as Diet Colas. By April 1st, 2018 I had weaned myself off those and was full-on trying Keto.
Now, I get that Keto isn’t for everyone, and yes it’s gross at times, especially for a former vegetarian. I don’t eat beef, so that’s even harder for me at times. The book changed my mindset entirely though. I concentrated on lots of leafy green veggies, chicken breast, turkey, some pork (though not much), and a couple higher carb veggies like cauliflower and zucchini.
Over the course of the next several months, I consistently lost 2 pounds a week. The only exercise was mostly daily 15 minutes of yoga (more for the fibro pain than anything else), and the far-too-occasional dog walk.
Yes, I went through keto flu. Here’s what it looked like for me:
Terrible insomnia for about a week.
Terrible indigestion around 2-3am every night for about four or five days.
Terrible exhaustion (probably more from the insomnia than anything else) for about 5 days.
Then it was over. I used urine test strips for about 3 months to make sure I wasn’t shedding too many ketones, which indicates dehydration. I drank lots of water (about 150oz/day, since that was ½ my body weight in ounces), always with Mio Sport (or Mio Fit…it’s changed names). This is the Mio with Electrolytes. Before you comment, yes it’s not Strict Keto, Yes I know that. I’m super lucky that sucralose doesn’t trigger insulin release FOR ME. You might not be so lucky. Your cousin might not be so lucky. That’s the key and the magic of this. It’s all a grand experiment to figure out WHAT causes your body to release insulin, then don’t consume that.
Two big (huge!!!) insulin triggers for me are actually fructose and aspartame. I can get away with eating a fair amount of carbs a day now that I’m fat adapted (sometimes up to 50g net/day), and not trigger massive insulin release, unless I have a lot of fructose, or even a tiny amount of aspartame. It’s individual. Figure out what works for you.
I make a lot of my own foods, but I have pretty much a way to eat out at any restaurant. We even go to Mexican frequently. I’m never tempted, I never cheat (though I’ve been dosed with sugar and aspartame thanks to drive-thrus and sneaky manufacturers). I became an ingredient label detective. There are dozens of names that sugar, flour, and starches can show up as.
I even went to France for two weeks and didn’t cheat once. The desire isn’t there. I militantly protect myself from any possible scenario where I might end up making a choice I’d regret. For example, in France, I rented an apartment for two weeks, so I’d have a fully stocked kitchen and could cook my own meals. Sure we ate out here and there, but I was very diligent to make sure nothing sneaked in that would send me back to starting over with Keto Flu.
When I go to parties, I bring my own dessert, made with monkfruit and stevia, so I don’t ever feel left out or deprived. If I think I’ll have a gap between meals or my ability to find a Keto meal, I bring pepperoni sticks, cheese sticks, almonds, or quest bars (remember, I’m not strict Keto, I’m lazy/dirty keto for the most part). I carry Mio with electrolytes and Whole Earth Stevia/Monkfruit blend everywhere. I have stashes in my car, purse, office, friends’ and families’ houses…you name it. This is 99% preparation.
Yes, I’ve lost (as of this writing) 127.2 pounds. I dropped from size 26 (tight) to a size 10 (actually the bathing suit I just bought is an 8!!!). But…that’s seriously not the best part. My pain has dropped from crippling to a minor annoyance. I’m off the CPAP completely, my sleep apnea is gone. I can run up the stairs multiple times without gasping for breath. I can play on the floor with my grandbabies. My energy level has done a complete 180. My ability to focus has improved as well! I no longer have 3pm sleepy spells that require some carbs to recharge to make it through the last couple of hours of work. I am physically a different person, but also so much more.
Now. Is it all sunshine and roses? No. I’ll be upfront. There are some mental hurdles to overcome. Being so overweight was insulation for me, psychologically. I didn’t understand that until it was gone. Being so overweight is like an invisibility cloak, protection, and a shield all in one. When people look at you in some way, you can write it off as “It’s cause I’m fat.” When you aren’t fat and people look at you cross eyed…what was that about? What’s wrong with me? What did I do? It can be a massive shift, and unveil a lot of stuff you didn’t know needed addressing.
This is where having the right support system is HUGE. My therapist is amazing! I was working with her for a couple of years before I started Keto, and I just happened to luck out. She worked extensively with clients with anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders prior to helping me. She gives me great exercises to work towards mentally coming to terms with where my body is now, versus where my mental image is.
Another thing is that as I became smaller, I experienced a very scary feeling of vulnerability. There’s some past trauma I won’t get into, but the takeaway here is that (in my head), fat was insurance against re-experiencing that trauma. “I won’t be targeted,” was the underlying theme. Totally not in my awareness until it was gone, and I freaked out. Again…working through that with the therapist, through awareness and journaling, and with the help of my amazing life/productivity/executive coach.
I’ve been working with the world’s best physical therapist, who happens to also do personal training. I love that she both addresses the physical dysfunction causing the pain, but at the same time is moving me to an overall better physical place that reduces future flare ups. Dr. Amy is the best and if you are in the Charlotte area, you must check her out. I had to take a break with personal training while recovering from the cat-cussion, but that’s a post for a different day…
Problem: You are a free spirit, and the thought of routines gives you hives; but you are simultaneously a disaster in most areas of your life, and chaos is your middle name.
Solution: Suck it up and REALLY REALLY REALLY TRY routines (with checklists!)!!!
I constantly mocked an old boyfriend who was so rigid in his routines that he refused to bend them even slightly. My husband actually is a pretty big creature of habit, as well. I have to say, I spent many a day frustrated because he had to do something, and we couldn’t leave until it was done.
For my entire life, no two days were the same. I couldn’t ever be on the birth control pill because I could barely remember to brush my teeth consistently, let alone remember something so important. So, of course, the first 44 years of my life were chaotic. Actually, chaotic is probably an understatement. I thought it was because I was a “free spirit” and I needed less structure because “that’s just how I work best.” The truth is probably closer to: “I thought people who stuck to routines were rigid and boring.”
My husband probably has helped me see the benefit of doing the same general routine consistently as a good thing. Over the years I’ve read many (MANY) books and articles on organization, taming clutter, getting your shit together, or whatever you want to call it. I will (at some point) review some of those books here, as several address ADHD specifically.
So what finally clicked? Nothing. There wasn’t one thing. It was like a slow boil, coming to the realization that I actually NEED structure to even come close to my potential. I had to-do lists (oh BOY did I have to-do lists!!!) for many many years. I tried Franklin-Covey Planners, FLYLady binders, several to-do apps for Iphone and Ipad…nothing really stuck. I read lots of books, especially in the last year or two, on habit stacking, systems, compound effect, checklists, etc. It was more the combination of picking various things from this or that book, this or that webinar, this or that blog article…that I started to build 9and come to understand/love) routines. At no point did I say, “Today I’m going to build and work my routine,” or “You know, this is the day I might implement one of those systems things!” It just progressed organically over several months of observing, trying, and tweaking. And as it did, the love grew.
That’s not to say some sources of information weren’t more helpful than others. Early on, one of my colleagues in France took an entire hour to show me how he uses Microsoft OneNote to track everything from to-do lists, to meetings, to communication, to project details (which I still rely on a great deal). There was a PluralSight course that was incredibly helpful in the beginning (Time Management for Technical Professionals by Doru Catana). An article (long since lost) specifically on checklists was incredibly enlightening.
Many times I didn’t believe any of those interventions would work (this is a common theme in my life, btw). Instead I would approach it as “Let’s see what happens.” It was all a grand experiment! I certainly couldn’t do any worse than I currently was in failing to reach my potential! Some ideas I actively resisted, including routines. This was something I didn’t want to actually work. But, unfortunately routines really do work.
For me, forgetting to do minuscule things triggered incredible feelings of shame. This is hard to write, but I’ve learned since that this is common for ADHD people. A good example is if I got to the car and realized I had left the driveway lights on, I’d instantly slide into a place of shame. “I’m so fucking stupid I can’t even manage to remember to turn off the driveway lights! How freakin’ hard is it to remember? Every other person on this street can manage to remember, except me. What the hell is wrong with me?” All of that would race through my mind in the split second when I registered that the driveway lights were on, and debated going back into the house to turn them off or let them burn all day while I would be at work. What routines have given me is really what they have taken away: a lot of self-abuse. Now, I leave the house every morning and the driveway lights are off, because they are a checklist item on my morning routine. I don’t get out of the shower without washing my hair anymore because it’s a checklist item on my glass shower wall (in dry erase marker). Where I had to bring deodorant, toothpaste, and a toothbrush to work because I’d get to work only to realize I’d skipped any or all of those while getting ready in the morning, I’ve not had to use any of them now that I have routines.
Another thing to note is that my routines evolve and change all the time. I usually give myself a week or two trying a specific routine version before tweaking it. Also, accepting that sometimes the answer is that you just need to allocate more time for something is incredibly important. For almost 8 months, I left the house every morning frazzled, beating myself up, and having to skip major parts of my morning routine. “Why can’t I get this all done in 1 hour!?!?!?” I would wail as I peeled out of the driveway, late again. One day it finally dawned on me: “Maybe I just need more time?” Obvious, of course, but the obvious answer isn’t always accessible to the ADHD brain. Instead of thinking of myself as “WRONG” or “BAD” because I couldn’t make everything I needed to do fit into an arbitrary time range…I decided to accept that my “process” required two full hours. This was a lightbulb moment for me. Accepting that this is who I am right now in my life, and maybe it’ll change at some point, maybe it won’t, was HUGE.
Through the support of my amazing team: my amazing therapist (whom, probably, I’m supposed to not name. Though, she is seriously the best in Charlotte, NC!), the BEST physical therapist on the planet, the unbelievably supportive team at my fibro dr (special shout out to Latisha, one of the best cheerleaders on the planet!), the supportive staff at the hospital, my insanely supportive (and might I mention, forgiving!!!) family, the most patient boss in the world, and last, but not least, my executive/productivity/life coach, who has tied together all the various threads of my support team and kept me moving forward even when I couldn’t see the path…I have recovered. Scratch that. I’ve more than recovered. I’ve transformed. Prior to the Lyrica mess, things sucked, but I don’t think I realized how much. Yeah, I definitely didn’t realize it. I very much thought *I* was broken, damaged, wrong. But I couldn’t even conceptualize how to start to fix it all. There was so much to do, to fix, and I could barely tread water.
Many of the things I have implemented in the last 18 months since the trip to the hospital, (and many of the lessons I learned in the hospital), directly address ADHD symptoms, or at least, the emotional ramifications I feel like come from having ADHD (disappointing others, or myself, etc.). Several of my wonderful pit crew have suggested I share this info with others. At one point I described an ADHD intervention I implemented as my “Brainspanx, you know, like a support structure that holds in all my wobbly bits.” Thus, Brainspanx was born. I couldn’t have done this without all of the support of all these great professionals, (as well as my husband, my children, my family and friends), and come out on the other side so much healthier and happier without their knowledge-sharing and constant encouragement. When you read this blog, if I ever write “I,” translate that to mean “I, (with the help/backing/encouragement/guidance of many, many others who are far smarter than me).” Cause that’s the reality.
This blog is a love letter to them, and a life line from them to you (with a detour through my weird sense of humor). Some ideas came to me, sure. However, any of those ideas wouldn’t have entered my Adjacent Possible without all the information pulled in from my support systems, webinars, books, blogs, and articles, and even the college classes I ended up taking. Without encouragement to try some pretty silly things, nothing would have changed. In all honesty – and I do not feel like this is an exaggeration – I might not have survived the last two years at all.
I’m purposefully keeping most posts super short (hello, ADHD readers!), and give a TL;DR (too long; didn’t read) synopsis at the beginning of each main post. If you have time or interest, I’ll give additional details and some backstory where applicable.
At some point I started to have “pop ups” of wanting to die. I describe them as pop ups because I’d be bopping down the high way, listening to music, dancing in my seat, then suddenly think “I need to slit my throat.” WTF!?!?!? It was, to put it mildly, horrible. I thought I was losing my mind. Things began deteriorating rapidly. I felt crippling anxiety and depression. Constantly overwhelmed, stupid, and unable to do anything at all. At work, everything was a “big amorphous blob,” and I didn’t know where to start, what the goals were, or who to ask. At some point in the beginning of December, I arranged for my dogs to be taken care of by my brother, and I asked my ex-husband to take our son and the flaming narcissist exchange student for a couple of days. Then I drove myself to the emergency room and had myself committed. Other than the ex-husband, I didn’t tell anyone where I was going. In my mental state at that time only two things really stood out. I didn’t think anyone would notice I was gone, and I didn’t want to bother anyone. This, of course, made my family insane with worry (sorry, fam!).
Come to find out – in a very small portion of people – Lyrica does this. I was voluntarily committed for 5 days. They weaned me off the Lyrica and started me on anti-psychotic meds to combat the suicidal thoughts and hallucinations caused by the formerly wonder drug. These symptoms, it turned out, would take weeks to go away. I took a break from my ADHD meds, as a side effect is anxiety.
Then, under the care of my amazing therapist, I embarked on an extreme self-care regime to heal my mental state.
Problem: Noise is a huge distraction in your ability to focus and impedes your ability to finish (or start) work.
Solution: Invest in really good ACTIVE noise-cancelling over-the-ear headphones.
I wish I could recall the exact sequence of events that led to the wonderful discovery of the power of noise-cancelling headphones, but alas, the details escape me. It was something along the lines of this:
I kept complaining about how my coworker’s voice was so loud at work, that his voice carried through the wall of his office into my office, and distracted me all day long. It had gotten so bad, and so annoying, that when he took a call, I’d leave my office and go to the break room, which was really equally distracting with people coming in for coffee continuously.
During my reading on ADHD hacks, a mention of noise-cancelling headphones for children’s accommodations at school came up. I mentioned this to hubby.
Hubby got tired of me complaining, about the office neighbor, and during a sale on Woot.com, ordered me a pair of over-the-ear active noise-cancelling bluetooth headphones (~$70.00). He then helped me find really good instrumental music (lyrics are distracting), with a high tempo that keeps my dopamine pumping (we went with something called Indian PsyTrance).
When I tell you this small step was life changing, it is such a huge understatement. This was a GAME-CHANGER in my life. Coupled with shutting down email, setting phone and Skype to “do not disturb,” and several other steps which have become my “pre-game routine” for focusing, I have been able to break through my crippling inability to finish (and start) anything.
I loved them so much, and the results were so instantaneous, hubby bought me a second pair to keep at home for my college work. As a tangible measure of the difference: Prior to the headphones, I used to have to take a one-month extension every semester for at least one, usually both, classes. With the semester he gave them to me, I started finishing on time, and made the Dean’s list every semester. Had I had something like this during my formative school years…I’d have been unstoppable. Can someone invent a time machine, please?
If you are the parent of a child gifted with ADHD, noise-cancelling headphones should be the “first” next thing you try with your student. They can be written into their IEPs, and even added as an accommodation for testing (though you might not be able to have them use the Bluetooth with music….you should investigate that before you actually invest in a pair of headphones).