Monday, July 20, 2015

8 ideas for Time Management with ADD

One of the major challenges I have experienced with ADD symptoms is the impatience of others. For someone who perceives the passage of time it is impossible to understand what it is like for those of us who either have the cacophony of a thousand things happening at once or one single thing that eclipses all of time and space while we are engaged with it. 

I often joke that for me, "Time doesn't exist. There is light, there is dark. There are store hours." It's effectively true. When I sit down to write, everything else disappears and the only thing that pulls me out of my trance is the annoying sticking of my Delete key (I spilled beer on it a couple of months ago and it never fully recovered.)

When someone tries to get my attention while I am writing, I will often react in frustration and annoyance, because my thoughts are sweeping through my head with such speed that a moment's distraction can derail the entire article.

It is the same thing when I am trying to do my makeup, get dressed, wash dishes, have a phone conversation, jot down a grocery list... you name it, anything can interrupt a task to the point that I have no recollection of what I was just doing, but am left with the uncomfortable awareness that I have forgotten.

It's a huge pain in the ass, not just for me, but for my friends and family.

I have been reading a lot of articles on ADDitude in my ongoing search for solutions that will allow me to live a productive life that doesn't screw up everyone else's existence. Before I was diagnosed with ADD I put my symptoms down to being "the creative type." The Creative Type is expected to be disorganized, confused, discombobulated. Right? Right. So, being unable to be anything else, I tried to turn it into a badge of honour. "It's okay, Self," I would say when I missed yet another appointment, "this happens because you're a Creative Type."

And at first that sounded good. It helped me to build some self-esteem, because I had something to build it on. But the associated problems of never quite connecting properly with The Rest Of The World were messing up my life. I fell back into thinking myself unworthy, unfinished, unable, unready. I was trying so hard to just do the most basic things on time - wake up, get ready, go out... my friends would talk about waking up twenty minutes before work and getting there on time, and I was thinking, "How the hell do you even wake up in twenty minutes?!" Everyone was a god of time, and I was an ant of "Oooh, shiny!"

Trying to be like everyone else was a nightmare. It was like being a sloth in a community of egrets being scolded all the time for not flying right.

I fantasized about being rich. "If I had money I would hire a PA." A Personal Assistant would be able to remind me what I was doing while I was doing it, remind me of appointments, encourage me, keep me on task, make me lunch (I don't get hungry and often forget to eat when occupied with other tasks) and generally provide the walls that the house of my mind so desperately needed in order to define its own space. A personal assistant could do for me what other peoples' brains do for themselves.

But I was not rich, and not organized enough to be especially employable, and came to internalize the frustration I felt from others - "WHY can't you just be like everyone else?" I would scream at myself in my own head.

Strangely, the abuse didn't further my lofty goals of Getting Things Done.

It took years before I was diagnosed and prescribed medication to help guide my brain. The medication isn't working the way I gather it's supposed to, per se, but the dosage I am on makes the difference between being able to set alarms for myself and forgetting in the middle of setting alarms that I am currently setting an alarm.

So now I have begun to develop a list of Things That Work. I have to put a lot of time into getting and keeping myself somewhat organized - it takes me probably about a day out of each week to line things up, go over them repeatedly, and try to remember crucial appointments and details of the coming week. Here is what I am doing right now that appears to be helping:

  1. Repetition
    I have the calendar on my phone, the paper calendar on my wall, a rewritable calendar (that I admit I am not currently using) and a post-in between my computer monitors that says what I am doing today and what I am doing tomorrow. Admittedly, I go through a LOT of post-its, and this is bad for the planet, but I need hard copies of things because screens seem to glance off my brain even more than words on paper do, and I am triangulating what best works for me.
  2. Reinforcement
    I get all my appointments on cards to begin with. While looking at the cards, I add the appointments to the calendar on my phone. When I get home, I try to remember to look at my phone and add the same appointments to my paper calendar. I am very forgetful, so this doesn't always work, but gradually my capacity for recall is increasing, and I am forgetting fewer appointments.
  3. Checklists
    I make a LOT of checklists. In a single amble around my apartment I can come up with about a zillion things I believe I need to do right now oh my gods, so writing them all down, reviewing them, and removing the ridiculous expectations ("paint my room" will not fit into a day when I have literally anything else to do, and I have to recall that so I don't set myself up for defeat.) is the best tactic I have come up with so far.
  4. Forgiveness
    I have to remember that, just because someone else can do something, it doesn't mean I should be able to, too. I have to be kind to myself when I have not been able to accomplish the tasks on my list. celebrating my successes without punishing myself for my failures will over time create a more zen atmosphere and lower my anxiety, which will in turn increase my capacity. If I love me and am patient with me I will just keep on getting better!
  5. Setting the timer
    The timer on my phone is less effective than a PA, yes, but it is waaaay more affordable. A series of alarms and my use of the timer app has helped tremendously over the last week. I now set my phone timer for 7 minutes when I shower (I otherwise have a tendency to forget that I am showering, that I am doing so for a reason, that I have somewhere to go, that I do not have a rocket car to get me there with minutes but in fact will be taking a bus that only goes every half hour and takes a long time to get anywhere.) I set it for a LOT of things. I set my timer for laundry, dishes, the time I have allotted for gaming, the amount of time I will give myself to get dressed, etc. I set alarms for the time at which I need to put on my shoes, the time by which I need to be leaving to make it to the bus stop... if not for a series of alarms and timers going off I would probably be lying on the floor in my pajamas crying about how hard Adulting is right now.
  6. Padding the margins
    One of the drawbacks to having no real sense of time is not having a clue how long an activity will take me, even after having done said activity a zillion times. This is impossible for neurotypical people to understand, but is something I have no choice but to work with - I can't build with Lego I don't have, so I build with the Lego I do. One of the ways I screw up my scheduling is by thinking I can schedule things back-to-back, completely underestimating how long the bus ride will take, that I may need debriefing time or a coffee in-between, or that I even have to get from one place to another and do not as yet have access to a handy transporter pad. So. I have taken up padding my time. I try not to bite off more than I can chew. I try to leave buffer zones between items in my schedule. It is hard. I can't pack anywhere near as much into a single day as most folks, but if I try to be as efficient and effective with what I have rather than trying to work with capabilities I don't have, I will be a lot happier and more productive. So I try to think about how long a thing will take me, then add a span of time to each side of my estimate, then add an unnecessarily long gap between things, and so far it appears to be working.
  7. Self-care
    Self care is important. When others are impatient with me, I need to find patience for me within myself rather than internalizing their expectations. When I let the expectations of others effect me it makes all of my symptoms worse and triggers anxiety attacks. Sometimes I can only accomplish this by pulling away entirely from others and letting my mind wander for a bit. I have to let myself off the leash, but also set a timer for that so I know when to come back. Every time I let misunderstanding make me feel bad about myself doing my work gets a little harder. The heavier the load, though, the more important it is that I find a way to carry it. I am the only person who can love me enough to support me through learning these new skills, largely because I am the only person who has no choice but to stick with me through the work. ;) So I write myself affirmations, I buy me chocolate. I read articles by other persons with ADD to get a sense of solidarity. I am awesome, and powerful, and I can do this.
  8. Let go
    There are some things I simply cannot expect myself to be able to do at this time. If I set out two overarching weekly projects I may be able to complete one of them, and so maybe in order to keep myself inspired I should set out two and then choose one instead of expecting myself to complete both. Letting go is difficult when you feel an underlying sense of perpetually freefalling through all of the things you can't quite remember or finish. Neurotypical people will not be able to understand what my world is like without, perhaps, staying awake for several days straight then taking a ton of speed while several different TV shows play loudly in a room full of screens and five people dressed in blinking lights do impromptu interpretive dance to soundtracks playing only in their own heads. If I could set this kind of thing up to inspire empathy I would, but I fear the high risk of successful lawsuits. Given that nobody is going to be able to understand my challenges, I have to find a way to let the feeling of isolation go. Either I ignore the pressures and progress at my pace, or I fall back in defeat and cease to grow. The rapids of external expectation are difficult to navigate, but if I want to get anywhere at all I have to be satisfied with progress that seems slow to others. This is my work, and I can't rush it.
The last year of my life has brought me a lot of hope. I understand my difficulties much better now and have begun deprogramming the internalized negativity that has built up over the last 30 years or so. As I work to untangle the knots of trauma underlying my symptoms, so I have to work to best use what resources I have to greatest effect. The top-down effect of working with my symptoms and the ground-up work of targeting their causes are a daunting combination of tasks, but I am giving myself grace to work at my pace, backslide, try new things and succeed, try new things and learn that they don't work, and meet my own needs as I go. I don't think I'm going to fly through this process, but if I do that will be wonderful.

Every day is a new opportunity to find out what I can accomplish and accept where I am at. I am working hard, and trusting myself, and taking one step at a time, and I am not going to look back except to see how far I have come and celebrate my accomplishments.

I can do this.

The origin story

So here we are.

I am embarking on a new adventure chronicling my learning and treatment journey through being an adult with ADD, anxiety and depression. Over the past few months I have been learning increasingly about myself and how my brain works, and have focused on trauma as a possible source of all of my symptoms. I will go into that backstory later, but for now, that context is enough to explain where I will be coming from with this blog, and it's anybody's guess where it will go to.

A little about me:

I am a 37-year-old white cisgendered woman (I mention this to frame my journey within my myriad privileges) with a "history of depression and anxiety," not to mention a history of being totally awesome. I was diagnosed with ADD last December (2014) after a couple of years speculating about the origins of my symptoms.

Several more-interesting-than-average things have occurred in my life to date. That is to say, "interesting" as in "May you live in interesting times.", ie: traumas. These go back quite a ways, to the point that I can't recall whether I was ever neurotypical despite having many clear memories of being five years old. I am currently working on the assumption that I once was, and that for me, my symptoms began with trauma.

"But, Otherkin," [not my real name, obviously. My folks are much nicer than that] you may be wondering, "Where did you get that idea?"

A few months ago I was in a counseling session when my therapist expressed, as an aside during a conversation about my difficulties at that time, that "often the symptoms of ADD are actually undiagnosed trauma." That stuck out for me, because a lot of the negatives in my life (diagnoses, negative experiences, failures) have made me feel utterly helpless. Having atypical neurology is invisible, and peoples expectations tend to reflect their own abilities. This can make life overwhelmingly frustrating for those of us whose brains do very different things. The expectations of others, and my inability to meet those, cause me anxiety that can lead to depression. Hearing that there was a possible identifiable cause was the first glimmer of hope that there might also be a cure. I want a cure.

Now, I am speaking only from my own context here. It is important to note that atypical neurology can be as much a thing to be respected and valued as to be railed against. Atypical neurology can be like a whole other set of superpowers - there are advantages, even for me. For instance, I can think incredibly quickly through possible outcomes of situations when I am not feeling emotional about them. It has often annoyed friends that by the time I ask for advice it's because I've thought through every option I can see, and suggestions are often met with an impatient, "No, I have considered that already, and it won't work because X. I am asking for new ideas." Not knowing which outcomes I've already explored in my head leaves other people at a loss when trying to present me with new avenues. One of my self-work action items is to learn patience with others as I need them to treat me with patience.

The advantages of having my own set of superpowers, however, are insufficient when compared with the advantages I see neurotypical people utilizing daily. If you are neurotypical, there is a good chance you can have a conversation in a room with multiple conversations happening. I can try, but the crossed streams of audio bombarding me from every direction confuse me tremendously. Even if there is art on the walls where we are, or the floor is intricate, or there are people walking by the window, my attention can slip from my current interaction to other sights or sounds and I easily lose the thread of what is being said to me. This is not due to a lack of interest, but due to sensory inundation.

This is not something within my control, and has often led to people asking me if I have hearing loss, as it appears that I can't hear what they are saying. The reality is that I often can't parse conversations held in proximity to distractions because it's as though I am trying to make out minute details of twelve songs that are being played simultaneously and the volume is fluctuating on all of them. A combination of stimuli is overwhelming to me.

It took a long time before I was able to understand why I couldn't do what other people could do. I believed I was lazy. I believed I was broken somehow but could not understand what was wrong with me - I pictured myself as a machine what would go "Whirrrrrrr" at the push of a button, yet produce nothing. If it wasn't for the friends and acquaintances who themselves had ADD/ADHD and suggested to me that I might be experiencing the same thing, I never would have asked my doctor to look into it, and I would still be disconsolately sitting in one place wondering what the hell was wrong with me and hating myself for my perceived ineptitude.

This being a blog written by an adult with ADD, you'll simply have to forgive the narrative meandering that is sure to occur. I could probably spend more time on editing, but I also have a real life to attend to, and while I can hyperfocus on writing or reading, I can't hyperfocus on editing my own work: There is too much re-reading and jumping around, and I feel like I am trying to hang on to the back of a bullet train by my fingertips. To get back to the point of this post, once my interest was piqued in the possibility of curing myself, I headed to the library and found some books that I thought sounded promising.The first one I read was "The Trauma Spectrum: Hidden Wounds and Human Resiliency" by Robert Scaer, a neurologist who spends a good deal of the book describing how trauma changes the brain. According to his book, it is entirely possible for trauma to cause multiple physical symptoms - anything from IBS to whiplash, he says, could be a trauma response. 

Every symptom that has felt like an invisible wall between me and the rest of the world may be the result of traumas that I have experienced. Every one of them was listed in his book as being a symptom of trauma. ADD, anxiety, depression... in me, these could all stem from the same source. 

My "general anxiety disorder" may be the result of a process termed "kindling", wherein the initial trauma causes hypersensitivity to anything looking like the original trauma. Trauma begets "smaller" trauma like a ripple in a pond, resulting in anxiety reactions to less and less directly-related stimuli until, over time, one feels a general sense of unease permeating daily life. I identified with this especially. 

Going over my own memories of my life, testing them against his hypothesis, I could see a pattern stemming from my own original traumas. Much of what he presented resonated with me, and the implications of neuroplasticity in terms of healing potential have inspired me to continue learning. 

I am now working my way through The PTSD Workbook and am finding it helpful. This blog will chronicle my process. I don't know where this is going to go, as I said, but this is where it begins.

Thanks for reading.