A few small victories over ADHD

It’s 2:36 on Tuesday afternoon. I’m sitting calmly in a coffee shop in Ann Arbor, thinking back over the last hour or so. It wasn’t pretty, but I think it might be helpful for some of the folks in my ADHD tribe to read about it, so here goes.

It’s about the emotional reguation piece. It’s about small victories over anger, feelings of overwhelm, frustration, hopelessness, etc. – all of those un-cool side effects that come along with the creative, curious, and constantly surprising ADHD brain.

The week started off badly.

I shattered the screen on my iPad. I’m experimenting with some green screen video editing and I’d set my iPad up on a stool to take some test footage. As I stepped back, it decided to do a belly-flop onto the basement floor. (Notice how I blame the inanimate object for its own destruction? Can any of y’all relate? Yep, I see the heads nodding…)

I handled that fairly well. I do have footage of me picking it up and saying a lot of nasty things – mostly anger and recrimination toward myself about breaking things – but I stopped it as soon as I noticed it. Small Victory #1 – stop the negative self-talk. I did some research online and found some local repair shops to check out on Monday.

But, that started the cascade.

Sunday night is when I make my plans for the week. So I started slogging through the backlog again to see what I wanted to tackle this week.

Mine looks like this:

 

Mind map 2016 0223

(A mind map is a very cool and helpful way of organizing the things in your head. Mine has sections for everything from “songs I want to learn” to “things to fix around the house” “TED talks I want to listen to” to “guitar lessons” to this week’s To-Do list.)

I started into it, but when I saw that I’d put 20+ items into “This Week”, I realized something was wrong. I stopped, looked for items that “must be done Monday”, then closed down the program. Small Victory #2 – knowing when you need to step back.

I spent about half an hour just playing guitar. It cleared my mind a bit. Small Victory #3 – remembering to take time to play.

There was more but this is getting to be a long post, so no details. But, between Sunday night and an hour ago, I:

  • lost all of the tasks that were in the mindmap
  • found out that my backup program doesn’t backup the /appdata folder – which is where the mindmap data lives
  • learned about the mind map’s internal Trash bin – which also didn’t have my data
  • found that the last 2 digital rips from my VHS tapes didn’t copy the audio tracks
  • had the tasks mysteriously reappear in the software (which I was hoping might happen)

Things were not looking good. The week was not off to a good start.

So, what happened earlier that prompted this post?

I started the day with a firm resolve to recover from the weekend and get the week planned. I mean, it’s only Tuesday, I can still save it, right?! I packed up my things and got myself to the coffee shop. About five minutes after I’d settled in, I got a phone call. A really good friend of mine was in a tight spot and needed some help. (I’m leaving out the specifics so their feelings won’t get hurt.)

Have you noticed ADHD-folk don’t take interruptions well?

I exploded. Inside my head, I mean, but I lost it. As I packed – looking perfectly calm and collected to the outside world – I fantasized about getting in my car and driving to Chicago to hide out for a week. Or Canada. Or heading to a local restaurant and pigging out on fat, greasy burgers loaded with bacon and cheese (my menu of self-destructive behaviors is evidently pretty tame). So, so dramatic!

So, I ran the errand. And it was magical. As I was doing it – seeing the appreciation on my friend’s face, experiencing the feeling that I’d done something helpful – all of my anger just vanished.

I got back in my car and sat there for about six or seven minutes, wondering what was going on. I even tried to recapture the anger, but it was impossible. And it seemed pointless. It was just so much additional negativity that I didn’t need.

I started up the car and headed to a different coffee shop thinking about this: some of the typical ADHD strategies had worked – taking a pause, stepping back, doing something else for a while – but the best one turned out to be this: doing something for someone else.

Not a bad lesson to learn.

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A Physical Dimension to Interruptions

Another interruption!

I was in the middle of writing some HTML/Javascript code for Lisa’s Christmas website when the phone rang. I answered and did my best to be polite and pay attention but I was aware the whole time that my mind was in a fog. I’m not going to say who it was or what they wanted because that is completely irrelevant. What is relevant is that this is the first time I’ve really paid attention to what was going on with me physically.

Some background: for a long time, I’ve been explosively angry when I was interrupted in the middle of something. I’ve done a pretty good job of  not just yelling into the phone, but I’ve done all sorts of other things:

  • after hanging up, I would sit and stare at the phone, waiting for the next interruption
  • I would not go back to what I was doing, I would just sit back and cross my arms and stare. What was the point of starting up when I was just going to get interrupted again?
  • at least once, I’ve thrown the phone (gently – I’m too aware of price to lose control completely) across the room and talked to it in very harsh terms

I’m aware that this is not uncommon among us ADD folks – at various intensities, of course. But today was the first time I really noticed the physical sensation.

It isn’t anger at all. It’s more like disorientation.

I was in a state of flow and I was yanked out of it. And I’m keenly aware that when I get started back up again, it won’t be “where I left off”, it’s going to be “part 2”. And that is never the same.

It was an actual physical sensation. A slight bit of dizziness, like walking out into the sun after being in the dark for a while. Or sitting up after laying down too long. I felt it in my head and I felt it in my stomach. It was unpleasant. I can see why I don’t want to experience that feeling often. I can also see why it makes me angry. But anger is a secondary response not a primary response.

Downstream, there are other considerations:

  • the ramp up time to get started again
  • things that might have been percolating in the back of my mind that are now lost
  • the pressure to handle whatever the call was about

And, on top of those, the guilt about feeling angry at the poor innocent person who had the nerve to interrupt me while I was working on something

There are a lot of levels to this, but I’m hoping that the realization that it isn’t really anger will help me handle it next time around.

I wonder how soon that will be…?