I think I’ve said this in a few blogs lately but I’ve been having a bit of a rough time. Still mostly humming along but feeling out of sorts and haven’t yet found or made much time for self-care. It seems like each day is wall-to-wall things I need to do with no wiggle room.
There are times in the life of someone with ADHD when this state of being persists for years or decades. Luckily this is not the case for me. I mention this only because, when that is the case, something big needs to change in order for anything to shift.
What I’m talking about today is more short-term interventions, things to get us through temporarily tough times.
My tough times are often caused by too much of something, usually work or rest. It’s true what they say: too much of a good thing. Lately, I think I’ve encountered one of my first experiences with over socialization. This is an unfamiliar sensation as I am a very social person, despite being quite introverted.
A lot of the things I do to help myself when I’m stuck in this state are inspired by or similar to the “Everything’s Awful and I’m Not OK” list and the How to ADHD’s video version. The main theme is about changing something, anything, even if it’s small, in the moment. Because continuing how we are will only result in more of the same.
Here’s what I do when I’m not ok.
Wait! Before you skip to the next item, let me explain. A lot of my struggle with ADHD is about motivation. I don’t feel like doing things. When I’m not ok, I try and skip that. I just say to myself “Ok, I don’t truly believe and am not motivated by the fact that I need to go to sleep now. I don’t want to and that’s all that feels real right now. So I’m going to blindly trust in the logic that I really do need to go to sleep now.”
It’s a little like being your own parent. The adults in charge of children aren’t always able or willing to explain their decision making. The children simply trust (hopefully) that what the parent says is necessary. Sometimes it’s because the child has no choice. That’s a little how I felt last night. I didn’t give myself the option to stay up; it was bedtime. Now, it doesn’t always work and it’s definitely not something I can do often in a day, but it was the only reason I went to bed at 20 mins past my bedtime last night instead of an hour.
When the balance of my life has been thrown way off, it feels like whatever mode I’m in, rest or work, is all there is, was, or ever will be. So I sometimes squeeze in just ten minutes of the other thing. If I’m exhausted and don’t feel like doing anything (because I’ve over rested) I try and do just ten minutes of something productive. If my head is spinning and I feel like I haven’t sat down in days, I take ten minutes to rest or have fun. Once again, it’s about breaking the cycle.
I keep a very rigorous calendar. I slip up once in a while, but for the most part, everything I’ve committed to doing at a specific time goes on the calendar. This includes meals because I found myself scheduling things so back-to-back at one time that I’d just forget that time to prepare and eat food needed to happen. Now meals are recurring events in my calendar and when I have to change mealtimes, at least the event is there to shift and still takes up space, defending that self-care.
So when I find myself in a cycle of too much of something, I look ahead to a break in the chaos. If I’m super busy I look to the times when I’ll be able to decompress and relax. If I’m stuck in a cycle of avoidance, I look ahead to a time when I will see someone who will be able to body double me. Or I reach out and ask if someone is available to help me in that way. This helps give me hope that the way I feel now will have an endpoint.
This too shall pass
It doesn’t often feel that way at the time, but I find a lot of comfort in once again blindly trusting that things won’t be like they are now, forever. I don’t think I can effectively describe the feeling I mean. It’s like the same trust I have that the seasons will change or the sun will rise. I have no emotional reason to know, in my bones, that this is the case. So I have faith. I can’t prove it, least of all to myself, but I just go with it. And the more times I’m proven right, the easier it is - or rather, more possible - to have faith the next time.
Resist the automatic impulse
We all have habits of behavior, even if we don’t know it. All of us have things we just naturally do in response to certain events and stimuli. We develop these techniques in order to survive. This, unfortunately, doesn’t mean that they are healthy or helpful. I know that when I’m not feeling the best, I tend to withdraw. So if I’ve gone a while without seeing anyone socially (I’m coaching frequently, but this isn’t the same connection as a personal friendship and it would be inappropriate and unprofessional of me to expect otherwise) I try and reach out to make that happen.
Likewise, if someone has a tendency to surround themselves with people to avoid feeling down, in order to restore balance, they may need to put up with the discomfort of being alone. The automatic impulse is what we do the most because it’s the easiest and when we aren’t at our best we do not want to expend extra energy. But again, that will only result in more of the same. We need to break out of the cycle.
Giving permission to do something fun
I think it’s a mistake to consider procrastination as work time. This may seem obvious but how many times has someone with ADHD said: “I can’t do something fun or take a break, I haven’t gotten anything done yet!” I’m very guilty of this faulty thinking. I believe, and I’m trying hard to change that belief, that rest and fun are “earned” with work, and furthermore, if the work was enjoyable then it doesn’t count. This is nonsense. The body and mind need rest when they need rest, and don’t care how much or little work actually got done.
So when I know I’m struggling to do something, anything, productive, I try and give myself permission to do the enjoyable thing. It doesn’t really matter what this is because it’s really about breaking the pattern of inertia. My favorite task for this technique is something that I love to do but is also technically getting something accomplished. Playing Minecraft is fun but I don’t really have anything tangible to show for it after. Preparing to run Dungeons and Dragons, on the other hand, is something I am committed to other people to do, and it’s often more fun and easier than my actual work.
So whatever it takes to break that cycle of unhappiness, do that. These are just some suggestions that work for me. And as always, if someone is really stuck and can’t figure out how to get themselves out of a cycle alone, I would always strongly urge them to reach out and seek professional help.
What helps you break negative cycles?