On this blog, sometimes I deal with the details of living with ADHD. My blog about the ADHD bully for instance. Today I want to again address something wider and more fundamental. You can find the first 6 principles here.
The following is what I might expound on to someone who told me they were newly diagnosed with, or were secure in their personal knowledge that they have ADHD, or challenges with executive dysfunction, and wanted to really get their life together and stop suffering. Or rather it’s what I would want to say, but because it would be verbal, I’d probably do it in four times the words and ten times the tangents.
Nothing in this blog post will apply to absolutely everyone, nor will it cure the way anyone’s brain wired (and when phrased like that, would you really want to cure the way in which you exist?), but I have found them to be nearly universal. This is also by no means an exhaustive list.
So, what are some fundamental tools, concepts, and principles I’ve gathered for effective ADHD/EF management?
1. Know what you literally cannot or will not do, no matter how hard you try or how important it is
...and plan accordingly. I always try and live in hope that all situations can improve and all skills can be strengthened. Sometimes, however, there are just things that won’t. I recently overhauled my diet unrecognizably. It isn’t that I can’t eat cane sugar and wheat, it’s just that when I do, I feel terrible and I’m less productive. So I’ve planned around this.
Any time I’m invited out to dinner, I make it clear I’d be thrilled to join my loved one at the meal, but I have this restricted diet, and if that fact would interfere with anyone’s enjoyment because they really wanted to go to a restaurant that has no food I eat, I am more than willing to be absent so they can have that choice. I uphold my own boundaries around what I eat and, to the best of my ability, communicate that I will not feel left out or upset if they go without me to eat somewhere. In fact I’d be much happier that way because I would hate to feel someone was restricting their own fun for my way of eating. I make the choice so the sacrifice to make is mine, not theirs.
Lots of people already accommodate others when they have a physical inability or ailment. Wheelchairs and peanut allergies are common examples of this. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect the entire world to shift for us. What I do believe and advocate is to take the situation into our own hands, do some research and work, and actively create a situation to accommodate ourselves. If my loved one says they definitely want me at the outing and would be glad to choose a place where I can find food, I then do the research into what restaurant fits that description. Not least because how could I expect anyone else to know exactly what I am and am not eating?
One of the most paradigm shifting ideas I absorbed during ADHD coach training was that fun isn’t optional for people with ADHD. They talked about it, and expected us to talk about it, in the same context as food, shelter, and sleep. I didn’t include it in the basic needs category because I wanted to highlight its importance. So much of our culture seems to feel that fun is what happens after the Truly Important Things are over. If you work hard enough and get enough produced, then you might deserve some fun. This is backward to how I was taught to think about fun in an ADHD person’s life.
This is something I watch my clients struggle with and I am struggling right along with them. There’s always that voice in our heads, it seems, that is telling us that fun isn’t a priority or an essential, it’s a luxury. The problem with listening to that voice is when an ADHD person doesn’t have fun, they will seek out fun anyway, sometimes in very detrimental ways. My brain’s default is food. I eat my fun if left without it for too long. And while I don’t eat a whole bag of chips by myself anymore, you can still eat too many pickles and olives and dark chocolate covered almonds. To say nothing of how much more expensive it is to stuff oneself with dark chocolate rather than chips.
But I digress.
Fun is as essential to fundamental ADHD management as sleep.
3. Have a support team
In my opinion, the most important thing to remember about this item is that a support team doesn’t have to be 100% human. Pets are just as valid team members as a doctor or therapist. Or how about the birds who come to a bird feeder outside a window? Or even the plants in a windowsill or garden? Any living being who contributes to our complete wellness is on our support team.
My support team includes: medical doctor, spouse, immediate family, ADHD coach, massage therapist, foot care specialist, osteopath, chiropractor, ADHD friends, geeky friends, my parents’ pets, and my pet. All of these beings contribute to my wellness in a vital and irreplaceable way.
My extended family are missing from this list only because I’m currently unable to drive to visit them nearly as often as I’d like. Hopefully that will change in the future.
4. Learn to differentiate between advice from a source that understands ADHD and one that does not
When those of us with ADHD look for information or advice on a problem we are experiencing, we will very likely find an overwhelming amount on the internet, at a library, or from the brains of people we consult. Learning to go to the sources that have tailored their information and advice specifically for ADHD is essential for saving time and frustration.
Some things might work for a lot of people, but not for ADHD brains. The chance of the advice being helpful to us is much higher when it comes from a source that understands the way ADHD struggles with things. Wading through a sea of endless articles of advice with a low chance of being useful for us just sucks.
5. Routines and essential objects
A lot of ADHD individuals have a complex relationship with routine as a concept. Most of us have an intense resistance to even trying to establish something that happens regularly and on a schedule. It seems like death would be preferable. And if someone’s life is working to their satisfaction without routine, great!
If, on the other hand, it isn’t working to their satisfaction, a routine might be a way to combat the chaos. Here’s ADDitude Magazine’s download for the ADHD adult’s daily routine and here’s How to ADHD’s guide.
My personal daily routine is pretty complex. It has four parts (morning, after exercise, afternoon, and evening), each has 15-20 items, each part has a specific time it takes place in, and all told it takes a minimum of 5 hours, including exercise. This would not be helpful for the vast majority of people with ADHD, I’m fairly certain. And figuring out what could work for each of us can be a huge challenge.
I only began building my routine a few years ago, it’s changed constantly since then, and I’m pretty sure it will be in a constant state of change indefinitely. Very little in life is perfectly stable when you get right down to it. Even the seasons changing is a permanent flux in my routines!
A client of mine has each item of her routine written on a card, pinned to a board. I thought this method was brilliant, because it has that built-in changeability. If you stop doing something or need to add something, it’s as easy as making a new card.
Another aspect of routine is knowing where our important things are at all times. The rule of thumb tends to be that you have only one location for anything. If you have more than one place to put something, then it becomes less clear where anything is and more places to have to look when you don’t have it. Things like keys, phone, wallet, medication, and anything else we need to access regularly.
6. Supportive people
People who specifically lend us their support are an important part of an ADHD support team. Additionally, anyone we choose to socialize with on a regular basis almost without exception has an enormous impact on us, no matter who we are. I’ve read a few times that we are the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with. When I first read this it scared me a little, because those 5 people, for me, at that time, were not living the kind of life I wanted to live.
I feel it is essential to surround ourselves with people who understand and support our goals. For fundamental ADHD management, they need to be sensitive to our uniqueness without having an attitude of total relinquishing of responsibilities. None of us with ADHD chose to be the way we are, and yet we are what we are, which means who we are and what we do is still our responsibility. Denying that or shying away from what is in our control as individuals has never moved me forward in life. It’s only ever dragged me backward.
What are some basic principles of your ADHD management?