There is a blank space
where my memory should be,
my brain replaced with
the whistling wind and a vague
feeling of misplaced purpose.
Today’s Tanka Thursday prompt was “forget.” Something I do all too often.
In this series, I’ve talked about my history with ADHD, how it’s affected my creative process, and how it’s affected my life on a larger scale. What I haven’t talked much about is how I deal with it.
Before I begin, let me add a disclaimer: I’ve never gone through therapy and I don’t have any formal schooling in the field. The coping mechanisms I will list here are not rooted in scientific theory. They are simply things I’ve developed over the years to help manage my ADHD. If you’re looking for honest to goodness, peer-reviewed strategies…you may be in the wrong place.
If you’re up for a little amateur advice, though, read on!
Technology is amazing, isn’t it? No longer do writers have to put pen or pencil to paper. Neither do we have to crack open a dozen books to research one topic; Google does it for us.
Unfortunately, technology also comes with distractions, and if you’re like me, you probably spend more time on social media than you do writing. It’s too easy to click away from the Word document and check Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and TikTok…
You get the idea.
There are some methods one can try to minimize distractions. Put your device on airplane mode so you can’t access the Internet. Use an older device that cannot connect to the Internet and is meant only for writing. This may even help you “get in the mood” if you associate something with productivity.
As for me, I went a little old school. I brave the cramps in my wrist and fingers and put pen to paper. It really helps. The extra tasks of holding the utensil and physically writing engages my brain and I’m able to focus on the words. When I write, I keep my laptop and phone out of arm’s reach so I have to work harder to check social media. In this case, executive dysfunction is good.
Thus far, I’ve written over 6,000 words of my novel and numerous poems by hand. And I feel damn good about it.
I also bought an iPad with an Apple Pencil to write with. I can’t tell you how much I love it. I write most of my poetry this way now. Of course, there is a risk of me falling into old habits, but so far, it hasn’t been an issue.
I’ve heard a lot of conflicting reports about music. Some people say it helps them focus on a task, others say it hinders them. I can go either way depending on how deep I am in the ADHD trenches. When it comes to writing, certain genres of music help better than others; I suggest classical or instrumental music so as not to get lost in the lyrics. If you’re a fantasy writer, I especially recommend Yanni and David Arkenstone. Their work is very atmospheric and perfect for out-of-this-world stories.
When executive dysfunction kicks me down, it helps if I make a to- do list. And then a list for that list. And a list for that one. Again, it depends on the day. Sometimes something simple like “clean the bathroom, wash the dishes, fold laundry, call the dentist” is enough. Other times, I have to break each task into smaller steps.
So on and so forth ad infinitum. It’s still a lot to do but thinking about it this way makes it feel more manageable. Each item crossed off is a small win.
This coping mechanism goes hand-in-hand with making lists. On a bad day, I will set a timer and write or clean or fold laundry or whatever I need to do for a set amount of time. When the timer goes off, if I feel I can, I continue. If I can’t, I reward myself with some small thing and then get right back to it. The whole idea is to make things less overwhelming so my brain doesn’t nope out before I can even gain any traction.
I’m super excited to talk about this concept as I was today years old when I learned there’s a term for what I’ve been doing for years.
This doesn’t pertain to writing in the slightest, but it is something I’ve found helpful in other areas of my life, especially when it comes to cleaning.
The term was coined by a Tumblr user with ADHD who, like so many of us, had trouble sticking to one task. They found a workaround: A cleaning strategy based on the way June bugs fight to get through window screens. They climb all around, looking for different points of entry. Junebugging works in a similar way.
This is often what it looks like for me: I pick a task, usually in the kitchen as it’s always the messiest room in the house. I start organizing the dishes by the sink (because I like to wash them in a specific order). I glance towards the dining room and notice dirty dishes on the table. I collect them and bring them to the sink. I begin to wash dishes. I stop to go to the bathroom and while I’m in there, I notice a few things that belong in other rooms. I gather them and take them where they need to go. I find garbage and bring it to the kitchen to throw away. I see the dishes I was in the midst of washing and return to that task.
The point is to let yourself wander, to lean into the madness, but to always return to your original task. It’s not the most efficient method, no, but it does mean I’m getting stuff done and not wallowing in executive dysfunction.
This has been a hard for me, especially since I’m fairly new to learning about ADHD even though I was diagnosed 27 years ago. I just have to keep telling myself I’m not lazy, I’m not making excuses. My brain is simply wired in a way that makes mountains out of mole hills. The best thing I can do for myself, the best thing any of us can do, is accept it and then learn from it. We must advocate for ourselves. And we must learn how to be kind to ourselves.
And what about you? If you have ADHD, what coping mechanisms do you swear by?
I want to say thank you for coming on this journey with me. I appreciate everyone who dropped a like or left a comment. I’m proud of this little project and I hope it was informative and helpful to other people who have ADHD. At the very least, I hope it gave some a sense of solidarity.
I’ve always wondered
what neurotypical looks like.
Let’s compare brains.
You go first.
Cut off my hair,
peel back my scalp;
what do you see?
Is my brain sectioned
or does Henry VIII waltz
What does it
Are the walls pink-grey
or splattered with glitter?
How does it feel?
Do the folds vibrate?
Or is it my legs
which cannot hold still?
Detach my brain
from its stem.
This doesn’t hurt
you see, I’m
for the reprieve.
Thousands of things
and my brain wants
to know all of them.
Next time you see me
in a restaurant,
lower your voice
or all your secrets
will go home
Cradle my brain
Is it heavy?
It should be.
It’s full of
Hold it to your ear
like a conch shell–
Can you hear the ocean?
Oh, it’s singing a
90s commercial jingle on loop?
Sorry, it does that
Put my brain back.
Stitch me up.
Find me a wig.
Tell me everything!
My brain looks
like a normal brain?
Look once more.
There must be something
I’m getting tired
what were we talking about
This third post is going to be a little more serious, a little more personal. ADHD doesn’t only affect my creativity, it affects everything. It makes it hard to maintain relationships. I struggle to complete daily household chores and other errands. ADHD even affects my ability to hold down a job (fun fact: I was nearly fired twice from my last job for poor attendance).
Even making a simple phone call feels like a Herculean task some days. If I remember to make it at all.
Here’s another fun fact: I had no idea that ADHD could affect so many aspects of my life until last year. I always thought I was just lazy. Is it silly of me to resent my parents for not getting me support when I was a child? I can’t lie and say it doesn’t sting. Okay, so my dad didn’t want me to be medicated–fine. There were/are other therapies they could have pursued.
But as someone once said to me, I am the quintessential middle child. My older sister is 10.5 years older than I and was wild. My younger sister is autistic. I reckon my parents didn’t have a lot of time for me.
As ADHD is like an invasive species of ivy grasping at everything it can, it’s hard to parse how it’s had the biggest effect on me. I’ve given it a fair bit of thought, though, and I think I’ve come up with the answer.
How familiar are you with Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria? The people over at ADDitude describe it like this: “Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD) is extreme emotional sensitivity and pain triggered by the perception that a person has been rejected or criticized by important people in their life. It may also be triggered by a sense of falling short—failing to meet their own high standards or others’ expectations.”
When I first read up on RSD, so much of my life made sense. I often assume I annoy people with just my presence. I often hold a lot of myself back from fear of being rejected or misunderstood. I am very quick to anger if I perceive rejection. And I anticipate rejection everywhere.
All this has culminated into an isolated, lonely life, as I struggle to form and maintain friendships. It’s also meant a lot of false starts and dropped projects–if I’m not immediately successful at something, I ask myself, why bother?
That’s the point I’m at now. I had high hopes of being successful on this blog and my Patreon and being a published writer, but so far things aren’t going as I wanted them to, and I’m struggling with feelings of hopelessness and wanting to give up. It’s taken all my mental energy the last few days to not delete my blogs and social media accounts and slither back into obscurity.
Realistically, I know that would be a silly thing to do. I have had some success: I’ve landed a few editing gigs, I’m gaining traction on this blog, and I’ve had a few of my poems published already with more to come. But it doesn’t feel like enough for my ADHD brain to be satisfied.
I said once I don’t think I’d ever seek treatment because, at my age, I’m set in my ways and resistant to medication. But over the weeks of writing up these posts, I’ve started to think differently. I may seek out treatment, after all. I’m sick of feeling this way.
In the first post of this series, I wrote a little of my history with ADHD and why I chose to write about my experience with it. Today, I’d like to write about how ADHD has affected my creativity.
Of course, ADHD isn’t the only thing to blame for my lack of progress in, well, anything. I also suffer from mental illnesses like depression and anxiety, which always seem to be at war with each other. Depression likes to tell me I’m not good enough of a writer to be successful, whereas anxiety is always harping at me that I’m not doing enough.
The “good” thing about mental illnesses is that they are cyclical. Some downs last longer than others, but the wheel always turns over eventually. ADHD, on the other hand, is constant. There are no ups and downs, especially not for people, like me, who are unmedicated. ADHD just is.
I’m in a really great place right now with my mental health, but even so, I’m struggling to remain focused and motivated because I still have to contend with ADHD.
I want to talk a little bit about what ADHD is–for me. ADHD, like most things, is a spectrum and we don’t all experience it the same way. ADHD is also fluid. When I was younger, I embodied the “hyperactivity” aspect of it. As an adult, much of that hyperactivity is gone, but that doesn’t mean my ADHD has gone. The hole hyperactivity left behind was filled with something else.
So often, I see people refer to ADHD as a “superpower.” Of course, this usually comes from neurotypical people who have no clue. Yes, my brain may be moving at the speed of light, but that doesn’t mean it lends itself to creative output. More often than not, it hinders it. My brain isn’t just thinking about art, it’s thinking about all the things, all the time.
This is typically where executive dysfunction kicks in the door like the Kool-Aid man. I have a long laundry list of things I’d like to accomplish every day. Cleaning, writing, errands, reading, phone calls, et cetera. Because of ADHD, I struggle to prioritize things, and because I can’t prioritize things, I can never choose something to focus on. So I wind up doing nothing.
And even when I am able to finally settle on something, ADHD still works against me. I get easily distracted and often lose my train of thought. Prime example: it’s taking me twice as long to write this post as it should because my cat has been noisily licking himself and my brain is choosing to focus on that instead.
Have I mentioned that sensory overload is a big component of ADHD? No? Well, I’m mentioning it now.
I also struggle to keep myself motivated throughout tasks. If my interest-based brain doesn’t see any real value in whatever task I’m doing, it quickly, well, loses interest. Even with writing, one of my greatest passions. The payout for writing seems so far out into the future, I often ask myself why I even bother.
But that could be depression talking again. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference; there tends to be a lot of overlap.
This is something fun I wrote last night. It was meant to be a serious poem but I lost focus halfway through and it became this. I feel it’s a perfect embodiment of ADHD.
Side note: Richard Siken is one of my favorite poets.
Richard Siken speaks often
of cutting off his head;
I think I might too.
Maybe I could trade it
try on new brains
like I try on clothes.
Who do I want to be
Let’s see how neurotypical fits.
What is it like to not
be at war
To be able to hold
mine are as slippery
as a Minnesota winter.
At least on the floor, my
brain can feed the rats; the
only thing it feeds me is
song lyrics on loop while
I forget, again, to call my
dentist, to pay overdue bills,
to take blood pressue meds–
oh, shit, I left the stove on.
I was diagnosed with ADHD when I was four years old. Now they typically wait to diagnose children until they’re school age, but in the early ’90s, early diagnoses seemed to be the norm. I definitely had the hyperactivity aspect of it down pat, at least. They were right, though. I’ll turn thirty-one this June and, though I’m not as hyperactive as I used to be, I certainly suffer from many of the other symptoms of ADHD.
The list goes on and on.
My parents told me about my diagnosis when I was in middle school. I don’t know why they waited until then. My dad never wanted me to be medicated, so I’ve been flying solo my whole life. Now it’s just something I’ve learned to live with. I do often wonder what life would be like if I had been medicated. What could my life be like now if I hadn’t had to fight against my own brain for so long?
If I wasn’t still fighting against it every day?
I know I could seek medication and therapy if I wanted to, but growing up with my dad’s aversion to medicine has rubbed off on me. I won’t even take acetaminophen or ibuprofen for a headache unless it’s really bad.
I’m an old geezer and I’m stuck in my ways.
As a teenager and young adult, I never paid any attention to my diagnosis. It wasn’t “a big deal.” It’s only been within the last couple years that I’ve been interested in learning more about ADHD, and I’ve started to be move vocal about my neurodivergence.
Growing up, I thought I was just weird, and I never wanted to speak out about some of the things I did or thought or felt–I was afraid of being judged. Now, I’m not so afraid. Hence, this post, and any subsequent ones that come along.
“ADHD & Writing” will be a short series about what I’ve learned about ADHD and how it’s affected my life. It’s had an especially large impact on my motivation, which is probably why I’m pushing thirty-one and only seriously pursuing a career in writing now. I’m only just beginning to realize how much of my life ADHD has stolen from me, and, honestly, I’m a little offended.