Saturday, November 30, 2013

ADHD Coping Tools: Record Keeping and Concentration

I have been "keeping track of things" since I was a little kid.

I always used to think that it was merely something to help me because I seemed to have a pathetically poor memory. Ideas would come into my head; I might act on them and then have forgotten everything, 10 minutes later. As I learned more about psychology, it occurred to me that my desire to "keep track" of everything might not be memory related, but instead signs of OCD.

And yet?

I really wasn't "recording things" because I felt any kind of obsession, but because it helped me keep track of things; in a sense, the recording served as "place holders" that allowed me to be somewhat functional in life.

All these years later, I still "keep track" of a lot of things. As I have come to embrace the idea that this "thing" that causes me to lose my place so easily is not "poor memory," I have also come to understand that there are "tools" I have been using for most of my life... and whereas they may seem "weird" or "OCD-ish" to some, they are actually helping me.

So what exactly does "recording" what I do, in the course of a day, do to help me? It helps me restart abandoned projects where I left off, rather than leaving me to fumble around to figure out my "place." It helps me "manage" my efforts to keep 4-5 "project lines" running, side by side, without getting overwhelmed.

Yes, I do "lose some time" because it takes time to write things down, in addition to doing them, but it is not a major issue for me. The bottom line... recording things allow me to create some "illusion" that I am able to concentrate my efforts.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Being a Highly Sensitive Person with ADHD

I am a Highly Sensitive Person (or HSP).

And I am an HSP with ADHD.

Lots of HSPs are afflicted with ADHD, but for several years now I have been pondering the overlaps and connections. Being an HSP is not a "diagnosis," it simply means you have an inborn genetic trait; your body is "hard wired" a certain way. You feel more; you feel more intensely.

The "intersect," as I experience it (and other HSPs have shared very similar experiences with me) is that because being highly sensitive makes me "feel things deeply," I experience the effects of ADHD more "intensely." And sometimes those experiences feel "amplified" to a rather debilitating extent.

It is really important to understand that being an HSP and having ADHD are two distinct situations. One does not CAUSE the other, and one does not IMPLY the other. To the degree there are correlations between the two, they are typically "non-causal."

Stated differently, I am having "the same ADHD experience" as everyone else, but because I am an HSP, how that feels is more intense than most people's feelings.

One of the places I have struggled most is to manage the "limited bandwidth/energy" I often have because I am highly sensitive alongside the general distractability that goes with ADHD. The end result is this "state" in which I feel overwhelmed and overstimulated (the "HSP part") by the fact that my inability to focus (the ADHD part) is keeping me from being able to efficiently navigate daily life.

In a practical sense, it has manifested as periods during which I feel totally immobilized... not by my actual work and chores, but by knowing how much effort it will take simply to stay focused.

It's hard to explain-- and perhaps it doesn't really make sense unless you're also an HSP, yourself. I will of course add in here that my "issue" is the Inattentive form of ADHD (wikipedia), which is quite different from the well-known "Hyperactivity" form most people are familiar with.

I am still trying to make sense of the "intersect" of the two. Here's a metaphor that helps me a little:

I think of myself as a piece of machinery. I have a fuel tank containing a certain amount of fuel. As people, we all have "fuel tanks" of certain sizes. As a Highly Sensitive Person, I burn the available fuel faster than most people. As a result, when I am faced with the consequences of my ADHD, I have less fuel available to "fix things" and simply "keep plugging along," till whatever I needed to do is done. This leads to a "secondary feedback loop" in which I feel overwhelmed because it feels like no matter what, I won't have the fuel reserves to complete what I need to deal with.

Many years ago, I used to think of it as "Bailing out the Titanic with a tea cup." No matter what, the ship would "sink." My efforts were only sufficient to slow down the inevitable sinking.

Hence, a period of years during which I have been trying to "simplify" my life, so the "available fuel" will be sufficient to deal with the "stuff of life"... because there's no "increasing the size of the fuel tank." The answer, continuing with the ship metaphor, isn't to become better at bailing, but to make sure I'm on a smaller ship.

If you are an HSP with ADHD, "simplifying life" may be one of your single best coping tools-- and I also mention that because many HSPs are loath to resort to medications, because of the stronger impact of side effects.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

"Functional" Distractions... as an ADHD Coping Tool

I am eternally looking for ways to make my "scattered" life easier to navigate.

For a few years now, one of my most effective tools has been finding ways to engage myself in what I think of as "Functional Distractions."

The bane of my existence (and the underlying cause for much of my non-productivity) was always the fact that I would get sidetracked into doing "useless things" and end up with a day where I actually worked for maybe 30 minutes (net) and spent ten hours exploring a variety of mostly useless "rabbit holes."

Some part of me wants to rationalize that I was sidetracking because it was the only way to stay awake, and that maybe my research would "be useful some day," but that excuse has never really done me much good. Bottom line-- for 99.9% of the population-- is that unless we work, and actually accomplish things, we can't pay for our rent, power bill and groceries.

As a self-employed person for almost a couple of decades now, the temptation presented by alluring distractions has always been great. It is just soooo easy to stop to check email, check Facebook, follow a link, and before I know it, another two hours have been eaten off the clock. Of course, since my issue is "inattentiveness," I also have to be constantly on alert for simply "staring out the window" (for 45 minutes) or day dreaming.

I have already written about my "scattered work" which I call making a living... and it is really the result of deciding that it is inevitable that I am going to sidetrack... so when I do sidetrack, why not make it to something "functional" rather than something "useless?"

There is a certain irony in the fact that this blog was started as a form of "side tracking," because I felt like I'd be unable to find my ramblings about living with ADHD among the thousands of posts that make up my private personal journal. Besides... it seemed like a right thing to write this stuff "out in public," just in case someone else might see it and find it useful.

"Functional Distractions" is a system by which I give myself "permission" to get sidetracked from something that needs to be done... as long as I sidetrack into something else that needs to get done. Running a number of microbusinesses is ideal in the sense that I can switch between very different tasks-- all of which need to get done. I can write here, then go list five things on eBay, then do some photography, then do ten minutes of book keeping, and it's all "in bounds," even though I am flitting around like a hummingbird on crack.

It may not be the most efficient way to work, but it's a lot more productive-- at least for me-- than trying to focus on a single task and then zoning out permanently after 30 minutes.