Friday, November 14, 2014

Feeling My Brain Shut Down...

Ironically, I came here to write this post as a "sidetrack" to doing something else I was trying to concentrate on.

For some time, I have been wanting to write about the strange ways I sometimes "experience" my own brain chemistry in action. And then I found myself needing to concentrate on the tedium of processing a bunch of images for eBay items... and I could-- quite literally-- sense my brain chemistry starting to "do" things to interrupt my attempt to get some work done.

Perhaps much of this doesn't make any sense. After, what possible functional reason (from nature's side) could my brain have for wanting me to shut down?

And frankly? It sounds like so much mumbo-jumbo I wouldn't believe myself, were it not for many years spent learning a meditation and mindfulness practice... if I weren't able to sit back and "observe myself" when my moods and activity levels are in the process of changing, I also wouldn't be able to write these words.

So anyway...

I am sitting there getting ready to repeat the same PhotoShop procedure on some hundreds of photos, and I am well tuned in to the reality that "I need to just knock these out." And all is well, inside my head. And all is well, as I fly through the first ten minutes, or so.

And then "it" happens. This "thing" I have battled all my life.

I am now 15 minutes into the process... and it suddenly feels like I have not slept in six days! You know that feeling of having pulled four all-nighters in a row, while living on fast food and two hours of sleep a night? Yeah, that. I'm not "bored." I'm not "distracted." I just want to sleep. NOW!

In the space of about 5-10 minutes, I go from feeling fine, alert and ambitious to... well, I virtually couldn't keep my eyes open to save my life.

Now, I should add that I had a good night's sleep, and have felt rested and alert all day-- it is now close to 1:30pm. I didn't come to this process with "residual sleepiness" or fatigue that was just waiting to happen. I also do not suffer from narcolepsy-- I've already covered that ground many times.

This is something I will continue to study... but if you can relate, do let me hear from you-- leave a comment!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Being a Highly Sensitive Person, ADHD and Managing Overwhelm

This morning-- as has happened untold hundreds of times in my life-- I spent about an hour going through the process of "cleaning my desk so I can do my work." It is something I usually feel compelled to do whenever I have an exceptionally large volume of work I feel like I "need to get done," and I have reached a point of feeling so overwhelmed that I become immobilized by the prospect of even figuring out "where to start."

Even writing these words became part of my "cloud of overwhelm," even though I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to convey, when I walked into my office. But it was not as simple as that, because once I'd organized my desk and was ready to write, I ended up feeling like I had to "sub-organize" the section of my desk where I keep my folders with scraps of paper on which I have jotted down "writing ideas." After all, there might be some "HSP-with-ADHD" type ideas in there that I might be able to use.

It briefly reminded me of a remark HSP therapist and expert Ane Axford once made about being an HSP: "Even my to-do list has to-do lists!"

But wait! There's more! While I was organizing dozens of little slips of paper and interpreting my scribbles from the past 60-days or so, my nose started itching. So I needed to find out what that was about. As it turned out, a "wild" hair from my mustache was poking the bottom edge of one nostril. So I trimmed it off. But then I noticed that my beard was starting to look a little too shaggy, and since I was "there" with sharp scissors, I might as well give myself a trim... because "it needed to be done," right?

At 8:38, I arrived at my desk with a cup of coffee and a clear idea for what I wanted to write, today. At 9:52, I am actually typing these words. One hour and fourteen minutes more or less "up in smoke." Ironically, my present life just "effectively" reflected the root "idea" of what I wanted to write about.

I am a Highly Sensitive Person (or HSP, for short) with ADHD.

After some 17 years of "studying the problem," I have become well aware that "being an HSP" and "living with ADHD" are two very different things.

Sure, the two "interact" and "talk to each other" but their relationship is non-causal. That is, being an HSP is not the cause of my ADHD, and living with ADHD did not "make me" an HSP. It's important to keep that very clearly in mind. At the same time, it is also important to understand how the two interact.

As a point of disclosure-- because some people may be reading this blog for the first time-- I will also point out that my "issue" is the "inattentive" form of ADHD. Thus, I can't experientially speak exactly to how HSPs with the more common (or "traditional") "hyperactive-impulsive" variant of ADHD experience life... although I am well familiar with many aspects of it as my wife is an HSP with hyperactive-impulsive ADHD.

OK, so that gets all the technical and disclosure stuff out of the way.

So how does the HSP experience of ADHD differ from the rest of the world's? My experience suggests that we are more likely to experience the effects of "all this stuff we get involved in" as overstimulating, in addition to simply feeling a crazy pinball machine of "stuff."

The HSP part of the equation "speaks" in the sense that it amplifies my experience of my own scatteredness. One of the core precepts of being Highly Sensitive is experiencing life more intensely... and those HSPs afflicted with ADHD consequently experience the effects of the condition more intensely.

I have long struggled to describe how that feels. Most HSPs-- when they struggle to manage overstimulation-- tend to be dealing with "externals:" loud people, bright lights, too many demands, environmental noise. For me, sometimes quite often the source of my overstimulation comes from my own "inner processes," rather than external stimuli. This morning, I found myself being overstimulated by my own thoughts, rather than by what I actually ("functionally") need to get done today (which is relatively manageable).

On a more practical level, HSPs often benefit from striving for relative simplicity in their lives as a way to keep their stimulation levels optimal... when you live with ADHD, one of the typical effects is the ability to "complexify" everything. "Watering the garden," isn't just about turning on the hose, but becomes an odyssey of 47 distractions and "things that ALSO need to be done." In a sense, the ADHD provides a constant stream of "stimulants" that are all but impossible to turn off.

Even as I write this article, I have experienced that "effect." What was intended to be a brief 300-word commentary about being an HSP and getting overstimulated by ADHD-generated thoughts has turned into a full-blown 1500-word article because "I might as well" add this-and-that, and add hither-and-yon to provide a more useful learning experience for readers.

So what can an HSP with ADHD effectively do to manage the swirling thoughts that lead to "self-generated overstimulation?"

On the whole, the only thing I have found even mildly effective is organization. Specifically, I have learned to "live by" a system of "writing myself notes" about everything I need to do, and every thought that's worthy of later exploration.

How does that "work?" When I sit in a cloud of overwhelming swirling thoughts, it helps me to "catch" a thought and put it briefly on paper-- just 10-15 words. It means I can "remove" it from the swirling cloud. Then I do that... maybe 20-30 times, maybe more. All of a sudden... this abstract cloud of ideas and thoughts have become... a gentle breeze. The thoughts are no longer "bouncing around" inside my head... they have been "transferred" to a neat little pile of notes on my desk... and my head is (more or less) clear to focus on what I really need to do. Any thoughts of "OMG! I lost a valuable idea!" are non-existent, because I recorded all those thoughts. They are NOT lost! They are right here.

As a metaphor, think of it as using your computer and "bookmarking" the 47 interesting web sites you found for "later" rather than trying to keep 47 tabs/windows open, all at once. Your swirling thoughts are "the Internet." You can't keep it all open, all the time... and expect to not cave in under the load.

Last but not least, rather than being an elaborate form of procrastination, the "cleaning my desk" process serves a practical function... it "simplifies" the cloud of swirling thoughts inside my head, and reduces it to neat stacks of papers I can actually visualize, and then deal with in a systematic manner. I may just have "given up" an hour and fourteen minutes... but that effectively will "save me" from having a day on which I actually "lose" six hours of work time to feeling overwhelmed and spinning out of control while being utterly non-productive. Continuing the Internet bookmarking metaphor, think of it as sorting your bookmarks and deleting some it turned out weren't that interesting... or you actually no longer actually need.

There's no doubt that being a Highly Sensitive Person and living with ADHD presents unique challenges... aside from using "tools and tricks" to cope, the best thing you can do for yourself is learn as much as you can, and become familiar with how the two interact... in your life.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Too much... for ANYone

There is little doubt that part of what makes life difficult to navigate is a lack of focus. On the other hand, I sometimes think of this as "too many interests syndrome," since we live in an age of syndromes.

Earlier today, I was sitting here contemplating a number of ideas and projects I currently have "in the works," and it occurred to me that even if I could focus well the amount of work-- call it "person hours," if you will-- involved in carrying all these out would require a full-time staff of six people... and certainly not the unfocused efforts of one person!

What made me think about this is the way I often feel "overwhelmed" by what is in front of me, and then start browbeating myself for not keeping up with everything. But looking at the situations more objectively made me realize that I have every reason to "not keep up" because it's simply not humanly possible. I'm overwhelmed because there simply is "too much" on my plate.

The purpose of these words is primarily to serve as a reminder that sometimes we tend to "place the blame" in the wrong place. In this case... blaming myself for not being able to do 60 hours' worth of work in a 24-hour period.

Yup. Do the math. It doesn't compute.

Monday, May 26, 2014

ADHD Issues: When "Future Stuff" Gets in the Way

Yesterday I woke up with a great determination to "get a lot of stuff done." I even felt like I was in the right frame of mind-- which seems to directly impact my productivity-- to "get a lot of stuff done."

Fine. Sounds like a really good plan!

I got myself all ready and fired up to have a super productive day... and then I remembered: A 3 o'clock doctor's appointment.

Day completely ruined.

Now, let's keep in mind that I was having this realization at 8:30 in the morning, long before needing to get ready for the appointment. I had five hours of time.

And yet? I found myself feeling capsized and helpless... the "distraction" of knowing that I would need to break my "precious" focus in mid-stream keeping me from even getting started on doing anything productive. On top of that sense of helplessness, there was the attendant layer of frustration at not being able to "cope with life."

I suppose such an "event" would be a small thing for most people. For me, it felt like an entire day was wasted because I "had plans" and had forgotten to include them in planning my day. Truth is, I could have done a lot with 5 hours of work time, but I found myself losing all interest.

This also made me sit and think about how often it is "small things" in my life that keep me from being able to maintain focus. Knowing that "the dog needs to be fed" an hour from now makes it extremely hard for me to focus on the task at hand. I am far better off getting up and feeding the dog now, so it's not a "loose thought" tumbling around inside my head.

And that's part of a bigger issue... the eternal "clearing of space" so that I can get to a point of just focusing on what really matters. Why is it an "issue?" Well, because I tend to use up ALL my time on "clearing space" so I never have any time (or energy) left over to do whatever thing was actually most important.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

ADHD, Discernment and Prioritizing

Over the years, I have learned to use a series of "coping tools" in lieu of letting myself get "drugged into oblivion."

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against "better living through pharmaceuticals," but I prefer to limit such things to blood pressure meds and the like.

When I sit inside my personal experience with ADHD (and also draw on experiences and anecdotes others have shared), it has always struck me that there is always so much on our plates; so many things clamoring for our attention.

This morning I reflected on "all the things" I need to get done this week, and it occurred to me that one of the defining characteristics of ADHD-- at least for me and for a lot of people-- seems to be a difficulty practicing discernment. It's not really a case of me having "more things" I need to get done, but a case of me having great difficulty prioritizing those things appropriately. That is, all the things that come up feel "equally important," and then I get stuck while contemplating where to begin.

I get the distinct impression that the majority of the world has just as many things they need to get done as I do, but they have a much better ability to look at something, declare it "not important," and then move on with what matters most. I find it quite difficult to "rank" things. And sometimes I rank them "poorly," assigning excess importance to "busy work" that will make it easier for me to deal with the most important things. Which, in turn, leaves those "most important things" UN-done, often causing me all manners of headaches.

Even as I make my way through the day, using my system of "task notes," I find it a struggle to decide which things are most important... and I often end up in a pattern of "cleaning my desk so I can do my work" when I really should just launch directly into "doing my work."

It's all a learning process... but sometimes it feels like I am moving desperately slowly.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

ADHD "Management" in Action

This morning, I decided I was going to make breakfast. Specifically, I chose to make a large batch of breakfast crepes. If you're not familiar with making these, the important gist (or "salient point") of this story is that mixing ingredients for the batter is pretty quick and simple... and then you are "stuck there," flipping crepes, for about an hour.

Of course, when you have ADHD of any kind, your mind tends to be going a million miles an hour, while traveling all over creation. Even though my "form" of ADHD is the "inattentive" variant... I'm no exception. Flipping crepes for an hour feels like a "trap," yet I have little choice but to "stay there," if I actually want the food. The upside is that minding a skillet on the stove might require some concentration, but is otherwise a pretty mindless sort of thing.

The long and the short of it is that my hour turned into a creative writing exercise, using one of my "tools" that has become an effective part of my ADHD management skills.

In addition to having my pan and my plates and my spatula... I also grabbed a stack of small sheets of notepaper and a pen... and started cooking.

By the time the crepes were finished, I had also outlined-- in pen, on individual sheets of paper-- 11 different articles and blog posts, the last one of which was a sketchy note to myself to put this blog post here, as an illustration of how to "use" the condition to our advantage, rather than trying to "fight" it.

I know-- from many years of experience-- that I can't hope to focus on a mindless task for more than a few minutes. I have found that if I "expand" such a task by adding a very specific "secondary goal" to work on, I can actually become very productive. As such, I have trained myself to cash in on some of me best "thinking time" while being engaged in "non-thinking" tasks-- like mowing the lawn, certain kinds of cooking. I also know from experience that if I don't have such a "specified secondary task" my mind will roam in a totally unstructured fashion, and I will get nothing done. In the case of this morning's crepe cookery, I would probably have burned a few of them because I would have flitted off to some other, unrelated, task... and lost track of time. However, I knew that being able to write on bits of paper right next to my "primary objective" would allow me to stay on task. I also knew that "jotting an idea" would be short enough to keep me from burning food.

So not only did I come away with something yummy to eat, I came away a "quieter mind" because I'd actually "emptied" my head while I was cooking... at least temporarily. And so, I could enjoy a peaceful breakfast... without obsessively "trying to remember all those ideas I had while cooking." Which is pretty much how much of my life used to be, even just 10 years ago.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

"Systems" are good, BUT...

Over the past few years, I have created myself a bunch of "systems" that seem to help me focus more and basically live as a somewhat "functioning human being."

That's of course a "good thing," on the greater scale of things, and I recognize that I have put so much effort into it because I really do not want to become "one of those people" who ends up living their lives functionally only as a result of taking a giant handful of medications and supplements every day. It's bad enough that I've had to accept that I will probably be taking blood pressure meds, for the remainder of my days. I am not sure why-- although my mother being a functional alcoholic might be partially to blame-- but I have always viewed the need for "chemical help" with considerable suspicion and loathing.

Part of that suspicion is also related to my general belief that our society tends to excessively "medicalize" perfectly normal parts of the spectrum of human experience.

"Oooh! He FELT something! Give him a pill..."

I really hate that crap. It's a cop-out, in my opinion. Now, I'm not suggesting that there aren't people who genuinely need medication to function, but I am saying that we tend to just "throw medicine at problems" rather than trying to actually discover and isolate their root causes... and then promote actual healing, rather than ongoing "treatment."

But I'm digressing. Because that's what I do, as a person with ADHD.

The point here was that I have created myself a bunch of "operating systems" (lists, timers, etc.) by which I stay some semblance of functional. However... as effective as those may be in keeping me on an even keel, I sometimes find myself wondering if the 30-45 minutes I now spend every morning "setting up for the day" are really worth it. Has the "system" I've created become more of an encumbrance (and a time-waster) than a help?

Ultimately, I don't think so. I feel helped by my increasingly spotless home office and my system of notes and schedules, and that bears out... in terms of what I can look at and say "I actually accomplished that" at the end of the day. However, it's important that I remain mindful of my tendency to eternally "fine tune" and create "subsystems of subsystems" when all that's really needed is an overall framework.

Mindfulness is essential, when you live with ADHD... because there are "tempting distractions" around every corner; even those "corners" actively designed to help.

Friday, February 14, 2014

ADHD Musings: The Thing About Deadlines

One of the things I have long realized about myself is that I work best "to deadlines."

To explain that a bit further, what I am really saying here is that if there is not a "looming deadline," odds are that I will not get anything done, at all.

Take this week, for example. I know that I wanted to get a large number of new auctions listed on eBay by this coming Sunday, as part of giving my rare stamp business a boost. Now, creating 150-odd listings on eBay is pretty time consuming... especially with merchandise like rare old postage stamps: They have to be "selected," then "scanned," then the images have to be "formatted and color corrected," then the description for each has to be individually written and uploaded to the staging area. All in all, it's a LOT of work.

So I say to myself-- probably two weeks ahead of the "launch date"-- that if I just get a little bit done every day, then the whole thing won't creep up on me and be a giant stressful mess at the very end. Because "giant stressful mess at the the very end" is how I tend to work.

And so, here we are, on Friday, with three days remaining before I had planned to get these sales made public. And where am I?

Even though I know that getting this done is essential... and that being able to pay our bills this month depends on these sales... I really have not been able to motivate myself to do much work on getting the auctions ready. Sure, I have sat down to "get started" a number of times, and I have "dabbled a little," but in about 75% of my available work time, I have managed to get about (maybe!) 10% of the overall workload taken care of.

This has been a pervasive pattern in all aspects of my life, since being a teenager who never could "get around to" homework until an hour before it was due. Of course, I have always been able to "excuse myself" by stating (quite truthfully, I might add) that "I am brilliant under pressure," and I always DO tend to get these things done. But not without a horrible last-minute "death march" to get there. And 90% of the time? The results are usually stellar... better than most people's, even if they worked tirelessly on the same thing for three weeks.

Maybe this doesn't have anything to do with being ADHD, at all. Maybe it's about "work styles." That is not really clear to me. "Distraction" definitely plays into the mix... distractions seem so much more appealing, when there is plenty of time. Unless I feel the Sword of Damocles hanging over my head, I am not given to "doing what must be done." Character flaw? Work habits? Inherent laziness? Aspects of ADHD?

And it's not that I am not aware of the "passing of time." In fact, I regularly "count down" how much time I have left, to do the remaining work... I know exactly how many days and hours remain. But unless there is "severe pressure to perform" being brought to bear, I don't feel inclined to move.

This is not a good thing... as I have recently been diagnosed with severe hypertension, and I am becoming more aware of things I do that are constitute underlying stress patterns. These "last minute rushes" to do the essential things of life are extremely stressful.

Somehow, I need to overcome my habits... and reduce stress. So here I am, writing a blog post instead of working on my eBay stuff. Because I still have "plenty of time."

Ironic, no?