A year and a bit ago I got diagnosed with ADHD, moderate severity, inattentive type. I’ve been meaning to write a bit about what I’ve learned since then but I keep, you know, getting distracted. It came up in a Slack conversation today which resulted in me barfing 500 words into a relative stranger’s DMs and then I was hyper and couldn’t sleep so now you get a blog post. Squirrel!
I have accepted at this point that I need to work with experts to be an effective/productive/sustainable human. I’m fortunate to have the resources to do so, and I recognize that that’s a privilege. Working with experts is a power-up that lets me be more effective in doing good in the world. Currently, this is my roster of experts, with a rough cadence of how often we work together:
- trauma-focused psychotherapist (weekly. I’ve been through Some Shit in the past couple years and I keep wanting to go less than weekly but then reality kicks my ass and I keep going weekly)
- ADHD coach (monthlyish)
- psychiatrist (~2-3 months for med management)
- personal trainer (twice weekly-ish)
- professional organizer (couple times per year + more around moving)
I wanted to expand on the professional organizer bit and share a resource that’s helped me an absolute TON: “Organizing Solutions for People with ADHD“.* There’s an existing Twitter thread so I won’t summarize it much much except: your inventory must not exceed your space. Less inventory = easier organizing.
The pro organizer I’ve been working with in person specializes in working with folks with ADHD. If you’re in San Francisco and want to see if working with a pro can help make your space more sane, functional, and sustainable, give Debra a ping. I’ve also previously worked with Denise up in Seattle, if you’re looking for an organizer up there.
Pairing is the biggest one. I get sooooo much done when I’m working with someone else. This is a known thing with ADHD – it’s called “body doubling“. One of my poor colleagues sometimes just sits with me while I whine about emails I’m writing (as I’m writing them). I’m grateful for every minute of her time even though I know it’s kinda a boring thing to do.
Rigorous calendaring – I do a lot of magical thinking about time and how much I can get done in it, so blocking things off on my calendar a LOT, like to a point it feels silly, has helped. I block off travel time, email time, recovery time after social things, etc. Also – I put a clock on my desk. “Clocks are like glasses for the time-blind” is a thing that stuck with me from this year! Also also: I know I’m best in the mornings, so I block of time for creative/thinky things then and take calls in the afternoons. Or early mornings, FML.
Getting enough sleep (which I’m failing at right now!!) helps me with executive function (which means: which tasks to do and also starting them; it’s the main thing people with ADHD don’t have enough of), working memory, general emotional evenkeeledness.
Exercise – days when I have lifted heavy things and put them back down repeatedly in the morning are so much more productive than days I haven’t, unless I fuck up the sleep thing and then sometimes I fall asleep at my desk. That’s why sleep is before exercise on this list.
Self-compassion – my productivity isn’t smooth and that’s ok. It’s not a moral flaw that my brain doesn’t really have much of a “chill getting shit done” mode in between “fucking around” and “SUPERHUMAN INCIDENT RESPONDER ADRENAL CRISIS MODE”. It’s just how my brain works. I’m working hard on building that middle mode – it’s like a muscle! But after a couple decades of white knuckling it through the other modes, it’s gonna take some time to shed maladaptive habits and build more sustainable ones.
There’s no point being cruel to myself when I get a bit stuck in “fucking around” mode and get dribs and drabs of work done as I alternate between work email reddit twitter a cute dog video someone sent me personal email DMs work Slack personal Slack phone messages work email etc etc. Harshness doesn’t get me any closer to chill getting shit done mode.
Kristin Neff’s work and book is a good place to start if that last bit resonated with you.
I take 2mg Intunive XR (guanfacine) every night at bedtime, and 5mg Adderall XR on workdays. Intunive – originally a blood pressure drug that some genius figured out helps folks with ADHD – stops my brain from yelling “YOU’RE A FAILURE AND A DISAPPOINTMENT TO EVERYONE YOU LOVE” constantly. This is known as “rejection-sensitive dysphoria” or RSD, and it is the trauma response many people get from a lifetime of ADHD getting in the way of being able to consistently get stuff done (and then getting yelled at for being a failure, losing jobs, etc.) Adderall does what everyone knows Adderall does: lets me focus on stupid mundane shit. I find that it doesn’t help me as much with bigger creative things – it doesn’t harm, but it really shines on stuff like getting expenses filed. I take a low dose of it – too much makes me anxious.
Where I’m at
I still feel like I’m at maybe 60% of where my self-image says I should be productivity-wise, but it was like 30% before so it’s a huge improvement. ~Not living up to my potential~ is the millstone around the necks of just about everyone with ADHD (see earlier explanation of RSD), though, so I try to be gentle with myself when I stare at a wall for 4 hours in an evening because I can’t focus, and then have to stay up til 3AM to get that deliverable out. And then I’m super wired, so I write most of a blog post.
- I’ve learned a lot from reading a couple of tweeters over the past year: Erynn Brook and Dani Donovan. Definitely recommend following them.
- Russell Barkley is a doctor who has ADHD himself. Probably watch all his videos? But start with this short one. Or read his book “Taking Charge of Adult ADHD“.
- Women with ADHD – I haven’t read this book but read a friend’s summary, which I now can’t find, and loved it. Here’s an interview with the author.
- “You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?!: The Classic Self-Help Book for Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder” a former manager of mine really liked this book.
- ADHD reWired is a neat podcast
- This essay is the best description of the interior experience of having ADHD I’ve read. Share it with your loved ones who don’t get it. It’s long, but they don’t have ADHD so they should be able to sit still and read it, no? 🙂
* Disclosure: book links give me a kickback 😇