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adhd practical tips STUFF

Leisure is a chore

My son has been sick with tonsilitis and just as he was recovering I started to come down with it too. I’m feeling slightly better today, thank goodness and he’s finally well enough to go back to Kindy. So we’ve been in Survival gear for close to a week now and soon it will be time to change gears back to Treading Water.

And I know I still have so many unfinished posts about each of the individual gears (I’ll get there!) but today I wanted to write about something very important about the Treading Water gear.

Treading Water is the STUFF gear where you focus on not letting things get worse. Between Survival (where you do what you absolutely need to to get through the hour, day and week) and Usual (whatever usual looks like for you!)

If your executive functioning is impaired (whether because of a neurological condition like ADHD or Autism or because of chronic stress, illness, pain or fatigue) it seems to makes sense to use rewards and punishments to try and get things done. “If I do this list of things then I can reward myself with…”

And It might work! For an acute episode of “I just don’t wanna” reminding yourself that you can sit down and read your book or watch netflix or play video games just might give you that little spark of motivation. It might? I mean it sounds good in theory. But… honestly? That… has never really worked for me?

And it’s not just that there is no accountability. I could just… sit and watch TV. Nobody is stopping me.

But “If I do all these chores THEN…” doesn’t really work as a sufficient incentive for me to do the chores because the problem isn’t that I don’t want the chores to be done. Or even that I don’t want to do them. It’s that… I can’t do them.

I like having a clean house. I really hate having a sink full of smelly dishes. There is a reward already built in to doing these chores in that I don’t have to live in filth and bad smells. I don’t actually need extra incentives to want those chores to be done. The incentives are kind of… built in. The problem isn’t a lack of incentives. So increasing those incentives has no real effect.

Let’s look at a very frequent scenario for me: I have a lot of dishes that I can’t manage to do. And I want to play The Sims.

So I tell myself:

“Elise. You absolutely cannot play The Sims because you have not done all of the dishes!”

And generally one of two things happens after that:

A. Failure: I play The Sims anyway. I feel guilty for breaking my own rules.

B. Success: I do not play The Sims. I do something unpleasant instead like reading The Bad Internet.

But do you notice something important about the ‘Successful’ scenario B above where I resist playing The Sims? I still didn’t do the dishes.

And when this happens day after day, week after week… well sometimes I do get around to doing the dishes and it’s hard and I force myself to do it (or I am forced to because we don’t have any clean spoons) and it takes SO LONG and then I don’t have time to play The Sims afterwards and I feel frustrated and resentful and sad.

And every time I do something “fun” or “relaxing” I have this little voice in the back of my head telling me that I’m being lazy and bad.

And this usually happens when my responsibilities are genuinely Too Much for me and everything is really hard. Isn’t that funny? I never accuse myself of being “lazy” when things aren’t overwhelmingly difficult.

So what’s absolutely vital about being in the Treading Water gear. When you’re working as hard as you can just to keep things from getting worse… is that Leisure is not a reward.

Leisure is a chore.

It’s a thing I need to do. It’s a task on my to-do list that I need to tick off and say “yes, I did do a fun thing today just for fun.”

Because when it comes right down to it playing The Sims is actually as important as doing the dishes.

If I don’t do the dishes my sink will fill up with dirty dishes and it will smell and I won’t have any clean spoons to eat with.

If I don’t play The Sims (or watch TV or read a book or…) then I will just feel like I am getting wound tighter and tighter and I’ll spend too much time reading The Bad Internet and “relaxing” by only doing things that make me feel bad and therefore somehow sidestep the guilt of having a good time when I really shouldn’t.

And that doesn’t help me in the Treading Water gear. It doesn’t help me prepare for changing gears back down to Survival or up to Usual.

It just makes me feel bad about myself. It makes me feel worse about myself.

So. Leisure is a Chore.

Do a fun thing. Just for fun. Not a project that you also find fun. Just… consume an art. Play a game. Read a novel. Listen to a podcast. Listen to music. Watch a video.

Because that isn’t a bonus that you need to earn. It’s something that you need.


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Categories
adhd practical tips

Embracing inefficiency

One chore I hate – but not as much as I hate doing the dishes – is sorting laundry. It takes so long. And it’s so boring.

I used to try and sort as efficiently as possible. Because surely that would mean I would spend less time doing it. So I would sort laundry into all of the different piles and categories it needed to be in all at once.

This would lead to be frequently having a brain freeze and spending 2 or 3 seconds mentally trying to work out whether a sock was a shirt or pants before remembering I had a socks pile.

I’ve discovered that it’s actually faster – and even more fun – to sort in a way which seems terribly inefficient at first glance.

The idea is that I am never sorting into more than two categories at a time. I take one pile of laundry and split it into two piles.

Clothes or Not Clothes?

Kid Clothes or Adult Clothes?

My Clothes or Husband’s Clothes?

Hang in Wardrobe or put on the shelving unit?

Put on a shelf or in a basket?

And so on and so on. I tried making a flow chart to illustrate this but it quickly got really REALLY big because it keeps going until every pile contains just the one kind of thing that are all stored together.

One important thing is that I don’t fold or even turn things the right way around. It’s just sorting – either THIS or THAT. Some branches of the “tree” are much shorter than others.

Once everything is sorted then I turn each thing in each pile the right way around. Then I fold each pile.

This way I’m doing the same thing over and over a few times in a row rather than having to switch gears to fold a shirt and then fold a pair of pants.

And even though when I’m sorting I am handling the same items over and over and over again as I keep sorting and dividing these piles of clothes… it ends up being SO much quicker than if I tried to divide everything up all at once… because I don’t get those moments of brain freeze. And it’s not so intolerably tedious and boring that I just HAVE to do something else and leave it another month.

What’s your second-least favourite chore? Is there a way you can make it easier on your brain even if it seems more inefficient at first?

Categories
adhd

The Pain is Not the Damage: Rejection Sensitivity

If you’ve got ADHD like I do then you may be familiar with RSD. Being rejected by peers can cause devestating emotional pain – and the fear of being rejected can be debilitating when it comes to forming new connections and making friends.

About a year ago my son threw his water bottle and the hard lip of the lid landed directly where my toenail grows out of my big toe.

It hurt more than anything else I had experienced up until then. (A few months ago I had a migraine which beat it for most painful experience of my life. But the toe is still coming second). It was so painful I could do nothing but hold my foot and rock back and forth moaning for what felt like years. It hurt so badly that I lost touch with the rest of my senses – I was unable to see or hear. The only thing that existed was pain.

But I remember it pretty clearly because there wasn’t any sense of panic or danger. I wasn’t worried that I was going to die. I didn’t think I’d need an ambulance or even a doctor. I knew that the problem I was experiencing in that moment was one of pain and that the pain I was experiencing was not a reflection of the level of damage done to my foot.

And it really made me reflect on how rejection sensitivity has hurt me in the past and how devestatingly painful I have found it to be rejected by my peers. Being reminded of parties I didn’t get an invite to as a teenager and young adult will bring me to tears at 37 years old. But I’m trying to recontextualise these experiences (and the new ones that keep coming up and will do forever because, and it makes me want to throw up to even articulate this, some people will probably continue not to like me that much and will reject me over and over until I die) by thinking about my toe and remembering that the pain is not the damage.

When we’re in the midst of that excruciating emotional pain it’s natural to link our pain to an assumed level of damage.

What could I have done to deserve this kind of treatment that hurts SO much? Am I fundamentally a bad person? I will never be able to recover from this level of hurt and I will be weighed down for it forever.

But I’ve found it helpful to remember that the pain is not the damage. The pain is real. It is all encompassing and overwhelming. It’s real and it’s important.

But just as with my toe the pain doesn’t correspond to an equal level of emotional or psychological damage. The problem is pain.

The pain is not the damage.