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.

STUFF – an introduction
Getting started with STUFF

Posts like this are only possible due to the generous support of my Patrons. They’re amazing and very good looking!! If you’re not one of them and you like what I do please help me by joining them and supporting STUFF up! your life on Patreon.

practical tips

Positive Negativity: maybe things will get worse and that’s okay

I hated being pregnant.

I loved the fact that I was going to have a baby and I was in awe of the fact that I was growing a person. But being pregnant was horrible. Although I didn’t throw up every day the nausea was relentless. Every hour of every day I felt horribly sick. The thought of food turned my stomach… but an empty stomach was my number 1 vomit trigger.

And for most of my pregnancy people kept being positive and re-assuring me that it would get better.

It gets better after 12 weeks! I was assured by many. It didn’t for me.

I kept being given more magical getting better points to look forward to. And I kept feeling sick. It gets better after 15 weeks!

bucket next to the bed. because I needed that.

When my Aunt asked me when the baby was due and I joked that I only had 5 more months of vomiting to go she was aghast. “You might feel better tomorrow!” she chided me. It gets better after 18 weeks! And I felt guilty for being so “negative”. I might feel better tomorrow, I reminded myself. It gets better after 22 weeks! And every day I attempted to face the day as though I didn’t want to vomit up every organ in my body. And every day I struggled and “gave in” and felt guilty for relying on anti-emetics and tried to ration them out and resolve to take less of them and to be stronger and more positive. It gets better after 28 weeks!

And after 28 weeks passed and I still vomited almost every day – and felt like I wanted to even on the days I didn’t – regardless of how many dry crackers or ginger flavoured *anything* I ate… People stopped telling me to look forward to it getting better.

And that… helped an enormous amount. When I stopped assuming that if I was positive enough and motivated enough and enough enough… when I gave in and assumed that I’d feel sick every day until the baby was born… I took my anti-emetics first thing after I woke up and scheduled them regularly throughout the day instead of “waiting to see if I was any better today/this afternoon/this evening”.

And I realised that I’d spent a lot of my pregnancy not only feeling nauseated – but feeling like that if I wasn’t somehow imagining it or faking it I was thinking about it too much and therefore making it worse. As though my morning (lol, all day. all night.) sickness was a monster who could be summoned by saying its name and could only be vanquished by pretending hard enough that it didn’t exist.

But. I wasn’t making myself sicker by acknowledging that I was sick. Preparing myself for feeling terrible and not trying to fight against how sick I was wasn’t a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But it allowed me to feel a bit less terrible about myself and not attempt more than I could manage and allow myself the rest I needed (I wore a fitbit throughout my pregnancy. My record for lowest-steps achieved in a day was less than 600).

And I realised… that I’ve spent a lot of my life waiting for things to get better. Waiting for next week. Waiting for next year. For the clocks to change. For the weather to change. For the weekend. For the afternoon. And thinking that if I only pushed myself to believe hard enough that I wasn’t struggling… then I wouldn’t be.

But depression and anxiety and executive dysfunction aren’t monsters that can be summoned by name any more than nausea is.

put on a happy face and ‘act as if!’

The idea that if you go to bed determined enough you can wake up motivated and driven is toxic. As though because motivation and executive function are driven by chemicals in your brain you just need to adjust your mindset is as nonsensical as the idea that behaving as though you don’t need glasses will make you see more clearly. Or that walking on a broken leg will make it heal faster.

Being prepared for your struggles won’t make them bigger. It just makes you more prepared. Because your life isn’t going to magically become easy after the weekend or tomorrow morning or when the weather clears up or when the seasons change or in the new year. Some of those things might help!!

But right now is your life too. And pretending that things aren’t the way that they actually are doesn’t help.

So. If you want to and it feels okay to do so I want you to imagine that you won’t feel somehow more rested tomorrow than you have any other day recently. That you won’t somehow feel enthusiastic about doing the chores that you’re avoiding. That you won’t feel more organised or enthusiastic or driven than you did today or this week or this month.

What does that change? What expectations of yourself do you need to adjust and does that change anything about what you think you are capable of right now? Is there something you can do a bit of or half-ass so it’s not so much of a problem tomorrow?

STUFF – an introduction
Getting started with STUFF

Posts like this are only possible due to the generous support of my Patrons. They’re amazing and very good looking!! If you’re not one of them and you like what I do please help me by joining them and supporting STUFF up! your life on Patreon.

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?