Candid Snapshot #1 – Practice What You Preach

 

Taking Stock

Right now, I’m in a bit of a pickle, and today I’m not feeling super great about it.

A quick snapshot of my life as of April 7th, 2018, reveals the following:

  • My wife has moved out and we are about to get a divorce.
  • I have nothing from my marriage (I don’t even own a bed) despite what I put in to it. This will likely be a fight.
  • I’ve been living in my mother’s basement for a month, but I’m still paying rent on my previous lease.
  • I’m in debt from paying household bills and moving across the country.
  • I was able to get a job soon after I moved. I’m waiting tables. It doesn’t pay very well.
  • If I want a lawyer, I need $2,000 for a retainer by next Tuesday.
  • I turn 34 later this month.

Darn.

On my 29th birthday, if someone had asked me where I want to be in five years, this wouldn’t have been my ideal list. (Though, I would have said “be married” so check that off.)

I’m not sharing all this to complain, to solicit sympathy, to justify giving up, or because I think I’m special and by god you should care about what happens to me. Just the opposite – I know I’m not unique, lots of people have it worse, getting sympathy from anonymous internet readers (though a pretty cool human construct when you think about it) doesn’t change my situation, and actually I’m kind of intimidated by how to navigate the more candid aspects of this blog.

So why share all this?

Beyond the fact there will be some nebulous therapeutic benefit to writing out my experiences (whether anyone reads this or not), I created this blog for two reasons:

  • To be a use-case for everything I’ve learned about managing ADHD in the last three years.
  • *Warning: Cliché* Because if I can turn the steaming jumble of chaos and rejection that my life has become, into the life I want to live, then probably anyone can.

Right, we’re all caught up, so what am I going to do about it?

In future posts I’ll be getting into different tools that can help us ADHD-ers. I’ll cover different therapy skill sets from CBT, DBT, and ACT. I’ll… you get the point. I want to do a lot of in-depth stuff in the future, but let’s start with the first candid snapshot of how things are going in my life.

Candid snapshots will be a window into my own struggle with ADHD and the tools I use to cope. Using my own life as an example, I want to dig into common pitfalls of ADHD and how to overcome them. As I explained above, I don’t think I’ll have a shortage of challenges to share. Let’s start.

NOTICE YOUR VULNERABILITIES

It’s easy to focus on all the broken things in your life. ADHD can affect emotional regulation, it can cause “time blindness” (an inability to plan more than a few days ahead), it affects impulse control, and damages motivation. All those things are just the day-to-day reality of ADHD, but if you’ve lived with ADHD a long time, aren’t effectively treating it, and/or you’re on the severe end of the spectrum, chances are you’ve got a few bad habits or mental illnesses that will add to the struggle.

What this looks like in me:

  • I can feel my mind occasionally climbing onto the nightmare hamster-wheel of grief which cycles between intense rejection, confusion, hurt, anger, fantasy ways to fix things, and back to rejection. This happens more often and is more intense when my medication wears off.
  • I constantly fight impulses, like writing an angry email or agreeing to something against my own self-interest, because it’s easy to tie my self-worth to how other people perceive me and I want to believe I can still fix things.
  • I know I will absolutely forget something if I try to keep all my deadlines and to-do lists in my head.
  • Finally, I’m sad about all this and I don’t want to do anything besides not be sad. There are many activities which will help me avoid crappy feelings (drugs, going out, binging on a videogame or a show, insert-your-favorite-vice-here), and most of them don’t get me any closer to my goals – they’re just a temporary fix. Taking action to build the life I want is the only effective way to move on and make this hurt less.

If you find yourself thinking “Great! Yup, this is going to be hard. Got it. Now I’m a little depressed, thanks”. Well, sorry about that, but it’s important to be mindful of your own vulnerabilities so you can better catch yourself acting on them. The goal is to develop the ability to choose how you react to things instead of constantly feeling like a passenger in your own life.

Okay, after navigating all that, now what?

UNTANGLING THE KNOTS

The idea you can’t get anywhere if you don’t know where you want to go is flat wrong. You will absolutely get somewhere, but odds are you won’t be too thrilled about where you end up. Setting personal values and goals (not the same thing) is the only way to keep yourself moving toward the destination you want.

Start with the destination. What is something I want or need right now? My goals (short term to long term):

  • I need to continue to take care of myself.
  • I need to pay off my bills.
  • I need to decide how to navigate my impending divorce.
  • I need a stable living situation in a place with educational opportunities for me to pursue.
  • I need a stable career.

Okay, great, now I have a destination in mind. This is the “what” and it’s the easier part, the “how” of getting there is harder – all the challenges I listed at the beginning of this post will get between me and my destination.

Russel Barkley, in his book Taking Charge of Adult ADHD, tells us to “chunk it”: reducing a task to its smallest component steps. This method helps us avoid feeling so overwhelmed that we give up.

In my own experience, I never complete an overly ambitious to-do list and then it becomes a tidy list of stuff-I-failed-to-do. Then I feel like crap about myself and end up watching old Star Trek episodes for 6 hours because I don’t want to think about how I suck as a person. So, small steps.

Because I have a roof over my head, an income, and food, I’m going to skip to my 3rd goal (figure out how to navigate my divorce) and use it as an example.

I don’t know jack about divorce laws or what they say about my situation. I could go on a wild google-rampage and semi-aimlessly poke around for knowledge until I go to work tonight – creating 10-15 open browser tabs which I will later close without reading.

Or not.

Let’s stop and chunk out how to accomplish this goal:

  • What are my options? If I don’t know what the choices are, I can’t know how to make them.
    • Make a list of questions I have RE divorce laws in my area and for my situation.
    • Talk to people I trust about my feelings on what’s happened and explore my feelings around all the possible choices I can make.
      • Consider their feedback.
    • Sleep on it.
  • Can I get help?
    • Look up legal services in my area. Are there free or non-profit services which can help me?
    • Do I need, and can I afford a lawyer?
      • Call some local lawyers.

Getting through this list should put me in a position to know what outcome I might want, and how to move toward it.

But maybe I’m still stuck or don’t know where to start. Chunk it further:

  • Can I get help?
    • Google legal aid programs
      • Find a phone number
        • Make a call
          • Set an appointment
            • Write down your appointment somewhere you’ll remember. Set an alarm or calendar date on your phone. DO THIS IMMEDIATELY. Externalize it.

Great. Now I have an appointment at my local legal aid center on Monday and can go to work feeling good about some progress I made today.

Baby steps are still steps. Keep going.

 

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