Living with Adult ADHD (And Kicking Ass)
Imagine rolling out of bed, brushing your teeth, grabbing a cup of coffee and starting your day as a knowledge worker.
You sit down at your desk and immediately feel a sense of overwhelm.
- “Look at all these tasks on my todo list!”
- “Oh shit, I forgot to update Joe on the status of project Y!”
- “Oh look, another email notification. Let me see what’s in there.”
- “*Ding!* You have a meeting in 15 minutes with boss man”
You see everything that needs to get done and you want to do all the things right now but you can’t. You’re forced to decide which tasks to tackle first. It’s a nightmare prioritizing what’s important vs. what you’d prefer to do. You feel incapable of slowing down and picking just one task to focus on.
Besides that, distractions are everywhere, all the time. You have a pile of work to do but you can’t crawl into a hole for days on end. You must be available to coworkers, clients, and others. This availability only exacerbates the problem.
There are days when you feel no pleasure whatsoever after a long day. You feel guilty because you can’t feel a sense of accomplishment. You look back on a day’s work and realize you didn’t check a thing off your todo list.
You ignored the things you should have done for bright-shiny-object-syndrome. At the time, it was enjoyable but you feel so guilty afterward.
This is a glimpse into what it’s like having ADHD for me.
ADHD is an Addiction
ADHD, for me, is an addiction; it’s an addiction to interesting things. ADHD leads me down the path of following the most interesting thing to work on at any given time. It robs me from the tasks that I should do in favor of the tasks I want to do.
My brain craves activities it finds “interesting”. It wants to perform tasks on-the-fly with no plan whatsoever. Even though you try and fight the temptation by constantly trying to build todo lists and plans (the wise brain), they rarely come to fruition.
Every day you have a list of things you need to get done. You review the list and have a plan until the “I’ll just…” thinking comes up. Procrastination sets in and you ponder:
- “I’ll just check email real quick”
- “I’ll just see what this Slack notification is”
- “I’ll just send Bob a message I need to”
By the time you’re done, you’ve rabbit-holed ten layers deep into something stupid and regret it once you have that moment of clarity.
At the end of the day, you look back and feel like you’ve relapsed again. You indulged in your addiction and, once again, didn’t finish any important tasks.
This cycle repeats and reflecting back weeks or months later, you feel like you haven’t accomplished anything of substance. Sure, you did a lot of work, finished a few small tasks and pushed the needle on a project or two but you’re still felt unfulfilled.
The ADHD Brain and the Wise Brain
I feel like I have two brains; the ADHD brain and the wise brain.
The ADHD brain is like a child. It’s unevolved. It’s the caveman that will always Fight, Flee or F*** whatever it sees without regard.
The ADHD brain will do whatever it takes to get that quick shot of dopamine because it’s always out for itself. It’s gotta get that instant surge of excitement tackling a new task or project.
Damn the uninteresting projects regardless of the cost. The ADHD brain doesn’t care how much you’re getting paid, how important this project is to your overall well-being or what your life will be like if you continue to accomplish long-term goals. Nope. The ADHD brain is just out for himself now. Right now!
Case in point, this blog post is a prime example. I’ve been procrastinating finishing an online training course. Instead of working on it, I’ve decided to write this blog post as a form of procrastination. I consider myself lucky a blog post and trying to help others is my escape. Know that you will relapse but try to find “fun” work to do to replace the important work.
The wise brain is the mature, professional brain. The wise brain creates the todo lists, outlines projects and sets up the pins for the ADHD brain to knock down. The wise brain thinks ahead and is always looking out for my best interest. It helps me achieve long-term goals.
The wise brain is able to delay gratification now for long-term success. Even though it would enjoy short-term wins, it’s mature enough to know that’s not what should be done at this moment. It knows given enough time, you will be a lot better off.
Don’t Let ADHD Become an Excuse
It’d be so easy for you to sit on your ass and blame ADHD for your shortcomings. You could go on and on about how your brain works and it’s not your fault.
Everything is your fault. It’s your fault if you succeed and it’s your fault if you fail.
You could make excuses for yourself, the economy, the government or your clients for your lack of success. Maybe it’ll make you feel justified at the time but that kind of attitude will prevent you from succeeding at so many things.
ADHD is just a label. It’s a label put on you that’s outlined in the DSM. That label shouldn’t define who you are and dictate how you behave. It’s important to recognize your shortcomings but only to come up with routines to go around them.
Never let ADHD become the reason you fail at a task, a project or piss someone off you didn’t come through on an agreed commitment. Man up and accept responsibility for yourself. It’s your fault. Learn from it and evolve. Never tell someone your ADHD brain made you do it.
If you’ve been dealt the ADHD cards, realize you can’t change who you are. Never let some label limit what you’re capable of and never use ADHD an excuse for your shortcomings.
If you have ADHD or think you do and believe it’s holding you back, see a doctor. A doctor can either directly provide medication or refer you to someone that share behavior skills to help you manage it.
ADHD is not a death sentence to productivity. Not at all. Take a step back, recognize your behaviors and take action to address them. You never know, you might even begin to enjoy your ADHD brain sometimes!