I never should promise to continue a story at the bottom of one newsletter unless said story is already written. As much as I enjoy a completed narrative arc, I have trouble with follow-through.
The idea is, of course, to create some accountability, something my ADHD brain needs. By saying I’ll be back next week, it books an appointment (albeit loosely) on the calendar. By telling you what I’ll be writing about, it gives me a starting point so I’m not aimlessly chucking stories in my head at the screen. All good things. In theory, anyway.
I really should know better. Appointments, commitment, regularity, and a narrowed topic often leave me feeling like I’ve painted myself into a corner. I huddle in that corner typing garbage drafts and worrying I’ll jinx myself if I write about whatever I’m working on before it’s ready. Or worse, I don’t write anything at all and abandon ship thinking, ‘Well, I’m off the rails already, why bother?’.
I often experience the same thing when booking some kind of appointment. It’s fine when I make the appointment, because look at me! I crossed something off of my towering to-do list! It was likely something that had been camping on said list for weeks and weeks if not months, so yay, dopamine! If I also remember to write the appointment on my calendar and program several reminders into my phone so I won’t forget, it’s like a mini reward all in itself. Look at all this adulting I’m doing! More dopamine!
But then the week arrives and the appointment looms, ominous and overbearing (it’s a hundred times worse if there are multiple appointments in one week). Even if the appointment isn’t until Thursday, it can be almost impossible to concentrate on Monday. And Thursday itself? Forget about it. Even if the appointment isn’t until 4pm, I will worry all day about my schedule and my productivity will tank.
I remember standing in the kitchen one day, trying to explain this to Eric. I was gesturing at our family calendar and the words coming out of my mouth were so ludicrous I couldn’t believe I was even trying to articulate them. How could an appointment four days from now wreck the current afternoon? But he just crossed the kitchen, put a hand on my shoulder, and said, “It’s okay, I’ll remind you. And I can take [whichever kid it was] to the orthodontist.” My whole entire body relaxed. I no longer had to try to keep all the time for the whole week in my brain when my brain couldn’t even parse what time was.
Is it not a wonder we didn’t suspect ADHD YEARS AND YEARS ago?
Eric helped me put time on the outside of my body. He was a living, breathing, walking, speaking timer, reminder, and ‘we have to leave now-er’. He helped make time tangible. When I flew right past the hour we’d agreed to leave a party, he would (after failed in-person reminders [sometimes difficult to give if I was in the middle of telling an animated story]) get up, go outside, start the car, and back out of the driveway. If kids were with us, he’d load them up too. It never failed. My clock had left the building; his absence would activate my lackadaisical prefrontal region and reconnect me to the passage of time.
Inside my brain, time and I are in a long-standing feud. It insists it is concrete by virtue of our orbit through space, and is measurable and therefore real. I insist it is a made-up concept defined only by society as we have shaped it, and therefore irrefutably fake. I can’t see it, I can’t hold it in my hands, I can’t estimate it, I can’t anticipate it.
After Eric died, my tenuous tether to time frayed and snapped. Time blindness exacerbated by profound grief made it feel like I’d fallen into a Salvador Dalí painting. Surrounded my melting, useless clocks, I forgot what day it was, forgot to pick up kids, and almost got fired by our dentist office for booking 5 appointment slots in one afternoon and then promptly missing them all. I forgot my grandpa’s birthday, underestimated travel times, and always, ALWAYS thought I had more time than I actually did.
Sadly, I cannot order a giant, yet gentle man off of Amazon to lovingly follow me around barking out reminders or nudge me toward the door. 💔 So I have to figure out how to build a portion of what Eric did for me out of
duct tape and staples apps.
My friend Valerie shared Dr.Barkley’s video on Instagram the other day, and though I’ve read a thousand ADHD books and articles, it still felt revelatory to listen to someone describe my brain. A transcribed excerpt:
“You have a disorder of performance, not knowledge. You know what to do, but can’t do it. You have a disorder of the when and the where, not the what and the how. Your problem is not with knowing what to do, it’s with doing what you know.” - Dr. Russell Barkley (Emphasis mine).
Not everything he talks about in the video applies to me. He suggests chopping big assignments and jobs into small chunks, whereas I do my best work if I can ‘get into the zone’ as Eric and I called it (ADHD hyperfocus). Working on writing a book little by little is really difficult for me, whereas I can barf out an entire 90-130k word novel in a single month if I focus on little else. Telling the rest of the world to piss off while I write is impossible in an Eric-less world, but is of course, my preferred way to write books. 💔
These points in Dr. Barkley’s lecture hit home:
By taking my medication, working to recognize all the ways Eric supported me, and putting effort into building new systems (or shoring up old ones) that help replace that support, I’m making progress.
Making mental information external: I’ve long used to-do lists, journals, and brain dumps, but recently added a Monitor Memo Board (affiliate link) to my iMac and use color-coded sticky notes to remind me of stuff I might forget if I write it in a notebook that can close and therefore disappear.
My brain dumps were largely sitting at the end of the bed and processing crap with Eric, but I’ve switched to talking to him anyway. It still helps, and feels familiar because he was such a good listener (read: let me talk endlessly). I (desperately) miss his input and advice, but can often imagine what he might say or think about a problem or a decision. It’s not the same, but it’s what I’ve got.
Make time physical: Time blindness remains a difficult one. I cannot function without alarms in my phone to wake up, to take meds, feed myself, get ready for appointments well in advance, leave on time, etc. I looked at a lot of different color-coded timers like this one (affiliate link) (so cute!), but am not sure visualizing short periods of time (clocks only measure up to sixty minutes) will do me much good. I have used the pomodoro method when I’m overwhelmed and can’t seem to get started, but often end up working much longer than the set twenty minutes anyway. I don’t always need motivation to work in small pieces; I need alerts so I don’t work for eight hours straight and forget everything else.
My brother likes this reminder app which looks really promising, but the app of my dreams is something that will pop up on my computer screen and sync with all my other devices. The Timeless: Alarm Clock app for Mac comes so close, just look at those rainbow alerts! But reviews are poor and support seems lacking. If you have any recommendations, send them my way.
(Medication has helped me with time the most, I think. On adderall, I can get quite a bit of work done even if there’s an appointment later in the day[!]. I can even return to work after an appointment [!!] which was almost unheard of before. It’s like a whole new world.)
Making motivation external: This funny little in-browser program called War Room is helping. I can create to-do lists, sort them into color-coded groups (color helps me so much!) and I get a sweet little confetti animation when I check off a task. The confetti is more fun than it has any right to be.
It’s supposed to be more effective with friends, so if you want to maintain a visual task list with me (you can blur out private tasks), my friend code is: feeling283.
I’ve tried hundreds of programs/apps, and none are perfect, but I’m at least using War Room regularly.
I will eventually write about everything I’m working on in a somewhat desperate attempt to keep the lights on; I just can’t promise it’ll be on a specific day. I know nobody really cares whether I stick to any kind of schedule or not (and some of the things I’m working on are open secrets anyway) but it helps me when I acknowledge my limitations out loud.
Thanks for being here, Jessica