I turned thirty on Wednesday. I got to spend a wonderful birthday evening with my sweetie, and had a fun couple of weeks leading up to it with my family.
My sleep schedule got a wee bit messed up during and after all that, unfortunately. I got a decent amount of work done while my siblings were here, but after a few too many late nights and early mornings to say goodbye before flights, I wound up sleep deprived and let my decent sleep habits slip. As a result. I’ve been kind of spacey for a few days and while I didn’t really feel like going to bed early on my birthday, I definitely need to fix it now. It’s hard for me to believe how much it really affects my mental state, sometimes.
I feel sort of fine for a while when I’m sleeping badly, but it’s incredibly hard to keep any intentions in mind long enough to act on them. I notice at the end of the day that I haven’t done any of what I meant to do, so I stay up late and tell myself I’ll catch up. It’s a bad cycle. To circumvent this, I’m writing a very short post and then heading to bed even though I feel guilty about not having done this yesterday.
I’ve been back and forth to the doctor a few times, but that’s about all I can manage this week. Unfortunately, that means I don’t have any brain for content writing right this minute. I got some fiction work done over the weekend, at least.
I also ran across these stunning wild hybrid roses on a recent walk, and wanted to share them. Wild roses are usually pink, so this bright red is particularly striking.
Maybe this series should be titled Ideas for ADHD Creatives, not tips. Tips implies that I know what I’m talking about with a little more certainty than I actually feel, but here are my thoughts on habit and ADHD.
It sometimes seems to me that people with ADHD have a double curse. We tend to thrive when our environments are consistent, because it cuts down on distraction and reduces decision fatigue, but we are also easily bored and frustrated by sameness. We aren’t always able to build habits the same way neurotypical people do, and may even unconsciously rebel and mess up the habits that we do build when they become too constricting.
If you’re one of the ADHD folks who struggles to build habits at all, no matter how many times you do the same thing, you may find even the simplest repetitive tasks frustrating. I hate brushing my teeth, personally. It bores me. My impression is that for neurotypical people, toothbrushing is mostly an autopilot experience, but that’s not how it is for me. Every day, I have to make the choice and spend that willpower to get my teeth brushed, every time. The habit that is supposed to make it an automatic action doesn’t ever seem to kick in. This has left me feeling kind of like a failure, because I’ve heard all my life that good habits are all I lack to be a more productive person. (Gotta love that old “you’re too smart to be failing” speech.)
I’ve read The Power of Habit, and it was definitely a very interesting book that I’d recommend to anyone who finds the human brain fascinating, but my brain’s not really on board with the whole habit thing. ADHD folks have probably all been told at one point or another that they’re just being lazy because they won’t develop a consistent work ethic, and it sucks, because ADHD is not a mindset problem. It’s a fundamental difference in brain function, and many neurotypical people fail to grasp that concept. If your brain has never let you down in this way, it’s hard to understand that there’s a gap between your choices and your ability to execute them consistently. Brains are complicated machines, and they can break down in confusing ways, and thinking harder at the problem is not always, or even frequently, a solution.
So, why might routine or ritual potentially be more helpful than habit? They are pretty similar.
Well, for one thing, it takes a little bit of the emotional pressure off. If you can’t form the habits you want, or if your habits are unreliable and require more energy to maintain than you feel they should, it’s easy to get discouraged. A ritual or routine is something you do regularly, but they don’t carry the same expectation of some kind of internal change or impetus. I kinda like ritual right now, because it even carries a little bit of the connotation that it’s supposed to take some energy to complete. The ritual has value in itself, and you can feel good that you completed it without being frustrated that it didn’t happen automatically. The energy put into the task is part of the act.
A routine can be more mindless, though still lacking that expectation of increasing ease over time, but a ritual is supposed to be a bit of an event. Both can be really helpful.
People with ADHD are always going to have to work a little harder for their consistency, but it doesn’t have to be a massive drag. It’s okay to find ways to make consistency fun, or at least bearable. So, when you sit down to work, maybe light a candle. Do some breathing exercises that make you feel good. Make some tea, coffee, or fizzy juice. Put in headphones and turn on loud bouncy music, if that does it for you. Take a few minutes for mindfulness meditation or yoga. Have a shower and scrub off all your self-doubt before you go to the blank page, or take a bath with nice scents and focus on your muse. An act of self care, like toothbrushing, can at least become a little more tolerable when seen in that light, and not just as an annoying requirement. Treat yourself and your time like you’re special and important. (Or mystical, if that’s your thing. It’s not mine, but hey! You do you.)
Speaking of mysticism, I’d also like to point out that ritual can shift mindset very effectively, which is why it’s so integral to religion. The right ritual can take you from stressed to calm, or put you in a more focused headspace. Whether a reliable habit forms around it or not, it can still encourage your brain to respond to triggers that help you get ready for work, or for creative thinking, or whatever it is that you want to do next.
It’s possible that when you take the pressure off your ADHD brain to build habits, and instead lean into the intentionality of your regular actions, you might be able to build habits after all. If not, then you’re still taking care of yourself, and you’re still getting what you need to do done, it’s just maybe happening in a way that acknowledges your natural inclinations a little better.
The other nice thing about rituals and routines is that it’s okay to change them. It’s okay to add new things, and remove parts that don’t work for you anymore, and to choose new routes with prettier scenery. Habits are usually meant to be static and reliable, but neither of those is a major characteristic of ADHD functioning, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. All those life-hacks for preserving mental energy by having a wardrobe of nothing but grey hoodies and jeans, so you never have to choose an outfit in the morning, aren’t gonna work for everyone. It’s okay to keep things fresh. What matters is what you get out of those repetitive actions, so if you don’t get what you need out of a routine, feel free to change the way you go about it.
Always always clear your workspace before going to bed.
Yeah, we’ve all been told this as kids, but I think it’s especially important for all people whose focus and executive function is naturally unreliable. I can leave a project in the middle, plan to clean up my office in the morning, and really mean it, and then it can suddenly be a week later. The office has just gotten messier, and I’ve been too stressed to go in there for days. I only know how long it’s been because my poor houseplants have shriveled up in the intervening time.
Sleep is when our brains tend to do a major reset. My mood and motivation when I wake up is at its least predictable. I may have been fired up to finish that project when I went to bed, riding high on many hours of focused effort, and I still might wake up with zero interest in continuing it right now. Then, that project is suddenly standing between me and any other work.
I tend to feel guilty when I leave something unfinished, especially if it produced some sort of mess. The guilt stops me from even wanting to clear up the project so I can do other things, because I feel that if I’m interacting with it at all, I should be finishing it. This is a trap. It’s a trap I could have avoided if I had cleared up the night before, before my brain reset.
Yes, it’s a bit of a dilemma if you’ve been working for twelve hours straight, and now it’s 4am, and you desperately need to sleep so you won’t be a sad potato in the morning. You’ve got to weigh the potential results, though. If you stay up an extra hour to force yourself to tidy up while you still have a teeny bit of momentum to work with, you’ll definitely be tired in the morning. If you don’t do that, and you do go to bed, and your brain resets, and you can’t face the mess, and you can’t use your workspace for anything else until you do deal with the mess, how many hours or days will take for you to recover from that?
If you work on your couch, like I did until recently, make sure you get rid of your old coffee cups and hide the TV remote before going to bed. Fluff up your pillow. Don’t leave anything in your spot that would require an extra step before getting to work. Charge your computer. This applies to digital mess, too. If your screen is full of the thing that you were working on before, will you be able to go straight to work on other stuff, or will you panic when you open your laptop and start binge-watching Youtube videos on time management instead?
For me, this means that I have a rule now: I can’t go to bed until my desk is clear, my chair is ready to sit in, and my laptop is charging. I know from experience that the cost of me being tired in the morning is not as long-lasting as the cost of me feeling stressed about going into my office. I’d rather plop down at my desk with a cup of tea and blearily mess around until my meds kick in than spend three days avoiding my office by doing every household chore and errand I can think of and then telling myself I’ll get back to the writing work tomorrow.
Whatever the space and resources are that you need to work, make sure they’re ready to use before you do something that you know tends to reset your motivation, whether that’s sleep or video games or another activity. You can’t necessarily count on having the energy later, but you can try to help take care of your future self when you do have it in you.
At least, not of creating things. Heights and ants will probably always freak me out. (Don’t judge me. Ants are so creepy.) I am sick of letting the chorus of negative voices in my head have a say about what I do, though, because I really can’t do anything well enough for them. They are literally never satisfied, and they never will be, because they don’t actually want me to improve. They want me to stop. Doing nothing with my interests and talents is a shitty option, but it’s the only thing that keeps those asshole voices at bay.
This is a process, obviously, because nothing ever happens overnight, especially major changes in self-image and behavior, but I’ve been working on adjusting the way I think about myself. It’s one thing to remind myself that I have a right to mess up, and I do, but it’s another to tell myself that I’m already someone who can handle that. “I think I can” is different in impact from “I’m already there, and need to keep moving.”
It’s okay to be confident. Lots of people know that, and live it, but I haven’t. My experience was that any time I felt confident about any aspect of my life, I got smacked back down by someone, or reminded that I had messed something else up. It hurt, and it made me wary, because learning from the past is part of what makes us the really successful monkeys that we are. But, I don’t want my future to just be more of my past, so I’m telling that adaptable part of me that it needs to adjust its expectations accordingly. It doesn’t work so well with hopes and dreams for the future, but it kinda gets the here and now, and it really lives in the past. So, I’m changing the material it has to work with, slowly, one thought at a time.
I’m someone who can handle making mistakes. That’s true. I’ll probably still remember them sometimes when I’m trying to sleep, and cringe, but I really believe that anything worth doing is worth doing badly. I want to do things with my life that are worth embarrassing myself over. I’ve only got the one life to work with, and I’ll be damned if I’m willing to waste it for the sake of people who haven’t got my best interests at heart, trying to reach standards that were only ever designed to be impossible.
“Done” is so much better than “perfect.” “Perfect” is a fantasy, but “done” is right there, waiting for us to get around to it.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that Sea Lions suck. Or at least, it should be.
No, not the graceful marine mammals, but the guys (and some non-guys) who gleefully waste the time and energy of people who respond to their willful ignorance in good faith. The more a person honestly cares about educating and helping others, the more vulnerable they become to these unmitigated trashbags. That’s the worst part, to me, at least. They specifically prey on caring people in order to drive them to completely legitimate frustration and exhaustion, at which point they turn to gaslighting. They were just asking questions. They just want to understand. This kind of behavior is why activists never get anywhere.
Ironically, they’re sort of right about that last part. Working our asses off to educate these malicious garbage cans is not productive. It’s more like cooperating with emotional vampires while they suck our lives away, but we’re required to do it because people who lack privilege are always required to assume good faith on the part of privileged assholes long past the point where it becomes painfully obvious that they’re just dicking with us.
Their tone is always disgustingly condescending to start with, and it only gets more ridiculous as conversations go on. They love to incorrectly accuse others of logical fallacies, while actually using them freely themselves. Their questions are repetitive and can be easily Googled, their super clever arguments are all exactly the same offensive and illogical nonsense, and they blatantly refuse to learn, no matter how clearly anything is put to them. Their protestations of innocence when they’re called on this are similarly cookie-cutter and blatantly insincere.
It’s infuriating that even here, in my own space, I feel obligated to explain what they’re doing and to make my case as to why they don’t deserve our time, when all that should need to be said to this behavior is “No.”
“Intriguing post about your boss hitting on you in the workplace, could you please provide several scientific studies to back up your personal experience and also a psychic to prove that he meant to be sexist in the first place?”
“Well then, prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that I wasn’t asking in earnest.”
They lose their shit, I gotta tell you. Sea-lioning jerks absolutely unravel at the seams when someone won’t play their rigged game. They melt down, and desperately try to force reengagement. Their supporters flock to wail about the unfairness of such a harsh response to an innocent question and to bemoan the future of the civilized world when a random person won’t accept their challenge to a word-duel literally anytime they demand one. Truly, human intellect is dead because a woman won’t drop everything to explain feminism 101 for a completely uncooperative and demanding audience. How can her personal experiences with sexism be legitimate if she doesn’t submit to random interrogations at the drop of a hat?
I still personally feel deeply insecure about just saying “no,” because that’s how I have been conditioned to feel. I want to explain what it feels like, as a woman, to have grown up absorbing the inescapable fact that my opinions and knowledge are all subject to challenge and judgment by men. Any man, no matter his qualifications on a topic or mine, can challenge me freely, and if I don’t play, he can declare me ignorant and hysterical and automatically wrong. He can do this, and he will receive support from pretty much any bystanders, because this is totally normalized.
The thing is, though, I shouldn’t have to defend my experience of this. Other women already know the helpless rage this induces, and men just need to stop perpetuating it. Y’all dudes can just take my word for it, that this experience is infuriating and invalidating, and you really should just take my damn word. This same principle also applies to racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and more.
What if that fine inquisitive fellow was actually in earnest, though, you ask? What if he didn’t deserve this cruel treatment? What if he wasn’t literally Hitler?
“No” is still a completely reasonable answer, and one that should be respected. So is “Look it up yourself, person who clearly has access to the internet and its vast stores of recorded knowledge.”
If I say something true, and won’t explain it to you, it’s still true. Mind-blowing, I know.
If you say something ridiculously wrong, and I point it out, I am not honored bound to become your indentured teacher until you admit your mistake or defeat me.
Refusal to argue has nothing to do with the correctness of a person’s beliefs.
This doesn’t mean that many beliefs are not inherently harmful. Many are. This doesn’t mean that many beliefs should not be challenged whenever they’re expressed. Many should be. Sometimes, this shit gets complicated, but I swear that nobody owes a damn sea lion the satisfaction of a fruitless argument.
You can just say “no.” You can say it at any point in the process, too. That’s kinda how consent works, and those principles extend far beyond just sexual interactions.
I don’t have a ton to say today, but I’m kinda proud of the work I’ve done this week. It’s been busy, but mostly productive. I got my hair cut, finally. It had been threatening to strangle me in my sleep. My valentine’s day came a day late, but it was very comfy and full of yummy food. My husband made his awesome rice pilaf, and we got all caught up on Crazy Ex Girlfriend.
Oh, I also un-broke my dog. Peruvian Inca Orchids tend to be a little high-strung at the best of times, but our boy gets especially weird when he doesn’t get enough exercise, and it manifests as him becoming incredibly clingy with our other dog, to the point where it genuinely pisses her off. This leads to a horrible cycle where she snarls at him for bugging her, and he tries even harder to be all up in her personal space because he’s upset about getting barked at, and I can’t work because they’re doing this right next to me on the couch. Walks around the city seem to do nothing for him, but a few trips to the park a week completely restores his chill, so I’ve learned my lesson. I had been putting off the park and telling myself that I needed to stay close to home and focus on work, but that ends up being counterproductive, even when it doesn’t turn one half of my pack into an emotional wreck.
I don’t necessarily end up getting much more work done when I put off doing stuff I enjoy, since it’s easier to work when I’m in a better frame of mind. There’s a fine line between that and totally losing track of the whole day, but I’m getting better at toeing it.
Plus, I guess, exercise is supposed to have some sort of health benefits and make it easier to think clearly or something. Seems questionable to me, though. I don’t buy into all these newfangled fads like cardio and celery. I go outside mostly to turn over logs for salamanders, watch my dogs hunt chihuahuas, and take moody pictures of trees.