The other day I shared that I was recently diagnosed with ADHD.
I have struggled for so long with so many things, and I’m not sure how it took me 53 years to put two and two together.
In hindsight it’s SO OBVIOUS.
I started medication about eight weeks ago.
We are still adjusting/tweaking/determining the best medication and dosage, but how I was functioning pre-medication and how I’m functioning now are night and day.
Medication has truly been life changing already.
But it’s not a cure-all.
There’s other stuff I need to do in conjunction with medication if I want to stay on task and be focused and productive.
A couple days ago a friend of mine shared this blog post – I Wrote My Own IEP (Individualized Excellence Plan) and It Changed Everything.
If you are a teacher or have/had a child with learning disabilities, then you know what an IEP is.
It’s an Individualized Education Plan (or Program), and it’s written specifically for students who are eligible for special education.
An IEP is developed according to each child’s specific needs and educational goals. It takes into account what the student’s strengths are, and it outlines what specific support services, accomodations, etc. will be put into place so the student can succeed in school and achieve his/her goals.
It never occurred to me that this is something an adult would benefit from. Something that I would benefit from
Until I read that post my friend shared, anyway.
My biggest a-ha moment after reading that post wasn’t how I would seriously benefit from creating my own IEP (Individualized Excellence Plan as the author of the article calls it).
My biggest a-ha moment was realizing I believed that once I graduated from high school and officially became an adult, I should have figured out and mastered, well… everything.
That becoming an adult equals being proficient in all areas.
That challenges you have as a kid disappear once you are in your twenties. Or thirties. Or fifties.
I mean you become bigger and stronger and smarter and more experienced as you grow up, but your brain doesn’t completely change.
Some challenges you have as a kid you will have your whole life.
And if you needed some help as a kid to navigate those challenges then there is a good chance you will still need some help as an adult.
And that’s okay!
I have been exerting so much energy to try and operate the way other people do, to try and do things that are really, really, REALLY hard for me to do all by myself, and I finally understand that my brain just can’t do some of those things unassisted.
Or it can, but it’s most likely going to take A LOT longer than it takes most other people.
I’m really good at asking for help when it comes to situations where I have to be in two places at the same time. When it’s physically impossible for me to do everything by myself.
But when it’s brain-related stuff it’s a different story (in my head).
I tell myself I’m smart enough to be able to do it independently. That I shouldn’t need any help. That I’m a fifty-three-year-old woman for crying out loud.
That’s where the problem is.
Yeah, I’m intelligent and educated.
I was a teacher. A well-respected one!
I’m a coach. A well-respected one!
I know how to manage large groups of kids.
I should also know how to keep stuff organized.
I should be able to draft an email in less than two hours.
I should be able to stay focused on something for more than thirty seconds.
I should be able to carry on a conversation without completely forgetting what I was talking about mid-sentence.
I should be able to remember people’s names.
These are the things I’ve been repeating to myself on a loop for as long as I can remember.
You know what they say…
Stop shoulding on yourself.
I have spent so much time comparing my (in)ability to be efficient and effective and productive to other people’s ability to do the same thing.
If they can do it then I should be able to do it, too.
I don’t do that to my kids.
I don’t tell them they should be able to do whatever their friends are able to do in the same exact way and with the same level of independence.
I tell them that everyone needs different things.
Some people need to wear glasses to see clearly. Some people don’t.
Wearing glasses doesn’t mean you are less capable than your non-glasses wearing peers.
It just means your eyes work differently.
Needing help/assistance/accountability/strategies/support to get something done as an adult doesn’t make you less capable than other adults.
It just means the way you achieve a certain result might look different than the way someone else achieves it.
I wouldn’t consider a teacher who can’t walk and needs to use a wheelchair to get around to be incompetent. Or a failure.
So why have I been considering myself to be a failure when my brain doesn’t work the way I need or want it to and I need some help?
Why is it acceptable to need/accept/utilize help when our legs don’t work effectively but not when our brains don’t work effectively?
I have spent so many years beating myself up for having a brain that needs some help to do things that other people can do without any help at all.
I have spent so many years trying to figure out how to force my brain to do things that it just can’t do without help.
If I suddenly lost the use of my legs I’m pretty sure I’d accept the assistance of a wheelchair.
I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t spend thirty years beating myself up for not being able to walk, hell bent on army crawling my way through life until I figured out how to walk again without any assistance from anything or anyone.
I’d take the wheelchair.
I have spent my entire adult life refusing the wheelchair.
Not any more!
I need help to do the things I want to do. I need help to reach my goals. I need help if I want to continue to be my own boss.
What kind of help do I need? What do I want to include in my IEP?
The following 9 things:
Medication is the proverbial wheelchair my brain needs.
The best way I can describe what my brain usually feels like is this:
There are some pretty awesome thoughts and ideas in there, but they are flying around at approximately 150 miles per hour and it’s really hard to get them to settle down enough to make sense of them or for the really good ideas to actually make their way out.
Trying to get the winning thoughts/ideas/words down the chute takes a lot of effort. And by the end of the day I’m exhausted.
Here’s another accurate way of describing it (turn the sound on):
But with medication the flying ping pong ball thoughts are able to slow down.
They even settle for a little bit.
I’m able to figure out how to get started on something with relative ease.
IT’S PRETTY AMAZING.
2. Structure and routines
I don’t intrinsically love structure. I love total freedom. I love to be able to act immediately on the thoughts I have in my head.
In the short term, anyway.
In the moment I love being able to fly by the seat of my pants.
I also love eating ice cream. But when I do it all the time then my pants don’t fit.
Loving something doesn’t make it healthy or helpful.
In the long term, living the majority of my life on the fly is not fun.
The more structure I have in place, the happier I am long-term.
As Jocko Willink says, discipline equals freedom.
Given the choice between freedom from structure or freedom from long-term chaos, I’ll take option B.
Future Susie wants – and needs – structure.
I am a really good procrastinator.
I wish I sucked at it but it’s one of my special talents.
Even with deadlines I still procrastinate.
But without deadlines, I don’t accomplish much of anything at all. Medication has definitely helped me in this area, but it’s always going to be something I have to actively practice.
I am much more successful at completing tasks and projects with deadlines in place.
4. Accountability Partners
When I have someone to check in with every day I am much more likely to follow through with what I’ve committed to than when I don’t.
5. Limited Blocks of Free Time
I was most consistent with writing blog posts when the kids were really young and I had very little free time available to me.
Once they were awake, blog post writing time was finished. I had no time to waste. I got up at 4:30 every morning knowing that I had an hour – 90 minutes if I was lucky – to write a post.
It was a race against the clock every morning, and I hardly ever lost.
The smaller the window of time I have available to me, the more productive I am. Especially without medication.
Pre-medication a five-hour block of time with no appointments or obligations went almost completely to waste.
I routinely accomplished MUCH more on a day where I had two hours available to me than a day where I had eight free hours.
6. Use a timer and the Pomodoro Technique
Whether it’s laundry or writing a blog post or drafting an email, I rely heavily on a timer when I’m doing anything independently.
Without a timer I lose all track of time.
Sometimes a timer helps me stay on task. Other times a timer helps bring me out of a daydream when I’ve drifted into la-la land.
I don’t just randomly use a timer – I employ the Pomodoro Technique whenever possible.
Pomodoro is Italian for tomato and there was an Italian dude who devised a way to stay focused and on task using a kitchen timer that looked like a tomato, hence the name.
He set a timer for 25 minutes and got to work.
When the timer went off, he took a 5 minute break.
Then he repeated that for 4 rounds.
After the fourth pomodoro, he took a longer, 15 – 30 minute break.
This technique works so well for me.
Whenever I have a block of time that’s longer thana half hour, I pomodoro the crap out of it.
7. 30 Minutes of Exercise Every Day
My brain works a lot better when I exercise consistently.
In fact, I come up with many of my best ideas when I’m exercising. It calms my brain down and settles those flying lottery balls so the good thoughts can make their way through
8. Use a planner.
Using a planner helps me stay organized and on track. It makes it harder for me to forget things and miss appointments.
It also forces me to be a little bit more realistic about how long it takes me to complete tasks and about how many things I can accomplish in a set period of time.
9. Keep my phone in another room.
My phone is a pretty big distraction, especially when my brain gets tired. It’s instant relief.
When I don’t see it, I don’t pick it up.
Keeping it in another room when I’m doing things that require focus and concentration really helps me stay on task and be much more productive.
When I do all 9 of these things I can really get shit done.
The hardest part of this is actually following the plan and giving myself the services and support I need.
But it feels good to have a better understanding of how and why I do (or don’t do) things the way that I do them.
It feels even better to stop expecting my brain to do stuff it’s not capable of.
My brain isn’t broken. It just needs a little help.
I’m finally figuring out how to give myself everything I need in order to seriously kick some ass.
And I am so excited to see where I am a year from now.