The ADHD Homestead

Building a good life with ADHD.

Tag: time blindness

Derailment, ADHD, & the Pit of Domestic Despair

Toward the end of March, my immune system sabotaged all my good habits. My son brought home a bug that hardly affected him, but — like the evil kid illness it was —  gave me 12 days of low-grade fever. I muddled through. Mostly. But I didn’t exercise, hardly set foot in my office, and got off track with my daily habits. Clutter piled up and projects stagnated. I lost sight of wellness and productivity and couldn’t imagine either being part of my life again.

I was headed straight for the Pit of Domestic Despair.

Fortunately, I’m aware of ADHD’s time blindness. Though it wasn’t deeply reassuring, I told myself I wouldn’t be sick forever.

I also repeated, over and over, “it’s okay. You’re okay. We’re okay.”

Habits break, systems break, and it’s not the end of the world — or even the good habit.

Or, rather, it doesn’t have to be.

Derailment,ADHD,& thePit of Domestic Despair

“No, thanks” to self-loathing. “Yes, please” to equanimity.

ADHD does more than make it tough to stay on course. Through years of repeated failure, we teach ourselves that failure is inevitable. New habits and projects excite us, but only to a point. By adulthood, our cynicism always lurks in the shadows, reminding us that success is fleeting. Yes, we’re doing it, but only for now. Only until the next time everything falls apart.

I’ve spent years learning to stay organized and form intentional habits, but my most important lesson has been in accepting failure. Everyone gets off track sometimes. Even people without ADHD. The key isn’t staying on the wagon, it’s knowing how to climb back on.

When a habit breaks or a project stagnates or a deadline gets missed, it’s not a confirmation of all my self-doubt and self-criticism. Letting the house get messy one week doesn’t signal a return to my “real” (i.e. unhappy, unfocused, disorganized, unproductive) self. It means I messed up. Or I had a fever for 12 days. It’s just a thing that happened.

This brings me to my favorite word: equanimity. It means remaining neutral in the face of life’s gains and losses, and it’s a skill I’ll be honing for the rest of my life. In this case, it means looking at my messy house and my broken habits, saying, “okay,” and moving on without much fanfare.

There’s usually something beyond Right Now (even if we don’t believe it).

I eventually felt better — obviously. And for the first time, I didn’t spend my first day on the mend beating myself up or lamenting the impossible task in front of me. I just got up and kept going. Slowly.

With the energy I saved by not spinning myself up to a state of intense despair, overwhelm, and self-loathing, I started to dig out of the Pit of Domestic Despair. I (finally) changed the sheets on our bed. I spent a week chipping away at my overflowing inbox. I attacked the accumulated clutter, bit by bit. I refused to start on any projects until I’d gotten back to a workable baseline. I spent my energy getting to a place where I could feel good again.

It’s taken me a long time to learn this. To learn, for example, that instead of sitting in the house and complaining about my bad attitude, I should put on my shoes and go for a run. ADHD is often a problem of inertia. Overcoming inertia, even if we only take one itty-bitty, tiny step, is half the battle.

Everyone gets stuck. The more gracefully we can accept this and move on, the better. ADHD tempts us to believe Right Now is all there is. That makes messy surroundings and broken habits feel overwhelming and permanent. The Pit of Domestic Despair becomes a black hole. It’s taken me almost 32 years, but I’ve finally taken a leap of faith. I don’t always believe something better is waiting around the bend. I’m  just willing to inch my way over there and find out.


What you need to know about ADHD, impulsivity, and self-harm

We’ve all made jokes about our ADHD. A little gallows humor can keep us from getting too down on ourselves.

But be careful. Impulsivity, time-blindness, and low self-esteem can create the perfect storm — and a potentially life-threatening situation.

ADHD suicide risk

ADHD has a dark side, and several studies suggest it increases suicide risk as much as five-fold.

Relentless emotional volatility and feelings of failure can lead to a lot of negative self-talk: “I’m such a screw-up,” “my family is embarrassed by me,” “I’m a burden,” “I’ll never accomplish anything meaningful,” “my hopes and dreams are worthless because I’ll never come close to any of it,” “everyone would be better off without me.”

For ADHD adults and teens, these thoughts feel like more than a blip, a dark mood that will lift tomorrow.

Time-blindness means we can’t (not just dont — often, we truly can’t) see outside the moment. This moment of weakness becomes all there is. The good times, or even the days when we can see and acknowledge our strengths in spite of it all, don’t feel real. Our perceptions of ourselves lock in on right now, and right now feels like past, present, and future all rolled into one.

It’s at this moment that ADHD-fueled impulsivity — the part of us that fails to consider the longl-term consequences of our actions — crosses from childish and annoying to tragic and potentially fatal.

What to do when it becomes too much

If you’re feeling out of control and frightened, ask for help. Reach out to a friend, go hang out in a public place, take a break. If all else fails, get yourself to the emergency room. As a teenager, I escorted a friend to our local ER’s crisis intervention center and learned firsthand what a lifesaver it can be — even in the middle of the night.

Whatever you do, don’t let yourself believe your problems aren’t real, that it’s “just ADHD,” not a “real” mental health issue. Comorbid disorders are common, and ADHD’s impulsivity and impaired perception of time and consequences can fuel risky behavior.

Unsurprisingly, women and girls with ADHD suffer from high rates of self-harming behavior. Many slip through the cracks and remain undiagnosed until their teens or even adulthood. Girls tend to internalize their struggles more than boys, and ADHD symptoms can manifest differently.

Parents beware: as children mature into their teens and early adulthood, hyperactive ADHD symptoms may fade, but don’t let that fool you. Just because you can’t see symptoms on the outside doesn’t mean your kids don’t need you. In fact, they may need you now more than ever.

Have your or your child had an experience with self-harming behavior? How did you cope, and what would you recommend for someone in a similar situation?


The power of right now

right now

“Wait,” my friend said, “did I just hear you say you sweep the floor every day?”

Never mind that I sweep the floor every day because I won’t devote the time or energy to doing it right. Sweeping every day enables me to do a spectacularly half-assed job and still keep a pretty clean house.

What I should have told her, though, is I sweep the floor every day right now.

When it comes to ADHD, we can append right now to pretty much anything we call  habit or routine.

I’m emptying my email inbox regularly…right now.

I’m eating well and cutting back on mindless snacking…right now.

I’m really struggling…right now.

And there’s the key. Sometimes I find it demoralizing, the knowledge that nothing is permanent, ever. The knowledge that a bad ADHD day (or week, or month) can roll back all the progress, all the good habits I’ve made over the course of months or years.

It’s all so fragile.

But if the good feels fragile, we should remember that the bad is fragile, too. No mood, no collosal screw-up, no period of total disorganization lasts forever. We can — and do — dig ourselves out eventually. Even if it’s just by forgetting what we were so upset about in the first place.

Or finding something shiny, fun, and new to get excited about.

This can feel like a character flaw. Often, it is a character flaw.

But we can draw strength from it, too. We can smile at a new day, even though yesterday was a train wreck. We can try again with a new personal organization system, even though the last three didn’t work for us.

Unfortunately, our time-blind minds can’t often see beyond the horizon. Right now feels too much like forever. When right now feels good, that’s okay. It’s great.

When right now feels overwhelming and hopeless, we can’t imagine it ever getting better.

Write yourself a note. Remind yourself that right now is just that: right now. It’s not tomorrow. It’s not even later today.

If you’re having a good day, use this as inspiration to keep up the good work. Don’t let complacency sneak in. Don’t let yourself believe you’ve finally gotten your act together “for good this time.”

If you’re struggling, write yourself another note. Reinforce the idea of right now — relentlessly. Even if you can’t see outside the moment — right now — keep reminding yourself you’ll come out the other side eventually. Probably sooner than you think.

And then — watch out.

How are you feeling right now? What has helped you most when you needed a balanced perspective?


Product highlight: David Seah’s productivity tools

Do you struggle with traditional to-do lists?

We recently stumbled upon some innovative (and free!) task management tools courtesy of designer David Seah. If the standard approach to daily to-do lists doesn’t work for you, you need to check these out.

David Seah productivity printable - Concrete Goals Tracker

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Seah has refined his collection of goal-setting, list-making, and time-tracking tools to support his work as a self-employed designer and developer. While most of the free printables on his site can be applied to any situation, some — like the National Novel Writing Month word count calendar — are more specific.

Feeling hesitant to adopt yet another new system? Don’t worry, these tools require no startup investment. No book to read, no special file folders to buy.

David Seah productivity printable - Emergent Task Timer

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“While the tools share similar principles and elements,” Seah writes on his site, “they were not made to be a single integrated system, or even used on a regular basis. Use them when you feel the need to feel more focused, to find out where your time is going, or to just get a different look on your work.” In other words, no pressure. Experiment, find out what works for you, and decide when and how often you use it.

So far, I’ve enjoyed using the Emergent Task Planner to tackle an especially overwhelming day. The Day Grid Balancer gave me lots of insights into my week: how much little stuff I actually got done, how well I balanced time spent on each area of responsibility, and, sadly, how little time I invested in my own happiness. When I went out of town for a few days, I left my husband a stack of Seah’s clever Task Order Ups.

David Seah productivity printable - Emergent Task Planner

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My husband, meanwhile, employed the Emergent Task Timer to help him record and reflect on how long individual tasks took to complete. Time blind ADHD’ers, this one’s for you!

Seah intends to include stationary in his business model, and I’m excited to see where he takes it. So far his productivity tools are fun, clever, and useful. Because they’re free and printable from anywhere, it’s easy to choose when and how many to use without cluttering up your office or spending money on a new gimmick.

I have a well-established GTD-based system, and I was happy to find Seah’s tools won’t infringe upon or distract from an existing setup. Instead, they pinch-hit in a time of specific need, when your brain needs a little something extra to avoid complete overwhelm.

Take a look, try them out, and let me know what’s working for you!


Time blindness & ADHD

Are you (or someone you love) always late?

I don’t just mean running 10 minutes late for a meeting, I mean persistently late. For everything.

Are you time blind?

Late getting out of bed. Late getting into bed (sometimes to the point of never getting into bed). Late sitting down for dinner with your family. Late leaving the office, putting down the video game controller, or getting the baby from her nap.

Or maybe you do okay in these areas. Maybe you’re exhausted by larger-than-life emotions that, while quickly forgotten after the fact, feel all-consuming in the moment.

There’s a name for this: time blindness.

And while you might not believe me yet, there’s hope.

The truth about time blindness.

clock photoPhoto by nicksarebi

Time blindness isn’t just a matter of ‘feeling like’ time is moving quickly or slowly. It’s a failure to view time as linear, concrete, or even finite.

This means most traditional time management strategies won’t work for most ADHD’ers. It doesn’t mean we’re not responsible for how we manage and deal with our ADHD — including our distorted perception of time.

Learning to manage time is one of the best investments you can make in your relationship with yourself and others.

Time blindness & you.

Time blindness manifests differently in everyone, just like ADHD itself. In other words, it’s more complicated than “she always gets out the door late” or “he’s unreliable.”

After my first week on stimulant medication, I wrote the following revelation in my journal: “a week is only a week long.” Obvious? Hardly. I’d never perceived an emotional state, a rough day, or even being unbearably hungry as something with a beginning, a middle, and an end. If you suffer from wild, all-consuming emotions — positive or negative — training your brain to perceive time more accurately can provide significant relief.

Time blindness often causes time to ‘get away’ from people with ADHD. As one ADHD’er put it in an ADDitude discussion thread: ‘I have helpful friends who say, “just look at your watch and leave when it is 3:00 p.m.’ But when I look at my watch, it is 4:30 p.m.!”

For my husband, time blindness shows up in the form of marathon work days, late bedtimes, and plenty of household projects that he “didn’t intend to take all day.”

Time blindness can hurt. It can make those on the receiving end feel confused, disrespected, angry, unimportant, and betrayed. But before you lash out at someone who has broken a social contract (again) by mismanaging their time, remember: it’s not about you. It doesn’t reflect on how important the obligation actually was to them. When a loved one says, “I have no idea why I keep doing this,” they’re telling the truth. They feel every bit as let down as you do.

The only answer is education (for all parties involved), forgiveness, and a lot of patience and compassion.

Finding information and advice.

The Time Timer can help combat ADHD's "time blindness"

The Time Timer can help combat ADHD’s “time blindness”

I’m pleased to have found — and to be able to share with you — this free podcast with Dr. Ari Tuckman, author of More Attention, Less Deficit and Understand Your Brain, Get More DoneDr. Tuckman is approachable and to the point, giving some much-needed information and advice about one of ADHD’s more confounding facets.

Don’t skip the listener comments and questions, either. I found their stories of success and defeat very therapeutic and I suspect many others will, too.

Before you run off and listen to the podcast, here’s a tip from our home to yours: do everything you can to represent time visually. My husband insists he actually reads analog clocks more quickly and easily than digital, and that’s not surprising. Analog clocks quantify time — especially for visually-oriented people — in a way digital cannot.

Likewise, timer apps like Ovo Timer (free, Android-only) or Time Timer ($0.99 Android, $2.99 iOS) start with a chunk of color that gradually disappears. You can also buy standalone Time Timer clocks to keep around the house.

I’m already teaching my two-year-old about time with the Time Timer when we clean up his toys at night. We don’t talk much about numbers, but he understands that when the red wedge disappears, he’s supposed to be ready to move on to the next task.

Do you struggle with lateness or with time ‘getting away from you?’ What are some strategies you’ve tried?


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