I had a very specific process that got me through grad school. I go to the first day of class and I look at each of the deadlines on that list and think about what each of them will require. I make a list of what they will require and then I attack it viciously, while I’m still in class. By the time I’ve left that first class, I have made a list of exactly how many journals articles I’m going to look up and I have outlined my final project with one first choice topic, and usually a backup topic just in case.
By the end of the first week I have created a little folder on my computer desktop that contains a big ol’ wad of the articles I will need for the semester, and I have already considered turning in my second assignment early, having completed the first already. Once I have gotten to that stage, I am able to relax a tiny bit and then will typically deal with the deadlines as they come up. I already have the materials on hand though, which is usually the most consuming part for me, that gathering. I enjoy writing, so the written assignments are easily digested. The group work is harder for me…my brain moves fast and patience is not my natural strong point. I put on a good face for my classmates, but I spend a lot of time behind the scenes getting really really frustrated with the pace of group work, and getting really frustrated because I have the experience that a lot of ADHDers have where you see the end-point and 15 routes to get to it before the rest of the class is on step two…so you sit and wait…and maybe even have to deal with classmates telling you that you are wrong…until suddenly they “get” it and the project does get finished and the frustration is over.
When I was younger I would take people’s comments to heart and thought that they actually meant something, and would internalize “oh, they’re right, I’m wrong” and I would fade into the background of the assignment. I am less likely now to internalize that kind of criticism, and have found different ways to cut through it…turning the questions back on my classmates for example, that’s a good one. Not in a jerky way but in an “oh well why don’t you tell us what your idea is so we can consider it too” kind of way. Or I will push the group a little to decide on an overview, before going off on abstract tangents, and detailed logistical concerns…if we have an overview (which I rely on HEAVILY to get anything done) then I can relax and let them wax abstract until the cows return from practical thinking land to make them integrate things in a meaningful way.
So…I have my “ways of working” that allow me to succeed. If I get thrown off from that at all though…well in grad school life I haven’t had that occur yet, until now.
As an undergrad and sooner…yeah. I was always the underperformer. I was always academically disappointing to myself, and others, and frustrating to teachers, who couldn’t figure out what it was going to take to make me “focus” because that was identified over and over again as my “problem”. And yet, nobody ever thought “ADHD?”…oh no, of course not. It’s so much easier to torture people with assumed moral failings and persistent stereotypes.
ANY-way…so here I am right now, and after a great grad school run where I have been consistently, compulsively disciplined and superhumanly ON THE BALL for the first time in my life and on top of things and kicking ass…here I am floundering. I told myself over these past several months that I should not be motivating myself with fear…that was the only thing I had found that worked. And I had really internalized that whole “your grades mean something about your character” thing to a terrible degree that I struggle to get rid of…so I didn’t know how to let go of fear, and still succeed.
And then, on top of that, my medication trials were not smooth and unfortunately right at the beginning of the semester, right when I do ALL of my semester planning, I was literally unable to do so. I could not think clearly enough to even get to class or communicate well, never mind employ logic and planning to stay on track in class. Then my professors started asking questions and I checked in with my advisor to let her know what was going on…and my professors and my advisor were so open and understanding that it was a relief.
I just had to figure out how to DO this, without doing it that same way, with that same fear of failure motivating me, and my grades determining my character. I’ve been trying to figure this all out, while getting used to new meds, breaking up with my boyfriend, learning new things about myself, losing my assistant at work (so I have had to work more and my schedule is now revolving around work instead of school) and deal with weird pressure from some family about “my progress” and what they think it means…and having a few people in my near vicinity struggling with their own mental health issues and their struggles are crapping out all over in my direction, which takes energy to fend off. It’s been completely insane, and the only positive nugget see in all of that happening at once is that at least I have been given a complex puzzle to solve while I’m trying out new skills. If my life was boring, perhaps it would take even longer to learn these same things. I am being forced to learn to deal with them all at once.
And so…so…here I am and I have been so behind in school and still am, and I’m really worried about it…and I’ve been in this situation with school before, but before it was a result of my inability to organize, and inability to prioritize (hilariously, my antidote to this has been putting EVERYTHING at the top of the list, which is more effective, but still a total inability to prioritize, haha), and I would have too many balls in the air, all of which I chose, and my life seemed out of control and I would do crazy things. One time, and I did confess, and am still embarrassed to admit it, but I lied to a professor about why I couldn’t turn in my final portfolio. Most of the time I would just pull an allnighter, do well enough to “pass” and tell myself that it didn’t matter that much…even though it chewed at my self-esteem because I didn’t know how to have a life that wasn’t like that. I felt like because I was “smart” I should be able to sort everything out and that because I couldn’t, there was something wrong with me (morally speaking, not chemical imbalance-wise).
I would be (always) on the verge of blowing it and either pull off a last minute success, or one of those projects where the professor says “well, here’s an okay grade but if you’d spent more time on it, it would have been an A” or I’d just parely pass and tell myself I didn’t care. Or…sometimes, I would just fail…I had no idea how to make a plan and sometimes no interest, and didn’t know that other people had plans and didn’t just do things by the seats of their pants, and occasionally when I actually would start a plan I would quit it because it was so boring…and I would get distracted…and suddenly I was in three plays, and working on another project, and partying and woring three jobs and…failing in school. Over and over and over and over and over.
I realized, as I am sitting here today trying to get “caught up”…that trying to catch up is its own obstacle, and it’s an obstacle that I don’t really know how to deal with. I have never know how to deal with it. Dealing with it has always meant failure…turning things in late never feels good, even if there should be at least the satisfaction of finishing. And I had the epiphany that…I need to do what I always do, but perhaps subtract the self-torture. I have been struggling to just jump into the fray of the online class discussions without going back and giving myself the framework, because I was trying to prove, to who I don’t know, that I could just go with the flow and that would accomplish something…uh, no. That’s what I used to do in the old-old days and it didn’t work!
I’m finally hearing an important piece of what my therapist has been trying to tell me…don’t throw the good out with the bad, don’t throw the baby with the bathwater. Use the coping techniques that were WORKING and maybe try them with a new attitude. Oh. Ohhhhhh. Oh. So I guess she wasn’t just saying “darn, you did great getting this far without a diagnosis” she is also saying “there must be a reason, you must have been doing something that worked”. I guess because I’m having so many new feelings, I thought I had to have new coping techniques. And I do need to change some out or tweak them.
After all that explanation, the point I’m trying to get to is that I am sitting here making a plan. And not just a plan, but an even better plan than the notes I used to make on my syllabus. I am making a checklist, because I have discovered at work that I like those, because I check things off and it gives me a nice sense of accomplishment. A visual to support my achievement. I’ll admit that right this second, the list is a little overwhelming, but I am starting to feel better because I have a “plan” and I can “see” it on paper in front of me, and I can start checking things off on it later tonight as I finish stuff.
But first…I need to go collect some articles…just like I always do…so that I can read them and get some of the easier assignments checked off on my list, and start to feel even better…instead of just quitting, and wasting my energy on rationalizing another failure.