ADHD / Adult ADHD / Coping Strategies

ADHD: Trusting systems.

Many of us with ADHD come to rely on certain ways of doing things, to help us get by. If we wish to embrace any amount of success in anything meaningful we really have to be willing to stay open to trying systems and devices. Systems can help us keep our minds focused on short and longer-term goals. Systems and devices can remind us of things we need to do. Systems can do a lot that our brains don’t organically do, and that’s great.

I seem to have discovered a thin line between my ability to use a system and my ability to trust a system. It makes sense – I had systems both succeed, and fail, for 33 years until I was diagnosed and had a better context for understanding why. I still have systems that succeed and fail. As an added bonus quirk – I’m really good at thinking of systems, and especially good at coming up with systems ideas for other people. Following them and using them can be challenging though.

Like calendars – I unequivocally suck at using calendars. I’ve blogged quite a bit about that fairly recently so I don’t even want to get into detail – but I always have, and likely always will suck at using calendars. Paper, electronic. Doesn’t matter. I suck at calendars. Even though as a matter of logic, calendars make perfect sense to me. One place with little boxes where you can put all of the things you need to you – yeah, this is great. I theoretically love it.

I just had to go for a walk in the middle of my workday – I was sorting through pages of notes and was trying to figure out a way to organize them. After crossing out several items already done, and throwing away several pages that were no longer relevant for a variety of reasons, I was left with several pages of information to distill. I hit a wall. I also started to panic. I went for a walk and realized that I had all kinds of tension and pain in odd little parts of my body, all over. I don’t know if it was a cause of my panic, or a result, but the walk let me release some of it, and collect some vitamin D. It also levelled out my panic to at least the level of “manageable” or “tolerable”. But I still had to return to my desk, to the same pile of disorganized information.

I recently started using a timer – and I like the timer. But it showed me that I have a hard time trusting new systems. When you have cultivated an expectation of failure it can be hard to believe that something can work. When you have also learned that you cannot “let go” because if you do, you will lose all ability to “track” and keep up with and connect with your environment – trusting a little blue bird timer to tell you that everything is okay, and that you can “let go” and just focus on what in front of you, for an allotted amount of time, can seem impossible.

I also sometimes have a need for multiple systems to manage different types of things. That’s hard for me right now. I have a 3-ring notebook to keep important papers in – business permits, and portfolio pieces, and such. I have a filing “inbox”. I have notebooks to organize information as it comes out of my head. And more. But part of the problem is that I have so much of everything (even after going through and throwing out old stuff that I don’t need) that  can’t consolidate any of these systems. This, I think, is what is driving me nuts today. I feel like my things are all in different places (even if in the same office). I don’t like it. I carry around a bag with “my stuff” in it, and there’s just SO MUCH stuff that even when it’s organized, I feel like I’m carrying my body weight around with me. I could put the time into figuring out one system to integrate all of my information and stuff, but yikes. And what if I do it and the effort doesn’t pay off. Totally demoralizing.

And I can’t make everything electronic and paperless, because everything simply cannot be electronic and paperless. Sometimes I need to be able to show people a physical portfolio of my work. Sometimes I need a small binder to put my current “to-do” list items in, in order to keep track of them. My computer – my computer is a physical gateway to a virtual world. Argggh.

And none of these systems is ever “the one”. Maybe that’s not a reasonable expectation. But it’s true – none is ever the one – as in, most of them, at some point, become irrelevant. Either because they don’t work for me, I suck at using them, or because they work for a little while and then my needs change. See? I can’t trust any of these little assholes in long-term relationship.

So what are my best organization tools, historically? Checklists/lists. Having a huge bag that I can put a lot of things in, so that I have a better chance of having what I need when I reach my destination. Worry – I’m serious. Unfortunate, but true, worry is historically one of my most effective tools for staying on top of things.

They each have their downsides, but they each have plusses that outweigh the minuses. The checklists are great for getting through the day, but they suck for organizing longer term thinking. I can’t seem to address that need effectively. I was using Asana but it’s so much work to maintain it as a useful repository of planning and action info. I’ve tried outlines on paper. Those are a little better. Sort of. Having one notebook dedicated to each project is also not terrible, but I do have to sort through all the info from time to time.

My bag – well it’s huge and it’s probably not healthy to carry that much dead weight around. It requires maintenance. I’m actually not too bothered by this, I mean you have to clean out a bag. That’s just life.

Worry isn’t healthy if it takes over your life. But…knowing that I am forgetful, I have to check and double check things. I can’t not do that. It looks like worry but, is it really worry? Or is it just good coping? Funny how good coping and OCD look really similar sometimes.

I’ve learned that I can trust worry, I can trust, the bag, and I can trust the checklists. They’ve been there for me for a long time.

I’m going to continue to use the timer. I need to challenge myself to do this. It’s a worthwhile challenge – and it might help me learn to be more receptive to other new techniques, systems, and devices.

For today, I’m just going to make a really long running checklist of all of the information that I’ve collected from my notes. At least that way it’ll be memorialized in one place. I just don’t feel like it’s enough. At the same time I’m untrusting of new techniques and systems, I’m seeing a need for something new.

Awkward growth stage.

Wicked awkward.


2 thoughts on “ADHD: Trusting systems.

  1. Ugh. My life. I do not trust systems. I agree that worry and OCD work better than anything. Pairing down my shit and keeping my house less junky seems to allow for more brain space. This is a tough one and I have to work at this constantly.

    • Yes, it’s challenging in an ongoing way! I don’t want to reinforce unhealthy behaviors (OCD-type stuff and constant worry) but I also don’t want to knowingly let myself fail. Hard to know where to draw the line.

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