#ADHD: Survival Skills or Living Skills?

I had a delightful house guest, for the past week. A woman about 15 years younger than me. I honestly loved hearing about where she is in her life right now, and all of the steps she’s taking as she sorts out her life direction. I felt like I was witnessing something exciting, full of promise and magic. She reminded me a lot of myself, at that age.

I found myself in a position of looking at my life now…looking at where my life was when I was her age. And thinking about how my ability to do “life” has changed, over time. And why. Obviously, when people are very young, they have a lot to learn. Many skills for living a comfortable and a good life are ones that you have to learn for yourself, as you go along.

However, I also know something now, that I don’t think I thought as much about, back then.

Each one of us is raised by an environment that gives us a certain set of skills. That means that by the time we are adults, each individual has a unique set of skills and abilities to do “life”.

Many of the people I have known in my life, are what you could call “survivors”. Survivors have often lived in environments that have been emotionally or physically challenging, and which have forced them to learn to “survive”. Survival skills are what keep you alive. Survival skills will keep you fed, find you shelter, find you a great place to crash, so you can get out of a bad situation.

Survival skills do not teach you how to set a table. How to organize a home. How to plan for your future. That’s not what survival skills are about.

Yes, there is overlap between survival skills, and what I like to call “skills for living”. Learning to do your own laundry is both a survival skill and a skill for living, for example. But there’s a lot of territory where they do not overlap.

Having a younger woman in my home, at this point in my life, in particular, really got me thinking about my own survival skills – and how they’re pretty fucking great – and my skills for living. I have had to work more actively for that skill set. In fact, for the past year and a half, I have been heavily immersed in that process.

ADHD is just one of the reasons that skills for living came a little less easily to me. When you can’t land your brain in the moment, it’s harder to think in depth. It’s harder to notice that you are in survival mode, and not “skills for living” mode. I had to learn to do things like remember to feed myself, when I was in my 20s. Seems like it shouldn’t be work, but I had to, and still have to work at that.

I know a lot of ADHDers who “hustle”. They can get themselves very focused on an immediate reward, but have a harder time planning their way to a different kind of future than the moment they’re in. Been there.

Also…many ADHDers are raised by parents with ADHD or untreated ADHD. Those are people who are likely to have impaired skills for living, themselves.

In my own case, my parents were great at teaching me some skills for living, but there were gaps. I grew up in a home where systems weren’t really a thing, and routines were negotiable and gleefully deviated from. We didn’t really have a lot of stuff hanging on the walls. Acquiring things, framing them, and hanging them, that’s a skill for living. When I visit the homes of people who do this effortlessly, I’m fascinated.

This past week, I cleaned out and organized and labelled my fridge and pantry. Never in my life have I done this activity. It’s a set of skills for living. I’m 41 years old and until just now, my life wasn’t stable enough for me to even think about that kind of thing as a possibility.

I’m not talking about having a perfect life. But being able to think past the immediate load of laundry, in order to consider home organization as a higher goal…I had to take the time to learn that.

It was fascinating to spend time with someone so young, and remember where I was at that age, enjoy where she is at her age, and then reflect on my own skills development.

I’m proud that I’m moving past the hustle.


One thought on “#ADHD: Survival Skills or Living Skills?

  1. Getting older and having my perspective change has been some of the most satisfying and surprising things to have happened. I sure wish I could have felt like this when I was younger and so unhappy. And it’s depressingly true, just when you get happy with yourself, your damn body falls apart.

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