Building Habits: My Next ADHD Challenge

Hi friends. Here I sit. It’s 7:14 AM on June 1. Parts of our country are literally on fire. I’ve spent about 947 hours on news over the past week.

And now it’s 7:23. I’ve spent nine minutes trying to figure out what to say about the news. Write a line … delete. The problem is that this post is not meant to be about the news. Yet how can anything not be? I was hoping to take just a wee moment to acknowledge what’s happening … write a succinct line or two about it and then move on with the meat of the post.

But there’s no succinct line or two about any of this. Actually, maybe one:

BLACK LIVES MATTER.

Deep breath. It’s 7:28.

7:29. 7:30. Switching gears in my head … picture the lower decks of the Titanic with all the heavy machinery groaning under the strain of trying to steer around the iceberg at the last minute. And while I’m doing this, I’m also acutely aware that I have the fucking privilege of making a decision to focus on something else for a while. There are no fires outside my door. No loved ones in danger of being murdered over their skin color.

7:35.

What this is really about

So the actual fucking POINT of me sitting down here this morning is to write 1000 words. I’m participating (in a modified way) in author Jami Attenburg’s #1000wordsofsummer challenge. (I just finished Jami’s excellent book The Middlesteins a few weeks ago. Listened to the audio version on Audible, narrated by Molly Ringwald.)

The idea is that every day for two weeks, starting last Friday, May 29th, you sit down and write 1000 words. You can work on anything you like — a book, essays, short stories, a master’s thesis. Jami did this last year (and maybe in years prior?) and she said she nearly scrapped it this year because of everything that’s going on. But then she realized that the point of the damn thing is to write and find space to write no matter what.

I attempted National Novel Writing Month (NaNoMo) exactly once a few years ago. That beast of a challenge requires you to write 50,000 words during the month of November. When I say I “attempted” it, I think I made one half-hearted attempt at cranking through one writing sesh and then quickly realized that the whole thing felt like saying “I want to run a marathon!” and then just throwing on some sneakers and heading out the door. Some people get some great raw material at the end of NaNoMo, but I think, more often than not, people end up collapsing miles before the finish line, spent, exhausted, and bloody.

I have enough failure in my life, thanks. I’d rather do a Couch to 5K and finish a shorter race than flame out on a marathon I’m not prepared for. Plus, with my penchant for disorganization and procrastination, NaNoMo means that I would be in constant word debt. “I didn’t have time to write today. I’ll just do double tomorrow … I’m 2500 words behind, so what if I just tack on an extra 500 words for the next five days … I’m 5000 words behind, but I can probably crank that out on Saturday … I’ll get up at 5 AM and then just work like a fucking ninja until 10 AM … even if I go to 11, that’s still OK …” Disaster.

So Jami’s challenge is two weeks. Fourteen days. Seems less daunting but still a lot. And … frankly, dudes … I’m already behind. I was supposed to start this Friday but today is Day #1 for me.

But I have decided that that is just fine. Because I’ve learned so much about myself in the last year and I have already realized that I will fail on Jami’s noble challenge. I want to participate but I need to make up my own IEP to get through.

In case you don’t know, an IEP is an individualized education program. It’s for kids who are differently abled and who may need extra time or different learning techniques in the classroom. And guess what, everyone? I’m differently abled. Officially. Slap Attention Deficit Disorder right across my forehead. Yep, it’s ADHD, minus the H.

My brain is weird and I must accept it

Some of you bloggy diehards may remember that back in the beginning of 2019 I was blogging about my issues with procrastination and focus. I was in a low place then, just beating myself up for being a miserable failure who never finishes anything. All idea, no execution. Not smart enough to follow a map all the way through to the end without getting diverted on an interesting side road or just sitting down to look at a pretty flower for a while and then forgetting where I was headed.

Last year, I finally decided to CONQUER my issues by whatever means necessary. At one point, I was seeing three therapists at the same time. (They all knew about each other. I wasn’t cheating on them.) And then one therapist graduated me to an actual psychiatrist who confirmed my ADD diagnosis and got me on some meds. We had a bit of trial and error before we landed on the right thing, but now Focalin is a near-daily thing for me. I feel like myself, but a self who can PLAN stuff. And finish stuff. Not perfectly … I’m still working on the behavior/habit side of the equation, but things are so much better.

Setting and sticking to a schedule for myself has always been difficult for me. And hi, I’ve been working from home for nearly 17 years. So that’s 17 years of daily torture of me wandering around the house wondering what I should do next. Plus, having competing priorities all sitting in front of my face … my job, housework, my desire to do my creative writing, and oh-yeah those humans I birthed … I mean, it’s so mentally fatiguing. If you don’t suffer with this, imagine walking into a hoarder’s living room and trying to figure out where to start to get things cleaned up and organized. And no matter what progress you make today, you’ll open that door tomorrow and the room will look exactly the same.

I think that’s a big reason we ADD/ADHD peeps procrastinate. We just don’t know where to start, how to prioritize, or how to make a plan based on “I want to get to point Z and I’m at point A … so these are the steps I need to take.” That all boils down to a thing called executive function, which we lack.

I know all of this about myself now. I can be matter-of-fact about it, but it also still murders my self esteem some days, that I can’t just DO seemingly simple things easily. Why don’t I just leave five minutes earlier to get someplace? I don’t know. Why can’t color blind people just figure out the difference between red and green? Because their brains don’t do that.

There are things my brain just doesn’t do. I accept it. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t feel like an ass about it sometimes.

HOWEVER, I’m learning. I’ve been using a day planner for nearly a year. ( This one.) It’s been so helpful, even though I make a giant mess of it most weeks. The Focalin helps with a lot of things, but it’s not a magic pill.

See what I mean?

So … let’s just take a quick break here to think about this post for a second … news aside, see how I’ve wandered into 87 topics other than the one I started with? And I have 87 more to cover. So now I’m sitting here wondering if this is ADD brain, or just a shitty first draft (which is an important thing for writers) or whatever. The whole thing could be organized so much better … and if this were for my paid work, that is something I would have to do. But it’s not. It’s here, on my who-cares blog and no one is forcing you to read this.

OK! It is definitely time to circle back to the #1000wordsofsummer challenge, yes? This all does connect, I swear.

What were we talking about?

These last few weeks, I’ve challenged myself with trying to create a daily schedule. I have completely shocked myself by managing to succeed. I haven’t scheduled my whole damn day, but I have successfully done yoga every weekday (usually around 8:30 AM) and then meditated at 9. I’ve been tracking my progress in Habit Bull, which is the best habit tracking app I’ve tried. (And I’ve tried eleventy billion of them.)

So now that those habits feel relatively locked in, the next thing I wanted to do was build on that success to get into a regular writing routine for my creative work. I always have at least three projects kicking around but they never see the light of day for various reasons (see: everything included in this entire post). So I thought I could take Jami’s challenge and use it as a springboard to build the next piece of my daily schedule.

BUT … something time sensitive came up for work on Friday and I never got around to starting. So I started the “I will write double tomorrow” thing, but then I had to just go ahead and own that I cannot schedule my weekends because that is when I need to not be at my desk and instead be all the other places that I can’t be during the work week. If I make myself do this on the weekends, I will spent all weekend torturing myself by mentally sending myself to writer jail. Life is stressful enough.

So I created my #1000wordsofsummer IEP. It is this:

  1. 1000 words every WEEK day, starting today.
  2. Make the appointment with myself. Ass-in-seat at 7 AM (ish).
  3. Low-stakes writing. Shitty first drafts. Don’t try to write the Great American Novel. Just work on building the habit.

This is how I’ve managed to build the other habits. There’s a yoga session called “But I don’t have time for yoga” on my Audible app. It’s about 8 minutes long. I do that when I don’t have time for a longer session. Some days my meditation sucks. I just sit there and fucking gut it out anyway. But some days my yoga and my meditation are MAGIC and I feel like I could poop out rainbows. The thing is, I don’t know which days are which in advance. I have to take my mood out of the equation and just DO.

Check the boxes. That’s my entire goal. Check the damn boxes.

So today I can check this box. I’ll check it again tomorrow. That may mean you’ll see a blog post go up and it may not. I have some ideas of what I want to write about … and DECIDING what to write about during this challenge is it’s own dumb story. Maybe I’ll talk about it tomorrow and maybe I won’t. One other thing that I’ve learned about myself: The fastest way to NOT write about something on the blog is to make a big announcement that I’m going to write about it.

I am a high maintenance even to myself.

But now it’s 9 and it’s time to meditate. (Which means I’m doing that 8-minute yoga sesh at 9:20.)

If you read this whole thing, you are awesome. Have a great day, peeps.

This post is 1905 words, btw. Once I get locked in, I’m in. Another ADD/ADHD thing. Hyperfocus.

Now this post is 1922 words. Toodles. (1924.)

Originally published at https://accordingtotrish.com on June 1, 2020.

Professional writer with words in Woman’s Day, Redbook, Huffington Post, Slackjaw, and Scarymommy.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store