Coping with ADHD: My Journey

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Article by: Angela Opondo

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From what I have learnt so far about ADHD, it presents differently in people. There are common mannerisms and struggles experienced by ADHD minds. While these may be experienced by people without ADHD, the difference is how frequent and how impactful it is on a person’s life. This means that different people have a way of coping with it which may work for me or another person or not.

This for me has been a journey of learning more about myself and how to work with my ADHD mind. A big part of the journey has been listening and reading a lot about the disorder. I have had so many moments of realising that what I thought was a ‘me’ problem might actually have an explanation and a way for me to cope with it. So, how am I coping with my ADHD mind?

Focusing on tasks

Focus is such a major thing to ADHD minds as inattention and lack of focus are primary symptoms of ADHD. For ADHD minds, to begin a task and see it to completion, there are so many things that happen in between. These include working against lack of motivation, procrastination, forgetfulness and distractions.

For example, I have been putting off this article for a while now. I had it in mind weeks ago when I received some responses to my earlier article. Later, I had a moment where I realised exactly how I wanted to write it and I noted down some points. Then I realised I needed to do a bit more research to help me bring out my thoughts clearly and I just could not get myself to get down and do the research. That took me a while. I didn’t feel inspired or motivated to engage in that task at that moment. And that is where procrastination comes in. If the work does not really need immediate attention, meaning the deadline is not staring me down, I end up procrastinating.

On Wednesday, about five days ago, I knew the moment I woke up that I had to write this article and finish it. So, I sat down, listened to some podcasts and read some articles for my research. I took some notes and felt like I had everything I needed for this article. I left my workspace for a minute and came back to find my laptop on sleep mode. So, I began cleaning it because the screen had been dirty for days and this is the moment I found it best to clean it. I went to brush my teeth; I had forgotten to do it earlier. I took a nail cutter to work on my toenails that have been too long for a while.

Then, I picked a fruit because I am hungry now. I ate some leftover breakfast because again, hunger. I took my phone to check some things, and began deleting some apps and downloading others. Suddenly, my seat felt uncomfortable and I wanted to do something about it. Getting myself to start typing this took a while. Just having my laptop go off before I began typing threw me completely off course. Now, everything has become a distraction. And instead of tuning out the distractions, I began focusing on them now.

Then I asked myself, what am I doing? This is exactly what I have just read about. I am struggling to focus and begin the task I want to finish. So, I pushed myself to do what I needed to do. Then when I began typing, I did not like it. I read through what I was writing and I did not like my way of delivery. I tried thinking it through because I had told myself I had to finish it that day. Everything I was trying felt wrong and that destroyed my motivation. I couldn’t do it and so, I did not finish it. I started another task.

Focus, that’s what I needed and was struggling with. There are many ways to help one focus on tasks. Some build the focusing muscle for long-term effects and others help in specific situations.

ADHD minds get easily distracted at the beginning and in the middle of tasks because of different things.

Motivation

Motivation is what drives people to accomplish things. ADHD minds are wired differently in handling pleasure, reward and motivation. For tasks that take quite long, ADHD minds feel less motivated than for short tasks that can be done at a go. When a task requires one to be really invested mentally, the motivation to do it is really low.

For a long time, I have struggled with getting motivated. I got to a point where I was trying to take motivation out of the equation for me to do things. I thought if I created a habit or developed discipline, maybe I’d do things without waiting for inspiration. But even developing habits requires some sort of motivation as it takes time.

Now, as I learn more about ADHD, I have learnt that instead of taking motivation out of the equation, I should find my own ways to motivate myself. For the past few weeks, I have been identifying what motivates me. And creating new sources of motivation such as by ensuring someone or something is holding me accountable for what I intend to do. For example, I let someone know that I am working on this article so that they can follow up with me if I do not have it done in a while. I have also been identifying ways to reward myself for things that I have completed. These are just a few ways to build motivation.

Procrastination

To the ADHD mind, there are two situations where they can work well; when faced with a very tight deadline or when doing things they love or have an interest in.  If something does not have to be done now, we tend to leave it until the last minute. This is a very unhealthy way to work that leads to burnout as you try to complete a month’s worth of work in a day. Procrastination is fuelled by the lack of motivation to begin tasks. So, you would find the person feeling overwhelmed and unable to begin a project, putting it off to a later date while drowning in guilt for doing that.

If no one is giving me a deadline, that is a very dangerous zone for me. It means I can put off a task until a burst of motivation hits or until I feel like doing it. If no follow-up is done, this means I may never do the said task. I may end up forgetting the task itself until something, like a deadline, reminds me of it. This is something I have struggled with, especially when I have to do something for myself like learning a skill or developing a hobby.

There are many ways of handling procrastination. Some people have learnt to cope with this by giving themselves a fake deadline before the actual one. This has not worked for me; my mind never falls for the trick. I think it would work if someone else tricked me. You know how we say ‘working under minimum supervision’ when applying for jobs? Well, I have come to learn that while I do a good job without the need for constant guidance, I need consistent follow-ups on what I am handling. This prevents the period of slacking off because the deadline is far off. Being accountable to someone, whether it is your superior at work or a friend who is around you, helps the ADHD mind to do what is expected of and in good time.

Forgetfulness

A common phrase with ADHD minds is that ‘if I can’t see it, it does not exist’. This is so true. Around my house, I arrange everything that I need where I can see it. If something is put away, that is how I forget its existence. I just realised that on my phone, every app that I use frequently or need to use frequently is not placed in any folder because if I cannot see it, I will forget about it. And I have a million and one apps because every time something piques my interest, I download like five apps about it and then forget because I went into something else as they were downloading.

ADHD minds have trouble with the working memory – the short-term memory. They can remember things that happened ten years ago and in detail (if they paid attention then), but it is very easy to forget a name you have just been told. Reading last minute for an exam, because of procrastinating, and then getting into the exam room and you cannot remember what you have read. Sometimes, having to remember things on demand can be a problem. Forgetting a task done halfway and beginning another is also common. I have suffered all these.

Now, I am learning to work with my mind. I have learnt to create very visual plans. If I have to deal with reminders, checklists and task management apps, I ensure what I need is where I can see it. I employ colour coding where possible. If I have to finish something first, I put it in my line of sight. If I can do something in a short time, like sending an email, I do it at that moment other than scheduling it for later. I leave my notifications unopened until I am ready to deal with them. I have so many alarms and reminders to help me not to lose track of time and tasks. Noting down important things so that I can trace them later is also something I am practising. I have learnt to just ask people to remind me of their names if I forgot the first time. I am still learning to work with my memory until I no longer forget things.

Distractions

Distractions to the ADHD mind can be internal or external. You may find that a word, a smell, a sound, or some activity reminds you of something, which then reminds you of something else until you are so lost in thought. Sometimes, some work you have to do, something that is out of place, or little things like your laptop going into sleep mode take you away from what you were trying to focus on.

I have a short attention span. My mind wanders a few minutes into things that did not hold my interest, even now. This is something I knew even before I learnt about ADHD. This is what led me to think, “Wait, could I have Attention Deficit Disorder?”

The main thing recommended for an ADHD mind is to eliminate or minimise distractions. I try this sometimes, for example by keeping my phone far away or on silent when working or by managing my distracting apps. However, getting healthy distractions is also recommended. I sometimes focus better when I am engaging in two different things.  For example, listening to a song while working or using a stress ball. However, we have to be careful as healthy distractions and minimal distractions can also become very distracting. So, a thin line.

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These are just a few ways of coping with ADHD that I have learnt and put into practice. The key to finding your own ways to cope is to read more and test each strategy. Then, identify what is working and what is not. Also, a professional may be of assistance in finding the best way to cope with your ADHD mind.

Also Read: Learning About ADHD: My Journey