Written by Sarah Stukas, MS, LCPC, Founder
October is ADHD awareness month, so I thought I would share a little bit about my journey with ADHD. I wasn’t diagnosed until my first year of grad school after a conversation with a fellow student made me question “my normal”.
For the most part, the academic part of school was a great experience for me. I loved learning and knew how to do school, but it required a lot of effort and organization. The minute things became cluttered or loud, I lost the ability to focus or take in information, often leaving me completely overwhelmed by things that didn’t seem to phase other people. I didn’t understand how people could study with music or the tv on. I thought it was normal to reread passages multiple times, take notes in different colors, and set multiple alarms to remember to show up to an exam. I had an ever-present sense of, “if I can create a system” or “have a quiet minute,” or “work harder,” I can figure this out. This feeling contributed significantly to my struggle with depression and anxiety throughout my teen and early adult years. I felt like something was wrong with me.
Getting a diagnosis of ADHD was a relief and it offered direction to solutions and support that had been missing. These days, I love that my brain works the way it does. Don’t get me wrong, my family still gets frustrated that I start sentences and trail off or get hyper-focused on a project and lose sight of dinner time. My friends and colleagues probably wish I answered texts and calls more timely. But, having ADHD has allowed me to learn a lot of cool things, pursue multiple careers, and have a great sense of curiosity. It’s given me a brain that can envision big projects and dreams. The skills I’ve learned to manage my brain help me set goals, identify action steps and achieve awesome things. I still have to set alarms to show up to meetings and maintain a quiet and organized workspace. I need a strong routine and my self-care program is more like self-preservation.
Historically, girls have been less diagnosed with ADHD. I share all this to shed light on the different faces of ADHD and to celebrate brain differences. As with many disorders, we’re getting better at recognizing points of intervention. I wish I had my diagnosis years earlier, but I’ve learned ways to help in my personal and professional life.
One of the things I’ve learned about my brain is that it is incredibly difficult for me to switch between types of tasks and that in order to work creatively, I have to block out time on my calendar where I can work quietly, either early in the morning or late at night. One of my favorite tools to keep me on track is my Google Calendar paired with an intensive weekly planning session. In addition to meetings and events, I plot out everything including travel time, workouts, and chunks of time that I refer to as SS Focus. I use the description of the calendar event to brain dump the different things I plan to do during that time.
My Reminders app not only saves me from forgetting important weekly tasks but also things like ordering contacts and birthday gifts. I always wear a watch and set an alarm when I either need to be done with a task or to give me a heads up that I have to leave the house by a certain time. My Moleskine notebooks are my constant companion, and I keep Workflowy open to capture all of my notes into an organized outline.
The other parts of my “program”, as I like to refer to the unique steps we all need to feel our best, fall under self-care. Structure, exercise, fresh air, and mediation are probably top of the list. Structure doesn’t mean rigidity, but it does mean a fairly consistent schedule. The reason this is important for ADHD brains is that it translates to fewer decisions, which means less distraction and fatigue. Over the years I have gone in and out of mediation practice and life is better with it. If you’re looking to start meditating, the best, simplest way I’ve found is Headspace. I jokingly refer to Andy as one of my best friends, but honestly, the app is the best one out there.
There are so many innovative ways people with ADHD and other brain differences learn to work with their brains. These are just a few of the useful fundamentals I use to keep me focused and on track. What have you found to be helpful for your brain?