Updated: May 15
I spent a lot of my life thinking I was completely rubbish.
Both at a variety of things, and, more sadly, in general.
I spent years being unkind to myself, beating myself up for being this “rubbish” person. But ultimately, NOT wanting to believe this and feel this way set me on my path of self-exploration and knowledge which led to my work as a coach, and more recently my ADHD diagnosis.
In this blog, I’m going to break down six of my ADHD symptoms, which are very common particularly in women, and how I learned to be kinder to myself about these and how I manage them!
If something is out of sight it’s out of mind… (usually until I’m driving or having a shower and can’t write a note - until I discovered these incredible waterproof notes!)
Even if I do manage to write something down, it often ends up on a random list, in a random notebook or on a random piece of paper - leading to the list being pretty much pointless…
But it isn’t all bad news!
For one thing, it’s not my fault - working memory can be very much hampered in those with ADHD - meaning things are in and out in moments often
And there are a few key things I’ve been able to bring into my life to make forgetting less likely:
Being “firm” with myself and cultivating the habit of only using one notebook at a time. I was fortunate to be able to treat myself to a Remarkable a few months ago and this has helped me keep everything in one physical place - but before this, I had ONE single paper notebook out at a time which everything went into (all other books hidden away in an inconvenient place!)
Still lots of random lists but less running around the house trying to find which of the 15 books I’ve written the important information in.
From time to time I then sift through, write up anything important, cross off anything I’ve done and remind myself of great ideas I’ve had! (which naturally I’ve forgotten most of).
This means I have a working “document” which grows over time and much less gets forgotten.
And for the moments when I’m not with my book?
I have ONE to-do list in my phone, which I update with thoughts as they come and have a screen shot of as my screen saver - which means I see it frequently and remember to transfer thoughts as they come.
Another way of keeping things “in sight” for me is post-its - I use them everywhere - and the joy of moving them around to help me prioritise is an added bonus.
There is one more thing I do to help me remember… which is a positive and a negative depending on how you look at it…
But this is linked to trait number
A lot of my “mess” is actually a way of remaining visually reminded of things I need to do - I affectionately call things I leave out, my “tiny reminder piles” although sometimes I admit they don’t really stay tiny…
My husband, now he understands this, is relatively tolerant of these piles but he does have a point at which they get too much for him… He used to tidy them away which caused a tailspin before my diagnosis, but now he gently explains that he would like to be able to see the kitchen table and in the spirit of harmony I do what I can to transfer these visual reminders to my post-its and notebook.
The other aspect of messiness for me is that I just don’t care that much.
When I’m hyper focused on something else, I just don’t notice chaos around me, and tidying is rarely fun (until it becomes the funniest thing EVER when I’m avoiding doing an even more boring or challenging task) it isn’t a priority for me.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to live in a total tip, and don’t, but I have to be in the right frame of mind to choose tidying things away.
What I’ve done to help myself be in this frame of mind is trying to put away just ONE thing when I notice it’s not where it should be and it has no purpose staying where it is as a reminder (think coffee cups, rolls of Sellotape, dog toys, clothes) which helps me feel good, sometimes encourages me to do a few more bits because starting is the hardest thing, and at least breaks the mental narrative of “you never put anything away”
For a good old sort out of the pile of clothes on the chair, the kitchen table or solid declutter, more incentive is needed - usually in the form of a “crap” TV show (Vampire Diaries I’m looking at you) on in the background to make it a bit of a treat, rather than a chore.
Again, once I get started I usually get into the swing of it and enjoy feeling accomplished and do way more than I expected.
The MAJOR way I deal with all of this though…
Letting go of my belief that in order to be a good person my house needs to look beautiful all the time. Yup, that pesky perfectionist streak - things must look and be perfect in order for me to be worthy of anything.
Calling BS on this HUGE lie was transformational - do I have a quick whizz around before people come over - obviously, who doesn’t? But I no longer worry that my friends will judge me for being messy, not having everything looking “show homey” - well I jolly well hope not…otherwise maybe I need some new friends…
Reframing my own beliefs around what makes me a good person, friend and partner was instrumental in managing the energy I feel around how “beautiful” my home looks.
3. Inability to prioritise
Seriously. I can look at a load of tasks, information, even fun things to do, and feel complete indecision about which comes first or would be more fun.
For ages I thought this was also perfectionism and not wanting to choose “wrong” but over time, I’ve realised that I just cannot process which is MORE important of a list of important things.
You know that awkward time when there’s a group of you deciding what to do and no-one wants to put their opinion forward so there’s a stream of “oh I don’t mind, honestly, whatever is fine” (which usually means - I know what I want but I’m going to people please instead FYI) is a CONSTANT stream with myself in my head.
I’m pleasing no-one in this party of one and it can be pretty frustrating not being able to work out what comes first.
Ways around this:
-Sometimes I give myself an eenie meenie miney mo moment and just pick one, started is better than nothing.
-Sometimes I get my beloved post-it’s out and start to create a flow I can move around by asking, “if I did this, would it affect anything else and make it easier…” usually I can find my way into some kind of order which makes sense, then I find it much easier to get going.
As an FYI though, if I’m with you, and we can’t decide what to do, please put me out of my misery and decide for me, I really don’t have a preference, if I did I would tell you!
4. Always running late
This is another common one with ADHD - time blindness is a real problem for me and many others I know.
- leaving at the time I was meant to be there
- being super optimistic about being able to squeeze in just “one more thing” before I go somewhere, or on the way there, and ending up lost and REALLY late
- Blink and you miss it 10 minutes, meaning despite my very best intentions I am rarely on time - if I am, I’m usually stupidly early because I’ve managed to remember that the point above DOESN’T work.
There are a couple of things I’ve tried here - the main things which work being
-Blocking out getting ready to leave for “x” and travelling to “x” time in my diary/calendar
-Setting multiple alarms for these things - giving myself plenty of time to shift into the getting ready and actually leaving tasks
But mostly, especially with friends, the most powerful thing here that I’ve discovered is…
Explaining to them that my tendency to run late is never anything to do with the fact that I don’t care enough about them to be on time and that it’s something I struggle with daily.
My friends have been incredibly supportive with this, the “Char’s late again” feelings aren’t as strong, and often, we just set a window of time to aim for and everything works out well.
Obviously meetings and clients are a different situation but I’ve found that highlighting my own awareness of these tendencies, putting multiple reminders in place and having as many things “on repeat” when scheduling as possible helps.
But if you’re always beating yourself up because you’re always late, remember, you’re doing your best, those who love you will understand and support you to find ways you can navigate it together.
5. Zoning out in conversations
Ooh this is a BIGGIE.
And another thing which opening up conversation with friends about has helped enormously in expressing the challenges I have and that it’s definitely NOT about them.
You see, if I’m in a busy environment, a buzzy cafe say,having coffee with a friend, my brain CANNOT tune out the other conversations going on around me.
Try hard as I might, it’s as though I’m a radio able to receive multiple wavelengths at the same time and it’s overwhelming.
Not only that, as if the sensory overload weren’t enough. I can latch on to a conversation which has no significance at all to me and get lost in thoughts about what’s going on.
I used to think I was SO nosy, always wanting to get involved, eavesdropping and being rude.
Nope, I am noise sensitive - another common trait in ADHD.
The negative side of this is that it’s incredibly hard for me to focus on the conversation I do want to have with the people I’m with.
Sometimes it can seem like I’m zoning out, and if I’m with you, and this happens, please don’t take it personally, you’re not boring me, I just can’t keep my distractible brain on one single track.
It helps hugely if we can meet somewhere we know will be less busy, if there’s a tucked away corner where I can see and hear fewer things or if we can meet outside.
If you find yourself doing this sometimes too, why not ask your friends if you can try a quieter place and see how you feel - it just might help!
The “evil twin” of zoning out - or so I used to think.
I would beat myself up over and over again for not letting someone finish, for interrupting with OTT enthusiasm or coming out with something completely unrelated to the topic…
The thing is.
When we’re having a conversation which is enjoyable and engaging for me, interruption is how I show HOW interested I am.
It’s not that I want you to stop talking at all, it’s that I want to throw myself in there with you, engage with you and I’m excited about this.
It may not come across this way but it really, truly, IS a sign that you, and the conversation is important to me.
There are a few reasons why this happens:
1. I want so desperately not to forget something which seems really important to the conversation (read trait 1 above!) that I feel I have to say it NOW before it goes, even if the context doesn’t quite fit
2. My brain is already at the end of your sentence and into my response before you’ve even finished speaking it. I’m not really sure what happens here or why, but it’s almost like when a CD used to skip over a few bars of a song because of a scratch - my mind is just a few words away into the distance already, but I’m wanting to continue the conversation - it just seems like an interruption
3. Something you have said has created a cascade of thoughts which leads me to say something which SEEMS totally unrelated - in actual fact, you mentioning you’re going on holiday has everything to do with me wanting to tell you about a new recipe you should try… (holiday, eating out, food, yum! Cooking - oh I cooked this great thing you should try - see?)
If you remember “Dave’s tedious link” on Radio 1 you’ll get what I mean here
This trait is again best navigated for me by honesty, openness, and explaining to those you love that you’re not trying to be inconsiderate or rude, that you might just get carried away with enthusiasm sometimes - and that’s because you enjoy speaking to them so much.
So there we have it. Six of the traits which I used to think were me being a rubbish person but which actually turned out to be ADHD traits.
This knowledge doesn’t mean these things don’t show up as problems for me any more, but I know to treat myself with kindness, compassion and curiosity about how I can approach things differently (which is a great attitude to adopt no matter who you are!)
These are in no way the only traits I experience and now understand better, (in fact watch this space for part 2!) but they are important things so many people experience frequently, whether they are ADHD or not, and finding new strategies for working with, rather than against our traits is good for us all.
Remember, if you resonate with these, it doesn’t mean you’re necessarily ADHD - it probably means you’re human, and gloriously imperfect with it!
And if you do have ADHD, you won’t necessarily experience the same traits and difficulties as other ADHD people.
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