Every Monday morning, I sit at my desk and feel a sense of overwhelm. It’s odd because I have a job I really enjoy. What happens is that I see the entire week ahead as an enormous task, everything that needs to be done, and I get overwhelmed by it. I see the week’s tasks in my mind as a huge mountain, an Everest sized one. And I have no idea how to get there. It feels so massive and so difficult to do, that I don’t want to start.
Does this sound familiar?
Last year I realised that I have ADHD. I have most likely had it all my life, however in my case the symptoms didn’t become severe until I hit perimenopause. The change in hormones is known to make ADHD symptoms worse. I had a aha moment when I listened to this podcast episode about ADHD and perimenopause, because I recognised myself. This leaflet explains the issue too. One of the symptoms of ADHD is executive dysfunction. It can be explained like this: in neurotypical people, the frontal cortex acts like a friendly butler, reminding you of the tasks you have to do. For example: remember to buy some milk, remember you put your keys there etc.
In neurodivergent people, the frontal cortex is not running the tasks. Instead, our reptilian brain is controlling things, and acting like an angry neighbour, telling us off for nor remembering things. Another aspect of executive dysfunction is that we have impaired non verbal working memory. This an inability to visualise the future. When a neurotypical person plans to do something, they see the image of what “done” looks like, and work backwards from there. People with ADHD struggle to do this.
In the case of mountain climbing, a neurotypical person would imagine themselves at the top of the mountain, then work backwards towards a lot of small steps of organisation and training. They would start implementing steps etc. In my case, all I can see is the top, and not the steps. I cannot break it down. It applies in many areas of my life. For example I’ve been meaning to declutter my house for years. It’s another typical ADHD thing to dislike clutter whilst also not being able to do the decluttering tasks. I dream of someone doing this for me. I have a huge stock of things I no longer need which I need to move out of my house (for example an 80 plus stock of baby carriers from my babywearing consultant days, my NCT teaching equipment, my doula equipment and large collection of books, and overflowing wardrobe, it goes on and on).
When I imagine doing the decluttering, I do not know how to start, because it feels overwhelming. It’s a low dopamine task and I don’t know how to get started. I also feel that I either need to do it all, or not do it at all. Oddly, if someone does it with me, then I find it easy. And if I do it for someone else, I find it very easy too. This is why I used to love doing housework tasks I normally dread at home, when I was caring for a new mother as a postnatal doula. I’ve long learnt that internal motivation is not something I can muster for tasks that don’t excite me. And why all the “just do this” coming from people who have internal motivation only served to make me feel inadequate. Now I accept and embrace it as much as I can.
This is why co-working with the app Focusmate has been a life changer for my business. You meet on video with other people around the world, during 25 or 50 min sessions, spend a couple of minutes telling the other person what you’re going to do, then work quietly alongside each other. At the end of the session, you spend another couple of minute telling each other how it went. Some people I’ve co-worked with even use Focusmate to do their morning or evening routine, or to tidy up (it’s perhaps not surprising that many neurodivergent people use Focusmate, and this is how I discovered the ADHD for smart ass women group).
The paradox with us ADHD people is that when we are excited by something (high dopamine tasks) then we can plough through work effortlessly at a speed not achievable by many people. It’s called hyperfocusing. I know this is certainly true for me. This is how I wrote my book in less than 6 months. This is how I create online courses, write blog posts, etc.
So if you struggle to initiate tasks or get overwhelmed by them, what can you do?
- Try to pre-plan the following week’s important tasks at the end of the week before, so that you don’t have to start with not knowing what to do.
- Start the day with a little ritual: light a candle, burn some incense or diffuse some essential oils, and set an intention for the week
- When feeling overwhelmed, rather than trying to push through (in my case this results in more overwhelm and procrastination) address the emotions first: set a timer for 5 minutes (or more, but I find that the short timing is less likely to be met with resistance), and journal, do a short meditation, or movement practise to help move the stuck energy.
- Try writing : if I could only do 3 things today, and write these things
- Break down each big tasks in lot of tiny little steps
If you read this and recognise yourself, I hope it helps. I’d love to hear about your experience.