Ok so, it’s probably no surprise that keeping some of my ADHD type traits under control requires a great deal of focus and sustained attention. That not being my strongest suit it’s a minor miracle that I manage as well as I do much of the time in complex social situations like work or a training class. I don’t know about others but I use more energy just maintaining my level of “normal” for the rest of the world than most people exert all day, and I still have to have energy to actually go through my day. Some things leave me with depleted reserves, lack of sleep being one such thing.
Last night I was up really late, til 3am or so and had to wake up about 6am to get to a training course. It’s in a classroom (not my favourite environment) and involves lots of listening/reading slides and following in a workbook (recipe for disaster).
At this point in my life I can usually handle that kind of situation for extended periods without falling into my classic “ADHD student” habits but today I found it very hard. I was constantly reminding myself to stay under control and to just be quiet or restraining myself from commentary. That I was only partly successful is both a victory and a failure for me and I have mixed feelings about it.
See, learning is a very dynamic experience for me. When I’m not exercising my full level of self control I tend to interact as though I’m the primary focus of the lesson. I get a lot out of it, but it can be trying for the instructor as well as other students. I retain and absorb less of the material as a result of this superhuman external control than when I am more free to explore my own way but it’s a trade-off I have to make in order to get along. I learn through challenging and exploring information fiercely, it excites me to devour new information and it’s very hard to simply absorb it passively. In fact I tend to fall asleep momentarily but repeatedly in any kind of lecture even if I am interested in it or am fully rested. It is entirely involuntary and near impossible to stop.
The more rest I get the easier I can manage. Particularly if I’m very tired, feeling sick, or overly stressed about other things my self control goes way down and my impulsivity goes way up. Just goes to show no matter how well you’ve conditioned yourself, harnessed your gifts and tried to manage your shortfalls it is SO important for ADHD people (and probably others) to get a good nights rest. Fatigue is the enemy, one bad nights sleep can lead to situations where it’s easy to poison the atmosphere at work for myself, or find myself unable to avoid taking bait from bullies, or end up being overly defensive, or locked into some unnecessary and fruitless compulsive behaviour or thought pattern.
Todays instructor (teaching a two day course called “Leadership for Safety Excellence” which I’m quite interested in) was an absolute prince. He managed me very well and I respect him for it.
I feel some shame for not being more “normal” in my classroom behaviour but I was able to cover it mostly as a result of the course being interactive and the instructor encouraging class participation. He also got into some great discussions and allowed leeway for me to run on some tangents that were not always 100% directly related to the material at hand.
I found myself interjecting related comments frequently that (while astute) were not necessary or productive. I was comedic, and had more than a few people in stitches on more than one occasion during the day. That’s encouraging in a not so good way, as my energy level feeds off the reinforcement. It gets to be disruptive if not carefully controlled, I did my best but was a little over the top.
I ask questions in order to focus myself on the subject but they can go sideways. If the answer doesn’t compute with my logic I follow the train of thought/questioning down its rabbit hole until either it does compute or we’re forced onto another subject (which happened several times, though he was tactful about it). Sometimes the question might not be relevant or important to anyone but me. I just never know what little thing will make the entire subject go “click” and allow me to gain mastery. The struggle until that magic moment drives me insane, knowing that it’s right there and I’m just missing some innocuous piece….gah!
My “right/wrong” meter was going strong. As well, my tendency to follow something to infinity (past any constructive point) as a result of being correct was working overtime. While working on an exercise requiring subjective interpretation of information in order to assign priority codes to a series of tasks or situations i found myself relying heavily on the definitions of words such as “immediate” very accurately, others were more able to apply flexible logic and use the terms in a more easygoing manner to assign different values than I did. They were operating under very wrong assumptions of the meanings of probability and risk categories that led them to inaccurately judge situations at a lower severity level than I assigned them by operating on correct information. I somehow got STUCK on that and was fairly inflexible, arguing my point and explaining my position past where it made sense given the lack of importance of the exercise. It just seemed very important to me that we all operate on equal understanding and a correct framework. It was TOTALLY alien to me that it was being accepted as “ok” for people to use the word “immediate” to mean “maybe sometime in the near future”. I realize not everyone is as smart as me, but I should have been able to just let it go more easily. It’s not important, it’s just a practice exercise. Sometimes, being right isn’t the way to be. (Though it hurts me to say that).
I found it impossible to sit still, I needed to move and so I chose the least disruptive methods to accommodate myself. I used the empty chair next to me and put my feet up (with shoes off) and I stretched frequently with as little fuss as possible.
Throughout the day I would have moments of clarity and focus where I could recognize these behaviours after the fact and remind myself to use restraint. It helped but it also made me anxious because some moments later my lack of control took more precedence and I would have trouble doing what I had just reminded myself to do. These failures make me feel like… well a failure really. The emotional difficulty and negative reinforcement adds to my defensiveness if a confrontational situation arises, and the increased anxiety worsens all the ADHD symptoms that other people tend to notice and find distasteful or bothersome.
A huge key for myself is to be relaxed. Lower anxiety, feel accepted, feel validated, respected, equal, like a valued contributor. Being teased, picked on, singled out all make it harder to be “acceptable” and a natural result of being chatty, funny, witty, commenty, making wisecracks and contributing to the atmosphere is that others tend to go after you and tease or make fun as though it were mutual. I paint a target on myself, to some extent or I pick up on other peoples targets and hit all the right buttons bang on. It’s harmless usually with no malicious intent at first but it seems to be a trigger to some kind of attention spiral. Many people I’ve asked seem to think those with ADHD are unable to relax but that’s untrue. It’s just a different process and might look/feel a little different than your average person.
It is very hard to maintain focus and control, especially relaxation and lowered anxiety if I am not rested. I put it at the very top of my priorities for coping mechanisms. Diet is another one, as being well fed with a high protein / low sugar diet is very helpful in maintaining an adequate defense against the world and myself.
This would be so much easier if there were medications that worked and didn’t cause a volume of harm equal to or well in excess of the benefits they deliver.
Perfect example, it’d 10pm and I’m finally physically tired. It takes a day that starts before 6am after a night that ended just shy of 3am, a situation that is probably the hardest in my life to master, cleaning up the yard and garage, pushing a 500 pound dune buggy out of the yard and into the garage after pulling two solid steel snow mobiles out of the way myself, and getting caught up on kitchen chores.
I also wrote this entire post in about 15 minutes.
I’m exhausted, but until the point of collapse it manifests in ways that many people confuse with being fully energized. Mentally is another story, tonight/today would be the wrong day to challenge/question/trouble me.
So now, to go to sleep watching the last presidential debate in its entirety. Without some form of “wind down” mental stimulation it’s just too hard to shut off the brain. Luckily tonight I think will be an exception, I’m WIPED.
Thank you for reading this one. Please let me know what you think. I’ve been having trouble focusing and sharing on my blog lately. Click the share buttons below, comment, like on Facebook, or whatever it is you prefer!
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