My ADHD spiral, noticing when things are going bad, before they do

I don’t want to elude to anyone who reads my blog articles or posts that I have my life together. I really don’t. This year in particular has been a big one for us all, but especially for us Neurodivergent humans who don’t adjust to change well. Some of us thrive in the chaos, I know I do from time to time, it’s where I get creative and compensate with well tested methods and strategies I created for myself from years of being undiagnosed. And other times, I hit mental walls, really quickly.

But even with diagnosis and now a very capable mental health tool box at my side to refer to when I need, sometimes the tools I am looking for aren’t there. And it could be because I forgot about them, misplaced them (my physical coping strategies), or I am too over encumbered with my mental baggage to actually use them. That is when I really struggle to tend to my mental walls.

Sometimes, I just can’t get my life together for weeks at a time, despite my best efforts and attempts. It’s good that I haven’t given up, but sometimes I really am too exhausted by my ADHD and social masking and compensating that I get burnt out, and need to just decompress and that is all I can do. Just noticing that is where I am at, can give me a road map to what will lay ahead, for my plan of action to recovery and wellness.

One of my biggest pit falls is in my basic pillar neglect. What is basic pillar? It’s mostly physical health stuff. Sleep and rest/relaxation. Nutrition and regular eating habits. Hydration. Exercise.

When I neglect any one of those 4: sleep, food, water, exercise – My life definitely starts to spiral out of control. And it’s very easy to not have good lifestyle habits with physical health care when you are an ADHDer because just like everything else in our lives, it is difficult to action, plan for, stick to and follow through on. Especially if nothing about any of that is something you are hyperfocused on in the moment or hyperfixated on in general.

I have often got by and done well by using hyperfixation and hyperfocus on my physical health. But also, like many things for me, the novelty wears off, it gets boring or I lose accountability. And sometimes it’s not my fault, life happens (like how 2020 happened) and things truly just go out the window. Healthy eating, forget about it. Go for a daily walk, no way. Sleep, that’s for the weak. And so on, I can get really complacent and disinterested in my own self care and well being amazingly easily. No amount of “knowing better” works too. The path of the least resistance feels at that time, so much easier, even if it means we are not looking after ourselves..

In the past, accountability for my physical health has come in form of fundraising for a marathon, or going on an overseas holiday. Meaning I want to be my best, feel fit and healthy and feeling good about myself. As much as those are OK reasons for motivation, they are temporary and passing. It can sometimes feel almost impossible to find the thing that sparks that motivation again. So where do we find it? And how do we know we are struggling to stay on track? How do we know when things are about to get out of our control?

Firstly, I will address the “how do we know when things are getting out of control”, sometimes, we don’t know, we can’t always plan for these things. We don’t often have control of many things in our lives at all. Sometimes we really are at the whim of the world, whatever life is going to throw at us next. There is no “real” preparation for that, there are things to compensate, back up plans, things we can do to make up for our short-comings in an external sense better. But internally, it definitely takes a lot to grab hold and make sense of things.

With that being said there are things we can control, which really do help us have a firm grip, at least on those things. This is all to do with self reflection and again some basic pillar care. At least that is where I start. What can I do right now, what small step could I take that I know will have an immediate impact on my well being?

I have a check list that I refer to often for checking in with myself and noticing how I am feeling for this task.

  • Have I eaten and hydrated well lately?
  • Have I gotten a good night’s sleep?
  • Am I feeling mentally drained?
  • Have I been doing this task for a long time?
  • Am I getting enough exercise?
  • Is there something important that I need to action?
  • Is my environment/house cluttered right now?
  • Is it “that time of the month?”
  • Have their been any big changes in my life recently?
  • Am I needing to get some fresh air?
  • Have I spoken to family or friends lately?
  • Is there anything that I am worried about?

Often my first go to is hydration and sleep, they are the easiest and cost me the least in regards to mental energy, both we need to do no matter what, at some point in the day.
Keeping my plan of action simple often helps but even these tasks can be complicated – something like going for a walk can mean ‘we need to put on walk/weather appropriate clothing’ ‘i need to lock the house’ ‘i need to have my headphones charged to play music’ ‘i cant go till later as I have obligations i have to action no matter what first’. It can be amazing how complicated all these little steps are just to navigate a simple task. No wonder it get’s overwhelming when you are already struggling. That is so much to do.

Taking time to action prep for these will give you more control on those overwhelming variables. It can take time to action all these things. If that’s what needs to be done first, that is where you need to start. Environmentally compensating for our brains short comings is key to simplifying all these tasks. Making it easier to get into a routine and so on. Even if it takes a month or so to grasp this, work out it’s kinks. You are still working on it, that is already a step to gaining back control.

We also command control for a lot of our environment. We can clean and tidy it, we can organize it, we can discard it. Sometimes a trigger for wellness hyperfixation can start there for me. When my environment gets cluttered, my mind feels cluttered. If I tidy my environment, I can think. I have control over that, I might not feel like it at the time, but there is no rush to this process (we have our whole lives), so if today needs to be a rest day so I can actually action these changes tomorrow, then I do that. Sometimes simply allowing ourselves to process what step to take next is the most control we will have.

So how do I know when I am about to spiral. These things are usually what gets neglected first. Others are often consequences of not being on top of them. I don’t think life needs to be so rigid, that we stick to all this stuff with no flexibility either – often I find I spiral from control because I never had any to start with. I had not adopted changes into my life style, I set myself up to fail by making things more complicated than they need to be. So working on these and failing at these are OK and accepting that actually helps me stay on track. Every day doesn’t need to be perfect, life will make sure of that anyway, but having an idea, of what those needs and accommodations look like, will give you key insight on what needs to be worked on for things to be better.

Making note in a mood diary or similar, of what any outside triggers are, will also greatly help with this. There are things we can plan for too that become “planned disruptions” to our sense of control. Christmas is always a good example of this for me. I generally know that after a few days of family time, I need me time. Knowing what my limits are and having those boundaries too are really important. Often we put ourselves second in these situations, but being “selfish” by knowing when enough is enough, will really help you take back control of your life sooner. It also helps you to articulate your needs to others when you do this kind of self reflection, this too can help you gain back some control when you are in environments you have no control over, and give others the right expectation. In that situation everyone can win (ideally).

To finish off todays blog article, I want to recommend a video series by a YouTube channel called “How to ADHD”, this video series is about ‘The wall of awful’. In short, the wall of awful is a wall often made up of bricks of failure, disappointment, rejection and so on. Every time we seem to fail, we add a brick to the wall of awful. This wall, as you can imagine, can get quite tall, thick and long. The wall looks different for everyone but we need to find ways to deal with it. This video series can help with that and it’s a really great watch, I highly recommend it. The wall of awful however is a metaphor created by Brendan Mahan who is an ADHD expert, you can do a lot more after reading on his website too. This metaphor is a great way for looking at emotional barriers to doing tasks, as this is often hand in hand with what we are struggling to do to keep on top of things. Life teaches us a lot about how to build our wall of awful and not much on how to get past it, these resources are a great place to start.

Published by Jenn has ADHD

Jenn Parker, New Zealand. ADHD Advocate and Peer.

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