ADHD is so much more than zoning out or incessantly tapping your feet.
With COVID-19 changing all our work flows and lives, many of us are struggling to focus. But is your struggle to focus possibly ADHD?
A lot of us know the more common symptoms, such as hyperactivity and inattention. But what about some less common symptoms that might get missed?
Here’s a few as you ponder your needs and difficulties through this complex time.
Do you find yourself continuously late, no matter how often you remind yourself, write sticky notes, or get texted by people? This might be something called “time blindness.”
It’s not that you’re necessarily blind to the passage of time but, rather, that you might have difficulty prioritizing it, measuring how much time a given task will take, or forget to plan in other aspects of a task (such as driving, scraping your car, etc.) that could cause delays.
How can you cope?
I’ve seen that setting alarms and reminders (multiple if it’s early morning and you’re not a morning person) and using digital calendars that sync across devices work well for many folks.
Paper calendars can be useful, but you have to remember to look at them — which can be one step too many.
Setting your clock slightly ahead in your car or on your personal watch can be useful as well, as long as you don’t start compensating for the extra time you know you have.
One of my favorite methods involved realizing that whenever I was about to do something that would take too long, I would often say to myself, “I have time for that. It’ll be fine.”
Dear reader, it almost always was not fine. So whenever I heard that in my head, I took it as a signal to stop what I was doing and start prepping to leave.
Inevitably, there would be something I had forgotten or something I needed to take with that took up the time I thought I had.
Do you tend to forget little things? Like partner requests, small chores, taking out the trash, stuff like that?
You might have some difficulties with working memory, which is sort of the equivalent of our “ram” if we were computers. It stores short-term information, but not long term.
However, some folks with ADHD have intense difficulty with this kind of memory, either forgetting things quickly or only remembering at inopportune times.
How can you cope?
Some of the previous suggestions will also work for this, but I also tend to use the app Habitica. I find it most useful for things that are either super short term (grocery lists, reminders to make calls or send an email) or are long-term habits I’m building.
Long-term habits can include loading the dishwasher after dinner, trying to clean 20 minutes a day, or always taking my meds at night.
I have a bad tendency to get excited about starting a new habit and then totally spacing it like… 4 days later. Having a habit tracker to scan and remind myself has been crucial for avoiding this.
Apps (or anything “gamified”) can make remembering things and doing tasks a little more fun, which is crucial for me. You can even set rewards for the gold you earn doing this!
Lastly, keeping a notebook by my bedside table for the inevitable remembering of something crucial right before bed (that I will definitely not remember in the morning) is clutch. I eventually moved it to my phone, as I would sometimes forget to check the notebook.
This particular symptom can be partially rooted in difficulties with impulse control, which is a large part of ADHD for some.
Peers with ADHD as well as clinicians also speculate that individuals with ADHD may be more emotionally sensitive than the general population.
Have you ever had to take a moment when someone said something because it upset you so much? That action of being able to stop, breathe, and resist the impulse to lash out or say something you might not mean can be hampered by ADHD. So it can have a lot of social consequences!
How can you cope?
One way to help train yourself on taking those moments to pause can be using a “cool down jar.” You can make one of these at home with some clear glue, glitter, and a mason jar or pick one up online. I personally like making them, cause you can customize them and it’s a fun process.
They tend to be marketed to kids, but I’ve found them immensely soothing even just to look at after a hard time. It helps me watch my breath and slow myself down. This website has a bunch of examples.
You can also set a timer on your phone and put yourself in “time-out.” It may sound childish, but yes, even adults need the space to chill out now and then.
These symptoms, while not as widely heard of, can be just as debilitating as the ones we hear about most often.
And by raising awareness and educating ourselves, we can learn how to best support ourselves (or our loved ones) as we navigate ADHD.
Shivani Seth is a queer, second-generation Punjabi American freelance writer from the Midwest. She has a background in theater as well as a master’s in social work. She writes frequently on the topics of mental health, burnout, community care, and racism in a variety of contexts. You can find more of her work at shivaniswriting.com or on Twitter.