ADHD and fear of change. What’s behind it? That’s the topic of this post, a guest essay from a wise friend.
First, let’s just acknowledge that change can be stressful when you have ADHD. Even positive change. Maybe even especially positive change.
First, there’s the anxiety that comes from expecting yourself to keep up that positive change. Day after day. Week after week. Double that anxiety if a loved one has given an ultimatum by a partner—to come to bed earlier, help more with chores, whatever.
Here’s the thing: Fear and anxiety lessen when you have a plan.
Learning how to create behavior change—that’s a major focus of Adult ADHD-Focused Couple Therapy: Clinical Interventions. The willingness to change requires a positive, realistic mindset. That starts with assessing what you have to gain—or lose. The carrot and the stick. Being very clear about it.
Frances – A Crowd Favorite
Remember my friend Frances Strassman? She was a Bay Area ADHD coach and efficiency consultant. My Adult ADHD group always welcomed her visits. She walked her talk, having been diagnosed in her 60s with ADHD. I shared with you her hard-won advice on creating new habits for a new year. You’ll find the link at the end of this post.
Happily, I have one more of her essays to share with you: Shedding ADHD-Type Fears And Creating Change.
You’ll find some bedrock wisdom here, about the trade-offs and pay-offs of creating positive change in our lives. (The emphasis in boldface is from Frances, pictured below.)
Yes, yes, I know. An ADHD-fueled fear of change sometimes means fear of rules, fear of curtailing freedom. Frances also addresses that fear head-on.
By the way, many of us us dream about a fantasy island or mountaintop where we can live “naturally” and without rules. My friend—we’ll call him Governor Pappy, a 30-something man with late-diagnosis adult ADHD—thinks that one through and begs to differ. You’ll find that link below, too.
By Frances Strassman
Imagine that your workday goes this way:
You get up at 7:00 am, hop in the shower, and have a nice walk in the sunshine —while listening to an audiobook or some music. Back home, you eat breakfast, dress, and head to work—arriving on time.
You guessed it! There are trade-offs for being this organized.
In order to do all that, it means we can’t sleep late, pulling all of the extra softness out of our pillow. And we can’t play the snooze-alarm game.
Because we are not sleeping late, we plan on getting some exercise, which is—let’s face it—kind of a nuisance. And since we are going to arrive to work on time, it means we are going to have a simple breakfast and dress quickly. No getting sidetracked by e-mail and whatnot.
Whoa! There really are some pretty serious trade-offs for being organized!
What Are We Giving Up?
Assume for a moment that we:
- Love sleeping late.
- Love indulging.
- Fear that if we commit to getting up early and exercising, we’re not really going to want to stick with it.
- Fear that, if we stop, we will feel so bad about ourselves that it feels safer to not even start.
- Love feeling free as a bird, tied to nothing. We hate the idea of following a schedule, being precise, being controlled, being committed.
- Worst of all: If we start any of these patterns, people will expect us to continue! They will now assume we can start work on time and so on.
Egads! Freedom gone.
But What Is the Cost of Not Changing?
And yet, there are also trade-offs for staying disorganized.
- We are seen as a bit flaky.
- Our friends and family feel that they can’t count on us.
- We tend not to get exercise and therefore don’t feel so good.
- Having over-slept, we are always in a big rush, maybe put on the wrong mismatched clothes, eat over the sink, slam our finger in the microwave, and get the day off to a bad start.
- At work, we are seen as rather undependable. Maybe not too likely to get promoted? Not considered a valuable asset?
Which Way True Freedom?
So why is it that neither aspect seems very exciting? We have a hard time rationalizing what we are hanging onto. Yet, getting organized seems like a bunch of restrictions, constrictions, and losses.
My experience is that the reason it looks that way to us is that we have not experienced what true freedom means.
I know that statement makes you want to gag. But hang in there with me for a minute.
When does true freedom begin to develop for those of us who are pretty seriously disorganized? It begins when we begin to orient our self—our whole being—toward order.
This is easy to talk about but not easy to do. We are afraid of those changes. Therefore, the process takes place gradually by our allowing little bits of it to seep in over a period of time.
At some point, we make a decision that we actually want to be rested each night. So we begin going to bed early enough so that can happen. And we look at how to set things up so that we actually will be able to go to sleep shortly after going to bed.
Next, we might decide we want to wake up both early and rested. We get up early enough to get a good start to the day. Once we get used to the shock of that, we start entertaining the possibility of getting exercise once or twice a week. That slowly spreads into daily.
At this point, we start feeling a lot better physically and mentally. We start feeling strong and able. We start feeling like someone who can stay on track, who can decide how his or her day will go. There is a sense of being in charge.
The Reward? A Sense of Being In Charge
As we feel more and more in charge, we feel more able to expand into areas that will make us feel abler. For example, we consider the obstacles to getting to work on time and eliminate those obstacles one by one. When we get into work, we begin to recognize the distractions and we start eliminating those one by one.
The process is like putting training wheels on your bicycle. You set out to learn things gradually, you give yourself support, and you look for the balance point. Then one day you’re riding without training wheels and it’s no big deal.
Learning to put order into our life, as a consistent focus, is that same process. That is, the approach is gradual but consistent; you give yourself support and encouragement, and you commit to keep going.
One day, just like the bicycle rider, you notice a sense of freedom has began to permeate your life. You have become a person who can say that you can do something, and know that you will do it.
What Have You Got To Lose?
This means you are free to do whatever you want, instead of having to unconsciously shape your life around all the things that you don’t think that you can do. To the extent to which we hang onto our disorder, we are hanging onto negative beliefs about our self and our lack of ability to change.
There are trade-offs to getting organized. There are trade-offs to anything we do. But in this case, it is not freedom you lose, but fear.
As a popular professional organizer here in the Bay Area, Frances was featured in this article at SFGate: Out of Chaos….Organization
Out of Chaos, Organization — an article about Frances in SFGate.
In Memoriam: Frances Strassman, Bay Area ADHD Coach
A Life Without Rules? ADHD and Escapism
What do you think?
If you have ADHD, have you changed your notions about freedom over the years?
How has that worked out for you?
If you love someone with ADHD, have you noticed a resistance to
adopting ADHD-focused strategies due to a perceived “fear of change”? Consider sharing this post.
10 thoughts on “ADHD-Fueled Fear of Change”
Brilliant and profound. My emotions are racing so much that I can’t really formulate a reply. I turned 50 last year and got my adhd diagnosis the year before. Now, going on two years on Concerta I am slowly, slowly, beginning to make sense of how I have not functioned through out my life. This post made me come closer to an understanding of why I get nauseous just reading words like “organized”, “tools”, “calendar”, “strategies”.
“getting organized seems like a bunch of restrictions, constrictions and losses.” Hell yes!
Restrictions makes me emotional, constrictions make me physically ill, and losses scares the living hell out of me.
And that is some of what makes it “..feels safer to not even start.”
Thank’s for posting this. I need to print the article, pull it apart, read it again and again and again.
Thanks so much for taking the time to comment.
Frances had a way of putting her finger on it. I know she would have been happy that her words helped you.
Best description ever! Wish I had known this information 60 years ago. I am finally understanding what my ADHD is all about and I am looking forward to moving on. Thank you so much for writing this article! You are going to make such a difference in so many lives!
I’m so pleased you enjoyed this piece from my friend, Frances.
She passed away a couple of years ago. I wrote about her here: https://adhdrollercoaster.org/finding-support/in-memoriam-frances-strassman/
She’d be so delighted that her words have been helpful to you.
I really enjoyed reading this post. The only comment I would make is that while I am gradually enjoying the freedom that comes with change, is it some aspect of ADHD that prevents me from making the change sooner? I seem to remain in frustration far too long that the average, maybe non ADHD, person.
I get the idea of getting up early and attacking the day. However, years of frustration will leach into the cracks caused by uncertainty and past failures, and its not that I dont want to exercise or workout and attack the day-all things positive to start the day-but there are also those times, and all too frequent, you don’t want to day to start.
I’m glad you enjoyed Frances’ post. I miss her so much, and am grateful she left these essays behind. She “got” ADHD profoundly and had such a way of connecting with audiences.
Yes, definitely, ADHD can inhibit the change process. Change takes coordination and planning, for one thing, and those are Executive Functions that are often not running full speed among people with ADHD. Medication can help immensely, but tools are also necessary. We include such tools and strategies as part of the couple-therapy process in my new book (with Arthur L. Robin, PhD): http://www.ADHDFocusedCoupleTherapy.com
It’s very hard to keep up habits such as getting up early to “tackle the day” when you feel that, essentially, the day is lying in wait to tackle you!
I remember the last year of working on the couple-therapy book. It was sheer torture. Drudgery. Everything that could go wrong, was. I remember just wanting to hide in bed, go back to sleep and hoping that I would awaken to discover it all was a nightmare, not real life. 😉
I think the trick, in your case, is to get some help in implementing supportive strategies that help you to stay on track. And to pick one or two morning habits that you don’t deviate from, no matter what, because they will keep you grounded.
At any rate, I know exactly what you’re talking about. And I know it can get better.
I did become the person in charge of me but I feel I was doing it for others too. Going to bed early getting up early having everything oganized it was a routine. I built my routine to make others happy. Boy if I did not follow it shit hit the fan. I’m now in my fifties I don’t want to follow a routine or make others happy. I have been changing to make me happy. Funny people don’t like that change. I now don’t cook and plan dinner every night. I don’t get people’s lunches ready for when they go to work. I have learned to relax and enjoy my time. Don’t vacuum on Saturdays or do laundry on Sundays. I feel much better no anxiety or worry. I was the people pleaser now I’m the Kim pleaser it feels great.
That sounds DIVINE! 🙂
I guess the trick is being able to do certain things when they mean improving your quality of life — getting a better job, getting to the gym, etc. And, of course, when we live with other people there is often an interdependency that means we “show up” when that’s part of the deal.
But hey, if you can swing it, being a “Kim pleaser” is great. 😉
Thank you, thank you, thank you. You have probably heard it all before, but here I go again. Thank you for getting it – all of it. For understanding ADHD and all of it effects on an adult – undiagnosed until 50. Husband still undiagnosed. For understanding the tremendous difficulty in finding a knowledgeable clinician – sooo many don’t get it and make it way worse! And the one’s who are good are unaffordable. Sooo thank you for being my lighthouse! For giving me hope when it seems like there is absolutely none!
I’m very happy that you’ve found some light here. 🙂
If you’ve seen my bio page, you know that the image of a lighthouse on our morning newspaper, when I was a child, had a powerful impact on me.
Thanks so much for your comment.