Change can be stressful—even “positive” change—when you have ADHD. First, there’s the anxiety that comes from expecting yourself to keep up that positive change. Day after day.
Double that anxiety if you’ve been given an ultimatum by a partner—to come to bed earlier, help more with chores, whatever. Fear and anxiety lessons when you have a plan. That’s a major focus of our couple-therapy model in Adult ADHD-Focused Couple Therapy: Clinical Interventions. The willingness to change requires a positive mindset. That starts with assessing what you have to gain—or lose.
Remember my friend Frances “Not a Bozo” Strassman? 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, most of us dream of 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: A Life Without Rules? ADHD and Escapism
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
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”?