At age 18, I was diagnosed with ADHD with a severe executive functioning disorder. Executive functioning is what your brain needs to keep your room clean, remember appointments, manage money, and overall keep your shit together. I also have anxiety and depression, and all three play off of each other constantly.
After six years of actively treating it, my executive functioning issues are mostly a thing of the past. I was re-diagnosed recently, from combined ADHD to just hyperactive. Combined involves the two types of ADHD: inattentive and hyperactive. Inattention is difficulty following detailed instructions, organizing tasks and activities, and losing things — AKA executive functioning issues. Hyperactivity is more like this: imagine having three planes of thought for every word that comes out of your mouth, with words running into each other, and always feeling like you should be anywhere other than where you are. Imagine dealing with both of those at once!
It took an absurd amount of work, and several complete melt-downs for me to make any progress. I’ve had to crawl out of the gutter of self-ruin quite a few times. Here’s what I do to keep myself from completely blowing up my life, and how you can do the same.
1. Keep your meds together.
Do whatever you need to. Going on and off meds is where you enter a downward spiral. Your neurons and dopamine and sleep schedule all become derailed, and your life will fall apart. Put those appointments in your phone. Use ZocDoc to book a shrink, so you don’t have to deal with putting off making a call. You know you are going to put it off and lose their number somewhere, and forget about an appointment you made, which leads me to:
2. Your phone calendar is your best friend.
Anything remotely responsible that you need to do goes on your calendar immediately, including an alert. I like to do alerts one day before and then one hour before. Even if it’s just for cleaning your room, do it. You can be extra and put it on a written calendar, too, though we both know you are going to lose it. I have a ridiculous assortment of calendars with only one week filled in. I find them months later, at the bottom of a purse or crumpled in a drawer — and all of the appointments have been missed, too!
3. Find the spending app that works for you.
Put any money tracking app on your phone, get your banking alerts sent to your email so you don’t overdraft. Adopt this mantra: “Money out needs to be balanced by money in.” Get your spending attached to your phone, so it pings you when you spend money. (It’s not like you are about to deal with every receipt.)
4. Take pictures of important papers.
I lose everything all the time — my backpack in high school was a mess of crumpled papers and gum wrappers (my purses and work bag still are, shhhh). Obviously, I never turned in anything on time, and I was only able to organize my information to apply to college because it was all online. As soon as anything important crosses your path, take a picture of it. You will lose it, and you won’t send that important email, or you’ll forget to pay your bills and completely wreck your credit score.
5. Pay all of your bills online.
Set up paperless and automatic payments for important things, like your electric and cable bill. Do not be the girl sobbing and screaming to Con Edison when they turn the power off because you missed paying your bill for six months. You will save so much money and salvage your credit by doing this — those companies typically charge extra for not paying on time. I also recommend setting up automatic rent payments if that’s possible. If not, you know what to do — set that alert.
6. Moderate your moods
An office setting can get tedious and repetitive — the two worst nightmares for anyone with ADHD. If you feel an explosion coming on, just leave. If you can’t leave, go into a break room, smoking area, or “take a lunch break.” It’s really difficult to come back from making inflammatory comments in the heat of the moment. With ADHD, by definition, you are prone to hyperactive, crazy outbursts.
I get these moments when frustrated or panicked, where I just do a total personality switch and can say nasty things, if I go unmoderated. Same goes for crying at work; I’ve had plenty of people yell at me and tell me “not to think for myself,” which sets me off. I once ran up to the roof, sobbed, and yelled, and then 10 minutes later, got back to work, and this same woman complimented my loafers. The business world can be insane, and you just have to remember that starting shit will get you nowhere.
7. Clean Your Damn Room
A huge ADHD problem that I’ve seen is mice. Rodents love people with ADHD, because they often eat in bed, and have big piles of clothes everywhere. Cat Marnell’s Memoir How to Murder Your Life got a little too real with her horror stories of rodent infestation. While reading it, I thought, This is SUCH a “woman with ADHD” problem. My meds normally wear off around 6ish if I regularly take them around 8-10 AM; after not eating all day, I will eat a little dinner, go out, need trash food, shame eat it in bed, and pass out. Meanwhile, my clothes are everywhere, and I’m rushing out the next morning, and the trash is left by my bed. I come home, intend to fix it, get distracted; it sits for days, and oftentimes falls off the nightstand to get buried in more clothes. I always seem to have teeny bedrooms, so the piles become massive, and there’s nowhere to put things.
Rodents love love love piles of clothes to hide in — it’s their thing. So if you’re not careful, one will just crawl in and take up residence, and it will screw you up. If you’re taking stimulants, you get super anxious, and will be anxious about rodents all the time, but not enough to change your cleaning schedule. DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Come up with a system that works; routine is super important for keeping it together, and it’s not just for “boring” Type A people. It’s worth it to clean for 45 minutes every few days to avoid an infestation (and that anxiety headache). It will start interfering with your life if you’re paranoid and not sleeping because you think you hear a whole family of mice under your bed.
Managing ADHD as an adult definitely requires way more than seven steps; it’s hard. No one really talks about it, because they assume they need to always be a flawless super human. But you are always going to have this other element of yourself that is a work in progress.
There also really isn’t a lot out there in terms of support for women with ADHD in the business world, which is why it’s important to discuss it and create a space for it. Having ADHD just means it’s going to take a lot more steps to have a level playing field with other people, but you can get there — you just need to be proactive, and check yourself before you wreck yourself.
Image via Collective World