Maintaining motivation is hard. I was recently diagnosed with ADHD, and it sort of put my whole life into perspective. The diagnosis doesn’t really change how I feel about myself, but is more of a “huh, I learned how to cope really well” sorta thing. Pandemic time threw all of my skills right out the window because there was no structure to my day other than wake up, walk dog, turn on computer. I’ve always been the sort of person who has needed a jam-packed schedule to keep all systems functioning at average speed. Now that this new normal (hate that term) is on the horizon, it looks like life will shift again. And I’m wondering, how will it go?
Many of you may feel like getting out of bed and getting dressed has been difficult the last year or so. I remember at the beginning of everything, when everyone else seemed to be celebrating the fact that they could wear pajama bottoms at work, I was in free-fall. Without a schedule to keep me on track, work and friendships and creativity slipped through my fingers. Every morning I had to wake up no later than seven, get dressed up like I was going out, walk the dog, and even do my makeup. I put on my shoes every day. Good ones with hard heels, never slippers. If I hadn’t, who knows how far my professionalism would have slipped.
The first few months were okay. I celebrated my autonomy and learned when it was okay to ask for a day off. My self-advocacy skills went through the roof. Over time, though, concentrating became harder, to the point that listening to people speak and understanding what they said were two tasks, both impossible. It was then that I started to suspect that there was something else going on inside of me. I’ve been distracted before, but this was different.
Talking to my therapist, she thought it was anxiety or depression creeping back in because so many other people are experiencing it right now. But I’ve been depressed and anxious most of my life. I know what that feels like. This was different, more detached from emotion. Honestly, it was scary to space out and not be able to complete any of my tasks, even though I wanted to and felt guilty when I didn’t.
So, of course, I read more about ADHD. More specifically, I read about how ADHD presents in women and girls. We go unnoticed a good amount of the time: “Politely daydreaming underachievers just don’t attract attention the way hyperactive and impulsive boys do. Staring out the window is nothing when the kid next to you is dancing on the sill” (Jacobson). Don’t get me wrong, I was never an underachiever, but if something didn’t hook my attention, I would read or write instead of listen. That whole thing is why my math skills were never up to par. It wasn’t that I wasn’t capable, I just never cared. Who was Pythagoras compared to Harry Potter?
If I demonstrated these traits, why was I never diagnosed and given the help I needed? Well, you’ve got nature but you’ve also go nurture. The plain truth of the matter is that I didn’t grow up in a place where I was allowed to be anything less than ambitious. I learned to compensate. I learned that I needed more time to do my homework. I learned what was an acceptable bare minimum for some things so there would be more time for things that I cared about. I learned how to trick myself into being successful. Hence, shoes on at work. Always.
When I relayed all of this to a psychiatrist two weeks after my 28th birthday, he commended me on my ability to cope. It seems like such a nice thing for a mental health care provider to say, but I’m tired of hearing it. The fact that I had to cope so much at a young age makes my heart break for a younger version of myself. Her poor head was in constant motion, her heart always beating fast, and no one noticed. She was just a good girl, how could anything be wrong?
But this isn’t a lamentation. Other than the depression and anxiety, I’m fine. The ADHD diagnosis gives me access to medication for the days where my brain really feels like it’s going to fly off into space. The medication doesn’t give me superpowers, or make me feel any more tapped into my creativity. The only difference is that now I don’t get up to sort my sock drawer mid-sentence.
Despite the pandemic and my brain trying hard to undo all of the work we’ve done together over the last twenty-eight years, I’m still writing. Since February, I’ve written over 200 pages of a new novel that is good and has a lot of potential for future publication. If you are also an anxiety-riddled writer, you may be wondering how I’ve done this. Short answer is that I have no idea, but here are some possibilities that I encourage you to try:
Creative accountability once a week with an artist in a different field
Sending pages to other writers, even if they don’t read the work
Set aside one day a week for creative work
Listen to audiobooks while brain relearns how to focus on text
Make plenty of lists full of small tasks that you can check off in a day
Create sub-tasks for large tasks so you can see your progress over time
Keep a clean working space
These are things that have “worked” for me in varying degrees, but they have culminated into making me feel like I have been productive during the pandemic. But, like, what is productivity in the face of an unprecedented global pandemic? Why do I need to be productive? That’s a whole other can of worms that I won’t open right now, but the can is still there. I guess productivity in this sense just means “felt well enough to get out of bed and not stare off into space for three hours.” That’ll just have to do for now.