Lessons from a therapist for ADD

I’ve known for quite some time that I had some form of ADD/ADHD. My long-time therapist pinged it right away, as well. However, my psych insisted we were wrong and that was the end of that! The symptoms were just my bipolar and anxiety, said he. (BAH!)

So I didn’t get the “official” diagnosis until September 2017, when I was working toward being approved for my weight loss surgery.

But while a lot of people with ADD/ADHD get the option of taking meds to help manage this disorder, I got told that wasn’t an option for me. Because of my bipolar.

So what was I supposed to do?

Enter a therapist who specialized in ADD/ADHD.

Here are a few tricks and pieces of advice I remember from those three months I spent meeting with him.

  1. Before this all started I had started a bullet journal and was all “I’m going to be super organized and everything I should be doing will be right here so I can get things done and I’ll be responsible and healthy and a real adult!” It overwhelmed me. And eventually I found myself unable to do ANY of the things I’d told myself I should be doing if not every day then at least on the very specific days I had assigned myself to do them.

    The therapist had me show him my journal during our first session. And he told me, f I am going to add new items to my routine, add them slowly! Don’t try to change everything or do too many things at once. He told me to pick just one or two new items from my list, and add nothing BUT those two items until those new things settled and became part of my daily life without thinking about them. He taught me that the more change I add to my life or the more I am trying to get done at a given time the more stressed I get. Anxiety kicks in, then depression because I start telling myself I’m a failure for being unable to do all of these things I am telling myself I should be doing.

    So just don’t. Full stop. Don’t.

    A friend read this post and reminded me of something from Hyperbole and a Half.

  2. Don’t be afraid to use alarms. I have a clock setting on my phone. I use alarms to remind myself of just about everything I *have* to remember to do throughout the day.

    But the biggest change I made to help the ADD was not to set just one alarm that says, “time to stop what I’m doing and do this other thing now!” But a first alarm to go off 5-10 minutes before THAT alarm for, “Oh hey, quick note to say that the alarm to stop what I’m doing is coming up. Might want to begin wrapping things up now so I don’t just slap the other alarm off when it goes off and forget what I’m supposed to be doing next.”

    I set similar alarms for when I am about to start a project or begin something that has the risk of sucking me in so I lose track of everything else around me. Just enough to poke at me and ask, “hey, is there something else you want to do? No? That’s fine. Just wanted to ask.”


    2b. I use a similar trick when I find it challenging to stay focused. If I am trying to work on something and finding it difficult, I will set a timer for 15 or 20 minutes (shorter if necessary, depending on the task at hand). I do the task until the timer goes off. Then I hit the Repeat button. I am then given the same 15 or 20 minutes to take a break or to do something else until the timer goes off again and I return to the original task. If this is a lengthy project, then alarms are set for every hour or two hours. I give myself a longer break at that point. If it’s a multi-day project, I decide how much time I will give myself for this project for that day. And will set an alarm to signify that I am to stop working on the project and pick it up another time.

    The point is – allow myself to step away from things and take a break. But use the tools on hand (alarms and timers) to keep me focused and brought back to task as necessary. Give myself limits, so that I can do other things during my day too.

I know there are many more pieces of advice I received, and that they’re written down somewhere or I’ve internalized them to the point I don’t even realize they’re things I do now that I learned from this therapist. But the use of alarms and timers. That was HUGE.

And don’t try to do too much at once. That leads to stress. Anxiety. And depression.

Published by loribarett

Coffee addicted charismatic geek with a penchant for tattoos, books, and listening to people tell their stories.

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