Can’t keep up with the Joneses? That’s fine. Tweak your expectations to fit your ADHD, not the neatniks’ next door.
by Stacey Turis
As I look at my closet floor, I get that familiar pang. It’s a double-pang, really. The first is a feeling of gratitude that my husband understands and accepts why my side of the room will always have clean clothes lying on the floor instead of hanging in the closet. As a card-carrying member of the glorious ADHD Tribe, I like to keep everything in front of me where I can see it. Closets and file cabinets may as well be black holes.
The second pang is that shadowy feeling that moves across me, quickly reminding me that what looks like a closet floor to me, would look like a pigpen to someone off the street or my extremely tidy mom. I roll around in the guilt pool for less than a second before I remind myself that those are not my own feelings. I quickly forget about the guilt as I notice four dirty cups and three plates on the dresser that should be in the kitchen. Attention ADHDers: Bad short-term memory can come in handy.
We’re a goal-driven society built on pre-conceived expectations that nobody wants to knock down. Yet everyone has a hard time keeping up with them for fear of being seen as lazy. If you throw some ADHD in there, it’s damn near impossible to keep your head above the water. I’m sorry, but there is no way on this green earth that I will keep up with everything that is expected of me, let alone do my best at it all. That’s a lose-lose situation. If I’m not getting everything done, and my focus is so diluted that what I am getting done is half-assed at best, as a perfectionist it’s an instant teleport to Depressionville.
After many bouts of expectation-induced anxiety and depression, I realized that the only way to manage this was to make changes. I had to blow the current and ridiculous paradigm of expectations out of the water and reformat it for my ADHD brain, and those lucky friends and family members that are stuck with it. This includes not only what others expect from me, but also what I expect from myself, which can be equally damaging and invites a counterproductive ADHD trait — negative self-talk.
Since expectations are personal, you’ll have to recognize for yourself which of those have a negative impact on your mental well being.
Here are a few of the pre-conceived expectations that didn’t work for me.
Technology. Since we have communication devices at our fingertips at all times, the expectation is that we should instantly gratify those that are trying to reach us — whether it be through a phone, e-mail, text, Facebook, or whatever else is out there that I don’t know about. Just because a person is (insert appropriate technology)ing me doesn’t mean I need to stop what I’m doing to answer them.
ADHDers need space and a break from technology and people to recharge. Don’t be afraid to own that time, because it’s necessary and yours. You’ll hear a lot of complaining at first when you implement this one, but what a difference it has made in my stress levels.
>> New expectation: You’ll hear back from me, but it could be minutes, hours, days, or months.
Cleaning. I’m probably the only person on earth that’s too lazy to get a housekeeper. I don’t want to have to deal with and/or make a commitment to someone for every other week of my life. On the other hand, I’m not one that thinks about the fact that baseboards need to be de-furred, so by industry standards for pre-conceived expectations of how a house should look, my furry baseboards would knock off a lot of points. This, in turn, would cause me to beat myself up when I did happen to notice it.
>> New expectation: De-fur baseboards when you think about it or are expecting overnight guests. The rest of the time that combination of innocuous bacteria and dust is building up the kids’ immune system.
Parenting. When I was finally diagnosed with ADHD, I realized that I was good at the actual job of “mom” itself; it was the “admin” part that I sucked at. I used to lump it all into the same category. If I sucked at getting the kids to their well-kid appointments on time, then in my head I sucked at being a mom. If I forgot to sign a permission slip, I sucked at being a mom.
I wasn’t giving myself any points for the time I made to read to them every night, or the careful consideration and love I put into their every meal, or the energy it took to laugh at every knock-knock joke they told like it was the first time I’d heard it.
In the end, knowing I couldn’t do it all the way I felt it should be done, I chose to change my expectations of myself about the admin part, so I could focus on being great at the “mom” part. Every day, on my kids’ faces, I can see it was the right way to go.
>> New expectation: Are they fed, bathed, enlightened, spirited, and happy? Then it is a job well done.
What expectations are holding you back from feeling content? Look at what you expect from yourself and examine if that expectation is yours or a preconceived one that has been forced on you. If it’s not working for you, you can change it. Reconfigure it to work for you instead of working against you.