“Mental Health is About Reclaiming Control Where I Now Have None.”
“One of the hardest things about this virus has been that lack of control over the parameters of my existence, which makes me numb, helpless, demotivated and frustrated. The meds don’t stop this feeling, nor do push-ups or meditation. It’s just there, always, screaming and writhing away — this feeling that I want to be more and create more.”
As a journalist, I’ve followed coronavirus from the first cases in Wuhan, reported on its first deaths, and documented its spread across the world. It was scary to watch at the outset, and it’s scary now.
What’s scarier still has been the way it stole our freedom and control — how it made us all into prisoners in our own homes through a series of ever-changing and unpredictable restrictions. It’s shown the stress and the harm that simple boredom can do to a person’s psyche, particularly if that psyche also has ADHD.
An ADHD Extrovert in Isolation
Among other things, this pandemic has forced me (an ADHD extrovert) to come to terms with my worst fears — isolation and monotony — and to acknowledge the damage that my brain wiring does to me and to my loved ones.
As a medic, my girlfriend has been out there fighting this bastard of a disease on the front lines. She’s been safe and sensible, both of us have, but I’m secretly very envious of her because she gets to talk to people face to face.
Like many with ADHD, I crave adventure and stimulation — the more the better. This trait makes ADHD people characteristically interesting, but when it comes to being refused the ability to do things we desire, it creates a control and power vacuum.
I’d love to be able to go out again and interview people. I want to stare that danger in the face in person rather than hide here, trapped in a small apartment. I miss the thrill of life — a longing that Netflix and wine can’t quench — and I envy the fictional characters I watch on TV for their experiences as I sit on my sofa.
One of the hardest things about this virus has been that lack of control over the parameters of my existence, which (combined with SAD) makes me numb, helpless, demotivated and frustrated. The fact that everyone is going through this doesn’t actually matter. It’s not selfish; it’s just that there’s this pushing feeling in my head that won’t go away. The meds don’t stop it, nor do push-ups or meditation. It’s just there, always, screaming and writhing away — this feeling that I want to be more and create more and flourish and see as much of the world as I can.
This doesn’t translate well to my far more logical, safe, and sensible girlfriend, who sees the horrors first hand but can’t talk about them. It puts pressure on our relationship as we can’t see eye to eye while we’re simultaneously living such drastically different experiences. My talking about running to indeterminate hills is making me appear unstable and causes a lot of excess friction.
I’ve realized that, for me, emotional and mental health is about reclaiming control where I now have none. So I’ve worked out a system.
How a Daily Schedule Centers My ADHD Brain
My method is to start every day small, then get progressively more organized as the tasks become bigger with time. No task should ever theoretically take more than an hour.
1. Tidy (and Wake) Up
The first thing I do is the washing up. It is important to have an activating task between waking up and getting dressed and there is a well-recognized therapy to cleaning — in the process, you make chaos orderly while also being stimulated just enough to focus on both the task and imagine what I can realistically do that day.
2. Prep My Meals
I next channel my creativity into my meals for the day and thus control my diet as I can’t go to the gym and I don’t like exercising alone. I make everything I can from scratch — experimental curries and burgers, extremely elaborate salads, everything I can think of. It’s all lean and healthy and interesting and it makes the Mrs. happy coming home to it after a long day. I also know I can easily eat should I get caught up in hyperfocus later on.
3. Begin Checking Off To-Do Items
Next, I create a simple daily to-do list starting with the closest task at hand: brush teeth, make coffee, take meds, shower, put on some jeans. Cross those little tasks off and you’re motivating yourself. It’s important to get out of your cozy pajamas and give yourself the opportunity to leave the house with minimal effort. I sometimes sit in my motorcycle trousers just to give myself the feeling that the world is still out there, easily accessible, even if it’s getting dark outside. Also they’re nice and warm.
4. Commute to the “Office”
After that, I got to my separate, designated work space. Just passing through the doorway gives me a reset moment. The to-do list in my hand then refocuses me and I’m in the right environment to do something without the temptations of procrastination drawing me in.
5. Create Team Accountability
My big task for this quarter is to build a company, FeaturesDesk Ltd., so I begin each work day with a team meeting, mostly so I’m not feeling so lonely but also to further coordinate. I do the easy or urgent tasks like filling out forms right away, then work toward the bigger tasks like writing pitches and features.
This small team dynamic means I’ve got people who understand me and who are relying on me to complete the rest of my tasks. This is such a massive motivator because it gives me a reason to do things that otherwise often feel futile and thus get put off.
Building a company also means I can plan a future for myself that isn’t dependent on anyone else and, when the time finally comes, I will have the liberty to just pack my bags and run for the airport without asking anyone for vacation days.
I’ve learned that it’s OK to not do everything in one day. It’s OK to spend two hours on little things so long as you do them well, and this attitude has helped reduce the burnout stress that always eventually gets to me when I work for corporations.
6. Clock Out for the Day
After a few hours of intense hard work, I treat myself to something to round off the day, to signal the end of the working day, and to offer some satisfaction that my mission is complete — for now.
This routine doesn’t solve all my problems but planning the things I can control makes it easier for me to manage the uncertainty of this pandemic. It provides me social support, order, control and purpose, while allowing my mind to take care of the rest of life and giving me the liberty to have a wasted day should I need one.
Finally, it’s time to watch TV with my partner and bitch about how busy we’ve been, or just go for a walk, which helps clear my head to do it all again tomorrow.
Daily Schedule For Quarantine: Next Steps
- Learn: 7 Daily Intentions for Brains In Search of Structure and Purpose
- Read: “My Daily Schedule is in Tatters!” How to Build Routine and Boundaries Now
- Understand: 11 Self Care Strategies for ADHD Brains in Quarantine
- Learn: How to Tackle Your Toughest Daily Transitions
THIS ARTICLE IS PART OF ADDITUDE’S FREE PANDEMIC COVERAGE
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Updated on May 10, 2021