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“Oh, I am Very Weary…”

“…Though tears no longer flow; My eyes are tired of weeping, my heart is sick of woe.” — Anne Bronte, a woman who seemed to understand

I’m tired. But not the kind of tired that can be fixed by a good night’s sleep, or even a week’s vacation. It’s the kind of unrelenting tired that comes from a lifetime of feeling swamped and overwhelmed, of constantly running to catch up but never quite making it, of working much harder than everyone around me to meet life’s demands, yet still coming up short. The kind of tired that the neurotypicals in my life just can’t understand. I wish I had the energy to explain it to them, but, alas, I am too tired.

As it happens, I am no longer swamped. My children are grown and gone, I am done working outside the home, and we have sufficient retirement funds for me to hire someone to do the housecleaning. We have downsized to an apartment, so the work and responsibilities of owning a house are gone. I have painstakingly simplified my life to the point that I make the lotus eaters look like Energizer bunnies.

Should be good, no? Sadly, that’s not how we folks with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) operate. All this blissful idleness comes with a generous measure of my life-long nemesis: guilt. The couch becomes less and less comfortable as I look around and see others doing, striving, achieving.

I have friends I hardly ever see because they are too busy accomplishing things and getting the most out of life. Two or three are using their retirement years to write books. A couple have gardens that Capability Brown would envy. Some have remained in productive careers well past the usual retirement age.

So this makes me feel that my indolence is unacceptable. I have to do something to justify the space I take up on this earth.

[Self-Test: ADHD Symptoms in Women and Girls]

A lot has been written about how beneficial creative outlets are for our brains and our mood, so one of my early endeavors was to take up sketching, something I had enjoyed as a teen. Today, six or eight years later, my sketch pad contains about a half dozen small pencil drawings. My box of pastels sits unopened and pristine.

I observe my book-writing friends, and decide that if they can do it, I can do it. After spending far too much time deciding on a subject, I finally begin. I immediately get into The Zone, and churn out three chapters in an impressively short period of time. Pretty good chapters, too (she said modestly) — enough so that a reputable agent expressed interest and asked to see more. And then… It was over. No more Zone, no more chapters, no more words, no more book writing. I got tired.

We won’t talk about my late-in-life piano lessons. Either of them.

I look into volunteering, a rewarding way to give back to the community — but all the organizations that look interesting require at least a one-year commitment. I don’t do one-year commitments.

[Free Webinar Replay: From Shame and Stigma to Pride and Truth: It’s Time to Celebrate ADHD Differences]

So now I have a new project: I am working hard at eliminating all guilt about not working hard. I am attempting to convince myself that producing an evening meal is a reasonable day’s work, that going to a yoga class is a significant accomplishment, that an afternoon of bridge is not a self-indulgent waste of brain power, and that crocheting afghans for charity is a worthwhile way to spend days on end. (That last one might even be a little bit true.) I spent so many years frazzled, sleep deprived, and limp with fatigue that I deserve some rest time now. Don’t I? Please say I do.

Like my previous ventures, this attempt to abolish guilt has not proven hugely successful, but it is at least less exhausting than the others. And I am persevering. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

In conclusion, I would like to share with you a new word I learned while working on this blog: clinomania. Look it up. It’s perfect.

And now I must go — I have a very busy afternoon ahead, snipping the scratchy labels out of a couple of new tops.

[Women with ADHD: No More Suffering in Silence]

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  1. Oddly enough, the tired you’re describing and the life you aspire to live are identifying strongly with me. Except that I’m trying to do the opposite. I’ve been trying to take care of my mental health in not forcing myself so much that I get anxious, tired, or sad. But I had to stop doing that, because I was about to flunk out of college.

    I’ve believed that striving for excellence and fighting to meet the demands of life will be a more fulfilling way to live. But you say that, having lived that way for decades, it leads to deep-down tiredness. It sounds like depression. Please get it checked out if you can — it’s not normal to be so very, very tired that even taking it easy on yourself and downsizing your entire existence would not make it better. I’m glad that you’re working on un-learning the moral aspect of work — that you have to be productive to “earn” your right to live or be happy with yourself. I’m working on that one. I’m also holding out hope that I can be strong and keep up with life while also keeping up with life’s demands. 🙂

    1. ADHD is an actual medical problem and us a chemical imbalance in the brain, hence the tiredness. The dopamine levels etc. Medication will help the levels to balance out but do not change habits. But we are determined and tough by definition!! We are still going – we are survivors! Its very draining when you have to put in double the effort to simply get through every day. Make sure you eat very healthy foods and supplement with a high quality multivitamin. But the best thing is be nice to your hardworking self and love yourself for how you were made. Fighting guilt and emotions is draining – so LIVE LIGHT, LAUGH LONG, LOVE ALL!

  2. I do so feel what you feel, you are NOT alone! I tried sooo hard to be like other people, and after my son was born at 43, I failed miserably.
    After struggling for 8 years after his bitrh, I lost my relationship and my job of both more than 20 years at about the same time. It is been 6 months and I finally feel joy again in things I l( used to) ike, without the constant need to be useful. I have a little money, and due to co-parenting I suddenly have time to myself, which I now use to visit musea, find out about my family history and other useless but so much fun stuff. And I don’t really care what others think, this is what I need right now.
    I see that you mention a lot of activities that you think you should do, or that other people enjoy, but you need to find things to do that you enjoy, and for now you have to let go of the need to do something useful. Just find something to do that you really enjoy! You should not have to make an effort to have fun, and the result is not important. Important is to find your joy in life (again).

    1. I also cut out all labels in all clothes, even in underwear, or especially in underwear 😂.
      And I take small 1 or 2 day trips, all by myself, and I love it. It was scary at first, but now it feels so liberating. In my part of the world, (Europe) it is quite easy and fairly cheap to do. I don’t know where I go from here, but I can tell you, these trips will remain a part of my life from now on, they make me happy. So please, take it very easy, take your time, and most importantly, find out what makes you happy, and keep that in your life!

        1. Hello Rositacon, when you go to your account – profile – edit profile, you can add a nickname, which can be changed all the time, and you can then choose to display the nickname instead of your username. Your nickname will be visible, and not your username.

  3. What a great article. As a woman in her 60s, I don’t see much about dealing with ADHD as an older person. I think, at least in my case, a lot of my problem is comparing myself to others. it’s not just neurotypicals, it’s anyone who seems to be managing life better than me!

    I was in my Facebook ADHD group, and a young man who is a professional artist started talking about lack of focus. And my thing was about art, and ALL the supplies I buy, and ALL the projects I have going that are incomplete. The fact is, there’s no pressure for me to complete any of them because it’s not something for anyone but me.

    I don’t think I’ve had a job outside of my home for at least 5-8 years. I went from working full time in various office jobs, to part time, to gradually nothing. My husband was definitely the one who pushed me, and I have to say I’m grateful. But, I do remember that once the joy of not having to be somewhere every day wore off, and I realized I wasn’t going to do any better at keeping up the house, it was not as big a thrill as I’d imagined.

    But over time, I adjusted. Now my biggest problem is finding enough time to do all the things I enjoy. Maybe you just need to allow yourself to “drift” for awhile. Art took off for me when I found a woman nearby who gave me private lessons. Then I stopped for awhile and worked on my own. Then I went back and joined a group she was teaching. It was only once a week, but I looked forward to it, and it was stimulating being around other people who had a similar interest.

    We have such high expectations of ourselves, but changes are difficult, even when they’re good ones.

  4. Thank you all for your kind words, concern, and encouragement. I’m afraid this blog must have come across as more negative than I intended — although it’s true I have given up on several activities, I’m actually happy as a clam just taking it easy. Having all this time to myself feels like a reward after years of overwork, and it’s fabulous to be in a position to be able to decide just what I want — and don’t want — to do. I am exactly as busy as I want to be.

    The one fly in the ointment (which I think you all touched upon) is the inability to stop comparing my productivity to others’, and feeling inadequate as a result. This isn’t a constant, though, and I’m getting better and better at putting a stop to those negative thoughts when they arise. As far as I know, none of my friends judge me for being less busy than they are… so why should I?

    And it really helps to know/find out that we are not alone with our quirks and struggles — ADDitude, and people like you, have made my world a better place.

  5. I’ve given a lot of thought to this very topic, because feeling weary is such a familiar state. I think that the key is to recognize that the knowledge that you have ADHD (and any other related issues) explains the weariness: we have been trained since childhood to function in a world whose systems are not set up for our way of operating. The thing to do, and I’m not saying its easy or even completely possible, is to admit to yourself that that “paradigm” for operating no longer serves you, and to replace it with one custom-engineered by you, for you. Every time you tweak your routines to work better, you are already doing just that. We need to give ourselves credit for having to mastermind our navigation such that we insert the structure that helps us, the exercise, the time management, the prompts, etc.. The bottom line is that we have to actively pursue this, or we will remain weary. I suspect that being stuck in weary is tantamount to clinical depression. Regardless, it’s all part of the same package in being human; we are what we are, now let’s try to enjoy life on our own terms!

    1. Wow! Very powerful and just what I needed at this time in my life…
      Cannot tell you enough how good it is to feel understood, but not excused from life!
      Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!

  6. I can relate to this. While I am not at the age of retirement and am in fact in my early 30’s, I feel tired most of the time recently and I feel that my symptoms are changing from what they used to be. I tend to feel more in a fog and more tired now than I used to. Even things that used to interest me are not that exciting, instead they can often feel like a chore. I also relate to feeling tired doing things that other people find simple. It was so hard for me to understand why I was so capable and had so much ‘potential’ but, things that I thought should be simple were hard for me in a way I couldn’t understand and explain. My older half-sisters seemed to have their lives together and they had determination and drive in excess. I would feel mentally tired after doing the simplest things. I thought that maybe I was lazy but, I also felt that that was wrong somehow. Then I thought was just that I had problems with time management and self-control/motivation. I thought it was because of the inconsistent attention and support that I received as a child. Now I realize it’s just a part of who I am. So, I understand what it’s like to feel like you’ve been trying so hard your whole life and you feel exhausted, sleepy all the time yet you also feel like resting would be lazy.

    My ADHD also comes with perfectionism and for me is linked mentally to my ability to keep a house clean and keep up with other people. I feel that I should be productive but, I often feel tired which makes me feel like I am less than others. I only recently have come to the realization that I have ADHD. I also should mention that in addition to my feeling tired and mentally exhausted, I’ve also been avoiding social situations and having more problems with my anxiety. Basically for me the thing that is helping me is realizing that what I am going through right now is actually burnout from working myself so hard without taking time to care for myself. We all need time to rest and recharge and for people with ADHD it can be even more crucial. So, I would suggest trying to practice some self-care. I’ve learned a lot about self-care over the past two years. For me it starts with letting go of things. For example, I didn’t realize what a negative view I had about myself. A lot of the things I thought about myself were on an unconscious level so I didn’t consciously realize that they were there. I can be really hard on myself and my perfectionism plays a role. For example, sitting on the couch and watching T.V. when I feel like there are other things that I could be doing could cause me to start to think those thoughts. It could start with me telling myself that I am just lazy and/or unmotivated and go downhill from there. Basically, there were a lot of negative things that people told me and a lot of negative things that I internalized because I thought that’s how people viewed me. When I started with one negative thing I’d start down this long road of basically putting myself down and telling myself how useless and worthless I am. I just early last year was the first time I realized that I would do this. I didn’t understand how others could use ‘positive self-talk’ when it never seemed to work for me. But, after I realized that I talked to myself so negatively (and I would really tear into myself, let some of those thoughts come to the surface so I could see what I was saying to myself and I was honestly shocked at how vicious I could be) I realized that for me, positive self-talk is basically gently reminding myself of the truth. I had help, I’ve had a longtime friend and longtime roommate who would tell me sometimes that I was really hard on myself and that it hurt her to see me hurt myself and say some of those hurtful things about myself (the things I would sometimes say that would hurt her to hear me say about myself were extremely mild compared to what was going on under the surface but I think she sensed that and how much I was hurting myself, it was a difference of calling someone stupid for what they did and cursing someone out with the most vitriolic words you can imagine). Anyway, with her help and a moment of insight I was able to see how negatively I talked to myself. Then, when those thoughts would come up again I was better able to help myself process them. What I would do is calmly listen to the beginning of those thoughts and then I would stop myself and say no, that’s not true. Here is the truth. For example, if I was feeling that I had done something I thought was inconsiderate then I might start to call myself selfish and proceed on from there. However, knowing myself and hearing from my roommate I have come to the realization that I am rarely selfish. I tend to make my whole life about other people and making them happy. I do have selfish moments and I do reflect a lot and need to change things from time to time. But, on a whole, I am very unselfish despite my stubborn life-long view of myself as being selfish. So, I would tell myself that, what I was thinking wasn’t true and then start listing what I knew to be true. Which is that, while I am not perfect, I do try my best to treat everyone with kindness and understanding. I try to make things easier for others and often shoulder the harder burdens onto myself. I care, and I care a lot. Sometimes I make mistakes but, I am not a selfish person. I can be selfish on occasion but, that does not make me a selfish person, that just makes me human. There are several areas of my life where I have to stop and do this for. I am basically unlearning all those false things I believed about myself by reminding myself of the truth and the positive aspects of myself. This works for me because I am generally very hard on myself and view the things I do in a negative light but, I also work very hard to help others and to reflect on my actions and change them when I realize that I might be hurting someone else or making things hard on them. This response has gone on for a long time and may not seem that relevant since I seem to mostly be talking about myself and my experiences but, I swear I do have a point for saying all this and I believe that it relates to your post.

    The reason that I talked about this and responded to your post is because I have been feeling worn out lately too. Thoughts are coming in a fog and sometimes are hard to put together. I feel stressed and anxious most of the time with no real idea of the source. I feel constantly tired and I feel like all the things I used to do before I don’t have the ability to do anymore. I used to be more organized and able to accomplish everyday tasks like shopping for groceries and not be exhausted by even the thought of doing it. I think that the reason for the change is simply burnout. I realize that now. Now that I recognize what it is I feel that I can do something about it. Namely, embracing my diagnosis of ADHD and also giving myself time to rest and recharge. I still have things that I need to accomplish in my life but I am giving myself permission to take those things slowly. I am giving myself permission to be lazy. My strategy is to give myself tons of time to rest and have down time while also doing things I need to do. For example, most people might recommend a study schedule of 30mins with a 15min break in between. For me I’ve taken that and applied it to my chores and other things I find unpleasant but I give myself way more time to rest and use the shorter time to do chores. For example, yesterday I wanted to badly get my room clean but the mess was overwhelming me. I didn’t want to sit on the couch all day and just binge watch my favorite shows because that would make me feel lazy and even more overwhelmed and depressed. So instead, I gave myself permission to be ‘lazy’ as long as I did something productive as well. The show I was watching comes in 45min episodes so I made a deal with myself. I would do something productive for about 15mins or so (just spit balling it really, working until my mind wanted to wander and then seeing if I could push myself just a few minutes more to complete a task) and then I could watch an episode uninterrupted. Then, rather than playing the next episode immediately, I made myself do another 15mins of organizing knowing that I would rather do that and feel better of myself than get the instant satisfaction of watching another episode. The feeling of being productive was a major boost to my positive feelings. I actually got a lot accomplished and felt really happy with my progress but, I also got lots of time in to rest. This also comes along with me having to let go and re-frame some of my thinking often. I sometimes have to take a breath and let go of my perfectionist tendencies. Remind myself that I am not perfect and that I don’t need to be. Basically telling myself that making small steps today and doing things as I can do is better than waiting till I can do everything at once and perfectly tomorrow. Reminding myself that I will take small progress today over the lie that I will get everything done perfectly tomorrow. I still have much more work to do but I made way more progress than I thought I would and I feel much better mentally and emotionally. I have less of a feeling of burden on myself. Part of this comes from simply knowing that I have ADHD and so these things don’t come naturally to me which is why they are hard instead of me feeling that I am simply “lazy, dirty and unmotivated”. It leads back to me understanding how to talk to myself and reminding myself of what the actual truth is. It takes away a lot of the emotional burden which holds me back a lot personally.

    Now, this really relates back to what you posted about because I think you are suffering from a form of burnout as well. Yours may be worse than mine since it probably went on longer. I have things that I want to do creatively or otherwise but no longer have the mental energy to push myself to do them. What I am trying to say after this long post is that it seems to me that you have burnout and probably are really hard on yourself, like many people with ADHD, when you feel like you are being lazy and unproductive. I think that some of my insights might be helpful in helping you to accept the relaxation and to rest enough to eventually build back up to your interests and doing things you enjoy. The first step I think is realizing that you are burned out (or whatever conclusion you may come to). Then giving yourself permission to rest in whatever form you want to or think you can enjoy. That’s where my experience with self-care and positive self-talk can help. Part of what is making your relaxation un-enjoyable is feeling that you are lazy and possibly your have internalized other negative thoughts like I have. Try to listen when you thing those thoughts, hear what you are saying to yourself and refute it with the truth. If you feel lazy remind yourself that you have worked really hard your whole life and you’ve pushed yourself to do what everyone else is doing which requires way more mental, emotional and physical effort on your part. That’s why you feel tired and there isn’t anything wrong with that. You’ve worked hard and it’s ok to rest. In fact, I’d say that the rest is well earned. You deserve to take some time to rest because you’ve worked hard. Think about if it was a friend saying that they were lazy to you. If they did all the things you did, would you believe they are lazy? Probably not, you’d probably say that they deserved the rest and the same is true to you. Sometimes you need an outside perspective to help you like my friend was able to help me. So, ask those close to you how they see you, you’re not being egotistical to ask for the truth.

    It’s ok to be kind to yourself and to make time for yourself. It’s very human and normal. Even those who don’t have ADHD struggle with this. If your brain won’t let you rest find something, anything, no matter how small that makes you feel happy. It can be something as simple as watching a favorite show on that comfy couch, coloring in a coloring book, reading a book you’re interested in or walking around the block. The key here is to not force yourself to do anything. If you aren’t done reading that book and you’re bored, move onto the next one and forgive yourself for not being perfect, for not being able to make yourself do something or concentrate long enough. At least this helps me. I hate feeling that I’m forcing myself to do something which is partially why I hate routines. By giving myself permission to not finish something, to change my mind or do something else I am relieving that feeling of pressure and responsibility to follow through. It allows me to enjoy what I am doing an recharge in a way that doesn’t trigger my perfectionism. That way my resting and relaxation actually feels that way instead of feeling that I am doing it to avoid working or doing important things. That’s why it’s also important for me to slip those moments of productivity between long stretches of resting. I feel like I am getting things done but I also feel like I am getting a lot of resting done too. I can come back to the work recharged because I have allowed my mind to switch to something else for a bit and since it’s enjoyable I get recharged slowly. I plan to keep doing this for as long as it takes making sure to take my time and be thorough so that I give myself enough time to properly recharge. I think that this will eventually lead me to having energy and enthusiasm for the things I enjoy again.

    The point is not to avoid things but to embrace them and yourself for what they are. We are imperfect and that is ok, we are human and mistakes are expected and natural. In fact, we learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes. I also think that what one commenter pointed out was pretty useful. As ADHDers we are often tired from trying to fit into a world that isn’t set up to be advantageous for us, in fact it’s set up in a way that makes things harder for us so some fatigue is expected. I hope that this comment can help you and that I haven’t rambled too much or given advice and information that is unnecessary or unwanted.

    I believe that people with ADHD brains are very resilient, more resilient that people who don’t have this type of brain. In time I believe that you can find a solution that works for you (whether or not my advice works for you) and will help you to deal with the situation you’re in. As the other commenters pointed out, the best thing to do is to give yourself some slack and realize that it’s ok to not be 100% ok all the time. It’s ok to feel tired and lack enthusiasm. Sometimes that happens in life but you can bounce back and find a life that works for you. I know that ADHD minds are always moving and thinking so you’ll probably be back on your feet before long, just remember that you need to give yourself rest regularly if you want to be the best you can be for yourself.
    I also recommend things like mindfulness meditation and positive cognitive behavioral therapy. These are useful tools that can help you to relax and think more positively about yourself. They do take some time and effort but once you’ve rested enough and given yourself permission to fail and be lazy they will become a lot easier.

    1. Thanks so much for your kind and thoughtful reply. Much of what you mentioned I had already figured out for myself, but it took me over 50 years to do it — I’m glad you have managed to do it in your thirties. (I especially loved your description of how you sort of trick yourself into getting things done — 15 minutes between tv episodes. That is SO the kind of thing I do!) As I said in another reply, I’m not unhappy. I have a level of activity that works for me — enough that I don’t get bored, and not so much that I feel overwhelmed. The only negative aspect is one you, and most other commenters (is that a word?), touched on… comparing myself to others makes me feel inadequate. So stopping that comparing is what I’m working on, and I’m gradually winning the battle. Yay!

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