“How I Learned to Love Slack: When ADHD and RSD Meet WFH”
“Among other things, I’ve learned that written feedback delivered in Slack is easier for me to rationalize and process. I can see that edits are not a personal attack. I can also easily create space to process strong feelings by turning my attention to another task, moving my body, or lacing up my running shoes.”
Before COVID-19 locked down big cities and shuttered offices, I was devising new coping strategies for managing the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD) that were interfering with my productivity at work.
I’m fortunate to work in a supportive environment — my employer knows about my ADHD and permits me to tweak working conditions when necessary. So, prior to social distancing mandates, I worked from home on occasion. You’d think that working from home all the time during the pandemic wouldn’t feel that different, right? Wrong.
In some ways, it’s harder now for me to get work done (distractions in the kitchen frequently tempt my ADHD brain!), but full-time WFH has also provided the freedom — and safety — to try strategies I wouldn’t have otherwise attempted due to my anxiety. This experiment is a work in progress, but I’ve found some fixes I think will serve me well when it’s safe to commute again.
ADHD and RSD Challenges: In My Home Office
Like many people with ADHD, I struggle with self-esteem — I’m constantly second-guessing the reactions of others and torturing myself wondering if I said the right thing or responded appropriately. On top of that, I experience the extreme emotional sensitivity associated with rejection sensitive dysphoria. That combination plays out in some debilitating ways. Here are some of my major roadblocks and WFH solutions:
WFH Roadblock #1. Sitting still.
When I’m feeling anxious, moving helps. In the office, I worry that I will disturb my coworkers, so I don’t satisfy that need. Fighting back the impulse to move, of course, distracts me from my job. Walking the line between caring for myself and bothering others is something I do all day long at work. At home, I can move about freely, play with a fidget toy, or listen to music without headphones and this makes me more productive.
WFH Challenge #2: Handling criticism.
Writing is a big part of my job — I work in marketing for a small tech start-up in Chicago. The process involves receiving feedback from other members of my team and, while I know editing is necessary to get the job done, it triggers self-doubt, extreme bouts of rage, and unbearable sadness. Those who criticized my work most became either my mortal enemy or the person I tried hardest to please in the office.
At home, much of the feedback is delivered through Slack, an office communication system that allows everyone on the team to share input and follow progress. Getting feedback in this manner makes it easier for me to rationalize the critique and see that it’s not a personal attack. At home, I can easily create space to process strong feelings by turning my attention to another task, which helps to clear my mind.
Challenge #3: Misreading my coworkers.
My coworkers are a social bunch. They enjoy eating lunch together and chatting throughout the workday — interactions I avoid because of possible rejection. Early on, I interacted more but often felt hurt when a coworker ended lunch or a conversation abruptly. I was slow to realize they were simply prioritizing work; it wasn’t me.
Communicating via Slack has been helpful socially as well. Behavioral health experts say online communications can be a minefield for psychological safety because the written word can easily be misread as ambiguous or sarcastic and trigger unhealthy (and unproductive) ruminating. The opposite is true for me!
Since conversation histories are preserved in Slack, I can remind myself that a coworker does like me by scrolling back to see when they laughed at a meme or comment I shared. When they don’t instantly respond to a message I’ve shared, I can see now that they aren’t ignoring me because they don’t like me; they’re just busy!
Taking Care of Business and My Emotional Health
In the early days of the lockdown, I understood the need to formulate a daily plan or my distractibility would have me cleaning the house all day instead of working. Here’s what’s been most helpful:
WFH Tool: Post-It Notes
On Monday morning, I create a running checklist for the week to which I add Post-It notes as new tasks arrive. But there’s a specific way to do this. First, the tasks must be related and grouped together; otherwise, I’m too tempted to put off the ones I dislike. When I find myself avoiding a task, I break it down into a few related parts. This really helps me retain focus.
Second, my goals must be visible at all times. If I list them in a notebook and the notebook gets closed, my goals get forgotten. Instead, I write them on a sticky note and attach the note to my computer monitor.
It’s incredibly rewarding to cross off goals at the end of the day. I keep the completed goals in my planner so I know what I did the previous day, which helps me plan my new day and helps me keep track of my week.
I’m fortunate to have job security right now, but I’m still nervous about the economic downturn. After receiving assurance from leadership recently, I wrote down a few things they said that made me feel most secure and put those points on a Post-It note. When I start to feel nervous about job security, I look at the sticky and it puts those worries at ease.
WFH Strategy: Short Breaks
When I find myself getting anxious during the workday, I allow myself to take short breaks (setting a timer keeps me accountable and helps to keep the distraction to a minimum!) to clean up something around the house.
WFH Strategy: Journaling
I use this tool when I notice my anxiety rising due to the latest COVID-19 news story, and I find it helps me clear my mind before I start my workday, which boosts productivity.
WFH Strategy: Exercise
For me, a 30-minute jog during the day can be extremely beneficial. If I don’t have the energy to jog, I take a brisk walk. If I don’t find a way to move in this way at least once a day, I pay for it with a poor night’s sleep and a tired mind that wanders more than it should.
During this unprecedented time, I’m finding that working from home is largely worse for my ADHD but better for my RSD. I’ll keep looking for solutions and learning to embrace Zoom along with the rest of the working world.
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Updated on April 24, 2020