The Queen of distraction by Terry Matlen, MSW

It’s subtitled How Women with ADHD can conquer Chaos, Find Focus, and Get More Done.

She’s got a Masters in Social work and is a psychologist as well. Her book is written in a tone of self-help and suggestions of actions that people who are chronically late for appointments and have poor executive skills can help manage their life better.

Some of the suggestions are too far gone for me to believe that ANYONE with ADHD would follow. Like having 3 bulletin boards? With color coding? Nope, not from this gal anyhow.

But some of her suggestions are valid, like the watch one, or the clock alarm setting. To remind your brain that you have an appointment in a half-hour. To jog your memory and help you stay on track. Her other ideas of just jotting down a log of what you actually do in a day and how much time it takes can be very helpful I can see. See what time you are wasting and what really doesn’t take as long as you think it does.

Executive functioning is key to our survival and thinking. It’s basically the control panel of your brain. It involves figuring out how to get from Step A to B to C to D. It’s the train that stays on the rails getting us to our final destination.

It involves

  • planning
  • strategizing
  • organizing
  • goal setting
  • paying attention to important details.

According to Dr. Russell Barkley adults with ADHD typically

  • become easily distracted by stimuli
  • find it hard to stop behaviors and activities that are engaging and of interest to them
  • impulsively make decisions
  • don’t follow directions carefully when starting a project
  • often don’t follow through on promises or commitments
  • have trouble doing things in proper sequence
  • speed while driving
  • find it hard to enjoy quiet leisure activities

All of which I’ve exhibited examples of in my life up to this point.

Anyhow, worth checking out this book indeed, if you suspect you have ADHD or know you do.

Mental Health Wellness Tips for Quarantine

Original author: Dr. Eileen Feliciano clinical psychologist at NYS (New York State).

After having thirty-one sessions this week with patients where the singular focus was COVID-19 and how to cope, I decided to consolidate my advice and make a list that I hope is helpful to all. I can’t control a lot of what is going on right on, but I can contribute this.

Edit: I am surprised and heartened that this has been shared so widely! People have asked me to credential myself, so to that end, I am a doctoral level Psychologist in NYS with a Psy.D. In the specialties of School and Clinical Psychology.

  1. Stick to a routine. Go to sleep and wake up at a reasonable time, write a schedule that is varied and includes time for work as well as for self-care.
  2. Dress for the social life you want, not the social life you have. Get showered and dressed in comfortable clothes, wash your face, brush your teeth. Take the time to do a bath or a facial. Put on some bright colors. It is amazing how our dress can impact our mood.
  3. Get outside at least once per day, for at least 30 minutes. If you are concerned of contact, try first thing in the morning, or later in the evening, and try less traveled streets and avenues. If you are high risk or living with those who are high risk, open the windows and blast the fan. It is amazing how much fresh air can do for the spirits.
  4. Find some time to move each day, again daily for at least 30 minutes. If you don’t feel comfortable going outside, there are many YouTube videos that offer free movement classes and if all else fails, turn on the music and have a dance party!
  5. Reach out to others, you guessed it, at least once per day for 30 minutes. Try to do FaceTime, Skype, phone calls, texting – connect with other people to seek and provide support. Don’t forget to do this for your children as well. Set up virtual playdates with friends daily via FaceTime, Facebook Messenger Kids, Zoom, etc. – your kids miss their friends too!!
  6. Stay hydrated and eat well. This one may seem obvious, but stress and eating often don’t mix well, and we find ourselves over-indulging, forgetting to eat, and avoiding food. Drink plenty of water, eat some good and nutritious foods, and challenge yourself to learn how to cook something new!
  7. Develop a self-care toolkit. This can look different for everyone. A lot of successful self-care strategies involve a sensory component (seven senses: touch, taste, sight, hearing, smell, vestibular (movement) and proprioceptive (comforting pressure)) An idea for each: a soft blanket or stuffed animal, a hot chocolate, photos of vacations, comforting music, lavender or eucalyptus oil. A small swing or rocking chair, a weighted blanket. A journal, an inspirational book, or a mandala coloring book is wonderful, bubbles to blow or blowing watercolor on paper through a straw are visually appealing as well as work on controlled breathing. Mint gum, Listerine strips, ginger ale, frozen Starburst, ice packs and cold are also good for anxiety regulation. For children, it is great to help them create a self-regulation comfort box (often a shoe-box or bin they can decorate) that they can use on the ready for first-aid when overwhelmed.
  8. Spend extra time playing with children. Children will rarely communicate how they are feeling, but will often make a bid for attention and communication through play. Don’t be surprised to see therapeutic themes of illness, doctor visits and isolation play through. Understand that play is cathartic and helpful for children – it is how they process their world and problem solve, and there’s a lot they are seeing and experiencing in the now.
  9. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and a wide berth. A lot of cooped up time can bring out the worst in everyone. Each person will have moments when they will not be at their best. It is important to move with grace through blowups, to not show up to every argument you are invited to, and not hold grudges and continue disagreements. Everyone is doing their best they can to make it through this.
  10. Everyone find their own retreat space. Space is at a premium, particularly with city living. It is important that people think through their own separate space for work and for relaxation. For children, help them identify a place where they can go to retreat when stressed. You can make this place cozy by using blankets, pillows, cushions, scarves, beanbags, tents, and “forts”. It is good to know that even when we are on top of each other, we have our own special place to go to be alone.
  11. Expect behavioral issues in children, and respond gently. We are all struggling with disruption in routine, none more than children, who rely on routines constructed by others to make them feel safe and know what comes next. Expect increased anxiety, worries and fears, nightmares, difficulty separating, or sleeping, testing limits and meltdowns. Do not introduce major behavioral plans or consequences at this time – hold stable and focus on emotional connection.
  12. Focus on safety and attachment. We are going to be living for a bit with the unprecedented demand of meeting all work deadlines, homeschooling children, running a sterile household, and making a whole lot of entertainment in confinement. We can get wrapped up in meeting expectations in all domains, but we must remember that these are scary and unpredictable times for children. Focus on strengthening the connection through time spend following their lead, through physical touch, through play, through therapeutic books, and via verbal reassurances that you will there for them in this time.
  13. Lower expectations and practice radical self-acceptance. This idea is connected with #12. We are doing too many things in this moment, under fear and stress. This does not make a formula for excellence. Instead, give yourself what psychologists call “radical self acceptance” : accepting everything about yourself, your current situation, and your life without question, blame or push-back. You cannot fail at this – there is no road map, no precedent for this and are all truly doing the best we can in an impossible situation.
  14. Limit social media and COVID conversation, especially around children. One can find tons of information on COVID-19 to consume and it changes minute to minute. The information is often sensationalized, negatively skewed, and alarmist. Find a few trusted sources that you can check in with consistently, limit it to a few a day and set a time limit for yourself on how much you consume (again 30 minute tops, 2 -3 times per day). Keep news and alarming conversations out of earshot from children – they see and hear everything, and can become very frightened by what they hear.
  15. Notice the good in the world, the helpers. There is a lot of scary negative, and overwhelming information to take in regarding this pandemic. There is also a ton of stories of people sacrificing, donating, and supporting one another in miraculous ways. It is important to counter-balance the heavy information with the hopeful information.
  16. Help others. Find ways, big and small to give back to others. Support restaurants, offer to grocery shop, check in with elderly neighbors, write psychological wellness tips for others – helping others gives us a sense of agency when things seem out of control.
  17. Find something you can control and control the heck out of it. In moments of big uncertainty and overwhelm, control your little corner of the world. Organize your bookshelf, purge your closet, put together that furniture, group your toys. It helps to anchor and ground us when the bigger things are chaotic.
  18. Find a long-term project to dive into. Now is the time to learn how to play the keyboard, put together a huge jigsaw puzzle, start a 15 hour game of Risk, paint a picture, read the Happy Potter series, binge watch a 8-season show, crochet a blanket, solve a Rubix cube, or develop a new town in Animal Crossing. Find something that will keep you busy, distracted and engaged to take breaks from what is going on in the outside world.
  19. Engage in repetitive movement and left-right movements. Research has shown that repetitive moment (knitting, coloring, painting, clay sculpting, jump roping, etc.) especially left-right movement (running, drumming, skating, hopping) can be effective at self-soothing and maintaining self-regulation in moment of distress.
  20. Find an expressive art and go for it. Our emotional brain is very receptive to the creative arts, and it has a direct portal for release of feeling. Find something that is creative, (sculpting, drawing, dancing, music singing, playing) and give it your all. See how relieved you can feel. It is a very effective way of helping kids to emote and communicate as well!
  21. Find lightness and humor in each day. There is a lot to be worried about and with good reason. Counter-balance this heaviness with something funny each day: cat videos on YouTube, a stand-up show on Netflix, a funny movie – we all need a little comedic relief in our day, every day.
  22. Reach out for help – your team is there for you. If you have a therapist or psychiatrist, they are available to you, even at a distance. Keep up your medications and your therapy sessions the best you can. If you are having difficulty coping, seek out help for the first time. There are mental health people out there ready to help you through this crisis. Your children’s teachers and related service providers will do anything within their power to help, especially for those parents tasked with the difficult task of being a whole treatment team to their child with special challenges. Seek support groups of fellow home-schooled, parents and neighbors to feel connected. There is help and support out there, any time of the day – although we are physically distant, we can always connect virtually.
  23. “Chunk” your quarantine, take it moment by moment. We have no road map for this. We don’t know what this will look like in 1 day, 1 week or 1 month from now. Often, when I work with patients who have anxiety around overwhelming issues, I suggest that they engage in a strategy called “chunking” – focusing on wherever bite-sized piece of a challenge that feels manageable. Whether that be 5 minutes, a day or a week at a time – find what feels doable for you, and set a time stamp for how far ahead in the future you will let yourself worry. Take each chunk one at a time and move through stress in pieces.
  24. Remind yourself daily that this is temporary. It seems in the midst of this quarantine that it will never end. It is terrifying to think of the road stretching ahead of us. Please take time to remind yourself that although this is very scary and difficult and will go on for an undetermined amount of time it is a season of life and it will pass. We will return to feeling free, safe, busy and connected in the days ahead.
  25. Find the lesson. This whole crisis can seem sad, senseless and at times, avoidable. When psychologists work with trauma, a key feature to helping someone work thorough said trauma is to help them find their agency. The potential positive outcomes they can effect, the meaning and construction that can come out of destruction. What can each of us learn here, in big and small ways, from this crisis? What needs to change in ourselves, our homes, or communities, our nation and our world?

Happy Spring

Well the earth has travelled twice around the sun since I last did a happy spring post. Anyhow. in this year of the virus it’s nice to be able to get out and do things outside. Like take walks which are ever so necessary in my life. I really need to walk a lot more and a lot farther than I currently am able to do. Going to take advantage of the cool but slightly warm days between now and the end of June when the summer heat really starts up. In July of last year I didn’t walk at all and really missed that exercise. I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been at the moment. It does not feel good, at all. Life has become too easy for me with ordering groceries online and simply going to pick them up. I don’t need to walk from the car into the store, then around the store to pick up all the items. I am missing out on that form of exercise, for sure. My health is suffering with this current state I’m in. I have high blood pressure, am clinically morbidly obese, and have weak muscles in my back which means I can’t stand for very long. Sitting too much has really put myself in a bad state.

Flipping things around

Instead of saying I can’t do this. Or won’t be able to do this. Or thinking you’re hopeless. Or wanting to give up because what’s the point.
Instead of those I tell myself I’m doing the best I can with what I’ve got. I’m trying to keep my head above water. I can do something. I can do some things well. I can’t measure myself against others because I’m not them. They aren’t me. They haven’t lived life in my shoes and walked my journey. I need to find strength in me. I need to keep a steady hand on my walking stick through this life and find the energy and hope to keep walking every day, both metaphorically and physically.

I need to believe in myself first of all. Then others will believe in me.

Rapid Cycling of Bipolar

Something that just twigged my memory about a post I had written on the old website was seeing a post in the Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/BeautifulPurpose.BP/ which I belong to.

It was discussing about rapid cycling of moods. You can go through a series of ups and downs in a very short time. Feeling both up (mania) and down (depression) in the same moment.

I can best describe it as a graph with red and blue lines. We’ll call red mania (high) and blue depression (low). At the same time red and blue can be high meaning you can feel elated and yet depressed and worried at the same time. You can cycle from mania to depression quickly in a series of rapid mood swings. Like, for instance, you just got a call that you won the lottery. You’re super high as a kite. Then suddenly you fall into a deep well of “what if I don’t get the money? What if I spend it all?”. And suddenly you have tears running down your face. Like, why is it I can’t just stay happy that I won the lottery. But your mind does tricks like that.

For instance, if I call somebody and they don’t answer, my rational brain will say “oh they are busy doing their own life”, but the irrational side of my brain says “oh they don’t care about you at all, and they don’t want to talk to you”.

Or for instance, you write a lovely blog, full of months worth of work, and then when nobody has paid you any praise for months you think “oh dammit this isn’t worth it at all” and delete all that work. Yes, stupid I know. But it happened.

It’s a constant balancing act between rational, sane thoughts, and irrational, crazy, out of kilter thoughts. You look for clues and meanings in everything that happens and try to process it in a suitable manner so that you feel good about things.

I think part of what I experience is also to do with having Asperger’s syndrome, to a large part.

My history with bipolar

My history with bipolar, I’m pretty sure, is when I was born. I have a strong suspicion that my maternal grandfathers family had a history of mental illness. I do know, for a fact, that my maternal great-grandfather killed himself with a rifle to the head after his second wife died in childbirth. That left my grandfather and his very young sister orphans at a very young age. I do believe my mother’s brother may have had a history of bipolar illness, undiagnosed however. I do know one of my mother’s cousins, she said, had bipolar. You can never tell, for sure, but enough of a history to make a guess.

My tipping point, when it become evident that I had bipolar, was after the birth of my second child. I became angry, violent and off my rocker, so to speak. One episode I can recall, with horror, was when one of the girls wouldn’t stop crying. I went down to the kitchen and grabbed a sharp knife and stabbed it into the chopping block a few times. Felt so so angry. I almost smashed a handful of plate on the floor one time too. Felt very angry and irritable, to the extreme. I would talk too loudly, exercise too much and everything wouldn’t slow down enough for me. My thoughts were racing. I thought “oh I could write a novel” and “drive to New York City today” in the same 5 minute span. It was like having a horror movie and a nice family movie in my head at the same time.

I sought help at the family doctor. He put me on a antipsychotic and a antidepressant. Unfortunately the antipsychotic slowed me down a lot and I didn’t exercise nearly enough and put on a lot of weight. That drug, Zyprexa, is known for massive weight gain and has been tied to a class action lawsuit in the States for causing diabetes in people.

Fortunately it didn’t take too long for me to get a psychiatrist to see me. She got my drugs adjusted and I was quite stable after that. Had a few dips and bumps along the way since then, but nothing like the horror show of the first 6 months or so, before I sought help.

I have trouble focussing on tasks, have trouble making to-do lists and getting those accomplished. Life is a struggle, sometimes, when I feel down and depressed. I have good days where I feel that everything is ticking along nicely and bad days where it’s hard to find hope. Nobody loves me, what’s the point, why do I bother and so forth.

Depression

Depression makes you do silly things that, in the long run, hurt. Like deleting this website in a fit of depression, thereby losing all the information I’d already put down. Oh well, will have to build it back up again, brick by brick of information from the ground up. In general, at the moment, I’m pretty stable mentally. Taking my medications regularly and able to keep on a decent schedule of exercise, food and sleep.