I’m writing this while sitting on my patio and wondering if I want to take my laptop outside for the rest of the afternoon.
I mean, if you were sitting here, would you want to make yourself go work inside?
Yet, as someone with ADHD who does freelance work from home, I already have to put a lot of effort into reminding myself that there is a time for work and a time to relax/be at home. I generally try to limit where I work so I have environmental reminders to keep me on track.
So, if I start working in my relaxation space, am I going to blur that line I have worked hard to draw?
On the other hand, I have done lots of work outside in the past. I don’t really remember if it made it more challenging to keep that boundary or not.
And while I have enjoyed my deck in previous years, I hadn’t put as much effort into creating a restful backyard before. My new deck and an increase in my planning capacity (thanks to an increased dose of ADHD meds last fall) has helped me plan and create a much more enjoyable space this summer.
I don’t know if I should draw stronger boundaries around this restful space or if my environment would help me work with more ease. If I could work with more ease, maybe it would be easier to draw a line under my tasks for the day and move on to my hobbies and relaxation.
In the past, while writing or doing other office work outdoors, I have managed to create a good rhythm for my day – working in short sessions and then breaking for yoga, other exercises, drawing or reading. That’s probably a healthier way to work than trying to force myself to focus for long periods. There would be less sitting and more movement, which is always good for me.
But, maybe I could make my workday shorter if I told myself to stay inside for X amount of time and then go outside to exercise and/or relax?
Am I overthinking this? Almost definitely.
Does it have to be all one or all the other? Probably not.
I still think it is worth asking myself all of these questions though.
I am trying to be more conscious of the choices I am making and of the patterns I am following. I want those choices and patterns to contribute to my overall fitness, my health, my happiness, and my peace of mind.
I’ll probably try working outside in small amounts and see how it affects my sense of relaxation the rest of the time.
In the worst case scenario, it won’t work out and I’ll have to redraw my boundaries. I can always use more practice at that.
PS – Yes, I am aware of the irony of being outside while composing a post wondering about whether I should work outside but writing for this blog is in a grey area between work-work and recreation so really it’s kind of fitting that I am writing it on my phone while outside.
I’m feeling wobbly. I’m not quite managing the balance between effort and ease. Could be that I’m finally allowing myself to feel the full weariness of the pandemic, now that we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel (a tunnel that emerges into an as-yet unknown future). Could be that I’ve been gorging myself on a lot of inputs, between the multiple Non-Violent Communication and Internal Family Systems trainings I’m attending, the practice groups I belong to, plus writing coaching clients, and my own workshop development and writing, plus some deep dive personal development work. That psychic tiredness may be spilling over into physical tiredness, too. But I keep trying to push my way through the depletion into a higher energy state. This tendency is most obvious in my physical activities.
Here’s an example from a few days ago. I woke up in a hole. The voice in my head who likes to tell me I’m not enough was on a tear. Vivienne (that’s the voice’s name and yes, I give the voices in my head names) hadn’t actually taken up much air time recently. I’d almost forgotten how ferocious she can get. I headed out on a run, with the idea of appeasing her. When she’s on a bender, she wants me to sweat first, then get to some tasks. From the first step of my run, I was dragging. About 45 minutes in, I arrived at a short, steep dirt hill, where I sometimes do repeats. I thought, “No, no, no.” Vivienne said, “Oh yes.” I tried to negotiate, “Okay, but just three.” Vivienne said, “Do the full five.” Five is my usual. I did them. Vivienne’s concession in our semi-détente was to allow me to skip the plyometric jumps I do at the end of runs. Mainly, because I’d almost whiffed a jump on my last run (from tiredness). The hill repeats inside of an 8.5-mile run were enough to satisfy Vivienne’s performance standards for me that day. Almost … there was still the Peloton ride.
The post-run ride is a new routine I’ve developed since acquiring the Peloton in December; big help reducing how stiff and sore my legs are after a run. You know that feeling when you get up from your desk chair and your legs feel cramped up and six inches shorter? I don’t get that feeling nearly as much since I started the new routine.
Vivienne and I both agreed that I should not skip the ride, my protection against the creaky feeling. But … I couldn’t muster the minimum 10-minutes I usually ride post-run. I opted for a 5-minute cool-down ride. More, I did not even start at the minimum (yet elevated) resistance level recommended. Vivienne was unimpressed by my output (output is an actualnumber on the Peloton bike). Our truce was cracking. I was trying to convince her that hey-you-got-on-the-bike-and-that’s-what-counts.
After all, a couple months ago I wrote here about the importance of counting the 5-minute Peloton rides, because they are essential to our recovery. This day, my breezy confidence about their worthiness was put to the test. When my ride ended, all the statistics shot up on the right side of the screen, as they always do. This was not a day I wanted to see them. But, before I could swipe them away without looking, I saw it. The badge. Congratulations on 100 rides, Mina. As if to say, “Put your money where your mouth is (or more precisely where your pen was two months ago on this blog)! Not only do the 5-minute rides count. You hit your first big milestone on one.”
Other riders on Peloton organize themselves in advance to make sure they do a milestone ride live, on the hopes of a shout-out from the instructor. Still others plan around hitting a milestone live and on their birthday. But me, I don’t even know the milestone is coming, because I’m not keeping track. And when it does, it lands on the least significant ride I’ve done to date (in terms of effort). It sure felt like the universe was having a laugh, as if to say, “Hi Mina, this is The Karmic Coincidence Squad, remember when you said the 5-minute rides count? Indeed, let the ride be counted!”
Back in April, I wrote that our 5-minute rides are as important as the longer, grittier rides. Perhaps more so. Because they are a gift to ourselves. So, my gift to myself with this 5-minutes was ease. Offering grace to my legs and spirit, on a day I needed some. That is milestone worthy.
But maybe the universe was also telling me to take a closer look at how I’d gotten so far out of balance that a 5-minute ride was maximally taxing. Why am I so physically tired? I haven’t been doing significantly more than usual. In theory, I’ve been running shorter distances and making up the miles with between 10-20 minutes on the Peloton, after my runs. But am I actually running less than I would? And is the effort on the bike equivalent to the effort of running an extra mile or two? Plus, I should note the pre-Pilates spins that I’ve added in, too (which are meant to replace the casual bike ride to and from the studio in pre-pandemic times). Also, often those spinning minutes are intervals, even high intensity intervals. Maybe all those 10-20-minute tag-alongs are wearing me down?
I wrote that last sentence the next day after the milestone. As I watched the words unfurl on the page, the reality settled into my body. I’ve had 5 days now to process the message. A short spin may reduce soreness, but it does not, unfortunately, reduce tiredness. My tag-along spins may be contributing to my depletion. Sometimes a change is as good as a rest. But sometimes we just need rest. It’s time to re-evaluate my routine, it might have lost its balance.
The fulcrum between effort and ease is constantly changing. Navigating a course through those uncertain waters is a dynamic, evolving practice. Hitting that milestone as I slid off the bike in a state of wet-noodledom after 5-minutes woke me up to that fact. Again.
In the past 5 days, in addition to taking it extra easy on my rest day, I scaled back on the intervals and opted for a couple of slower, steadier rides over the rainy long weekend. After my run two days ago, I spent the time I would have been spinning, stretching instead. And this morning, I hit a personal best on my ride. That felt like the universe offering me a quick reward to reinforce the message.
Recalibrate often. More ease can enable more effort.
Flouranguishing: the state of simultaneously flourishing and languishing (see also: being human)
Recently a number of my friends circulated an article about the blah many of us currently feel as COVID drags on. The author named the sensation as languishing. Even as we get vaccinated, so much still seems risky or is outright closed off to us. We aren’t quite depressed, but we aren’t quite happy. We are in the doldrums. Sigh. Some days I languish more than others. Yesterday, for example, halfway through breakfast, out of the blue, I was afflicted with a deep sense of oh-what’s-the-point. As the day progressed, I started to perk up, but I could still feel the layer of languish in the background.
Because, generally, despite all during this pandemic, I feel like I’m flourishing (about which I feel some guilt and self-consciousness and even shame—because, how dare I flourish during these dark times, doesn’t that just indicate I’m an entitled, selfish so-and-so?).
The pandemic’s Zoomification of our world made it possible for me to start training toward a certification in Non-Violent Communication (maybe … I’m not 100% committed to the certification process yet, as I write this the sign-up page for the next phase is open in my browser).. NVC then led me to some Internal Family Systems training. I have discovered new ways of working and being. I’m exhilarated every time I uncover yet more ways in which NVC and IFS connect into and inform the work I was already doing (workshops on emotional intelligence, among other things). Athena Casey recently interviewed me for The Intolerance Podcast, which gave me a great chance to synthesize this understanding for myself. Talking with her got me excited all over again about this path I’m on.
Except … for the days when I wonder why I thought it was a good idea to add in a whole different discipline at well into my fifties; and further wonder whether all this curiosity can actually lead where I want it to lead, or whether I’m just an eternal dilettante, destined to pedal as hard as I can, but never go anywhere, a stationary bike I can’t get off. Uh oh. Languishing again.
Then, I perk up. Again. A friend recently mentioned that when we are low about the future, it is helpful to simply change the time horizon. That is certainly true for me. When I look forward a year or further, I can see where I’d like to be, but not how to get there. That’s a languisher, for sure. But when I shorten the time horizon to, say, the next two days, I’m looking at a 2.5-day NVC workshop on gratitude and I know it’s going to be fantastic and I’m going to love it. That’s a flourisher.
Back and forth. Again.
Oh, and that’s not all. There has been other flourishing, too. In response to the languishing article, another friend sent a piece about flourishing during the pandemic, which pointed out a bunch of ways we might discover new richness in our lives these past months. One was connecting with friends and family in a different rhythm. Well, that’s happened for me, too. Pre-pandemic, I was in regular communication with my mother via text, but we virtually never talked on the phone. I’m a phone-o-phobic, so I’ve never been good about calling. Now? –we are having long Zoom confabs twice a month. Sometimes my two brothers join, one of my sisters-in-law and some nieces and nephews. We’ll have New York, Calgary, London (Ontario) and the other London (UK) all together. I’m also zooming with friends in other cities and countries, with whom I was only sketchily in touch before. An IRL friend recently asked me why I was still doing friend-zooms. Why would I stop? I’ve made space for them in my life. Why would I want to diminish the joys of being more in touch with geographically distant friends?
Because, it turns out we can use space, just as we used time, to alchemize some flourish out of languish. Here’s a Zen story:
A student of Zen came to their teacher and asked her how they could learn to feel less frustrated and angry and sad and disappointed. They wanted to know how to calm their pervasive anxiety and sometime depression. The Zen teacher asked the student to bring her a teaspoon of salt. When the student came back, the teacher presented the student with a beautiful, clear glass of water and asked them to mix the salt into the water and drink.
“Pthaugh. Yuck,” the student said, spitting out the salty water. “How is that going to help me?”
The teacher then invited the student to get another teaspoon of salt and meet her down at the lake. At the lakeshore, the teacher asked the student to mix the spoonful of salt into the lake, then fill their glass with the lake water and drink it (this is the land of Zen myth, the lakes are unpolluted, pure and potable).
“Aah. Delicious,” the student said. “But … ??”
“Your mind is a glass of water. Now, make it a lake.”
I already mentioned how we can change time to our advantage. Well, it turns out we can fiddle with space, too. Gratitude, for example, is a huge space maker. For me, if I can make my mind a lake, I make room to access the flourish-nutrients available just from noticing what is going well and being grateful. I’ve stayed healthy, so far. I have continued to run and mountain bike and ski and spin and Pilates and, and … The spring cherry blossoms were fat and fabulous this year. My partner and I celebrated 27 years together.
Flouranguishing is the art of being present to our humanness. We are rarely all one thing. And we are certainly not a duality either. We do not languish OR flourish. We are rarely (if ever) experiencing one single emotion, one unique condition of being. We live in a soup of simultaneous states. How we use time and space determines which ingredients dominate.
Here’s the constant that I’m trying to work with right now. I have the power to choose what flavours I focus on in the soup. Languishing may feel like it is imposed on me from the outside, due to circumstances beyond my control (the pandemic, the inherent uncertainty of the future). Yet, I can still make the choice to focus my attention on what’s flourishing. As hard as it may seem at times, I want to be present with what is good, right now. To be grateful, even and especially for the smallest things. To engage with life. None of this is to say that I’m pushing the languish away, or compartmentalizing. No. I recognize and even honour the languish. At the same time, I set the intention to notice the flourish.
Running this morning, my body was so tired. I heard out the part of me who was exasperated with my exhaustion. In fact, there was a pretty extended discussion between the various voices in my head about whether I should cut my run short. But then I picked my eyes up off the pavement and noticed what a beautiful morning it was, how good the air felt on my skin and remembered that the only measure of success that mattered today on my run was pleasure. So, when the option to abridge my route came up, I ran right past. I wanted to stay with the trees in all their fresh green. And, when I made that choice, my body suddenly felt more ease, the run more fluid.
Another day, the choice to shorten my run will be the one that resonates for my body and grants ease. My work is to listen for when a decision is about languishing and when about flourishing. With time and space at my disposal, I have powerful tools to support my intention to savor the flavour of flourish.
I never thought I’d get a Peloton. But the pandemic and … well, we all know how that story goes. Now I have one in my guest room and I’m on it almost every day. First, you should know that, unlike Sam and Cate, I don’t race or join challenges to climb Everest or the like. I have never joined a live class. And I always hide the leaderboard away (that’s where you can see your ranking against everyone who has ever done the same class and “race” against them while you ride, even if the ride isn’t live).
Call me a dilettante, if you want. There’s worse to come.
I count every ride. I do not delete any rides from my tally. Peloton makes a big deal about counting rides. I just passed my 50th ride. I’m way new at this. During live classes, instructors give shout outs to riders who have hit milestones. I hear a lot of 500s and 1000s and even numbers over 2000. How is that even possible?
Here’s the thing. There are a lot of short rides. Other Pelotonites create stacks, to customize their longer rides. I love the shorter options, because the most common way I use Peloton is as the backup singer for another workout. I’ll shorten my run and do a 10 to 15-minute ride when I get home. That has the double bonus of reenforcing my running strength, but also easing out my legs, which get stiff from the pounding. I’m surprised by how much looser and freer my legs feel as a result of this small habit change. Also, this training technique was effective enough for me to get back to running on March 2nd (after 7 weeks of only cross-country skiing) and run a half marathon with a friend on March 27th. Or I ride for 15-20 minutes before a Pilates class. It’s only really once (max twice) a week that I ride for 45 minutes or longer. And, when I do, I’ve started doing the cool down rides on offer when I finish. Taking that option was a psychological hurdle for me.
For a long time (okay the first six weeks of owning the bike) I no-thanks’d the cool down rides Peloton suggested. Five more minutes? What a waste of time. If I wasn’t going hard-hard-hard, why was I on the bike? Then one day, I was so utterly maxed out when I finished my ride that I decided I had to cool down, or I might just get off the bike, tighten up into a tiny ball of lactic acid and then blow apart in a geyser of sweat.
Revelation. The cool down ride was fantastic. Just what I needed. Brought down my heartrate. Brought myself back into focus. Prepared to meet my day with an even energy. I know, that’s putting a lot on a 5-minute ride. But taking that extra time gives my body a real, physically tangible benefit and has a symbolic value that resonates beyond the workout. Some people don’t think the cool down rides count in the ride count. I agreed, until I started doing them. Like rest days, so critical to our body’s ability to repair and rejuvenate, the cool down honours our body’s need for a runway landing after an intense effort. I was so used to crashing into the finish and bump-bump-bumping off the bike and into my day, that the smooth-as-silk-pajamas transition from intensity to cool down to hello-rest-of-the-day came as a surprise.
Yes, I am talking about that how we do one thing is how we do anything business. For me, scaling back is its own kind of effort. As much as I love naps and am reasonably diligent around taking a rest day once a week and don’t work myself to the bone, I also do have a tendency to overschedule and not leave enough transition time to reset my nervous system between commitments. Long ago, I used to get a thrill out of arriving almost late for a plane and sprinting through the airport. I think it was a reaction against my father, who liked to arrive hours in advance, stressing about whether he was early enough (and I take here a moment to acknowledge that a few days ago was six years since my father died and I like to include him in some way in my April posts; I miss a lot about him, but not his pre-travel hand wringing).
Cool down rides count. Because they flush toxins and seal in the benefits of our workout.
Cool down rides count. Because they are role models of how to be gentle with ourselves.
Cool down rides count. Because everything we do counts.
Not to get all earnest and mushy on you, I do mean everything. Take five to regroup and check in. Be kind to yourself. Then it will be easier to be kind to the people around you. Oh, and the planet, too.
My plan for February was to do a little work on my upper back mobility every day.
Alas, that plan did not take into account the fact that February messes with me every year.
(I can’t really explain how it messes with me. It’s some sort of mid-winter slump combined with an odd sense of shortened time. Anyway, I have made note in my calendar to take it into account next year!)
But I didn’t get upset with myself about being less diligent than I had intended. I just did my stretches, movements, and yoga whenever I had the capacity and wherewithal to do so.
It turns out, though, that my lack of capacity for daily work on my upper back actually helped me to identify one of the underlying causes of my tight muscles.
Since I was aware that I wasn’t doing the stretches and everything that I intended to do, I really started paying attention to when and how my upper back felt the worst.
And observing that ‘when and how’ led me to realize that not only was my chair in my home office too low and at a bad angle for my back but my monitor was at the wrong height.
So I elevated my monitor and I switched out my chair for one that was less fun but better for my back.
Now, I’m not saying that this fixed the problem entirely. My upper back still needs me to do the stretching and yoga. I still need to pay attention to how I’m holding myself and how long I am sitting in one position.
But addressing that underlying cause of at least part of the problem has made an incredible difference.
It’s not just that my upper back feels more mobile and less tight, I feel better overall. I have had fewer of the specific type of headache that generates from a tight upper back and I feel more relaxed.
So even though I didn’t follow my exact plan I still got where I needed to go.
I have experienced depression off and on for most of my life. I also now experience symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder which can feel a lot like depression, with moments of low moods coming seemingly out of nowhere, triggered often by nothing of which I am aware. It can be very difficult to maintain exercise and nutrition habits while feeling like crap for days at a time. The nature of depression is to feel like nothing matters, to feel like life is beyond our control and out of our depth. These are not motivating, inspiring feelings! So what do you do if you find yourself feeling low and notice it impacting your healthy routines?
I try to start with some self-compassion. My self-talk can be especially self-critical during these times, and it’s important for me to notice that and counteract it with less judgy thoughts: I’m doing the best I can; I’m just having a hard time right now. These moments come and go and they don’t define who I am or how I live my entire life. If I can remember this last point, that the feelings of low mood are just that, feelings, and by definition feelings are impermanent and changeable, it goes a long way to helping me feel ok with where I’m at in the moment. It’s just this moment, not forever.
Related to this last point, I try to focus on what I am doing rather than what I’m not. Most of us don’t throw in the towel on EVERY healthy behavior when we’re feeling down. Still brushing your teeth and taking a shower? Still eating breakfast and taking your medications? Took some time to connect with your sweetie? All these count and are good. If you can talk yourself into taking a walk or doing 5 minutes of exercises, that’s great, too! Give yourself credit for doing that much and know that tomorrow, you might feel up for more. There can also be an element of emotional inertia to these small behaviors, when I can find that doing one small thing for myself helps me feel more up to doing something else I know is good for me, too.
Speaking of taking a walk, I have found that time outside is one of the most restorative things I can do for my mood. I almost always feel better. Sometimes, all I want is to sit on the porch or do a little gardening. Even that much is a boost. Especially in winter, any moment of sunshine or even just a bright patch of clouds relative to the darker grey around them seems to help. If your outdoor space doesn’t accommodate some gardening or lounging, or the weather is too miserable, try setting up in a sunnier window. Put a comfy chair where your face will get hit with some light and take a moment to bask.
During moments of depression, it is especially important that we connect with others. If you have a routine of exercising with others, even virtually, you may find that these connections help to lift your mood. I’m very introverted and I don’t seek out a lot of time with others, but I still benefit from feelings of connection. I try to spend more time playing or snuggling with my cats, to hang out with my husband, or to send notes to friends I haven’t heard from in a while. Even exercising to a familiar old workout video can give me the illusion of company and help me feel better. I also like to relisten to beloved audiobooks while I go on my walks or to put in the actors’ commentary for one of the Lord of the Rings movies to play in the background while I’m lifting!
Finally, I try to notice when my depression-related behaviors seem more unhelpful or counter to my long term goals and gently attempt to prevent them from becoming new habits. I don’t expect myself to never soothe myself with food or to always go to bed right on time. However, if I find that emotional eating has become more of a norm, or I’m fighting going to bed early enough night after night, then I try to gently redirect those behaviors. I notice when I’m eating when I’m not hungry and consider if there’s something else that would feel good. I notice that I’m staying up too late again and consider turning out the light 10 minutes earlier. This isn’t time for drastic, life-changing transformations but gentle nudges back in the direction of my health and long term happiness.
Feeling crappy sucks. But, there are things we can do to help us move through it and make it slightly less awful. We will come out the other side; we will feel better again. I’m going to keep trying to give myself the time and space to be where I am now to know that it is not where I will be forever. When I can, whatever exercising I can do will help to reduce the impacts of my depression and trauma, and may reduce the length of time that I experience those feelings. If you can relate, I hope you can also give yourself the space to do what you can do today and be kind to yourself along the way!
Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found getting a little sunlight in her eyes, picking up heavy things and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon. You can now read her at Progressive-Strength.com .
So far, I have been mostly reminding you that it is okay to take things slowly and to go easy on yourself. I stand by that 100%.
In my experience, most people take on waaaaaaay too much when they start a new goal and it can be frustrating and discouraging.
But, there’s a flip side to that, of course.
Sometimes, we pick a goal that we have a natural inclination for and, instead of overwhelming ourselves, we underwhelm ourselves.
We pick something that isn’t challenging.
Or something that bores us.
Or something that doesn’t push us at all.
That can be just as discouraging and it can have the same symptoms of dread and avoidance as taking on something too large.
So, if you have been reading my posts and thinking, ‘Encouragement is good but this isn’t *quite* the problem.’ consider the idea that you might not feel challenged by your plans.
Maybe you need to increase the time, the intensity or the difficulty of your workouts.
Maybe you need something that challenges different muscles.
Maybe you need to join a challenge group so you have a little friendly competition.
Try to dig into the reasons for your boredom/annoyance/avoidance and see what your brain comes up with.
You might have the perfect challenge tucked away in your brain somewhere waiting to be coaxed out.
Whether you are overwhelmed or underwhelmed, whether you have set your goals too high or set the bar too low, you get a gold star for your efforts to exercise, to meditate, to make change, to consider your process, to find good rest, or to find a new challenge.
Exercise is one of the few areas when we can actually multitask effectively.*
If you find it hard to fit exercise into your day, if it is a challenge to lure yourself into getting started, or if you find exercising a little dull, you might find it useful to multitask.
That might mean walking to complete some errands. (Or parking further from the store and then getting a burst of activity as you walk/run/gambol to the entrance.)
Or doing a few reps with each can as you put the groceries away.
You could use voice dictation to create a rough draft of something while you do some stretches.
Maybe the promise of listening to a podcast, a radio program, or a TV show would help you ease into starting your exercise routine.
Perhaps some exercise purists would say that your exercises will be less than perfect** if done while you are distracted, but who is trying to be perfect?
We’re building habits here, we’re not creating shrines to exercise.
This process is supposed to serve our needs and if listening to a podcast helps you get moving, then why *wouldn’t* you listen to it?
Today’s gold star is not only for your movement and self-care but for considering how multitasking might help you fit your wellness plans into your days.
*Usually, multitasking is actually rapid task switching which our brains are not all that fond of, really.
**This might be the point where you say ‘But what about Yoga or meditation, Christine, I can’t multitask those.’ And I guess that’s true, in a way. Both of these things are about focusing in the moment.
However, yoga poses done while watching TV are better than not doing them at all. You won’t get all of the same benefits in front of the TV but you won’t get ANY benefits if you don’t do any yoga. And you can work up to the focused, on-the-may, type of yoga when you’re ready.
As for meditation: Again,you won’t get all of the same benefits if you sit quietly and breathe while listening to a podcast but you won’t get ANY benefits if you just avoid meditation entirely.
You could also try meditative doodling or painting if the idea of doing two things at once appeals to you but you can’t erase your mind around multitasking your meditation any other way.
For those of us who celebrate Christmas, or some Christmas-like event, or at least for those of us who end up on a different schedule between December 24 & January 1, we are currently at the time of year when the days all run together.
Routines are off kilter – meals happen at weird times, we’re eating a lot of different foods, and our sleep patterns have gone out the window.
This is when we lose all sense of time and end up in a holi-daze.
An especially dangerous thing for those of us on Team ADHD who have a tenuous grasp on the concept in the first place.
In this odd year, that out-of-phase feeling has been recurring for most of us. The things that give shape to our year have been changed and time has been expanding and contracting around tasks/plans/activities as they mostly moved online.
I think, though, that having that out-of-phase feeling recur so often this year has made me realize (Re-realize? Possibly!) how important schedules are for my mental health.
In previous years, this week would find me with all kinds of lofty ideas about just letting the days progress in any old way, seeing what might appeal to me to do at any given time.
I have encountered some fun days that way in the past but mostly, I end up feeling a bit scattered and let down by the end of the day.
Because, as much as the idea of spending a day drifting from task to task might have appeal, in reality, I know that I won’t drift pleasantly from task to task.
Instead, I’ll spend the whole day feeling vaguely dissatisfied and with a looming sense that I should be doing something else.
So, I create a plan for my week and then a shape for each day so my atemporal brain won’t leave me in the in-between with a feeling of frustrated sadness.
Making a loose plan for my week and then giving each day a shape makes me choose how I am going to spend my time. It helps me notice if I am trying to cram too many different things into the time that I have. And creating that shape lets me do important preparatory things like saving enough time to actually make the meals I plan to eat or to drive to the places I want to be.
And, yes, giving my days a shape does include a (fairly flexible) schedule and some rough time limits for my chosen activities.
I know to some this will sound like ‘Christine doesn’t know how to relax.’ but this approach is actually the key to my relaxation.
For starters, these plans and shapes do not necessarily involve work. My plan for the week includes holiday activities, some special meals, and hanging out with people on Zoom. My shape for a given day might be to read a book for an hour after breakfast, to do some drawing for 45 minutes before lunch, and then to take a long walk at 3pm.
And having that plan, that schedule, is actually restful. It means that time won’t gallop away from me.
It means that I won’t spend the whole week figuring out when to do which activity. And I won’t spend each day continuously trying to decide if now is the ‘right’ time to read, to draw, or to head out for a walk.
And, having that plan, that shape, lets me make stress-free decisions when someone asks me if I want to do something else. If my plan is to go for a walk at 3, and someone asks me to watch a movie at 2, knowing the shape of my day means that I can more easily decide whether to change the time of my walk or to say no to the movie.*
If I know that I have enough time for the things that I really want to do, that I won’t run out of time, that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing at any given time, my brain will stop looping around ‘Now? How about now?’ and give me some ease.
And if that’s not a recipe for a holiday, I don’t know what is.
*Perhaps, to the Neurotypical, this may look like overthinking, or as if I am making a big deal out of something simple, but for my ADHD brain, a holiday schedule is a relief. And, I thought that anyone who finds themselves in a holi-daze might borrow some of these ideas for themselves.