An ADHD Guide to Adulting.
From an Unqualified ADHD Riddled Adult
By Maeve Topliff
Before I begin, I should tell you that I am probably the least qualified to be giving this advice as my life resembles anything but adult.
However, I am well versed in the struggles of keeping yourself together with a brain that really wants you to watch another episode of that TV show, or another five. Having to fight against yourself while navigating something as complicated as university, potentially living on your own for the first time, having to juggle a job and/or a degree, can be a complete pain. Luckily, I have some hacks.
Time management is something that almost always completely escapes me. This is because people with ADHD experience time differently. Often time estimation is like trying to do long division and it makes me late… a lot. If it’s something as simple as getting to a place on time, I always Google Maps it without fail. Even though the times on there aren’t always completely accurate they can be pretty close and it’s better than giving yourself ten minutes for a twenty-minute journey. For the bigger things such as task completion and how long something will take, or how much you can achieve in one day, I suggest listing and roughly structuring your day. I like to make a tick list (plus the added bonus of getting that serotonin from ticking the box.) Sometimes I’ll put time frames, I am doing this from noon to 2pm, for example, but I don’t force myself to stick to these times because normally I’m completely guessing how long it’ll take! However, having that end goal on the clock can often help me push through when my brain doesn’t want to even begin the task, it means I can often trick myself into hyper focusing on it for a little bit.
This applies to all tasks, but springs to mind while discussing time management but you need to be kind to yourself! No one perfectly schedules their life, even neurotypical people. If a task isn’t completed in the time frame you thought it would be that does not in any way reduce the work you have done and beating yourself up means your serotonin drops and you are less likely to finish the task or be able to move onto new ones. I know that when I get frustrated with my ADHD I tend to stop whatever I am doing and wallow in my disappointment. Now don’t get me wrong, it is important to acknowledge those feelings and identify where they are coming from but try not to let them consume you. Again, all of this is easier said than done because people with ADHD are often prone to emotional dysregulation so a small problem can seem massive and impossible to overcome. All you can do is do your best and allow space for big emotions, before trying to gently put them to the side and do even the littlest jobs on that list I mentioned earlier. This is why putting big jobs and little jobs in a mixed order on the list can help so that when frustration occurs you can step away, go do a load of laundry or water your plants, and come back when you feel ready. Even those little jobs are progress and often doing anything productive when frustrated or upset can get you back in the mindset to finish or proceed with a task.
I find that I get stuck in a loop of being frustrated with being unable to do a task, and then I get upset that I am getting upset and it continues. In these situations, I actually have a sort of intervention with myself. ‘Maeve’ I say, ‘you know why you’re feeling this, and you have the tools to fix it even if it might not seem like you do right now, but have you not slayed up to this point? Yes! You have! Have you not completed the necessary tasks and been living independently for three years? Yes! You have! Now would it not be incredibly embarrassing if this bus pass form was your downfall? Yes. It would be. Now go get a face cloth and sort yourself out.’- The conversation tends to go something like that, and yes, my inner monologue is very patronising. But it works most of the time! And when it doesn’t that’s a sign for me to take a break and take my mind off it. (But to make sure it remains on the list, so I remember to do it at some point!)
One aspect that I struggle with most is money management because in a similar way to time management I do not comprehend quantities particularly realistically. I also have little to no impulse control, I see a jumper almost identical to one I already own but in a different fabric? I simply have to have it and I will think about it day and night until I give in. Or so I think, what actually tends to happen is I am obsessed for a couple of hours, devastated that I walked away from it, and then I will never think about it again. But often I’ve already bought it because delayed gratification isn’t in my wiring. This can get me in lots of sticky financial situations, so I’ve had to come up with some managing methods. First of all, I like to get my flatmate to keep me accountable. She is my voice of reason, the one saying; ‘Maeve you own that jumper already walk away’, and she’s very good at it. Never be ashamed to ask the people around you for support from a stern hand when shopping to checking in when you’re struggling to manage your emotions. Your friends aren’t going to think any less of you, and on average most people love to be helpful. I use breakdowns at the beginning of the month to see how much money I have and where it needs to go, although we all know unexpected costs can arise more regularly than we might like, we can plan for that! Sometimes when I really need to save for something, a nearly impossible task for me, I take money out in cash and put it in an unopenable piggy bank, I give myself no option to ‘accidentally’ spend it.
These are only three aspects of a very complicated experience navigating ADHD as an adult and I am probably the least qualified person to be directing you. But it’s also my lived experience and I simply refuse to take advice from people who don’t have a similar brain to me (see, my inner monologue is stubborn and condescending!) So hopefully some of these tips help you feel a bit more like an adult instead of a kid wearing adults clothing. As cringey as it sounds, please remember ADHD is most definitely a superpower not a hindrance, and who’s ever heard of a superhero that had it easy? So go forth and adult and if anyone manages to fully crack the code please let me know… I’m actually begging you.