Maybe you can relate to this: You can’t think straight. You’re easily distracted. You keep forgetting what you’re supposed to be doing. It’s ADHD, right?
Despite the two surgeries I have had in the past three months, I’ve been unusually healthy. This is a delightful change for me. No bronchitis in Winter? Unheard of! I can go out into the wet cold and not spend the rest of the day coughing and sniffling in bed? Unbelievable! In fact, it’s been so long since I was last sick, the events leading to New Years Eve caught me off guard. As December 30th hurried along, I became less and less productive and doubly frustrated. I couldn’t remember things from one moment to the next. I would walk from room to room in a daze. I was strangely tired. I made careless mistakes.
Now, to anybody who knows me, they’d likely wonder why I’m bothering to mention this. After all, aren’t I like this all the time? Well, thank you, imaginary straw friend, but no, I’m not like that all the time. This was worse. Even on a bad day, I can still muddle through it. Task lists keep me headed forward, alarms remind me of when I need to be somewhere, and a bucketful of coping strategies keep me focused — or at least give me a semblance of focus. The point is, I get things done no matter how unartfully accomplished. The day in question, however, I was not getting anything done. This is because I was sick and didn’t know it. I bumbled about all day until, finally, in the evening, I began to notice that I was croaking when speaking. This, not the train wreck of my day, was my clue. It was only then that I took medicine, took care of my body, and .
I find it fascinating that when my mental acuity becomes impaired due to illness, I am so used to ADHD being at fault that I begin to apply my ADHD coping strategies. This isn’t so surprising. Coping strategies are only effective when they become habitual. What is surprising is that when it should be obvious that I am under the weather, my true attention deficit disorder becomes so fixated on mastering myself that I fail to notice the other signs. It’s like driving a car on slippery roads and blaming your grip instead of the snow when you have a hard time keeping the car straight.
I share all this with you because I hope to help people who don’t have ADHD understand our thought process better, but also I hope to help people with ADHD avoid this common pitfall. When we are sick, none of us are at our best. For adults with ADHD, we are more forgetful, more distractible, more irritable, and less likely to implement coping strategies. Old habits flare up for me at that time. For instance, as I found it more and more difficult to be productive, I browbeat myself for not having my act together. I had books to write, articles to finish, and other important things to do. I couldn’t get out of my own way, yet I still expected myself to perform as usual. The more I criticized myself, the angrier with myself I became because of my failure to focus. I long ago taught myself to control this self-destructive instinct, yet here I was doing it again effortlessly.
Since it is Winter, and I will likely be sick again before the sun comes back from its orbital vacation, I have created some new coping strategies to be added to the bucket:
- Three strikes and you’re out – The next time I forget to start the same task three times in a row, I will stop and listen to my body. If only I had taken Tylenol before New Years Eve. I may still have had to cancel my party plans, but I certainly would have checked at least one thing off my ToDo list.
- How steep is the hill? – If a common task has suddenly become difficult to do, it is time to take a break. Illness, low protein or blood sugar, fatigue, etc. can all impact performance. Next time I’m frustrated with how slow I’m working, maybe self-flagellation isn’t the best solution. I will eat something, take medicine, or take a nap before beating myself up instead.
- How much will it cost? – Goals are great, but sometimes we need to be flexible. Take a moment to think about what you have to put aside to push forward on a goal. Is your health that unimportant to you? *ADHD offers hyperfocus, which can be a blessing for those all too used to foggy focus. However, the flip side of hyperfocus is tunnel vision, which can be very detrimental, especially if we ignore our health. Sometimes I forget the lesson I learned when Jim Henson died of pneumonia because he was too busy working. I can end up exactly the same way if I’m not mindful of my own health.
Only when I am sick am I so oblivious to my body’s needs, and unfortunately, ADHD only makes the situation worse. However, with these new coping strategies made into habits, I know I can avoid this mistake again. If you have ADHD, what coping strategies do you have that keep you out of the doctor’s office? How do you remind yourself to take care of yourself? Do you mistake illness for ADHD at the beginning of a cold, too? For those who have loved ones with ADHD, they may need your help developing mindfulness, but it is a skill that can be learned through repetition, so keep at it.
If your ADHD child enjoys Pokémon, you should read my book.