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Snowpocalypse and the Art of Embracing Change
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By Michelle Frank, Psy.D.

I live in Chicago, a city temporarily though aptly referred to as Chiberia this winter.  As of February 9th, in fact, we survived 19 days of subzero temperatures, a record not rivaled since 1884.  (Only slightly longer than the time elapsed since the Cubs won the World Series.)

For those able to resist the urge to hibernate, January and February of 2014 have been an excellent opportunity to cross country ski down Michigan Avenue… bless their optimism (and pardon my sarcasm).  For the rest of us, this cold snap has been an exercise in maintaining some semblance of sanity and wakefulness during work hours.  We grasp onto memories of brighter days (literally) and plead with the sun.  We count the days until Spring and can’t wait to fly into its arms with reckless abandon.  We hold on to our hopes of new beginnings and are absolutely certain that Spring will be the answer we need.  Change has never sounded so appealing.

It’s been said that “change is the only constant.”  We live in a world of unstoppable evolution and transition.  Change is, indeed, inevitable, and thankfully so.  I have reason to believe the Polar Vortex will give way to summer heat wave eventually.  When we consider the unique challenges of having ADHD, however, change is more than inevitable; it is an alluring and agonizing labyrinth of possibility and unfulfilled goals.

The ADHD brain generates a wealth of ideas and spontaneous passion for novel engagements.  It also has difficulty putting on the brakes, planning, organizing actions, considering component parts of a whole and shifting focus from one stimulus to the next.  The ADHD brain can be painfully slow to transition and it can also be dangerously fast.  Inconsistency, trouble maintaining attention, and difficulty inhibiting impulses are three of the hallmark traits of this condition, all possible liabilities when embarking upon sustainable change.  For someone with ADHD:

  • Insufferable boredom and restlessness may render the next Big Idea (read: Change) unbearably exciting.  Trouble inhibiting impulses may mean jumping into said Big Idea without thoughtful consideration.  (Starting is so much easier than finishing! It’s important to be well-rounded! If I have all of the materials I need, as soon as possible, then I will surely follow through in the end.)
  • Time may be perceived as at once fleeting and imperceptibly idle.  (If everyone in the world was perpetually 10 minutes late, would the person with ADHD be doubly late?  Why does time speed up when your keys are lost and you’re already late?  I meant to follow through, I just ran out of time.)
  • Plans and details can overwhelm your brain’s capacity to organize them and may be experienced as oppressively grueling and therefore feel a bit like a waste of time.  A lot like a waste of time.  (Read the instructions?!  Who has time for that nonsense!  I don’t care if it is Ikea; I know what a bookshelf should look like!  I’ll intuit my way through!)

For these reasons, among others, the process of change for someone with ADHD bears a conflicting paradox of great appeal and tremendous angst.

The promise of a fresh start is appealing for everyone.  Tomorrow will be the day I _______ (Fill in the blank.)  I’ll make 2014 the year of renewed commitments.  Next quarter I will stick to a budget.  Spring will be the season of organized closets!  These statements are exemplary of the tortured and cyclical promise of “If-Then.”  When the weather changes… If I get a raise… When I lose 10 pounds… If I fall in love… When I graduate… If I schedule my time better…  Then… and only then…. The ADHD brain, after all, loves to simplify temporality by assuming two basic time zones: Now, and Not Now. So, if that fresh start doesn’t seem to be ready for takeoff Now, then surely it means Not Now, and thus the cycle of living then/there instead of here/now is reborn.

Take a moment to question what your If/Then - Big Change looks like, with all of the contingencies and expectations you place upon it.  Consider if it needs some restructuring.  If your Big Change fantasy comes true… Will you really be happier?  Will you feel free?  Will you give yourself a break?  Will you love and accept yourself?  Will you allow and accept love and kindness from others?  Will you take time to relax?  If so, and more importantly, then do you really need to wait for the new leaf to turn over in order to access any of those beautiful things?  Maybe, but perhaps there is another way.

Change does not have to be such a far off, all or nothing, phenomenon.  Choosing to check in with your planner, eat a meal mindfully or prioritize your to-do list, for instance, are all present moment actions.  You hear the alarm you wisely set for yourself as a reminder to check your planner and you either act on it or ignore it.  Within each moment you have the opportunity to make a new or different choice.  Each moment is a new beginning, and every beginning implies an ending to be honored.  From this place we can trust that even endings and the awkward place in between them can generate growth.  Indeed, even this awful winter has something to teach us and provides an opportunity to try something new, right now.  You don’t have to wait until the snow melts to accept peace or allow happiness and acceptance into your life.

Instead of waiting for the ultimate indication of change or some predefined millisecond that marks the emergence of a new beginning, try thinking of each day, each hour, even each moment, as that opportunity.  Some days you will not win this battle in the big way you envision.  Subzero temperatures are still freezing cold, after all, and you may not be inclined to get out of bed to go to the gym at 6:00 AM. (Perhaps you did not set yourself up for success by setting this goal in the first place!)  You still have a choice about how to proceed with the rest of the day and decide what thoughts you let consume your attention or which behaviors you are able to commit to, even when they’re challenging.

If you have ever been to Chicago in April, you may have noticed how eager we can be to immerse ourselves in sunlight.  Sometimes, 60° F marks the cutoff for tank shorts weather… after this winter, it may just be lower.  The first few sunny, mildly-warm days will see masses of Chicagoans on the lakefront and in the parks, playing Frisbee or reading a book, skin bare as ever, in the middle of the workday.  You’ll wonder how this urban metropolis functions as no one appears to be at work.  We spring ourselves forward just like everyone else, with eagerness and optimism, but we don’t wait until July to do it.  We know, viscerally, that as fast as that nice day comes, it can go as quickly.  We have learned to dance in the rain (or at least bask in the first, fleeting rays of sun!)

You never have to wait for the perfect moment to begin anew.  What are you willing to do, accept, or let go in order to embrace the sunshine right in front of you?  How can your day be filled with small actions or thoughts that add up to the big change you hope for?  Better yet, can you accept yourself and allow happiness and peace into your life while in the process of change, before the big result becomes apparent?  Is there anything really worth waiting for?

Certainly don’t hold out for the Cubs to win the World Series.

 

Dr. Michelle Frank is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist located in Chicago, IL. She specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD and related challenges. Dr. Frank understands ADHD and takes an active and empowering approach in helping clients live successfully in spite of challenges. Learn more at: http://www.chicagotherapist.com/michelle-frank-team-10.php and http://www.drmichellefrank.com


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