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
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
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