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Coping Mechanisms: Exit Stage Left

In coaching we talk about a three step process: Awareness, Acceptance, and Conscious Choice. The goal is to get our clients to a conscious choice vs. a fear-based reaction. To do so, we first have to dig through the thoughts and beliefs that are holding them back. Then we must reckon with acceptance of what is (not what we hope/think should be). Once we have achieved steps 1 and 2, the conscious choice mostly makes itself as the other two steps remove the blocks that were in the way.

Today's Watercolor

When I first became aware that I had ADHD, the acceptance came quickly. It made complete sense. What didn't make sense was why it took forty-something years to figure this out. ADHD isn't something that develops over time. It's a neurological condition that has existed from the start. I kept thinking, "Couldn't there have been a single teacher, co-worker, family-member, coach, mentor, or therapist who noticed and told me sooner?" Cleary the answer is no. There couldn't have been someone who noticed, because there wasn't. This is reality. Yet, the anger and hurt persist. (But there should have been, I want to say! Even coaches argue with reality.)

While I was mourning what could have been, I noticed that my favorite coping mechanisms had quietly slipped away. They were no longer needed. Their job was to keep this information from me - to protect me from knowing. After all, I had plenty of lingering thoughts that could have told me sooner. "Why is being organized so hard for me? Why do I start several planners a year only to give up on them after1-2 weeks? Why can't I find anything that holds my attention long-term both in career and hobbies? Why do I long to feel grounded, focused, making consistent progress yet follow the impulse of the moment as soon as it shows up?"

I have asked these kind of questions many times. I have tried so many iterations of vision boards, life planning, and goal-setting to make them go away. And when nothing worked, coping mechanism #1, 2, 3, 4, 5 would always speak up: "It will get better", followed by "It's not that big of a deal. You're fine." followed by "You'll figure it out." followed by "Just keep going." followed by "Maybe X is the answer (another planner, another hobby, another career idea.) Positive avoidance/magical thinking - my favorite.

These coping mechanisms are wonderful for running a marathon or climbing a mountain where curious introspection is not particularly helpful. They have served me well when the goal was simply to keep yourself going and ignore the suffering.

With regards to ADHD, I want to say these coping mechanisms suck. My anger is still there. I wish I would have found out as a teenager. But the bigger truth is that I found out when I found out. I don't need to make it pretty and say it happened the way it "should" have. It just happened. No good/bad judgement needed. I have ADHD. This is when I found out about it. My life up until now has involved managing the ADHD through life skills, perseverance, and the subtle delusion of coping mechanisms.

Now without protective thinking, I'm seeing more of the ADHD in everyday life. Yay more awareness.

  • I've noticed that I interrupt a lot. I want to take charge or lead the conversation if it excites me.

  • My thoughts race and I feel hyper. Or I feel lethargic.

  • I want to be productive all the time, perhaps in fear for the times I can't be productive at all.

  • I have high expectations of what I "should" be able to do in a day, often missing my mark.

  • My browser tabs save me several times a day, where I start something then get distracted and go on to something else. When I flip through them later I'm reminded of what I didn't finish.

  • I may be more moody than I realized.

  • NICEE motivates me (New, Interesting, Challenging, Exciting, Emergency)

  • And I noticed I just forgot that I'm warming up pizza for dinner (For real, I just thought, "What is that smell? Oh, dinner." Doh.)

On the positive side, with awareness I can choose not to be a victim. I have a reason to prioritize planning and self-care and manage the ADHD proactively to the degree that I control. My current list includes:

  • Eating protein with every meal, especially breakfast

  • Working out to create a productive boost

  • Creating a routine (I'm not a natural fan of routines) to provide structure

  • Sticking with my digital planner to take notes, plan my day, and track my mood

  • Giving myself grace that after high energy days of hyper focus, I'm going to be less productive the next day

  • Giving myself grace when I forget things

  • Making decisions the night before so I'm better able to take action when I feel restless and indecisive

In truth I don't miss the coping mechanisms. It was exhausting to stay artificially motivated to swim upstream when I didn't even know there was a stream. At least now I know the terrain and can act accordingly. Awareness, acceptance (partially), and conscious choice.

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