Getting your sh** together with ADHD

That overwhelming feeling of being overwhelmed, you know?

When I finally overcame my aversion to paperwork, organization, and assignments, I started using a trick my therapist taught me which was basically to stop telling myself that I could just do it “later.” Somehow, I was also supposed to convince myself that I was even capable of doing such tasks.

This is the extent to which I had never done that before in my life: I had to ask my therapist what specific words to tell myself when this kind of work arose. She basically taught me to be my own cheerleader, and I would say things (in my head) like, “Just get it done now, don’t wait. You got this. Just get it out of the way so you can relax!”

That was the fix for a lot of things. I was able to complete tasks, show up for meetings… I didn’t waste entire days and nights online shopping or browsing Wikipedia. I wasn’t writing radical political think-pieces that would never see the light of day, or making concept drawings for my dream house I would someday build. I still did all those things, but only when there wasn’t something more important to do.

That worked for a few months. Eventually, it crept back in. Here’s the thing: this kind of talk doesn’t work when you commit yourself to an impossible quota of responsibilities. Eventually, that time for creativity and research you’re using to motivate yourself, when everything’s finished and you can just chill, is basically never. Things pile on top of things. Soon, the whole concept of “free time” feels like make-believe.

With ADHD, your brain is constantly on the move. What happens when you don’t have time to play with the hundreds of ideas buzzing around in your head? They come out in those crucial moments. Due date approaching. There’s no way you can focus now, not with this much pressure. Let’s do something fun to relax. Let’s just explore this idea a bit while it’s still fresh. And the cycle begins again. 

Staying grounded is so important when you get stuck like this. Here’s a weird thing I do to accomplish that: I smell books. 

I used to hang out at the library as a kid. Kudos to my mom for training the dweeb in me. Since then, I haven’t spent much time in libraries at all, except for studying. One day, walking around in the Webster Library, I decided to walk through the bookshelves instead of around them. 

In that moment, I was sweating after stomping up four flights of stairs. I was tired from not sleeping the night before. I was on my way, much later in the day than I had planned, to find the perfect spot to finish an assignment. This one was two weeks late, and I wasn’t even sure I would be allowed to turn it in. 

Weirdly, memories are strongest when we can barely remember what we ate for dinner last night. When I walked through the bookshelves, I smelled those old books. It’s weird… I felt like I was walking in the front door of the house I grew up in. It reminded me of springtime, my pink birthday outfit, just playing outside by myself and feeling completely free. Raking leaves with my brother in the fall; jumping into the piles after.

It made me remember my days in the library when I was little, sitting in that quiet place and browsing through picture books. I was cross-legged on the floor, in-between shelves, getting lost in the pages of a new world I’d just discovered. I was enjoying the simplicity of the moment, feeling at home with my curiosity and natural love of learning. 

It made me remember why I was at university in the first place, which was to learn. I remembered that I was not only capable of the task, but that these things came naturally to me. I used that reference of peace to motivate me. I knew that soon, I’d get back to that peaceful time, once the assignment was done, once all the assignments were done. That smell grounded me to my core being, and that gave me the focus I needed to continue.

I’m in the middle of that toxic cycle I spoke about before, trying to get back to how I used to be. Take my advice or not (after all, those who can’t do, teach, right?). Here’s what I would tell myself right now, if only I would listen:

1. Do the thing, do it now. Finish one big thing, and you’ll feel like a million bucks. Start there — see where that feeling takes you.

2. Spend time doing something small each day that grounds you. It’s so hard for us to get out of our heads sometimes, and remember how capable we are… We really need that.

Getting your sh*t together is a new column written for students with ADHD, or for those who simply need to get their shit together, from someone with ADHD. It’s a learning process, but in the end, here’s hoping this column helps us all get it together, um, together.

Confessions of an ADHD-riddled crochet-holic

The unconventional way I got through Zoom learning: crochet

When I was young, my grandma taught me to knit for the first time. I was five years old, sitting on her lap on a cold December day, when she first introduced me to the sport. She held my hands in hers as the needle weaved through the yarn, creating a line of crooked stitches in fluffy red wool.

It wasn’t until years later, a little after I turned 18, that my sister gifted me two pairs of knitting needles and a couple bundles of bright coloured yarn, when I finally picked up the hobby for good.

A couple months before the great gift that started it all, I had received a diagnosis for hyperactive ADHD, coupled up with chronic anxiety — I was in for the ride of my life.

I swiftly moved from making simple tension squares and knitting hand cloths to more intricate projects like… scarves. But in all seriousness, I always got too overwhelmed by having to handle the two needles required for knitting, and never really understood the concept of tougher projects. My goal with knitting was to create something I could enjoy, wear, and pass down, just like my grandma had done for me. But the works of art I was knitting weren’t gonna cut it.

One day, I was thrifting (as per usual), and stumbled across the wall of random stuff that Value Village packages up in little plastic baggies. These are sometimes filled with mangled Barbie dolls, scraps of a McDonald’s Happy Meal toy… you get the point. But this particular day, I decided to intentionally look at what was there, and found a plastic bag filled with crochet needles, all for $3.75.

I decided “Why not give crochet a shot,” making it the 17th hobby I would try out that year. It quickly became a love affair. 

For those who don’t know, crochet is knitting’s little sister; it requires only one needle, or “hook,” and some yarn, or any material weaved into a thread that you can hook onto.

At first, it was just me, my laptop, my hook and my yarn. I learned all the basics; slip stitch, single crochet, double crochet, half double crochet, how to chain, the magic circle, and so on. I started making hats, bags, coasters, and different fun patterns of granny squares.

Instead of overwhelming me, I felt I was able to grow within this form of creative expression, and to this day it has become one of the only hobbies that I have stuck with.

People with ADHD often struggle with holding onto projects, hobbies, or habits you’re either trying to pick up or kick. You quickly get sidetracked by small things that are normal parts of life, and so it’s hard to stay focused and committed to one thing that you love.

When March 2020 hit, and the unthinkable happened, my first year of university was shifted into an environment where being actively engaged with the class material was extremely difficult for me, and pretty much everyone else. I began classes online, and finished my semester cosplaying as a hermit in my partner’s basement, eating junk food and squinting whenever I was confronted by daylight.

When September rolled around, I was ready and excited for my second year of school. In the journalism department, many of the classes are smaller than what you’d expect in a university setting, with most of them consisting of around 20 people. At least I wasn’t in an online class with over 200 participants — sorry sociology majors.

Still, they were long lectures; I realized I wouldn’t get through them if I got distracted by every noise, feeling, thought or impulse I had. However, I am a grown-ass woman, and I refuse to own a fidget spinner. So I started to crochet during class.

All of a sudden, I could get through the two hours of a two-hour lecture and actually grasp the content. My hands were busy, and somehow that opened up my ears to absorb what was being said. I was no longer held captive by my own thoughts, because all I was doing was thinking about my next stitch while I listened to what sounded like a slightly boring podcast on business reporting — how educational!

Even though I had friends kind enough to send me their notes, professors who would share slideshows with me so I could catch up if I needed to, or revise something if I had been too distracted — I didn’t need it.  After learning to crochet, I was able to concentrate and absorb information properly. This has been the best tool I have found to help me thrive in the online environment. 

Now all I have to figure out is how to get professors to allow me to crochet in class… I am only kind of kidding.


Photoraph by Juliette Palin

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