After such a solid run of ADHD/mental health posts, this week I fully intended to switch topics – but apparently my brain had other ideas.
This past Sunday I crashed hard. Without warning, I suddenly couldn’t find it in me to even get out of bed. Everything in my life felt meaningless. My emotions retreated, leaving me with flat, grey nothing.
It’s hardly the first time I’ve felt like that. I would call it depression, except that the clinical description of depression requires those feelings to go on for at least two weeks. In me they rarely last more than a day or two – as suddenly as they arrived, I’ll wake up the next morning ready to get up and face the world again.
So what’s going on when I get like that? Now that I have the added perspective of my ADHD diagnosis, I think I might finally have the answer – and maybe even a solution.
What comes next?
A key trigger for my big crashes is reaching the end of a major project, the kind of thing that temporarily consumes my life – in this case, moving house. On Friday I got our bond back on the old place, ticked off the last check-box on my Move out Trello card, and everything was officially done. 36 hours later, I fell apart.
The same thing has happened to me every time I finished organising a convention, or crewing a play (in the theatre world there’s even a name for it: post-show blues).
What do those situations have in common? They grab my attention – all my attention. Remember, the perfect trifecta for an interest-based nervous system is exciting, challenging, and urgent. A house move, a convention, a theatre show is all three in spades.
So when I’m in the middle of a major project like that, it becomes the focal point of my entire life. And when that focal point is removed by the project ending, my brain doesn’t know what to replace it with.
It’s not just that I don’t know which project to work on next. It’s bigger than that.
See, I’ve been so focused on that one major project, I have literally forgotten what’s important to me.
The goals that define me
This is about more than just losing track of tasks and to-do lists. This is about my Big Life Goals – the ones that spring from my sense of who I am, what is important to me, and what I want my life to look like.
Even though I rarely take the time to articulate them to myself, these goals inform most of what I do day-to-day – what habits I really try to hang on to, what projects I choose to prioritise.
I want to develop a better relationship with my gender and my body.
I want to stay connected with the important people in my life.
I want to learn to better manage my ADHD brain.
Aspirations like these are integral to my sense of who I am and why I get up in the morning. So you might think even my ADHD brain wouldn’t have any trouble keeping track of them…
And mostly, that’s true. But it turns out a really major, life-consuming project can eclipse even my most integral aspirations.
Something’s gotta give
At its peak, moving house felt just as big as any of my Big Life Goals. The only way I could make the move happen without getting overwhelmed was to put all other priorities on hold for a while.
I still kept up with my existing habits (*cough* mostly), but I stopped thinking about why I was doing them, and that was all it took. Because with my ADHD brain, when something is out of sight, it really is out of mind – and it will stay that way unless something happens to forcibly remind me that it exists.
So, for a few weeks my only Big Life Goal was move house – and when that ended my brain was left flailing to find anything equally important to replace it with.
I wasn’t consciously aware that was what I was doing – but I think that’s why my daily habits felt meaningless and rote, and why I struggled to focus on the projects I’d been excited about working on before the move took over my life.
I’d lost track of what made any of it important to me. I’d literally forgotten what gave my life purpose. Cue: brain crash.
The answer, as always: externalise
Like I said, this isn’t the first time it’s happened. But this time, for whatever reason, I found myself lying awake at 5am and actually thinking about what was going on in my head to make me get that way.
So in the wee hours of the morning I sat down and made one more Trello board:
This is not a to-do list. It is a visual reminder of my Big Life Goals and all the things I am already doing (or thinking about doing) to improve those aspects of my life.
It’s easy for me to feel like most of the things I do are pretty arbitrary, once the New Idea Energy has worn off and I’ve forgotten why I was originally excited about them. This board is a reminder that my actions are not arbitrary. They were deliberately chosen to help me achieve the goals that are most important to me – even if I don’t always remember what those goals are.
This board is a reminder that my life does have purpose, at least to me.
It’s also now the homepage that appears every time I open my web browser.
Try to forget that, brain.