Have you ever sat in front of the computer screen or pad of paper, wishing the words to magically come forth from your fingertips so you could finally meet your deadline? Do you hope that you won’t have to go through the chaos and stress of it being late or not completed at all? Yet no matter how long you sit there, or stare out the window, or surf the internet or hit your head on the desk…nothing happens. It’s not that you aren’t motivated or that it’s not important to you, but literally it’s like you have no idea of where to start or what words to use…you’re blank.
For people with ADHD who experience this common sense of a “blank screen,” writing can be daunting. Maybe it is difficulty with organizing your thoughts, eliminating distractions, or trying to focus on something less interesting. ADHD is a catch-22 – our creative ADHD brains can come up with a zillion amazing ideas, but usually at the wrong time (like in the shower or right before we fall asleep). Then add this to common ADHD symptoms that make it challenging to get the words out of our heads, through our fingertips or pen and onto the paper…and it’s no wonder so many of us experience this blank screen curse.
So if you are an ADHD student working on a final paper or an ADHD adult writing blog posts for your ADHD coaching business, here are some tips on how to get through writer’s block:
- Start writing anything associated with your topic. I’ll say that again…anything! Don’t worry about structure, beginning paragraphs, three main points…just start. Often we have an idea of what we want to say, but limit ourselves by thinking there is a right or wrong place to begin. There isn’t. So start where you are – even if it is right in the middle, or at the conclusion. You can always backtrack and add the beginning when you’re almost done. In fact this strategy makes more sense to our ADHD brains.
- Write and write and write. Some may call it rambling or brainstorming…or even getting off track. I call it using the ADHD challenge of being hyper verbal or “brain surfing” and using it as a positive. Sometimes we need to get ideas or concepts out of our heads so we can make room for those that do. One of the great gifts of the 21st century is the “delete” button. And if you have writer’s block, you already know, it’s easier to eliminate text then add to it.
- Turn off the inner critic. It’s amazing to me how this inner critic can be so disapproving even before we have written a single word! If we don’t turn it off or at least send it out of the room, this inner critic can have us second guessing any of our ideas and knocking down our talents and creativity. For now, squelch that negative voice inside your head saying you can’t write. Have a little chat with it and let it know you appreciate its efforts to support you in doing a good job, however it can come back during the rewrite stage when its critical nature might be somewhat useful.
- Create an outline. There’s a reason your eighth grade English teacher taught you how to organize main ideas and facts onto index cards. It is a great way to create an ordered flow to your thoughts. Remember, outlines don’t have to be linear. Often creating an outline of what we want to say using a mind map can work very well for our ADHD brain’s way of organizing. Think of how you used to outline a picture before you colored it in. Using an outline, mind map or index cards that you can shuffle into any sequence you want are simple ways to help you get a bigger picture of what the final piece will look or sound like.
- Draw a picture. Many ADHD brains think in pictures instead of words. We call this being a global thinker. Consider creating a comic strip of your ideas instead of writing a top to bottom linear outline. Or draw a picture imagining the top of the page as the beginning, the bottom as the end and the middle as the content piece. Using this strategy helps us unlock from the more restrictive left brain and allows us to take full advantage of our right brain’s creative genius.
Most importantly…remember you can do it. Children and adults with ADHD struggle with feeling capable and successful in academic and professional settings. This is not because you can’t, it’s because you haven’t figure out how quite yet. Writing a college application, scholarship essay or blog post can feel impossible on days when you’re tired, unfocused and overwhelmed. Don’t give up and say you can’t do it – all you need to do is find out what ADHD strategies to use that work with your brain that will change that blank screen (or paper) into one filled with your thoughts and ideas.
When someone is struggling with ADHD challenges, it is rare that ADHD is their only diagnosed mental health condition. It has been established that other psychiatric disorders frequently co-occur with ADHD. Often these are called “co-existing conditions” or more dramatically “co-morbid conditions”. The occurrence of having more than one disorder is consistently observed in psychiatric research. It seems that being diagnosed with ADHD makes it more likely that you will have other challenges as well.
How can you tell if you have ADHD plus another condition? It can be difficult. Psychiatrists and mental health specialists can help to clarify this through a thorough individual and family history. Although some characteristics or symptoms may overlap with disorders, there is usually a preponderance of certain patterns of behavior that will help to identify the underlying cause.
- Oppositional Defiant Disorder
- Conduct Disorder
- Learning and communication differences
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- Drug Abuse
- Bipolar Disorder
- Sleep Problems
- Tourette’s Disorder
- Pervasive Developmental Disorder
- Other forms of physical illness (such as asthma, stomachaches and ear infections)
- Accidental injury
Oppositional Defiant Disorder: This condition is one of the most commonly misunderstood conditions associated with ADHD. Typically, this diagnosis is given to individuals who have a pattern of defying the rules, and in some instances, physically acting out. People with these types of behaviors are frequently overwhelmed with life or have very fixed ideas about how things are supposed to be. These traits can translate into an inflexibility with how to do things along with becoming easily frustrated which is often seen by others as getting “emotional”, “upset”, “angry” or not being flexible. With this disorder, understanding these underlying personality characteristics, working early with the individual and family, and seeking the services of other professionals to learn how to develop better coping skills is important.
Learning Disabilities: The multi disciplinary approach of psychological and academic testing will help identify any co-existing learning challenges. It may seem to be a “chicken and the egg” struggle. Does the child have difficulty academically because the inattention is making it harder for him to learn? Or are learning challenges making the child distracted and restless which looks like ADHD? While it is true that treating ADHD does not solve the LD, the ability to remain seated, pay attention and have the patience in the classroom goes a long way towards learning.
Anxiety: An estimated 50% of people diagnosed with ADHD also experience anxiety. When someone is anxious, it is important to determine if the anxiety is “situational”, meaning that the anxiety is related to a specific situation. Or if the anxiety you are experiencing is due to the ongoing challenges with the ADHD. Having ADHD can add to anxiety because of the pressure to succeed academically, professionally or socially. In some cases, treating the ADHD may reduce the anxiety because you may begin to be able to concentrate, remember things and follow through. This will often greatly reduce overall anxiety. If the anxiety is a completely separate disorder (which is very common with ADHD), it may be wise to treat the anxiety first, or treat the anxiety at the same time as the ADHD.
Depression: Depression, like anxiety, is one of the most common co-existing conditions with ADHD. It is very common for someone to be diagnosed first with depression (around 50% of people with ADHD also have depression). Just as with anxiety, the experience of depression is often related to an underlying undiagnosed ADHD. Some would say that at times having ADHD is just darn depressing! Again, if the depression is presenting the most troublesome symptoms, it may be treated first. As the depression begins to lift, it is easier to assess for the presence of ADHD as a separate diagnosis.
Substance abuse: The impulsivity, social difficulties and tendency to self-medicate often make persons with ADHD vulnerable to substance abuse. Approximately 20% of people diagnosed with ADHD may develop substance abuse problems. Despite this somewhat scary statistic, current research has shown that students diagnosed and treated earlier for their ADHD are less likely to develop substance abuse problems. The people most at risk for abusing substance are those individuals who have gone undiagnosed and untreated. Interestingly, prescribed medication (such as stimulants) is usually not the drug abused by persons with ADHD. Typically, other substances (such as marijuana or alcohol) are used to self-medicate the restlessness, anxiety and “busy mind” that comes with ADHD. It is important to talk with children taking prescription medications about the difference between prescribed use and abuse. If abuse does arise, family therapy is essential in order to understand the situation and begin to set limits.
Tourette’s Disorder: Approximately 10% of people with ADHD experience the symptoms consistent with Tourette’s. Tourette’s involves vocal (throat clearing or compulsive saying of certain words) and motor tics (twitching or more visible movements of various parts of the body). ADHD symptoms are often diagnosed prior to or around the same time that tics are noticed. Characteristically, tics come and go over time and may alternate between different body parts. Two of the most common areas to notice tics are with repetitive movement of the hands or face and mouth. Tics tend to be at their peak in adolescence and milder in adulthood. Recent data has suggested that stimulants can be safely used for persons with Tourette’s, although it is important to introduce medication with caution. Some have a worsening of their tics; others find their tics unaffected.
Physical problems and accidental injury: A child with ADHD needs extra safety measures in their home, long after most children have outgrown childproofing. Accidental injury is common with attention difficulties, and impulsivity and is common in ADHD children. Developing a trusting relationship with a primary care practitioner who knows the individual and the family that understand the somewhat “accidental prone” nature of children with ADHD is important.
I’d like to hear about your experiences with co existing conditions with your ADHD. Please share in the comment section below.
This month I wanted to share some experiences about conferences! I love conferences and look forward to the opportunities to travel around the country to enjoy some time with other ADHD coaches and entrepreneurs, increase awareness of ADHD challenges, and finally meet some of my long distance clients face-to-face. It’s sort of like the social season of 19th century London, when the movers and shakers gather together in the city for debutante balls, elaborate dinners and spectacular galas. They can be both exhilarating and exhausting.
My next conference will be the three day 6th Annual International ADHD Coaches Organization (ACO) in Atlanta, Georgia. Then I am off to Orlando, Florida for Suzanne Evans’s four-day extravaganza “Be the Change Event”. At both events I will be presenting on different topics, hosting a booth and trying to connect with as many amazing people as possible.
And as much as I love conferences, they can be incredibly challenging for ADHD adults (and even for those who don’t struggle with focus, planning or organization). Over the years, I’ve become a veteran of these trips and have developed some strategies to offset ADHD symptoms so I enjoy and get the most out of these days. Here are some valuable tips and tricks that I want to share with you:
1. Do your homework. Many conferences post their speaker schedule online or provide some tips on how to travel to and from the airport. Doing research before you arrive makes you more prepared and less likely to miss important things such as when you are speaking or if meals are included.
2. Book your hotel room as soon as you know you are going to attend so you can secure a place at the hotel where the conference is being held. The “conference rate” hotel rooms fill fast. You will save time and money by not having to travel back and forth, (or get distracted by the scenery and miss your speaking time), and you will be able to sneak back to your room to rest if you get a break between sessions. Having quiet time to refuel will go a long way to helping you succeed with ADHD.
3. Bring a highlighter and a small notebook. When you receive the schedule of events, highlight the sessions you want to attend so you can plan your day and be reminded easily. The notebook is your ‘ADHD brain cheat sheet’. After you meet someone you want to reconnect with after the conference, jot down the information in your notebook. Or keep track of tidbits of inspiration and knowledge you acquire. Both are ways to offset the information overwhelm and distraction that often accompany conferences.
4. Wear comfortable shoes. No matter your role at the conference, you will be on your feet more than you think. It’s hard to smile and be your best self when your feet hurt.
5. Wear layers. The temperature in the rooms throughout a conference varies greatly.
6. Bring a trusted sidekick. If you have a booth, having an assistant there can alleviate the stress of keeping track of sales receipts or other details and allow you more time to network with colleagues and clients.
7. Take your ADHD medication. If your conference is out of town for multiple days, see if your psychiatrist will write you a short prescription you can fill if there is an emergency.
8. Realize that you can’t clone yourself. If there are multiple sessions running at the same time you will need to partner with a colleague, divvy up the schedule and share notes on what you learned. Or take advantage of the options to purchase recordings so that you can review them on the plane ride home, but don’t buy them if you won’t review them!
9. Decide what you want to get out of the conference. Your goal may be to acquire new skills, network with colleagues, build your contact list or interact with clients. If you set your intention before you arrive, you will be in the right mindset and prepared to learn, connect or promote yourself. But be flexible, new opportunities often come from these events and you can move outside your comfort zone to discover great new ideas at conferences.
10. Bring your business cards! In fact put them in your travel bags right now!
11. Be open to learning. You may be an expert in your field, but that doesn’t mean you can’t pick up something new. And you may be surprised where you learn it. Nuggets of life changing brilliance can happen anywhere – even during a brief conversation on the elevator.
12. Especially at niche specific conferences such as those in the ADHD field, everyone knows everyone. The traditional six degrees of separation is reduced to about two or three. It is a great chance to network and meet those you emulate…but also a damaging place to gossip.
13. Sleep. As much as you can before you go and during the event. It may be tempting to stay up all night at the welcome reception – the energy and thrills of being there can be hard to walk away from. But remember, that’s just day one. Conferences are marathons, and you need to recharge and take extra care of yourself so you can get to the end in good spirits.
14. Bring nutritious, easy to pack snacks. Conferences can be exhausting and having healthy snacks on hand such as dried fruit and nuts go a long way to keeping you energized, and your ADHD brain focused. Another trick is to travel with a few of packets of oatmeal and a disposable spoon. Breakfast is typically the hardest meal to catch during conferences. Adding hot water, readily available in most hotel rooms, along with some of those nuts and dried fruit is a great way to start your day.
15. Finally, plan for a day of decompression when you return home. A sudden reentry back into your world could create exhaustion that defeats all the positive energy you experienced at the conference. And it helps to process all of that new information with a clearer perspective.
If you are attending the ACO Conference, “Be the Change Event” (or any of the events listed in my newsletters or website), stop by and introduce yourself! I’d love to say hello!
And if you have additional tips on conferences, especially ideas on how to cope with ADHD symptoms, please share them below…