lizcommotion: A hand drawn spinning wheel covered in roses (spinning wheel briar rose)
[personal profile] lizcommotion
i have recently discovered/realized that most of my executive function runs on anxiety. or i should say, RAN on anxiety. this is...not sustainable. omg, is it not. but let me backtrack.

i've had trouble with anxiety since forever. in third grade, my teacher had a homework chart, where we got a sticker for each day we brought our homework in. the carrot was that any student who brought their completed homework in each day would get a free ice cream sundae at the end of the year. one day, i had done my homework but left it at home. i pretty much had a meltdown when i realized. my teacher said there was one "freebie day" which i'm pretty sure she only said so i would stop crying.

here's the thing: as much as anxiety pretty much shreds my ability to sleep, cope with unexpected challenges, or think positive thoughts about the future, it does serve a purpose. namely, if everything feels like a LIFE OR DEATH SITUATION, i get shit done.

in college, my fear spiral was this: don't finish this assignment. fail this class. fail all my classes. don't get degree. don't get a job with health insurance. can't afford expensive psych medications. die homeless [etc].

and people would tell me that wasn't a "real" fear, that missing one assignment wouldn't automatically lead to me dying in a gutter. but it felt fucking real, and it also didn't help that i've met people who are in similar situations, so it's not implausible. (hell, my aunt who OD'd was in a similar situation.)

want to know what's an excellent motivation for finishing your work perfectly, on time, and perhaps early? feeling like if you don't, you will die. maybe not now, but eventually, and it will be HORRIBLE.

i had physical issues even in high school, what with chronic neck pain (hi, extra ribs!) and later on wrist pain. i had strict instructions that i should rest my wrists while using the computer, NOT overdo it, not go on giant essay-writing binges. and you know, "not being able to use a keyboard ever again" is a real concern, and my body was YELLING at me to slow down. but you know what was worse than wrist pain? the overwhelming dread of not finishing my paper, perfectly, on time or early.

over time, for whatever reason, my body has yelled at me more. i don't know if it's a giant OMG STOP FIGHT OR FLIGHT IS NOT SUSTAINABLE. i don't know if it's something genetic like EDS. i don't know if it's c-PTSD or "just" fibromyalgia.

however, i have actually gotten MUCH better at dealing with my anxiety with time and age. that doesn't mean it's not there. it's just when my anxious brain goes "if you don't do this, your world will end!" my answer to it is "yeah, well, my world's ended before, and I've handled it."

(ymmv on this one, but "i am coping with multiple major disabilities, i think i can handle a parking ticket" works really well on my brain weasels. so does "yeah, pretty sure i'm handling PTSD and a pretty big badass about it, so I can handle this one person being mad at me if that happens.")

one result of this is that anxiety doesn't run my life so much. if i'm late for something? i do not have an anxiety attack. if i have a fuckton of Scary Bureaucratic Paperwork to do? okay yeah i might have an anxiety attack, but it's not SO BAD that I can't even open the envelope holding the paperwork.

want to know another effect? i can't weaponize my anxiety to get shit done.

me: so, we should really do the laundry
also me: yeah, i don't want to
me: if we don't do the laundry we won't have clean underwear!
also me: sounds terrible
me: i mean, we could...yeah okay, we can handle that
also me: yup
me: Netflix does sound really good right now...
also me: i told you
[6 hours pass]

i spent a lot of my life until my mid-20s with people marvelling at how ORGANIZED and PREPARED i was. i mean, if every day felt like the fucking zombie apocalypse, i think a lot of other people would be prepared too?

but my guess is that during that time period, people who were slightly-less-organized-and-prepared learned SOME way of getting shit done that was not "scare yourself into believing that if you don't, the world will literally end."

[i mean obviously if a person has OTHER executive function issues, be they from ADHD or meds or whatnot, this may not apply? or maybe they just have EXTRA GOOD coping skills i honestly don't know. i honestly don't know how anyone gets anything done.]

i'm trying shit with timers and reminder notices, because apparently my brain also relies on FEELINGS OF DREAD to remember shit. i mean i'm pretty sure my meds aren't helping with short term memory but ahahhahaha probably constant doses of anxiety for lots of years made some interesting neural pathways too.

+1 anxiety level-up, now there's a new boss to fight i guess

SO, here's some thinkythoughts and reflection, in case that helps anyone else.

but also, how does anyone get anything the fuck done? suggestions welcome, with the understanding that brains are different.

Date: 2016-10-18 07:23 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] indywind
I was just reading about this very thing in a book about ADD. (ADD/ADHD co-occurs with anxiety disorders often enough to be noteworthy.)

Lemme see if I can summarize the useful bits out of several chapters. Please forgive if it comes out sounding oversimplified.

Anxiety provides a self-generated dose of a bunch of chemicals that promote attention, physical energy, and (counter-intuitively on the surface) reward. It may not feel pleasant, but it feels exciting, compelling, powerfully important-- what our ancestors needed to actually buckle down and survive. So anxiety can act as a cue and contingent reinforcer for whole chains of behaviors that you've habitually paired with it, especially if you've not done those things any other times.

So one partial solution to only being able to get things done under anxiety is to do them some other non-anxious times (by pretty much any means you can manage), to break the association between productivity and anxiety.

Another partial solution is to make things you need to do as interesting and rewarding without anxiety as they seem when anxiety tells you they are life or death --pair them with some other more sustainable but highly valued reinforcer, preferably delivered immediately. Once established, switch to intermittent reinforcement schedule.

Another partial solution is to create artificial sense of urgency without real danger --like setting nearer deadlines with real but not life-altering penalties and rewards--to give yourself a smaller dose of those focusing anxiety biochemicals.

Another partial solution is sort of like that old familiar "break big task into more manageable sub-tasks" but a little different: without motivation, just make the tiniest possible start too easy and painless to be worth avoiding. This can work 2 ways: sometimes a tiny start makes enough momentum to lead to getting more done. Or, even if no momentum develops from the tiny start, you can tiny-start over again as often as needed until you make some progress.
For instance, if doing laundry is the thing you need to do, tiny start is not: gather up all the laundry laying around and sort into loads by color and put a load in the wash--that's too much. Tiny start is like, put one dirty clothing item in item in the washer.
Sometimes the tiny start is just, walk into the room where the thing needs to be done.

These techniques can work well in combination with each other, and with more traditional solutions like lists, timers, working with a buddy, structured procrastination, and making habits/routines so you do some stuff automatically without using executive function.




Date: 2016-10-18 07:28 pm (UTC)
jadelennox: Senora Sabasa Garcia, by Goya (Default)
From: [personal profile] jadelennox
this is seriously useful, thank you. (I have a relatively recent diagnosis of ADHD, but almost certainly also have low-level anxiety disorders.)

The funny thing is, when it comes to writing academic work, this is something I taught myself decades ago: the way to start writing a paper is to start with typing "4 score and 7 years ago beep boop floopy winnie the boop," for a few sentences --the tiniest thing, which is to say, opening up and saving a wordprocessor document, and adding some text to it--and then the rest of it becomes a lot less scary. But I have never managed to extrapolate from that to anything else, even to writing something that is not an academic paper (e.g. emails, fiction).

Date: 2016-10-19 12:56 am (UTC)
princessofgeeks: (Default)
From: [personal profile] princessofgeeks
This is brilliant. Thank you.

Date: 2016-10-19 08:12 am (UTC)
lenores_raven: (keyboard)
From: [personal profile] lenores_raven
The only thing I found helpful for myself is to write... I have a list of things (without any specifics, just areas) I'd like to do every day, and then I start to write. Something like this:

Design: Ok... I guess I should do something... But I dunno. Let's open the damn program. Ok. Now let's open the damn file. Ok. * Sighs * Whatta do now? Ooh, the window needs recoloring... I start with the window then.

Without the writing thing my attention tends to go places (places both wonderful and strange :-)). And with standard prioritizing / scheduling / planning I just feel too bad when I fail something. :-/ Plus, the feeling of dread you wrote about, sometimes can get me into 'I don't care about anything anymore, leave me alone, dat was too much stress'. For me personally, pros for prioritizing / scheduling / planning never can beat cons. I tried and I failed. :-)

With my actual job (the money one), I just start every day with loud music and sing scream along. :-))

Date: 2016-10-19 08:18 am (UTC)
lenores_raven: (james hetfield)
From: [personal profile] lenores_raven
indywind, I accidentally answered to you instead of the post! Sorry. :-) * I forgot to wear my glasses again *

Date: 2016-10-18 07:25 pm (UTC)
jadelennox: Senora Sabasa Garcia, by Goya (Default)
From: [personal profile] jadelennox
just today I had a conversation with therapist, where I told her about something terrifying I had done, and she asked me "okay, great, and what made you actually accomplish that thing?" and I said, well, the cost of doing that thing wasn't "friend will be mad at me," it was "might lose my health insurance." It's amazing how much of my ability to accomplish things is based 100% on fear.

Date: 2016-10-18 07:30 pm (UTC)
kaberett: Overlaid Mars & Venus symbols, with Swiss Army knife tools at other positions around the central circle. (Default)
From: [personal profile] kaberett
I seriously outsource as much executive function as possible to Regularly/Wunderlist/my todo-tada lists/A.

Date: 2016-10-18 09:53 pm (UTC)
sporky_rat: A fierce looking woman with a freakishly painful looking mouth brace/guard (need to shut up)
From: [personal profile] sporky_rat
This. Plus the glee in crossing it out. (So far that hasn't burnt out yet.)

(I'm waiting for it to do so.)

Date: 2016-10-19 12:52 am (UTC)
princessofgeeks: (Default)
From: [personal profile] princessofgeeks
You are amazing.

Here is my suggestion, and of course it might not work for you and you know best.

If you are in a framework that has changed from THIS IS AN EMERGENCY GET GOING, then you actually have some freedom and breathing space to CHOOSE what you want to do. And you can engage your long-range and short-range brain to do so. If everything is an emergency, there is no time to develop something that we all need, which is delayed gratification. Doing something workish now so that you can have the benefit later. Work now, play later.

When everything is an emergency, all those nuances get lost.

I so get how you can talk yourself out of clean laundry in favor of Netflix, and to a certain extent those are valid choices!

But if you want to actually set some priorities, the old tried and true method of making lists is actually very effective for me.

I make a random list of everything I think I should get done for a SPECIFIC TIME FRAME. It might be this day, it might be tomorrow, it might be the month of November, it might be the next four hours. Whatever.

Then once I have all the things listed, I go through the list and number them in order of priority.

Then I work my way down the list.

When the time has run out, I stop. Or when I get to quitting time, 5 p.m., or whatever time you set for the day being over.

(Sleep counts as a priority.)

Then the next day I start with the dregs of that list and add whatever needs to be added.

This works for me very well and it's very satisfying to cross or check things off.

Good luck, and I am so glad you are moving and growing and changing. I am cheering for you.

Date: 2016-10-19 01:52 am (UTC)
lilysea: Tree hugger (Tree hugger)
From: [personal profile] lilysea
Thank you for this post. ^_^

I relate to A LOT of it.

Am waiting for a taxi, but will hopefully comment more when more time.

Date: 2016-10-19 02:17 am (UTC)
alatefeline: Painting of a cat asleep on a book. (Default)
From: [personal profile] alatefeline
Yeah.

I consciously *tried* motivating myself by making my anxiety spike in high school, since I was NEVER the organized one, my sister was, and I wanted to DO MORE. Then in college I began having *paralyzing* anxiety, that made it impossible to do anything about ***the thing that was making me anxious***, and I'm still digging out from under that.

I guess...I prioritize? I get angry at how screwed up things are? I remind myself that I love my job / friends / books / etc? I take breaks, a LOT of breaks. I set a timer and stare at a blank screen, possibly with a cup of tea in hand, forbidding myself to do anything *else* but giving myself permission to do a tiny bit and be freaked about it, until I get slightly bored with freaking out and at least START on the Thing. Sometimes I FAIL to do the thing. I often ask for help and sometimes I get it. I identify things that, if done, make doing other things easier. I recognize that sometimes I'm gonna be too tired to give a hoot. I remind myself that I *like* the effects of getting certain things done. I make lists. I give myself rewards. I try to be realistic about my energy and time (and sometimes fail). I notice my successes. I ride my hyperfocus when it happens to be pointed in a helpful direction (not nec. recommended). I argue with my partner about chores and worries (REALLY not recommended). I de-stress before and after things. I practice physical self-care and try to appreaicte beauty. I fall down and pick myself up. There's a lot of shit that I don't get done, but of the things I do get done, some are pretty awesome. I'm a work in progress, and so is everyone else.

Date: 2016-10-19 09:53 am (UTC)
shehasathree: (hugs)
From: [personal profile] shehasathree
ahahahaHI. you are wonderful, thank-you for posting about this.
(omfg, so much solidarity for that "if i don't finish this essay i could end up dying in a gutter" chain with all the steps illustrated so it's not technically irrational. because my parents said they would support me while i was studying (but not if i wasn't) and kept pressuring me that i should get a "real" (full-time) job when i graduated, and had clearly demonstrated that they thought that "tough love" was a good and appropriate motivator, and didn't understand that my physical and emotional health issues were real and disabling. Hell, it's been nearly 10 years of living with Steve and i'm still getting a little panicky thinking about it. And almost anyone i would've tried to explain that too would've thought i was being irrational and ridiculous, although some would have been kind enough not to say so to my face. So, just: ♥

Date: 2016-10-19 03:03 pm (UTC)
altamira16: Tall ship at dusk (Default)
From: [personal profile] altamira16
Wait, you have extra ribs. Can we update the gnostic texts for this scenario? Clearly you do not have extra ribs. You have the right number, and the rest of humanity was derived from you.

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