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ADHD, Anxiety and the glass bowl.

by Simon Curtis 6 months ago in disorder · updated 6 months ago
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How do ADHD adults manage their anxiety?

It seems that the challenges of being an adult with ADHD is often overlooked. The majority of us have lived with it so long we have subconsciously developed strategies that mean we don’t regularly consider them as challenging. In fact we tend to utterly ignore them which on a day to day basis is unimportant, however being more aware of just how your ADHD brain has adapted to keep you functioning is crucial in keeping you happy and healthy.

Allow me to use myself as an example, and I’m going to use terrible visual analogies. My aim is to try and get those of you with ADHD brains (and maybe those without) to think a little differently about how they work.

I’m not going to talk about all of the strategies I had come up with over three decades or so. Maybe I might discuss that at some other point, but for now I want to talk about how the ADHD had a direct and significant impact on pushing me towards and beyond unmanageable anxiety. To do this I am going to use the image of a glass bowl to illustrate it.

Let me broaden this for you, if I was to say that we all have a ‘bowl’ of some sort that we use to keep our tasks in and we are responsible for managing them. When we start a task we drop it into the bowl when we complete a task we take it out and at some point in our day we put the bowl down and rest from having carried it around.

My bowl, well it was glass, in fact it still is. I happily filled it with tasks, problematically it wasn’t just my tasks, if anyone was to ask me to help them, well there was space in my bowl, if anyone had an additional task they wanted me to do, in the bowl it went, ultimately my bowl was full and kept filling.

The main problem for my ADHD brain was that my rather than a bowl in which you could see a couple of tasks at the top because of my glass bowl I could see them all, at once, all of the time. When I took a task out I would end up rummaging around in the bowl and taking out a handful and putting them back, usually with another couple for good measure.

The fact that it never emptied drove my anxiety, what made it worse was that this bowl never left my hands, whatever I was doing, wherever I was, the bowl was there showing me everything I had to do, and it was getting heavier as it filled and harder to take my eyes off it. If it had just been a full bowl that would be hard but with ADHD mine was glass and I could see everything in it.

I managed to carry on for far longer than I would ever give myself credit for. The only tasks I felt I had control over were the ones that were entirely selfish, that is, those that gave me pleasure and relaxation, so they never made it in.

Whenever and wherever I was, that full glass bowl would stare at me, I’d rummage around it at dinner, driving to work, spending time with my family. It became my sole focus.

Then, one day the bowl became too heavy and it smashed. My focus had been solely on the bowl, it had obscured the health problems that had crept up making it harder to hold but no less easy to fill. It had become so heavy that I couldn’t hold it any more and down it came.

At the time, as much as it seemed a disaster with all of those tasks now scattered on the floor around me, it was a relief. A massive relief, and a wake up call of spectacular proportions.

I stepped back and with the help of professionals, some excellent books and most importantly an immensely patient and supportive wife I was finally able to see myself from the outside.

So what did I do? Well the truth is, my ADHD brain will always be that glass bowl, I can’t change that. But being more aware of that has been so important. What I have changed is what I put into it. I recognised that while I can’t stop myself from being ultra aware of what is in there, I can take more control of what goes in. It took a complete career change, but one that has given me sole control of what goes into the bowl and when.

Now when the bowl starts to get half full I can stop putting things in. I am in control of it now and that bowl, well some weeks it can get quite full, but I know, because I am judging what goes in, that by the weekend it will be either empty or more than manageable. I do still look at it in it’s entirety I’m always hyper-aware of what is in there but it never gets too full. Oh, and sometimes I take things out, that is a big difference. If something is sat there and begins to nag, if it isn’t that important, because it’s my task. I can take it out and put it back in later.

Perhaps the biggest difference is that I now put the bowl down. Not only do I put it down, I put it away and cover it. It doesn’t stay in my hands as I go to sleep, it doesn’t sit with me when I watch rubbish telly at night, it’s never in my hands as I drive and at a weekend it’s on the desk in my office.

How did I do that? Well I remembered what I loved to do, just for me. I love horror stories, writing, and drawing and when I put the bowl down I pick up a pencil or a book. When I drive I put audible on. I have re-read my favourites by HG Wells, Lovecraft, MR James and Jules Verne. I re-bought the Usborne Book of Ghosts that had such an influence on me as a kid, revisited the artwork from War of the Worlds, and the short lived Scream comics. I’ve also started submitting my short ghost stories to a website (where nobody reads them except me but who cares?). I’m too occupied to go looking for the bowl, let alone pick it back up. The brain fog has gone, the anxiety nowhere to be seen and the weight that bowl brought with it has gone.

If you are a adult, with an ADHD brain, if you can, take a moment just to look at that glass bowl you’re holding. If you can’t put it down right now hold it at arm’s length and ask yourself, who is in control of your bowl?


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Simon Curtis

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