As I write this, our family has just entered our seventh week of sheltering in place. Gone are the days when I saw my husband off to work and my kiddo off to school before enjoying eight hours of uninterrupted solitude.
To say this has affected my writing feels inadequate. However, I’m also meeting my deadlines. I finished edits on the first part of one novel manuscript and began drafting another. I’ve struggled to find my stride many days, maybe even most days, but I’ve also had plenty of satisfying moments in my work. My writing life has evolved, not withered.
I credit this to an unexpected source of wisdom. For the past six years, I’ve written about and for adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). My personal experiences with ADHD have fueled hundreds of thousands of words and many hours of research and reflection. Though I often write about the most challenging times in my life, those challenges are not without value.
In fact, they’ve taught me everything I know about coping with our present set of hardships — and how to sustain my writing and creative work no matter what.
You know how “everyone struggles sometimes?” Well, this is sometimes.
One of the most irritating things someone can say to me in a conversation about ADHD is, “Yeah, but that kind of stuff happens to everybody.” Sure it does, but it’s not everybody’s baseline.
ADHD’s constellation of symptoms stem from the brain chemistry we’re born with. It’s lifelong and it can be debilitating. However, anyone can experience acute symptoms that mimic ADHD when they’re under enough stress.
We’ve officially exceeded the threshold of “enough stress.” This is one of those times when yes, everyone might feel like they suddenly have ADHD. Our brains are enduring a lot right now. Expect to experience more:
- Big emotions
- Wide mood swings
- Faulty perception of time
- Trouble motivating yourself to do even the simplest things
- Inability to think about multiple things at once (even if it’s just the sequence of your morning routine)
- Overwhelm, overwhelm, overwhelm, often leading to paralysis
In other words, accept that you might be working with a fraction of your normal executive functioning capacity.
Accepting reality doesn’t mean checking out.
That said, don’t make excuses not to show up. We don’t know how long this will last. Our natural stress response might explain our struggle to keep writing. We get to decide whether it gives an excuse to quit.
Some folks — at least at first, and at least with their public Twitter personas — seem to think we’re sitting on a huge opportunity. Didn’t Shakepeare do his best work during a pandemic?
I caution against expecting anything of the sort. For some of us, showing up feels hard enough without the pressure to create something momentous.
Showing up doesn’t have to be impressive. Many of us want something to show for ourselves at the end of the day. I sure do. However, I’ve learned to adjust my definition of what “something to show for myself” means. Sometimes we have to be content with showing up and nothing more.
If the words came slowly and painfully today, if you only wrote fifty words and will probably delete them tomorrow, that’s okay. Your efforts still mean something. Showing up counts. Just because we’re struggling doesn’t mean we’re lost.
Accepting reality does mean accommodating our changing needs.
I also have a much easier time showing up every day when I take care of my brain and meet it halfway. This pandemic situation has lowered my ability to function at my definition of normal, too. Things I’d previously managed on autopilot have suddenly become difficult. I’ve had to adjust.
If you want to have mental space for creative work, take pressure off your brain in other areas. Maybe you’ve started losing track of details you used to keep in your head just fine. Instead of continuing to drive yourself crazy, start writing everything down. Put things on your calendar you wouldn’t have needed to before. Ask for help with chores to give you extra time to decompress. I bought a pair of noise-canceling headphones for an occasional break from background noise while everyone’s at home. Even the simplest tweaks can feel like a huge relief.
Bottom line: our brains have different needs now than they would normally. The more accepting we are of that reality, the more we can do to nurture our creative selves. I just keep reminding myself: it is what it is! Do whatever works, any progress is good progress, and we’re all taking it one day at a time.