Bad ADHD Symptom Day? Learn How To Best Support Yourself

Last week I had one of those days when my brain’s executive functions decided to skip work.

I reserved the day for writing and recording the podcast, but my prefrontal cortex was having none of it.

My brain felt foggy.

I struggled to organize my ideas.

And I was even more distracted than usual.

Have you been there before?

As an ADHDer, these days aren’t uncommon.

But let’s be honest; that doesn’t make them any easier when they happen.

So what can we do on days like this?

How can we support ourselves when your executive functions seemingly “left the building?”

That’s exactly what I talk about in episode 131 of the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast.

You can listen to the episode above or stream it on your favorite podcasting app here:  

Prefer to read? No problem! Keep scrolling for the entire podcast transcript.

In This Episode, You Will Discover… 

  • The role executive functions play in the brain
  • How to feel acceptance and compassion when you’re having an “off day”
  • How to best support yourself when these days happen

Links From The Podcast

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Episode #131: Bad ADHD Symptom Day? Learn How To Best Support Yourself (Transcript)

Hey, everybody! Welcome to the podcast. How are you? 

I’ve got to tell you, I feel like I should begin this episode with the disclaimer that my executive functions have left the building. And if that reference is strange to you – back in the 50s when the rock and roll musician Elvis Presley was performing shows for 1000s and 1000s of screaming fans, this was a phrase that the concert venue owners would say over the microphone.

After the show ended, people would stand around screaming and cheering and applauding, hoping for another encore. And a venue staff person would come over the speaker system and say “Elvis has left the building.” There’s not going to be an encore. He is done. He’s gone. The show’s over. Go home.

And right now, it seems apropos to announce that Paula’s executive functions have left the building. They’re done. They’re gone. The show’s over. It’s time to go home. And I don’t mean this for you. This show’s not over yet. But it seems to be something I’m hearing loud and clear myself. Paula; the show’s over. Go home.

Executive Functions

Let me give you a little more context. Today is podcast day. It’s my admin day when I don’t have coaching calls books. And it has been one of those days where my prefrontal cortex decided not to show up for work. My brain is pretty foggy. I’m having a hard time getting started on things. And if I do get started, I just want to do procrastiwork or things that feel easy.

And even though I genuinely want to sit down and share some new ideas I’ve been thinking about with all of you. In fact, I’m quite excited about them. My mind is just moving slower than usual today. It’s almost like I’ve taken nighttime cold meds this morning and I’m trying to work through that. I didn’t of course, but to give you a general idea of how I’m feeling.

And here’s the deal. This happens sometimes. In fact, I think it happens to everyone generally – we all have these days when we don’t have that clarity we like. And I think it happens specifically for ADHDers probably more often than we’d like. Our executive functions decide to take the day off and they don’t give any notice for this vacation time.

And for those of you who are newer to the podcast or the term executive functions is unfamiliar to you, this is essentially the skills housed in your prefrontal cortex – if you tap on your forehead right between your eyes – that’s generally the area I’m talking about. It is the last part to develop in the human brain. And it basically handles all the adulting things. Focus, attention, and memory. Organization of your stuff. Time management – or lack of management – and planning. Cognitive flexibility and transitions. Emotional regulation. And impulsivity. 

For the ADHDer, this part of the brain is literally underdeveloped so that’s why it’s often much harder for us to tend to some or all of these areas at different times.  And it’s why many of us get additional support through medication, therapy, and coaching to help us build those skills.

Finding Acceptance

And I’m sharing this as a reminder that it does happen. And when it does happen, it doesn’t mean something’s gone wrong. It doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong. It simply is. And on days like this, getting to a place of acceptance of “what is” is step one. 

For me, this looks like: okay. Here’s where I’m at today. My brain feels foggy. Things aren’t as clear. I’m thinking more slowly and words feel hard. It’s more challenging than usual to stay focused. It’s harder to transition into and out of tasks. My emotions are higher; I’m feeling more sensitive than usual – like crying at cute puppy videos level sensitive. This is where I’m at. And that’s okay.

Now as I mentioned, today is podcast day, so I did intend to work on the episode for this week. But I definitely had a different topic in mind. I’ve been playing around with some new ideas and questions and am excited to share them with you. But today, each time I tried to get these ideas out of my head and into a structure that makes sense, it wasn’t happening. It felt forced. It wasn’t flowing.

And because I’ve done a lot of work to better understand my brain and how to work with it, I have gotten pretty good at knowing when I’m in resistance and don’t want to get started. I know when I need to break down the steps and coach my brain into action so I can move forward.

The area where I’m expanding my awareness is knowing when I need rest. It’s knowing when I’m in a place to allow and accept what is. And this is a very foreign concept to me. Listening to my body and knowing when it’s okay to pause and rest and take care of myself – rather than pushing through – is something I don’t do naturally. I have a feeling that a lot of you can relate to this. Rather than checking in to see how we’re really feeling and learning what our mind and body actually need, we instead push through. 

We think things like, “get it together.” “Stay focused.” “Work faster.” “Get it right.” And then when we do get it done, the brain offers thoughts like, “that shouldn’t have taken so long.” “You could have done more.” And again, I offer this to normalize it and to also call it into question. What if we could approach that differently? What if we learned how to tune in to what we need and give ourselves grace when that need is rest?

So a couple of weeks ago I was on a call with my business coach. And we were talking about this idea of taking care of yourself and your business. So if you’re sick, how do you make sure you’re taking care of your clients while also taking care of yourself? And what about vacations? How do you build that into your life? And I had so much resistance to these ideas. It was really a wake-up call to my mindset because I found myself thinking, that’s so great and so important…for everyone else. But not for me. I have to work. I have to put in the extra time. There isn’t space for breaks.

And during the conversation, I realized that I really took this belief that I developed during grad school, which was the story “I have to work 10x as hard as everyone else just to keep up.” And I brought it with me into my career as a coach and a business owner. I didn’t even realize I had done this, but there it was.

Now here’s the deal, this story had a lot of facts behind it in my previous career. It literally took me a much longer time to read articles, process ideas, and write and share my research. My process time is slow and my short-term memory is awful. So my work required much more time than a neurotypical brain. And I really tried to hide this. When I was working in my field I felt so embarrassed that I couldn’t work as quickly as everyone else. So rather than allowing things to take longer, I worked extra long and pushed myself relentlessly in order to get by without people noticing. 

And since this was the only career path I knew – and working non-stop was the way I had any success – my brain made the connection that it must be the same in other scenarios, too. It must be the same as a coach or a business owner. To have success in this area, I must have to do the same things. I have to push through.

Well, as I think I mentioned on the podcast before, my overarching goal this year is the really reduce that hustle in my business. And not just reduce the hustle, but also continue to overdeliver and help my clients get incredible results. How can I create a situation everyone benefits from this shift?

Creating A World Where You fit

And on the call, my coach offered a really powerful question that I’ve been reflecting on for a few weeks now. She said, “you lived in a world where you had to work really hard to fit in. And now you’ve created a world where you help others make the world fit for them. How do you want to create your own world just for you, so that you don’t even have to try and fit?”

In other words, you get to design your life. What if you designed it so you never have to worry about fitting in? Instead, it’s designed to fit for you. 

And this hit me hard. The idea of having an entire life where I don’t have to hide behind a mask to blend in or push myself extra hard so that I get things done “fast enough” despite the fact that things may take me longer. This question helped me get to a new level of awareness and acceptance. 

Because – as always – this work we do to better understand ourselves is ongoing. It goes deeper and deeper and deeper. And while I’d gotten to the place of acceptance of my ADHD. And I’d accepted the fact that I find certain areas more challenging than others might. I also realized that I hadn’t accepted that I don’t have to hustle. Meaning, I accept that I have ADHD. I accept that things take me longer. And if it takes a typical brain 30 minutes to read an article, it might take 90 minutes. 

But I still had the “should” that I needed to work that extra time. So if a typical brain finished work at 5:00, then I thought this meant that I just had to work until 8:00 instead. It didn’t occur to me that I could do it any other way even though I am the boss of my business and I design my schedule. This was my next level of awareness. How can I build in the additional support, whether that means hiring administrative support or streamlining or automating more things?

Working With Your Brain

And today, as I sit staring at my notebook trying to get the ideas to flow, these questions came back. If my business were built for my brain, it would allow for days when my executive functions decide to skip work. There would be space and breathing room for the times when I need it. And I’d take care of myself. 

And this is a shift for me because normally I’d just push through. I’d force myself to keep working and churn out the next episode with the topic I’d originally had in mind. But not this time. This time I’m leaning into my business that’s built for me and my brain. As I say to my clients time and time again – this is where we’re at today. This is where I’m at today. My executive functions decided not to show up to work, and I’m doing the best I can.

And I hope that you can use this as a reminder for yourself, too. I hope that when you’re having a tough day and your executive functions have left the building, you can take care of what you need. That you give yourself the space and the grace to rest. And that you do so with radical permission and self-compassion. 

Because you, my friend, are busy being awesome. And a busy, awesome life is one that creates space for the entire human experience. It’s one that allows for the full 50/50 experience, as I talked about back in episode 7. It allows for the days when you’re on point, your neurons are firing, and your brain flows with ideas. And it allows for the times when things are extra hard, your brain feels foggy, and you’re moving a bit slower than usual. It’s building a life that creates space for both.

And I invite you today to check in with you. Where are you at? Maybe your neurons are firing and you’re lit up and you’re ready to go. If that’s the case, embrace it. Dive in. Make it happen. And if it’s a day where it’s a challenge. If it’s a day when things are a slog and you have been pushing hard and you need a break. Lean into that too. How can you take care of you? What do you need?

This is the 50/50, and the secret is learning to listen and honor both sides of that coin.

I am going to bundle up and take Bruno for a walk in the fresh air and the sunshine. And then I’m going to check-in and see where I’m at and what I need next. And I hope you make space for yourself to do the same.

Alright, my friends, that’s going to do it for us this week. And if you’re ready to take the concepts you’ve learned on the podcast and apply them to your life. If you’re ready to learn how to design a life that works for and with your ADHD brain to take things to the next level, head over to imbusybeingawesome.com/group. The January group of We’re Busy Being awesome is in full swing, but you can add your name to the waitlist so you’re the first to know when the next round opens.

Also, if you know someone who would love to learn more about designing a life that works for them, would you be a rockstar and share this episode? Each time you do, you help me get these tools to even more people, and I really appreciate it.

Until next time, keep being awesome. I’ll talk with you soon.

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