Executive dysfunction and planning do not mix well
I love camping.
I love camping, but I hate getting ready for camping.
I wrote last month about my family’s plans for a summer-long camping road trip. I am very excited, and have been for quite some time. We started planning this trip in January, as soon as campground bookings opened.
That is nearly seven months’ notice.
I started preparing yesterday, 3 days before we leave.
Well, not so much actually preparing as preparing to prepare.
I’m very forgetful and my brain can feel very scattered and disorganized, so I try to make lists to ensure I don’t forget anything important.
I like making lists.
I love making pretty looking lists.
I spend an inordinate amount of time making these very nice looking checklists and reminders… then proceeding to not actually use them.
Being the responsible adult he is, my non-ADHD husband begins getting ready a week or two in advance. I, on the other hand, hadn’t even started making my lists at that point, thinking “I still have lots of time!”
Not only do I no longer have lots of time, I am now running out of time.
Executive dysfunction makes planning difficult. People with ADHD frequently underestimate the amount of time a task will take, even when we’ve done the task many times before, and have found ourselves in a position similar to the one I’m in now — rushing around at the last minute.
The other influencing factor is dopamine — or a lack thereof. Well, not really a lack of dopamine, but an inefficiency in how our brains process dopamine.
Anyway, dopamine “deficiency” makes it really tough to motivate ourselves to start a big job, even if it’s tasks in service of something we’re looking forward to. If it’s a lot of work, it can feel very overwhelming, and we have trouble knowing where to start.
“Why don’t you try making a checklist?” people ask.
(Please refer to exhibit A).
We need that “OMG, we leave tomorrow and I have nothing ready!” sense of panic, which releases adrenaline and dopamine, giving us that kick in the ass we need to get going.
Neurotypical people may get a little surge of dopamine much sooner, inciting them to prepare well in advance, making it unnecessary for their brains to send adrenaline coursing through their bodies.
Speaking of inefficiency
When I do finally decide to get started, my process resembles one of those old family circus cartoons with the dotted lines.
Mom asks little Billy to go run an errand for her, then wonders what took so long, and the cartoon shows a dotted line depicting the incredibly circuitous (and fun!) route Billy took.
That’s how I get anything done, in a ridiculously circuitous route.
I shall now direct your attention to exhibit B:
Okay, I need to pack my clothes for the trip.
Brain: You need to do laundry first.
Right. I throw my dirty clothes in the wash.
While I’m waiting for the wash, I start packing the car.
Brain: You need to clean the car first, it’s a mess.
I start cleaning the car and find the book I’ve been searching for.
“Hey, that’s where that books is, I’ve been looking for that! I’d better put it back where it belongs before I forget.”
I head inside and, while putting the book on a bookshelf, I notice the desk in our home office is a mess.
Brain: Yikes, better tidy that before leaving.
I start cleaning my home office, and find a note-to-self reminding me of a work-related task I need to do before leaving for the trip.
Oh shoot, I need to email that client before I go!
Brain: Better do it right now, so you don’t forget again.
I open my laptop, see my Medium draft sitting incomplete on the screen. I resume working on my Medium article, forgetting all about email, laundry, and packing.
Brain: Now singing random lyrics, being not at all helpful.
Gee thanks, brain.
I am currently sitting in the waiting area at my mechanic’s, waiting for my vehicle to be ready. I’ve been here for four hours already, and it will likely be another hour or more before I’m home to finally start packing.
Why am I here, now, when I should be at home getting ready for the trip?
Well, the thing is, I still have winter tires on my vehicle.
I haven’t had my vehicle serviced in two years, and we’re about to spend two months on the road, so it was kind of important.
It was supposed to be a quick one-hour appointment for a tire swap, but of course, since I haven’t been here in two years, lots of maintenance is required. I can’t put it off any longer, because we’re going to be travelling halfway across Canada.
So here I sit, drinking bad coffee and not packing. My laundry sits in the washing machine at home, and I just received a notification that our power is out.
Story update: I finally went to start packing for our trip and found my bag from my May camping trip…. Still packed. Apparently I had taken the dirty laundry out and washed it (thankfully), but left the clean clothes still packed, and didn’t realize for the past month!
My vehicle is still embarrassingly dirty too, by the way.
© Jillian Enright, Neurodiversity MB
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Why Camping is So Good for My Divergent Brain
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Volkow ND, Wang G, Kollins SH, et al. (2009). Evaluating Dopamine Reward Pathway in ADHD: Clinical Implications. JAMA,302(10):1084–1091. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2009.1308