ADHD and control – The dangers that come from feeling out of control all the time

This is a hard one to talk about, a difficult one, even for myself to understand. ADHD brains tend to be impulsive, they don’t have control or schedules, they just do things without thinking, do whatever it is that comes to their minds. And this is true, also for me. But in the 27 years of living with my ADHD devil I learned how to control his impulsivity, I learned that the more I plan things, the more I control things, the smaller the chance that he will take over.

Phase 1 : Impulsive

As a teenager, before my ADHD diagnosis, I was completely taken over by my impulsivity, I did whatever I wanted, when I wanted. If I had to go to school but I wanted to go to a bar and drink the whole day, I went to the bar. If I promised a friend to help her paint her room but some other friends went to a great party, I went to the party. If I was just bored with my life (which happened really fast) I went on a trip to meet new people in a city I had never been to before. To be honest I loved this life, I always did the thing I wanted to most, I never forced myself into anything. But especially when I went to university and I got my diagnosis I knee I could not life like this the rest of my life, and I needed to start controlling my impulses.

My medication, the Ritalin, helped a lot with this, I experience much less feelings when I take them so also joy became less important to me. But my medication works during the day, after 5.30 PM my feelings come back and joy becomes important once again. At first I thought this was fine, during the day I did what I was supposed to do, and in the nights I could have my fun. But the nights started to affect my day, I went to parties almost every day, I drunk too much, in the mornings I did not wake up in time to take my first pill and sometimes the impulsivity could take over for days. I thought I was in control but I definitely was not.

I think about 6 months after my first Ritalin I experienced how much out of control I was. I had a deadline for an essay, about the similarities between women and great architecture. The teacher and the topic where a little weird but I was really interested in writing about this and I spend 3 days in my room writing the perfect essay. On the day of the deadline I finished, I was proud, and I figured I could get some dinner before reading it one more time to make sure there where no typos when I would send it. But when I was in the kitchen looking for food I received a text from a friend that lived 2 hours away by train. He was having a party that night and he asked if I wanted to come and stay over. Unfortunately my medication just stopped working and I decided to go, and stay the whole weekend. On Monday afternoon, when I got back home, I saw an email from the teacher, he never received my essay and if I would decide to send something, he would have to lower my grade by 2 points, because it was too late. At this point I realized I had to not only use my medication as a way to control my ADHD but also start to have some control over myself, by myself. A couple weeks later I found out I got a 7 for my essay, imagine what it would have been if I would just have had a little bit more control, if I would have just thought about sending it before I left for the not-even-great party.

Phase 2 : Planning

In the years after this I started to try to have more control over my life, over the things I was doing. I started planning, not only study and work related things, but also my social life and things like going to the gym or going shopping. I found out that whenever I was planning the things I had to do, I could control my ADHD taking over. I started to have control over my excessive drinking and partying as long as I planned these nights, and planned the things I had to do the day after. I could leave parties early, decide to stay home instead of visiting my friends, stop wasting my money on things I did not need at all. As long as I was planning every part of my life I mostly could stick to the planning and not get carried away by an impulsive need for more joy.

But in these years I also noticed that whenever something was not planned I was able to completely loose control again. Even if a friend would show up at my door unexpectedly or if I could leave work more early that I was supposed to, or even if I would meet my friends in a different bar than I was expecting, my impulsivity took over, I lost the feeling of time and responsibilities and sometimes it would take days before I was able to follow my planning again. And this is when the weird thing happened, I started being afraid of impulsivity.

Phase 3 : Controlling

The last years of university I came to a state in which I tried to control everything. I never did something spontaneously, I never went to places I did not know, I never met people I did not know. Just to make sure I would not give the ADHD devil a chance to take over. When I went to a party I would even plan before what I could drink, and how many glasses I could have, who to talk to and what to talk about. If I would meet my friends I would make sure we would go to a clear and known location, that we had something to do or something to talk about, and that there was an end time to it. The night before I had to something that was not fully planned I would spend hours figuring out the different possibilities and try to prepare for those, I would make scripts for myself for all the different options, and if it turned out that none of them where correct, I would leave, and go plan the next thing. I had cut away all my impulses, thought myself to never listen to them, never do anything that is not analyzed by the logical part of my brain. I did not realize this, but I had giving up on having fun and joy in my life, nothing was real anymore, everything became a puppet show, controlled by my script, by my expectations, and as soon as I encountered something that was not supposed to happen according to my script I ran from it, as far away as I could.

But then I started my thesis, the last year of university, and for my research I was depending on other people. The people I worked with would come late, change the appointments we made together, do less than I was expecting them to do, take more time than I expected them to take because of questions they wanted to ask me or decide to go for drinks after we had finished the work. And I could not run away from this, I could not change them, I discovered I had to change myself and find a way to control the uncontrollable if I would ever want to be able to survive the life after university.

Phase 4 : Balance

I’m now at a stage in which the main things I have to do in a day are planned, controlled actually. When I will be at the office, what I’ll have to do there, when I will go to the gym, when I’ll see my boyfriend and when I have to preform my housewife duties. But, I did thought myself that things change, that things will not always go according to my planning or the way I want them to be. Not only because of other people, but also because of myself, my values can also change, I might want to do yoga instead of going boxing, I might want to stay in bed instead of doing my groceries at 8 AM on Saturday, I might want to stay a bit late at work to finish something instead of reaching my boyfriends house at 7 PM sharp. And it’s ok, these changes are human, I am not a robot.

I try to make my current planning less time based, less strict, more like bubbles of things I have to do, that can overlap and move in time. I try to focus on the things I have to do in the entire day, or even the entire week, the important thing is that I finish these things within that timeframe and not the time at which I finish them and move on to the next. This way I expect less, I give myself more freedom while still being in control. The same goes for locations, I don’t need to know which bar we go to or where I have an office meeting, I focus on the thing that will happen on this not yet determined location, and wherever it might happen does not influence what will happen.

When it comes to the things I will not know, I am still struggling a little. My boyfriend took me on a trip to Bulgaria a couple of weeks ago, I did not know where we would stay, where we would eat, how long it would take us to get there, if his sister and her husband would join or what our days would look like. There where times before the trip that I started analyzing all the possibilities, try to plan all the things that could happen, until I went crazy because I just did not know. Instead of trying to figure out all the possible things that could happen on the trip, I started writing down my thoughts, or questions actually and my boyfriend could easily answer them, most of them. I always tell my boyfriend, if I ask you something related to my planning, only tell me the things you’re sure about and be honest about the things that are not certain or you simply don’t know. So about the trip there were certain parts he also did not know, or we couldn’t plan and I have to be ok with those as well.

I developed a method to handle the things I can not plan, the things that might change, the impulsive things in life. I no longer try to run away from them, I no longer try to write a collection of scripts for them and I no longer let them summon the ADHD devil inside me. I add them to my planning as the unknown bubble, I tell myself that there is a thing on my planning, from which I vaguely know the time, and vaguely know the location and the subject, but not any other details. I know that when this bubble pops up on my planning I can show the old me, I can be the impulsive and fun me, I can enjoy and loose a little control, but just for the duration of this bubble. When it ends I will be back in control and this is way I always surround my unknown bubble with known ones. As long as my impulsivity has a beginning and an end I will never get out of control, I can loose control while still being in control and I will always be able to go back to normal but I do have a change to have fun and enjoy life.

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