ADHD and Exhaustion

exhausted woman with head on computer

Every woman I talk to mentions ADHD and exhaustion at some point. For that reason I’ve suspected for a while that the fuzzy cotton brain feeling many of us describe isn’t our imagination or another manifestation of poor executive function.

So I was thrilled when this article came out confirming what you and I already know; we with ADHD are f*cking exhausted.

Excuse my language but explaining it feels even more depleting.

I’m so tired: The connection between ADHD and Exhaustion

 

There is a ton of bad advice out there are both ADHD and exhaustion.

When you try to explain you’ll hear the same things over and over, “just take a break from work.” Or, “rest more.” All of these well-meaning recommendations miss the point.

Rationally I know nobody would notice if I switched to writing emails twice a month. Nobody would notice if I only checked into the Enclave once per day, either. And if we’re getting down to the nitty gritty, my editor has no idea if I don’t write anything for weeks at a time.

The things I do for me are the the things that give me energy.

Skipping the things that I’m doing for myself isn’t rest. I’m about as rested after that as I am after running a few miles, or doing “new math” homework with my son.

It’s the everyday struggles that exhaust me.

Everyday Struggles

ADHDers use more energy doing “everyday” things than the normals do running a 5k. I don’t say that to be snarky, but to make a comparison of energy expenditures. And chasing your tail for most of your life can make you grumpy.

On a day-to-day basis we have to make decisions about where to put our energy. I often use my Big Three system to narrow the field for myself and lessen the need for in-the-moment decision making.

Making a short list for the day takes a lot of mental energy.

You might have heard this before, but our brains use up about 20% of our blood glucose just in thinking. And ADHD brains are particularly hungry. We think about all the things.

You want to do ALL the things.

In order for you to do the things and not leak energy all over the place you must practice constraint.

Constraint

Technically, the definition of constraint is a limitation or restriction.

Using myself as an example, I have to practice constraint with my inputs. I plan my days so as to avoid the news, social media, and podcasts. I love all of these things. Not engaging with them feels like a punishment and it’s exhausting to exert so much self-control.

Speaking of self-control, structure and routine makes that slightly easier.

In order to make life work I have to have some structure in place. Building that and tweaking as needed requires a lot of self-awareness. Some days I have it and some days I don’t because ADHD creates barriers to that, too.

Even as I type this I know that if I look at social media and start thinking about something other than this essay, I’ll go down a rabbit hole. By tomorrow I might not even remember I started it.

I have a love/hate relationship with constraint.

The other thing I have a love/hate relationship with is practical stuff like meal planning.

Meal planning

Meal planning isn’t hard but it requires a lot of mental energy.  As such it remains a hot topic in the ADHD space to this day.

I used to write whole Ebooks and speak about meal planning.

Now I feel weary every time someone asks me to talk about it. This is the aftereffect of planning and shopping for what everyone in my home would eat for every meal throughout the last two years.

Meal planning requires a series of small decisions and consideration of many details.

List making is a favorite past time for many of my clients. Indeed, I cannot deny the uncomplicated pleasure of writing out a list of ingredients for meals you may or may not actually prepare. But it doesn’t end with the plan for a few meals.

After that you have to either a) deal with a poorly functioning online ordering system, or b) physically go shopping. Neither of these are preferred activities for most people. These are tedious, soul sucking activities.

Meal planning is a recipe for mental exhaustion. Pun intended. I feel tired just thinking about it.

Calendars and planners

I’m tired of using a planner. Don’t even get me started on fancy bullet journals and stickers and colored pens. No matter how you dress it up, keeping a calendar is still performative because most of us don’t use it.

It takes energy just to write appointments in the planner.

Every time I’m handed one of those little appointment cards, I tell myself I’ll add it to my calendar immediately. In reality, the card usually stays in the cupholder of my car until my husband brings it in and puts it on my laptop.

Sometimes I can’t find the planner for a day or so because it gets buried under mail.

My son’s appointments, lessons, clubs, jujitsu, and other activities I can’t remember also have to be put on the calendar. Once they’re on there I have to consider how to get him from here to there and back again, and how that lines up with my own schedule.

The whole thing is headache inducing. And all of it hinges on whether I actually look at the planner.

Planners are one of those “out of sight out of mind” sorta deals.

Reality bites

No really, the reality of living the ADHD life does kinda bite. The things I list here are just a few of many.

I’ve heard a lot of talk about making the world more, “ADHD friendly.” While I don’t disagree, I think that we need to make the world more brain friendly in general. For everyone.

Multitasking doesn’t work. I’ve been saying it for years and nobody listened because I’m not a social media butterfly, and that’s exhausting, too. Frustration is exhausting.

Bad advice that people call coaching is exhausting.

We’re all just trying to keep it together in hopes that someday we can do some of the stuff we actually want to do.

 The connection between ADHD and Exhaustion is clear.

Dealing with the symptoms of ADHD is mentally exhausting, making it harder for you to do what you want to do.

Show me someone with ADHD who doesn’t feel tired. Show me someone who doesn’t feel resentful that we have to work this hard, and think this hard, just to have some semblance of a life.

The ADHD “stuff” that gets in the way is what makes you tired.

Clearly I don’t have a solution in this article. I’m just pointing out the obvious.

If ADHD and exhaustion is a part of your life I’d love to hear more about it.

Recap:

  • Every adult I know with ADHD is exhausted
  • ADHD gets in the way of doing what you want to do
  • Normals don’t understand why you’re so tired
  • You use more energy for everyday tasks than someone without ADHD

 

If you’re interested in a safe, private, inclusive space to grow in your self-awareness check out the Enclave. Life is better when we’re in it together!

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