Finding My Motivation: ADHD, Anxiety, Depression and Sustainable Productivity

There are times in my life when I’m hyper-productive and hyper-focused, as they call it in ADHD speak. I stay up all night and re-build my entire blog or write 10 blog posts to fill the next month of my publishing calendar. I love focusing so intensely on something for a short period of time that the output appears greater than the number of hours I put into the project.

I’ve never been good at doing what I’m supposed to do. It started when I was a little girl. My father says I was “rebellious.” I always had a thing against authority figures. Maybe that’s because my father would hit me with a belt when I didn’t comply. Legal discipline, not child abuse, but still messes up one’s sense of self. I still remember him calling me angrily down to his bedroom where he would, in a typical weekday evening, rip out his leather belt and with a flaming hot anger in his eyes whip me for not cleaning my room. In therapy last week I realized I was about 3 to 7 years old at the time this happened, and it happened fairly frequently. I never cleaned my room. To this day, it’s a mess.

Being an adult means finding your own motivation to get shit done. I don’t like to blame any sort of mental health issues for my lack of ability to sustainably produce quality work (and to clean my room) but there’s something off with me and my motivation. I have an addiction to big wins, and have no interest in little ones. I’d rather wait until my room is covered with mile-high piles of clothes and papers to have a marathon cleaning session that feels so, well, cleansing. Just putting my laundry away on a regular basis reaps no emotional reward.

I struggle with accepting mental health disorders for what they are. If you read the diagnosis criteria for Adult ADD I’m a textbook case. Does this mean ADD is real? Which came first, the ADD or the anxiety? The depression or the ADD? They say these things are often “co-morbid” but knowing myself and myself only I make the case that ADD is just the result of a certain kind of anxiety… and that anxiety is the result of a certain kind of parenting. I’m sure genetics plays into it a bit, but ultimately I doubt I’d be the distracted, unable to focus person I am today if I grew up in a more loving and calming household. Instead, I grew up listening to my parents scream at each other, my father emotionally and occasionally physically abusing my mother, and my father’s rage being the accepted norm – fueling my current addiction to crazy versus boring old stability and GSD.

The Downward Spiral – I’ve Been Here Before

I’m on my way to getting let go. Fired.  I would have been laid off sooner except the guy they were trying to hire secretly behind my back took another job. If I could only tell all these neurotic voices in my head to shut up and get them to listen – if only I could just focus and get through a list of projects, I could – maybe, for a while anyway, save myself. But, there’s more to it than that. The anxiety starts to build up when I look at the list of things I need to accomplish and my success isn’t mine to control. Even if I got through the entire list, I could very well still fail. It’s not that I’m afraid of failure, I’m afraid of failing en route to failure because my anxiety gets in the way. And I don’t believe I have what it takes to do the job well. I don’t have the natural ability or ability to learn.

To do my job – to do it well anyway – beyond just getting things done,  I need to be a people person. I need to network and build relationships and trust internally on my own team, across teams and especially with my boss. I need to do the same thing with our customers and potential customers. That type of relationship building requires two things – one, a personality that people like, and two, consistency. You can’t just have one big win – one great interaction, and then you’re done. You must do this over and over and over again. I just can’t do that. I know, I know, my therapist and other smart folk’s advice that I shouldn’t concern myself with the future, only with the now. But I know myself too well. I know how hard it is to work one event and go up to someone I don’t know and try to have a conversation. I know I could study how to be someone other than myself – what to say, when to say it – to be a student of the human psyche and learn how to always say the right things that in turn builds my network and makes me much more successful than I am today.

But I don’t have the energy. I don’t want to do it. Nearing my mid 30s, I’ll admit defeat. It was nice while it lasted. I saved a good amount of money. I mastered the art of convincing people I’m worth being hired for fairly senior-level roles. I occasionally take on interviews for new positions with senior executives just to remind myself how far I’ve come. I’m still not a shoo in for these roles (far from it) as I need to have better quantifiable stories and cases to speak to (a focus right now) but I’ve definitely become more hirable than I was 10 or even 5 years ago.

Would a Career Change Help At All?

But now I’m wondering if there’s a career out there that I could do which would not be so draining. Even on a good day I come home from work exhausted. I try to cook a dinner and eat it with my husband for a few minutes before either passing out or staying up too late browsing the internet. My weekends, sans kids, at least enable me to sleep in late and/or get up and be too tired to do anything creative or fun. I’m not complaining about this, I could clearly change my attitude – I could focus on going to sleep earlier and scheduling things to do for the weekend in advance so I’m forced to get out of the house. Maybe not doing this is an aspect of depression because I don’t really want to – well, I don’t want to interact with other people other than my husband and I like him because he’s quiet and introverted and can be silly with me or can leave me alone and he isn’t offended. But I don’t have any desire to go do anything when I don’t have to be doing. And, I’ve got a house to clean.

Some escape by watching movies or reading fiction, I get away from it all by devouring stories of career changers and the day-to-day life of other careers. The grass is AWALYS greener, and I don’t want to give up my current career before I’ve genuinely convinced myself that there is a better fit for me in the wide world of jobs. I struggle with my current career for a number of reasons – some which can be resolved, at least temporarily. But the amount of energy it takes to achieve a modicum of success in my current industry seems to be a recipe for disaster down the line. A message board post on career changing in one’s 30s I read today reminded the original poster that she had 30 more working years of her life ahead of her, and either she could spend those 30 years doing what she is doing now, or, eventually, do something different.

There’s also research into how if you’re struggling with your job in your 20s and 30s you will have worse health in your 40s and beyond. And then I read a heartbreaking story of a woman in her late 30s with ALS who had killed herself through assisted suicide because she was about to die a horrible, painful death and I was reminded how short life or can be. I put all of these independent thoughts together and then glanced around at my desk and the workers around me – all in their 20s and 30s, mostly 20s, all staring at their computer screens and getting work done in our desks piled next to each other in a large room with absolutely no privacy. I stared at my hands, which I review occasionally to grasp my aging process, and ignore as often as possible. I, like every other day, had a moment where I panicked. Quietly. Without my direct reports and peers noticing. I screamed inside my head so loud I swore someone must have heard.

Jobs are jobs. I am very fortunate that I make money – and good money at that – doing something that doesn’t require painful hours slaving away in the hot sun or mining for gold miles under the earth. Even though I work for a small, younger company, I have a pretty cushy corporate job all things considered. I’m throwing all that away every day I come in late or week I don’t complete my projects. I blame myself entirely for this. I don’t see how I’d be better in another career, except the part where I wouldn’t necessarily have to come up with the projects myself or be responsible for their outcomes – but then I’d be bored.

My therapist says I’m a contradiction. Or that I contradict myself all the time. I do. I have to work. I hate working. But I also love working. I would hate to not work. Hence, the contradiction. I don’t like responsibility – but without it, life feels meaningless (not to mention that I can’t afford to live without it.) I think about becoming a self-help personality like Ramit Sethi of “I Will Teach You to Be Rich” or James Altchuler of “Choose Yourself” and then I bust out laughing thinking of ME being a “self help guru” when most days I can’t even get out of the house.

Can you make a living off honesty?

I want to make money doing something that I’m passionate about. Slash, I want to get paid for something I can do sustainably well that provides value to others. I’m an ENFP/INFP through and through – which has no place in the tech business world where everyone in a “J.” I do like to help other people and provide advice but I can’t see myself as a therapist (though maybe it would be ideal to have a job that isn’t focused on creating something tangible each day – maybe LISTENING and providing advice is a career I could sustain – I am pretty good when it comes to helping other people handle fucked up situations, just not my own.) When I was younger, I didn’t connect with my religion or any religion. I was raised Jewish and went to temple and had a big fancy Bat Mitzvah which I went along with only because I wanted a party (never mind that I didn’t have a lot of friends to come to the party.) But I always lt that as long as you could be honest – to be open about all of your demons and angels and everything in between, then someone else could be helped from that because we all put way too much effort on trying to be normal when in reality we’re just a bunch of animals who are on this earth for a very short period of time…

I thought maybe if I could be honest about being afraid and unsure and a mess, then others would feel better about their own supposed abnormalities. Those of us who wake up and go to work and come home late at night to do it all again the next day are slowly eating away at a life that is short and may become further abbreviated due to an unknown genetic mutation or being hit by a car.

But I’m not one of those early retirement gurus. Retiring seems awful unless you physically have to. Maybe I’ll change my mind when/if I have kids, but life is about creating. And, in most cases, one needs money to create. And, unless you want to be an artist, those creations should have some value to others which can be sold in exchange for cold hard cash. Even If I didn’t NEED money to live, I’d still want to be creating something of value.

I watched this “quarterlife” book author give a talk at a conference this week. He seemed nice enough – but I was unimpressed. How does he get to write a book and travel the country talking about how to better manage millennials? The answer is pretty simple –he DID it. He DOES it. He wrote a book (maybe it’s good, I haven’t read it) and now he gets to speak at conferences as an expert on millennials. Is he any more qualified t be an expert on millennials than I am? But, then, maybe I’m just jealous because he wrote a book and has built a brand and has F1000 VPs and CEOs singing his praises. He gets to travel around and talk for a living (and write). He’s a best selling author.

Meanwhile I fucked up a book deal I had a half decade ago. Yes, I had a book deal. It wasn’t for a self-help book. It was a business book about a particular topic and after I had contract in hand and signed with a full approved outline I freaked out and didn’t write a page. The topic was more of a trend, so it might be best in the long term to not have my name so publicly attached to it – but, I gave up a book deal. Dodged a bullet or shot myself on that one, I’m not so sure. But that opportunity is long gone.

That’s not to say I couldn’t revive my fledgling career as an author by writing a book of a topic of my choosing, but that takes a lot of focus that I don’t have. Maybe I need to take some Adderall, lock myself in a room for a year, and just do it. I don’t know. I don’t have a heck of a lot of faith in myself.

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3 comments

  1. Ella says:

    I think you’d make a great programmer. You seem analytical and creative. There’s no pressure on programmers to have a certain personality or good people skills. Plus, there’s a lot of flexibility when it comes to arriving late or working from home. As for work-life balance, there’s a lot of variation from company to company, but there are still plenty of places offering 40-45 hour workweeks.

    I myself signed up for one of those 3 month programming bootcamps, and managed to completely change my career. It took several months, including the bootcamp and an internship right afterwards, but is still a much better investment than something like grad school.

    You’ll probably have to take a pay cut initially to make any career change, but you’ll have a great chance of working your way up to your current income level (or more) as a programmer.

    1. Joy ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      I’ve considered it, but I don’t think I have an engineering mind / the attention to detail to be a programmer. With ADHD it is rather hard to focus and process a lot of information at once. I’m definitely excited by the idea of being an engineer as I would like to be a product manager and that would be the best way to accomplish this goal. However, I am so nervous about becoming a programmer as I think I would be bad at it.

      1. Ella says:

        Yeah, I was worried I would be bad at it too. But the only way to find out is to try. Also, people from my coding bootcamp have gone on to jobs in project management and UX design, in additional to traditional programming. There are many different routes graduates can follow. The market may be starting to get oversaturated in some cities though.

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