“Today I refuse to stress myself out over things I can’t control and change. Today I will embrace the flow of life.”
~Unknown and JoyGenea
Webster defines a Continuum as a coherent whole characterized as a collection, sequence, or progression of values or elements varying by minute degrees.
Recently I was reading the book “Brain on Fire” by Susannah Cahalan. It is a true story about a young adult who has a very rare autoimmune disorder that attacks her brain. She loses her ability to regulate her mental health and to the outside world, she appears to be schizophrenic and bipolar and goes past that into the realm of losing her mind.
In sharing her story, Cahalan talked about healing and traveling back through all of the mental health breakdowns in order to get back to being healthy again. To heal, she had to retrace the exact way her brain broke down. Listening to her talk about some of the final phases of this journey was enlightening. For her, not being able to spell, tell time well, or hold her attention on anything, were all annoying but after a little bit, they passed. She would say that it was a day by day, hour by hour thing as far as her ability to navigate around her temporary disabilities. She had some insight into mental stability that many don’t. She was working her way back to what society would consider normal mental health. She had that option and possibility. Isn’t that an idea?
I don’t feel like it is talked about enough in the adult neurodiverse community that each of our disabilities are on a continuum and shift day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute.
There are times when some of my clients come to a meeting unable to string whole sentences together or find the words they are looking for to communicate with me. There are times when they miss the appointment because they thought it was a different day of the week.
There are times when they need to email someone to ask a question and they just can’t start to type it up. They have a total writer’s block and stare at the screen for 10 minutes and do nothing. There are times when we only meet at 7:30 am because most days once noon hits, their brain just stops processing information, and they would not gain anything from our conversation or be able to process it in the moment.
There are times when I need to call and text multiple times to get them up for the day because their sleep schedule is so out of whack that day is night and night is day. There are times, I can hardly spell and if that hour or day lands on a day I have to create something, it is so frustrating. I spend hours doing something that on a good brain day I could do in thirty minutes or less.
I have read four bookshelf rows of books about efficiency in business and how to be more organized with your time. All of them recommend calendars and schedules. I have tried them all, and I have made myself feel like a failure because I couldn’t get any of those techniques to work for me.
This is what I now know to be true – Life on a mental health continuum can’t always exist on a calendar.
I don’t get to pick the days that my brain can’t process well, spell or make meetings on time. In the world of schedules, calendars, and timelines this can be really inconvenient for other people. And it is so emotionally draining and frustrating for me. I want, so hard, to be able to do these things consistently. It can be hard for people who are really gifted with time and function with extreme structure to understand that not everyone’s brain works like theirs. My brain’s function fluctuations are normal. Everyone experiences brain function fluctuation, it’s just that if they are not working hard to hack their way through every day they don’t notice or have awareness of these fluctuations.
These are not excuses, for those of you thinking that. These are facts. Scientific facts. I understand that some people can’t comprehend this, that some people don’t have to deal with this in their life. I am thrilled for you, I really am. I can’t imagine what that would be like. But please stop shaming, blaming and guilting me for not being like you. I didn’t write my DNA code. This is how I arrived in this life, and I am doing the best I can to fit in and be successful. Don’t you think if I could change this I would? I promise you I am doing everything I can to regulate this as much as possible through sleep, diet, water, exercise, medication, counseling, meditation, supplements, staff, and scheduled reboot/recharge times. What I could really use is a little understanding, a little compassion, or if nothing else some non-judgment.
This is one of the biggest issues I see adults with neurodiversity deal with. They don’t understand this fluctuating/continuum brain fact and so they can’t start to create hacks around it or teach others how to support them more on bad days.
If you look at the statistics of neurodiverse people and the quantity of jobs, you will see that the neurodiverse change jobs more often and at greater frequencies than the neurotypical person. You would also find that there are more neurodiverse people in the arts and non-traditional work environments. They have jobs that are immersive, where they can control the schedule and they are not alone, and other people understand them. This is also why so many people with neuro diversities start and lead companies. They become entrepreneurs so that they don’t have to work for someone who sees them as wrong for being who they are, and so that they have the flexibility to use their unique gifts instead of burning out trying to measure up to a neurotypical standard.
Remember the over four shelves of books on organizing? After reading all those books on organizing and time efficiency and working with hundreds of clients on organizing, these are the top three things I know that apply to the neurodiverse.
- No one system works for anyone but the person that wrote the book and less than 1% of society.
I can’t tell you how many calendar and scheduling systems I helped people toss when I was professionally organizing. Having given many of them a couple of tries myself, I never found one that did everything I needed it to. I even went to a weekend retreat focused just on organizing your time. That one really didn’t work when I tried to implement it.
I am glad I did all this studying and exploration both on paper and in the digital world. It comes in handy when I am helping clients test different strategies and build a system of what works for them.
- Take what sticks and dump the rest
When you try a new organizing system the parts of it you keep up with, the parts you easily do, are worth noting and keeping. When I was tossing all of those organizing scheduling systems, I would ask clients what they liked about that system and what worked about it for them. That’s the part you keep and add to your personal system. Not one of my clients ever has the same organizing system. Most don’t even use the same components. It is interesting to test things with them and figure out what works and what doesn’t.
- Your system will be ever evolving and only work for you
You are going to find a system that works really well, and you will be humming along in life and then all of a sudden, the whole system falls apart. This increases stress and creates a mess for a bit. You will try to restart the process and get the system back on track, but it will never work quite the same again. This is important for you to understand. Because your brain is ever evolving, your organizing system needs to be too. So, the action you are going to want to take is that when something changes in your life, you are going to need to plan for an upgrade to your operating system. I am talking about things like changing jobs, graduating from college, having a child, moving, getting married, the passing of a loved one, recovering from a prolonged sickness, and so many other things. They all mess with people’s brain balance and that messes with the system.
I will tell you what my system looks like and you can see if any of this would be helpful for you.
My current system – the last couple of years
I now start to identify my bigger projects by the type of mental health day I would need to be in to do them. I have scheduled time each day to do some things from my task lists. I just can’t tell you what those things will be that day until the day arrives and I am able to see where my brain is at that day.
Then I go to one of my systems and figure out the goals for the day and weave them between coaching clients and maintaining good self-care.
Coaching clients recharges my batteries, so the more of those I do in a day the better I can be at doing the mundane tasks of running my business and life. It works out pretty well now that I have a little support from my VA’s on the tasks that fall right into my weakness bucket.
I use electronic systems to keep track of things.
- CRM for clients
- Contact list that I also use as my database
- Calendar that is connected to other peoples’
- Trello for my subcontractors and groups
- Task lists
- Goodreads – for books people recommend
- Scanner to prevent the paper from piling up
I use tangible systems
- A written daily calendar that I track my billable hours in 15-minute increments and also connect with the schedule of the day (it helps with the time blindness to physically write things out.)
- Clocks (digital and analog right next to each other)
- File folders
- Sticky notes
- Scratch paper
- Lots of colorful pens and pencils
- 3 computers
- One mobile phone – calls and everything else
- Two apple phones to use as mini devices for Tik Tok and If These Heels
I have a couple of virtual assistants that help with the operation of my business, I pay people to fill in the blanks, and some days that can be a lot, other days it is routine for them. I picked people that enjoy the option of both.
I bet that gave you some things to think about. Please feel free to ask me questions about any of them. I will be happy to expand more on any topic.
Remember we are all unique, just look at us, we all look different. Those differences are more than surface deep. If you are neurodiverse and you notice that your neurology has some fluctuation in ability, start to track it on a calendar or have someone else track it with you. Take that data and start to adjust your systems to rise to your success and goals.
I just want to say that there is nothing WRONG with any of us. We are just different. I know that being different can be scary to some people, but please stop should-ing on me.
- You should be able to do this
- You should be able to that
- Why can’t you just get this done…
- You should have…
JUST STOP picking on me for not being just like you and that will be more than enough help.
I would love to answer questions about this and to help others understand this more so that we, the neurodiverse, don’t have to feel so all alone at times.
Have the best day possible,
Business Owner, International Neurodiversity Coach, and Speaker