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The ADHD Creative: Is It Passion Or Anxiety?

“Sorry! I got distracted.”

This may be my most-used phrase. In fact, I’ve said it enough times that my family may put it on my tombstone when I’m gone. Distractions are everywhere, and I see them all—from car alarms going off outside my apartment window to my ever-so-slightly crooked sock which has a loose thread I hadn’t noticed before, and I’m not sure I have that color thread, so if these socks get a hole, I can’t fix them, and who sews their socks anyway? I’ve never made a pair of socks before. Maybe I should try it. I bet I can find a pattern online. I should look that up.

Cue endless hours on YouTube watching wombats play with dogs until I come to the conclusion that I shouldn’t try to make a pair of socks because I can never finish a project, and—oh yeah! I was writing an article!

Now before you click away to see if you can find the YouTube video of wombats playing with dogs… well, it’s pretty cute. Go watch it, then come back.

“I just need to finish this one thing.”

-My second most-used phrase.

The irony of ADHD (especially in women) is that one minute, your brain is hopping from one idea to the next, and the next minute, you become hyper-focused to the point where you lose track of time, you forget to eat, and six hours later, you suddenly realize your dog and wombat have been left in the backyard this whole time. And when you finally pull yourself out of that hyper-fixation, the anxiety comes crashing in like your own custom, classic 1968 Camaro. Your to-do list grows like the fuzz inside that upside-down bowl in your kitchen sink that you keep forgetting to wash. You go to bed feeling bad about all the things you didn’t get to that day, and the real kicker is when you wake up, you see your monstrous to-do list and find yourself in that all-too-familiar ADHD paralysis.

To experience ADHD paralysis is to experience a form of exhaustion like no other. ADHD paralysis is where you sit (or lay) and think about all the things you need to do, but without a strategy for how to conquer Mount Procrastination, you imagine jumping from one thing to the next to the next. Your brain does the work while your body sits frozen. If you’ve never experienced ADHD paralysis, imagine successfully cleaning your entire house, paying your bills, feeding the dog, washing the wombat, then turning around to see nothing was actually done. That’s only a fraction of how exhausting ADHD paralysis can be. And if you’re like me, the only way to get out of it is to turn to your passion project. You know. The one you were hyper-focused on yesterday that put you in this pickle today. Ignore the fuzzy sink! Creativity waits for no man! Get back to your passion!

But is it passion, or is it just ADHD-fueled anxiety?

“I’m trying to listen to you, but I can’t stop thinking about my project. Can you repeat what you just said?”

This is the phrase that hurts, and one I’ve said all too often. It hurts me, and it hurts my loved ones. This is the phrase that makes people question if I really care about them and what they have to say. This is the phrase that makes people think I’m inconsiderate, selfish, stupid, an airhead, lazy, rude, too tired, too stressed, taking on too much, disorganized, and disassociated from life. This is the phrase that has failed classes, failed friends, and failed me.

It can be hard to navigate between passion and anxiety, creativity and symptomatic responses. You never want to give up on your passion projects, but we all know there has to be a balance. We can’t let our drive for creation pummel our drive for productivity in every other aspect of life. Passion is wonderful—necessary, even—but so is paying the bills and cleaning your face.

So, what can the ADHD Creative do about this?

Well, for starters, it’s always a good idea to seek professional, medical advice. That should always be step one. After that, it’s about finding your community. The amazing thing about the world right now is that we’re finally talking about the things that need to be addressed. We’re finally cleaning out our fuzzy sinks. Don’t throw that bowl away! Just give it the care (and soap) it needs.

It’s not always easy to find what works best for you because we’re all different… but we’re not that different. Someone out there has the advice or trick that will work for you. Here are a few things that have worked for me.

1. Make time to waste time. If I know I have an hour to clean my house, I schedule time within that hour to avoid it. Now, you have to be careful with this one. Alarms or timers on my phone work for me. If I decide I’m going to scroll TikTok before I clean, I set a timer for 10 minutes. Or, if I’m feeling particularly unmotivated to clean, I watch no more than two Clean With Me YouTube videos. Honestly, I usually find the motivation part-way through the first video.