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On Releasing My Silent Scream

For me, the trickiest and most troubling aspect of ADHD is the self-loathing that inevitably arises from repeating the same mistakes over and over again, losing things over and over again, and feeling hopelessly incapable of succeeding at even the simplest of tasks… over and over again. Here is how I stopped screaming on the inside and learned to exhale.

The secret to combating ADHD peccadilloes, I have found, is to attack them one by one — and keep at them until they’re fixed. For example, when setting the table, I remember napkins almost all the time now. I haven’t locked the keys in the car for several years (though I must give some credit to the newer-model cars’ little warning beeps). And I rarely leave the house anymore without looking over the checklist posted by the back door: phone, shopping list, coupons, umbrella, water bottle, lipstick on, turn out lights, lock doors.

Remembering to turn my phone ringer on and off at the appropriate times and places has proven more difficult, so I’m going to take a break and get back to that one later.

My current target for improvement: the rage — that blinding flash of white-hot fury (always directed towards self, thank goodness, or I’d probably be in prison) that comes after painfully stubbing a toe. Again. On the very same table leg. Or after realizing that I left my favorite pen behind after signing something. Again. Or starting to prepare a meal and finding that I neglected to buy one absolutely essential ingredient. Again. Even though it was right there on the shopping list.

I mastered the silent scream years ago, finding that shrieking aloud every time the rage hit was frightening my friends and family. This makes me better company, but still doesn’t address the real issue.

Sadly, the real issue is self-loathing — the self-loathing that inevitably arises from repeating the same mistakes over and over again, from forgetting or losing things over and over again, from feeling hopelessly incapable of succeeding at even the simplest of tasks… over and over again. In calmer moments, I think we’re all able to recognize that we actually do succeed at some things — lots of things, even — but in the grip of The Rage we are absolute failures at every aspect of life.

[Free Handout: Get a Grip on Tough Emotions]

So here’s my plan: I have accepted, or at least acknowledged, that the stupid/clumsy/careless/mindless/moronic goof-ups are going to continue. No amount of earnest effort is ever going to make them go away. And if I can’t fix the fails, I have to fix my reaction to them.

In some situations, the storm passes as quickly as it arrives. Still not fun, but at least temporary, so I can live with these. The bad ones are the ones that grow — toxically going from, “Damn, I did it again,” to “l always mess this up,” to “I always mess up everything,” to “I’ve never done anything right my whole life and don’t deserve to live.” These need stopping.

Fortunately, copious expert advice can be applied here, and even more fortunately, the first and easiest is the most effective. It is simply… deep breathing. (Why didn’t I discover this years ago?)

Deep breathing immediately shifts my focus, moving it from the afflicted toe (for example) to my breath. It works quickly to calm the nervous system, ease muscle tension, lower heart rate and blood pressure, and soothe stress and anxiety. It calms both body and mind, allowing me to think more clearly, and see that maybe losing that pen is not life destroying after all.

[Free Resource: Make Mindfulness Work for You]

After deep breathing has put me in a better place, I can work on some other ideas:

  • Keep a good memory of a big personal success in an accessible spot in your brain, to be brought out as needed.
  • (It’s not always a bad thing.) No sour cream? I never liked beef stroganoff that much anyhow. Forgot to stop for the dry cleaning? It’ll still be there tomorrow. Late fee for an unpaid bill? A few bucks won’t break me.
  • Make a practical plan for a way to do better next time.
  • Use humor to soften the anger. (Tried this one. Didn’t work.)

And the most important, though probably also most difficult… learn to forgive yourself. Our quirks, annoying as many of them are, are part of us. If we can’t celebrate them (that would be way too much to expect), we can at least try to recognize them for what they are, deal with the fallout as required, and move on, with no ego-bashing allowed. Not easy, but worth the effort.

Now if only I could stop my otherwise amazingly tolerant and wonderful husband from continually reminding me that I left the closet light on. Again. Couldn’t he just quietly turn it off? Please?

[Self-Test: ADHD Symptoms in Women and Girls]

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