Hope For the Hopelessly Undisciplined: We Are Seasonal People

I sat across from my counselor and I took a deep breath. My throat tightened, like a hand was reaching around my windpipe and slowly squeezing.

“I don’t know how to do life.”

“I can see where I am, and in my mind’s eye, I can see where I want to be, but I have no idea who to get there. It seems like I try and I try and nothing ever changes. I never change. I’m so tired of trying. I can’t do it any more.”

He stared at me for a while. (He is one of those people to whom discipline comes more easily. I am pretty sure at this point I am beyond hope, especially from someone who doesn’t seem to struggle with daily disciplines.)

Counselor: Do you really think that you have never changed? Are you the same person you were in your 20’s?

Me: (I turned 50 this year.) Oh, heck, no! Thank God I’m not the person I was in my 20’s! I learn a little with each cycle, but it just seems like I’m struggling with the same things over and over and over again.

Counselor: What is it you think you need to do?

Me: (sigh) Stop eating sugar. Eat healthy. Exercise. Drink water. Be organized. Manage my time.  The list is endless. I’ve been like this as long as I can remember, even as a little girl. I make lists, I make plans, I start out great – for a while. Then I slowly lose steam, and finally everything comes crashing down around me, only to remind me that I’ve failed at life once again. (and now my throat has a lump the size of a tennis ball and the tears are stinging my eyes).

photo credit: Kristin Meador

photo credit: Kristin Meador

It doesn’t help that I am married to a man who is the perfect example of discipline. He exercises and has his morning quiet time regularly – he rarely misses a day of either. He is the kind of person who exercises when they are sick. What is wrong with this guy? He exercises faithfully every day, while I will make a check list for myself with exercise and weight loss goals, and give myself gold stars when I make the smallest step towards those goals. He picks up his socks and puts his clothes away, while mine find themselves in piles at the end of the bed, and I am smelling them to see if I can wear them for one more day.

What kind of life is this? And why can’t I be more disciplined? I try, I really do. And I do well for days, weeks, sometimes even months. But then I get sidetracked, or bored, or something more shiny comes along . . .

Counselor: No – what is it that you REALLY NEED TO DO? None of the things you mentioned are moral issues.

When it comes down to the very core of your life, what is important? What do you need to do?

Me: Love God, and love people.

Counselor: And are you doing those things?

Me: Yes. I am. (I really am. Not perfectly, but I am loving God and people.)

But I feel like I should be doing all of these other things . . .

And therein lies the problem. That pressure of the ‘shoulds’. Those things we feel like we ‘should’ be doing. Who told us we should be doing those things? And why do we feel pressure, guilt, even shame if we don’t?

Counselor: What if you look at it another way? What if you set aside the should’s that are imposed on you, and look at how God made you unique.

You are like Old Faithful – you start with a dream or a goal, and you build up and up and then have this beautiful, creative explosion – for a while. Then the water subsides, and there is a time of quiet until it begins to build up again.

photo credit: Old Faithful by Greg Willis flickr

photo credit: Old Faithful by Greg Willis flickr

Me: Hmmmmm. That’s true. But I like the explosion part. It’s beautiful and wonderous, and people are watching and cheering. I don’t like the part when the water subsides, though. The ground is broken and cracked and the air smells like sulfur. And the people walk away.

photo credit: wikimedia commons, Chromatic Pool Matthew Kaibel

photo credit: wikimedia commons, Chromatic Pool Matthew Kaibel

Counselor: What if you reframe it?

What if you are a seasonal person? You have Spring when the buds begin to blossom, and Summer when you grow and thrive, then Autumn when the growth slows and you prepare for Winter,  your season of rest, so you can grow and blossom again.

Old Faithful would run out of steam (literally!) if it were going 100% of the time.”

I thought about that for a long time. It didn’t set well with me, not at first. I didn’t like it. I would much rather be slow and steady.

Or would I?

Actually, I think that might be rather boring. But then that internal argument started. I am so tired of starting strong and usually not finishing well. I have always been that way, and I have learned my limits. After a big project, I need down time. After a busy week at work, I need at least half a day just lounging around, recharging.

I told my counselor I thought he was right, but I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not.

The next day I had lunch with my friend who is wired very much like me. I told her what my counselor said about being a seasonal person. She said, “That is the most beautiful thing I have ever heard! Doesn’t that just give you a release, a sense of freedom, that it’s okay to just be who you are?”

I had to agree, and as I let it sink in that I am who I am, I began to appreciate that I am uniquely made. I am not saying that I should not strive to be more disciplined, more organized, more structured. But I am not going to beat myself up for not meeting a standard of performance that does just not fit me.

When I am focused, I am very focused, and can accomplish more in a week than many people will in one month. And that is why I need to time to rest and recharge, to get ready for the next burst. The next season. The next eruption. And I am learning to appreciate the winters. I am learning that they are not dark and barren, but they are peaceful and regenerating, and that without those times of rest I would not survive. It’s also very freeing to know that those down times are a necessary part of how I’m wired, and I don’t have to feel guilty, as long as I don’t wallow in them. And I’m going to treasure my seasons of focus and not waste a moment.

I am a seasonal person, and that’s not just okay – it’s beautiful.

I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well. Psalm 139:14 (NASB)

Photo credit: Pixabay






Day 4: For the month of October, I’ve joined over 1600 other writers in a 31 Day writing challenge. You can read more about it and see the participating blogs at  Here is the starting page for 31 Days of My Search for Balance: Body, Mind, and Soul. From there you can find all of my October posts. 

In the search for balance, an important starting point is to look at how you are made, who you are at your core. If you search through my blogs or look at my house (especially my bedroom), if you are my close friend or co-worker, or if you travel with me or come play with me at Disneyland, you will get a pretty good feel for how I live my life – a combination of scattered chaos and intense hyper-focus.

This is the life of an adult with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).

I have two blogs (because apparently one isn’t enough). One blog is on hospice care. It was well received and well read. It is the area in which I am an expert. I haven’t posted since July. My personal blog is all over the place. I started writing about an amazing road trip that I took with my husband this summer. (I promise, that report is still coming!) but I got sidelined with some personal crises and my writing took a different turn – my search for balance. My house is messy but not dirty, cluttered but not hoarder-like (not yet), and there are piles to be sorted and unfinished projects in every corner. Some have been there for years. If you are my friend, you know that I love intensely and try to be purposeful in my relationships. But you also know that my brain is going a million miles and hour, and it may feel like you don’t have my full attention. If you are my co-worker, you may wonder what in the heck I’m talking about, since at work I can appear organized and very detail oriented. And I usually am – you just don’t always see the chaos underneath. If you travel with me you know that I am a maniac road tripper or Disneyland addict. When not on vacation, I would rather sleep in or watch tv in my pajamas all day. But when I’m on vacation, I have a schedule, a detailed plan. I get to the hotel and put each item in my suitcase away in a drawer or on the counter.  I’m up at the crack of dawn and I have a plan for the day – I don’t want to miss any fun! This intense energy can also lead to an overload, especially if I am at my second home, Disneyland, where there is so much to see and do, so many friends to laugh with – that I can end up overloaded and then need to withdraw. I could go on and on with examples. Until something shiny distracts me.

Let me say from the beginning that I hate that label. Rather than respecting that we are just wired differently, the use of the term disorder implies that we are wired INCORRECTLY. It says, “There is something wrong with you.”

If you are in the ‘club’ – the adults with ADHD club – you have heard this all of your life.

Stop that – why care you doing that? – sit still – stop talking – think about what you are doing – how could you forget that? – you lost your (homework, lunch money, sunglasses, car keys) again? – pick up you stuff – close the cupboard – quit fidgeting – why are you so messy – can’t you get it together?

We hear from every direction that what we are doing is wrong, that we don’t fit into the norm, that we are broken.

I prefer the perspective of Dr. William Dodson in his article Secrets of the ADHD Brain. He proposes that rather than a disorder, the ADHD nervous system is simply “a unique and special creation that regulates attention and emotions in different ways than the nervous system in those without the condition.” It’s a good read, and I’m sure I will write more about that perspective later.

Many people have misconceptions about people, especially adults, with ADHD. If you come real close, I will tell you three important things that you may not know about us. 

1. It’s not that we can’t pay attention. It’s that we pay too much attention to everything, including things that don’t matter. There is no consistency in our attention. We usually have four or five things going on in our mind at once, and it there is no structure to prioritize, we go with whatever is in our face the most, or whatever is the most interesting, or whatever is the most convenient. And from there we rabbit-trail into four or five different things, forgetting what we were doing in the first place. It’s like if your mind had a gate, and a swinging gate that opens and shuts, with a latch to keep it locked at times. It can let things in or keep things out. You can choose to open it or shut it. You can let one thing in at a time if you wish. Most people have a gate – I have a revolving door that just keeps spinning.

2. We have a super power. It’s called hyper-focus. Usually a couple of  times a day, on a good day, we get in the zone, and have the ability to intensely focus on a task or project or idea. Our creativity flies, our attention to detail is impeccable, our efficiency in magnified and we can get more done in an hour than we have in the past month. However, I find that this is rarely under my control. I can’t summon up my super power on a whim. When my meds are working or if I have some extra caffeine, it might help. MIGHT. It’s like a surfer waiting for a good wave – you can’t make it happen, you may or may not be able to see it coming, and you just have to be ready to make the best of it and paddle hard into it or you’ll miss it entirely. The key is learning to use my powers for good rather than evil. It’s the difference between organizing a project and meeting a deadline and spending from midnight to 3am searching for my second grade boyfriend on the internet.

3. We are not broken. Contrary to what I have heard all my life, I am not broken. Did you hear me? YOU ARE NOT BROKEN. Yes, we can be scattered, and yes, we can be a little intense at times. But we were knit together in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13) just as we were intended. We are wired differently. Different does not equal wrong. We love intensely, we are never boring, and we often use our difficulties and frustrations as a catalyst for growth and change. We have to, or we would drive everyone, including ourselves, crazy! It can sometimes be difficult to be in a relationship with someone with ADHD. (God bless my sainted husband). We rarely prioritize things internally as to importance, and we are often are not motivated by rewards. Our brains just don’t work that way. To me, most tasks seem to have the same amount of non-importance, the same amount of BORING. Even consequences  or punishments don’t motivate us that much. What motivates us is if something is interesting, exciting, or urgent. And that can be challenging. Especially for the parents of ADHD children. We are creative and often come up with very unique tools for dealing with the internal chaos. To-do lists, journaling, physical activity, relaxation techniques like deep breathing and yoga can be helpful. Difficult, unique, intense, chaotic – yes, but

YOU ARE NOT BROKEN.  Work on the rough edges, and embrace the rest. You are a fractal – a composite of beautiful chaotic order. You are unique. You are enough.