Even though I love writing, I haven’t written a blog post since July. And I haven’t posted on Instagram since August. Actually that last post was an admission that I was feeling burned out and that I needed a break.

But I didn’t really get a break. Soon after making that post, I found out that my landlord was thinking about selling the house I was renting. So I leapt into action to work out our housing future as quickly as possible. Even though I was already feeling the impacts of burnout, I got right onto formulating a moving action plan.

It was important to do this right away for a few reasons:

  1. I knew that the end of this school year would be intense because both of my daughters were going through big changes at school; one would be finishing high school and the other would be finishing primary school. (Since we are in Australia, the end of the school year is December.)
  2. Christmas was coming and I didn’t want to be in a state of ‘housing limbo’ around the already stressful holiday season.
  3. I had no idea how long it would take to find a new place to live, especially with a pet. And especially because we are self-employed.
  4. I wanted to have as much control as possible over when we moved so that I could provide certainty and stability for myself and my family.
  5. I wanted to avoid all the hassles of selling a home such as accommodating real estate agent visits, contractor visits, and viewings for prospective buyers.

And here I was in early August thinking that I had one ‘last big thing’ to do before my break – host my daughter’s birthday party. But instead of having this ‘break’, I was already looking at houses that same weekend.

Fortunately, we found a house very quickly and by the end of August we had moved into the new place. Since we had moved so many times before, we were well prepared and settled in quickly. And I just kept on with the pace of life that had me on the road to burnout. But because of the adrenaline of the move, I wasn’t feeling the impacts right away.

Family on the back of a moving truck

This is totally not me & my family. I just put this picture here because I found the absurdity of a family this happy on moving day amusing.

From moving house to moving on

Prior to knowing that I was going to be moving, I had set a goal of releasing my book, Monster, on October 1. I thought it was a reasonable compromise to move the release date to the very arbitrary date of October 20. Yes, I gave myself a whole 19 extra days to make up for the fact that I had moved. And I’m honestly not sure how I feel about that in hindsight.

Sure, when I read that, it seems like it was a ridiculously small amount of time to give myself. Imean, I had put a bunch of other things on the back burner until after the move and I was trying to catch up on those tasks while keeping up with all the other tasks that were coming in each day. And on top of that, I was going to launch my first book by myself. I can see how that might be setting myself up to fail somewhere.

But I also knew that if I didn’t give myself a hard deadline for the book, I was never going to make it a priority. So I stuck to that release date. And I shelved my plans for some perfectly executed book launch and decided to take imperfect action instead. And my book became available on October 20. This was no small victory, but I do admit that I haven’t given this accomplishment any time or space to sink in.

I just moved on to the next items on my list. And as I noted in a blog post I wrote in February 2022, I have a love-hate relationship with many things, and my To-Do list is one of those things.

Back then, I was writing about my to-do list because I was out of energy and I was giving myself permission to give myself “one of those days that I spend most of my time writing, listening to music, and enjoying solitude rather than ticking tasks off my list. Because I won’t be able to attend to tasks until I give myself what I need in order to feel calm, settled, focused.”

 So in summary the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Monster: A Poem by Jamie Hocking

Just a tiny bit of promotion for my book. You can find out how to buy it at www.poem.monster

From super-charged to shut-down

But to be fair there are differences in November 2023 Jamie and February 2022 Jamie. One major difference is that I have been taking Vyvanse for ADHD since January 2023. So it’s kind of like taking that autistic side of me that loves a to-do list for the structure it provides – and super-charging it with capacity to easily get started on tasks and maintain focus until they are completed. So my life became about The List. I would hyperfocus on The List and feel very accomplished. Yay.

But the fucked thing about a to-do list is that there are always things to add to it. It’s never done. And for a while, I was doing really well with being realistic about my list. I got some great advice from a coach on how to make peace with my list.

But when I was planning a move on the back of already feeling burned out, many of my new ways of doing things gave way to the old fallback behaviours. And that snowballed into my to-do list turning into a monster that seemed to have a life of its own.

And there were things my ADHD brain really loved about all of this. The excitement of moving meant so much novelty! And having to move in a short space of time meant so much urgency! And then there was a book to launch. More novelty! And more urgency!

And then before I knew what was happening, everything felt urgent all of the time. I didn’t know how to operate from a place of calm anymore. In every waking moment I felt like I was supposed to be getting everything done as quickly as possible; like there was not enough time to do the things that needed to be done.

And eventually, I completely burned out and was back in that place of shutdown. I couldn’t look at my emails. I couldn’t answer text messages. I cancelled appointments. I was back to doing what I consider the bare minimum (which I admit is still a lot). I felt like everything was a million times harder.

And I was back to questioning why I can’t do all the things that other people can do.

An image from the book "Monster: A Poem bu Jamie Hocking" Illustrated by Jon Hocking

My husband did a great job of capturing what shutdown is like in this artwork he created for Monster.

More medication missteps

While I do appreciate how much Vyvanse has done to help me in many areas of my life, I now realise that the expanded capacity I had meant that I took on too much for too long while at the same time decreasing the things I had been doing to take care of myself.

I have had a long, complicated history with medications, which you will see as a theme throughout my blog posts. But with Vyvanse it was like figuring out that you are carrying a backpack full of rocks, and not everyone else is. In a blog post from January 2023, I say “It took trying a stimulant to show me just how much I was struggling.

And it helped with so many symptoms. I wasn’t negotiating with myself about doing the tasks – even the ones I didn’t want to do. I was just doing them. And I was not as distracted. I could get back on task if I was interrupted. I could finish the boring stuff. And I wasn’t as overwhelmed by all the background sensory stuff. My brain wasn’t quiet – but it was definitely quieter. And that helped me get a lot done. And it seemed like I was on more of a level playing field.

But you know what medication doesn’t seem to help with? Sense of time. So having this super-charged to-do list energy coupled with a real inability to determine how long something will take led me to thinking I could – and worse yet – I should do way more things than were practical.

And the adrenaline of the urgency only worked until it didn’t.

My ADHD brain trying to figure out how long something will take meme.

I just can’t keep up with The List 

Fortunately, I’ve been on a journey of getting to know myself since my autism and ADHD diagnoses in June 2021. I’ve been in therapy consistently at least twice a month since then. This has helped me move beyond recognising the patterns in my behaviour to finally being able to change my behaviour when it’s becoming problematic for me. It’s one thing to know that you’re repeating the same cycles; but it’s next level when you learn how to break the cycles. And it’s beyond next level when you have built up the self-worth and self-compassion to do the work to break the cycles.

Brain Meme

In the past, I would have been sidelined with burnout for a lot longer. But once I noticed what was happening, I knew that I had to change the way I was living.

And I am making changes. Without judgement. Without catastrophising. Without worrying that it will ‘always be like this’.

I am being more conscious and selective with The List.

I can’t throw it out completely, but I am looking at it with more of a realistic expectation. I have found that using software for a to-do list helped me for a while because it gave me the peace of mind of knowing that I wouldn’t forget to do something on time. I could focus on just the tasks that I had assigned for today.

However, life started to feel like that level in Tetris where the blocks fall so fast you can’t keep up. And in part of my attempt to ‘keep up’ I would just assign tasks very arbitrarily. I was pretty much either adding a task to “today” if it was urgent or to some random day that was “not today” if it wasn’t urgent.

Then I would look at The List for ‘today’ and get completely overwhelmed. And because tasks were assigned to ‘today’, my brain took that as a directive that every task must be done today. Of course I couldn’t do everything on the list, and even though my rational brain knew that, there was still a part of my brain that believed that all the tasks were urgent. Again this would snowball because I would end the day knowing that tomorrow I would have all of the ‘today’ tasks plus a bunch of ‘yesterday’ tasks and the cycle would just repeat.

Brain Meme

Back to basics (again)

To combat this, I’m going back to some of the ‘old tricks’ such as just choosing three things that must get done, and writing those things by hand. This helps me to get that massive list out of my head. And if I finish those things and I want to do more, I can always go back and add another item.

I am also asking for help. I have set up an appointment with the coach I mentioned before. She may just end up reminding me of things she and I already worked on – but I know that I would benefit from having some outside perspective and some help prioritising.

Asking for help is not always easy for me, but I have learned how beneficial it can be when you’re more concerned with getting results than you are with worrying about being judged for any inadequacies.

I’m also giving myself more of what I need. While part of the burnout and shutdown was a result of urgency and that urgency felt exciting, it’s definitely not feeling exciting now. When urgency becomes baseline, it tips me over into burnout and loses its ability to prompt me into action. My overall mood and energy levels tank.

As The List takes over more and more of my life, I become grumpy, resentful, bored, and boring. I find myself thinking ‘My whole life has become a list of  responsibilities and obligations. There’s always more boring things that I have to do. No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to get it all done. And then I never get to do what I want to do – or even if I do – The List is looming over me – waiting for me to ‘get back to work’. So what’s even the point of trying to enjoy life?’

And that kind of thinking comes from allowing my life to swing way out of balance; enough out of balance that I was prompted to take action.

unbalanced scales

So what is the point, anyway? 

I began to think about what I enjoyed. What did I want more of? I realised that since I started my Instagram in February, I stopped writing blog posts. And I also hadn’t been journaling much this year. I decided I wanted more of writing. For myself. For my blog. Whatever. I couldn’t expect that putting time into promoting my writing was the same as writing. But I was putting both writing and promotion under an umbrella called ‘writing’ – and of course the task oriented, to-do list friendly stuff got prioritised ahead the creative stuff. 

I also realised that I wasn’t giving myself enough solitude. I’ve always needed time and space to think or just ‘be’ – without obligation or agenda. Often this looks like me laying around, listening to music with a journal nearby. Just time alone. Yes, writing often happens in this space, but there’s no obligation. 

Normally, I don’t have the disposition or capacity to be constantly ‘doing’. But with ADHD medication, I was doing a lot less laying around and daydreaming. Which meant a lot less solitude and that in turn meant a lot less writing.

There are other things I would like more of. More connection with people. Maybe that seems funny to write just after talking about solitude. But I do want more authentic connection with people. I just don’t have the capacity for it unless I give myself the solitude I need.

I could go on, but I’ve just noticed the time. I’m a half an hour ‘over’ the time I allotted to writing. The kids will be home from school soon. It’s been 6 hours since breakfast and I’m really hungry.

Oh, and because I made writing a high priority today, there’s still a few things on The List. But not too many. I promise. 

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