I have always believed that there was something wrong with me. I didn’t know what it was—whether it was a learning disorder, ADD, or something else entirely—but I knew something wasn’t quite “right.” Growing up, I excelled in school. Without sounding conceited, I am a fairly intelligent person and a quick learner. Due to my grades always landing me on the honor roll, no one ever believed me. My grades didn’t reflect the true struggle I have experienced my entire life.
In the fourth grade, my teacher noticed my boredom and lack of motivation, particularly in math. She ended up having me completely skip to the fifth grade math book. From then on, I aced every math class I took (except Geometry; I’m still salty about that B+). With a challenge, my focus is better.
In high school, I kept up my almost all As, but I spent every single day working on homework. From the time I got home from school until I went to bed, I did homework. My parents never understood why I had so much more homework than my siblings. Because I was taking, for example, Calculus and AP Honors English though, and maintaining As, they thought I was just working harder. The truth is, 90 percent of the time I was playing with my pencil and staring at the wall or doodling. I spent hours doing nothing, wasting time, because I couldn’t focus on the task in front of me.
And things haven’t changed. It got so bad that it caused me to fail out of Ball State a few years ago. Because I get into this horrible, never-ending cycle:
- Can’t focus, can’t get motivated, general procrastination, etc.
- Waste a ridiculous amount of time switching from task to task to task, not making much progress.
- Make to-do lists or schedules to follow each day.
- Don’t follow the list or schedule.
- Get extremely anxious and stressed due to the little time left to do said tasks.
- Get so stressed that compulsions start: organizing desk, tapping fingers or pen, pulling at eyebrows.
- Freak out, anxiety attacks, meltdowns.
- Finally work on task when there is little time left. Manage to get it done and done well.
- Need to relax after being so stressed, causing a lack of focus, motivation, etc. and the cycle continues.
This vicious cycle has been the bane of my existence, and I truly believe it is one of the biggest causes of my depression. When I started over at Southern New Hampshire University, this cycle had had a chance to break. I was starting over and was more motivated than ever. However, it is back and taking its toll. I have seen the doctor, and am on an antidepressant because every doctor I’ve seen just thinks my problems are caused from depression. But I think it’s the other way around and I’ve recently found a possible answer to this lifelong question of “what’s wrong with me?”
I’m not a doctor or professional in any way, so I could be completely wrong, but I don’t think it’s ADD or ADHD like I thought for so long. I think that it is executive dysfunction, or at least difficulties in executive functions. Now, for those who don’t know, executive dysfunction has several symptoms similar to diagnoses such as ADHD, OCD, and autism. Every single article and website I’ve looked at while researching says the same thing: it leads to difficulties focusing and completing tasks, among other things. Many say that it is often confused for laziness.
Everything I have read sounds exactly like what I have experienced for the last 20+ years. Because while it does appear to be laziness, it’s very different. I want to do the things I need to—more than I can tell you, I want to get things done in a timely manner and be able to relax. I don’t like sitting on my laptop everyday for 10 hours or more, trying to finish a handful of tasks. Yes, I do a lot. Yes, I am extremely involved. But if I could focus, if I could get motivated to actually work for more than 10 minutes at a time, I could accomplish much more in less time. And I wouldn’t be as stressed.
When talking about writing a research paper, Kris Nelson sums it up perfectly:
“Fortunately for me, I like words, and so I can usually pump out something that’s relatively well put together. And since my work is usually decent, the people around me think I put everything off because I don’t need the time and that writing papers is easy for me.
In actuality, my brain can’t plan out what I need to do and complete all those steps in a timely fashion, so I’m left sprinting the entire race in a couple of hours the night before.”
I have never come across something that describes my own struggles so accurately. The only difference is that I can plan out the steps, I just can’t follow them. My obsession with making lists has made planning a strength of mine. I can plan and organize like it’s my job. But I cannot follow through and stay on task. I can’t space things out and get them done in a decent time frame. It’s always last minute, in near-tears, that I submit assignments. Even as I write this article, I know I should be working on homework instead. The homework that I pulled open on my laptop four hours ago. The homework due tomorrow that I’ve barely started, even though I know I have other things to do tomorrow. I know I’m going to be stressed, I know it is going to be horrible. And I also know it will be the same story next week.
Now, you’re probably thinking “OK, so you know what the problem is, you know you’re in this cycle. Why not just work through it and break the cycle so you’re not feeling anxious and stressed every week?” That’s the million-dollar question, my friend. Because regardless of having a name for why this is happening, I’ve been aware of the cycle for years. I don’t know how to stop it. I’ve tried everything I can think of: planners, daily to-do lists, antidepressants, turning off electronics… but here I am still struggling. I’m working on it, I am, but it’s like I’m not making any progress. But hopefully, over time, I can get into a new habit of getting things done without waiting until the last minute.
Do you have these struggles? What do you do to help? How do you break the vicious cycle?