Overwhelm, Shame, and Kindness

I received this private Facebook message in response to my ADHD post last week:

“HI Celeste,

I wanted to send a private note about your ADHD article. It’s so great to read about basic goodness with acceptance of one’s ADHD! And thanks for being brave and putting it all out there. I was diagnosed with ADD inattentive type about 14 years ago. Currently I’m not doing medication as add doctors in my area are private pay and, together with my money issues, unmanageable to work with currently.

The struggle I’ve had and would love to read more about is how putting hours into mastering basic life management skills have drained away time I could spend being creative, but I never quite get there. I constantly worry about how no dralas will land in my studio apartment because of mess and how hopeless it is that they ever will with my organizational skills. I’m exhausted from doing simple cleaning tasks. Anyway, you know what I mean.

I look forward to reading more by you about ADHD! I’m still working with self acceptance around it. It’s a big part of my path.

Yours,

(name removed)

PS Love your cats.”

Boy, do I know what you mean. I cannot thank you enough for your letter. (And thank you for loving my cats!) I recognize the feeling that creativity is just around the corner, and our lack of organization is the primary obstacle to a creative life. I think of it as a desire for space, both physically and psychically.

The struggle truly is exhausting. Not only do our own bad habits get in our way. (It does feel like we’ve created a huge karmic consequence for ourselves.) The mental activity of comparing our situation with that of others, much less comparing ourselves to an imagined ideal, is completely deflating. The conclusion I eventually came to for myself was that the real obstacle was shame.

For many years, undiagnosed with ADHD and depression, I was continually overwhelmed by one thing or another. By everything, actually: showing up on time, maintaining friendships, you name it. Overwhelm would stop me in my tracks. I would become frozen in confusion, in a brain fog. Looking at a pile of papers, I would see only forest, no trees–and it seemed all I could do was turn away. It was too painful, too much.

No wonder. A pile of clutter was not just a backlog, something I could address one piece at a time. It was an insurmountable obstacle. Monolithic. It represented failure and shame–proof that I was unworthy.

Like a huge boulder, it seemed easier to walk around it. If I had to have visitors, I would find a way to stash stuff out of sight–without the skills or the courage to revisit it later. After many years of doing that, and a few years after I’ve stopped, I’m still trying to develop a regular habit of emptying boxes in the garage.

At the age of 51, it’s been 12 years since I was diagnosed ADHD inattentive. There are organizational habits I’m still trying to develop. But I know that for me, working through grief and learning to appreciate my human, broken heart were essential in lifting the fog and finding a workable brain. Both counseling and meditation helped me to uncover grief and lighten up.

After meditating for more than 20 years, I am grateful for a two-fold benefit of mindfulness meditation: awareness and kindness. Becoming aware of even subtle thoughts, and befriending whatever upheaval you encounter in your mind–those are some of the mind-changing benefits we experience from meditation. We learn to break down concepts into smaller and smaller elements, into momentary experiences.

That has been a key to that psychic space I referred to–finding space within and between the conclusions we draw about things. We can become aware of our constant judgment of our situation, and relax that. I think psychic space (for lack of a better word) is a key to organization, much less a happier life.

I think it’s a lifelong process to apply what we learn on a meditation path to every single experience in our life. There is no corner of our mind and heart that does not deserve kindness, appreciation, and gentle attention. We deserve the contentment and joy that we wish for others. Illuminating those corners is a continual journey, and can lead to profound change. Befriending ourselves is essential every step of the way.

I want to write not only about tips and habits that create a more organized, creative life, but also basic Buddhist principles that help meet these challenges.

Thank you again for sharing your challenges and your aspiration.

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