Batteries and procrastination

Do you want to know what having executive function looks like?

Red bicycle light

It’s getting ready to go to the grocery store (on my bicycle, it’s a local store) and realising it’s dark out. It’s making the connection between “it’s dark out” and bicycle lights. It’s remembering that the last time I rode my bike, the batteries in the red light on the back were nearly dead. It’s walking back into the living room to get the spare batteries from the big fruit bowl, and putting them in the bicycle light. It’s putting the dead batteries in my coat pocket. It’s remembering the dead batteries are in my coat pocket as I enter the grocery store. It’s walking to the recycling bin and dropping the batteries in.

It’s not crisscrossing the grocery store trying to think of everything I need to buy, because I didn’t bother making a list. A little executive function fail there. But let’s go on.

It’s heading towards the checkout lane with a basket full of food, and stopping to pick up extra batteries. It’s putting the new batteries in the big fruit bowl when I get home. It’s throwing the old empty packaging in the bin.

It’s amazing.

All my life, I wondered why things that other people claimed were so simple, for me were so incredibly hard to do. I thought I was making a fuss over nothing. I thought I was being lazy. I thought I was procrastinating. But this little scenario? Can I honestly say that NOT doing all of this would have been procrastination? Laziness? Making a fuss over nothing?

Seriously. I can think of far more interesting things to procrastinate on. I can think of far more efficient ways to be gloriously lazy.

This little scenario. Most people probably wouldn’t understand why I’m even mentioning it. Because they don’t even think about it. It’s normal for them. It’s how they live their lives. But me? If you had told me a month ago that I’d be capable of doing this, I would have laughed at you. I had spent 37 years trying to learn how to do this, and I knew I’d failed. This was not something I was capable of.

And now I know why.

Executive function. And medication has fixed it.

White bicycle light

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26 thoughts on “Batteries and procrastination

  1. It’s like that for me too. I made a list of something like 25 different things I have to do to get out the door in the morning. Mom said she didn’t see them as things to do, she saw them as pieces of things to do. Like she had a chocolate bar and I had a pack of M+M’s.
    Maybe I’ll write a post on it too… 🙂

  2. oh…my…god…this is me. oh my god, oh my god…excuse my French, but just wow! I am sending this to my husband. He just can’t understand why someone who tested highly gifted, who is exceptionally intelligent, can learn to do ANYTHING I put my mind to can’t do the…easy…things. The simple things. Like getting dressed. Getting out of the door. Waiting until 8pm to do groceries. Forgetting the keys in the lock OUTSIDE the door because my mind was on getting the groceries inside. Losing my phone. A lot. I am searching around for a place that is knowledgeable about Aspergers…er…autism…in females. It can easily hide in we females. Since I learned about the autism spectrum’s vast span, ala my son, I see so much of myself and it finally makes sense. Things like being an award winning literary analysis writer but hating to fix my hair. Like being incredibly detail oriented when planning things, but having a horribly disorganized workspace. May I ask what medicine worked for you? When I finally find a provider, it would help to have an idea of some things to inquire about regarding solutions (besides trying to create new habits using some of the similar tools my son uses).

    Oh and Stimmyabby….I will never see M&M’s the same. Nifty metaphor!

    • Forgetting the keys in the lock: yup, done that. SO MANY TIMES. And walking out the door without my keys as well. I’ve locked myself out so many times that I now have a lock on my front door that doesn’t close behind you unless you turn the key in the lock. I’d rather forget to lock my door and have my house robbed than having to go to my parents to pick up the spare key BAREFOOT one more time. Not having the door automatically fall into the lock is my small accommodation to myself.

      I’ve written in detail about the medication I’m using in a comment below. If you’d like some more information about autism spectrum disorders in women and girls, check out Cynthia Kim’s articles on http://www.autismwomensnetwork.org. Some of the blogs that really made me go “ME TOO!” when I first started reading about autism in adults are Musings of an Aspie, The Third Glance, and Catastraspie. There are also women blogging about parenting a child on the spectrum and being autistic themselves, such as Stimeyland and Aspermama. Hope this helps!

    • My key-and-lock challenge has always seemed to be with automobiles… I can’t count how many times I’ve locked keys INSIDE a car, often in the ignition, many times with the motor still running! We had a car for several years that had a feature (presumably for safety reasons) that automatically locked all the doors if the vehicle moved at all. Unfortunately, opening the doors from the inside and getting out of the car did NOT change the mechanism to an unlocked state, which meant that more often than not I would find myself locked out with the key still inside. We ended up putting one of those magnet-key-locker devices on the outside frame of that vehicle, so that I could get a key to regain entry to the vehicle. Also, out of necessity, I’ve gotten pretty good at “breaking into” vehicles. I just hope that our local police don’t start to associate me with any criminal activity!

    • I’m on the lowest dose of Wellbutrin at the moment, which is a Dopamine Reuptake Inhibitor with a small effect on Norepinephrine Reuptake as well (NDRI). I chose Wellbutrin in particular because its active ingredient, bupropion, has been patented since 1969 (so more is known about extended use and side effects). You can find a list of other NDRIs here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norepinephrine-dopamine_reuptake_inhibitor.

      I wanted something that primarily acted on the dopamine receptors because when I quit smoking (in other words, when I decreased my dopamine supply through addiction), I started having some very serious side effects that couldn’t be explained just by “giving up smoking is tough”. I couldn’t even look people in the eye anymore. I had panic attacks. I was in constant sensory overload. And I experienced a complete loss of focus, even on my special interests. All these side effects disappeared when I went back on anti-smoking meds (Champix/Chantix, which has a dopamine regulatory effect alongside its primary nicotine receptor antagonist function).

      I first looked at selective DRIs but there aren’t that many available (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dopamine_reuptake_inhibitor) except for treatment of Parkinson’s disease (which by the way I see as another “clue”, since dyspraxia and motor control are linked to dopamine as well), so I investigated possible NDRIs instead. I thought it was really interesting to read that they are often used in ADD cases (lack of focus, lack of initiating actions, and lack of follow-through – in other words, executive function), as opposed to the regular medication for ADHD which focuses more on norepinephrine reuptake. I’m still not entirely sure whether executive function resides more on the dopamine spectrum or on the norepinephrine spectrum, but according to this diagram I would say it is more a motivation/drive thing, because autistic people are pretty good when it comes to focus.

      Venn Diagram of neurotransmitter interaction

      Please keep in mind that this is just my personal experience, and that I have no medical background, just an obsessive interest in neurotransmitters. Autistic people especially can respond very differently to medication than the average population. But if your physician is open to it, it might be worth a try, especially with low dosages.

      • Thank you for this detailed information! I was diagnosed with ADD/ADHD several years prior to my autism/Asperger’s diagnosis, and have been taking a stimulant (Lisdexamfetamine / Vyvanse) daily for about four years now. The stimulant has helped me significantly in SOME areas, and when I (as a trial) stopped taking it for a few days, I definitely regressed in terms of overall functioning. However, in spite of my current medication, I still seem to have significant challenges with some executive function things. I hadn’t really thought about the neurotransmitter perspective in regard to my own situation (strange how one can be blind to parts of one’s own self, until something, or someone, triggers a need to look into that area… which I will now be doing in earnest!), but I am probably more aware than the typical observer of neurotransmitters and some classes of medication, because my mom struggled with Parkinsons’s disease for twenty years before dying from related complications a few years ago. I think it might be worth at least a discussion with my doctors about Welbutrin!

        I am also very happy for YOU (exuberant-bouncing in-my-chair-happy) that it seems as if this is helping so much for your executive function challenges!

        • Thanks! It’s interesting to hear from someone who was diagnosed with ADD, because there seems to be significant overlap in executive functioning areas. Concerta is another type of medication I’ve looked into. I’m actually willing to experiment with a lot of different types of meds right now, because I’m currently unemployed anyway so if I have an adverse reaction it won’t have a huge impact on my livelihood. If you do discuss it with your doctors, I’d be very interested to hear what they say!

      • Thank you for your detailed information. I’m not to keen on meds and didn’t tolerate anti-depressants well when I tried that years ago, I was mainly curious. My executive function issues are largely under control with Todoist actually… Todoist has made a massive difference for my ability to manage my everyday life efficiently and be on top of all the little things I need to do and keep and overview over:-)

        My life is now a hierarchically organised electronic filing system:-)

        • I’ve never been very keen on meds either, but the more I learn about neurotransmitters, the more I realise that some people simply can’t “fix” a natural deficiency in one or more of those on their own. It’s like needing insulin. It doesn’t make you a failure as a human being if you need those meds to restore a natural balance, I think. It’s still something we need to be very careful with, not just start taking pills randomly, again same as injecting a person with insulin and not paying attention to the severity of the problem or their reaction to the dosage. I’ve noticed that especially with autistic people, psychiatrists seem somewhat baffled by the idea that we might respond differently to dosages than most people.

          I’m really glad to hear that Todoist is helping you organise your life so well! I’ve had similar success with Regularly and productive procrastination, but even with that I’ve noticed an increase in the stuff I get done now that I’m taking drugs. It was good to have a system in place before I started the drugs, though.

        • I think it is great that others take meds that help them, I am just not keen on taking them myself. I have had some adverse reactions and strong discomfort from different types of psych meds in small dosages and I don’t trust that doctors have much clue what they are doing especially with people who react atypically to meds. Science is not quite there yet… it is like Andraya wrote in her post about meds, basically trial and error.

          Also, all meds have side effects as far as I know, whether they are visible in the short term or not, which is another reasons I prefer to do without it if I can at all. And I can. Anyway as you say, even with meds it is still important to have good executive systems in place.

      • Fantastic info. I take Wellbutrin. I take a low dosage as it tends to raise my tics up a bit. I studied neuropsychopharmacology at the university–yet so much science has blossomed since then, it’s hard to keep up with! I enjoyed reading your explanations and the awesome diagram. You have flair! This would be a good article to share with my mom. She still doesn’t understand my Dad’s EF problems. Your article is warm, friendly, and relatable!

  3. Being able to do these things that so many people do every day is a big deal and it’s such a good feeling. So glad the medication is working for you.

    And zigzagging the grocery store….the sad thing is I do that even when I have a list. And I often forget at least one thing on said list. I have no idea how that’s possible, but there you go.

    And thank you for the linky love! 😀

    • I do it when I have a list too, it’s just usually less frantic, lol. I agree with the good feeling. Although it was a bit scary at first: I kept posting on Facebook like “WTF look at all the things I got DONE today! IS THIS WHAT NORMAL PEOPLE DO?!!” *giggles*

  4. Wow. I’m very happy for you! Partly because (as I’ve said before) I think you write really well and you must be a great help to other people out there. I enjoy reading the things you write, except for the struggle-bits of course, because I would wish that to no-one. Although I guess it also makes you who you are, like my stuff has made me who I am. I hope that in the near future I have the courage to do something similar, write about very personal stuff. It takes a lot of chutzpah!

    Anyway, the reason I became more and more interested in your blog is that I know some adults with autism-traits, and have been interested in psychology for a long time.
    But reading this post also made me blink a few times:
    I have never been diagnosed with anything, but having recently lived together with someone pointed out to me that many things I thought were perfectly normal, actually aren’t. Then, recently, my doctor prescribed medication to try and control the intense nerve pain I sometimes have due to rib injuries, and after a week and a bit I started noticing some unexpected changes…

    – I could be doing something, then run to the other side of the house to answer the phone, have a conversation, hang up, turn around, and go straight back to what I was doing. I had never done that before (it feels GOOD!).
    – I get up in the morning and know what I have to do and in which order of importance.
    – I remember things that need to be done.

    Etc.
    So I did a little bit of research, and found out that the pain medication I’m taking is sometimes used when ADD/ADHD meds don’t work. I told my doctor (who has known me for a while…) and he smiled. Yes, that is certainly true, he said.

    Today I was having lunch with friends, and a car with squeaky breaks stopped in front of the restaurant. No-one else noticed, but I was covering my ears. One of my friends was a bit puzzled. I am much less so these days….

    It’s bizarre, isn’t it?

    • “turn around, and go straight back to what I was doing”… oh wow, I know exactly what you are talking about! That’s a very interesting side effect of your meds. And I’m really glad to hear they’re working so well for you!

      Thank you so much for the compliment on my writing (as I’ve told you before as well). 🙂 It really means so much to me that writing honestly about what I’m experiencing can help other people. And you’re right about the struggly bits, they’re part of who I am and my journey through life.

      I’ve never really asked for things to be easy, it’s just finally starting to make sense to me why some things seem so incredibly hard. And that helps. It’s also helping me to look at other people and wonder what they struggle with below the surface. Thank you for sharing your story! *hugs*

  5. Wow. My world with dealing with executive functioning problems was to obsess over everything I needed to do for the day. When someone told me to make a list to organize things, I added that into the list of things I would repeatedly remind myself to do every day. That medication could mitigate if not solve this? Awesome! Be nice to have a quiet train of thought every now and then 🙂

  6. Yay, so glad the medication is helping! That must be a relief. I’ve struggled terribly with the issues..still usually takes me an hour or more to get through the grocery store, even when I just need a few things. The aimless wandering around…I now just accept that it’s part of the deal. But it’s great reading your post, gives me hope, thx for sharing this.

    • It’s not a miracle cure; I think without the acceptance of myself and the workarounds that I already had in place, the medication wouldn’t have worked as well. It doesn’t fix things. But for me, it just makes life slightly easier to navigate.

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