Cultivating a Self-Care Practice with ADHD

Episode 121

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Shelly and Cam discuss the significance of cultivating a self-care practice in this episode and start with distinguishing “should” activities and activities that “fill you up”.They first introduced self-care as a topic back in episode 95. In this episode, they look at self-care through the lens of cultivating a practice. Self-care is something both Shelly and Cam introduce to their ADHD coaching clients because it is the perfect vehicle to identify core values, key needs and practice making space for something that only matters to the client. ADHD can make it very difficult to identify and practice key self-care practices. 

Shelly shares her own experience in coaching with Cam and the barrier to honoring and practicing her own self-care practices of attending live concerts. She talks about the brain soothing benefits of practicing self-care activities that really matter to the individual. Cam and Shelly identify barriers to developing new self-care practices, both limiting mindsets and avoidant behaviors that get in the way.

Finally, Cam and Shelly discuss client examples of how three similar activities, like running, are tethering to very different motivators for each client. Shelly and Cam leave listeners with first steps for cultivating a self-care practice.

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Episode Transcript:

Shelly: Hi, I’m Shelly.

Cam: And I’m Cam.

Shelly: And this is translating ADHD. Before we get started a couple of announcements on our upcoming classes. The Project X group is now full. However, we do have a Resilience course coming up, which begins Thursday, May 12th at 10:00 AM Eastern, and that class still has openings. So if you are interested, get your application in as soon.

So, Cam, this week, we’re coming back to a really popular topic in ADHD land, but with a kind of a different take on it because we’re on practices. And so we’re gonna talk about cultivating a practice around self-care. We just did a group coaching on this not too long ago, and in the very first class what I talked about is what self-care is not, or what self-care ought not be. And what self-care is not is a, should I should brush my teeth. I should exercise. I should eat better. I should get more sleep. Now for some people, some of the things that I just named are in fact self-care, but there’s a really important distinction between self-care and taking care of yourself. Selfcare is about those activities that fill you back up that put some energy in the tank that give you some mental clarity. And when we’re turning to self-care and looking at it like a should, we’re not getting those things or we’re often not even engaging in what is truly self-care for us.

Cam: And when you said that in class, you could look around the room right. In our zoom room and just see this, the relief wash over the faces and like, really, really it’s, it doesn’t have to be these things that I’ve been told all my life that I should do. And this is making distinction because I think with self-care, we it’s this large thing that we ought to get to.

And yet if we are in the midst of arc and trying to get through our day, it often gets pushed to the end of the day. So this I love where we’re starting today is this distinction around again? What fills you up and what really matters to you?

Shelly: Kim. I wanna comment on your self-care getting pushed to the end of the day because I see it going even farther than that with some of my clients. There’s this whole story around because I’m not doing what I ought to do because I should be doing something else. I can’t make time for this. And attached to that is this magical thinking that so often shows up with ADHD of the land of caught up – when I’m caught up. When the decks are clear when the slate is clean, then I’ll make some time for self care you and I find over and over again, that when we focus on self-care early in our coaching work, it’s additive to the process and that it creates more bandwidth, more ability to do this hard work. And more attachment to those positive outcomes that we’re trying to anchor to in coaching.

Cam: Yeah. And. Also as we’ve been talking about practice, right? And so often people are like, oh, I need to add this practice. You are talking about the practices we need to disrupt. That practice of, oh, I can do this later. Or I can’t make time for this right now. People that’s a practice. That is a behavior that is a habit. And in anything that we do in order to add a new habit or new practice we’ve got to look at, or excuse me, there’s an opportunity to look at, Shelly, the behaviors that are not working for us, and a perfect place to practice that pause, disrupt pivot, to pause and catch ourselves in that magical thinking moment.

Shelly: The other cool thing about self-care as an early coaching topic is it’s a great opportunity to practice putting oneself in the picture. Tapping into when I let go of the shoulds or when I let go of how society moralize, how we spend our downtime, we put a high value on exercise and meditation and. Reading. And we put very low value on watching television, playing games, going to concerts.

Cam: So putting ourselves in the picture, right? It’s a practice of that where we, as coaches are modeling, are inviting, asking our clients to elevate the pro practice of self-care, right. To identify what it is and start to get some touches on that.

So it starts with this seeing self in the picture, but. you think about the, elements of that that is about identifying needs and addressing needs and advocating for needs and boundary work. And so it’s not just about the self-care it’s identifying this thing that matters only to you and then getting touches on it, outside the realm of all the other things we have to do and the obligations and commitments we have in the world. Right? Part of what we do with our clients is to identify these things that matter to us, and then somehow create agency around those things.

Shelly: Absolutely. And this is reminding me of how you and I did this work together when you were my coach. I don’t remember. How the topic of self-care even entered the room. It might have been something you introduced because it was early in the coaching. I don’t even know if we were necessarily on self-care. We were on the fact that I was spending a lot of time and avoidance. So I was spending a lot of time gaming, which is a hobby I really enjoy, by the way, Stardew Valley is my new favorite game.

I’m having a great time with it. I love it. But this did not look like that this was gaming from a place of avoidance. It was mindlessly opening up a game and just playing and playing to try and check out. From the anxiety and panic around what I wasn’t attending to. And I think that’s when you brought the topic around to what does actual self-care look like for you?

Well, what does it look like to not be in this avoidance loop? And I hated that question when you asked it, because I was really embarrassed by my answers, for me going to see Phish going to see live music. That’s my number one happy place. It’s not my only happy place. It’s not my only form of self-care. Thank goodness. I would be broke if it was, but there’s something there for me or there’s multiple.

So things there for me. Improvisational music is so interesting to my brain that I can go to a four-hour show. And my brain is quiet the whole time, which is a really rare experience for me. My brain is very noisy and because my primary processing is verbal, it’s just running dialogue all the time.

But at a show it’s like, I can. Check out and tune in and really be present to what’s happening. In addition to that, there are these elements of community there’s nerdiness around it. You know, following the setlist before your show, to see what songs you may or may not get, talking about what you do and don’t like eating, you know, what was the best song of the night, whatever, just the whole picture. Is really fun and joyful for me yet. I had this story in my head that was not a worthy hobby. And in fact, I used to not tell people that that was something that I did regularly. I very much kept my professional life and my personal life separate and those ways out of a sense of embarrassment.

Cam: So, What was the meaning that you were making there?

Shelly: Well Cam I was making the meaning that here I am married with a child. I’m a business owner and this is an irresponsible way for me to be spending my time so much. So that for a number of years, I stopped seeing live music. And the first time I went back, you know, I got married. Year and a half later we had my daughter and at that point I just, I just quit seeing live music. It’s like, okay, you’re an adult. Now you’re a real deal grownup. You don’t need to be hanging out at smokey bars until two o’clock in the morning, seeing some band with 50 people in a basement – which is something I did two weeks ago, by the way – just don’t need to be doing that.

Cam: Right. And so there’s that where our basic need is supplanted or replaced by this judgment. Right. And I should, okay. This is irresponsible. I’m not supposed to do this anymore. And yet then you were denying this need of, again, this connection and tuning in making connections, hollow well has a book called connection and it’s again, self-care is about connecting to what fills you up. And you’d lost that there. But then we found a way to tether back. And the relevance of this in coaching is tethering our clients to their compelling. Why you can’t do self-care just for self-care’s sake. It’s what is the compelling why around that self-care, right? There’s motivation there.

Shelly: Cam, to illustrate what you mean there I’d like to talk about two different clients who share the same form of self-care. They both run. For one of my clients, running is an activity that nothing else can replace. Dance gets really close, but for her, it is about the kinesthetic elements and the mind body connection that happens while running.

That she just cannot access the same way in any other way. And for this client, a lot of our language around other coaching topics have been in the realm of that mind, body connection. That’s something that, that client is very attuned to. For example, she gets migraines and we discovered that large part of what might trigger a migraine for her was avoidance with some ADHD pattern stuff. So when we get to this practice of running, we came to the same conclusion, you know, there’s this mind-body connection and this clarity that comes from running and this energy after a run, I can do anything that just cannot be replicated another way. Now I have another client, who’s a runner. And when we started working together, Which was fairly recently, she said I haven’t been running and I really haven’t been running since the pandemic started. And when we started to dig into that, because at first it was kind of a side comment, but then running came up again and I’m like, okay, I wanna know more about running. Because you dismissed it as this thing you used to do that you don’t do anymore, but I, I wanna dig in a little bit what’s going on there?

Well, For this client, a big part of her running practice was training for races that she then traveled to attend. And in traveling to attend, these is what is she doing? This sounds a lot like Phish store, by the way, she’s meeting up with friends. That she has made an online running communities and having this sense of community and adventure and travel centered around this activity of running.

So like the first client, there is something about running for this client that makes it come telling, but it’s more than just the running. Right For my first client, it’s about the practice of running and it’s a very individual practice, a run with the jogging stroller with her baby is not the same as a run alone.

Whereas the second client, this is a community practice. It’s as much about the travel and the adventure and the meeting and with people I would’ve never otherwise met or connected with, as it is about the running same activity, two completely different sets of why that is an activity that fills up each of those clients.

Cam: That’s great, you know. And again, it’s that tethering to “what does this do for me?” If you went and sat in a room and just listened to Phish by yourself, that would not fulfill the need, right? There’s that community aspect, that live aspect in the space aspect that matters, right? Otherwise you just go put on your vinyl and sit there with your headphones on and you’d be fine, but that’s not it alone.

Right. It’s the whole experience there. Your examples. Remind me of another one of my clients, where again, if she’s running by herself, she can be thinking about work. She’s like, you know what part of my self-care practice is to not think about work and that if I play tennis, if I do a bootcamp, if I’m running with a group.

If I’m running socially, it forces me to not think about work, Here’s this fast brainer. Who’s thinking about her work all the time and that she needs a little assistance to put some breaks, that thinking. So she’s clear in. What kind of self-care works for her. And again, we’re talking about exercise, there’s all kinds of self-care.

I’m thinking about one of our participants who identified painting in self-care right. Of getting to that. And she had that same thinking around, I can’t make time for this. I can’t make time for this because of demands of her family, of her kid of work. And it just always came to sort of at the end of her list.

Shelly: So, How do you start to tease this apart and figure out what fills me up? Because it’s not always obvious, when cam and I were talking about going to see live music, I had just started seeing live music again. And by the way, my ex-husband at the time. Said, please don’t ever stop seeing live music again you’re so much happier, right?

There was a noticing there on his part, but there was this story that was riding along. So I was feeling guilt and shame. Like I had to hide these choices from my professional colleagues, otherwise, what might they think of me? They meditate and run and read and knit I mean, I, no camp. Okay. So like, I really admire, like, have you ever been given a hand-knitted gift? They’re gorgeous.

Cam: Yes.

Shelly: They’re lovely and wonderful. And I admire people so much who can create something so beautiful out of some sh it’s crazy to me. It’s so cool. So yes. 

Cam: Yeah, I heard that. That was not like uh, damning all knitters. No, it was like your frustration with or, or just like, okay, I’m not gonna knit. That’s not my thing. I’m gonna do something else.

Shelly: Right. 

So there was this story going on where I wasn’t allowing myself to truly lean into this being something that fills me up. This being a part of my identity and that being okay. So as you start to pick this apart, think about what fills you up. Why does it fill you up and also, think about what might fill you up if the context was different. Is there a story you’re telling yourself about an activity or a hobby or an interest that you love that’s getting in the way, or like with me in gaming and I do love gaming. Have you started to use that as a way of avoiding, which means you’re not enjoying or connecting to the task, it’s not filling you up?

And you’ve conflated those two things for yourself. And a great example. Here is a client I had who really did love TV. And you get her talking about a show that she really liked and she like shows across all genres, right? She always would have a recommendation for you based on anything. You’d like, she’d seen it all, but there was a very clear distinction for her between.

Watching TV, because I’m excited for the next episode. And I’m diving back into the show I’m watching right now and just putting on some garbage and binge-watching. And by garbage, by the way, that’s not a value judgment, that’s garbage in terms of something that she does not otherwise enjoy or would not choose to do.

And so when those patterns arise, it can often be hard to see where the self-care practice is because now we’re building a story of I’m addicted to TV, or I’m addicted to video games, or I have no self-control. I can’t engage in this activity at all because otherwise I engage in it too much, or I engage in it in a way that doesn’t feel good.

So try and connect back to not just, what do you enjoy? What do you love? What are your interests, but when does it feel good? When does it not feel good?

Cam: And I love that you’re bringing in the term that we’ve spent a lot of time on in the fall context matters here. Context matters with self-care, especially identifying those things that really connect you to something and renew and refuel.

Shelly: Absolutely, Cam, part of my embarrassment at the time in sharing my answers with you is I have always known you to be a person whose own forms of self-care whose own hobbies are largely active and kinesthetic. We were talking about that before the show as well, but you shared that like are three runners that we’ve exampled in this episode, there’s more there for you than just pure movement.

The exercise is great. It’s part of the picture, but it’s not the whole picture. So I think it’d be interesting if you say a little bit more about that too because again, we can, we look at other people and be like well, look at Cam, you know, Cam is 20 years older than me and he could run circles around me. Why can’t I take up mountain biking and hiking and climbing mountains? Oh because I don’t want to, I would rather dance for three hours at a show and get my movement that way.

Cam: Get your movement and also again, get your connection

Shelly: Yeah.

Cam: Right. In the sense of, again, like extroverts introverts, it doesn’t matter. It’s connecting to this practice that I’m just gonna say this. You said it earlier. It’s kind of like, it gets your brain in a certain way. It’s almost a soothing, nurturing and giving versus just an activity. So there’s the activity, whatever it is, but it’s like what it does for you. This comes back to our three barriers, right? Necessary, important awareness learning from your experience, right. Going out and, and kind of playing around with this experimenting and also noticing those practices that get in the way.

The stories we tell ourselves, or again, just the practice of dismissing. I’ll do it later. I know I’ll kick it down the road. I’ll do it tomorrow. I’ll do it tomorrow. I’ll do it tomorrow. You can always do this tomorrow. And so this place holding, you know, the class that we’re about to teach project X, you can always do project X tomorrow, right?

It’s like, how do you make space? For it today. This is the practice that is difficult with ADHD, but also it is tractable. Meaning it is a place you can develop a practice.

Shelly: Kim, I wanna add to your idea of making space, because we can often take this too far, the other way and create unnecessary rules. I have to do it this often or in this way in order to be successful.

Cam: Great point.

Shelly: If I’m not engaging in this practice, this often in this way, or at this time of day, then I’m not doing it correctly. Right. So start with what does work for you and I really great client story here about a client who went through a similar transition to the one I went through a couple of years ago, she was recently divorced and had just purchased. A new home, her first home that was just hers, durable little place in the Pacific Northwest nestled in the woods like, uh, just a dream. And during a coaching session, she was talking about how much she looked forward to sitting on the deck with her teeth, first thing in the morning and how upset she was at herself that she wasn’t doing that. And then we broke it down into its component parts and it was like, why does morning matter morning?

Doesn’t matter at all. I just wanna enjoy the beauty of my surroundings and it doesn’t even have to be sitting on the deck. I just wanna get out and see the woods around me. So all of this attachment to it’s gotta be morning and it’s gotta be tea and it’s gotta be on the deck. It turned out the most important piece was being on her property outside of her home.

It didn’t have to be morning. It didn’t have to be tea. And those were not only the least important parts. They were throwing up barriers because since it wasn’t morning, it wasn’t tea. She felt like she had already lost her opportunity to do it that day. But when we took out morning and we took out tea and it’s just go be outside, all of a sudden she was connecting to why she wanted to do it rather than what she thought she should be doing.

Cam: I got one more to add, and that is, we often sort of focus on maximizing. And making these rules and Destin, this is destination thinking, right. to kind of think about, we have this picture of success. And so what Shelley’s talking about is like loosening up that picture of success being in process with this right journey thinking.

And instead of going sort of the max, right, I’m gonna do this many times to really think about a minimum. What’s the minimum practice this last week. I, I work with a, a fair number of writers, right. And they’re often sort of, again, pressure to write pages and it’s coming down to, because the challenge is often in just starting. It’s like, you know what, I’m gonna commit to 30 minutes of time and 15 minutes of writing. So there’s that. The blocking of time to give to this process, this delicate creative process, but I’m gonna commit to 15 minutes and often what happens is the 15 minutes happen and then they’re off to the races, right.

It’s like, oh yeah. And I, I wrote another 29 minutes. So it’s that more of a minimum to think about there.

Shelly: Well said, Cam, and I’ll say that just in this conversation, even I have kind of a new appreciation for my own primary happy place being live music, because I can’t should that. I can’t it’s, it’s all about what my time and schedule and ability to travel and budget allow in any given period of time and what bands are playing. And so for something I used to be so embarrassed about, it’s kind of cool to see it in that new light of, I can’t shit that I can’t should that, and I can’t even spin it into trying to justify it in any way to someone other than it’s a whole lot of fun. And it makes me really happy. Those same things that I used to hate.

And I used to be embarrassed of, I now see as a strength, I do it for the pure joy of it and for no other reason,

Cam: I think that’s a great place to finish up.

Shelly: Yeah. So if you like what we’re doing here on the show, three big ways you can help us out. You all know them, but we’re gonna say them again first, please leave a review wherever you listen. This helps other people find the show, lets other people know why we stand apart and Cam and I always appreciate reading your feedback.

It’s very helpful to us too. Second, don’t keep us a secret, and we know a lot of you aren’t by the way. When we do get to interact with listeners, whether they’re emailing us or tweeting us or showing up to group coaching classes, so many of our listeners have come to us because they were referred by another listener.

So thank you. Thank you to all of you doing that and particular, thank you to the professionals, the coaches and therapists and doctors that are referring our show – that blows my mind in the best way. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And finally, you can financially support the show by becoming a patron. And in addition to helping Cam and I cover all of the costs of running the show. You also gain access to our discord community, where our listeners are working together to do their own, understand, own, and translate work, to do that. Visit the website, translating adhd.com, click on the Patreon link in the upper right-hand corner. And for five bucks a month, you’re all set. So until next week, I’m Shelly.

Cam: And I’m Cam.

Shelly: And this was the translating ADHD podcast. Thanks for listening.

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Episode 121