Life Disruptions and Pivoting to a New Normal with ADHD

Episode 179

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In this episode, Ash and Cam discuss the concept of life disruptions and how individuals with ADHD can navigate them. They start by reflecting on smaller disruptions and the opportunity to anticipate them to achieve better outcomes. They mention the ADHD assumption that life should be free of disruptions harkening back to the concept of greenlight planning.

They then transition to discussing more significant disruptions that require pivoting towards a new normal. Ash shares an example of a client whose adult daughter had a traumatic fall, leading her to move across the country temporarily. They highlight the importance of recognizing when there’s no opening for change and supporting clients through disruptions. They also mention the importance of reconnecting clients to what they already know, such as their values, needs, and strengths. They discuss how coaching can prepare clients for pivots and provide resources to navigate disruptions.

Another example is given of a client who lost their job and returned to coaching to reconnect with their identity beyond their previous position. The conversation emphasizes the significance of reconnecting with knowledge and perspectives amidst disruptions. They also discuss how disruptions can lead to new opportunities and the importance of reevaluating goals and priorities. The hosts highlight the challenges of being in a limbo state for individuals with ADHD and the need to find ways to make progress while accepting limitations. Ash and Cam discuss how coaching can play a role in helping clients manage disruptions, navigate new normals, and make choices aligned with their values and aspirations.

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Episode Transcript:

Ash: Hi, I am Ash.

Cam: And I’m Cam.

Ash: And this is Translating ADHD. This week we’re gonna continue pulling on the thread of life’s disruptions. Cam, you wanna say a little bit more about where we’re headed today?

Cam: Yeah, so last week we were talking about these smaller disruptions, these inconveniences, and how they can really trip us up. We talked about this idea of expectation inertia, and that if we can start to see these disruptions and anticipate them, we can have a different outcome. You had the great example of your client who just had a June that was full of birthdays and thought, oh, you know, June should be like any other month in the calendar year.

That got us onto the topic of we have our seasons and that those of us with ADHD are often, we kind of get into a mode of we shouldn’t have any disruptions. This assumption it’s gonna be green light planning. Right. Does that ring a bell, people?

So we’re just starting with the smaller disruptions, and we’re now at this, more like a mid-level, as we move upward on this disruption ladder or chain. And today we’re gonna talk about pivoting towards a new normal, right? It’s when life interrupts, and it’s a disruption that’s not a small inconvenience or a number of extra birthdays in a month, but it really is a disruption. And how do you then pivot to recognize and be able to pivot towards the new normal that has now occurred?

You had some great examples. Do you wanna start with those?

Ash: Yeah, so let’s start with a client of mine. We were just starting to hit our stride in coaching. She’s starting to see some change. Things are going really well, and then her adult daughter had a traumatic fall. Now, this was very early pandemic days. There were no vaccines. Travel was still heavily disrupted. My client’s adult daughter could not rely on the social supports that she had where she lived because most people were still in quarantine bubbles. So here’s my client overnight planning and packing up to leave her spouse and her teenage child at home and move across the country. So finding a rental, figuring out what she needs to bring with her, knowing that this is going to be a many months situation once she lands.

Now I’m gonna pause right here and say, this is why I don’t require long-term coaching commitments from any client because life happens. Whether it’s an event like this that’s in the moment, so all consuming or whether it’s something else. Like along the way we find that my client has some other work to do, maybe around trauma or childhood experiences that’s standing in the way of our coaching. Coaching is not necessarily a linear process, and I would feel terrible taking a client’s money if I know that there’s not an opening for change. And at this moment in time, there wasn’t an opening for change with this client.

So we spent our final session doing what we could do in a coaching capacity to prepare her for this move, and then talking about what’s next when she might come back. And I told her it’s an open door. For returning clients, it’s an open door. When you’re ready to come back, come on back, and I’ll make room for you in my schedule. So a month or two go by. I’m terrible with time. So client, if you’re listening and I have the timeline totally wrong, apologies. But an amount of time goes by and it wasn’t lengthy. It was a month or two at most. And I hear from this client. She’s settled in her new temporary place. She has her routines down with her daughter, who is now starting to do better and is starting to need less caretaking.

And she’s ready to pick back up because this client was also self-employed, and that’s really what the focus of our coaching was, was around her business and making it a business that fits for her. And she was ready to start working and diving back in. So she came back. Now, her circumstances were completely different than they were before.

But what I was really appreciating about this client is her recognition of that environment’s different, everything’s different, and that can really mess with ADHD, but also embracing the unique opportunity that this offered because she wasn’t at home with the rest of her family, although she missed them, she had more time and space than she had at home. And she decided that she wanted to capitalize on that time and space, which is what prompted her to come back to coaching.

Cam: Have a question here, and I wonder about the work that you did before the coaching work you did with this client. Before the disruption and the unfortunate accident that her daughter had. Do you think the coaching prepared her for this pivot?

The working title today is pivoting towards a new normal, right? You have a disruption, the ability and the resilience to again, turn back and reengage with or reengage and find that opening for change again. What was it, do you think, that you did together with her that just was a resource for her in this period between?

Ash: It’s a good question Cam, and there are several potential answers, so let’s look at them. Number one, we had started digging into what wasn’t working for her in her business, and we had started to make some changes. And she was looking at her business and her ability to have agency in her business differently.

So navigating that change in terms of how she handled her business, certainly came from our coaching work in part, and her to recognize when there was an opening to keep doing that work when she decided to start working again. She was being aware, and she noticed the curiosity coming back in, and the desire to continue forging that path forward.

On a more basic level, our clients, the longer they do this work with us, the better they get at doing this work, whether or not we’re in the room, of taking a pause, of being aware, of being at choice, of having agency, of being able to distinguish an emotional response from what’s real in a situation. And so certainly some of that too came along on the ride with her in the time between being able to pause and evaluate, being able to pivot when necessary.

Cam: You said something, before we got started, in the sense of, again, when you will pause the coaching with someone because they have something else going on. I’ll do the same thing. That I invite investment of time, energy, and attention because change takes time. But if something comes up, we need to address that, right? It’s like that this is important work, but you can’t do this work. You’ve got something else going on.

You’re talking about your, client who is caretaking their daughter. I’m seeing a lot of clients where they’re in that squeeze position, or that middle position, where they’ve got kids and they’ve got aging parents. And so they’re caretaking the parents, but they’re also having to still take care of their kids, and it’s taxing that executive function system.

But what you said before the episode today was often what we do is, it’s reconnecting people to what they already know. This is where ADHD can really conspire against us, right? These three barriers that we’ve talked about of awareness, action, and learning. It’s like coming back to what we already know, and even if you’re just listening to this podcast, you’ve got some learning that is a resource that you can come back to and apply to the new normal in your life.

Listeners, as we’re going through this and Ash is sharing this example, it’s like what’s a disruption that you are seeing? Is it an opportunity to pivot to a new normal?

Ash: Exactly, Cam. And I will say that whenever I have a client pausing or stopping coaching for whatever reason, up to and including they’ve gotten what they came for, I like to spend our final session doing a recap. Talking about those shifts, talking about the tools and resources that they have that they didn’t have before.

And if it’s a case like this client where the reason for pausing coaching is because of a disruption, is because something else has happened and there’s just not space for the work right now, I also like to have the conversation of that client in terms of how will you know when and if you want to come back, when and if you want to re-engage, what will that look like or feel like?

And this client and I had that conversation. And by the way, I was shocked to hear from her so soon. But she was there, she was settled, she had found a routine. She had this unexpected space that she didn’t realize she was gonna have. She knew it was the right time, and so she came back and she jumped right in.

Now, I kind of wanna tell a different story. This is a quick one about connecting a client back to what they know. I had a client return to coaching because she had been let go from her job, and we had previously done a lot of work around this particular job and how much of her identity was tied to her job. And her role was something she was extremely curious about, and her realization in that coaching work was that my identity is too tied to this one position. I’m more than this. I’m so much more than this.

With that being said, this was a company she started with as a startup – 10 employees or so – and was there throughout the time that it grew to 200 plus employees. And so to be let go just really shook her, and so she reached out. I wanna do some more coaching. I don’t know for how long.

Well, we only ended up meeting a couple of times. As we revisited that work that we had already done, she’d already done the work. The knowledge was there, the perspective shifts were there. She just needed to be able to reconnect to those with this new context to remember, yeah, that’s right, I don’t want my whole identity to be tied up in this. And my whole identity isn’t tied up in this. I’m not less valuable as a person or less important because I no longer have this position. And truth be told, this position wasn’t really what I wanted anyway, and I knew that to a degree.

Cam: So as we talk about how things are always changing, right – we have disruptions coming – there’s also things that we can count on to be consistent. And this is again, I love this term of reconnecting clients back to what they already know, their values, their needs, their strengths. Those people who they can count on consistently to support them and their efforts. These are resources that we often lose sight of when we hit these bumps in the road, when we have these disruptions and get knocked off course. But to kind of think about re-tethering back to what we already know to be true.

Ash: Cam, I’d like to pivot and talk about a different type of new normal. The example I’m gonna use is a client that came to my Purpose course. He was really struggling in a number of ways. He was struggling to define purpose for himself. He’s an attorney and was looking at his peers, the people he came up through law school with, and where they were in life versus where he was in life.

And then he made this connection that wasn’t there before. And I’m gonna put it in his words: “We need more young radical lawyers.” He realized that his goals for being a lawyer weren’t necessarily becoming a partner and having a big house and having that lifestyle. He wants to do advocacy work. He wants to stand up for the little guy.

When we were working together, he was working in tenants’ rights and that statement of “We need more young radical lawyers,” was him recognizing a strength of his that he didn’t see before in mentoring young radical lawyers. So that lit a spark, right? That was the North Star that we were looking for in terms of redefining purpose for him, which brought us to the next set of barriers.

His mother was not well, and he knew that there would come a time where she would move in with him, and he would be with her through end of life. And that put him in a limbo state in a lot of ways because as he’s unlocking young radical lawyer, he’s remembering some other really progressive people he knows who have talked about things like living in a shared environment, in a community, in a commune, working together, that type of thing. And he’s starting to realize maybe that’s the kind of situation I would like to have. I don’t really like living alone and I don’t need this big apartment for just me, but I need this big apartment right now because it’s not going to be just me. There’s this event that is coming up that I have to go through that I don’t know when, and I don’t know how long, but I know it’s coming, and I can’t change this set of circumstances. Because I need this apartment, I need this space. I need certain things to be able to show up as a caregiver.

The limbo states, man with ADHD we hate ’em. I don’t know a single person with ADHD that copes well with a limbo state. A place where you don’t have agency and control in ways that it’s limiting your ability to do what you want to do to live the life you wanna live, to be at choice. And that really became, in the second half of class, what his work was about is, okay, I have my North Star now, or the starts of a North Star. I’m clearer on who I am and what a life that fits looks like for me. I also have these real and practical limitations. Some of the threads I would like to pull on, I can’t right now. I simply can’t. But what is the opportunity right now in this space? Where can we go? And we found some stuff. We found some places for him to go.

And so often that’s that binary thinking with ADHD, that all or nothing, and why we’re so terrible at limbo states. I’m in limbo, so I can’t do anything. Right. Well, he can’t do everything, definitely has limitations. But there was stuff he could do. There was threads that he could start pulling on while accepting the limbo state that he was in.

Cam: I love these two examples here. Just again, how they’re similar but also different. Listeners, as you’re listening to Ash tell this story, I hope you’re appreciating something here. He’s doing other kinds of work with the client. This is about time management. This is about priority, right? A sense of looking at what’s coming up. Really, again, shifting to the opportunity.

This is the perspective work that we do with our clients, but also, it’s looking at time now. We struggle with being able to look beyond our time horizon. This is the client looking past that time horizon and really considering and thinking about choices. And that this is something that’s coming up, and putting ducks in a row and prioritizing in a sense of how all of this can fit together. So it actually then helps us have a sense of priority cadence, being okay with this limbo moment, right? Limbo state. So really great example.

Ash: Cam, I wanna bring it right back to last week in seasons. As ADHD people, we often wait for the right season, the right season to get my life together, to do that thing I wanna do, to tackle my project X, to do what matters to me. And the thing is, is that’s pure magical thinking.

There is no magical land or season of caught up. Everything is done and there are no disruptions, minor or major. Just doesn’t work that way, but that doesn’t stop us. I’ve found myself in that place. And all of the rapid fire change I’ve had in the last few years reverting back to some magical thinking, oh, when Alex’s stuff is all moved in, when the basement is done, when this is done…kind of kicking that can down the road like now is not the time. Which is, by the way, different than being at choice.

And that’s the distinction we’re trying to make is, listeners, if you are dealing with disruption – be it more minor, daily type of disruption, but frequently be it more major disruption at a limbo state – the opportunity here is to distinguish what is for now and what isn’t for now. When you think about what isn’t for now, is that choice and agency or is that magical thinking? The land of caught up and the magical season where all the pieces will fall into place. And if it’s the latter, can you get a little curious, figure out what is possible now. Maybe that big project X or big steps towards your purpose or life that fits aren’t possible right now, but what can you be doing?

So, not related to ADHD, but I’ll toss in a little story of my own here. Transition is slow. Do y’all remember how long your first puberty was? Second puberty is no different. It takes just as long. It’s going to take the time that it’s going to take based on my genetics, and there is not a lot that I can do about that. And that was a really frustrating limbo state for me and was getting to be a place of stuckness – when I’m farther along in transition, when I pass, when this, when that, and I recognize that magical thinking and ask myself the question, okay, I can’t make testosterone do its thing any faster, but what can I do?

I took up kickboxing. Because what I can do right now is I can focus on my physique, building some muscle, losing some weight, getting in shape, being around positive community, in a heavily masculine space. So having some positive masculinity in my life, that’s what I can do, and that’s what I am doing. 

Cam: I really like how conversation today, Ash, is moving to choice and being at choice, to step back. I think that right there, when you talk about, you know, being impatient with puberty, I can’t make the testosterone work any faster. Come on, let’s go. What you had to do there was you had to step back first, had to take a step back, get above it, get perspective to consider, how am I looking at this? How am I approaching this?

Here’s this. When we talk about pivoting to a new normal, it’s before that pivot is pause and disrupt. You paused, and in disrupting, there’s a stepping back from to consider, okay, what’s going on here? Why am I frustrated? What’s frustrating? Oh, you know, I’d really like this to move along people. And then this shift to, again, this distinction between what you have control over and what you don’t have control over. Where can I put my time, energy, and attention? What do I really have to set aside for now?

It’s one of the hardest things to do with ADHD. To set aside a project, a way we feel about somebody, a perspective, but sometimes we have to do that. It’s just set it down and then come back to what does this moment call for?

That’s one of my favorite questions that helped me to get in tune with, again, developing awareness for this moment right now. What does this moment call for? I really appreciate this whole conversation around disruption. And starting with last week, and again, next week we’re gonna look at just the new normal all of us are facing, right? This is a time of tremendous upheaval and uncertainty. So I really am liking this whole theme here that we’re looking at.

Ash: Me too, and I’m stoked for next week. And by the way, the following week we’re gonna talk a little bit more about my stuff and my upheaval because there’s a lot there. And we thought it was worth its own episode to dig in because it’s not just transition, it’s the collision of so many life disrupting, altering, changing events and the impact that it’s had on me. And the impacts that I didn’t realize right away.

It’s pretty hard these days for you and I to get caught too off guard by our ADHD. So when mine started really catching me off guard, I was panicking, and I’m stoked to dig into that a little bit more now that I am on the other side of that a little bit. Not that I’m on the other side and everything’s clicking the way it should be. It’s not, and we’re gonna talk about that too, but that my awareness is different.

And that’s really, really the big theme when we’re talking about any sort of disruption – from a disrupted day to a disrupted chunk of time to a complete paradigm shift. It starts with that pause, that awareness, that ability to get up above it a little bit. Get out of the binary thinking and look for what the opportunity is now and what it maybe isn’t right now.

Cam: You’ve got a little more keen observer present the last couple weeks, Ash, is what I’m noticing.

Ash: And we’ll dig into that in a couple weeks. But next week, again, that new normal we’re all going through. And I think we all, and myself included, sometimes discount how that’s impacting.

All right, Cam, I think that’s a good place for us to wrap for today. So listeners, if you like what we’re doing here on the show, one way that you can support us is by not keeping us a secret. Share us with someone else in your life who is neurodivergent. Post your favorite episode on social media.

So until next week, I’m Ash.

Cam: And I’m Cam.

Ash: And this was the Translating ADHD podcast. Thanks for listening.

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