It’s the end of the week or the beginning of a new one. I’m scrolling through my to-do list and my flagged and pinned e-mails. Out of sixteen to-do items, I’ve ‘done’ at least half, but I’m frustrated because I can’t take them off my list. I’ve sent out the e-mail that I’d promised to write, I’ve initiated that meeting, and I’ve called the office I was supposed to contact; I’ve put in the initial work. . I’ve done my part, but the other party hasn’t done theirs. The office hasn’t called me back for an appointment or the accountant hasn’t answered the question I put to him.
It makes me feel like I’m in a void. Hello? Is anyone out there?
Usually I am hesitant to blame other people for my problems, but I think this is one of the rare cases where blame is justified.
Sometimes I think that a task has been completed when in truth it has only gone into hiding. For example, last month I had a couple of unusual bills to pay– a fine on my library card which I’d ignored for so long that it had gone to a collections agency, and a second fine from the same collection agency on a charge I’d been disputing (a battle which, clearly, I’d lost). Let it be known that I do not often have collection agencies on my back. I make every effort to pay my bills on time, and I’m pretty organized about it. Somehow, though, these two yellow papers arrived in my mailbox the same week.
I called the agency to settle up and they asked me how I’d like to pay.
“What are the options?” I asked them.
I chose e-transfer over credit card because because my purse was downstairs and I didn’t feel like getting up from my desk to get it. Also, I tend to get distracted when I step away from my workstation, no matter how purposefully I set out, and so I decided that I’d just take care of the transfers then and there without leaving my computer. The woman on the phone gave me all the details– the e-mail address, the password I was to use, and what to write in the memo line so that the payment would be attributed to the right source. I followed her directions, stamped the bills as PIF — Paid In Full– and wrote the date, because I’m organized that way. Then I put the bills in my To Be Filed box and forgot about them.
A few days later, with a huge pile of books in front of me (my kids are book junkies) and already five minutes away from a piano lesson, I get a loud error message from the self-checkout machine at the library. After consulting with the human librarian and her more informed computer, it turned out that the fine had not been paid, though I knew for sure that I’d put it through. We managed to check out the books on one of the kids’ cards attached to my file and once again the issue of the library fine is pushed to the back of my mind.
Not long after that, I get a call from the collection agency. The confused agent apologizes and tells me that there is a note on my file saying I’d paid, but that no payment had been made.
I told her about my last call with the agency. She stopped me halfway, not quite comprehending.
“But we don’t accept e-transfers,” she said.
Welcome to my absurdist life. She did not know who I’d spoken with or why that person had given me incorrect information. Apparently, the fine, a task I’d acted on and followed through to completion, had in fact been unpaid for so long that it had already affected my credit rating.
The frustration in this scenario and in episodes like it is twofold when you have ADHD.
First is the expected reaction- the forehead smacking, the eye rolling, the regret over time wasted in the initial act, and the extra time it will take to correct the blunder or follow up on the tardy respondent. There is also the emotional quotient– depending on the relationship you have with the person or the company you are dealing with, how many times, is it acceptable to nudge, pester, call or write back, and how often?
The second level, which is invisible unless you are on the inside of the ADD mind, is that you are going to have to once again muster up all the extra effort it took you to carry out this seemingly lightweight task in the first place. It takes so much effort to do mundane tasks. I could happily do many other tasks all day long, but the stuff that feels mundane to me, even if it’s the simplest of actions, requires a huge mental leap for me to get around to them.
Blame, I think, is only fair, though I recognize that it’s not going to get me anywhere.
Also, each element of followup is another item on your to-do list, and, after you’ve congratulated yourself on a (teensy tinsey, mundane) task well done, you don’t want to have to disappoint yourself and do it all over again.
A few weeks ago a friend of mine asked if I had any baby clothes that would fit her son. Pleased, I told her that I did, and that she was more than welcome to them, but that they were waaay in the back of my storage closet under piles of bigger, more recently outgrown clothes. I told her, however, that I was determined to get them out for her on the spot because I knew that if I didn’t do it right away, I’d never quite get around to it– at least, not while the baby was still wearing that size, and then I’d miss my chance. I did good here. I was coasting on the motivation to show my friend good will, and I took advantage of that momentum to get the job done at once.
I decided at the same time that I would finally get rid of all the other clothes I was almost certain to not need again unless I have another baby, because I’m not going to be so presumptuous as to think my kids are going to want them for their own children. My mom did that for us (though we had waaay fewer clothes) and not only has fashion changed, but the materials are completely different from 30 years ago or so. I would never put my kids in something so scratchy. Who knows what trends in baby raising and fashion will be taking place by the time my kids become parents?
It took a little while, but over the course of the next few days I pulled out all the excess clothes boxes and grouped them in my basement by age and gender. They were already boxed by size. I didn’t go through the boxes because I knew that I’d get too sentimental and want to keep everything. Then I posted the clothes online in a mommy group I’m part of. Free clothes: Yours to pick up.
I got several responses, and I had promised out all the clothes within a day. The problem was, and this is something that has happened to me before in situations like these, that people ask you to save things for them, and then they don’t show up to take them. It was so much work trying to coordinate all of the people in order of who asked for which boxes, and after about a week of doing this, I still had most of the boxes sitting in my basement.
That’s when I made the mistake of opening up a box full of 2T-3T sized girl’s clothes, just to see what kind of stuff I was actually giving away. OMG. I dumped them out to ‘sort them,’ but ended up making a ‘to keep’ and a ‘to give away’ pile. What was I going to do with the ‘too keep ones?’ Honestly, I was just going to put them in a box somewhere and take them out and look at them every few months… and maybe save them for my own kids. Cringe worthy– I know.
Eventually, I forced myself to select a single dress that brought back a great many memories, and which my daughter also still remembers fondly. I put everything back in the box and stacked all the other boxes on top of it.
And that is where the boxes still are… in the hall of my basement, with various garments peeking out of them, waiting to find new homes. It’s been about two months since I first pulled them out. I feel guilty every time I pass by there, but really it is the women who answered my ad that didn’t show up to pick up clothes that should feel guilty. It’s their fault for making promises they don’t keep, isn’t it?
Sometimes, a whole bunch of tasks on my list are dependent on one task getting done, and until that task is done, I’m stuck. I need to hear back from the bank before I can complete my budget. I need to complete my budget before I can purchase that new appliance. I need to purchase that new appliance before I can get rid of this accumulated mess… and so on and so forth.
In a curious turn of events I was trying to reach my psychiatrist recently– the one who prescribes my ADD meds. I haven’t seen her for months because I’ve just been too busy, and in the meantime I’ve run out. I called her office and it took them three business days- that’s five actual days– to get back to me. They told me I needed to reach her directly on another number. I left her a message and didn’t hear back for two days, so I called and left a second message. A day after that, she finally called me back and I was able to schedule an appointment for the following week. In this case, I wasn’t shy about pursuing the reply that I needed. However, it’s not everyday that the stars collide and that I am in a position to take care of every element of my to do list.
I know– it’s ironic to write a whole post about blaming others for my lack of productivity because I’m always lamenting my own lack of focus and discipline. However, i have a keen sense of responsibility to other people. It would be false to say that I am never late or that I am on top of every communication that comes my way. However, I am conscious of making other people wait, and I will almost always at least provide an interim message to let them know I haven’t forgotten. I think it’s just common courtesy to keep other people from getting stuck in your muck.