Your Bias Against People With Borderline is Still Ableist

256.

That’s how many different ways borderline personality disorder can present itself, just looking at the diagnostic criteria alone. Factor in co-existing disorders, trauma history, and all of the biological, sociological, and psychological influences that make us individuals? You’ll find that “borderline personality disorder” loosely describes a very diverse group of people.

It’s also been used to describe me. More specifically, as a survivor, it’s been used to describe the sort of “emotional PTSD” I developed overtime as a response to very traumatic life circumstances.

But no one ever wants to talk about borderline as a product of abuse. I continue to encounter people who only view borderline as a propensity for abuse — as irredeemably horrible people to be avoided at all costs.

And painting people with borderline with one uncomplicated, overgeneralized brushstroke? Treating us like a plague, as inherently immoral, as dangerous? That’s still ableist.

We need to start calling abusers what they are: Abusers.

And we need to start calling people who unilaterally demonize people with any mental illness what they actually are: Ableist.

Because here’s the thing: So long as we keep treating borderline as synonymous with abuse, we take a very painful and difficult disorder and deeply stigmatize it. BPD is not a disorder that causes abuse — more appropriately named, it’s a disorder of emotion dysregulation. Abusers themselves, regardless of their mental health status, are solely responsible for their actions.

I’m not denying that there are people with borderline personality disorder that are abusive. But I reject the idea that all people with BPD are abusive, or should be assumed to be abusive. And further, I reject the idea that people with BPD aren’t deserving of competent care and compassion that would allow them to thrive — and if we dismiss them as being irredeemable, that support becomes more difficult to access.

I also think that, too often, we erase survivors who have developed the disorder as a valid response to trauma. We selectively look at abusers who have borderline, while ignoring the high prevalence of trauma in borderline folks. Many of the symptoms associated with BPD, like dissociation and interpersonal instability, are incredibly common in folks who have been abused.  In fact, if we took into account trauma history, many (but not all) people with borderline could easily be diagnosed as having complex PTSD.

With all the same symptoms and simply a different framework, we go from being assumed to be abusers to being honored as survivors — that’s the power of stigma.

As a survivor that has been diagnosed with both complex PTSD and borderline, I find myself stuck between a rock and a hard place. To access spaces where I can connect with other survivors, I find myself withholding my borderline diagnosis, so I’m not considered “suspect.”

But as someone who believes that borderline shouldn’t be stigmatized, rejecting BPD as a diagnosis feels like betraying other people with the disorder who are battling everyday against painful assumptions.

I personally find “borderline” to be a difficult word to reclaim, because it’s so entrenched in negative assumptions that it fails to be a useful word when I’m trying to access spaces that help me and mental healthcare that supports me. If I enter into a space as a person with borderline, I am feared and ostracized. If I enter into a space as a person with complex PTSD, I am cared for and affirmed.

Ask anyone if they want to see people with borderline to be well and to thrive, and they won’t necessarily disagree. But ask them to be careful about the language that they use — so that thriving is a real possibility that isn’t impeded by stigma — and you’ll get pushback that these conversations stigmatizing borderline are actually helping survivors.

I’m wondering which survivors are being helped by these conversations, though. Because survivors with borderline don’t seem to count — they’re apparently just a necessary casualty here, as if their trauma doesn’t matter the moment they become too emotionally unstable, too much.

As a trauma survivor, I deeply empathize with folks who have been abused by someone with BPD, and have found community and support by connecting with other people who have been similarly abused. But I believe that we can have conversations about patterns of abuse without ableism — and decoupling “abuse” and “borderline,” recognizing that there are many ways that BPD manifests, is an important first step.

The reality is, we relinquish abusers of their responsibility if we attribute their abuse to mental illness, rather than demanding that they take ownership of the harm that they’ve caused. And when we equate a particular mental illness with abuse, we draw false equivalences that actually harm survivors and psychiatrically disabled folks alike.

The reality is, most people with BPD are far more likely to hurt themselves than someone else (notably, this is true of mental illness generally). And much of the research shows that mental health outcomes improve drastically overtime for folks with borderline (90% will be more or less “recovered” by age 50), especially when they have access to competent care.

But the more that we interfere with folks seeking out that care, the longer it takes for folks with BPD to access it — which, no doubt, contributes to the 1 in 10 people with BPD that complete suicide (a number that, frankly, should be unacceptable to us all and cause for alarm).

Survivors, then, don’t need to be unilaterally protected from all people with BPD — survivors need to be protected from people who exhibit abusive behaviors, regardless of their mental health status. Behaviors like poor boundaries, manipulation, impulsivity, aggression, and verbal abuse are not unique to BPD and never have been; the sooner we recognize that, the better we can support all survivors and not just those we deem “worthy” of that care.

Abusers have never been taken to task by pushing responsibility off of them and onto an inherent “disorder,” and survivors have never been helped by demonizing and pathologizing their trauma. 

This false dichotomy — that it’s survivors versus “borderlines,” that we are always at odds — has created the very harmful idea that abuse is a disorder, and that survivors with maladaptive coping strategies are inherently dangerous or untrustworthy. The reality is much more complicated than this, which is that abusers are not a monolith and neither are survivors.

Mentally ill folks are falsely and repeatedly depicted as violent, dangerous, and dishonest. And it’s ableist, regardless of the disorder, to make those generalizations.

While folks with borderline may exhibit behaviors or coping strategies that can be leveraged in abusive ways, it’s ableist to assume that all of them will present that way. Some abusers have BPD, but not all people with BPD will go on to be abusers — similarly, some abusers are survivors of abuse themselves, but not all survivors will go on to abuse, either.

There are many risk factors that correlate with abuse. But those correlations do not cause abuse.

I am close to many people who have borderline, and many of those relationships are beautiful in their own way. I’ve found that, for folks with BPD who have a solid support system, some of the best qualities can emerge out of those struggles. I’ve known folks with borderline to be incredibly loyal friends.

They care deeply. They feel intensely. And that kind of depth, when harnessed, leads people with borderline to be some of the most passionate and empathic people that I know.

I’m not asking anyone to maintain a relationship with an abusive person. I’m also not asking survivors to ignore their gut feeling when a person seems like they could be harmful, or stay in a relationship that seems like it’s heading into dangerous territory.

I’m just asking folks to self-reflect on their biases, and in particular, acknowledge the ways in which those biases can be harmful.

Especially when considering the long history of borderline as a diagnosis being leveraged to dismiss “difficult” patients (especially women) and linked to oppressive ideas about marginalized people, we should all be wary of the conclusions we draw based on a framework that is already, in many ways, flawed.

As a survivor of trauma, there is no deeper betrayal (in my mind) than other survivors ostracizing me because of a mental health diagnosis — especially one that is a direct result of a kind of suffering we both share. Our coping strategies may be different (and the intensity with which we feel this anguish may differ, too), but our pain is very much the same.

If we’re invested in a world in which those struggling with mental illness can access the support, care, and compassion that they need to live well, we need to push back on this idea that disorders like borderline are inherently abusive, and that those suffering from them are disposable.

Dehumanizing people, regardless of their diagnosis or history, is in itself a very toxic behavior. And I believe that people with borderline and survivors alike deserve a hell of a lot better.

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I’m Not Settling For ‘Good Enough,’ And Your Psychiatrist Shouldn’t Either

Crazy Talk is a mental health advice column, getting real about life with a mental illness. While I’m not a medical doctor, I’m living the good life with depression, OCD, and complex trauma, unapologetically owning my “crazy.” We’re talking all things mental health — trauma, happy pills, mood episodes, and whatever else you tweet me about! Check out last week’s column here.

Recently, I wrote a Twitter thread about what it’s been like to finally find the right medications. “Finally getting the right psychiatric medications,” I wrote, “was like realizing I’d been playing my life on ‘expert’ mode with a broken controller.” 

The response? Overwhelming. And one question that popped up a lot in that thread and in my inbox was something to the effect of, “Is ‘good enough’ with my mental health a good place to settle? Or should I not be settling at all?”

To answer this question, we have to dive into my history a little bit.

In 2016, I was in and out of psychiatric hospitals and outpatient programs. For years, I was misdiagnosed as having bipolar disorder, which meant I was put on countless medications that weren’t very effective for what I was actually dealing with. Back then, my philosophy had always been, “If I’m not suicidal, I’m fine.”

This resulted in a pretty well-established pattern. I’d struggle for a while, I’d coast. My medications sedated me, but a lot of my symptoms were always beneath the surface. I wasn’t totally miserable, but I was never truly happy.

Then something would trigger me — next thing I knew, I’d be flung into a complete crisis.

After one too many breakdowns, I found my current psychiatrist. He took one look at the seven or eight medications I was on and said to me, “Something isn’t right.” I explained to him that despite all the pills, I was never really more than just okay. And he was the first doctor I’d ever met that told me that “just okay” isn’t actually okay.

Let me repeat that: “Just okay” isn’t actually okay, especially if it doesn’t last.

Thus began the long process of reassessing all of my diagnoses and completely transforming my medication regimen. The process was so involved, I had to be hospitalized so I could be closely monitored while coming off of four medications quickly and simultaneously. And while it wasn’t exactly fun, it was the beginning of getting my life back.

Because with a real advocate in my corner, the goal was no longer survival. The goal was recovery. The goal was becoming my best self. The goal was finally living.

Here’s the thing: If you’ve been depressed and anxious for your whole life like me, you may not actually know what it feels like to be mentally healthy. This makes it easy to settle. This makes it easy to say, “If I don’t want to kill myself every second of every day, this is probably fine.”

The bar is set so low, we accept a quality of life that doesn’t have a whole lot of “quality” to it at all.

And our clinicians don’t always help in this regard. If we’re willing to settle, sometimes they are, too. I once saw a psychiatrist who said to me, “If your grades in school are fine, I don’t know what you need from me.” (Spoiler alert: I needed antidepressants, Doc.)

Sometimes when we aspire to be “okay” or “functional” — get decent grades, hold down a job, be able to shower and comb our hair — we forget that there’s more to life than just being okay.

There’s being able to appreciate a piping hot cup of coffee in the morning. There’s doing work or finding a hobby that’s meaningful to us. There’s enjoying the company of our friends. There’s having passion, ambition, and investment in something more, something bigger. It’s a good thing to be able to survive, and it’s important, too. But I’d like to believe we all deserve more than that.

Do you remember the last time you laughed deeply, maybe even until you cried? Do you remember the last time something good happened, and you couldn’t wait to call your friend and blather on about it? Do you remember the last time you actually gave a fuck about your life? Felt excited? Felt interested? Felt curious?

I spent most of my life going through the motions. I may not have always felt empty, but it took a long time to ever feel full. And while surviving is your top priority, I don’t want to live in a world where mentally ill people give up on thriving, with clinicians that enable us to.

Sometimes we do need to coast. Pace is everything, and this mental illness thing is a long freakin’ haul. But coasting should be a pit stop, not a final destination. This is especially important to remember, because too often while we’re coasting, we miss some of the warning signs (like boredom, for example) that can evolve into full-blown depression.

While it’s not reasonable to expect a dramatic shift overnight, it’s not unreasonable to say, “Actually, I want to be more than just okay. I want to be well.”

You deserve to be well. And you deserve a clinician who believes that you can be.

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As Let’s Queer Things Up! Turns 3, I’ve Got Big, Gay Plans

Back in the summer of 2014, I was packing up my entire life to move across the country to the sunny and oh-so-gay San Francisco Bay Area.

Back then, I was practically a baby queer, feeling both terrified and excited for the next chapter of my life. Having just recently come out of the closet as transgender, and having struggled for many years with anxiety and depression, the idea of just being able to hit the “reset” button on my life was appealing.

So as I left (almost) everything I knew back in Michigan, I did three things: I changed my name. I said goodbye to my therapist (she wouldn’t go to California with me ¯\_(ツ)_/¯). And I started a blog.

Since then, I’ve grappled with trauma, sobriety, mental illness, gender dysphoria, suicidality, transition, and two psychiatric hospitalizations. I’ve also found my own path in recovery and resistance. This blog has been a living diary of the person I’ve become through those experiences — and a place where queer people with similar struggles can see themselves reflected back.

Three years later, it has grown to be a thriving online community and an important resource for queer/trans and disabled people. It’s a space for complicated and honest storytelling, with the hopes that folks like me — queer, non-binary, crazy, tender — can feel connected to someone like them, no matter what part of the world they’re in.

As I’ve talked about before, being a super anxious, queer teenager meant that my first experiences of real community came in the form of blogs and online forums. The resources and support that I found in these spaces became my lifeline, carrying me through as I held on for dear life.

But I’m not a kid anymore. I’m a crazy, queer adult that survived. And that’s what I think makes this blog so special — stories of resilience from people like me are seldom given a platform, especially one that doesn’t attempt to pigeonhole them or diminish their voice. It’s incredible, too, to watch other folks in the community connect to that voice, and feel empowered to reclaim their own.

Readers, I want to do more of this.

When I created this blog, my only plan was to write. But as it’s grown, I’ve started to wonder how I could commit more time and more energy to do this thing that I love. I didn’t want blogging to be my back-burner hobby. I wanted to create more resources for folks in my community and share my experiences in a meaningful way.

At first, I couldn’t wrap my brain around the idea that I was allowed to ask for compensation for my labor. So many marginalized folks throw ourselves into content creation because we love the hell out of this work, and then burn out quickly because we didn’t think to ask for support.

But then… capitalism/life.

I squirmed at the idea of monetizing any aspect of my blog, thinking it would be selfish of me, or feeling weirdly like I didn’t deserve that.

And then I almost lost my apartment multiple times. I accumulated medical debt like it was going out of style after I was hospitalized twice from severe depressive episodes. I hung on by a thread, bouncing from contract job to contract job, trying to keep my head above water.

And I realized that if I kept undervaluing my work, I was going to undervalue myself into a complete financial crisis.

Meanwhile, a lot of people said that blogs were now obsolete money pits. That’s not something I was willing to accept, though. When I was first struggling with mental illness, as well as when I came out as queer and trans, other bloggers helped me carve out a safe space for myself.

I saw myself in their experiences. How could that ever be obsolete?

I want to believe that I can be a blogger AND not have to emotionally drain myself with unpaid labor to do it. That’s why, looking ahead for LQTU, I want to start thinking of creative ways to make this platform really work for everyone.

Let’s make something that’s good for both of us.

Here’s what isn’t changing at LQTU: My core values. Meaning, I’m still a crazy queer feminist that’s a total nerd for nuanced, complex conversations around queerness and mental health. While this is my personal blog for my feelings and thoughts, I still remain committed to creating a community that challenges all of us (yes, including me).

But resource-creating and curating takes labor. Labor, I’ve realized, that really needs to be supported. So as of today, I’ve finalized my new Patreon campaign (with new goals, new rewards), where you can regularly support this blog and get cool incentives for doing so.

Here are the rewards (aka, the fun stuff):

  • $1 per month: Access to secret, Patrons-only blog entries. You might be thinking, “Why even charge a dollar? It’s just a dollar.” Yes, it’s only a dollar — but if lots of people buy in, it makes a huge difference.
  • $3 per month: A follow on Twitter! If you want to be Twitter friends AND support my work, this is the option for you.
  • $5 per month: Access to my Patrons-only vlogs/videos. Every month, I’ll post a new video where I talk about the topics that you’re interested in. I’ve been told I’m fun to watch on camera. (…NO, not like that.)
  • $8 per month: Q&A Club, which means you get to choose the topics that I talk about in those videos. No matter how outlandish they are.
  • $15 per month: A letter! From me! I’ll write you a letter on adorable stationery.

I love these rewards because it offers me a new way to connect with the community here AND get some support to keep on creating.

There’s also some bigger prizes, if you’re into it.

I wanted to create some incentives that help support other folks in the work that they’re doing as well. So I’ve included some new reward tiers that allow me to fund this platform while also boosting yours.

Check out these cool collaborative things we can do:

  • I’ll workshop your writing: Imagine that, every month, you send along an article or blog you’re writing. In return, I send you thorough and awesome feedback (and you know it’ll be good, I’m an experienced editor). For $20 dollars per month, for as many months as you decide, I’ll workshop a piece of your writing each month.
  • I’ll plug your project, product, or page: Every week, I publish a column called Crazy Talk, a mental health advice column. And I figure, why not support your work with a mention every week? If you’ve got a rad thing I might like, $25 dollars per month gets you a dedicated space to plug your work, and gives you access to our audience of over 26,000 readers.
  • I’ll mentor you: If you’re trying to break into feminist media and/or publishing, why not let me mentor you? Every month, we’ll hop on Skype and talk personal brand, pitching, and goals. $65 dollars per month, for as long as you decide.
  • You can sponsor a post: I’m open to sponsorship, either blog posts here or posts on social media. Contact me if we might be able to work together!

These rewards are all outlined on Patreon. Check it out!

So what happens now?

More content, for one. I’m shifting into high gear, eventually working up to publishing three blogs per week, including my new column, Crazy Talk.

And with enough Patrons, we’ll be launching a YouTube channel together and, hopefully (!!) I’ll host a monthly livestream/show where we discuss queer mental health together.

That’s the dream, anyway.

I’m passionate about the tender power of an honest, queer blog. And if I can get some additional support, I’ll be in a better position to fund all the projects I’m interested in doing.

But it takes a whole team to make it happen.

That’s why this cute, nifty link will now be at the bottom of every article:

PLEASE CONSIDER DONATING AS LITTLE AS $1 PER MONTH TO MY PATREON CAMPAIGN TO HELP FUND MORE FREE RESOURCES LIKE THESE, AND ACCESS EXCLUSIVE CONTENT WHEN YOU DO!

My awesome partner, Ray, will now be helping me manage the increase in content, new projects, and social media management that makes this blog run smoothly. My cat, Pancake, will be providing additional emotional support.

And with your donations, I’m bringing on a curator for our Facebook community to diversify the content on our feed, and hopefully a moderator to keep the space free of trolls.

It’s important to me to be a good neighbor, too.

This is why I’m in the process of creating partnerships with different pages, activists, blogs, and platforms to boost the signal on work that I think is important, regardless of their follower count or what they’re able to offer “in return.” This is why you might have noticed over on Facebook some of the same pages and names popping up.

If this sounds like something you’re interested in, be sure to reach out and let me know!

I’m also committed to donating a portion of my Patreon funds to other content creators in the community, as I’ve done from the very beginning. For every $100 dollars earned from this campaign, at least 10% is reinvested into platforms led by queer & trans people of color.

If my work has been valuable to you, please consider supporting me!

My ultimate goal is to be able to make this work more sustainable for me, while also building more community and connection in the process. I think Patreon is opening the door for a more thoughtful way to crowdfund, one that can support me while also offering something to you in return.

This blog will continue to have great content that anyone can access. The difference is that it’ll be backed by some rad folks in the community, backing me as I create those resources.

And I’m excited to see what’s next! Whether you’ve got a dollar a month or just a comment to cheer me on, please know that having you in my corner means a lot. Thanks for sticking with me.

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5 Ways Your Critiques of Psychiatry Might Be Ableist

I won’t beat around the bush: Mental illness has pushed me to the edge many, many times.

There were times when I was so detached from reality, it necessitated urgent and even drastic interventions to bring me back. There were times when the pain was so unbearable, I lost my will to live.

In the last year alone, I’ve been institutionalized twice. I’ve been on more psychotropic medications than I could possibly count. I’ve been diagnosed with at least half the disorders in the DSM at some point or another. I’ve had some of the best clinicians, and also some of the absolute worst.

While psychiatry has certainly done its fair share to traumatize me, I also wouldn’t be here without it. And this is why, when some naive neurotypical person tweets me to ask me if I’ve tried meditation or yoga, telling me that the pills are “toxic” and “unnecessary,” it leaves me shaking with rage.

Psychiatry has deep and undeniable flaws; it has, historically speaking, been an oppressive force in the lives of mentally ill people, at times pathologizing us and diminishing our humanity. I’m not here to sugarcoat that reality. But just the same, so many mentally ill people need this level of care to make our lives bearable—and with persistence and committed clinicians, it can become an important catalyst in our recovery.

That’s why I take serious issue with folks, particularly those who are not mentally ill themselves, unilaterally deciding that psychiatry is irredeemable, throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater—ignoring the agency, safety, and needs of mentally ill people.

It’s one thing to push for more competent and compassionate care for mentally ill folks, expanding our choices and respecting our self-determination (which I have fiercely advocated for throughout my career and continue to do so). It’s another matter entirely to presume to know what we need, writing off psychotropic medications as a personal failure to cope or, as one commenter on my blog once told me, “the easy way out.”

There is nothing easy about navigating psychiatry. There is nothing easy about finding the right medications, the right clinicians, the right combination of self-care and clinical interventions to be well again. There’s nothing easy about accessing psychiatric care in the first place. It requires tremendous strength, patience, and courage—full stop.

Presuming that this process is for the weak—for people who are simply unevolved in their attitudes about mental health, people who need to just pull themselves up by their bootstraps instead of “relying on pills”—is a blatantly ableist attitude that needs to be examined.

In this article, I’m going to unpack exactly what I mean by that.

Before you dissuade a mentally ill person from seeking out psychiatric care, look for these five signs that your argument may actually lack the compassion and nuance it needs.

1. If You Deny the Agency of Mentally Ill People

One of the biggest issues I find with critiques of psychiatry is that it utterly denies the agency of mentally ill people. Namely, rather than respecting our choices and believing that we know what is best for us, the assumption is that we can’t be trusted to make decisions about our bodies and our mental health.

This plays directly into the prevalent attitude that mentally ill people shouldn’t be believed or trusted, and that we lack the self-insight to determine what our needs are. This is utterly disempowering; it strips us of our autonomy, and places the power back into the hands of neurotypical people rather than encouraging us to make our own choices.

And it’s this same attitude that actually perpetuates one of psychiatry’s greatest flaws that still operates in clinical settings today: the insistence that mentally ill people should have no voice in their own recovery and in the decisions that impact their lives.

Any critique of psychiatry that oppresses mentally ill people—upholding the harm that we experience at the hands of this institution—is ultimately not radical, nor is it socially just.

2. If You Impose One Narrative on Every Mentally Ill Person

Any critique of psychiatry that treats mentally ill people as a monolith—that our needs, experiences, and lives are more or less identical—is steeped in the ableist attitude that we are not diverse or complex individuals.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Some mentally ill folks will benefit immensely from meditation and a good dose of Vitamin D from the occasional hike in the woods. Some will find that a spiritual practice aids in their healing. Others find that therapy is the key to their stability, while folks like myself find that medication is a critical component of their care. And you know what? Some folks rely on all of the above. I certainly do.

Making a sweeping generalization that all mentally ill people require the same type of care is harmful, because it dismisses the unique ways our trauma and pain presents, and it advocates for restricting our choices rather than expanding them.

When you push for a singular solution to complex and individual struggles, it puts every mentally ill person at a disadvantage. It encourages us to try one inflexible approach that may not work for us, instead of advocating for a recovery that is tailored to our particular needs that can evolve with us as we gain more insight about ourselves.

This, to me, is the epitome of privilege—if you insist that your own journey should dictate the standard for everyone else, you are centering your own lived experience while willfully ignoring that those experiences are not universal, especially when taking into account those at the margins who exist at very distinct axes of oppression you may not share.

And considering the ways in which psychiatry, past and present, has not always been culturally competent and aware of the needs of marginalized communities, this ultimately feeds into the violence that these communities experience at the hands of their clinicians.

3. If Your Critique Impacts Access to Care

Your critiques of psychiatry do not exist in a bubble. Which is to say, we must consider not just the intention of our critiques, but the impact of them as well. If you depict psychiatry as being irredeemable, and those who seek out psychiatric care as weak and misguided, you feed into a stigma that says there is something shameful or wrong about reaching out for help.

This directly affects the gap in mental health care, in which mentally ill folks are already underserved and struggle to access care. This is not something to be taken lightly.

For example, I took four years from the onset of my symptoms to actually seek out proper care. This is because I was consistently told that I was too young to need mental health care, and that I was being dramatic and not trying hard enough to be well. I was too young to need a psychiatrist, apparently, but I was not too young to attempt suicide at age seventeen. I was not too young to believe that psychiatric hospitals weren’t for “people like me,” and didn’t get help after my attempt.

I had absorbed these messages from the people around me, who believed that psychiatry was a shameful last resort for people who weren’t trying hard enough. Like many folks who are struggling and could benefit from it, I didn’t want to associate myself with it. A completely preventable tragedy—one that nearly took my life as a teenager—was a direct result of critiques from neurotypical people who lacked nuance and perspective on what psychiatric care can actually offer.

Rather than acknowledging the importance of this (flawed but still critical) resource for many people, the stigma interfered with my ability to access care. Without the necessary nuance, critiques of psychiatry can often harm the very people we’re trying to protect.

If you’re going to critique psychiatry (and yes, psychiatry should never be above reproach), it’s important to consider the impact of your words. Does this critique empower mentally ill people? Or could it harm us in the process?

4. If You Presume to Know the Struggles of Mentally Ill People

If you aren’t mentally ill, you can’t know what this struggle is like. And if you can’t truly understand our struggles, you aren’t in a position to introduce a bias that presumes to know what we need in the first place.

One of my favorite phrases with regards to disability is “nothing about us without us.” Which is to say, a critique about psychiatry—an institution that directly impacts our lives—that doesn’t consider the perspectives and voices of mentally ill people is deeply problematic. In fact, I’m of the belief that the only people who should be critiquing psychiatry are neurodiverse people themselves, including those who identify as mentally ill and those who have disavowed the label but are affected by it nonetheless.

We should be elevating their voices rather than talking over them. It’s ethically questionable to pretend that you can understand a struggle that isn’t yours to claim in the first place.

It’s oppressive to introduce an uninformed critique that has no real impact on your life, rather than letting those who are most affected by these issues speak truth to power. If you’re committed to an anti-oppressive framework, you must commit yourself to centering the voices of those on the margins – which means knowing when to stay in your lane.

5. If You Prioritize Your Criticisms Over Our Survival and Safety

There has been significant pushback against memes like this one, where actual antidepressant medications are labeled “shit,” while the great outdoors are the only acceptable and real antidepressant. As if walking through a forest will somehow magically cure us… and we’re too unintelligent and “lazy” to realize it.

There’s one word that readily comes to mind when I see memes like this: Selfish. From up on their privileged and oblivious high horses, their critiques of psychiatry and psychiatric medications take precedent over the safety of mentally ill people who rely on these medications to survive.

They don’t actually care about mentally ill people. If they did, they would advocate for any and all paths in recovery that make life more livable for us. They would be glad for any and all treatments that improve our quality of life. That’s not what memes like this are about, though.

Confirming and broadcasting their narrow and uninformed “opinion” becomes more important than advocating for the wellness of mentally ill people. Sounding off on something they actually know nothing about takes priority over tuning into the communities that have a real stake in these conversations.

It’s ableism in its most unapologetic form—it’s vicious and it’s careless, because instead of centering the needs and survival of mentally ill people, those with the most privilege and nothing to lose reinforce a myth and a stigma that endangers our lives. Putting our safety and survival in jeopardy is morally repugnant. It ultimately becomes a critique of mentally ill folks themselves, rather than a valid and thoughtful critique of the institutions that affect our lives.

Critiques of psychiatry are necessary. They’re necessary to strengthen the quality and competence of the care mentally ill folks receive. They’re necessary to impact positive change, and to ensure that mentally ill folks can reclaim their power and their lives as they navigate these systems that are flawed but sometimes necessary.

Critiques of psychiatry that don’t take on an anti-oppressive framework, however, can operate in sinister ways, doing harm rather than good. It’s important that we remain vigilant and learn to recognize the ableism that is often embedded in many of the popular criticisms we come across.

It’s then—and only then—that we can start to do the necessary and important work of building systems that truly empower mentally ill people, placing them at the center of this work, rather than obliviously pushing them further to the margins and silencing them. Because any criticism that ultimately silences the very communities most affected is not empowering, and it replicates the very oppression we’re seeking to dismantle.

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This piece that I wrote originally appeared at Unapologetic Feminism.

Crazy Talk: Why Do I Keep Making Myself Sad On Purpose?

Crazy Talk is an advice column powered by your donations on Patreon, written by Sam Dylan Finch (that’s me!), and hosted by your fave queer blog, Let’s Queer Things Up! While I’m not medical doctor, I am a card-carrying member of Club Crazy, living the good life with a mood disorder, anxiety, and complex PTSD (gotta catch ’em all!). We’re talking all things mental health — trauma, happy pills, mood episodes, and whatever else you tweet me about. I’m kicking the stigma where it hurts, one question at a time. Check out last week’s column here.

Hi Sam, 

I struggle with anxiety and depression and I have for years. I’ve noticed that sometimes, when I’m at a low point, I’ll get sucked into listening to sad music, revisiting sad memories, watching sad movies, and basically making myself worse. I know that it doesn’t help, but it’s almost like a compulsion. What’s wrong with me?

Let’s start with what I think is a pretty important disclaimer: Not knowing your particular history, I can’t say with any certainty what drives you to make particular choices. I’m crazy… but I’m not a mind reader! I can, however, remark on my own experiences and observations. Hopefully that will give you some food for thought. Bonus points if those thoughts are then shared with a therapist!

I want to validate this for you upfront: Emotional self-harm? It’s a thing.

I find this question to be really relevant, as I used to do this a lot myself. At my worst, you could find me listening to angsty music; reading old, despairing blog entries; or camped out on my couch watching really triggering shows on an endless loop. No matter how many times my friends told me to give it a rest, it kept pulling me back in.

But as you’ve noticed, it never helps. It only sustained the depression that I was already feeling, often making it worse than when I started. So why did I do it? I have some theories:

Depression is predictable. While depression isn’t an ideal state to be in, it’s not necessarily full of surprises, either. I had a therapist once tell me that people who are dealing with depression can sometimes feel drawn to it, even unconsciously, because its familiarity and predictability feels safe. It makes sense, then, that we might engage in activities that sustain our sadness or keep us numb; we might feel afraid of the unpredictability that comes with doing something differently (I touch on this in my article about self-sabotage as well!).

I had unresolved trauma. Sometimes we force ourselves to relive the pain we’ve experienced because it’s unresolved. For me, I found myself purposefully triggering myself because I hadn’t yet found a way to accept and release the trauma I’d been through. This is what eventually led to my diagnosis of complex PTSD (which I wrote about here and here).

We might make ourselves feel pain because we’re hoping that, by re-experiencing it, there might be a different outcome. We’re usually looking for some kind of epiphany or realization to help things feel more conclusive, but we’re seldom able to do this effectively without guidance. Our brains are saying, “Hey! We have unfinished business here!” And in a way, they’re pushing us to relive something, hoping we’ll actually resolve it this time — but we aren’t always equipped to do so.

If your strolls down memory lane have become compulsive, triggering, and intrusive, it might be best to seek out a therapist that can help you process your pain in a more productive way.

I needed to feel understood/seen. Everyone wants their pain to be recognized and affirmed. We might seek this out by looking for representation in music, television shows, movies. I used to watch every TV show that featured a PTSD survivor, because I wanted to know I wasn’t alone; I especially wanted to see someone “overcome” that struggle so I could live vicariously through them.

I mean, you’re reading this article now. And you might have had a moment already of, “Wow, this is so me.” It’s a validating feeling, right? It makes a lot of sense, then, that we might subject ourselves to content that’s triggering with the hopes that it’ll make us feel validated, even if that validation is accompanied by pain.

I didn’t have the tools that I needed. When we gravitate towards unhealthy coping mechanisms, we’re often doing this because we don’t have healthy alternatives in place. I was most likely to seek out my triggers when I was already vulnerable — when I didn’t have a team of clinicians in place, when I was isolated from my support systems, when my meds were out of whack, and when I didn’t have a real treatment plan in place.

So where do you start? I have a list of free mental health apps that have personally helped me pivot away from emotional self-harming, and it can offer pretty immediate relief. If you don’t have a clinical team already (a therapist or psychiatrist), consider looking for those as well.

Remember: Be gentle with yourself. In all likelihood, you’re not engaging in these behaviors because you enjoy being depressed (I have yet to meet someone who does). This behavior is indicative of a lack of effective coping skills and unresolved pain. Rather than treating it as something that’s “wrong” with you personally, look at it as a red flag. This is your brain’s weird way of letting you know that you need additional support.

I know it’s easy to slip into the whole, “What the hell is wrong with me?” mentality. But what I’ve found to be true is that there’s always some form of method to our madness — or in this case, sadness.

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ADHD Survival Guide: How I Stopped Procrastinating and Got My Sh!t Together

For much of my adult life, trying to get organized felt like a code I couldn’t crack, no matter how many fancy planners I bought. I struggled to do work that I knew I was capable of, missed appointments and blew deadlines, and my self-esteem plummeted as I wondered, “Am I just really bad at being an adult?

I fell into a serious slump. Just the idea of having to get something done made me anxious, making it even more difficult to focus, and that anxiety fueled my procrastination. After years of struggling with depression and lack of concentration, I was finally diagnosed with ADHD. But rather than looking for solutions, I initially took that diagnosis to mean, “I’m never going to be effective and productive like everyone else.”

ADHD, for me, has been a frantic, real life Tetris game. Desperately trying to get everything to fit together, watching your tasks stack up until it starts to feel out of control. Take your eyes off the prize for one minute, and suddenly, the whole thing comes undone. I had the responsibilities and challenges of a twenty-five-year-old, but the focus, patience, and concentration of someone twenty years younger.

The frustrating thing is, I knew I was smart. I knew that I was capable of so much more. But I kept coming up against a wall, and no matter what I did to try to scale it, I was never able to get to the other side. Knowing that you’ve got potential, but being thwarted in every attempt to realize it, is its own kind of hell. ADHD, for me, has been a slow burn in that personal hell for as long as I can remember.

I finally hit a breaking point last year, when my life became so unmanageable, I stopped working. My fear of failure, my lack of concentration, and my anxiety had made it nearly impossible to be effective at any job — even jobs that, by all accounts, I was more than qualified to do. At every moment, I was overwhelmed to the point of paralysis. That’s when I knew: I didn’t want to live like this anymore.

So I started researching and reflecting. I compiled a list of all the things that stressed me out and brainstormed possible solutions. I was methodical and determined. I focused on apps in particular, seeing as I spend so much time on my phone. I figured, if boring dudes in suits can use these apps, why can’t I use them to make my work and my life more accessible to me?

First, I had to rethink ‘productivity.’

Instead of looking at these strategies as a way to become more “productive” in a capitalistic society, I reframed it — my new objective was to become more effective in accomplishing whatever goals I set for myself, however small they might be.

From all my research, it quickly became evident that ADHD thrives on a lack of structure. This article, then, is a guide that talks about how I created a sort of structure in my life that helps me to become more effective.  

“Structure,” meaning a system of organization that helps me both set and meet my goals. And “effective,” meaning that whatever I put in place is helping me to reach the goals that I set — based on whatever standard makes sense to me. Society often defines “productivity” as completing as many tasks as possible; I define “productivity” as creating the circumstances (and structures) that allow you to be effective and balanced as you do the work.

I think reframing these words can be really helpful for folks with ADHD. Rather than creating structures that serve the work (i.e. I have to work quickly to please my boss), it’s better to create structures that serve us (i.e. I want to feel effective and meet my personal goals). Paradoxically, when we set goals that serve us rather than the work, we’re usually better at getting the work done anyway. Who would’ve thought? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

So this is a really, really long guide…

As someone with concentration issues, I get that lengthy articles are intimidating. That in mind, I highly suggest bookmarking this, and tackling these suggestions on a timetable that makes sense for you! I’ve also broken the piece down with headings and formatting that will help make it more readable.

Lastly, this guide was made possible with donations via Patreon! None of the products or apps I mention here have sponsored this post in any way — which means it’s 100% paid for by my readers, rather than by the companies that developed these apps. With your help, I was able to take the time to thoroughly research everything that you see here, and write it in a way that’s (hopefully) very useful to you. If you appreciate the work I’ve done here, please consider becoming a patron so I can keep creating content like this!

If you’re struggling with ADD/ADHD, I want you to know that it’s not impossible to create the kind of external structure you need to be effective in your life. I’m going to share with you the steps I’ve taken — including every single app that helped me get there — that’s made a significant difference in my life, with the hopes of inspiring you to take some steps of your own.

Ready? Let’s do it!

1. I Created a Project Management System (I’m a Nerd, I Know…)

I think most adults — not just folks with ADHD — know the feeling of juggling a million things at once, hoping that you won’t end up dropping the ball. Without a real system, I held a lot of my to-do list in my head, and this created a lot of unnecessary stress; it practically guaranteed that I was going to mess something up (and I often did, yikes).

And then one day, I got super fed up. I reached out to my friends with ADHD, and I asked them what apps or systems they use to keep all their tasks straight. And one really stood out to me: Todoist.

Friends described this app as having a “second brain,” which was exactly what I needed. I needed another brain to hold all my various tasks, projects, and events in one place. So I downloaded the free app and browser extension, read practically everything I could on the Todoist blog, and started creating a system that worked for me.

Todoist, in a nutshell, is a productivity app that manages tasks for you. It has a priority feature that lets me flag which tasks are most important, a scheduler that gives tasks a due date (static or recurring), projects that can hold different types of tasks, and all sorts of ways to customize it to suit whatever my needs are.

How did I organize my Todoist system?

I customized a system that could manage basically… every aspect of my life. Because I clearly have a lot going on.

I have a Self-Care tab to make sure I’m prioritizing mental health, including seeing friends. I have a Work project, which includes pitch ideas (articles I eventually want to write), Events & Interviews, Waiting/In Progress (this is where I keep track of what articles are currently in progress), and Consulting (I coach people sometimes, this is where I list the clients I’m currently working with!).

I have my Adulting tab, where I schedule any of my appointments and errands that I need to do. I also have a housework and bills section that I share with my partner, and a Daydreams tab, where I list out things that I want to eventually buy and a bucket list of things I want to do. And lastly, I have a Personal Brand section, where I manage anything related to my blog and social media.

My system literally holds every freakin’ part of my life, which works really well for me. But everyone can decide how to use it best for their own needs. I have a chronically ill friend that organizes it by “spoons” which I think is really interesting (a project for things that take a lot of energy, a medium amount of energy, and low amount of energy, and based on how she feels when she wakes up, she’ll decide how many spoons to use from each project).

Don’t be afraid to customize it!

The cool thing about Todoist is that they have templates you can download and try, if you aren’t really sure how to organize it. And Todoist has a really awesome blog, including an article about someone who uses Todoist and has ADHD!

The ultimate goal of creating a system like this is to build up a structure that helps you organize the tasks floating around in your brain. Folks with ADHD often don’t have the internal organizing they need, so it’s helpful to create that externally. There are other systems available for this too (like Asana and Trello), but Todoist has been my favorite by far.

What I love about Todoist in particular is that it has a “smart scheduling” feature, in which it recommends what day to schedule something on based on your productivity habits, how busy your week looks, and the research the platform has done. I know that I’m not always the best judge of when I should set a due date, so this feature has been life-saving in teaching me to set more realistic goals for myself.

The key here is to read these blogs, try out different systems, and see what works best for you. It takes a little bit of work upfront, but it’s been totally worth it for me. Two brains are definitely better than one.

2. I Tackled the Nightmare That Was My Email Inbox

One of my biggest sources of stress was my email inbox. I had over 7000 unread emails, and thousands upon thousands of emails that I’d never got around to archiving… going years back.

I kept telling myself, “Maybe I need to set aside a weekend to go through and take care of it.” Dreading the hours that I’d spend archiving and digging myself out of that very deep hole, I eventually conceded that I may never have that coveted Inbox Zero.

The theory behind “Inbox Zero” suggests that because people are using their email inboxes as a to-do list, their inboxes become unmanageable, and it’s easy to get sucked into them and waste time. But once I created an actual system to hold my tasks with Todoist, I realized I was in the best possible position to clear out my email inbox and start using it as the communication channel it’s intended to be.

How did I get to Inbox Zero?

That’s when I discovered the app Chuck. Chuck is designed to help you get to Inbox Zero by automatically sorting your emails and helping you to mass archive them as necessary. And it’s no joke, friends: In less than an hour, I had archived over 100,000 messages.

Chuck can sort your emails by person, by time, or by subject. In my case, I started out by sorting it by time, which allowed me to mass archive any emails that I received prior to 2017. Boom. Thousands upon thousands of emails, all archived at once. I then organized it by sender, and archived any emails that were sent to me by folks I no longer needed to be in contact with (newsletters included).

How did I keep my inbox clean afterward?

Once my inbox was mostly cleared out, I downloaded an app called Spark to help keep my inbox manageable for the future and clean up what remained. It’s a “smart” inbox that organizes your mail for you, floating the most essential emails to the top of your inbox and then categorically sorting the rest. With an ADHD brain, it can be easy to get distracted by the stuff that’s less important, so it’s amazing to have a system that organizes things for you.

In the process, I started creating folders in my gmail, so that, as I found emails that I needed to save, I had a place to put them! This included things like “finances,” “freelance,” and “job hunt” (for saving contracts, correspondences with editors, and job opportunities respectively). Spark also allows me to “snooze” emails so that they are resent to my inbox after a certain amount of time — lifesaving for emails you know you need to get to, but aren’t immediately critical.

Taking control of my inbox was a huge weight off of my shoulders. I no longer dread signing into my email, knowing that there’s only a few emails in there, and they’ll be sorted quickly and effectively. It’s an awesome feeling.

(If you have Android, Chuck and Spark aren’t available to you — but you can always research these inbox zero apps to find one that is best for you!)

3. I Started a Productivity Diary (Let Me Show You How!)

One thing that came up continually in my research on productivity is the importance of being self-aware as you set goals and to celebrate your victories. A lot of people talked about bullet journals being super great for this, but I much prefer to have something I can just keep on my phone.

griddiaryGrid Diary became my saving grace for this. Grid Diary is almost like a quiz colliding with a journal. It offers you prompts to answer, a mood tracker, and a weather tracker as well (to help you remember the day a little better).

I specifically tailored mine to give me four questions that I answer at the start of my day, and four questions that I answer at the end of my day.

In the morning, I ask myself:

  • What’s the plan for today? What do I hope to accomplish? I usually write about three goals, and then I hop over to my Todoist app to add them and prioritize them.
  • What are some strategies I can use to be effective today? This encourages me to reflect on how I’m actually going to get shit done. This helps me feel more motivated to get started.
  • What’s one way I can support my mental health today? To make sure I stay balanced, I set a self-care intention right at the beginning of my day.
  • What’s one thing I’m excited about? This gives me something to look forward to!

At the end of the day, I ask myself:

  • How did my day go? How is my mood? Reflecting on my day encourages me to celebrate my successes and reflect. Naming my mood helps me keep track of my mental health, and keep an eye out for any red flags I might need to address (useful especially because I deal with depression and anxiety).
  • Name 3 things that I’m grateful for. There’s a lot of research that backs up the value of a gratitude practice!
  • Am I worried about anything? Let’s make a list. Sometimes we have so many anxieties floating around in our head, it can keep us up at night. One strategy for combating this is to make a list of what’s bothering us, and if necessary, commit to revisiting it the next day when we’re able to act.
  • What are some goals I have for tomorrow? Instead of staying up all night thinking about what I need to do tomorrow, I find it best to write it down and look at it again in the morning.

When starting up a productivity diary, it’s good to assess what you hope to get out of it. For me, I wanted to work on goal-setting, self-care, gratitude, and stress management. I knew that focusing on these things would help me with my overarching goals of becoming more focused and effective.

I’ve shared my questions here because I think they’re really useful prompts! You can choose to write it out or find a diary app to help you keep track of it. Grid Diary is my absolute favorite (so much so that I eventually caved and bought the premium/paid version) because the interface is so lovely, but you really can’t go wrong. The point is to get writing!

4. I Got a Pomodoro Timer And I Actually Use It

The “Pomodoro Technique” is all the rage — many of my friends with ADHD insisted that I try it, but I was initially reluctant. The idea is breaking up your work day into intervals (usually 25 minutes of focused work, followed by a short break, repeated four times until you then take a longer break).

I finally caved and downloaded Tide. Tide is multipurpose — it’s a timer that helps you measure your pomodoros and your break time, AND it’s a white noise generator that gives you different background sounds to choose from to boost your focus. It also keeps track of how often you use it and for how long, which can be really motivating!

One of my biggest pitfalls in my work was not having structured break time, which led me to become super distracted and waste a lot of time. But since pomodoros are essentially “work sprints,” it was much more effective (not to mention, easier) to commit to working for 25 minutes, knowing that there would be a break at the end of it.

Did it work? (Spoiler alert: It did. Beautifully.)

And I was… blown away… with how tweaking my workflow with this app helped me focus and get more done. It also allows you to customize how much time you spend working and breaking, so if pomodoros aren’t your thing, you can experiment with the timing to find what works for you.

Most people will tell you that the hardest part of getting work done is the “getting started” part. I found that committing to 25 minutes was a lot less daunting than telling myself to just sit down and work until five (to someone with ADHD, it’s pretty impossible when you think about it).

Don’t like all the bells and whistles of an app like Tide? There’s a simple pomodoro timer that is web-based here.

5. I Downloaded Every Guided Meditation App On Earth, Basically

The idea of sitting still and not doing anything sounded awful to me. But lots of folks I knew raved about how meditation had helped them, blah blah blah — even if that meditation was just five minutes when they first woke up. Apparently, the research backs this up, too: Meditation is proven to increase mental focus. Hm. Intriguing.

But as someone whose mind is moving a thousand miles a minute, sitting in silence was a no-go for me. So I was really excited to discover that there are actually some guided meditation apps, many of which have specific meditations geared towards boosting productivity and focus! Sitting and listening to someone walk me through a meditation was much easier to swing with my ADHD brain than the alternative.

One of my favorites for this purpose is Headspace (bonus: on their blog, they have an excellent article on ADHD and mindfulness, if you’re curious). I’ve also really enjoyed using Simple Habit (which has different meditations based on different life situations, including work stress, boosting focus, and improving sleep).

I’ve already noticed that my ADHD is more manageable when I set aside the time to meditate, especially when I’m feeling overwhelmed or wired. It might seem counter-intuitive, but it’s definitely worth a try.

6. I Started Scheduling a Planning Hour

With ADHD, planning ahead is not my natural impulse. I’m the sort of person who always had a cloud of chaos swirling around them. But every Friday afternoon, I set aside half an hour (sometimes more, sometimes less) to open up my Todoist app, look at my next seven days, and plan out what I need to get done and how I’m going to do it.

Doing this accomplishes two things for me. Firstly, it ensures I’m not wide awake Sunday night, worrying about the week ahead. And secondly, it forces me to slow down and consider what’s on my plate. My tendency is to avoid, avoid, avoid — because thinking about everything I have to do makes me anxious. But the only real way to address that anxiety is to tackle my schedule head-on, so I create a dedicated time to do so every week.

In this planning hour, these are the things I try to get done:

  • Go through my email inbox (see #2 if the thought of this freaks you out!) and grab any lingering “tasks” and plug them into Todoist (or whatever task system you have set up — remember, your email inbox shouldn’t also be your to-do list!).
  • While I’m in my inbox, I choose any emails that need to be responded to that I can’t or shouldn’t reply to immediately, and I “snooze” them to be resent to me at a more appropriate time. (For example: If I need to touch base with someone about an event in two weeks, I “snooze” that email so that it comes back to me in two weeks.)
  • I look at my tasks for the next week and flag which ones are high priority. I schedule them accordingly. (For example: There should never be a day with more than three high priority tasks — if there is, I know I have to reschedule or delegate.)
  • For every high priority task, I schedule one small step I can take to get started (more on this in #7).

My planning hour isn’t about creating the exact schedule that I’ll follow. No doubt, it’ll change throughout the week as new things come up! The point is to get organized and make your Monday morning less of a headache. Being overwhelmed is the arch nemesis of ADHD and of procrastination generally, so this helps minimize that as much as possible.

7. I Took Up Eating Frogs and Elephants

Of all the advice I found, the cheesiest bits of advice also seemed to hold most true. I wanted to include it in this guide because as cliche as it is, it’s been very helpful to me.

“Sometimes you’ve got to just eat the frog first.”

The idea of eating the frog is basically starting with the task that you’re dreading most, and getting it out of the way at the start of your day. Sometimes you have to hold your nose and just do it. There’s an entire article here on why it’s such an effective way to get stuff done, which I found incredibly helpful.

The basic theory is that we procrastinate most often when we’re dreading something (it’s an avoidance behavior, after all) — but if we can eliminate the thing that we’re most anxious about, we’ll have a big victory at the start of our day, and less anxiety to fuel our avoidance. We’re also less likely to get pulled into other projects and distractions that would delay us further if we do it first.

Having trouble motivating yourself to start? That’s why you need to…

“Eat the elephant one bite at a time.”

I honestly don’t know why both of these sayings involve eating critters, but ANYWAY. Eating the elephant one bite at a time is another way of saying, “To tackle something big, you have to start small.” You may have also heard this as “one step at a time,” which is the same idea, more or less.

There are two tried and true methods to eating the elephant, which are:

  • Commit to just five minutes. It helps to remember that motivation sometimes comes AFTER you start something, not before. Set a timer for five minutes. You don’t need to do any more than that if you don’t want to, but getting started is often the more difficult part, and that motivation you need to continue often kicks in after you’ve started.
  • Start with the smallest possible bite. It can be hard to start something if the task in front of us is just too daunting. If that’s the case, break it down! For example, “write an entire ADHD survival guide” is a huuuge undertaking… but “download a to-do app” is not. If your tasks aren’t “bite-size,” this could be adding stress that you don’t really need.

For folks with ADHD especially, making our tasks smaller and more manageable allows us to accumulate little “victories” that keep us on track, rather than allowing us to become overwhelmed and unfocused. This advice, while it seems really simple, takes a lot of practice — but it can make a huge difference.

 8. I Started Procrastinating ‘Productively’

We always procrastinate for a reason. Unstuck, which includes a free web-based app (bookmark it, seriously!), helps us figure out where we’re stuck and what we can do about it. And it’s basically the best thing ever.

You tell Unstuck what you’re feeling, and the app will guide you through some problem-solving exercises and prompts. Whenever I found myself stressed and not knowing what to do, I opted for procrastinating “productively” — meaning that I used tools like Unstuck to step back from the work, rather than away from the work.

Screenshot 2017-07-22 at 4.00.10 PM

Unstuck is designed to help you “fight procrastination, stop negative thinking, boost productivity, and get more creative.” The whole idea is that every “stuck” moment is an opportunity to get creative and do some effective problem-solving. And the whole interface is kind of fun, so it never feels tedious. It’s a great approach to thinking through whatever emotions and issues might be coming up for you when you lose your focus or motivation.

9. I Started Reading ADHD & Productivity Blogs

My favorites include ADDitude Mag and Todoist Blog. Productivity blogs sometimes fall into the more traditional, capitalistic ideas of what productivity is (here’s what “successful” people do, you peasant!), but the key here is to take what’s useful to you and leave the rest.

Trying new apps and learning new tricks has been a particularly fun part of this journey for me, so much so that “productivity” has become something of a geeky hobby for me! Figuring out how my brain works has been exciting, and crowdsourcing that knowledge with other geeky people? Even better.

leslie

(Oh god, It’s really happening… I’m turning into Leslie Knope…)

10. I Assembled An Awesome Support Team

ADD/ADHD is not a battle I’d recommend that anyone take on alone. To finish off this resource, I wanted to offer some suggestions on folks that you could consider bringing onto your “team” to help you meet your goals!

  • Pomodoro Buddy: We talked about pomodoros at #4 on this list. One way to boost the efficacy of your pomodoros is to find a pomodoro buddy — someone that you synchronize your pomodoros with! You work at the same time, and then text or message during your break to share what you’ve accomplished, cheer each other on, and brainstorm next steps with! The lovely Elizabeth Cooper first introduced me to this idea, and it’s great for those of us who find we work best with a little encouragement and accountability.
  • Therapist or Life Coach: Enlisting the help of a trained professional to support you in this process is never a bad idea. While this guide can be a great starting place, a therapist or life coach that’s familiar with your particular circumstances can help craft a system and schedule that’s unique to you.
  • Psychiatrist: Getting a diagnosis of ADD/ADHD can be crucial, especially since a lack of mental focus can be attributed to so many different mental health issues. Knowledge is power! Medication can also be a useful tool for folks struggling with concentration (this includes folks with ADD/ADHD, but also issues like anxiety and depression as well). I personally take an antidepressant called Wellbutrin, which addresses both my depression and my ADHD, but there are lots of options that a clinician can help you sort through.

So listen…

This world? It’s not exactly made for people with ADHD. I learned pretty early on that if I didn’t start creating a system that worked for me, I’d never be able to hold down a job or feel balanced in my life. Nonstop anxiety, procrastination, and stress used to be the norm for me. And for many people with ADHD, that’s all they’ve ever known.

That’s why I’m a big fan of taking these tools and reclaiming them for neurodiverse folks like us: I want us to lead more effective lives, adapt to jobs that are otherwise not accessible to us, and achieve our personal goals.

And while these tools weren’t necessarily made with us in mind, we can use them to get back in the driver’s seat of our lives. I hope this has given you a place to start. Because honestly? My only regret is that I didn’t realize sooner that my life didn’t have to be so hard.

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Crazy Talk: Is Your Boredom Just Depression In Disguise?

Crazy Talk is an advice column powered by your donations on Patreon, written by Sam Dylan Finch (that’s me!), and hosted by your fave queer blog, Let’s Queer Things Up! While I’m not medical doctor, I am a card-carrying member of Club Crazy, living the good life with a mood disorder, anxiety, and complex PTSD (gotta catch ’em all!). Talking all things mental health — trauma, happy pills, mood episodes, and whatever else you tweet me about. I’m kicking the stigma where it hurts, one question at a time.

Hey Sam. I mentioned to my new therapist that I’ve been bored to the point of making myself miserable. I thought that maybe I just needed to get a hobby (I don’t do much these days besides watch TV, probably doesn’t help) but she thinks I might be clinically depressed. How do you know this difference between “normal” boredom and actual depression? -Bored & Blue

Hi there Bored & Blue,

To start off, can I say how happy I am that you’re seeing a therapist? That, in and of itself, is a big step and will go a long way towards getting to the root of your boredom.

This is a really important question, one that I wish I’d paid more attention to back in the day. I never realized that boredom could be a symptom of depression, which would’ve helped me recognize it sooner rather than later. But like you, I just figured my boredom was the result of my own inaction — not a symptom of a bigger issue.

But your therapist is right in that boredom can be a red flag for folks that deal with depression! I think one way to parse out the difference is figuring out whether or not your boredom is responsive. In other words: Are you able to participate in activities that help alleviate it? Or does it linger no matter what?

I remember boredom being a really big feature of my last major depressive episode. I desperately wanted to find something to do to make it better, but I lacked the energy to get out of bed, and didn’t seem to enjoy the things that used to make me happy. You can imagine, then, the predicament I was in: Even if I did get a hobby, I wouldn’t have had the ability to participate or enjoy it — thus the boredom and subsequent misery was almost constant.

Boredom can be one of those early warning signs that can tip you off to an incoming depressive spell. Not all boredom coincides with depression (sometimes you really do just need a change of pace!), but persistent boredom almost always co-occurs with some kind of mental health issue.

Depression can sap the life out of you. Depression can take the things you used to be interested in or passionate about and make them feel dull as dirt. Depression can make you forget what it ever felt like to be happy or excited, replacing it with self-loathing and emptiness. Sound boring? It definitely can be. So it doesn’t really surprise me that many depressed people complain about being bored in the midst of an episode.

You described this situation as making you miserable. Yikes. Anytime you are describing your mood as “miserable,” some alarm bells should be going off. If this has been going on for longer than two weeks, almost every single day, there’s a very good chance that you’re dealing with some form of depression, especially if it accompanies these other symptoms.

No matter where this boredom is coming from, boredom signals that we might need to consider some life changes. Every one of us deserves a sense of fulfillment and variety, and without it, our mood can really suffer. A therapist can help you navigate how you can make some positive changes in your lifestyle to address this.

You talked about finding a hobby, and there’s no harm in that! But remember that there are other options, too. For me, in addition to finding a therapist, one way I found relief from my persistent boredom and sadness was starting an antidepressant. It made a huge difference! Once I had my energy and interest back, I was then able to pursue new activities and get out more.

A little homework: There’s a great video here covering ten different symptoms of depression in greater detail; I’d also recommend watching this video by my fave YouTuber, Marina Watanabe of marinashutup, about the sneaky nature of depression.

Remember that this process can take some time, so be sure to be patient and compassionate with yourself. This is the kind of elephant you’ll have to eat one bite at a time, or so to speak. I hope that you’ll keep going to therapy, keep an open mind, and keep advocating for your health and happiness — these are all excellent choices that will be beneficial to you whether you are clinically depressed or not.

All the best,

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