Executive dysfunction can originate from a variety of sources. Depression, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, illness, and even being overtired. It’s crippling when it hits, even if it passes in a day. For those who live with it, it can become a level of hell especially when combined with a society that calls it “laziness.”
The first skill is less a skill and more an adoption of a mantra. If you suffer from executive dysfunction, you need to practice telling yourself, “I am not lazy. I am not broken. I have something that is in my way.” Find people who will remind you of this, too.
Next, there are ways to survive executive dysfunction. In my post-covid life there are days when the very idea of getting into a shower seems so overwhelming I have honestly cried over it. I’m working on being more gentle with myself in those times so I don’t end up destroying my self-esteem. Here are some things that are helping me.
Housework: I write out one note card or post it note for each thing I need to do. Just as an example from cleaning the kitchen last weekend:
- Get old food out of fridge
- Take out trash
- Put away dishes
- Load glasses and meal containers
- Load bowls, plates, silverware (this and the previous made loading each rack a single step)
- Wash skillet
- Wash remaining pots/pans
- Run dishwasher
- Wipe counters
- Clean stove
- Sweep floor
- Clean sinks
- Appreciate clean kitchen
How does this differ from when I’m not fighting to do basic living? I’d normally write “Clean kitchen, get food out of fridge, scrub stove.” Breaking things into tiny tasks gives me a chance to do one part of a chore and then stop for a moment. It also means not facing a kitchen in need of cleaning and then walking away because I can’t figure out where to start. I always add on an “appreciate” at the end of a set of tasks because that encourages me to move on to the next part of the job.
Another thing you can do is use a calendar. I use the one on my phone. I have reminders that go off on paydays to tell me which bills to pay. I have one for paying rent that goes off every day for 4 days straight to remind me, and then alerts me 3 times on the final day I can pay it so I absolutely can’t forget. That way, if one reminder hits and I’m struggling to manage the task, I get another. I added in customized messages on the last day. “Last day to pay rent!” “Rent is almost late!” “If you don’t pay the rent the late fee is $X!!!”
That last one absolutely gets me moving, even on a really bad day. The late fee where I live is pretty hefty.
I also use the calendar to remind me about getting together with friends when we make plans, appointments, and other things. That way I’m not forever forgetting everything I need to handle.
The third thing I do that helps me is, I take notes. I have post-it notes and white boards so I can’t space out on things. Did you know, by the way, that having trouble with working memory is a symptom of executive dysfunction? Yep, remembering lists, names, dates, and so on are all a part of the working memory and when you have to deal with executive dysfunction, that doesn’t work right.
What’s on my notes? Topics for these posts, messages and phone calls I need to handle, and sometimes a nice thing someone has said about me or my writing, just for encouragement.
Whatever the level of executive dysfunction you face, and whatever the source, I hope these ideas will help you. There’s a host of resources online with tips about managing life despite this barrier. Just remember, it’s not because you’re lazy, stupid, or anything else bad. It’s just another “thing” that requires some learning to survive, and that part you’re capable of doing, just be nice to yourself while you learn!
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