42 steps to conquering executive function problems (in 68 easy steps).
March 3, 2016 3:58 PM   Subscribe

Step 63: Panic. All jesting aside, executive function skills are important. The ability to start new tasks, switch easily between tasks, pause before responding to something, and plan for the future all seem like small, simple things. But many people struggle painfully with them, especially when difficulty with them is treated as a personal failing. (Turns out it's more complicated than that.)
posted by sciatrix (102 comments total) 191 users marked this as a favorite
I think this is probably an excellent post.

This is pretty much why I can't do large multi link Meta posts. I get overwhelmed and unable to process which should go first, then just pass it over.

In the bad old days I'd just respond to comments and not read the links because, executive function reasons.

So...I couldn't manage that whole post. Is there a cure? (I have my licence but now I'm terrified I'll lose it. Oh god, new found anxieties!)

Thanks for posting. Will give to my spouse.
posted by taff at 4:20 PM on March 3, 2016 [14 favorites]

About halfway through that last article, the combination of professional speaker and professional catastrophe started to feel familiar... so I scrolled up to check the byline and yup, Penelope Trunk.
posted by subdee at 4:20 PM on March 3, 2016 [9 favorites]

P Trunk is someone famous?
posted by taff at 4:22 PM on March 3, 2016

This is too real. Except about 3/4 of the steps for me are 'Check Recent Activity on Metafilter'.
posted by dis_integration at 4:29 PM on March 3, 2016 [12 favorites]

I got about a third of the way through that before I remembered something else I should be doing.
posted by ckape at 4:37 PM on March 3, 2016

@taff I don't know how famous she is, but I think her stuff is linked a fair amount. At least I've ended up on her blog a fair few times. She's got a pretty distinct writing style, so she's easy to recognize.

(And a familiar cast of characters... it was definitely gonna be a Penelope Trunk article when "the Farmer" popped up, f'r instance.)

Aside from the oddness of a professional motivational speaker writing about the ongoing failures of her personal life with the level of detail that Penelope Trunk does, there's something compelling about the trainwreck drama of it all, which you can read chronologically in her archives.
posted by subdee at 4:37 PM on March 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Anyway I have this for sure, which is why I teach in a (tough) urban high school and not a (cushy) suburban one. The urban schools are little more forgiving of like, "quirks" of personality and missed deadlines. And I haven't lost any important documents yet, so I'm ahead of the game in that regard.
posted by subdee at 4:46 PM on March 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

too real :(
posted by en forme de poire at 4:46 PM on March 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks for posting this.
posted by brevator at 4:57 PM on March 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Penelope Trunk should not be taken as the poster child for people with executive function problems, because even leaving aside the fact that thinking of people as poster children is humanity-diminishing tokenism, she has said some pretty dreadful stuff that shouldn't be attributed to her disabilities.
posted by gingerest at 4:58 PM on March 3, 2016 [25 favorites]

Oh dear! Sorry to hear it's overwhelming. I suppose it depends what you want to read about--the first link's a laugh-until-you-cry description of living with executive dysfunction issues and the second one is an overview of what executive dysfunction actually is and what it looks like if someone is struggling with it.

The third one is (as mentioned) a description of the real-life consequences of having problems with this. (I had a lot of trouble finding accessible pieces that described what it looked like for adults to be dealing with executive function issues, because it's currently a popular topic when it comes to parenting and working with children.)

If you want to understand some of what we know about the neurobiology of executive function, the last link is the place to go for that.
posted by sciatrix at 5:14 PM on March 3, 2016 [6 favorites]

Started reading this, then I remembered I needed to vacuum, only made it about half way through the first link. I've got to finish making my coffee and then the vacuuming. The post might be a little TLDR can some one sum it up? I'll check it out the summary after I finish the first link and the vacuuming.

I think I need to start the laundry too.
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:15 PM on March 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

The thing about executive function is that it often shuts off in response to stress. In a stressful situation the front brain abdicates and the fight-or-flight response takes over. That's what a lot of procrastination (like the vacuum joke in the first link) is: we want to do something, but the stress of doing it makes us want to get away, then the knowledge that we're wasting time increases that stress, and so on. It was the same way with me in school. I'd study and do the assignments, but when it was time to take the test full blown social phobia would kick in (especially for the big tests, because those were usually held in rooms full of strangers, with strict looking proctors prowling the aisles) and I'd forget everything I'd ever learned.

The solution to this is to train yourself to think and make decisions under mild levels of stress in controlled situations. In the overcrowded university there were no quiet places to study, so I had to do all my work in noisy, crowded environments and my grades gradually improved. I'm no longer in school, but I still to do this today by reading or doing puzzles on the bus or in coffee shops. It probably doesn't matter what kind of stress a person is under. Any kind of long term stress response training will help with maintaining executive function when you need it most.
posted by Kevin Street at 5:20 PM on March 3, 2016 [35 favorites]

My Executive has not functioned for about as long as I can remember. I think I must have been bought out by venture capitalists and my stock is being run into the ground. This post is now favorited and with any luck somebody in middle management will get distracted enough to read it all.
posted by wabbittwax at 5:22 PM on March 3, 2016 [7 favorites]

I read the clinical part which shines a spotlight through the holes in my bucket.
posted by Oyéah at 5:58 PM on March 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I can't even bear to finish reading the Toast piece, and made it only halfway through the second link. On of the most difficult things in life is knowing you have a few set tasks--just a few, that's all!--and if you could sit and focus and do them, then suddenly hours and hours of time would become yours to accomplish something real. And yet, here's an email from work, let me think how to answer it by checking recent activity on metafilter, and since nothing is there, let's hit laughing squid, haha that video was funny, oh wait someone else wrote me...wait, why am I in the kitchen, did I come in here for something?...hello kitty!...oh, right, that work email, why am I looking at recent activity again, god, this is so frustrating, okay, focus, focus...what would help me focus is my coffee, where did I put it, shit, I put it in the microwave, that's why I was standing in the kitchen.

I mean it is astonishing I ever accomplish anything at all. My goal tonight is to write 1000 words on a project, and I have not even opened the project, between checking out every tab on my browser a few times and then checking work email and then downloading some software that might make writing the words go faster, except the software requires an activation code, and oh there's another work email....

Tomorrow is my performance review at work, and I am fortunate that nobody knows just how scattered and unable to plan I am. (although I accidentally scheduled it during two other calls, because...well...planning.)
posted by mittens at 5:58 PM on March 3, 2016 [25 favorites]

I already knew I had problems with executive function, but/and I showed link 3 to my partner. "Yeah, it's you."

It's even my driver's license right now, too. I moved from PA to CA 10 months ago and I haven't updated it yet ... I have to change my name, and my gender, and people at (bars, shows, etc) hassle me because my old license is really weird and the picture was faded because I had green hair and it says UNDER 21 UNTIL (a long-ago date) and it says licensename but I don't really look like a licensename, ...

And I have ADHD, so I should try to find a psychiatrist or doctor here willing to prescribe me meds, but when I was in school (dropped out) it took me three years and a lot of effort to find someone who would because psychiatrists kept accusing me of lying about my (symptoms, diagnosis, etc) and said I would just sell it?

I would get transition-related surgery, and I even have insurance that might cover it now, but ... it still seems impossible. There's so much that has to happen for it to happen.

Even just leaving the house is hard right now (can't wear this shirt, my chest shows in it; can't wear this shirt, it has a university logo on it and people will glare at me; can't wear a sweatshirt, too hot; this shirt's too small, this one is huge and baggy...)

Everything cascades into a bigger problem.
posted by you could feel the sky at 6:02 PM on March 3, 2016 [12 favorites]

Plug in vacuum cleaner and leave it in center of living room. As a reminder.

wow. nailed it.
posted by spbmp at 6:07 PM on March 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Aaaaarrrgggghhhh! I was all set to read the last piece and got distracted by this section heading: "The Roll of the Executive System." And now I'm having trouble trusting the article's credibility because of a freaking spelling error.
posted by tully_monster at 6:07 PM on March 3, 2016 [10 favorites]

This is so me. I've actually gotten better over time, which I think is partially a function of being on ADD meds and partly a function of coming up with coping mechanisms. But I think that my coping mechanisms probably seem extremely strange and rigid, because routines help me deal with my internal chaos. So I have a bedtime, which I'm pretty strict about, even though I am a grownup and do not need to go to bed at the same time every night. I have certain tasks that I do before my bedtime: pick out my clothes for the next day, pack my lunch. I get up at the same time every morning and have a morning routine. I plan out all my meals for the week on Saturday and do my grocery shopping on Sunday. I clean my kitchen on Saturday and the rest of the apartment on Sunday, in a particular order that doesn't really change. My keys go on the hook near my door, or they are gone and I will never be able to leave the house. People look at me like I'm nuts when I tell them about all of this, but my routines are really the only thing standing between me and the abyss. I'm completely amazed by people who can just live their lives without planning and routines and lists and shit. I would forget to eat and die, I think.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:11 PM on March 3, 2016 [26 favorites]

I think people who don't need routines get kind of freaked out, offended, whatever, when they're not allowed to interrupt your routines, too. I have a very strict process in the morning, by which I manage to be sure everyone is fed and be-coffeed and dressed and ready to get out the door...but it requires me getting up earlier than everyone, so I can be absolutely alone, because questions, or lolling around the kitchen while I'm pivoting from toaster to stovetop, or god forbid asking me to do something different while I'm supposed to be doing the routine, stops me in my tracks and I get things wrong and suddenly I'm packing the cat into the kid's lunchbox or something.
posted by mittens at 6:17 PM on March 3, 2016 [37 favorites]

Plug in vacuum cleaner and leave it in center of living room. As a reminder.

Ouch. Though right now it's food. I haven't eaten today and I should eat. I left food out on the counter a few hours ago to remind me to eat and then a while later I put a fork on it to remind me to eat. That was a couple hours ago and the counter is maybe three steps away. All I need to do is pick it up and eat it. Have I?

hahahaha no.

I don't understand people who can do these things together in a sequence. Food->fork->eat. It sounds so arcane.

Sometimes I wish I could hire somebody to follow me around and remind me what to do and how to do it because doing it for myself just doesn't work. I end up trying to drink through plastic or bite into meat that I put out and forgot to cook. Or, as happened when I woke up this morning, walk into a door and then reach for the handle, carefully open and shut the door, and then forget what I wanted in the next room to begin with. Self-sufficiency is hard when most of the time it's like you're in the backseat of your brain. Mostly I manage, but managing most of the time looks like standing around staring into the ether.
posted by E. Whitehall at 6:38 PM on March 3, 2016 [13 favorites]

I couldn't manage that whole post. Is there a cure?

When confronted with these I open all the link, or a sampling, in new tabs, and then proceed through them L to R scanning to see what they're like.

Having repeatable routines can make functioning easier.
posted by Miko at 6:39 PM on March 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Hi this whole post and thread is one I need to read carefully, in detail, to maybe understand the perpetual precariousness of my entire life but I need to leave to go have tacos with my friend instead of handling my work emails or monthly report which was due days ago or the things I'm forgetting because nope. Maybe I'll send the one letter I need to send to maybe make the weekend work out smooth while I'm on the bus, but maybe not!

Commenting before reading the whole thing because ouch but also this will put this post in that Recent Activity-Facebook-Instagram cycle that I never quite remember entering but always need out of. See you after some difficult truths and some tacos, thread and future me!
posted by EatTheWeak at 6:48 PM on March 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I open things in tabs, too. I tried to close some out earlier. Shall I count my open tabs?


I have 112 open tabs. (I'm sure some of them are duplicates, from tabs I opened and then went to do something else and then forgot that I opened them and then opened them again.)

Anyway, great post--very useful.
posted by wintersweet at 6:50 PM on March 3, 2016 [11 favorites]

Ouch! I close my browser every time I stand up, losing the tabs. Otherwise, yeah, it would pile up.
posted by Miko at 7:00 PM on March 3, 2016

The timing on this is excruciatingly good. My business website is down. I think maybe the domain needs to be renewed, but it was organised by the long ago ex. I have a vague idea how to fix but there's so much else that needs to be sorted, that I'm taking the day off work (self-employed/casual/nobody cares if I turn up because I don't claim hours I don't work) to walk briskly around my house in a panic while holding my breath. Two clients paid me by cheque. We don't use cheques in Australia much. So when I finally (a month after receiving it) took an hour out of my day (public transport, I've been trying to learn to drive for a long time) to take my cheque into the bank to deposit it (no, we don't have those groovy little apps to take photos for our banks), I was miffed to find out it wasn't signed. I mailed it back to him with a little note before I noticed that he was out of the country for the next two months. Now I'm waiting for it to come back before I take the other cheque in because, good lord, waiting in a bank.

My main set of clients pay me through a university, so I have to lodge electronic timesheets and they recently changed their system so I couldn't see what I'd claimed for all the other jobs at the same time. I keep a database of actual hours worked, but I charge minimum increments of half hour. If I work from 9:00 - 9:15 on Job 1, and then 9:15-9:30 on the next (and it happens, sometimes people give me stupidly small tasks or I'm that quick - who knows) but when I use my database to claim Job A (9-9:30), and then go to claim Job B for same time, because I started Job C at 9:30, the university rejects my claim and I have to spend hours trying to work out what's fair and reasonable and not crossed over. So I sort of stopped claiming until it got into a big mess, and I claimed the right number of hours but on totally unrelated days. My desk is covered in paperwork - I only just re-registed my ute (utility vehicle - I'm an optimist, and my son can drive) in time. I have 3 referrals to a a radiologist for a pelvic scan because of spotting from my GP who gets her nurse to ring me once a month to remind me to go do it, but I can't find any of them and I'm embarrassed to tell her I need another one.

I feel like at nearly 50, when I've managed to develop my own business that pays rather well considering where I came from, and what my executive function is like, I should be an adult. But dishes. I've started buying disposables because to do the dishes I have to clear the food scraps, but the bin is full, and when I empty it, it needs to be washed out, but the irrigation system I had a friend set up to make sure all my veges and herbs didn't die again because I forgot to water them is hard to take off the tap, so I have to wash the bin out with a bucket and water, but the bucket is missing because I saw marks on the wall one day and started washing - oh wait, the dishes. So take the food scraps directly outside to the bin, come back and where's the plug? Going to have to stack these dishes to find them. Nowhere to put the dishes as I clean them. Put the clean dishes away, except they got mixed up with the dirty dishes. Fuck this is boring. Maybe I should just get takeaways.

Except when I looked at my spending that one time, the reason my life savings are being eroded is because I eat out too much, and it's making me gain weight which means I have to buy more clothes. Ugly tents. In materials that irritate my skin. Fill my closet with clothes I don't like because I'm not going to spend over $50 on a shirt when I've spent too much on food being delivered. It's all too hard.

As much as I detest the rat bastard, at least I could delegate some things. Having to be responsible for EVERYTHING in my life is impossible. But I'm an adult. A capable adult. Very smart. Possibly a genius. But not genius enough. I'm weird. Fuck. Where do I start?

I bought a robot vacuum cleaner because I thought - hey, my floors will stay clean for a while. But it went and hid under my bed and I forgot where it was until I realised I had to clean my place because rental inspection and then I couldn't find the charger.

How do I clean these venetian blinds? Do I have to wipe every fucking one of them?

I'm exhausted. My place is visually distracting but when I start tidying it, it gets worse. I haven't done my tax in two years. I end up with eleventy-twelve different places I keep receipts. How do non-geniuses manage? Do they let atheists join nunneries? Do nunneries have internet? Maybe I should just go masturbate again.
posted by b33j at 7:06 PM on March 3, 2016 [36 favorites]

posted by b33j at 7:07 PM on March 3, 2016 [8 favorites]

Is this where we go to talk about how difficult it is to adul
posted by Deoridhe at 7:47 PM on March 3, 2016 [7 favorites]

This sounds like yet another ADHD thing, isn't it?

But that said, this does sound like the issues I have at work. When I have something I know nothing about sprung on me AND I can't say "no, don't ask me, I know nothing about this" and I am forced to be an expert on the spot--then I get in whopping trouble.

(Uh, I would highly recommend not ever taking Penelope Trunk's advice on anything. That lady is super crazy and disturbing.)
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:53 PM on March 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

Check email. Sorry, check inbox—don’t open any emails.
Decide which email to open. (You may need to turn on stereo for this.)
Turn on stereo and insert CD.
Play old recording of The Shadow.
Imitate Lamont Cranston’s Shadow laugh.
Grow confident enough to open emails.
Pick one that doesn’t look scary.
They all look scary. Go vacuum.

OH MY GOD YES this right here is like the story of my life.

(Okay, off to read the rest of the post. I only got to step 11.)
posted by litera scripta manet at 7:58 PM on March 3, 2016

Is this where we go to talk about how difficult it is to adul

I hadn't quite realized how much adulting is dependent on being able to negotiate the Rube Goldberg machine nature of daily life.

so I have to wash the bin out with a bucket and water, but the bucket is missing because I saw marks on the wall one day and started washing - oh wait, the dishes.

Oh my God, yes. It's a constant desperate wish that everything would freeze, just for a day, so I can figure out where to stand so I can get an overview of what needs to be done, and figure out a triage plan. I've become much better at this. But only because of routines, and my family doesn't understand what I'm really upset about when they casually, and without thinking, drop caltrops in front of my best practices and I get frustrated.
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:04 PM on March 3, 2016 [15 favorites]

I used to type my to do lists in the sticky notes app that comes with my macbook. One day, when I was feeling particularly desperate/punchy, I started typing up my daily schedule, and somehow ended up writing this much more accurate "schedule"

Wake up (Some time between 8 am and 10 am): Yes, today's the day i'm going to get shit done!
12 pm: Oops, just blew the whole morning.
1 pm But now I'm really going to buckle down...after I eat lunch.
2 pm: Hey look, I totally just got a little bit of work done. Now I'm really on a roll!
5 pm: Suns's already setting. Still only spent 30 min being productive today.
6 pm Well, I don't usually go to bed until after midnight anyway, so there's still plenty of time.
9 pm: Shit! When did it get to be so late??? Well, if I really buckle down, I'm sure I could accomplish a lot in the next two hours.
9:30 pm: But first I have to eat dinner.
11:00 pm: Damn it, I need to take my meds so I can get to sleep by midnight. But that means resigning myself to the fact that the day's over and I got almost nothing done...
12:00 am: Shit! Now I really have to take my meds. Tomorrow, tomorrow will totally be better.
12:30 am: Crawl into bed, feel like a failure. Spend the two hours wasting time on the internet to drown out the pervasive feeling of shame.

I made it to step 15 this time before I remembered this thing and decided to try to track it down. Off to read the rest!
posted by litera scripta manet at 8:06 PM on March 3, 2016 [6 favorites]

Go to kitchen sink to wash dishes.
Spot coffee maker and realize that’s the problem, you need more caffeine.
Remember ulcer. Hunt for Tagamet.
Wash Tagamet down with coffee.
Scribble note to call stomach doctor.
Scribble note to find business card of stomach doctor.
Find business card of stomach doctor in china bowl on credenza reserved for most precious things.
Wonder how card got there.
Put card in center of desk. As a reminder.


I got the referral for a GI doc oh, 3 years ago maybe? And still have yet to follow up. After about a year I finally took it off of my to do list, but one of these days. For now, I just take prilosec every day because otherwise it's like nonstop heart burn all day every day. (It would probably help if I could give up coffee and Diet Coke, but, well, self control isn't exactly a strong suit for me.)

Search house for inhaler.
Hopped up on Albuterol and anxiety about others passing you by in life, try to leave house to pick up child from school.

Oh hey, also me! See doctor about inability to breathe is another thing on my to do list. I'm going to be really screwed when I run out of my current inhaler because I've got no more refills left. Oddly, or maybe not that oddly, a good jolt from my albuterol inhaler does actually help me get things done. Too bad I only get to have that side effect when I also need to use it to breathe.

Turn shower off.
Put nightgown back on.
Hate self.
Decide to sit down, that you may hate self in comfort. As long as you are sitting down,

posted by litera scripta manet at 8:15 PM on March 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

I wrote a really good to do list. In Word. using headings so that I could use the navigation pane to get to any section, and then the top priority stuff, I put in a table, with due dates, and categories and last action. And I was using this document so much that I put in things like packing lists, because whenever I go somewhere I have to write a packing list, and I'm sick of reinventing that wheel. Also stuff like how to find acronyms in Word. And things. Document got to 57 pages. For weeks I was on track. Religiously updated and referred to it. And then one day, I just forgot it. It's like it ceased to exist for me.

A couple of weeks later as my life was apparently crumbling around me, I open it up thinking that it'd fix things, but not only did it not fix things, I kept forgetting to look at it. It's so much like a spell in a fantasy book - there's no explanation for why I can't see it.

Every 7 months or so I have to invent a new system because the old one just runs away and refuses to be used. I have a huge white board, in my living room. Blank now. I have a 3 year old perfectly and personally designed filofax. I have index card. I have that book by that guy (and those other books too). All invisible. If I could harness this power ...
posted by b33j at 8:15 PM on March 3, 2016 [25 favorites]

I had a horrific head injury skateboarding in 1978. Reading the clinical class, I can easily see where the damage remains unresolved. I do virtually nothing motivated by emotion, if I fail in executive function the damage is external, financial, but social meh, OK what? I remain behind a rational wall, while other people are flipping out. I have had a lot of education in psychological matters and Anthropology, but hitting the sidewalk, made me zen squared. In some ways that is a plus, in others I am on the outside, watching.

Very interesting read.
posted by Oyéah at 8:21 PM on March 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Executive function is the biggest problem I have and the hardest problem to make other people understand.

Yes, this is so, so true. It's incredibly frustrating, because people in my life are always like, "Well, why can't you just DO this thing that you need to get done?" My mother in particular seems to think if she just nags me relentlessly or something that it will help. And maybe it would help if she mentioned things at just the right time when I'm feeling energized but not overwhelmed and am not otherwise productively engaged but am in just the right mood to be product, but, hey, that synergy only happens like once every couple months so...

But I really hate when people respond like this, because it only reinforces my own internal monologue of "You know you need to get this thing done, so why can't you just fucking do it?"

Honestly, I often feel like it's a miracle that I manage to get anything done. The thing is, i've gotten pretty good at mastering regular activities. Like, Sunday is laundry day. It's a rule that all laundry must be completed before I go to bed Sunday night (otherwise my clothing might languish in the washer/dryer or in the laundry basket/foot of my bed forever). Similarly, if I go on a trip, no matter how tired I am, I always force myself to unpack as soon as I get home. If i didn't, well, it probably wouldn't happen until I need the suitcase again.

But that only works for activities that are daily or weekly recurring things AND for things that I don't find immensely stressful. That's why I can do my laundry, but lord knows I've never, ever made it to the dry cleaner's. About once or twice a year I manage to get my shit together enough to handwash things.

If it's not a daily/weekly activity, then it basically needs to be a "Do this right now or Bad Things will happen" kind of thing.

Adulting really is so very hard.
posted by litera scripta manet at 8:26 PM on March 3, 2016 [13 favorites]

This is my poor son. Freshman in HS and really struggling. I'd heard this term back when he was in 3rd or 4th grade from a diagnostician. I have been working with him on this since forever. My ears perked up when I heard this story about Executive Function Coaches on the radio. Sadly, the studies didn't show coaching was necessarily helpful. Sigh.
posted by haunted by Leonard Cohen at 8:35 PM on March 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

I have 112 open tabs. (I'm sure some of them are duplicates, from tabs I opened and then went to do something else and then forgot that I opened them and then opened them again.)
Yeah, I feel like I have hoarding tendencies that follow me into internet land. I open a million tabs, then any time I go to close them, I'm like, "Oh yeah, that is a really interesting article! I should totally read ... hey, what's that song I wanted to look up that I heard on the radio?"

But now I use safari and they have this "reading list" which is sort of like bookmarks without any organization so now I just put all those things on my reading list. Sure, I've never actually gone back and read my reading list, but at least I know they're there.
posted by litera scripta manet at 8:36 PM on March 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

– Doesn’t check to insure that each step is completed
– Doesn’t monitor pace to determine if goal will be met on time
– Doesn’t check work before submitting it

Sometimes it is difficult to tell if what one is dealing with is a psychological profile or an actual manual for managerial assessment.

That said, I have a presentation to write. Due in a few hours.
posted by sapagan at 8:36 PM on March 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

This also reminds me of a discussion that came up in that self care twine FPP a while back where I came up with an idea for a twine to help with anxiety driven procrastination spirals and I totally downloaded the twine application and I got like 3/4 of the way through creating that twine, and I keep telling myself that I'll go back and finish it, but, well, it's one of many things on the list of "Shit I would like to do once I take care of this other stuff that I absolutely have to get done right now." Maybe some day...

I can't help but wonder what it would be like to live without that ever present nagging anxiety because of all the things I know I have to do but can't bring myself to get done. I mean, if I'm not going to do the Thing, I'd love to at least not constantly be thinking about how I'm not doing the Thing. It must be nice to not feel like this.
posted by litera scripta manet at 8:42 PM on March 3, 2016 [12 favorites]

For weeks I was on track. Religiously updated and referred to it. And then one day, I just forgot it. It's like it ceased to exist for me. [...] Every 7 months or so I have to invent a new system because the old one just runs away and refuses to be used.
This. Just ... just this.
posted by aroweofshale at 8:42 PM on March 3, 2016 [8 favorites]

There's a narrow band of -- stress? challenge? -- where I operate like a fucking champ. But give me too little or too much to do (and my "too much" is a lot less than other people's "too much", I think) and I either drift or fall apart.

Things are getting better, bit by bit. Freelancing has actually slowed down enough recently -- with a healthy bank balance from the last round and the promise of new work coming up -- that I am neither sleep-deprived nor panicking that I'm going to lose everything. As a result, a little more order has come to the house, I'm taking a night class once a week, and I'm going to the gym semi-regularly. I haven't pulled an all-nighter for [8] days -- go me!

I just keep telling myself that if I can take advantage of this semi-lull, enough things will be in place that I can deal with the next rush without losing my spot, and the next semi-lull will let me plan a little more for the future.

For now, enjoy this illustrated piece on preparing for a speech when you such an excellent procrastinator that you are asked to give a TED talk on procrastination. *waves to Future Me, promises to do better, really*
posted by maudlin at 8:49 PM on March 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

> I have had a lot of education in psychological matters and Anthropology, but hitting the sidewalk, made me zen squared

Yes! I have post-concussion syndrome, and I was calm for weeks and my ADHD was cured for a few months. It's coming back now (for example, I have not actually read any of the linked articles although they sound good and I hope to send them all to my Kindle to be read... at some point), so concussions don't necessarily fix things permanently. Plus, you know, concussion.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:10 PM on March 3, 2016 [5 favorites]

All my life my dad has been suggesting that I make to-do lists, and all my life I've been having to explain that I keep forgetting to make one.
posted by teponaztli at 9:30 PM on March 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

I make to do lists and lose them. Sometimes I find them later. I once had a grocery list on a white board that lasted for months.
posted by Deoridhe at 9:55 PM on March 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

I have found my people!

Seriously, this is so me that it hurts. It is having a major, major negative effect on my functionality right now. I think it is a disability -- not the kind that means you can never work again, but the kind that you need particular accommodations to help you with. But other people don't see it that way -- they just see you as not trying.

I just want a job where I have a structure that doesn't set me up to fail. And something at home to help me with the same.
posted by litlnemo at 12:23 AM on March 4, 2016 [7 favorites]

Ahhh. I suddenly understand why I like that teaching at school means that I have a fixed, externally set timetable that I can't blow off.
posted by bardophile at 1:57 AM on March 4, 2016 [5 favorites]

Arbitrary and Capricous's comment really resonates, as does the one right below.

I have to routines and if I don't follow them, things go all to fuck and it takes days to get back on track.

I've been called rigid and unspontaneos (even on askme under a sock) because of this.

However this post made me realize I need to block off time for "socializing" so that a night at the pub with friends doesn't blindside me for days bc my evening routine didn't happen.

Thank you for making me feel less weird.

(metafilter: thank you for making me feel less weird)
posted by sio42 at 3:04 AM on March 4, 2016 [15 favorites]

I don't really struggle with this but my son does - to the extent that my super smart kid could not cope with school because it means things like getting from one class to another on time, with the right stuff, and not falling completely to pieces if you happen to realise halfway that you forgot something or have to divert to the library etc. It has taken me a looooong time to get my head around the idea of executive function skills or a lack thereof and how we deal with it. But realising it is a thing and that it does make what seems relatively easy to many people bloody difficult for others has reduced the stress levels in our house enormously. I can only imagine how hard it is to be an adult and not know why you are like this.

(though it seems to be becoming the new self diagnosed Aspergers/'I'm an introvert, so I am quirky'/special snowflake of choice in some circles which is very annoying for those who genuinely are dealing with this)
posted by Megami at 5:25 AM on March 4, 2016 [5 favorites]

b33j - How do I clean these venetian blinds? Do I have to wipe every fucking one of them?

Yes. You can speed it up with a blind cleaner. But don't start the job until you have the right tool.
posted by asok at 5:52 AM on March 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

From the Trunk piece: "It’s amazing that even when you are trying to follow the rules and be like everyone else, you still get people to make exceptions for you."

You know what isn't amazing? When you have executive function issues, but don't have that last ability.

In fact, it sucks.
posted by gnomeloaf at 6:13 AM on March 4, 2016 [6 favorites]

I've spent months trying to find appropriate material. I'm not sure it's possible. I've put together the charts and highlighted pieces I've struggled with. I've got 18+hrs of neuropsychiatric evals. I've demonstrated huge progress on medications, but not enough to no longer be considered disabled. I'm frustrated that my difficulties can't/won't be accommodated and that I suffer as a result.

I've fought tooth and nail for these things, and am often still not believed. I'm struggling right now and barely accomplishing a single goal a day, even if that goal is "dishes". that's not executive function, that's depression, have you thought about getting a job?

The PTrunk post gave me a panic attack. I've been in trouble so many times, that I'm terrified of getting caught. These fears don't exist when I'm on the meds and can soothe myself before my heart pounds and I'm short circuited. The really immature "I'm not doing what I'm supposed to and will be in trouble" trauma related thoughts. Only, it wasn't just a traumatic home, but school (desk in a closet for multiple years), work (HR write-ups) and mental health workers. (so many diagnoses) I've been committed involuntary, (kids have ADHD, adults have mania. That's why she can't track this convo, sit still or talk slower. Those tears? Mixed state.) and traumatized in other ways. I'm still traumatized and I'm giving myself another panic attack thinking about it. This isn't about my fears, but barriers.

I've often wanted to hire someone to help advocate for me, to help me negotiate all the things that have to be taken care of. Help me find new medical professionals that will be supportive, help me find an appropriate workplace, help translate when interpersonal conversations go sideways. I have so much anger. I want others to help.

...but, I'm also an adult. Wanting someone to help fix my problems, or expecting people in various medical/employment fields to understand specialized areas of cognitive research, isn't very realistic. I have to use this point to recenter myself and work on my expectations.

(If this wasn't a post on EF, I would have deleted the above few paragraphs, worked on myself some, spent time editing and sequencing to make my point. - I have one, I've just forgotten...)

Oh. My point.

Thank you for posting this, Sciatrix. It can be really difficult to find good, approachable material. I think that any example of adults struggling with executive function would come under similar scrutiny as the P Trunk one. We're discussing how lives are impacted by executive dysfunctions after all.

In P Trunks post, other issues show as well. What kind of decisions does she make while driving to be pulled over so often? How did managing to fly without an ID reinforce the idea that she didn't need one. Why was not-driving for immediate needs a worse outcome than risking potential arrest? All sorts of examples in the post that didn't involve sorting out the ID. I need to be more accepting of this in others, especially if I'm frustrated by the lack of acceptance others have for me.
posted by bindr at 7:27 AM on March 4, 2016 [10 favorites]

Reading this after reading that post about LSD. interesting. Modern life requires a set of skills that aren't necessarily the ones we evolved with, so we have to struggle to adapt.
posted by theora55 at 7:54 AM on March 4, 2016 [5 favorites]

With stuff like this though... how do you know when you're outside of the norm, or 'typical' human condition? Like... ok. Bear with me here.

I'm bipolar, diagnosed and medicated, but I'm in grad school, and I think the stress of finishing up has triggered a crippling scenario of messed up executive function, all blended in with the rest of what I've got going on (frustration, shame, guilt, often from missed deadlines and low-quality work, etc.) leading to the occasional panic attack. I'm not saying the panic attacks are normal to have, and part of this I'm sure is me having internalized stuff and negative self talk but like... how much of this is some faulty wiring and how much might just me being lazy?

I guess the problem is any time I mention my issues to other people who don't have any of these mental health problems (bipolar, depression, adhd, etc.) their reply always seems to be like 'ha ha yeah i get that too' and 'yep writing is really hard :)' and a large part of me is always like... no..... you don't understand. Like I feel like mine is ruining my life and it literally feels physically impossible. It's not like I don't want to do these things and it's not like I don't care. I care deeply about most of it. This is ignoring the 'everyday' stuff. Forgetting to take my meds, forgetting to make doctor's appointments, forgetting to get the oil changed. And not always forgetting, sometimes just not being able to do. Sometimes when faced with a task I get overwhelmed and literally just go to sleep for 3 hours. Do normal people just like. Do these things? Is it really that easy for anyone to just do something? I guess a lot of this is probably exacerbated by how whenever I talk to well-functioning people they seem to totally brush it off as it probably not being that bad and well, I pretty much doubt myself in 100% of things, so I really don't know what the truth is. And some of this might also be that I'm in a lot of online communities where these things appear to be common or at least commonly talked about. I need more data points and I don't know where to find them.

I don't know. It always feels impossible to know where the personality and the brain chemistry begin and end. Like I know those two things aren't mutually exclusive but I hope you get what I'm getting at here.

I'll be talking to my psychiatrist at some point about it if I can figure out when I can schedule it in and then actually get it done. But I guess I'm asking in a more general way and not necessarily about my specific situation. How do you know when it's not normal? How do you know when you really need to talk to someone about it?
posted by suddenly, and without warning, at 8:30 AM on March 4, 2016 [15 favorites]

How do you know when it's not normal? How do you know when you really need to talk to someone about it?

Yeah, this is one of the reasons why I really side-eye a lot of the blowback that people with self-diagnoses get, because it's not a trivial thing to say "something is wrong" and seek help for a problem like this. It's just not. Especially when, as I said upthread, it's really hard to find information on what this looks like in adults and not just kids. That's all well and good for kids around now who are lucky enough to have parents keeping an eye out for problems like this, or who have a school district with enough resources to spot it and refer them for help, but there are a lot of racial and class disparities about who has access to mental health care.

I mean, there's famously a book about adults with ADHD entitled You Mean I'm Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?! and that's pretty much what happens to people's self-perception otherwise. It's hard to articulate what's going on, and it's very easy for both other people and the person experiencing problems with this to just assume they're somehow deliberately choosing to be bad at these things. And it's intensely frustrating even if you do have this concept and can think of it as a disability you need to accommodate yourself for; it's worse if you just develop learned helplessness and go "well, no matter whether I'm trying or not, I just fuck this up, so I am inherently a bad/lazy/worthless person." Especially if your (also understandably frustrated) loved ones are actively telling you that under the guise of trying to motivate you.

I actually have psychiatric diagnoses of both ADHD and Asperger's, and to be honest I'm cheerfully agnostic about whether the ADHD one is accurate because it's not clear to me whether that's my underlying problem or not. What is clear is that I've got some pretty big executive function issues, and those could be coming from the autism spectrum thing just as easily as ADHD. In the long shot, where they came from doesn't matter too much to me because for me they're pervasive, so my best shot is to figure out how to work around them most effectively. (I also have no grey area between "anal-retentive and absolutely rigid about my routines" and "late. a lot. and easily distracted. and--oh shit I'm LATE NOW I HAVE TO RUN FUCK." So I cling to my to-do lists and my very finely parsed calendar and my system of automatic reminders, because it's much better than alternatives.)

One thing I wanted to get across in the original fpp that I couldn't find a great link for is that executive function deficits aren't always caused by ADHD, although ADHD is pretty much entirely a disorder of executive function. Depression will also fuck up your executive functioning skills, and it's a common issue for people on the autism spectrum, and mania in bipolar will screw with it, and so will a variety of other things. It's a class of cognitive functions, not a diagnosis in and of itself.
posted by sciatrix at 9:47 AM on March 4, 2016 [19 favorites]

how much of this is some faulty wiring and how much might just me being lazy?

The two things kinda feel different, though, don't they? I mean, regardless of how Normal Person might peer into our lives and think it's all laziness. Like, cat litter. I haaaaate doing the litter. Totally lazy about it, do it grudgingly, telling the cats I wish they had been born normal animals who can live outside instead of the delicate box-pooping creatures they are...but I clean the litter anyway, and don't feel there's anything hard about it. I just don't like it.

But compare that to, like, paying bills. Paying bills, it's more than blehhh so stupid why can't they just go in my account and take my money themselves. There's a panic element, there's a, oh shit, what if I get this wrong, did I write the right number on the check, did I key in my card number right on the website? Or, for me personally, can I actually walk to the mailbox and open that envelope, knowing disaster might be inside? It involves so many steps that are really kind of perilous. And it's not even actually that many steps, but good god, it's beyond me. I actually can't do them, have had to get help, because if I'm in charge of this stuff, the power's going to get cut off while I hide the bill in a drawer because looking at it makes me nervous.

So kind of a big difference between, "I gotta make a big dumb choice to do my stupid tasks and I'd rather sleep," and "Oh shit this is literally the most complicated thing that ever happened, and I can feel the little circuits in my head click off one by one zzzzz."
posted by mittens at 9:55 AM on March 4, 2016 [13 favorites]

Part of the solution is being kind to yourself. Treat yourself as someone you care about. When the kid in you hides the electric bill, take a deep breath and pay it if you can, and negotiate if you can't. A lot of us were raised by very mean people in mean circumstances. The panic response over minutia, is predictable, the response to flight or fight becomes an inability to act. Kindness to yourself includes self calming and a reminder there is no one to punish you. Only the situation punishes. If you, out of a kind awareness of self, can end the loop, then the everyday can be rationally manageable and a pleasant life.

How many of us return to our panicked three, four old state knowing our parents are going to act out horribly, over normal reality?
posted by Oyéah at 10:25 AM on March 4, 2016 [11 favorites]

I am sure I ought to read these links in full. But I can't because they make me very anxious. I'm a pretty high-functioning version of this, but I can always feel it lurking. It makes me wonder whether there's something like executive function fatigue, where no matter how much executive function you have, everyone always runs out eventually.

Some questions:
1. Is it cultural? Could it be that FB and email and Metafilter did this to us?
2. Am I right to think that everyone feels this to some extent? This thread is full of people having rushes of recognition, and a lot of you folks seem pretty competent to me. Maybe this is like bad astrology, with too much pattern-matching caused by the vagueness?
3. Is there a treatment suggested in all those links?
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:32 AM on March 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

The second link lists this on the treatment question:

Most of the research relevant to this question looks at the role of stimulant medications (such as Ritalin) on specific types of tasks or activities. Although a detailed discussion of this research is beyond the scope of this web site, it is intriguing to note that there is some evidence that stimulant medications may be of benefit for some aspects of executive dysfunction. As examples:
Kempton et al. (1999) compared unmedicated children with ADHD to children with ADHD who were on stimulant medication . They found a significant number of executive functions impaired in the unmedicated children, but those children who were on stimulant medication displayed no such impairment (with the exception of of spatial recognition memory)
  • Kramer, Cepeda, and Cepeda (2001) reported that methylphenidate (Ritalin) improved task-switching ability in children with ADHD
  • Aron et al. (2003) reported that similar to findings in children with ADHD, adults with ADHD also display impairment in response inhibition that it ameliorated by methylphenidate.
There is no evidence, however, that any medication ameliorates deficits in all executive functions. For example, Biederman et al. (2008) found that stimulants improved measures of sustained attention, but did not have any effect on other measures of executive functioning ;abstract). Similarly, and as noted earlier, Langberger et al. (2008) found no evidence that medicated students with ADHD fared any better than nonmedicated students on middle school transition when it came to transitition in middle school.
The second link also suggests keeping a notepad with lists of to-dos in it. Which I assume most people with this problem already do.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:43 AM on March 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have a dear friend who is autistic and works with autistic children and adults. She has a great story from college, and a friend of hers who was getting into a lot of trouble with his female housemates because he liked to cook, but left the kitchen a mess. His housemates were pretty sure he was being a big old sexist and leaving his mess for the women to clean up (and maybe he is a big old sexist, I don't know). But my friend suspected it might be a different problem, so she made him instructions for cleaning the kitchen, broken down into the smallest possible increments, like:

1. Put the plug in the sink drain.
2. Start running some hot water into the sink, but not too hot for you to put your hands in.
3. Put about two squirts of dish liquid into the water.

And so on.

Her friend, who has serious EF deficits, didn't clean the kitchen because he couldn't figure out how to do it. When she gave him instructions to follow, he improved dramatically.

Our youngest kid amuses us because he has, like, hyper-precocious executive functioning skills. While other parents complain about trying to get their kids out the door to school, he is the one who, as a kindergartner, would feed himself, pack his lunch, put his homework and snow pants and whatever else he needed into his backpack, and then come stand by my bed and say, "Mom. It's going to be time to leave soon. You can sleep for five more minutes."

It can be exhausting because, while I'm trying to get through my day, he's already thinking about a gymnastics meet he has two weeks from today. He always gets his hair cut right before a meet, so he's planning which day to get his hair cut; what time we need to leave to get to the meet, about 75 minutes away, on time for Open Stretch at 8 a.m.; what snacks his dad needs to be sure to buy for him ("Fruit or a granola bar is good, but no candy or anything during the meet"); and where we might stop for lunch on the way home afterward. And he wants to chat with me about all this. Constantly.

It's like this:

Him: "Mom, are there any good Chinese restaurants in Ann Arbor?"

Me: "I'm sure there are."

Him: "What are they? I was thinking we could get lunch after my meet."

Me: "Sweetie, I don't even know what we're having for dinner tonight. I can't think about that now."

Him: "Can I borrow your iPad? I'll find a place."

5 minutes later:

Him: "Mom, do you remember that my sneakers are wearing out?"

Me: "I do remember that."

Him: "I found a few pairs at Zappos that I think might be good for me. Here, let me show you."

5 minutes later:

Him: "Mom?"

Me: "Yes?"

Him: "I wanted to talk to you about Easter candy."

Me: *glances at calendar, sees that Easter is 23 days away, slumps in despair*

On the plus side, he basically planned Thanksgiving dinner last November. And he is really good at baking cookies, which we all enjoy.

Oh, he's 8.
posted by not that girl at 10:47 AM on March 4, 2016 [50 favorites]

It's incredibly frustrating, because people in my life are always like, "Well, why can't you just DO this thing that you need to get done?

This seems to me like one of the most frustrating aspects for friends and family who have these challenges: they can't do things that seem really, really easy to other people. My oldest kid, for instance, can do a lot of amazing things but simply cannot handle bus transfers. A trip that takes two buses might as well be a Mars mission for them.

People who don't have these challenges often don't understand how completely differently people's brains work, and that can be an added burden.
posted by not that girl at 10:51 AM on March 4, 2016 [8 favorites]

I want to say thanks for this post. I am an executive-function ninja but many people in my life struggle with these things. I like seeing you find each other here. I hope people who don't have EF problems read and learn and get all empathic about it.
posted by not that girl at 10:59 AM on March 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

how much of this is some faulty wiring and how much might just me being lazy?
I struggle with this, because I can sometimes, with great effort, accomplish things that take a lot of planning and organization. It takes all of my energy, and I have to constantly rehearse the next step and the one after that and replay it in my head and think about it obsessively, and I get incredibly anxious and sometimes physically unwell, but I can do it. And then I think that I'm just lazy, because I can do it for a while when it's really important to me, so why can't I do it all the time? But I literally don't think I could sustain that all the time, and I also don't think I want to live my life in a constant state of hyper-anxiety even if I could figure out how to pull that off. I also have a lot of problems with avoidance, which I think really is a thing that I can and should make myself not do, and that plays into my not knowing when I'm making excuses for myself and when I need to cut myself some slack.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:00 AM on March 4, 2016 [15 favorites]

Her friend, who has serious EF deficits, didn't clean the kitchen because he couldn't figure out how to do it. When she gave him instructions to follow, he improved dramatically.
There's something with this, and that other people have to work with/around me so that I can do a tenth of what they do, and currently i'm perceived as male, and ... It intersects/multiplies with all the other stuff going on. EL-wise, I'm not pulling my weight, and somewhere in between "I'm not capable of doing that, full-stop" and "I might be capable of it, but I'll burn out immediately".

I don't know the difference between "I'm intrinsically lazy" or "I can't figure out how to do things". But I belong to, or at least I get a lot of the benefits of seeming-to-belong-to a group that generally gets away with either, at least for emotional labor things, and ... I hate it? I don't want other people to have to shepherd me and painstakingly help me deal. But when I do it by myself, I totally fall apart. I don't know how to live, much less how to adult.
posted by you could feel the sky at 11:16 AM on March 4, 2016 [6 favorites]

My ex wife had some form of this and it contributed to the downfall of our marriage. At first I was one of those people who would just say "Why can't you do this very simple thing? It's important". I tried not to say it in a mean way but it would hurt her feelings regardless.

Over time I realized this was a real psychological thing and not someone who was just lazy. My eventual realization was too late to help save the marriage. The damage had already been done as they say. But like most marriages that fail it wasn't just one issue but many.
posted by Justin Case at 11:44 AM on March 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

I currently have 7 (SEVEN) planners scattered around my house. Not cheap ones either, and then I have drawers of special stickers to decorate said planners so I can maintain a routine. There are no stickers in any of the planners nor is there any real routine adhered to during the day. I do know what derails me easily, so if I can avoid checking metafilter or Previously.tv before my adderall kicks in I do pretty well getting shit done.

God help me though, if I look on Pinterest to see the best way to clean the grout in my tile floors. Then I'm down an hours long rabbit hole of cleaning, then organizing, then decorating, then remodeling, then landscaping ideas. None of which will actually get me to clean the grout.

Luckily, I don't have to work and my husband is super patient and laid back about nearly everything. My kids, however, have not appreciated having a sketchy mom who flakes out regularly and didn't provide a huge amount of consistency when they were growing up. They tend to be pretty rigid and dogmatic now as adults (and are happy to tell me that it's largely due to me being inconsistent with discipline, chores etc). I was a fun mom but not an especially competent one.
posted by hollygoheavy at 11:48 AM on March 4, 2016 [4 favorites]

My super smart kid could not cope with school because it means things like getting from one class to another on time, with the right stuff, and not falling completely to pieces if you happen to realise halfway that you forgot something or have to divert to the library etc

This sounds like the stories my husband tells about his childhood. He will sometimes say, "I was a bad kid" which is really inconceivable to me but I can believe he was made to feel bad for his epic disorganization and untidiness and inability to get places on time, and so on. We're both near 50, and ADD diagnoses weren't a huge thing when we were kids, so he didn't get a diagnosis and medication until he was in his 30s. Which was too late, I think, to rectify all the years he felt like a failure.

In contrast, my career is pretty much entirely based in providing executive functioning for other people. I know all the rules, and regulations, and processes, and deadlines, and I spend all day explaining and reminding and prodding different people to do whatever they're supposed to be doing.

Which has created some friction in my relationship with my husband, because he entirely wishes I would do the same for him, and I am entirely out of patience for that kind of task every day when I leave work. I truly have sympathy for him, but I get very tired of keeping track of everyone's shit for them.

We always work it out, but there's been a lot of adjustments along the way for both of us. (I just texted him a third reminder to renew the dog's meds - if the timing was right on this one, it'll stick.)
posted by Squeak Attack at 12:15 PM on March 4, 2016 [10 favorites]

One other thing I've found is that the number of tasks I have to do is a huge problem. For example, even if all the tasks are relatively straightforward and not time consuming, if there's a bunch of them, I still really struggle even if I could usually get each individual task done relatively easily.

And then if I have one big task, I basically can't handle any little task. Again, other people seem not to get this. Like, if I'm super stressed out because I'm spending a lot of time in the lab or because I've got an upcoming deadline, having to deal with the dishes or having to make a decision about what to have for dinner or anything like that basically just short circuits my brain.

This is yet another thing that causes interpersonal problems, because friends/family members/roommates often don't seem to understand when I'm like, "Please don't ask my opinion about anything or remind me about that event that won't be happening for another month or ask me how to download apps on your phone because I just can't deal with it right now." Usually the response is, "It will only take two minutes. Can't you spare two minutes?" No, really, I can't, because it's not about the time, it's about the fact that it takes away from what little focus and executive functioning power I have.

But I also can't really blame them for not getting it, because it's taken me a long time to become self aware about this and begin to articulate what's going on.
posted by litera scripta manet at 1:06 PM on March 4, 2016 [18 favorites]

So can I tell my parents I'm a kind of executive?
posted by miyabo at 1:27 PM on March 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Again, other people seem not to get this. Like, if I'm super stressed out because I'm spending a lot of time in the lab or because I've got an upcoming deadline, having to deal with the dishes or having to make a decision about what to have for dinner or anything like that basically just short circuits my brain.

I have this, very much, despite, or probably because of, my job being an organizer full time. All the patience, and excectuiveness, and decision making goes into the job and I have nothing left for home.
posted by Squeak Attack at 1:41 PM on March 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

I have this, very much, despite, or probably because of, my job being an organizer full time. All the patience, and excectuiveness, and decision making goes into the job and I have nothing left for home.

I am a project manager, and spend my whole day keeping people on track, breaking things down for them, and making sure things actually happen when they are supposed to. When I come home, I tell my husband I am all out of brain. I do the hard thinking home stuff over lunch or on the weekends when I still have some brain to work with.
posted by antimony at 1:45 PM on March 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

I mean, I totally get that, and I don't want to do my job when I'm not working, either, but I think that may be a little different than the issues for those of us whose executive function problems come from diagnosed developmental disorders.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 1:51 PM on March 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

Point taken. Not saying it's the same but saying I sympathize.
posted by Squeak Attack at 2:09 PM on March 4, 2016

I'm diagnosed bipolar and ADHD and like others I don't hyper-analyze whether it's "really" just one or the other, but my bipolarity is highly tied to seasons and weekly or even daily changes in the weather / sunlight / etc, along with life events -- my preferred state is hypomania, because feeling what I perceive to be "normal" is very peculiar and uncomfortable to me and leaves me feeling an undercurrent of "WTF should I be feeling right now" all of the time, which is why I've avoided things like SSRIs after getting an impression they cause "numbness" for some, but take a mood stabilizer.

Executive function issues pretty much always exist unless a rigid structure is imposed on me ideally with stimulating and unsustainable levels of stress, and what kills me about mania is how excited you are to tackle all of these things that have been bothering you for months, but it's so fucking disorganized to be fully "up" and yes, certain things that seemed challenging like cleaning out your car or office (for awhile) seem to become easier with the whoosh of energy, but there are so many competing thoughts and special projects that you want to take on that you end up running yourself ragged trying to achieve everything at once while also appreciating your current positive outlook and taking all kinds of time to enjoy it.
posted by aydeejones at 2:30 PM on March 4, 2016 [4 favorites]

Now that I think about it, so much of this seems so paradoxical. Like, I can actually be really good at coming up with Plans and Systems and Lists and Organizational Flow Charts and shit like that. Actually, just this morning I was looking at my desk and seeing all these binders and folders and the like that were partially or completely empty. Meanwhile, there are stacks of paper everywhere.

I remember as a kid they always gave us these homework planner things at the start of the school year. We were also required to have color coded binders for each class. And I would always start out the semester being so organized! Everything was in place, I wrote down all my assignments, it was perfect. And, well, that lasted for about a week, and then after that, the homework planner was blank, and papers were crammed into various books and notebooks.

Executive function issues pretty much always exist unless a rigid structure is imposed on me ideally with stimulating and unsustainable levels of stress

Yeah, this is a great description of my experience as well. As I think I mentioned above, it's one of the reasons why I benefit in certain ways from working in an academic environment, because there are those short bursts of Must Do All the Things followed by periods where I basically just crash.

Except, the problem is, when I crash, I crash. Like, don't check my work email for weeks crash. Because, you know, I can always check it in an hour. Or tomorrow. Or the next day. And the worst part is avoidance is so damn reinforcing.
posted by litera scripta manet at 2:42 PM on March 4, 2016 [6 favorites]

Stimulant medications absolutely help my executive function! Unfortunately, I'm not on them right now.

I'm not sure that there's a one-to-one relationship though. It's not a "this pill will unlock the power of executive function, behold the planners quivering before you" kind of thing. I'm guessing that this is why testing can show no/minimal gains.

What the stimulants do, is help me with a bunch of low-level cognitive crap that I struggle with (task initiation, persistence, sequencing) which helps free up mental space so I can focus on more complex executive function skills.

Right now, I'm pretty emotional, (in general) and feel like I can't help but respond instantaneously (impulsively) to situations. Right now, I tend to react, then calm down and realize it wasn't a big deal. With the meds, I have a pause, just the tiniest pause, where my brain automatically CBTs itself, and I respond with more situational appropriateness.

My psychoanalytically inclined psychiatrist disagrees with this statement, saying moar therapy, but he also admits my progress was stagnanted before meds were started, and now that I'm off of them, that I'm struggling worse then he has seen in years.
posted by bindr at 2:59 PM on March 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

Oh, actually, speaking of avoidance, this thread inspired me to open back up that "Dealing with Procrastination" Twine. Turns out I was mostly finished! Who knew? And now I'm actually finished! Well, sort of...

Now I'm in the danger zone. I've put enough time into this that I'd hate to just do nothing with it. But, you know, it's not really done yet. It needs to be edited and tweaked and I already have ideas about how to make it better. I mean, I have proofed it, but not as thoroughly as I'd like*, and I can't decide if it's too short or too long or not detailed enough or too detailed and if the wording is too grating or too repetitive and what is Twine even anyway and I haven't even begun to mess with the styling.

It's so frustrating, because I do this a lot: Come up with a neat idea that I'm excited about, spend a decent amount of time on it, get it almost completed, and then never quite put in the time and effort to finish it up.

So maybe I'll just post it. Oh, yeah, turns out the free Twine host I was going to use requires a Twitter, which is super annoying. Also, does it count as self linking if I link to it here assuming I actually get it posted somewhere? If I ever get it truly finalized, maybe I'll post it to projects, but since other mefites expressed interest in it, I'd like to at least let anyone who's interested take a look at it in case it's helpful. Memail me, maybe?

Oh shit, that reminds me about my failure to read/respond to memails I've gotten. Ugh.

And so it goes...

*Okay, to be fair, I'm not sure I ever feel like anything has been proof read sufficiently, which is one of the reasons I avoid even relatively simple emails: I know if I'm not careful, I'll spend an hour trying to figure out the exact way to transition between two points or how to open or close or whatever.
posted by litera scripta manet at 3:00 PM on March 4, 2016 [6 favorites]

I was totally going to post in here like last night to say 'me too' but then I forgot until just now. But, so, me too! I also got diagnosed too late for it to improve my self-esteem much, oh well, but stimulants help a little.
posted by hap_hazard at 4:15 PM on March 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

Reading this thread was so so good. The sense of failure, when I know have a brain - you all feel it too. And that thing where you can superYou for 3 weeks and there's all this stress and then you hit the wall - me too! Lazy, mad, bad - external and internalised. And the labels to explain this issue or that: spectrum, add, pmdd, which one is it or am I just being slack? What strategy do I need to use. The fatigue of it all. You and me both. And caring, well meaning people who say "I have that too, you just have to tell yourself to do it" and they don't know what's it's like to have the skittering of your brain across the surface of your day, sticking to nothing. Thank you. Thank you. I'm not making it up, or we all have an extraordinarily similar imagination.

Also, I did the dishes today, right to the end. All by myself!!!!
posted by b33j at 9:31 PM on March 4, 2016 [8 favorites]

This thread is as meaningful to me as the emotional labour thread because I learned the word for something I'd experienced and identified but felt so alone in.
posted by b33j at 9:32 PM on March 4, 2016 [15 favorites]

I remember as a kid they always gave us these homework planner things at the start of the school year. We were also required to have color coded binders for each class.

Ugh, totally. I think two things are going on here that a lot of my teachers didn't really appreciate: 1. while structure can help, more structure is only better up to a point, and then it starts to hurt because it exceeds your ability to keep track of it; and 2. that curve peaks way sooner for some people. I'm just remembering that my elementary and middle school had a specific in-house assignment notebook you were required to use, and you could only get it from one specific room inside the school that was hardly ever open, and of course I lost like seven of them in a year (and holy shit, I just figured out why I get a weird feeling of relief from buying stationery even though I often don't ever get around to using it). And similarly to the above, our school also had specific and separate rules about the exact products you had to have and they differed for every subject (3-ring binder, composition notebook, non-spiral-bound wide-ruled notebook and folder), plus how each subject was itself organized was of course different for every class. I'm sure the structure helped some people, or was in the area of "finicky but good practice," but for me, adding so many rules mostly just gave me more things to fail at and then be chastised for. Or tldr, this:

This sounds like the stories my husband tells about his childhood. He will sometimes say, "I was a bad kid" which is really inconceivable to me but I can believe he was made to feel bad for his epic disorganization and untidiness and inability to get places on time, and so on.


Adderall gave me chest twinges and palps and my doc took me off it. Maybe I should look into getting a really specific type of concussion...
posted by en forme de poire at 12:48 AM on March 5, 2016 [5 favorites]

Just checking in to say I ate yesterday. Go me!
posted by E. Whitehall at 1:08 AM on March 5, 2016 [10 favorites]

I emailed a pdoc here who actually lists adult adhd on his website and has a nice write up about it that is not condescending. I think maybe now that my anxiety is under much better mostly non medication control from therapy and leaving my shitty job, it may be time to revisit adhd meds.
posted by sio42 at 1:37 AM on March 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

(where I live now adult adhd is generally not A Thing.)
posted by sio42 at 1:38 AM on March 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Just checking in to say I ate yesterday. Go me!

I'm glad to see the new life coach is working out.
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:24 AM on March 5, 2016 [5 favorites]

@bindr: I really appreciate people untangling how meds work for executive dysfunction - I know brains are diverse but reading more experience is always good. Methylphenidate for me just triggered trauma experiences so I could do fuck-all. I'm on atomoxetine instead and the one really noticeable difference in my executive functions is I can start stuff. So I still have overwhelming difficulty with many of the other things (there might have been other slight improvements, I can't remember) but it's a pretty useful compensation to be able to initiate tasks more easily. That shocking experience of "I need a coffee. I can go and make a coffee right now. Holy shit I am now drinking coffee" after the unmedicated life of languishing catatonically needing to do things (eat, drink, use the toilet) and not being able to at will.
posted by lokta at 3:43 AM on March 5, 2016 [6 favorites]

This thread is really great, and hits very close to home for me. My executive function dysfunction + mild ADD is mild-to-moderate, but so many of the stories hit home. The frustration from parents and teachers about why a normal kid couldn't do normal things like study for 10 straight minutes, guild because I thought I was a "bad kid", difficulty managing to eat, shower, AND get some work done all in the same 24-hour period. So thanks for sharing.

I also thought suddenly, and without warning,'s question about how much of this is an actual disorder vs maybe everyone experiences a baseline amount of this. Not to downplay the issues expressed in the thread, but rather to say that if the people with “normal” executive function would be honest with themselves and admit that everyone has this at least a little, then maybe we could all be kinder to ourselves and to others when we don’t accomplish every little thing.

Only 3 things have made a real difference for me, and who knows if these world work for anyone else.

First is I’ve learned to be kind to myself if I make a mistake or don’t do something, and to be kind to future me when planning my day. I know that I can only accomplish 1-3 major things at work each day. So I plan to do 1-3 things each day. If I start to think “maybe I could squeeze in just 1 or 2 more things,” I stop immediately and push those things to the next day. I know myself too well to think I will be able to get five things done in a single work day. And if I get on a roll, I might just get five things done, but it's much more likely that I will hammer out my one two three things and then need a big break. And if I don't get something done, I've practice not being disappointed in myself and just pushing it to the next available time. It's a struggle, but I'm beginning to get past that disappointment and self judgement. Of course, this only works because I'm hugely privileged to have a job where I have lots of control over my schedule. Same goes for home projects - I can only do one or two things in the evening at most, so I don't try to tell myself that I will do more. And if I skip some personal task like eating a meal, I try not to judge myself because who else am I hurting?

Second is to make less use of To Do lists. Instead, if something needs to be done it goes on my calendar for a specific time. It also gets twice as much time on the calendar as it actually takes because I know it will take me lots of time to actually settle down and do the thing. If I have three tasks that each take 30 minutes, I will allocate a total of 3 or more hours because that builds in breaks, interruptions, and procrastination time. I used to try to fill every minute with productivity and get nothing done; now I set low goals and get more done. Hand in hand with this is being willing to move things around on my calendar. If I didn't get something done when I was supposed to, I try not to judge myself and instead just reschedule it for another time.

Finally, I do have a to-do list but it's broken into “to do soon” and “to do later”. “Soon” things actually have to get done and I monitor that list somewhat (though I just realized I haven't looked at it in weeks). “Later” means “I know I will never do this/read this but I will feel guilty if I don't save it.” My Later list has years and years of useless tasks that don't really need to be done, and I've managed to push a huge amount of guilt into that list rather than struggling with those useless tasks. It also helps me keep my number of open browser tabs down because articles that I don't really need to read end up there.

But as I said, all these things only work for me because my executive dysfunction isn't severe and I have a lot of flexibility in my job. And the calendar thing especially only works because I have embraced my smartphone addiction as a strength.
posted by Tehhund at 7:26 AM on March 5, 2016 [7 favorites]

@Lokta -
I hadn't thought about prioritizing skills before. I think you're right, task initiation is one of the most essential pieces. Of course, this is what I'm most frustrated about right now. The other day, I was upset because the inhibition piece wasn't working well. Not being able to get started, or responding too quickly, is what I experience before things start to cascade.

Continuing anecdotes: My anxiety actually dropped once I started the Adderall. I no longer felt restless, so I no longer had to subject myself to the seemingly endless, soul destroying, death by a thousand papercuts, task of sitting still. Twice now, I've taken an adderall at the start of a panic attack (dentist, hour 18 of an international flight) and calmed right down. I'm not sure how it would have impacted me when my ptsd was at it's worst.

I'm off medication now, because of the whole trying to conceive thing. I haven't figured out how to deal. The ways I coped with things before meds clash with the way I coped with things on meds, and neither way work for "no longer on" meds. I need a guide for right now, step-by-step instructions on how to get by - adapt my plans, goals, approaches, etc. This stuff doesn't mesh, no one can "fix it" and I'm angry because on meds, I think I could've figured my own way out.
posted by bindr at 7:34 AM on March 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm talking around how I feel. When it comes to EF, I'm trying to say that...

Since a lot of this stuff is categorized as "stuff adults do", I'm embarrassed that I need extra guidance, explicit structure and extended processing time to deal with new situations.

All this "hand holding" makes me feel like a child, and clearly I'm not, if only because I face adult consequences for my actions. I'm resentful of this.

Conversely, I'm angry when I'm not given accommodations, and am judged for things like being a child, irresponsible, lazy, careless, etc, because my executive function deficits are not a moral defect.

Unfortunately, screaming "not fair!" doesn't help my case, nor does losing the plot, or being unsure how to have conversations about this stuff. I'm not sure if talking about my experiences help, but I don't know that technical explanations do either, so I feel stuck and want to give up, because I don't see any other alternative.
posted by bindr at 7:54 AM on March 5, 2016 [9 favorites]

I realized that executive function issues are part of why I bristle so much at a lot of discussions of food politics on Metafilter and elsewhere. Like all that talk about how lazy people are who don't enjoy coming home from work and cooking. Cooking is really pretty hard for me, even though I have worked out a ton of hacks to make it more doable. It takes a lot of effort and concentration. I am constantly reading and rereading recipes whenever I have a break between cooking tasks. When I am doing a step, I am rehearsing the next step in my head. It's kind of exhausting, especially if it's not a recipe that I've cooked a bunch of times and know well. (And there's a reason that I tend to cook the same things over and over. That's one of my hacks.) I am not capable of getting two recipes done at the same time, so I have to cook one-pot meals or plan meals where I can do recipes sequentially, rather than simultaneously. The local farmer's market is a total no-go for me, even though I live across the street. It's total sensory overload, and I get dizzy, have a panic attack, and have to go home. I feel like so much of food politics assumes that people have excellent executive function and moralizes obsessively about those of us who don't.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:30 AM on March 5, 2016 [19 favorites]

I just want to feel like a capable adult. Who can do adulting things. Like cook and laundry and keep on top of the house or bills without help. I want to be able to finish tasks. I want to not feel like a failure all the time because of this.
posted by stoneweaver at 12:33 PM on March 5, 2016 [15 favorites]

Cooking is really pretty hard for me

Weirdly, I'm fine with cooking, but totally overwhelmed by grocery stores. Like, it can take me 3+ hours to make it out of a normal large grocery store and I'm still probably missing stuff that I intended to get. So I do all my shopping at very small local stores (especially the Asian grocery by me that only has 4 aisles and a single row of vegetables) where there aren't too many options for everything!
posted by miyabo at 4:53 PM on March 5, 2016 [7 favorites]

One of the things that made my divorce much harder to deal with than one might expect is that my husband used to help me out with a lot of this stuff. He was the one who made sure bills were paid on time, etc. With him gone, everything is seriously overwhelming. Five years in and I still don't know what I'm doing.
posted by litlnemo at 5:34 PM on March 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Electronic devices are a lifesaver in some ways btw, except that I feel like there are more and weirder failure modes than with pen and paper. Like you forget to turn notifications back on after a meeting, or you enter an event in your calendar on the right day but the time gets screwed up for some reason, or etc.

(And does anyone else kind of hate modern phone interfaces? I realize it's not just the lack of a keyboard that I miss, it's the ability to edit my text quickly that really bugs me. Moving a sentence around is so clunky with a phone's copy and paste I sometimes just end up deleting it and retyping it.)
posted by en forme de poire at 1:49 PM on March 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I used to constantly lose books, notebooks, notes, anything physical. Now that I only have to keep track of my phone, everything's so much easier for me.
posted by miyabo at 3:17 PM on March 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

This thread is me. You are my people.

Procrastination has ruined my life and schooling. This most recent spiral will probably undo the last year of progress. I might be ok if I stop right now and write several emails and finish a few essays (all of which are relatively easy and very much within my abilities) in the next few days.

But instead I'm going to stop reading this thread halfway through, ignore the links entirely, and open more tabs until chrome crashes again.
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 8:10 PM on March 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

Related post.
posted by homunculus at 10:20 PM on March 6, 2016

Anyone dealing with this in addition to hormonal shifts, like peri menopause?
posted by childofTethys at 4:30 AM on March 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

Anyone dealing with this in addition to hormonal shifts, like peri menopause?

*waves hand frantically in air*

I don't know how much of this is ADHD and how much of it is perimenopause. I'm still trying to figure the whole perimenopause/cognitive function thing out. Anyone with insights and links, have at it.
posted by tully_monster at 7:33 AM on March 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I got nothing. But I suspect I'm all of those things Tully. Perhaps red wine is the solution.
posted by taff at 9:15 PM on March 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

childofTethys, I have plenty of weird hormonal shift stuff going on, but I don't really notice it making the exec function worse. Possibly because mine is so bad there's not much further it can go to hit bottom. I always hear about "mental fog" with perimenopause, but I haven't noticed it...
posted by litlnemo at 8:55 PM on March 11, 2016

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