Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Yes, No, I don't know: ADD and Indecision

Friends who have known me a long time have had to put up with my chronic indecision.  There was a time in my twenties when I thought there was something terribly wrong with me: I couldn't make big decisions and anguished over them for days with an on-going, obsessive pros-vs-con internal dialogue.  I had never met anyone else who did this and so I felt like an anomaly at best and a basket case at worse.  I don't want to rehash the past for my friends, but briefly I considered moving to at least 10 different cities within the first year after college graduation.  Okay, many people mull over life choices, especially after college, but my friends were en route, in their cars, renting apartments, packing boxes while I hemmed and hawed over whether or not to join them.  I did the same thing with job opportunities, big purchases like cars, and dating.  In short, I was a mess.

Does this sound familiar to you?  Have you had days, weeks, years like this?

I think I started experiencing chronic indecision in my teens, probably brought on by the stress of high school - I was determined to get as close to a 4.0 as possible so that I could get college scholarships so I could flee from home.  Not all of the stress was academic, however.  I was stressed by social situations.  All of my friends were dating; I wasn't.  Why?  Not because I was shy and not because no one was interested in me.  I didn't date because a.) I was a perfectionist and only wanted to date a handful of people, most of whom were unavailable and b.) because I couldn't decide what to do.  I actually went back and forth, will I/ won't I fashion with two different guys - one in 8th grade and one my junior year of high school - until they both said screw it, and pursued someone else.  I even did this to some degree with my husband while we dated, but thankfully he's a persistent bastard!

Here's what it feels like in my brain when the indecision hits: crushing.  It feels like crushing.  Like I'm trying to breathe under a boulder.

As I've gotten older, the decisions have gotten bigger and have had financial repercussions, and most of the time my response to decision making is the same: go to bed and eat a bag of Hershey Kisses.  This, my friends, does not help (just in case you were wondering).  Another not-so-great coping mechanism: thinking of alternative realities and putting all hopes in that fantasy basket.

But, as I've grown older I have also been able to let go of panic more easily.  Maybe this comes with age and experience.  Maybe having two children has made me less neurotic, as my friend Jane once suggested.  And maybe I've just gotten better at this whole decision thang.

Lately, I have found myself in another big decision situation - nothing earth-shattering, but something that involves spending money I may or may not have - and it is throwing me back under the boulder.  I found my copy of You Mean I'm Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?!, by Kate Kelly and Peggy Ramundo (really kids, this is the ADD bible!) to help guide me through the crushing.  Some of the advice in the section "First Aid for Decision Making" depends upon hiring an ADD coach.  That's great if you can find one and can afford to, what do you call it?, pay said coach.  But a few pieces of wisdom rung through for me, advice I've read and even followed once or twice.

Allow me to summarize:

  • To avoid being overwhelmed by too many choices, keep your options minimal unlike the open tabs on your desktop.  Prioritize let's say three tasks.  Check them off when completed and choose the next three.  The point is to MOVE, not stay stuck in bed with a bag of Hershey Kisses.
  • You don't have to make the perfect decision, you just have to make a decision.  If you're paralyzed then find your favorite Derby hat, write down your choices on scrap paper, throw them in the hat and do whatever you draw out first.  
  • Stick with your decision.  No backsies.

I'm not a big fan of Nike, but I must say their slogan, in all it's simplicity, nails it: Just do it!

I say this as I rationalize why I'm still not making positive changes like getting back to yoga.  It's a process, people.  I'll be gentle with myself if you promise to do the same.

Let me know if you relate, share your stories of indecision, and even better share some of your success! 


  1. Great post, Amy. I like the suggestions, and yes, I can relate. Right now, I have 23 open web pages on my computer. (I just checked.) I also have a big decision to make. I was reaccepted into a program at school, and I cannot decide if I should spend the money and finish or just move on. It's causing me a great deal of stress, but I think the worst part is just NOT making any decision. (As if someone will make it for me!)

    1. That in-between place is the worst. For confident, decisive people this is a complete mystery. I truly believe any decision is a good one. Just move forward and try hard not to look back.

    2. That's good advice. Oftentimes, I worry (uselessly) about decisions I've already made, too.

  2. Oh my god, thank GOD someone posted about this! I can't telly you how many times I've googled "chronic indecision" "compulsive indecision" "crippling indecision" "paralyzing indecision" "obsessive indecision" (ad nauseum) and never really came up with a result that made me feel like someone knew what I was talking about. Every time I have one of these paralyzing episodes (it could be about big decisions or seemingly small ones, e.g. should I go to this concert or not...), I think to myself, a) I must not be the only person in the world to experience this, and b) I know that there is something going on in my brain besides just a behavioral issue. It really feels beyond me. I *know* logically that "there is no right choice," but it feels virtually impossible for me to believe it internally enough to operate as if that were the case. I force myself into decisions sometimes but rarely am I really at peace with them until/unless I have that feeling that I made the "right" choice. I even become obsessive about what my "gut" feels.

    I'd really love to hear from other people who have this experience -- one that's really chronic and life-disrupting. I'm particularly unsure about whether this symptom is related to some form of OCD or whether it's ADD, both categories of which I sort of fall into in some ways and not in others.

    Thank you :)

    1. Hello! I'm so sorry it took me this long to reply to your comment. I've been, well, distracted.

      I'm glad what I wrote helped you feel less alone. Chronic indecision is terribly frustrating. I think what helped me most was acknowledging that I had anxiety. Real anxiety. Like I-need-medication-anxiety. I'm not saying that I don't have the occasional bout of should-I/shouldn't-I, but it's less overwhelming and disruptive.

      I wish you luck in your journey. Definitely seek a professional opinion. A licensed psychologist can help with a diagnosis. From there, you can either meet with a psychiatrist or your general practitioner for medication, if that is the recommendation. Another something to consider: meditation and yoga. I'm not saying I do both or either as often as I should, but making time to let go of stress is important and can help you approach decisions with a clear head.


Comments for me? Thanks a bunch!