Monday, February 9, 2015

The Overwhelm: ADD and emotions

Surely, you have experienced the sensation of being overwhelmed before. Whether it is caused by sensory overload - which happened to one of my son's sweet friends at his laser tag party, yesterday - or emotional stress, real or imagined, at some time or another you're going to feel like running away or hiding in a cave by the sea. Preferably, one of those caves with Egyptian cotton linens and fluffy towels for drying off after a swim. And hot cocoa served round-the-clock by helpful sea lions. But I digress. Folks with ADD tend to feel overwhelmed a pinch more than the rest of everybody. Hence my long absence.

I won't bore you with the details of why I've been away from you lovelies, but I do want to focus on the overwhelm. Yes, I know it's a transitive verb, not a noun; however, I think there needs to be a noun form of this feeling, because this baby has legs.

Here's what Merriam Webster has to say about the word:

  • To upset or overthrow
  • To cover over completely; to submerge
    • To overcome by superior force or numbers
    • To overpower in thought and feeling

I think it's fair to say that we can all relate to the final definition - to overpower in thought and feeling, but I also think the idea of submersion is on point. When I feel overwhelmed it's a tidal sensation, a feeling of swimming against a large wave of judgement or fury or disappointment or inadequacy or grief. You swim against those powerful negative states of mind, but they're bigger than you so you submerge. In the ADD bible,


You Mean I'm Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?!: The Classic Self-Help Book for Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder

 By Kate Kelly, Peggy Ramundo

the authors Kelly and Ramundo call this feeling "the state of overwhelm," "emotional boggle," and "stuckness." While I have experienced all of this sensations, I'm not sure I correlate them. When I am feeling overwhelmed, I am not stuck, per se. I am flushed with powerful emotion. Sometimes I just need to acknowledge the feelings and let things around me slide: the dishes, mail, email, laundry, etc. Of course, this doesn't explain why I let these things slide on a daily basis, but you get my meaning. I don't feel stuck; I feel emotional.

Other times, the overwhelm hits when I'm in a socially awkward moment. I experience this when I go to parties or conferences and either don't know what to say or say something that isn't particularly appropriate for the occasion. For instance, "Hello, what's new?" is a question I might be asked in one of these situations. Answering, "Pretty good, but I've had to go to the gynecologist three times this month and I'm a bit tired of spreading my legs," is not necessarily the appropriate response for this setting.

Sometimes I feel the overwhelm when I must make a decision. Shopping is unpleasant for me, especially in a warehouse or outlet mall. I love the idea of IKEA, but the shopping experience in an IKEA triggers my overwhelm. Okay, I'll take the unpronounceable Swedish sectional that looks so pretty in the showroom, but so help me God, do not make me find the four boxes of parts in the warehouse before I pop a Xanax!

In my recent past, the overwhelm took shape as 1.) too much work/not enough pay (I was adjuncting again) and 2.) personal grief. The class I taught was great, I just wasn't prepared to teach it - I was called in to take another professor's place - so I played catch-up all semester, staying one tentative step ahead of my students every day. I felt off-balance. As someone with ADD, I like to have my syllabus prepared and feel confident about my assignments before the first day of class. That just never happened with this class.

As for the personal grief, I don't think I'm unusual. Whether you have ADD or not, grief can submerge you. I lost a dear friend. My high school friends and I were with her for each step of her path. I was with her when she passed. It was horrible. ADD had nothing to do with the overwhelm; the overwhelm  was inevitable. I'm thankful to my husband for cleaning the dishes and putting the kids to bed, for holding me and understanding. 

I'm coming out the other end of the overwhelm and I'm happy to be back with you, my bloggy friends. 

Whether or not you have been diagnosed with ADD, I wonder how you deal with the overwhelm. What are your coping strategies? I tend to give in to it and then put the pieces back together once I'm washed back ashore. 

Please share your experiences or thoughts in the comments section.



  1. I have a paralyzing reaction to the overwhelm. Simple things become heavy. Really a ginormous sopping wet, muddy, obstinate elephant that clings to my torso. I feel the crush pulsing in my chest and the emptiness echoing loudly in my head. I have overcome the negativity that permeated my being before I was diagnosed and treated for ADD. I accept that I have challenges and gifts that the average person will never fully comprehend. I gradually take tiny steps and celebrate the small victories. I have a very understanding wife that supports me and nudges me forward when I stall. I am still a work in progress, but i am progressing. Socializing can overwhelm me. Interacting with others tends to sap my energy and leave me drained. Saturday, I was trying to carry on casual conversation with my daughter's new boyfriend and finally blurted out, "I'm not trying to be rude...I'm just really awkward." Geeeessssh, I was beaten down by the overwhelm. How hard should it be to have mindless conversation! Coping strategies ? I rely on the wise words from Dory..."Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming."

    1. Oh Lisa, I didn't know you struggled with ADD as well. It's nice to be in such good company. Isn't it interesting that we both settled on swimming analogies? I'm with Dory, yes, keep swimming. Sometimes, I just let the overwhelm wash over me and settle until I feel like I can breathe again. And I tend to avoid situatons where it's likely to drown me. That's not always possible, but when it is that's what I do.

      Please know that I am a sounding board and welcome your comments (or emails). Thank you for commenting.

    2. When I read the post above, all I could think was, "Yes! That happens to me, too!" It's good to give it a name: The Overwhelm. The Overwhelm paralyzes me, too, and the more I see things that need to be done that I am not doing, the guiltier I feel. The guiltier I feel, the more likely I am to veg out.

    3. I think it's okay to veg as needed. I consider that emotional recovery time. So long as you're able to regroup at some point and handle things in small chunks. At least that's my strategy.

  2. I don't have ADD, but right now I am 18 weeks pregnant-not that those have anything to do with each other. I suffer from a chronic medical condition that makes pregnancy very painful for me, along with all of the other symptoms. On top of that, a BIG factor in my overwhelm is I lost my last pregnancy at 18 weeks on New Year's 2013, having to deliver the baby and everything, which makes this pregnancy even more difficult. In the month of January (current year) we also had lice (which we quarantined our daughter for a week) that we couldn't get rid of and then she daughter had an awful cold with fever that caused us to keep her isolated again. She's also been having these crazy tantrums and won't go to bed at night. What do I do when I feel overwhelmed? Take a nap. Let the house go to pot. Try and find friends who can watch my daughter for a few hours (family is out of town) or ones that I can hang out with sans kiddo. Eat out too much-probably not the best thing, but hey. Pray, pray, pray. Rely on my husband a great deal. Exercise even though I feel sick. See my therapist. Take a nap... You get the drift. Grief is a weird thing. Much like being overwhelmed, it creeps up on you at the most awful times. You may deal with it gracefully at one moment and want to scream and cry at the next. The best advice I've ever given myself (usually after the fact), is to give myself a break. As women, I feel we are often to hard on ourselves and we need some extra grace. PS sorry about your loss. That really sucks.

    1. Dorothy,
      You deserve the nap. Nap away, my friend.

      I, too, experienced a heartbreaking miscarriage in between child 1 and child 2 (around 12 weeks, so I had a d and c - no delivery). My heart goes out to you. It's hard to bear and I completely understand the anxiety you are currently facing. It sounds like you know how to take care of yourself and I'm glad you have a good support system.

      I also have been through lice. Even wrote a blog post about that nightmare (if you need to put together a Lice Kit, please look for this post! I never thought I'd have one of those in my bathroom closet.). It's such a pain.

      Keep taking good care of yourself. I wish I had your motivation to exercise. I hear that can be such a great balm. I've started exercising once a week and hope to increase this.

      Sending you support. If you feel so inclined, please let me know how your pregnancy progresses. Do you have a blog? I'd love to follow.


  3. Exactly! Your description is how I feel 90% of my life. There are never enough hours in the day for me. I start one project, move to the next, and the next, totally overwhelmed at the end of the day without anything finished or accomplished. Up until the last two years I assumed I was defective in some way. It never occurred to me that I had ADD until I confessed to my therapist that I was drowning in self pity due to the constant feeling of being inadequate and overwhelmed. She suggested my description was normal for someone with ADD. Although I still haven't been officially diagnosed, I feel better about myself knowing there could be a reason for my "addled" life. I am not lazy or stupid although I felt people judged me as such most of my life! Thanks Amy for introducing me to your blog. You make me feel perfectly normal.

    1. Hi Charlotte,
      I'm sorry that you have struggled so much, but isn't it a relief when you get the diagnosis? It's like a lightbulb going on, except that lightbulb has been covered with dust and you can finally blow off the dust and see the light. At least that's what lightbulbs look like in my house!

      A lot of dealing with ADD as an adult, and I think, especially as a woman, has to do with letting go of your expectations of yourself. Being a perfectionist throughout my youth meant I had some very unrealistic expectations of myself, which were not helped by the expectations of my OCD mom. As an adult, I've had to let go of a lot of these expectations and forgive myself more.

      I am always learning and growing, trying to make my life less crazy and stop worrying about what other people think. I'm glad that I make you feel "perfectly normal." That's exactly why I started this blog.

      Thank you for commenting.



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