62 - Adult ADHD and How to Get Things Done with KC Davis
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When therapist KC Davis went to the hospital to have her second baby, the world had just shut down due to Covid. Not only that, but she had just moved to a brand new city, knew nobody, and all the supports she’d put in place fell through thanks to pandemic restrictions. All of a sudden it was just her - and her two babies - home alone. Everyday.
In the chaos that ensued, KC began an unexpected new journey. From grappling with mental health barriers, to becoming TikTok famous, to writing a best selling book - KC has been on a rampage. Her goal? To connect the dots between mental health and the daily care tasks we tend to take for granted.
So on today’s episode, we’ll talk with KC about the last few years - focusing specifically on the ADHD diagnosis that answered so many questions about her past. Along the way, keep an ear open for some of her favorite workarounds for completing what feel like impossible tasks.
Everything seemed to be in transition, as KC Davis was expecting the birth of her second child.
We had just moved to a new city. We had another child that hadn't even turned two. My husband had a new job that was pretty demanding.
But as a licensed therapist and speaker, KC felt like she had the necessary tools to figure it out. All she needed was a plan, a grand strategy. And as those things go, she came up with a pretty good one.
I really had set things up for a lot of support for myself. Right? Okay, we'll have housekeepers come in twice a month. We'll have a delivery meal service. I have just started a mom's group and they were going to come drop off meals, and visit, and hold the baby. My parents were going to come in, staggered over time. And then shortly after we had our baby, the world just shut down from COVID, and I couldn't access any of these supports that I had set up for myself. All of a sudden, it was me and my two babies alone at home, all day, every day.
Things got bleak for KC, not even having a path to walk from room to room because of piles of laundry, bleak. But somewhere in the midst of all that chaos, KC shared a joke video on TikTok, poking fun at herself for having such a messy house. Her bluntness struck a chord. And in less than a year, KC had grown a following, over a million strong, while also developing an approach to daily care tasks that takes shame out of the equation. Her resulting book, How To Keep House While Drowning is now a bestseller, and her TikTok channel, Domestic Blisters, is booming. The creative workarounds she shares are especially popular amongst people with neurodivergent brains.
We'll talk with KC about this journey, focusing specifically on the ADHD diagnosis that answered so many questions about her past. Along the way, she'll share some of her favorite workarounds for completing what feel like impossible tasks.
You are listening to a special collaborative episode of Mental Note Podcast and Struggle Care. I'm your host, Ellie Pike.
Well, I'm so grateful you're on the show with us today, KC. And when we say small tasks around the house, I know a lot of us feel like, "Oh, it's not a small task. It can feel really hard to get all the laundry put away or the dishes done, all in a day, and take care of myself." So I'd a little background about your story, which gives us some context into why you're doing what you do.
Absolutely. So I've always been a really messy person. I've always been sort of artistic and creative, and I've never been someone who needs things to be neat and tidy, but it's always been functional. It's been functional for me to just kind of be messy or to do dishes every three days. But in two years, I went from living just with my husband in a small apartment where he was at school, to having two children, a family of four in a bigger house with a husband that's a new corporate attorney, and we didn't know anybody. And so, all of a sudden it became evident that my lack of systems for my home was not functional anymore. The laundry pile was huge. The dish pile was huge. You couldn't move anywhere without tripping over things. And it just wasn't working anymore. And it was really stressing me out, and it was really overwhelming.
And so, I had to go back to the drawing board on, okay, how are we going to keep a functional home in this completely new stage of life? And when you look to books or online content about, okay, how do I get my quote, unquote, "House in order," it seemed to me a lot of the advice out there was really for a very specific type of person. It was really specifically for neuro-typical people who desire to be neat and tidy. And the way that those systems were put forth was very prescriptive. And the motivation was what I like to call, bootcamp motivation.
So it was a lot of like, "Girl, just do it, have some self-respect, get it together. Tomorrow is a new you," and that doesn't work for me. And at the time, I didn't know that I was ADHD. I found that out a year into making my content, and it suddenly made sense. My whole life just made sense, realizing that this whole time, I'm not neuro-typical. That's why I was having these struggles. And that's why I had to go outside of the box to find systems and habits, and rhythms that worked for me.
And I imagine, oh my gosh, I can only imagine how lonely your experience was when you were holed up in your home with two kids. No systems were working for you, and it's the early time of the pandemic. So really isolated. And then secondly, shortly after that you received a diagnosis of ADHD. How did you learn that you had ADHD? How did it come to your attention?
So it's actually kind of a funny story. When I started making content about these little hacks that I was using to clean my house, or get my dishes done, and what happened was I really quickly got a really big following, and a huge portion of that following were people that had ADHD diagnoses. Diagnosis.I never know what the plural of diagnosis is, but regardless, after doing that for about a year, occasionally people would say like, "Do you have ADHD?" And I'd say, "No, I don't." And then people would be like, "Wait, what?" It'd be a record scratch. They'd be like, "Wait, are you sure? Because these are the first things that have ever worked for me when it comes to care tasks." And I kept saying like, "No, I don't. No, I don't. I've never been diagnosed. I've never suspected."
And I remember the video that I posted where I had said like, "I don't have ADHD." And I was trying to be really clear about it, because I didn't want to ever pretend like I had a diagnosis for clout, or online cred or something. And I'll never forget the person that commented and said, "I hope that you don't find this inappropriate, because I know that this is a para-social relationship, but I really think that you should get assessed. Everything you describe is exactly the way my brain works. Every tip that you give is exactly the tips that my brain needs. And it's really common for women especially, to have their diagnosis missed in childhood."
Can you talk about what those pieces were that you didn't identify with? What most people think of with the stereotype of ADHD, and how you might have been missed in the system?
So the first thing was, I consider myself really successful. I had a successful career. I went to grad school, I became a professional counselor. And so, I thought that I was too successful. And I listened to a lot of people that talk about ADHD, and they would talk about ways in which they weren't able to get through school or they weren't able to create a career. And so I had a lot of comparison going on thinking, "Oh, well, then I guess that's not me." I listened to people talk about, "Oh, I was always too distracted to pay attention in school." And I would think, "Well, I always paid attention in school. I liked school, I liked learning." And when I reached out to, I was seeing a psychiatrist at the time for some postpartum depression, and I asked her about it and she said, "Well, what makes you think that you have ADHD?"
And I told her about what people were commenting, and I showed her my kitchen and it was really, really messy. And I said, "Well, I can't keep my kitchen clean without really specific visual systems." And I showed her my fridge with all of my lists and my processes. And the way I like to put it is that, I think to her, I looked like that meme where the guy is standing at the conspiracy board and there's pictures everywhere and documents everywhere, and the red string connecting everything. And he just kind of looks crazy. That's how I looked like, describing how I kept my kitchen clean.
And she was like, "Let me stop you right there. This is a classic, classic what adult women in ADHD look like." And so we started to talk about, how was my diagnosis missed? And she said that it's really common for girls that are good at school to get missed because we're not bouncing off the walls, we don't have behavior problems. We are much more likely to be socialized to behave. And the thing that really cracked it open was it being explained to me that ADHD is not the inability to pay attention. It's the inability to regulate when you're paying attention and to what you are paying attention.
People who don't have ADHD typically choose what to pay attention to, based on the importance of that thing. Whereas, we choose it based on urgency or interest. And I just happen to be a kid that was interested in the learning going on. She said, "If you weren't interested in the learning, you would've had all of those quote, unquote, 'Classic symptoms,' but because you were interested in history, in English, you're sitting in the front row and you're almost hyper-focusing." And I explained to her how I could sit there and hyper focus in class on the lecture, and then I would go home, never do my homework, come back to class and ace the tests.
She asked me a bunch of questions about my childhood that were really validating for me. For example, she said, "Did you ever get diagnosed with any learning disabilities?" And I said, "Yeah, actually I did. I was dyslexic, dyscalculia and auditory processing disorder." And she was like, "Ah, well, there's a really big overlap between kids that are comorbid with ADHD and auditory processing, and their learning disorders." And I was like, "Oh." She's like, "When you were a kid, did you ever have any vocal tics, or obsessive behaviors, or anything that maybe looked a little bit like OCD?" And I went, "Come to find out, I did." There was a period of time where I developed a vocal tic when my parents were getting divorced. And I remember when I was younger, sometimes I would flicker a light. I would think, "I have to do it five more times."
But it was never, that behavior while odd, was never persistent enough to disrupt my life, so I just never thought about it again. She'd be like, "Ah, well, the thing is that there's a very large overlap between kids that have ADHD in kids that develop vocal tics." And the next one was like, "Did you ever have any addiction issues?" And it was like, "Well, yeah, I ended up going to rehab when I was 16 for a pretty severe drug addiction." It was like, "Oh, well there's a very large overlap." And I mean this went on and on and on, and all these things that I had never heard anybody talk about in relation to ADHD. When I think about ADHD, I think about a young white boy who can't pay attention in class, who is shooting spit balls, bouncing off the walls. And that was never me.
But when she explained to me, "School is interesting to you, you performed so well within that structure, but then when you stepped outside of the classroom, you were incapable of doing your homework. You could not provide that structure to yourself. But you were so intelligent and you were so focused on the lecture, that when you were in grade school, where the grades were weighted so that your tests were so high of the percentage and the homework wasn't. And when they structured the class so that we're going to lecture to you about chapters one, two, three, and then the test is on one, two, three, you were still succeeding. So nobody was catching these gaps in skills that you couldn't do." And then when I went to college, when I went to high school and then college, it changed. All of a sudden homework was a very high percentage of the grade.
And they started doing this thing where they would say, "I'm going to lecture to you about chapters one through three. You're going to go home and read chapters four through six, and then we will test you on one through six." And I was incapable of creating the structure necessary to do the work outside of class, because I would do all the work inside of class. And if you ever had a class that was, if you get done with the schoolwork, you can start on your homework, well, I was nailing that because I was wicked fast. So nobody was catching that what was happening was, I was incapable of performing outside of this structure.
As you think back on all the ways that you were missed in school or in the system, and you were even seeking substance abuse treatment in your high school years, were there any other pieces that you noticed were missed?
So, one really interesting thing is that my psychiatrist sent me the self-assessment, like that was kind of the first step in getting formally assessed. And there's these three or four questions at the end of the self-assessment, I just want to read them to you. And this is really focusing on the social aspect. And it said, "How often do you find yourself talking too much when you're in social situations?" And I thought, "I get, not really, not a ton. I guess I do. Yeah, sure, I talk a lot." But then it was like, "When you're in conversation, how often do you find yourself finishing the sentences of the people you're talking to, before they can finish them themselves?" And I was like, "Well, I don't do that to people." And then, "How often do you have difficulty waiting your turn in situations where turn taking is required?" And then the last one, "How often do you interrupt others when they're busy?"
So those are the four questions on the ADHD self-assessment that are related to how things are showing up socially and social skills. And when I read those, I remember thinking, "Kind of, but not really." But what's really interesting is that because I went to long-term behavior modification treatment when I was 16, a lot of these behaviors, like the interrupting, the talking over people, the correcting people, the finishing people's sentences, it got pegged as problematic behavior, that was because I was being kind of self-absorbed. And so when they're trying to treat my addiction, they're trying to say, "Hey, we want you to be more mature of a person. We want you to be a little more altruistic. We think that if you learn and grow as a person, you'll be able to address some of these addiction issues."
And so some of these behaviors got lumped in as just evidence of my immaturity, or my entitlement, or my arrogance or any of these number of character issues. And there was so much intervention put on me around these behaviors that I learned to keep my mouth shut when people are talking. I learned to hold my tongue until someone is done with their sentence. So fast-forward, and I'm looking at this and I'm going, "Well, I don't really do these behaviors that much," but when you dig down and ask me, "What's happening in your head while someone else is talking?" The answer is, I still know what I'm going to say in response when you're about three words into your sentence. And I am biting my tongue and thinking about nothing except, "Wait for the pause. Wait for the pause, KC, wait for the pause. There's the pause. Go."
And I'm not hearing what you're saying, because if I don't say the thought in my head, I will forget it completely. And if I hold onto it and try to wait till you're done talking, I can't listen to what you're saying because that's the only thing I'm focusing on. So that made me really sad. There was so much grief around, no, this still happens to me. This is still who I am. Just because someone managed to stamp out these behaviors, because they misunderstood where those behaviors were coming from, all of a sudden it's like, I look like I don't meet criteria. I don't even think I meet criteria, because a lot of it's focused on this external behavior and not what's going on in my brain. In what ways do I have a literal neurotype that is different than the way other people's brains are thinking?
So it's not about, do I interrupt, do I not interrupt? Because for some of us, that behavior, especially if you're a girl, you know what I mean? That behavior has been silenced in us. The more important thing is what's happening in your brain when you're listening to other people talk? Is it hard for you to regulate how badly you want to jump in, how badly you want? And there's another one in there about, do you have trouble finishing projects? I remember going, "No, not really." And I was sitting on the third floor of my house and I had just redone the whole third floor. And I'm thinking, "No, because look, I just redid this whole third floor." And I hear people with ADHD talking about, "Oh, I would get halfway through that project and bail." And I thought, "See, I don't do that."
But I remember getting up and starting to walk down the stairs, and I have those stairs that have a landing halfway through, and I stopped dead. Because on this landing was my toolbox, my measuring tape, a couple of pictures I didn't end up using, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. "Oh my God, that's not finishing the project." I got done with the part of the project that interested me. And then I sat all of my stuff down and then for weeks I just stepped over it, over and over and over. I couldn't. That's the part of for me, that's not finishing.
And did you notice that you didn't even, because it wasn't the interesting piece, you just didn't notice and you just kept moving on with life?
For me, it's partially not noticing. And then the other part is like I will start to notice it, but I can't make myself care enough to do anything about it.
So what happens for you when you're like, "Okay, I noticed this. This task needs to be done, but I'm not interested." Do you have any systems in place to support you in that area?
Yeah, so one of the, it's funny, it's a great question because the TikTok that I mentioned earlier that had everybody going, "Oh, KC, please get assessed," was the one where I explained that my motivation, my ability to engage in task initiation, I feel like I have this energetic river in front of me. And when it's flowing, it is powerful and it is a rapid, and anything in its path gets swept up and taken care of with impressive ability. But if that river is not flowing over a certain task, I can't do that task. And so for example, the idea, this is why I have a cup graveyard, which is just cups all over my house. I stepped away from us to go get a cup, and I grabbed one and it had food in it, had a drink in it that was a billion years old. So it's like, "Oh, that doesn't work."
And what I always say is, I will see that cup, I will know that cup needs to go, but it's this random task that's not in the flow. It's not in the flow, and I can't make myself do it if it's not in the flow. So what I have to do is put all my energy into making the river flow over that task. So for example, because I am not very good at, I will literally stare at a cup and be like, "Pick it up, pick it up, pick it up," and I just won't, like, I can't make my hand move. But I can say that every Tuesday afternoon is cup duty, and go get all of the cups throughout the whole house. I can say that I'm going to get a dish pan and put it on each level of my house, and that's where I can put my cups when I'm done with them. And then when it gets full, I can carry it down.
I can turn these tiny little tasks into bigger systems that my brain is more willing to engage. And I used to joke that it was really common to go into the bathroom and there'll be no toilet paper. Because often when I'm noticing these little one-off tasks like, "Oh, I need to replace the toilet paper. Oh, I need to take that cup to the whatever. Oh, I need to hang that thing up." I'm noticing them while I'm in the middle of doing something else. So you're carrying your laundry to your room when you see the cup. And for me, because of working memory issues and all sorts of other issues with ADHD, when I'm in that position, if I stop doing the laundry to take the cup down, I'll forget about the laundry or get distracted from the laundry. And if I say, "Ooh, I need to come back for that cup and then go to the laundry," I'll never come back for the cup.
And so, I often felt like I was just like, what's that arcade, a pinball? I was just a pinball bouncing off of all these things in my house. There was no flow. So instead, when I decided that on Mondays, that's when I do the laundry. On Tuesdays, that's when I restock my house, and I made a list of all the things in my house that could need to be restocked, the toilet paper, the paper towels, the soap dispensers, all of these things. And then, I would take that little list and go around the whole house and do all of my quote, unquote, "Restock." And that to me, I could get my brain to engage in that kind of system.
First of all, I can relate with you. As someone with more of a neuro-typical brain, I can walk around my house and as I walk, I'm picking up and putting away, but still see my end goal in mind. So I'm grabbing things and I'm taking them to the kitchen, while I'm also putting away the laundry. And then, I'm going to do this last thing, and then my house is tidied up before I get to work in the morning.
But, KC, as you talk about it, sure, for your neuro-diverse brain, there are systems in place that you can create, that you can get on board with and create that flow. I love how you describe that. And I can see how this is not only applicable to other people who have a diagnosis of say, ADHD, but if anyone struggles with depression, or bipolar or even just sleep deprivation, it doesn't even have to be any kind of diagnostic understanding, but even just being tired, or working the night shift, or juggling a household of kids and working right, life is hard to organize. So this is really interesting and very helpful to hear some of those tools that you use.
Can you talk some about the difference between motivation and task initiation? I know that is one thing that you mentioned to me, that I thought you could put words to.
Yeah. So for a long time when I would think about, "Okay, I know I need to get that laundry done, but I'm just not doing it," I always thought that I struggled with motivation. And it wasn't until I was actually talking to a psychologist friend of mine, Dr. Leslie Cook, that sort of broke down that there's a big difference between motivation and task initiation. And she explained to me that motivation is seeing something as valuable and desiring to do it. And so, if I'm lacking in motivation, that I'm staring at a pile of laundry and I might be saying something like, "What's the use? What's the use? I'm just going to have to do it again tomorrow." Or I might be thinking something like, "I don't even deserve clean laundry." I might be thinking, "I just don't really care. It doesn't bother me to wear dirty clothes."
It doesn't make a material difference. And I know it's supposed to, but it doesn't actually make an experiential difference in my life, where I have a clean clothes versus picking something up off the floor I've worn. And so I can't just can't get myself to really care that much. Those are motivation issues, and we see those, they're very real symptoms of depression, and of schizophrenia and other mental health struggles. It's called A motivation. It's literally on the criteria for a lot of disorders. However, that's different than staring at your laundry and thinking, "I need to get laundry done. I want to get laundry done. My life is better when my laundry is done. Go, get up, do the laundry." And we don't understand why we're, we feel paralyzed. We're just staring at it going, "Why can't I get myself to get up off this chair and do it?"
That is task initiation barriers, not motivation barriers. And it's important to recognize the difference, because we treat them differently. If I'm staring at my laundry going, "I understand the value of this, I want to get this done, my life is better when this is done, why can't I make myself do it?" We're looking at a completely different issue. We're looking at this issue of executive functioning.
It's funny, I was meeting with somebody recently, we were actually talking about kids and trying to understand kids in their developmental area. And she said, in order to make a transition, a child has to go through seven different steps. Seven. They have to unattach their attention from what they're looking at. They have to physically hear the cue they're being given by the parent. They have to form an emotional, mental reaction to that and regulate it. They have to create a motor movement plan and execute that and moving towards that task. And so it was all of these things.
And as I was listening to her, I was thinking, "Ugh, I understand this," because most people would say the transition from sitting on your couch to going and doing your laundry is one step. You just decide and then you get up and go do it. But I don't experience it that way. I experience it as multiple steps that my gears are grinding, trying to get through. And in fact, when I started my ADHD medication, the number one thing that changed for me was going from feeling as though the transition from getting off the couch to going to do my laundry was very difficult and took a lot of energy and time to, all of a sudden it was like somebody had greased the wheels. I could just go, I want to do my laundry. And then all of a sudden my body was getting up off the chair and I was walking towards it and that it didn't feel like walking through mud anymore.
And I think the best way that I have found is that, that medication in conjunction with lifestyle accommodations, creating these systems, because there are ways that I can create momentum for myself. I needed to clean my house recently, and I set aside a whole day to do it. And I remember sitting there and being like, "I can't make myself do it." And I had to break down these small ways of creating momentum. So the first one was turning the heat up. I had to tune into my body and go, "What resistance am I feeling in my body?" And the first one was, "I'm cold. I don't want to get up from under this blanket." So I turned my heat up and it was like, "What's the second one?" And I had on fleece pants and a long shirt, and it was like, "This does not feel conducive to moving around in my house, so I need to go change my clothes."
And then the next thing was I put on some upbeat music, and I found a podcast. And it took me literally three hours to do just those steps. But I was slowly moving myself towards this goal of feeling full of energy, ready to do things. And so it's those things in conjunction with the medication that have created so much more functioning for me. And that was one of the things that my psychiatrist pointed out was that your diagnosis has been missed, because you have been engaging in such intensely high compensatory behaviors your whole life, that at first glance, you don't look that different from other people. But what people can't see is that you're working 10 times harder to do the same tasks that other people are doing automatically.
Right. And that is not all evident by behavior, but every single gear you're trained to shift within your mind, which I imagine, you talked about just feeling like you're just going through mud, and it would feel really challenging to do that. And I'm so sorry that you lived for so long with that experience in your brain, probably feeling really confused by that experience, without having anyone validate it externally until you were able to get your diagnosis as an adult. And that took a lot of courage for you to pause and start asking those questions and to really seek out answers. And it's really, really amazing to see how you've grabbed a hold of this label and it seems like you don't feel shame about it. And instead you talk about it, you use it to your benefit, you take your medications, and then you create systems in place that can really help you thrive.
Well, and I've learned that it's really common for late diagnosed adults to kind of be bopping along okay. And then we hit a wall and it's usually a situational wall. So you're okay, and then all of a sudden you hit college. Or you're okay, and then all of a sudden you hit, for me, motherhood. And so for a long time I thought that, the answer was just that I was failing at being a mom. Because there were a lot of ways in which having a career and not having children, there was a lot of ways in which momentum was being created for me. And so you wake up, you have to be at the job at a certain time, so you necessitate the urgency of brushing your teeth and putting on your clothes and taking that shower. You get there, you do your work, now it's off. You come home, you've coming in, you've got your shoes on, okay, do a couple things and then sit down.
And all of a sudden, I transitioned from, okay, now I'm a stay-at-home mom. I have these two kids. None of the external structure is there anymore and I can't function. And so there, for a lot of late diagnosed people, there's sort of an event. Maybe it's grief, you've lost someone, it's a transition into a career, or motherhood or a parenthood or something. And all of a sudden, and that's why I think there's also this barrier of, "Well, I can't be ADHD. I've only been struggling for the past five years." And it really takes someone that knows their stuff beyond just stereotypes to help you untangle, wait a second, maybe this is something that's actually been there from the beginning. We just really need to investigate the different ways those things have been showing up. And maybe there is this sort of golden thread that we can find through your whole life, and explain why right now it seems so much worse.
KC, you talked about having some depressive episodes early on in your motherhood. When you look back, do you feel like it was the chicken or egg situation? Where now knowing you have ADHD that was causing any of this depressive heaviness that you were feeling, or do you see those as more isolated experiences?
It's funny because there's lots of mental health experiences that I've had, and I now look back and can see them all being related to ADHD. The two times in my life I've experienced a depressive episode, I remember thinking, "I know I'm depressed because I'm a therapist, and I know what the criteria is, but I don't feel or look like anyone I know who's experiencing depression." I'm meeting the criteria, but the biggest difference for me was I had never felt sad when I was in a depressive episode. I always just felt emotionally flat lined or numb.
And I felt bored, but I never could say that out loud because boredom seems like, "Oh, just deal with it." But to me, the boredom was painful. It was sucking all of the meaning out of my life to where every day, I would go to bed and I felt like I was staring down the barrel of a shotgun, thinking about just waking up and doing the same thing tomorrow. And I had a depressive episode when I was postpartum with this last baby, and I had one when I was single and living overseas, and they were completely different times in my life, but I could recognize that the impetus for both of them was the same. It was isolation, under stimulation and boredom.
That's a really interesting observation, and I'm curious if you can jump in to talking about the stimulation piece, and how that relates to ADHD.
So, it's interesting. I find that, I mean everybody, no matter what your brain is like, can experience being overstimulated. We've all been at the fair or somewhere, maybe a kid's birthday party and just been like, "Ah, there's too much noise here." And we all know what it feels like to kind of be under stimulated, I think, by way of just maybe being bored. But the threshold for overstimulation and under stimulation when you have ADHD is really different. So if there's a lot of sensory things going around at the same time, I get really easily overwhelmed and it's hard for me to emotionally regulate. So I'm snapping at my kids. I'm really angry for no reason.
But the part that really blew my mind was the under stimulation dopamine, which is the happy chemical in our brain. I don't want to oversimplify it, but it plays a really important role, not only in experiencing pleasure but in mood regulation. And we know that one of the things happening with ADHD is basically a misregulation of many things, one of which is dopamine. This is why there's such a crossover between addiction and ADHD, is because there's something going on in the pleasure center of our brain that isn't really firing correctly. And so for me, when I am under stimulated, it's not just being bored, but it literally brings on feelings of intense pain, intense existential dread. It can be something as simple as, that's sometimes why it's hard for me to pay attention.
If I'm sitting in a lecture, I often am feeling like I'm not stimulated enough to pay attention, and so I have to do something else with my hand. This is where fidgets come in, and that's why. It's because I'm under stimulated. And so if I find a way to stimulate my senses in some other way, I can regulate that attention. If I can find a way to stimulate my life in another way, I can regulate that mood better. And so when I find myself, okay, I can't leave the house, I can't engage in meaningful activities, I feel kind of a loss of identity. I don't have a lot of social interaction, whether it's because I'm living overseas or because there's a pandemic lockdown and I have a new baby, the other mental health symptoms start to just domino. And when I started making my TikTok channel, all of the sudden, that was creating stimulation for me. So it was, I have an interest, I have a hobby, I'm watching feedback come in on comments. I have something to think about.
People with ADHD tend to hyper focus on things, probably because we get so under stimulated. And it was funny to look back on my whole life and go, "Oh, everyone's always kind of thought of me as someone who just gets very passionate about things and then loses interest." And I was like, "Oh, I can basically trace my whole personality by just one hyper fixation after another," and I need that. I need something that is sort of tickling my brain that is novel, that is something to figure out. And that, I don't know how to describe it. It keeps me on track, having the right amount of stimulation.
So you describe that, and I'm wondering how you create that sense of stimulation, while also having to do these really mundane care tasks and sometimes live that Groundhog's Day life. Get the kids to daycare, do the same job, tidy up the house, take a shower, all these things that we have to do in a day. So how do you do both, and what advice do you have for our listeners?
So for me, beginning to try and create systems that work with my brain and not against my brain has been key, because when you systematize something, it creates enough interest for my brain to latch on. I think of it like a ski lift, right? I'm standing there and I'm ready to just be scooped up by the ski lift and go.
So in my five things tidying method, I visualize that there are only five things in the room. Trash, dishes, laundry, things without a place and things with a place. And as I'm going through each category, just focusing on that category, it almost feels like it's been gamified. So look for the trash, trash, trash. And it almost reminds me of when you play those first person shooter games, where there's a little bullseye that's scanning the environment and then they're locking in on something. That's almost what happens in my brain. Then when I get all the trash up, it's like, boom, that's a finish line. That's that little hit of dopamine. And I find that when it comes to feeling motivated, there's really like three or four things that do it for me, and that's pleasure, patterns, panic.
If I have to have the thing clean because you're coming over in 20 minutes, I can get it done. But I also find that patterns really do that for me. And so if every time I want to clean my room, I have a predictable pattern of five things I do in a row, it's much easier for me to engage that. For some reason, that is stimulating to my brain versus walking around and just picking up random items.
That's a really fascinating solution. And one thing I really like is that your solutions seem to be really creative. So we've been given this narrative, that this is what your day should look like, and then for some people that is just not going to work. So can you talk about what that has been like to shift from the rule book, into thinking more creatively?
Yeah. So I would say that the main point of my whole platform, and my book, and my TED Talk and all of it is the idea that care tasks are morally neutral. Which means that the way you do them, whether you struggle with them, it has nothing to do with your character, whether you're a good or bad person, or whether you're worthy of love or shame, or belonging or derision. None of those things have anything to do with you being a worthwhile human being. And I think a lot of us are trying so hard to quote, unquote, "Get on top of things," from a place of desperately wanting to be acceptable and not feel so much shame. And I think that that puts us on a hamster wheel that never ends, because we're constantly just trying to get it under control and trying new systems, and then they fall apart within a few days. And then we feel shame, and it just keeps going on and on, and on and on, and on.
What I want to do is I want to refocus us from this idea that care tasks are this external measurement of your worthiness as a human. And instead, focus on the idea that regardless of your level of functioning, you're a human being that deserves kindness and that you deserve to function. You deserve to be clean and comfortable. You deserve to have clean dishes to eat off of. You deserve to be able to come down the stairs in the morning and do the first few things of the morning you need to do, without the extra stress of not having a functional space to do them in. And when we change our thinking from being worthy to already being worthy, and I think we'll find that most of us do want to function. And when you get away from that, you have a lot more freedom.
When you get away from that sort of like, it has to be this way or else, you get a lot more freedom to go, "Why am I folding this laundry?" Or, "Why am I sorting the laundry before I put it in? Why do I feel like I have to have a certain number of dishes?" Whatever it is, recognizing that you can design your life and your home any way that works for you, you can break all of the rules, and you don't have to have it figured out tomorrow. You don't have to have a bazillion systems tomorrow.
I have a system that I call closing duties leftover from when I used to wait tables. And it's basically this list of four or five things that I do every night around 7:30, to get my space functional for the morning. And it does not make the house clean or perfect or any of that, but it does make sure that when I wake up in the morning, I have enough dishes to eat off of. I have a clean trash can, and I have enough counter space to make breakfast. And I do that because I'm a person that deserves that in the morning, and I don't have to worry about everything being perfect. But when I started closing duties, it had one item on it, which was unload and reload the dishwasher. That is literally it. And some nights I had, I did what I call survival day closing duties, which was literally just take the children's bottles, shove them into the clean dishwasher and run it again. And I think that, that is the key. Is like, it's okay to do a little and do it because you're a person that deserves to function.
If we agree with KC that daily care tasks are morally neutral, then doing them or failing to do them doesn't change your worthiness. It transforms the shame of failure into a creative act. One that says, "Okay, I know that I deserve these basics, so what's a way I can work with my brain to make sure that I am sufficiently supported?" The possibilities of what works for you are endless. But if you need a place to start, I highly recommend connecting with KC on her various platforms. And since you're already listening to a podcast, KC has one too. It's called Struggle Care with KC Davis. Also, check out her wildly popular TikTok channel, Domestic Blisters, and order a copy of her book, How To Keep House While Drowning. Links for all that and more are in our episode notes.
Thank you for listening to Mental Note Podcast. Our show is brought to you by Eating Recovery Center and Pathlight Mood & Anxiety Center. If you'd like to talk to a trained therapist to see if in-person or virtual treatment is right for you, please call them at 877-850-7199. If you need a free support group, check out pathlightbh.com/support-groups. If you like our show, sign up for our e-newsletter and learn more about the people we interview at mentalnotepodcast.com. We'd also love it if you left us a review on iTunes. It helps others find our podcast. Mental Note is produced and hosted by me, Ellie Pike, and directed and edited by Sam Pike. Till next time.