Learning Disabilities: When Nobody Notices

What would you do if it suddenly felt like your brain stopped short and your eyes blurred over in the middle of class?

For most people, the video editing class I am in was no problem once they learned the software basics. However, for someone like me with visual processing issues, the class felt nearly impossible. Visually overwhelming material like a complicated computer program just doesn’t seem to register in my brain, no matter how hard I try.

At first, the beginner editing skills were manageable and I got off to a good start in the class. But when I tried to open the tab for more advanced editing and suddenly hundreds of options appeared before me, I completely froze up. It felt like my eyes had disconnected from my brain and I just sat there for a minute unable to readjust. I didn’t know how to fix it or make the new options go away — all I knew was that the program had become too visually overwhelming for me to even interact with it.

But my peers all kept working happily. The new features didn’t affect them in the slightest, so they didn’t notice what a hard time I was having. And why would they? Since they never struggled with the seemingly simple ability to process what’s in front of them, there was no reason they would guess how much I was suddenly floundering.

So I swallowed my pride and I asked for help.

I’ll admit that asking for help can be incredibly tough sometimes. Owning up to needing assistance with an “easy” task can feel embarrassing or demeaning. It can make my differences feel unsettlingly public and occasionally make me feel stupid. But I try to remember that my learning disabilities are part of what make me me and there’s no use in being ashamed of them. Everybody needs help sometimes, you just happen to need it in the classroom and that’s okay.

What do you do when you need help in class? Let me know in the comments!

Overcompensating Organization

On the outside I can appear very, very organized. So frighteningly organized that it has become my identifier at times. My Google calendar is color coded to the extreme with everything on my schedule neatly laid out. I have an additional paper planner where I list everything I have to do for the week. I label everything I possibly can. I love to put papers in perfect piles in my office.

But at home, the organization all falls into total chaos (my blog header is a good example). While my planner looks great, I sometimes still have papers secretly crumpled all around the bottom of my backpack. And it took me a long time to realize how much I was organizationally overcompensating at work and at school.

This partially comes from the need to go overboard to keep myself on track, since I can be so distractible and frazzled. But I’ve come to realize it’s also a coping mechanism to hide from those around me how bad my ADD really is. It’s a way to prove to myself and everyone else that I am still smart when I’m feeling self-conscious. But sometimes when we try to overcompensate for our organization, we exhaust ourselves doing things that don’t ultimately make us more organized. Color-coding my planner in great detail is surface level and is more to impress those around me than it is helpful.

Those of us with ADD are bound to struggle more with organization. So I encourage all of you to try to embrace that and focus your energy organizing the things that really matter.

How do you stay organized? Let me know in the comments!

Finding The Perfect Backpack For Easy Organization

After years of rampant disorganization and an inability to keep track of important papers, pencils or anything else, I have come to find that there are several keys to effortless organization in school. One of these tricks is finding the perfect backpack.

Getting and staying organized with or without ADHD is hard enough. So why not find something that can help do it for you? The easiest way to do this is with a good, simple backpack. I try to avoid unnecessary frills as it makes it more confusing for me. But once I realized I could leverage the simple way my backpack was constructed, I became a lot more organized by nature. For example, I used to try keeping a pencil pouch but usually ended up just stuffing pencils in the front compartment of my backpack. So I leaned into that. I made the first pocket of my backpack my pencil pouch since I do that naturally. I keep snacks, gum, deodorant and all other slightly bigger things in the medium compartment. It’s not perfect but I know where it is and I know I’ll put it back there.

A backpack with a designated computer pouch is an absolute must for built-in organization. So the toughest part of this is what to do with loose paper. I have struggled for a long time with this but I will share the best solution I have found with you. Get a simple folder and when you get papers, put them right into the folder – don’t worry about organizing them then. When you get home and have a few minutes, then you can take the time to put them in a binder or file cabinet that you will be able to find again later. If the folder is too much for you to deal with – and believe me, I’ve been there – then slip the papers into the computer pouch so at least they are all in one place and not being crunched up at the bottom.

How do you keep your backpack organized? Let me know in the comments!

Confessions Of A Chronic Procrastinator

I knew when I decided to start Sara Simply that I needed to write a blog about procrastination, so I started working on this post in July.

And then I literally put it off for six months. Oops.

I have been a chronic procrastinator for a long time. Not only did I procrastinate writing this post, I procrastinated putting together this blog as a whole. I procrastinated getting ready this morning and was almost late to class. I think I procrastinate something every day.

But my procrastination isn’t always caused by disinterest or boredom with the task at hand. In fact, I have always been very excited about this blog and quickly and creatively brainstormed tons of ideas right off the bat. But then there was a disconnect when it came to following through.

It seems like some of us with ADD are just hardwired to procrastinate and that means I can own that I will never be the student who does the reading the day it’s assigned. But there are a few things I do to try to manage my inevitable procrastination.

Some people crave crunch time and need the thrill of the last minute to motivate them. So try to back up what last minute means for you instead of the day before, maybe 2 or 3 before. Trust me, once you get started you will likely feel the same time crunch with just a tad less anxiety.

It’s also important to do something (literally anything) to start the project on the day it’s assigned to you. Even if you just open up and label the word document, having already started makes it easier to go back later and work on it, now that you are over the large hump of starting it.

I’ve also found it helpful to find fellow procrastinators so that we can hold each other accountable. Make a timeline for a project and share it with a friend so they can check in on your progress.

I’m not going to lie and say that I’ve solved my procrastination problem. My classmates and friends can attest that is far from the truth. But with these strategies, I am able to work on trying to build habits to start projects earlier and avoid the anxiety later on.

What have you procrastinated lately? Let me know in the comments!

Bipolar II: How to Control Hypomania

The first time I experienced hypomania (the kind of “high” that comes with bipolar type II) I honestly thought I’d hit the lottery. All of a sudden I was finishing projects I’d put off for months, organizing everything around me without being prompted to and sleeping less but feeling more alert during the day.

I honestly thought I’d been cured somehow. I’d kicked ADD to the curb!! Woohoo!

Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take long for the fun to stop.

I couldn’t turn my brain off. It felt like I was chasing a tennis ball around my brain about 100 times a minute. I was so scattered I didn’t even make sense half of the time. I made spreadsheets to organize everything in my life. And I hate spreadsheets.

Thankfully, my therapist identified my behavior as hypomania and diagnosed me with bipolar II – a really important breakthrough in my mental wellness.

(If you are unfamiliar with bipolar or would like to learn more, I suggest reading “Bipolar Breakthrough” by Ronald R. Fieve.)

So after going through spurts of hypomania a few times, I figured out the signs that I’d missed going in. So last week when I stopped sleeping and started rampantly cleaning, I knew I was headed back down the rabbit hole. While in some ways I know I have to let it run its course, here are three tricks I’m using to try to keep it from growing into buying-wifi-on-a-plane-because-I-cant-handle-being-sedentary-for-more-than-20-minutes (true story.)

  1. Sleep, sleep, sleep.

This has been the most important thing for me in combating hypomania. If I work to get my sleep schedule really regular it noticeably calms down the circus in my brain and gets it out of my system faster. Check out my sleep blog for my full list of tips on how to get to sleep faster and stay asleep.

  1. Take time to breathe.

Since my brain is so scattered I have a hard time calming down in any capacity. So it’s been really important for me to designate time to breathe and not fixate on getting anything done. If meditation is the trick for you – the Headspace app has proven to work well for me. If you have an Apple watch, the breathe function is also a great way to discretely pause your brain whenever you need it.

  1. Time yourself when working

Being so scattered, I can’t help jumping from project to project. So my therapist suggested I set a timer for 20 minutes and make sure I work on the task at hand exclusively for that time. After my timer I can jump around for a little while and then need to set another timer to work on another project.

How do you deal with hypomania? Let me know in the comments!