On ADD, anxiety, decision trees, and an abundance of projects

On ADD, anxiety, decision trees, and an abundance of projects (book and otherwise).

So a few years ago, I was talking to Benjamin Rosenbaum, about all my various book projects and story projects and poem projects and he basically said that multitasking was a big lie, that I couldn’t actually work on all of those at once, and I should pick one. At most two. But he strongly recommended one.

And then he persuaded me to go up to my office, where I sat in a chair with my computer and read him off the names of projects, and he wrote them all on sticky notes and then made me put them on a kanban board.

(Avoiding a long segue here into kanban — please look up if not familiar. Essentially project management tool, designed for workflow. Key for this: only one ‘active’ project in any given category, such as Drafting or Revision or Production or Publicity at a time.)

I complained and resisted and made him put 2-3 items in some categories, but we did sort of winnow it down. And then I put BIG sticky notes over the ones that weren’t actively to be worked on immediately, to try to hide them from my brain. It actually helped. (Photo 1.)

Two years passed without me looking at the board. But I think that winnowing / focusing project helped, because when I came back to it, I found that I’d actually completed one project (Feast), and a few smaller ones, and that there were several that were done in one way or another, and could be removed from the board. (Photo 2, left.)

I spent a pleasant hour rearranging the board at that point. Among other things, I rewrote the book-length projects onto bigger sticky notes, to make it more intuitive how much time various things might take. And it turned out that there were 3-4 projects that mostly required staff time, but not necessarily *my* time, so those are in a new category, and as I have time to organize and can afford to hire staff to work on those (getting older work back into print, for example), I hope to get those accomplished.

So this is all helpful, yes. But the fact remains that I still have WAY, WAY too many projects on the board. And I don’t know what it is, whether it’s a midlife crisis or a mid-career creative ferment or what, but it feels like I come up with a new, good, compelling idea every few days now. These aren’t just throwaway things — these are all worthwhile projects, many of them feeling urgent. It’s very intense, and also stressful / exhausting.

I’ve been waking up panicked many days, freaking out about how much there is to do, and that’s no good.

The creative idea-generating part is fine in theory (though I have enough, now, brain, please take a rest), but I’m having a hard time managing the stress. I’m planning to go have a fourth session with the new psychiatrist tomorrow — the first three were basically getting her up to speed on my complicated life; this is the one where I lay this problem out and hope she can help me figure out what’s going on, ideally with some tools for addressing it.

Some of those tools may be medical. It’s definitely true that once I take my Vyvanse in the morning, some of the stress eases. I think that’s the brain starting to work properly again, and instead of a thousand wildly blinky lights exploding all over my brain, I get a row of quietly glowing lights instead. A row that I can turn off, light by light, as I check things off the task list. It’s better.

We’re trying to tweak the meds. She had me try adding 5 mg of Adderall to my 20 mg of daily Vyvanse this past week. The plus of that is that I avoid the Vyvanse ‘crash’ around 4 p.m., when it wears off and I get super cranky with the returning tension. I was generally quite a bit happier on those days, and could productively work and also cheerfully hang out with my family into the evening.

But I’m not sure if it’s a good choice. As she’d warned me might happen, I had trouble sleeping — three days of adding the micro-dose of Adderall, and each day, I got 6 hours of sleep / night instead of 8. I *couldn’t* sleep more; if I lay in bed, I was just wide awake.

I didn’t actually feel tired, interestingly enough — amphetamines do that, it seems. But I’m really wary of building up a long-term body sleep debt; there *has* to be a health cost. This is not a sustainable model, surely. I took two days off from the Adderall Monday and Tuesday, let myself sleep normally. Probably good for my body, catching up on sleep. They were pretty stressful days, though.

I’m going to go back on it today, and I’m planning to tell her that I do want to keep trying Adderall for a month. In part because I’m also trying to ramp up to regularly exercising again, and I’m hopeful that if I’m lifting weights every three days and doing some cardio every day, my body will be much more productively tired and will be able to sleep deeper and longer; that’s usually been the case when I was actively exercising in the past.

Of course, that kind of exercise also usually calms my brain some in itself, so it gets complex figuring out exactly what’s going on. Hard to isolate the variables!

One thing the psychiatrist is trying to help me figure out is whether the stress and anxiety I’m feeling is primarily ADD-based, or whether there’s an actual anxiety component that should be addressed through therapy and/or meds. That makes sense to me as a logical, medical approach, but I’m not sure if we can actually figure it out without incurring more sleep-debt than I want to.

I suspect there is a bigger issue here, because even if ADD is making the row of blinking lights go all explode-y, and even if ADD meds can calm them down again, the fact remains that there are just too damn many lights. The row is too long.

I don’t know if it’s cancer+impending mortality (probably at least in part), but it’s clear that I have enough work I desperately want to do for ten people’s lifetimes, and or a hundred, and that is obviously not possible.

A lot of the rest of what I’ve been working on this past year is figuring out how I can convince other people to do some of this work for me.  Sometimes that’s by paying them to do the routine time-consuming tasks that don’t actually need *me*, but do need to be done. That’s going well, though management also takes time, and it’s definitely been a process figuring out just how to expand my reach that way, effectively.

Sometimes that’s by trying to talk them into taking on some of the save-the-world projects. (Want to run for office? Want to join the SLF’s volunteer team? Talk to me.) That also takes time to manage, but it’s helping.

Our three interns at the SLF this semester are making progress on tasks that have been nagging at me for YEARS, which is a great relief. In theory I could’ve had interns all the way along my time teaching UIC (they get course credit), but in practice, someone has to manage them and make sure they’re learning worthwhile things.

It was only in the past year that I’ve decided to try to raise enough funds to hire someone (Karen Murphy) to do that. It’s working, slowly, though I need to raise funds again soon if we want Karen to continue over the summer, and fundraising also takes time. (Join the SLF as a member for $2 / month and alleviate Mary Anne’s stress levels! Will that work as a fundraising campaign theme?)

And I know, some of the answer is just to abandon projects. All those stickies on the wall instead of the board? A good half of them are abandoned projects. Plus, I put the Makerspace on the backburner until we get either more funding or someone else to direct it (preferably both), and that was a relief. I even decided the SLF translation projects could wait a year or two, until the Portolan Project was up and running, and that was good too.

Maybe I need to just go look at the board once a month and say, “Mary Anne, do you REALLY need to write this book? Do you REALLY need to do this project?”

Right now, the answer is generally YES, DAMMIT. But perhaps repetition will wear me down.

No real conclusions here. But I’m going to have plenty to talk about with the psych person on Thursday, clearly.


Evidence that things are actually improving: Making the time to actually find psychiatrist, go to appointments. Setting up session with trainer at gym this Saturday. Having Sunday dinner with family once a week, and Thursday date lunch with husband once a week. Finishing reading books. None of which were happening last fall, so I feel like I’m on the right track, I think. I hope.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *