The festival of WordPress
January 22, 2021

This is an archive of the January 2021 event

Please My Dear Aunt Sally: ADHD Coping Mechanisms at Work

For 48 years I struggled with getting important things done on time, finding my keys, interrupting, and feeling like I just wasn’t “living up to my full potential.” Then I was diagnosed with ADHD, and things suddenly made so much more sense.

This talk will walk people through how I project manage my daily life by using everything from a barely remembered elementary school math technique to finding a way to stay engaged in your fourth Zoom meeting of the day. The best part is: you don’t need to have ADHD to benefit from (most of) these life hacks. If you’ve had a hard time focusing on details, or paying attention in meetings, or just generally focusing on anything that isn’t :waves hands frantically: 2020.

Speaker: Chris Ford

Time: 9:00pm UTC
Region: Americas
Stage: Fused Stage

Michelle Ames: Welcome to our session. I have Chris Ford here and now, Chris, I am super excited to help facilitate your session today , uh, called please. Excuse my dear aunt Sally, which I think is just like, I fell in love with the title. As soon as I saw it, I’m not going to lie. Cause that was just like, Oh, I want to know more about what that means.

But , um, I wanted to just kind of introduce you briefly. This is your session. I’m just here to help a little bit, but , um, turn it over to you and let you introduce yourself a little bit and talk about what we’re going to talk about today.

Chris Ford: Awesome. Uh, my name is Chris Ford. I’ve been involved in the WordPress community for about 10 years, doing everything from commercial theme design to custom web design to enterprise level, project management.

Um, about five years ago, I heard Corey Miller give a talk called the iceberg of life. And to my recollection, it was the first time I had heard someone. With a high profile in the WordPress community, talking about struggling with mental health and, and self care in the industry. And it really inspired me to stop hiding.

I mean, some of the mental health struggles I’ve had my entire life, if , um, and me to become more of a mental health , uh, advocate in the community , um, I did kind of want to acknowledge a few things. The first is that this is not the same format, but everyone else , uh, recorded their toxin. And that’s because my ADHD made it completely impossible for me to finish something.

So I sent you a frantic Slack message the other night, freaking out about how , um, I was. Totally having imposter syndrome. I was asking if I can’t make this ADHD system work for me now in the middle of a pandemic and a insurrection and a impeachment trial. Um, who in the heck was I to tell anyone else how to do anything?

Because you know, my system wasn’t working and I couldn’t focus through this stuff. Um, and you came up with this great idea of let’s remove this barrier and , um, do it more as an interview. Um, and I really appreciate that. One of the tips that I hadn’t planned to talk about, but I’ve really been working on.

The last year , um, is asking for help when you need it. It’s something I have a really hard time doing. Um, but when you do and people are willing to help you get over those things. Um, it almost kind of seems like maybe it was meant to be, because it was a huge lesson for me. Right. Like, and my wife forced me to do it.

Right. Like I was sitting in my office freaking out and on the verge of tears and she’s like, just let someone know you’re struggling and maybe they can help. Um, so that’s the first thing. Bring

Michelle Ames: up a really good point. If I can interject a little bit as we were talking through this that , um, I think all of us want to be seen as experts in our fields, but if you look at any expert, they are not working alone.

They are not working in a void. Even if they’re a one man show one woman, show one person, show whatever language or what he is. It’s so true that we rely on other people to help us be successful. And so to take a step back and say, I’m struggling in this, who can I ask to help me through to the next step and the next way to them to progress forward?

That’s not a non-expert thing to do. That is a very expert thing to do. And so to rely on the community and the people that you know, I’ve known you, I think like personally, since , uh, WordCamp San Diego in 2018, I met you for the first time. I became a big Chris Ford fan then, and then we keep running into each other at like WordCamp us and things like that.

We get tattoos at the same time and some other fun things we’ve done over the years and , um, to be able to help you and, and kind of help you move forward in this, it’s just a, it’s an honor to be able to work with you on this. The other thing I wanted to say is just because your system doesn’t work this one time, doesn’t mean your system doesn’t work.

I have in the past taken medication for anxiety, taking medication for depression, and I’ve had to switch my medication because even though that’s an expert medication, it didn’t work for me at that particular point in time. It worked for a while, but it didn’t. And then, you know, other things happen. So acknowledging that I think is also really important.

So I do want to know why please, excuse my dear aunt Sally, like that’s a math term. So how did that work its way into your

Chris Ford: talk? Well, the first thing I want to do before we go any further, because it’s a big thing for me is my disclaimer. Right? Like anytime I talk about mental health, I like to let people remind people, like I’m not a doctor.

I’m not a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a therapist, a chiropractor. I am none of those things. I, I am not even close to that. So my advice is just what works for me. It might not work for you. That’s okay. If you do have the ability to talk to a doctor , um, if you feel like you might be struggling and need some extra help, please do because really only you and your doctor can diagnose issues.

Um, any, even if there isn’t an underlying issue other than 20, 20, 20, 21. Um, they can help you create a plan that works for you, you know, everyone’s different. So to me, like that’s the most important thing to say at the beginning of every talk. Um, we can circle around. I also like to acknowledge some privileges , uh, that have made it easier for me to , um, Manage my mental health.

The first is I had really great insurance. Um, I had a job that helped pay for that really great insurance, and that allowed me to. Uh, see a psychologist to manage all my medications and see a psychiatrist regularly to kind of help me come up with coping skills. Um, my doctors actually listened to me.

It’s a well known fact that people of color, especially women of color have higher barriers to access to healthcare, to being listened to when they actually do get access to that healthcare. And it can really affect health. Outcomes. Um, and so those are a couple of things that not everyone has those privileges.

I haven’t always in the past. I remember when I was freelancing before Obamacare and was having a mental health crisis and called a free. Uh, you know, we provide free mental health services and it was something like an 18 month waiting list before you could see a doctor. And so there are a lot of barriers , um, to that access, which really sucks.

But you know, those are, those are some things that I had on my side, but not everyone does that, but has allowed me to. To even implement some of these systems like the please, excuse my dear aunt Sally. Um, I don’t know if , like, I know you’ve struggled with some, some mental health challenges, but I don’t know if ADHD is one of them.


Michelle Ames: I don’t, I don’t deal with it as much as other people do, but I do obsess about some things. And, And deal with non dealing with some things.

Chris Ford: So, yeah. Hang on one second. We’re going to have to pause because my stupid headphones just died. So we were talking about the , uh, please, excuse my dear aunt Sally technique.

And I was talking to you a little bit about , um, Sort of how my brain works. Right. And I have this nonstop stream of consciousness, voice in my head that never shuts up. And so it is just constantly saying things to me. And one day I was in this ADHD, I call it a spinout. And when I’m having one of those, it’s this, have you ever seen those , uh, Oh, God.

What was the, is it family circle that. Uh, comics cartoons. It was the little kid Billy, and he’d like be sent to the store and he’d go to, you know, walk along someone’s fence and chase a cat and climb a tree and do this thing. Like for me to get to point a to point B, sometimes I’m like, okay, I need a glass of water, but I’m going to go to the kitchen and, Oh, Hey, the Brita thing’s empty, but first I need to find a Brita filter.

And then I need to soak that. So I go in the laundry room and a load of laundry needs to be put in. And like this whole time, my inner monologue is just like, I’m not missing this happening. And then Matt over there. And so I think I was in the kitchen, heating up my same cold cup of coffee for about the fourth time that morning.

Um, That’s just the routine. Um, and I’m just kind of standing there, zoning out in front of the microwave, waiting for the bell to ding and my brain screams, please. Excuse my dad, Sally. Okay. It’s an odd thing for a brain to screen and I, where did that even come from? And it was. I don’t know if they still do this in elementary school, because math has changed.

But when I was in elementary school in the eighties, they taught us this like pneumonic device to remind us how to solve an equation. And it was kind of the first, like in between regular math and your algebra. So it was probably around the sixth grade because they were getting us ready for, you know, junior high and our first algebra class.

And what it refers to is this idea of the order of operations, of things that you need to do to solve an equation. Um, you address the parentheses, the exponentials. Multiplication division, addition and subtraction. I really had to think about that. Not a great math person, which is also why, when I pitched this, I left the E out of the title.

Um, but I had this epiphany and that’s the cool thing. Like most of the time, my constant inner monologue is really. Um, annoying, but every once in a while, one of those things turns into an epiphany. Like my brain just throws up like a lifeline almost. Right, and I was in this really heightened, like kind of working out, rocking back and forth.

Hurry up, let me get the coffee so that I can go and get the Britta thing. Um, And I kind of realized that a huge problem I had with organizing and prioritizing tasks, which has always been my biggest struggle , um, was figuring out the order of operations, right? Like I might not, I might know what the equation I’m trying to solve is I might know that this is the one big thing that I need to do.

But if I don’t know how to start that thing, it’s just another way to spin out. Right. If I don’t know what that first step is and what the second step is and what the third step is , um, I’ve explained it to people before, if you’ve ever watched old Looney tunes cartoons, and you’ve seen that Wolf where he gets his foot nailed to the floor and he’s kind of running in circles because the foot is nailed to the floor.

Like that’s what happens if I don’t know what to do next, I just keep running in that circle until I figure it out. And so I started kind of implementing this idea on every task that I put into one of mine.

Short-term memory notebooks that I rely on for everything. Um, and in addition to having here are the big things you need to get done. Here’s your grocery lists. Here’s, you know, everything that you need to get done, what order do you need to get those done in? And how do you break those tasks down so that you know, what you actually need to do to do them?

Right. Um, Did you ever take a freshmen college, public speaking class? I did. Yes. Did they make you do the speech where you have to explain to someone how to do something like make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Yes. And then the person asks you all the questions of all the things that you forgot to include in there.

Right? And so for me, everything I do is making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without any concept of what goes into that. So, you know, I need to go buy a plate. I need to wash the knife. I need to make sure I have the correct peanut butter and jelly stock. Right, and if I don’t have that order of operations, then I just ping pong between.

All of the things that make that up, but in completely the wrong order. And at the end, my numbers don’t add up. Does that make any sense at all? Yeah. You can explain

Michelle Ames: to somebody how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but if at the end you don’t tell them that the peanut butter and jelly have to touch each other.

You have a sandwich that’s very messy to hold. So I crazy. Or

Chris Ford: that they go on the inside. Yes. Exactly right. Yeah. Um, and so that’s really kind of, one of the main things that I picked up from, from this last year , um, for a little bit of context, because not everyone knows my story. Um, last, I think it was about 13 years ago in , um, November of 2019.


Michelle Ames: I was, I wasn’t following the math at first, but I’m with you now. So

Chris Ford: anyway, all my life, as far back as I think the fourth grade I’ve always felt like there’s something off with me. Right. Um, like there’s something in me that doesn’t let me do all of the things that. Typical people just do without thinking, right?

Like pay their bills on time and respond to emails. And , um, in the fourth grade, the first time I ever remember this happening , Uh, we were learning multiplication. So let’s go back to math and elementary school. And it was the very first thing I had ever come up against in school that I was really bad at.

And so all these math worksheets made me feel dumb and bad. So instead of asking for help and addressing it , um, I hit them in my desk and just kind of hoped no one would notice. And Mrs. Walker noticed. And so there was this , um, parent teacher conference and it was the first time I remember being like shamed for something, right.

That you. I knew there was something wrong. I didn’t know what it was. And instead of anyone helping me, because it was the eighties, I, and I was a girl who wasn’t disrupting class and, you know, no one even thought that, I mean, this was also the same time when you used to let your kids ride without seatbelts.

In the back of pickup trucks. So, I mean, it’s not like anyone was neglecting me. It was just a different time. And unless you were like, They were duct taping you to your seat in the third grade, you were not getting an ADHD diagnosis, especially if you were. Um, and so it kind of, yeah, my high school AP history teacher actually wrote basically I’m sure would be nice if you’d tried a little harder.

Um, and so all the way up through my life, right? Like I always knew something was wrong. People were always telling me. You’re so smart. If only try a little harder, if only you weren’t so lazy, if only you’d put in more effort. And so up until last November, like I just thought it was something that was wrong with me that I’d have to deal with forever.

Um, I went to my primary care physician was like, you know, you’re on enough medications right now that we think it’s a good idea that someone kind of manages them. Like it’s beyond just going to your yearly doctor’s appointment. And we re up your anxiety meds for another year and peace out. See you next year.

Um, And so I went and had an intake with him and we were talking about some of the things that I was struggling with. And I’m like, I really feel like if I could just focus 20% more, like if I just had access to 20% more of whatever that thing is that everyone else has, that I could sincerely take over the world pinky and the brain style.

And he said , well, why this was back before the pandemic and you could actually go into a doctor’s office. And so he handed me a worksheet and filled it out. And , um, it was an ADHD test. And I sincerely think I came within one point of scoring the maximum score on hat. And my doctor is like, yeah, that explains a lot.

Um, so I got on some great medication. Um, medication is a tricky subject in the mental health world. A lot of people have, you know, it hasn’t worked for them. Um, they don’t, aren’t interested in it for me. Like that’s the bedrock of being able to function. Um, so they put me on some medication. They , uh, set me up with a therapist so that I could kind of talk about life coping skills.

Um, And honestly, in those four months like that 20% came back, I was kicking ass. I was like ready to take on the world and , um, had this huge list of everything I was going to accomplish in 2020, and then March hit. And so most of, most of my experience as an adult, Woman who was diagnosed with ADHD later in life has been experienced through the lens of a global pandemic.

Um, I think I really do not know how I would have functioned the last nine or 10 months. Had it not been for the previous four months of getting just like some basic coping skills under my belt, for sure. Absolutely. Um, and so those are kind of. Like definitely the asking for help has been a huge lesson.

I’ve learned this last year. Um, I showed you my crazy lady short-term memory notebooks, which I carry with me everywhere. Um, I am a long-term journal collector. Um, but would get so stressed out about making mistakes in $30 journals that , um, you just described

Michelle Ames: me. I have a stack of empty notebooks, cause I don’t want to ruin them by

Chris Ford: writing in them.

What may I suggest to be super awesome, tiny, cheap ripoff notebooks that cost less than a dollar a piece. Um, I order them in 10 packs and. That was another lesson I learned over the last year is that for me, my biggest method of procrastination is perfectionism. Right? Like thinking that something isn’t good enough.

So just not doing it at all. Um, and so that was another huge lesson from the last year that sometimes. You just need something done and not perfect. Um, which, like I said earlier is the reason I was struggling so hard with recording a 30 minute video, especially as a former designer, because I’m like, but wait, I need slides, which necessitated learning I movie.

Which necessitated figuring out why, whether PNGs or JPEGs were superior quality. Right? So just my ability to avoid work by going down a rabbit hole and trained to make it perfect. Like that’s another, one of the things that, you know, they asking for help has helped a lot with is recognizing like, here are my patterns, right?

Like here are the things that just like with any other work problem you’d solve, like here are the challenges here is the problem I’m trying to solve for what are some of the things that are going to get in the way of that. And what are some of the things that I can do to mitigate some of those.

Unhelpful behaviors. I’m also trying to be kinder to myself on the advice of my therapist. I was going to say, self-talk

Michelle Ames: has a lot to do with how we move forward. She was like, you just use a term that I use all the time, rabbit hole. It’s got such a negative connotation. I actually prefer to think of myself as going down the garden path now because I’m actually noticing wonderful things.

There’s flowers. There’s animals. There’s the sky. There’s the birds. Um, as opposed to the, just this negative of falling , falling, falling with no purpose, I’m actually walking down the garden path. I can see what I want to get to, but there’s so many awesome things on the way.

Chris Ford: Well, and knowing the difference between when you’re out on the garden path and when you’ve tripped and fallen down the rabbit hole, because a rabbit hole is that spinning out, right?

Like, I can’t go where I’m going, but I’ve just gotten sucked into this vortex. And, you know, I am falling at that point, but I really liked that the idea of, you know, am I going down the garden path right now? Where. We’re not very good at being quiet and my brain, especially, isn’t very good at being quiet, which is where that inner monologue comes from.

Um, and knowing when, when you’re okay. And yeah, we are going down the garden path and being considered and giving your space, self the space to hear things like those. Epiphanes , um, Versus I’m getting do scroll and then go find out about the history of sea shanties on Wikipedia for four hours.

Michelle Ames: I love a good sea shanty though.

I mean, you can’t really back

Chris Ford: the sea shanty 2021 year in the sea shanties, not online

Michelle Ames: at all. Mine either. For sure. So if you had to say there were three tips that you would want people to take away from our talk today, what would, those are three points. What would those three points be?

Chris Ford: Uh, one of the big points is if you feel like you are struggling to the point that it is unmanageable for you, there are resources.

Even if you can’t reach out to a doctor, there are online communities and. Um, I personally have a group text with a bunch of other people who suffer from anxiety and depression and a variety of , uh, challenges , um, to find as much support as I can there. Right? Like I’ve made my own little support group out of people who get me.

So that’s a huge one for me. If you’re struggling , uh, find a way to ask for help. Um, the best person to ask is your doctor, if not their resources , um, I’m happy to in the chat or the questions afterwards to talk through those with you. And I also am planning on posting , um, some resources on LinkedIn and Twitter after this talk , um, to make some of those available because I am super on ADHD, Twitter.

Um, the second one is to give yourself some time to listen to those, go down the garden path, not the rabbit hole. That’s a good one for me, I’m making a, post-it hanging it up. Um, and the other one, the biggest one that I learned over the last week through this process is it’s okay to ask for help. Even if you feel like.

You should be the expert, even if you consider yourself a mental health advocate and it makes you feel really like, who am I to tell anyone how to do anything? Um, it is an ongoing process, right? And not every story about struggling with a mental health issue is going to be, here’s how I overcame it and how awesome I am.

Um, sometimes it’s just, I really screwed up and I can’t figure out how to move on. How do I find a way to get through this and not let it not let it stop me for weeks where I beat myself up and feel terrible about it. Um, yeah. And that’s really my take away. From this, like I thought I was gonna come in as a teacher and it really was a huge learning experience for me.

That just because you think you have the answers, which is, you know, my, I love feeling like I have all the answers. It makes me feel so like warm and fuzzy and stuff and you’re not alone. Right. Like we all do. No one wants to admit they’re struggling and. Times have been hard, like times are hard right now.

And I think I’m going to go out on, I was talking to my therapist one day about how overwhelming my to-do list was. And we sat and we came up with a minimum viable product of a to-do list and it had the three or four things on it that I absolutely needed to do every day. Like get out of bed. Feed yourself, feed your dog, take your medication.

And some days, if you can get those four things done, your day is a success. And I mean, that to me is another kind of permission slip that allows me to struggle and not feel like I am. Failing. Right? Like some days literally, if all you can do is get up, feed yourself, feed the dog and take your medication.

That’s a win. Um,

Michelle Ames: absolutely. Well, I’m glad. Yeah, she reached out to me because I think this has been really helpful. It’s been helpful to me. I’ve learned from you just in this half hour and I hope other people have as well. And you know, the biggest takeaway for me for sure is that it’s okay to ask for help.

Absolutely. One of the things I learned , um, I thought about recently I heard somewhere who had ever, it was that like somebody says, who do you think is the best tennis player right now? And the person says, you know, Dennis Williams , well, she has a coach. Venus Williams is the best tennis player, but somebody is still coaching her.

So if she at the top of the pyramid can still have somebody that’s teaching and helping and instructing. Certainly we can too.

Chris Ford: Awesome. Yeah. Another posted or point or embroider for all of these.

Michelle Ames: We’ll talk, we’ll talk later, we’ll start a Betsy or something. I don’t know. Let’s just ship post-its to people.

I’m so grateful that you applied to speak at word Fest and that you are vulnerable enough to share what you’re going through and how what’s brought you, where you are and how, where you are now and, and that , um, it’s okay to ask for help and all of the wonderful things that you’ve shared. So thank you so much, Chris.

Chris Ford: Thank you so much for helping me through this. I really appreciate it. Yeah, it’s

Michelle Ames: what we do. Right. Even if, even if I weren’t friends outside of this, this is what we do for people. And this is what our community is all about. So , um, we’ll see you in the Q and a, and uh, people are interested. They can reach out to you all of your information’s at our website.

So thank you. Yeah.

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