Little ADD Things: If I can’t see it, I forget it exists

There are several things that I often say. I apologise too much, I say “isn’t it” a fair amount, and I blurt out nonsense whenever I catch sight of an animal. (“You’re a great dog yes you are yes you are!”) One of the things I’ve said a lot recently is “Sorry, if I can’t see something I forget it’s there.”
I’ve come to realise this is pretty central to my experience of having a weird brain, but I figured I’d note it down – along with the strategies I use now – in case it helps anyone else. It’s pretty embarrassing to admit, but I doubt I’m the only one.
I need to have things around me that I use, or am working on. I like to have things out because once those things are put away, I forget they exist.
This goes for projects, whether creative or schoolwork. When I’m working on something, I like to be immersed in it; but once the project work is tidied away into folders I’m liable to forget it’s important. And as soon as I forget, I move on to something else.
I like the project to be visible and present. Whenever I research organisational skills, I find the suggestion “Put sticky notes up around your room! Put reminders up!” But reminders didn’t work for me, because they quickly fade into the background.
The best thing for me, generally, is just to have the project itself be as visible as possible.
When I was working on my dissertation, I had the document with my draft in it constantly up on my laptop. I also had the contents page, the notes page, and a list of sources to look at. I had a browser window open, where my research was tabbed and bookmarked. I had the books and notes out, too, so all in all I couldn’t walk in my room or open my laptop without being reminded that I was on deadline and should schedule a research trip.
I figured out I needed to do this because I previously procrastinated for four months and did no dissertation work whatsoever. I had some notes in a folder saved in a corner of my laptop, and that was it. But once I started working on it, and the project became visible and ever-present, my brain clicked into action. “Oh, this is important! Well, let’s do it!”
This all leads to some… eccentric habits, and odd situations. Like keeping all your clothes out on hangers, (because when you put them away in drawers you forget they are there). Or being surprised when you open a drawer and find an entire old project that you forgot about but for a brief time was the most important thing you’d ever done.
I got a new laptop last year through the disabilities programme at university, and had to have a ‘training session’ with an advisor. The advisor was horrified to see my Documents folder, which was a kind of bin for essays and other writing. It meant whenever I clicked on Documents, I could see everything I was working on at once. It was a kind of maelstrom of works in progress, completed essays, old poems, and article drafts.
“This is terrible.”
“But I like it this way,” I said.
“Put everything in folders,” she said. “Divide the folders by subject or topic.”
I practised saving documents neatly into the right folder for two weeks. After that I went back to saving files straight into the bin, with a sense of relief.
Having individual folders probably works for many people, but for me it was dreadful. I was a lot more likely to continue working on that important essay when it was the first thing I saw in Documents, not when it had been saved into the Japanese Art subject folder where I’d never look at it again.
I am not saying this is a perfect system, or even a good one. But this way the documents are alphabetised, and they’re out where I can see them. It’s like those people who have cluttered workspaces, but still know where everything is.
This also goes for books. I like Kindle because you can scroll through all the books you’re currently reading – all together! All in one place! – rather than having to hunt around to find all the books you’re reading. It even shows you where you’re up to with each book. Its layout is such that I feel comfortable saving books into folders and setting up reading lists.
I am still trying to find the perfect system. I’ve made great progress in minimising the amount of clutter in my room, tidying away anything unnecessary or unused and keeping the things that I use visible in my living space. But like everything else, it’s a never-ending work in progress.

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Neurotypical Sandra: a mentally ill perspective on an inspirational life

(with thanks to M.S.)

I first got to know Sandra in 2010, when she was working through her final year of A-levels. She had bravely chosen to write about The Bell Jar for her English Literature coursework; despite being generally a very happy person, she found the book “relatable and well written”. However, she was overheard commenting to a classmate, “Esther Greenwood sounds quite troubled. Maybe she should try yoga”. To ease the struggle of being neurotypical, and thus perhaps less aware of the joy, pain and complexity of the world around her, Sandra has attended meditation class twice a week since the age of sixteen.
In a world full of pain and sorrow, it’s a mystery how Sandra manages to stay so happy. Despite being neurotypical, she says “My life is really worth a lot. I feel like I can give a lot to  the world.” Yes you can, Sandra! Yes you can!
Sandra is a beautiful, cheerful individual, and I’m really writing this because I want to salute her smile. Sandra’s smile can lighten the darkest of days; like her, it is a ray of sunlight in a dark world.
We may never truly know what Sandra has been through – bad days, occasional low moods, sometimes feeling like life is a bit pointless. We can only try to relate to her struggle, but this inspirational young woman continues to smile through the roughest of times. Her parents’ divorce when she was seven has affected her deeply – “it was a rough time” she says – but somehow, she has managed to soldier on.
After completing her A-levels with a very acceptable three As, she moved to London to study English at Kings College. Sandra says she finds London “confusing, but that is normal”. She finds the tube “a bit scary”. As for her university course, she’s sometimes got “a bit stressed” at the amount of work she has to do, and put off her work to watch Bob’s Burgers instead. Even in this most difficult and unrelatable of lives, there’s room for laughter.
As a neurotypical, you would think she’d find it hard to read about the characters in her English Lit texts (most of whom have depression, anxiety or other disorders). It’s especially brave that she’s chosen to specialise in Virgina Woolf, who is well known for her severe depression. Sandra’s take on it is, “At the end of the day, we’re all human. I sometimes feel down as well, so I can really relate to Virginia.”
Amazingly, she has spent almost no time at the doctor’s office in the last three years, apart from the time when she thought she had swine flu but it was a false alarm. We can only imagine what it must be like to not be well known to the receptionist, and to be greeted by the doctor with something other than “Oh no, not you again.” As for medication, she sometimes smokes marijuana with friends, a popular ‘home medication’ amongst neurotypicals – but who are we to judge?
Sandra really loves watching Disney films, especially Frozen, Brave and Wreck-It Ralph! She feels like they are an island of calm in a frantic world. It is a mystery why some neurotypical people love watching children’s films – perhaps they feel that the films reflect their unique worldview. They feel inspired to continue by the struggle of the characters against impossible odds. Sometimes, Sandra tells me, she sings Let It Go to herself when she’s having a bad day. It’s a beautiful metaphor for a girl with a unique brain.
We can only applaud Sandra’s bravery in managing to not develop anxiety, and to navigate an increasingly confusing world without having developed any mental illnesses whatsoever.