Adult ADHD and Anger – I’m Frustrated and Overwhelmed

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When I was first diagnosed with ADHD, I wanted help with time management, organizing, clutter, scheduling, and so on.  The ‘logistics of life.’

Mastering these ADHD challenges is an ongoing project. Always improving.  Never perfect.  

My success requires an arsenal of mutually supporting tools.   However when one strategy stopped working well for me, I would ‘try harder.’ 

And we know how that works.

I kept thinking that the problem was me.  Not the particular strategy.  It took a while to realize that not every tool, tip, or trick will work for me.

Eventually, I simply replaced a tool or strategy that wasn’t working well with something else.  If that worked, great!  If not, I’d try another.

Letting go of what has worked to find what will work NOW

Sometimes I outgrow a particular strategy.  It got me to a certain point and then wasn’t needed. 

Like a road map you used to drive through North Dakota, but then you need a new map that covers South Dakota. 

(In the age of GPS many younger folks have never used the road maps the gas stations sold.   Road Maps were like Google Maps only on very thin mobile devices called paper. 

You would unfold the map until it filled half the car and then when you arrived you refolded it into a crumpled ball and jammed it into the glove compartment.)

ADHD Strategies seem to work well for me, or they don’t.  Most require a little creative re-jigging.  But whatever the trick or technique, the truth is all progress is ultimately dependent upon something intangible.  My emotions.

My emotions are key to successes or failure

It’s true that no strategy is foolproof.  And very few are easy or automatic.  They require something of me.  Which is fine.  I can afford to give. 

But even the simplest and most powerful strategies in the world are of no use if I’m stuck in upset, anger, frustration, or overwhelm.

It took a long time to realize my emotions are a huge challenge.  And they are exacerbated by my ADHD.

For the first decade after my diagnosis my emotions and the impact of ADHD on my emotional sensitivity and reactivity was not on my radar at all.

I was all about being ‘more productive’ and having everything ‘organized and up to date’ so it was ready when I needed it.

But it was never enough.  I’d try something, it would work for a while, then it wouldn’t, and I’d be upset with myself, overwhelmed, disheartened, and angry. 

Mostly at myself.  Sometimes at the world.  Rarely at someone else.

I’m angry.  But you’d never know It

I didn’t lash out at people or throw things.  No one called the cops.  It was internalized.  Madly pacing around the office, muttering like a bitter, paranoid, self-loathing victim. 

Then I’d get an idea for a solution and in short order bounce right back to my usual busy self.

In fact, I would never have said I was angry.  I wasn’t screaming.  Okay, I was screaming in my head.  But it didn’t feel like anger.  (Did I mention my self-assessment skills are less than stellar?)

Those sudden shifts are exhausting

These bouts of anger or upset came on suddenly.  The worst possible outcomes.  In seconds.  Like fast forwarding through the first 20 minutes of the movie Psycho and starting at the shower scene.

The mood would pass just as quickly.  Mostly the upset lasted a few hours.  Often less.  Sometimes erupting and then evaporating over the course of 3 minutes.

In fact, at one point I wondered if I was also dealing with BiPolar Disorder.  (A common mistake.  BiPolar is different.)

Then when we were making ADD & Loving It?! the star of the program, Patrick McKenna, talked about his own struggles with explosive anger.  His wife Janis offered a hilarious counter-point to Patrick’s sheepish confessions.

I started to look at my own emotions.  And my emotional sensitivity.  My anxiety level.  How easily I was alarmed, upset, or panicked.  

I did a lot of reading about how our bodies react to violence in movies, TV shows, or the nightly news.

The biggest surprise?

What was most astonishing getting that I can do things to manage my emotions before they spiral out of control. 

Just as I can prevent those waves of overwhelm by using simple organizing strategies.  Emotions are basically floods of chemicals in the body.  And what triggers those floods?

It can be one thought, one comment, one mistake.

I thought my emotions just happened and it was up to me to experience them, survive them, and recover.

But stopping the roller coaster ride?  Especially the negative stuff?

Sure, I could see that I could create a great mood by doing something fun and creative…being with friends, performing onstage… But upset?  Anger?  Those were natural reactions and totally out of my control.

But our emotions are always the result of our thoughts.  Good news arrives, I’m happy.  Bad news arrives, I’m alarmed. 

But what if I could pause and ask, “Is this really bad news?  Or is it actually a sign that I need to do something different?” Or, “What the worst that can happen?”

Emotions Aren’t Random

In fact, our emotions are often logical responses to a situation.  Or rather, our perception of a situation.

To have my Power Point crash just before my one-man show was a disaster. 

To me. 

The audience didn’t know what they were missing and simply enjoyed the show.  In fact, I was so pumped up with adrenaline over the disaster the show was terrific that night.

Who knew?!

So much of our emotional state is actually in our control.  This has been a complete revelation to me.

Even dramatic emotions, like the short explosions of anger so common to people with ADHD, can be tamed, and perhaps even nipped in the bud.

Our video on ADHD & Anger offers are a ton of simple ways to decrease the severity and the frequency of angry outbursts.

Seeing the triggers and understanding the warning signs and solutions has been astonishing. 

For example Dr. Kathleen Nadeau talks about, among many other things, the need for protein in the afternoon.

Dr. Ned Hallowell explains the power of being able to express feelings rather than simply feel them in managing his own anger.

Once I began to appreciate how mercurial my emotions were compared to most people, and why a big part of that was my ADHD, I started making changes in how I spent my day.  

(No more violent, scary entertainment. Lots more Yoga and Mindfulness.)

My level of ‘self-awareness’ was never all that high, but I can sense the roller coaster ride is a lot tamer. My wife can confirm I’m much calmer.  Cooler.  More in control.  (Easier to live with.)

The payoff?   I can conserve my limited supply of energy and attention for dealing with what I was trying to cope with when I was first diagnosed: time management, organizing, clutter, scheduling, and so on.

You know, the ‘logistics of life.’


Rick Green

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  1. Avatar
    crystalsphinx April 28, 2017 at 1:04 am

    Hi Rick: I usually just read your blogs and contemplate about them. But this time you hit the nail on the head- or whatever that phrase is said properly . I have just this past week gone through the exact ups and downs emotional sensitivity and everything else you mentioned in this text. I’m relived that other people feel this way . Which video will help me get some factual information that I can apply to my life. Please don’t say CBT…..doesn’t work for me because I have a short term memory problem and whatever I will write down I’ll forget the next day. The structure is sooooo difficult for me to work on. Any information would be very helpful..
    I LOVE LOVE LOVE YOUR BLOG!!!!! It’s definitely the best and funniest!

  2. Avatar
    dizzytuber May 4, 2017 at 3:05 am

    This reminds of a time, at work, when I was speaking to a co-worker being happy and goofy. Out of the blue, I didn’t see a box on the floor, and my foot got stuck in it and I nearly fell over. My co-worker chuckled after I had said a few expletives. He then went on to say, “I have never seen anyone go from goofy, singing, and talking, to suddenly angry and cussing like that, then walk off with a neutral tone.”

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