ABCs of Explosion Avoidance

Last night, I found myself surrounded by some of the best friends a girl could ask for. It was an impromptu hang out session with belly laughs and homemade cookies, and ended with a 1+ hour heart to heart in a Honda Civic. 

I’ve known Vanessa since grade 6, and she fondly remembers me at that time as the girl who cried a lot (accurate). We became close friends in our graduating year of high school, and were roommates in our first and forth years of undergraduate studies. She completed a Bachelor of Arts focused in Psychology, and has her Bachelor of Education with a double focus on elementary aged children and children with special needs. She is an exceptional human being, and is the kind of person whose presence I crave under almost any circumstance- happy or desperately sad.

Figure 1. She makes my heart as bright as a field of canola in Prince Edward Island.

She drove me home after our little girls’ night, and we got talking about ADHD and my struggle with taking care of myself while at work. Currently, my routine involves getting ready in the morning, making a protein shake and lunch to bring with me, getting to the office, having to pee but wanting to get a task completed, drinking a few sips of the shake, forgetting about it, realizing it’s 2pm and I haven’t eaten anything else, realizing I still haven’t peed, taking up a new task, having to stop half way through or else I might pee my pants, getting irritated that I didn’t go earlier, getting irritated at how slow the internet is, getting irritated that I didn’t everything on my vague to-do list done, and realizing it’s 4:30pm and time to go home- having barely eaten throughout the day yet again. I’ve noticed that this cycle causes repetitive micro-aggressions in my self-talk: you’re incompetent, you can’t take care of yourself, you’re too slow, you can’t get it together, you’re a mess, etc. Vanessa works with children who have ADHD, and said “Christine, I really think you need a schedule for work”.

In her current role, Vanessa is an expert at watching for changes in body language, word choice, tone, etc. They are unique to each child, but a change could be the first sign that a “behaviour” is imminent. A behaviour, from what I understood from our conversation, is defined as something like hitting, throwing a chair, or other act that could harm the self or others. A “behaviour” in my case would be slamming my desk drawers, typing aggressively, or shutting myself off from connection with my coworkers. Luckily, I’ve never lashed out at anyone, but I’m sure my energy is less than welcoming when I’m in that state.

Vanessa told me that it’s helpful to reflect and write down the ABCs of each situation to look for patterns:

A – Antecedent (events leading up to a behaviour which could have been a sign or trigger)

B – Behaviour (the behaviour, outburst, explosion, etc.)

C – Consequence (what follows the behaviour)

Figure 2. Graphic representation of the ABCs plus an extra letter because Vanessa is a pro.

So as we can see, things are going fine until something happens and the line begins to trend upwards. Commonly for me, the Antecedent is when I start feeling overwhelmed by everything, I’m hungry, my mind is racing, and things feel out of control. Then I have a “Behaviour” and slam my desk drawers. The Consequence is that now I feel like a jerk, and my coworkers might feel intimidated and/or fear that they’ve done something to upset me. Vanessa added the R in her notepad description of this for me because it’s important to Repair issues that might have been a result of the Behaviour. For example, from now on, I will make sure to take a moment to check in with my co-workers to assure them that I feel stressed out because of X and need to go for a short walk to clear my head. Then, we can move on and get back to normal. You can also ask those around you to intervene if they notice a change in behaviour. I am going to put this into practice on Monday by asking my co-worker to tell me to go take a walk and/or eat something if I start acting flustered.

Coming back to the scheduling, Vanessa said it’s very helpful for ADHD individuals to break up large tasks and make use of timers. For example, if her student has to write a short story, the task isn’t “write a short story”… it’s a series of sub-tasks that need to be completed such as 1. brainstorm story ideas, 2. write a rough draft, 3. edit/revise, and 4. create a final copy. Vanessa likes to add a checkbox beside each sub-task so she feels productive. This also helps to visualize the task for all it is. For me, seeing “write final report” in my agenda seems like it should be simple, when in fact it’s about 10 sub-tasks that could take up to three days. I think that acknowledging the real commitment needed to complete a task will help me reduce feelings of incompetence and impatience moving forward. Maybe I won’t rush through final report writing (and wind up a frazzled mess) if I accept that it will be a lot of work and plan accordingly. A timer is another great way to put yourself in a focused state because you’re working against a clock, and it will also alert you that it’s time to eat something, go to the bathroom, get some fresh air, and so on. For me, breaks at 10:30am, noon, and 2:30pm will become mandatory starting today. Additionally, there are more structured time management tools that are worth trying like the Pomodoro Technique.

By implementing the #lifehacks mentioned above, you can take care of basic needs and check in emotionally. This could, in turn, prevent “behaviours” from happening in the first place (in whatever form they take for you). Can I get a hip-hip hooray for Vanessa and her super savvy psychology smarts?!

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