Difficulty Class

Update January 22nd, 2021: In response to the recent request by Eddie Izzard to use she/her/hers pronouns, I have altered the blogs mentioning her. (I'm sorry it took me so long! Sometimes ADHD interferes with our need to support others.)
Jun. 4th, 2018

For those of you who don’t know, a main mechanism in Dungeons and Dragons for determining success of an action is the Difficulty Class, or the DC. This is basically to tell how hard something is to succeed at. Climbing stairs would be a DC 5 for example, while climbing a sheer cliff face in a high wind might be a DC 26. Of course, for someone in a wheelchair, climbing a flight of stairs is a DC 50 (nigh on impossible, without assistance). Once I write up rules for including those with differing abilities, both for the physical and the cognitive, in a D&D game, I will get back to you on that.

When it comes to real life with ADHD, it seems like the DC has to be managed ever so carefully. I’m mostly talking about things done not necessarily routinely, but regularly. Things that we do that are infrequent or part of our job are usually managed far better. Because if something is very, very easy, and done often, it will bore the ADHD individual, and it won’t get done. If it’s very hard, even if the person is confident they can accomplish it, the effort involved to make it happen will prevent it happening.

Then again, everything will get boring eventually. Add to that the fact that tons of systems, tools, strategies, planners, apps, and ideas might run purely on novelty (the thing that will almost guarantee ADHD brain activation, in the short term) at the beginning, so it’s hard to tell how effective something actually is until some time has passed.

The way I counter this is I set an FYI reminder for myself whenever I start a new system or change something in my routines, to go off 7-14 days after I start it. “How is setting meeting alarms the night before working?” This way, if the change isn’t working, but I’m either ignoring something because it’s too hard or going through the motions without gaining any benefit, I have a reminder to stop and reevaluate. One of my favorite feelings is when I see one of these reminders and have to think very hard about what it’s all about because the change has been implemented and worked so seamlessly that I’ve forgotten it’s new. Of course in ADHD land, 14 days isn’t really ‘new’ anymore.

Another problem is that nothing is easy all the time. There will always be taxes to file or awkward emails to send or that specific chore that some people don’t seem to mind but just drives us up a wall (I’m looking at you, compost). And we don’t always have the luxury of delegating these tasks. That being said, I will always advise every single ADHD individual to hire someone to at least assist in filing taxes because if you are fortunate enough to earn enough money to pay taxes, this is an annual torture chamber, with a giant heaping pile of stress and a piping hot side-order of shame for a lot of us.

All of this puts me in mind of my favorite stand-up comedian Eddie Izzard. She has a bit (LANGUAGE WARNING!!) on shower temperature and the control dial. “But the only position we’re interested in is between there...” Izzard says, holding up a hand, as if on the dial, “...and there,” she concludes, her hand not having moved at all. Gets me every time.

So, how to maneuver that nano-millimeter of space in which the ideal DC for ADHD tasks lies? To my way of thinking, pausing and evaluating is key. And oh look, another DC 25 task for ADHD. This, however, is definitely a skill that will pay off in many, many areas.

First, what is the task to be done? Lay it out as specifically as possible in order to understand what we are asking of ourselves. Sometimes just this will remove blocks. “Huh, is that all? Well, that doesn’t seem so bad.” but because it was shrouded in mystery, it seemed much worse. Or contrarywise, we may discover it isn’t even one task at all, but two or three, and when separated out into bite-sized pieces, much easier to deal with.

Second, what are the barriers in our way? So for me, and the compost, I need to pick up the compost bucket, put on my shoes, put on either coat or sunglasses or both, open at least 2 doors, dump it outside, come back inside, put away my shoes, coat, and sunglasses, clean the bucket, and replace it. That is a total of 11 steps, just to take out the compost. I like to say that one added step or barrier between an ADHD individual and their goal doesn’t make it twice as hard, it’s more like twenty times as hard. Is it any wonder I struggle with this task?

I’ve gone over and over this task and I can’t find any way to remove steps (unless I go barefoot outside and that is super unappealing in November in Southern Ontario). However, a good question to ask in terms of removing steps and barriers is “What am I assuming, about this, that’s wrong?” Such as “this has to be done perfectly” or “I should...”. In some cases details do matter, such as I wouldn’t be very well advised to dump the compost in the driveway. However, when I clean the bucket, I could simply rinse it, not use soap and a cloth. And if it is truly that much of a hassle for me, do I absolutely need to compost at all? When I lived in an apartment building, I was almost forced to abandon the practice, so, it’s not the end of the world if I stop. These are the types of things to consider.

Third, is it a case of absolutely needing to implement some kind of reward system, gamification, or body doubling to get the task done? I am fortunate enough to have a weekly call with a dear friend, during which I do all my cleaning. I struggled for years to get regular cleaning done before this and now, if we go a week without having our call, my brain will still tell me Sunday at noon is when I clean. It’s a habit that took me probably half the amount of effort to solidify because of those calls.

I truly wish I had a word for this phenomenon. Preferably a German word. “The thing with ADHD where things are hard” just doesn't cut it. Let me know if you discover a word. Seriously.

What regular tasks fall into these tricky categories for you?