Trying to Solve the Wrong Problem

Sept. 17th, 2018

I’ve recently been having a period of bad days, mental health wise. A lot of regular things, like keeping my desk and fridge decluttered, are falling by the wayside. There has been an upswing in the amount of tears. I’ve been avoiding responding to personal messages. Whatever name given to this, these things together amount to just a really crummy time.

When I’m not feeling well, everything seems way worse than it is. This is very typical of human beings and more so with ADHD. And when something seems to be a problem, I always have the urge to try and fix it. If I’m feeling desperate or frantic, it’s like my brain is an animal, trying in panic to escape. I claw and bite at anything near me, without meaning harm, just because of how bad I’m feeling.

There are many problems with this reaction on my part. The most tragic problem is that often those things that I perceive as making me sad are either not directly connected to my mood at the time or cannot be resolved any time soon, or both. So all the effort I pour into trying to fix those problems is not only wasted but ends up hurting me more, because I spend more time focusing on my negative feelings, and making them worse because my solutions don’t work.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a big believer in problem solving. It’s one of the things I think is a positive side of ADHD, that we are really good at finding creative solutions to problems. When I’m sad for reasons unrelated to those problems, however, then there’s no point in trying to use that skill. It will never achieve results because I’m working on the wrong problem.

If it’s half an hour past my bedtime and I suddenly start crying because I’m afraid I’ll never become a parent, like I’ve desperately wanted to be for a decade, that is not the time to try and solve that problem. My husband and I have decided not to start a family yet, for all kinds of reasons, none of which I have any ability to change at 10:30PM at night. The true source of my unhappiness is the fact that I’m tired. Solving that problem means going to sleep, as soon as possible.

For some reason, my emotional brain never wants to believe that sleep will fix the problem because it won’t take on board that the problem is being tired. I am exactly like a toddler who is tired to the point of cranky, and the crankiness makes them not want to sleep, despite how tired they are. I’m not yet convinced the way human beings behave, fundamentally, changes that much as we age. I think we just get better at using logic to overcome how we instinctively want to behave. And at 10:30PM, my logic has long departed.

I have noticed myself getting better at spotting when I’m trying to solve the wrong problem. After that I still have to take action on that realization, which is super difficult. It involves ignoring my emotions and trusting logic I don’t really believe. Then doing that over and over again. Ideally I’d like to just play Minecraft or something until the mood passes, but 80% of my day I don’t have that option.

This is a problem I have with a lot of mental health suggestions involving self care. If someone is depressed at work, they might risk getting fired if they just leave to take a walk, or a nap, or have a cup of tea. I am committed to being on the phone with clients and aside from it being poor business practice to not show up, I am not willing to let them down, on a personal level.

One thing that helps trust that logical realization is remembering a past time when I decided not to frantically solve a problem and everything was ok. Better still if I remember feeling better later and having the logic come into focus as true. This is also a difficult thing to do and a skill I am struggling to build.

Knowing what battles to fight in any situation is a challenging thing for human beings in general. When we learn how to tell, we save ourselves a lot of time, energy, and pain.

How can you tell what problems can be solved and when?