In my quick little “hello” that stays on my main page. You will see the part about “psyching myself up to do the dishes.”
This is not a joke.
Dishes are literally one of the hardest things I do. This comes down to three things- hyperosmia, ADHD, and Executive Dysfunction.
If you remember from previous blog posts, hyperosmia is a sensitive sense of smell. And dishes are one of the worst. Usually it is because it is a very complex smell of food particles, old pipes and garbage disposal. So, to even contemplate doing the dishes, I have to first make sure that there is no draining water from the washing machine or dishwasher itself, because that will cause water to back up the badly managed pipes and the smell will literally slap me in the face.
No, I meant literally, not figuratively. That’s how hyperosmia works. It can be a very physical reaction to scent. Something that is also more ASD related is my very sensitive sense memory. So, just contemplating doing the dishes causes me to get a whiff of those kinetic memories.
I know, I know. It’s just the dishes! Stop being a wuss!
That’s what I said to myself for all those years. It was also what my shittiest therapist said. I’m still a little annoyed at him for this one.
He claimed to “blow my mind” with the particular “revelation” I am about to tell you. (And first of all, if someone says, “I just blew your mind” They didn’t. So don’t be that douce-bag. Let someone tell you that you blew their mind.)
Ok, so I am explaining to him my issues with the smell and the sense memory, and the executive dysfunction (more on that later) and he stops me.
“Have you noticed that all the things that you have described, laundry, dishes, garbage- they are all things that you don’t like doing?” he says. Then he smiled at me like he was the fucking Wizard of Oz, finally giving me my brain.
I was dumbfounded, it’s true, but not because of his “revelation.” But because he fucking didn’t know how ADHD worked.
So I said, “Because that’s how ADHD works….”
He looked confused for a moment. And then my mind truly was blown. I knew more about ADHD than this fucking professional.
For a quick lesson to anyone reading that doesn’t know as much about ADHD (and that’s ok for the average blog reader. If you’re a therapist, I might suggest brushing up before your next session with someone who has ADHD.) Anyway, when you have ADHD you also have low dopamine levels. So you are drawn to things with instant gratification to increase your insufficient dopamine levels. Say like, if you dig video games. You will play hours, and hours, and hours, of video games just to feel like you have the right amount of dopamine. (From my understanding, that’s why things like stimulants work for people like us.) I know, I know, say “dopamine” again.
Dopamine. It’s that important.
Anyway, my point is, the therapist took a legitimate physical problem I have and turned it into a character flaw…
ADHD is not a character flaw.
So, withstanding this ridiculous man, how do I deal with things like dishes with a sensitive ADHD mind? First, I try to not let it pile up. Try and do them as I dirty them. But that’s not always easy. Like when you come down with a once in lifetime pandemic virus and you have to quarantine yourself from your family. (Just an example, of course.)
In that case, things did get piled up. My husband, who’s routine did not involve dishes, and was already being pushed to a breaking point with his own quarantine changes, couldn’t pick up the slack. For part of the time, we honestly just switched to paper plates. (I know they aren’t environmentally friendly. But sometimes you have to put your mental health above everything else.) I understood why he couldn’t do the dishes. His focus needed to be on his job and our son. And honestly, I know a large part of his focus was distracted on whether or not to take me to the hospital a couple of times.
Again, so how do I deal with this?
When it gets piled up like that I do a few things. First I address the scent as much as possible. I light my favorite candle. Pour a little alcohol or baking soda, or something with a very strong scent, down the garbage disposal and run it for a few minutes with hot water. I also have some garbage disposal foaming cleaners if I really need to feel like I have eradicated the irritants. But they kind of make me feel weird. It’s hard to explain, but it’s really gross because often the foam will bring up “old particles.” Uhg, I can’t say more without giving myself some kind of gag reflex.
Then I glove up. Rubber dish gloves are a god sent. I have a minor problem in that my son keeps stealing my gloves but I usually have a pair that have not been absconded with- so I glove up! This gives me a very basic separation from the sensory issues that come with doing the dishes. (I apron up, too. I am an ample bosomed woman, and I don’t like having my own wet t-shirt contest when I am having sensory issues already. Wet clingy shirts may be “sexy” but they make my skin crawl.)
Then I organize. It’s easier to handle the dishes if they are in like piles. (I do the same thing with laundry by the way.) This is just to bring order to something that makes me feel chaotic. That order can overtake the anxiety and lessen the severity of feelings. It’s also just a good distraction.
Then I do the dishes. Sometimes it takes several loads and that can make it a little more difficult, so honestly, I do a load and then hand-wash the rest just to reduce any sensory issues like bad smells for when I eventually come back to put the rest through the dishwasher for sanitizing.
What about the ADHD brain and executive dysfunction?
First, I make sure that I took my meds. Meds won’t fix everything but they will take the edge off of your issues to give you the chance to deal with it yourself.
Then I do my best to appease my dopamine thirst while still doing what I need to do. So I will usually put an interesting audiobook or podcast on my headphones while I do whatever is unpleasant, dishes, laundry, sweeping, chores in general, really.
And then for the executive dysfunction, a common problem for people with ADHD or ASD, I give myself direct instructions. I say to myself, “Collect all the plates and put them here… Do it now.” Then maybe followed by, “Use the scrub brush to get rid of any big particles of food. Do it now.” Do it now, is actually very important. It’s a cognitive impetus, a shove in the right direction. It may feel stupid, but I assure you it’s necessary.
A lot of times when I am dealing with dysfunction I will straight up narrate my actions, out loud. It’s ridiculous. But sometimes you have to embrace the ridiculous to get shit done. At least, when you’re like us.
And you know what is more ridiculous than that? Listening to a medical professional imply that you are lazy for having a condition that you know more about than he does. That’s ridiculous.
So, yeah. Really, what I am getting at… is I have to do the dishes. Sigh.
Do it now.