Abi Owen

Abi Owen is a 24 year old AuDHDer. She was diagnosed with ADHD in 2021, and is currently on a waiting list for an autism assessment.

  • ADHD Passion Projects

    ADHD Passion Projects

    ADHD Passion Projects Introduction – All The Gear, No Idea

    One of the symptoms of ADHD can be poor impulse control, and it’s very common for this to manifest itself in the form of hobbies.

    Many people have varying attitudes to hobbies, but for ADHD people it can be especially hard to hold down one hobby; that is, to stick to one thing for a prolonged period of time.

    The cycle is all too familiar for many of us with ADHD. A passion project is new and exciting; it offers us dopamine, the ‘feel-good’ drug. We invest in the tools to allow us to fully realise this hobby, often finding that through our hyperactivity we can pick things up quickly and become quite good, quite fast.

    And then the dopamine fades, the hobby feels more like a burdensome task than the dopamine-generator it was, and it slowly slips away. We do it less and less until it ends up completely forgotten, reduced to a sports kit crumpled at the back of the wardrobe, or a sewing machine gathering dust in the cupboard.

    Everything that I’ve quit on builds a sense of guilt that can exacerbate feelings of inadequacy.

    Mandatory Classes as a Child with ADHD

    When I was younger my father took me and my siblings to karate class.

    Every Tuesday we would all get in the car, and drive to karate for an hour karate class- whether I wanted to or not.

    I used to resent him for this; for taking up every Tuesday even when I was bored of karate and wanted to do something else. I had no choice but to get in the car and train for an hour a week, every week.

    Yet later in life I began to appreciate that consistency. More than that- I enjoyed being good at something. Through years of training and dedication, I was good at karate. When my hobbies were in my own hands, it was all too easy to quit; I never made it past Grade 5 violin, and I dropped rugby after we lost our second game.

    But quitting karate was never an option, and in the end I was grateful for it.

    Finding a Long Term Hobby Through My Own Accord

    This flash-in-the-pan hobby experience, however, can feel incredibly disheartening; my years spent on karate doesn’t change the disappointment I feel whenever I think of my many ‘failed’ passion projects. Everything that I’ve quit on builds a sense of guilt that can exacerbate feelings of inadequacy. I can get in my own head thinking I’ll never be good at playing an instrument whilst staring at a bookshelf full of sheet music. 

    However, whilst there’s no escaping the fact that my karate classes being mandatory was one of the main reasons I stuck with it for so long, I do feel a sense of pride when there is a hobby that I stick with long term through my own accord.

    I have been a dedicated ice hockey player for a number of years now since I started during university – and I don’t plan on quitting any time soon.

    The Financial Cost of ADHD Passion Projects

    There’s a financial element to this way of experiencing hobbies too.

    It is very common for ADHD people to struggle with their personal finances, often as poor impulse control and tunnel vision can blind you into spending money in the moment without thought for the consequences. You get a little interested in video games and before you know it, you own a PS5 and your bank account hates you for it.

    I can’t magically expand my attention span, and it’s no good trying to force myself to stick to things when I’m mentally done with them.

    Changing My Mindset – From ‘Failed’ to ‘Mastered’

    I can’t change my brain chemistry, and I can’t change my attitude to hobbies. I can’t magically expand my attention span, and it’s no good trying to force myself to stick to things when I’m mentally done with them.

    But why must all these hobbies be framed as ‘failures?’.

    Whilst I’m no longer running my small embroidery business, I made some truly beautiful embroideries. The bag of thread and hoops under my bed doesn’t need to be a hobby gravestone, but instead represent a craft that I picked up quickly, and worked on until I now have a skill I have been, and can be, proud of.

    An embroidery piece of a woman with an afro with flowers growing where her armpit hair would be
    A political/feminist embroidery piece I sold

    I’ve sworn off the stage since I played Madame Thenardier in Les Miserables, but I have photos and videos from a time when Musical Theatre was a big part of my life, and something to be proud of. And I can still project my voice louder than anyone I know; which comes in handy when I’m standing in net at the ice rink communicating to my team.

    The only thing that kept me sane through lockdown was sewing; I bought my first sewing machine and used to order colourful bed sheets on Ebay to turn into wacky outfits. I wasn’t perfect; I would cut corners, not bothering to hem or follow patterns properly. And although I may no longer fashion myself patchwork dungarees, I can fix the holes in my friend’s ice hockey kit.

    Abi wearing a handmade two-piece made from a bedsheet
    One of my handmade bedsheet outfits

    I see all these as skills that have been learnt or even mastered, and ones I can carry forward, rather than being down on myself and framing them as failures.

    Tips to Sticking Out a Hobby if You Have ADHD

    Maybe you can’t reconcile having brief and fleeting relationships with passion projects. Maybe that’s not an option for you- you need to stick something out.

    Below are some techniques to try and keep yourself at something.

    #1 Find Someone to Hold You Accountable

    One method is to get an accountability partner.

    You join something with that person, and hold each other accountable to make sure you go.

    My dad rounded me up every week and put me in the car to go to karate, and in later years my friend and I signed up to ice hockey together and walked together to the rink every week.

    Abi in her goalie kit on the ice
    My current hobby at five years and running- Ice Hockey

    #2 Attend An Organised Session (Rather Than Self Lead)

    Having an organised session for an individual hobby that you attend can also motivate you to push through any boredom or desire to quit.

    I’ve been trying to learn a language for years, but Duolingo doesn’t work for me; I forget and break my streak, and then what’s the point?

    But this year I have signed up for Welsh lessons, and having a class to attend every week stops me from giving up.

    Maybe signing yourself up to a book club will motivate you to finish a book. Or following a fitness programme that has live sessions you join will encourage you to get fit.

    Whatever it is, attending a session is sometimes easier to keep to than trying to be self lead.

    #3 Remove The Option To Quit

    Lastly, sometimes you’re likely to back out… Just because you can.

    If there is a (safe) way to remove the option to quit, then having that be beyond your control can work.

    Obviously tread carefully with this; forcing yourself through something can be rough but rewarding, but it can also be brutal to the point of not being worth it. 

    #4 Give Yourself a Time Frame to Not Feel Guilty

    Whilst you can use whatever method tricks your mind into sticking it out if you need to once you’ve started, remember that it’s not the end of the world to give up a hobby – especially if you stuck it out for a certain amount of time.

    It’s quite common to start something and then decide it’s not for you (how will you know if you like it unless you try it?), and sometimes leaving a passion project (especially one that consumes you) is a healthy, and maybe inevitable thing.

    So you can always set a time frame for giving this hobby a go – and if you don’t want to maintain it, then that’s okay. You did it for X amount of time, and that was enough for you.

    Remember the Positives, and Jump Into Your Passion Projects!

    Trying something new is fun, and being good at a hobby is rewarding.

    Passion projects can develop your skills and your social circles, and it can be a positive thing to have multiple. Look for the positives; you can be versatile with many skills and experiences under your belt.

    So do it; buy a tennis racket and join a film club and challenge your friends at board games. Go for it and embrace it.

    And when you can give people hand-made Christmas gifts, you’ll thank yourself!

  • 5 tips for studying with ADHD

    5 Tips for studying with ADHD blog post

    It’s no secret that ADHD makes work difficult. Be that jobs around the house, or writing essays, ADHD can zap your focus or your energy and make it very difficult to stay on task and complete whatever it is you are trying to do.

    For ADHD students, studying is particularly tough.

    Why do ADHD students struggle to study?

    When most people think of students they probably think of someone in a library, at a computer or reading a book. In our minds studying is quiet, tranquil, and completely submerged in whatever it is we are doing. This clashes with several ADHD traits which compel people to fidget, wander or to get distracted by everything (or even nothing!). 

    For some ADHD students, studying presents a problem. It can be frustrating to try time and time again to work in a way that seems simple to others, but just doesn’t do it for you. It makes studying that much harder when the first battle is to stay focused, before you even begin your work.

    Can you study with ADHD?

    Whilst studying may be difficult for someone with ADHD, it is not impossible!

    It simply requires some techniques and tools that will help you work with your ADHD.

    5 Tips for Studying with ADHD

    Here are five tips and tricks which I used during my degree to help me get through my studies by adapting to my ADHD, rather than fighting it.

    1. Try different study methods, apps, and locations

    If a “fad” style of working helped you get the bottom of even one project, then it was a success

    There are numerous different aspects that are impacted by ADHD that need to be considered when trying to study. Where you’re studying, how you’re studying, and even what you’re doing with your phone whilst you’re studying can be really important.

    For example, as ADHD may make you fidget, daydream or flick through thoughts and emotions like a flipbook, it often creates the need for multiple stimuli. This can be really difficult to manage if you’re trying to studying in a way that only involves one stimuli, such as sitting there reading from a book.

    But on the flip side, this need for multiple stimuli can actually be harnessed for study; my University offered software which would read books out loud (wearing headphones in a library of course). My ADHD friend used this software to crochet whilst studying; feeding the ADHD need for multiple stimuli whilst auditory processing the information they were required to learn, stopping only to take essential notes.

    There are also several apps to help with focus. Focus Plant or Forest are apps that helps to minimize the risk of being distracted by your phone. They work by growing a plant or tree whilst you avoid going on your phone; if you use your phone, the plant/ tree dies, and you must start again. I would allow myself tangents but would focus up every ten minutes to snap back to whatever I was doing; often I would set a timer. 

    Sometimes, your headspace and where you’re actually studying is the most important aspect to work. I work so much better at a clean desk, listening to specifically string quartets. But on some days I feel more productive in a coffee shop, and sometimes in a library; I find it helps to vary my environment depending on how I’m feeling. 

    Trying different methods and locations can be time consuming, and sometimes frustrating, but it can often lead to more productive work at the end of the line. And don’t feel bad if a system only works for a brief time; if a “fad” style of working helped you get the bottom of even one project, then it was a success.

    2. Utilise Hyperfocus

    To hyperfocus literally means to be so transfixed with something you cannot switch your mind to anything else. This isn’t always a positive; it’s not uncommon for people who are hyperfocusing to forget to eat or drink, and all other commitments can fly out of the window.

    I find that whenever I am hyperfocusing on fabric crafts I look up and suddenly hours have passed, it’s nighttime, and I have a massive headache. It’s almost impossible to snap out of or even to appreciate some perspective during, so don’t feel too bad for not taking care of yourself.

    But if you tend to hyperfocus on things, and you are capable of manipulating that, then why not use it to your benefit? During my music degree, I would lock my door, silence my phone, and spend hours writing compositions that should have taken months.

    Please be careful if you are doing this; it is very important to take care of yourself and your health is more important than your studies. But why not get the best out of a deficit disorder?

    3. The Checkbox Method

    Ever ticked the box of a to-do list and breathed a sigh of relief? That’s because for many people with ADHD, ticking something off provides dopamine, a chemical in your brain which makes you feel good. It’s why checkboxes and to-do lists are such an effective method of organisation, particularly for people whose organising skills may not be their strongest suit.

    Reducing a task or piece of work into smaller checkboxes and ticking them off as you go can not only help work seem more surmountable, it also gives you a little reward as you work. You can even plan breaks into these to-do lists (after three ticks, then I’ll go get my ice cream!).

    This works on both micro and macro levels. You can do what I used to do and plan your whole day with to-do lists, from getting out of bed and showering to planned study sessions in the library, or you can break an essay down into subheadings, paragraphs, topics or readings all to be ticked off. Try to avoid putting timings down on to-do lists, or creating a to do list that’s miles long that nobody could complete; this could create too much pressure and reduce much-needed flexibility. 

    4. Listen to Your Needs

    There’s no point fighting what your body and mind are telling you. If you can’t get your brain to settle down and pay attention to whatever you’re studying, don’t force it. 

    I often find myself reading things which make absolutely no sense at all while my mind is unsettled, only to revisit it later and discover it makes perfect sense. Don’t force yourself to do study when your brain isn’t working; you may end up getting no work done anyway, which is just a waste of your time.

    What your ADHD requires is flexibility. For most ADHD people, the ability to focus comes and goes at will. So accept it, embrace it. Your mind is suddenly sharp as a point at 2am? Drink some caffeine, head to your desk and be productive when you can. 

    Whilst the majority of people are required to stick to a 9 to 5, as a student with set deadlines, there’s slightly more flexibility as to when you conduct the work to meet those deadlines. Who cares what time the work gets done, as long as it gets done. 

    Don’t force yourself to do work when your brain isn’t working; you may end up getting no work done anyway which is just a waste of your time.

    5. Use your Peers!

    What are friends for? When it came to essays and coursework papers, I found myself so burnt out after writing them that I never wanted to read them ever again. For some people, every proofread highlights more things that need to be adjusted, and the work never ends. Using friends to proofread essays and offer insight is a way to introduce patience that you may not have into a process that requires it. 

    Friends are also typically good ears; rant to them! It’s good to check someone has the capacity to help you deal with your problems, but if so then unload how tough your work day has been. Got sucked into a Wikipedia hole while researching? Ended up cleaning your whole room instead of working in it? Sharing these things can be comforting and can also offer some perspective into studies which can sometimes feel completely overwhelming.

    If you haven’t already, I recommend finding some ADHD friends who can further empathise with your struggles. Me and my friends used to share study tips as well as latest hacks for fidgeting, and which study spots offered peace compared to a more lively atmosphere. Advice and sympathy can sometimes make or break you, particularly close to a deadline. As a bonus, they can sometimes also help you navigate the support systems of your school/college/university.

    ADHD Study Tips – Conclusion

    Ultimately, there are a large number of hacks and tips for studying when you have ADHD, so hopefully at least one of these ADHD study tips will work for you. It’s okay to experiment with different studying tips and tricks; there’s no one-size-fits-all. It’s also okay to admit that it’s a struggle; ADHD is by definition a deficit, there is a reason it’s a disability. It can be disabling, and it can be incredibly frustrating or overwhelming to try and juggle these traits with your studies.

    But you should never struggle alone. Support systems within your institution are required to help you with whatever is within their means, and don’t underestimate the impact of peer support. Studying with ADHD can be tough, but it can be done, and the toil makes the success that much sweeter.

    References and Resources

  • Routine, Rules and Rituals; an autistic person’s guide to coping with change

    Rules, Routines and Rituals - Autistic Person's guide to coping with change blog post

    Many autistic people rely on routine and ritual to navigate through their lives. This structure can be comforting and change can be alarming, yet sometimes change is inevitable.

    If it ain’t broke…

    Why does an autistic person make a bad cashier? Because they can’t handle change. It’s an old joke imbued in the stereotypes we see cross our screens in all sorts of autistic-coded characters. Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory refuses to move from his spot on the couch, and many an autistic child from a big action movie struggles with a change (a divorce, or moving city) until the life-altering events of the movie help to give them some perspective and “cure” them of this issue.

    This is a stereotype based in truth. It is a known trait that some autistic people rely on routine and structure, and struggle to cope with change. There is a safety in repetition which many autistic people find comforting, and thus can grow attached to a particular routine. In our house growing up we had many such “traditions” from the little things, such as always stopping at the same shop to get a chocolate bar on the way home from karate, to the large events like Christmas which had to hold the same structure every year without fail. Any unplanned deviation from these routines can result in a range of negative emotions from discomfort to a meltdown.

    We construct these routines for comfort and control, and for many they are an incredibly important part of how things are done

    Routine

    Autistic people can use routine to try and control and navigate what can be a very confusing world. This control can manifest in a myriad of ways. Some people use timetables to structure their every day, while others repeat meals over and over without getting bored. I for one use the same bowl and fork for every meal. This behaviour can be compulsive, and some people have noted a crossover in autism and OCD due to the nature of these rituals. A diagnosis of one does not necessarily mean the presence of the other, even if common behaviours can be found between the two.

    These routines can become so commonplace we don’t even notice them until they are disrupted. For example, every time I cycle home I avoid the same speed bump by swerving left to the small gap between where the speed bump ends and the pavement begins, followed by aiming for the small groove in the centre of the next speed bump. Then, I lean my bike up at the same spot against the wall, and lock it up. I didn’t realise the importance of this exact journey until someone had left a wheelie bin in my route, and every time there is an obstruction to this routine I feel suddenly and inexplicably furious until I can move the obstacle and continue as normal.

    We construct these routines for comfort and control, and for many they are an incredibly important part of how things are done. Many autistic people have strong feelings about the “right” way something should be done, and for many this is more than an inclination, it is a must.

    Doing it the “right” way

    While routines will often just affect ourselves, the preference for things being done the “right” way can affect those around us. Autistic people can often grow attached to a particular method of doing things, and in many situations all other ways are just plain wrong. 

    I find this manifests itself the most for me when playing card games. If someone knows the same game as me but with slightly different rules, I struggle to articulate the importance that the game be played my way. What may be a small insignificant detail to come is incredibly important to me, and I worry that people won’t understand my upset if things don’t go my way. Yes, it does seem ridiculous that I would cry and quit a card game because people don’t want to play with my rules, however I simply could not handle playing it any other way. 

    This intolerance for others’ rules stretches to rule breaking. Many autistic people have their strong opinions on doing things the “right” way, which often extends to rule-breaking. For many, rule-breaking is more than intolerable. It is simply wrong. And if you aren’t going to bother doing things right, why do them at all?

    Coping strategies

    Change can be scary, and overwhelming, but it is often inevitable. Even exciting and typically positive changes, such as having a baby, can include aspects which are more difficult to adapt to. This isn’t exclusive to autistic children; adults can also struggle to deal with changes in their lives, though they may be expected to react “rationally” (people are typically more understanding with children’s meltdowns which can be dismissed by age). To manage changes, autistic people rely heavily on focusing beyond the change itself, to preparation and delivery of the change.

    There are some coping strategies to help autistic people deal with change. Preparation is key. With advance notice, autistic people can try and control the finer details of the change itself which may not be controllable. For example if the location of your dinner has to be rearranged last minute, finding a copy of the menu for the new place would allow someone to be familiar with the menu on arrival. Organising these mitigating factors can help an autistic person to feel more control, and therefore less discomforted by the change.

    Phasing between changes can also be incredibly comforting. I knew I wouldn’t live with my siblings forever and eventually our Christmas routine would have to change. The first year my sister moved out, she came to our house first thing Christmas morning; it was as if she hadn’t even moved. Then every year she arrived later and later, until now the routine involves all meeting up for lunch. Pushing it back little by little helped us all adjust to a big change in a very important routine.

    Some autistic people may struggle to cope with change,but it’s not impossible. Preparation, phasing and clear communication of change are all mitigating factors which might help autistic people navigate changes which can feel scary and overwhelming.

    If you find that all the preparation in the world can’t dim that overwhelmed feeling, you’re no less rational for being overwhelmed.

    Feel your feelings

    Ultimately, changes to a routine or rule can be scary and overwhelming, and that’s okay. It’s important for autistic people to feel validated in what can present as a very irrational response to something miniscule. Sometimes mitigating these changes can help autistic people adjust, and sometimes they can’t. If you find that all the preparation in the world can’t dim that overwhelmed feeling, you’re no less rational for being overwhelmed.

    Routines and rules are nothing to be ashamed of. If they help you to feel safe and comforted, if they help you to navigate your way through a world that can feel confusing or formidable, then they should be accepted and celebrated.

    References and Resources