Does your 'inner secretary' go on strike?

I hope that this makes sense to at least someone else here. I'm trying to get support to deal with some difficult things that I need to do, especially around employment. This means emails, phone calls and so on. But I am struggling at the moment with my mental health (unfortunately made worse by my employment difficulties) and the really hard thing is that my 'inner secretary' is not working very well. Communicating, co-ordinating, remembering things that have to be done, working out what an appropriate timescale for reply is (and to expect replies from my emails/messages), remembering who knows what already - all of these are causing me additional stress.

My only strategy for dealing with this is to make a list but that's not really working (and making me feel more overwhelmed).

I think the official name for this is probably something like 'difficulties with executive function'. Has anyone else experienced this?

  • I experience this too. I also had to simplify my to-do lists (my record was spending 3 hours on a colour-coded, categorised list that took so long to create, I didn't end up achieving any of the tasks on it).

    Have you had a look at the different types of planners you can get in stationery shops? Some of them help you to prioritise better (e.g. "Tasks I need to do today", "Tasks for tomorrow") etc. I also find it helpful setting alarms on my phone to remind me to do things (e.g. if I know I need to call somebody, I'll set an alarm for when I'm likely to have time to ring them). There are probably apps to help you get organised too.

    I get daunted if I see all of my tasks on a long list, so I bought myself a notepad that says "My brain has too many tabs open" on the front, which seemed apt! It's an A4 project notebook, split into sections, so I can have a section for home tasks, another for finances etc. and make mini to-do lists there. They don't look quite as scary now.

    You could also try a whiteboard or blackboard in your bedroom - this works quite nicely for me. You can use them for little reminders and just rub tasks off as soon as they're done, making the list look a little less daunting.

  • I have this inertia too. Especially after coping at work, when I get home just a letter or some admin makes me freak out. Recently I renewed my passport and I decided to sort out 10 years worth of paperwork that I had put in a 'pile of shame'.

    It took me all summer and some days off work to straighten it out, yikes. The pile is already growing again. 

  • OMG! I get this too!!! This makes total sense!! I wasn't sure if it was peri-menopause or ASD!!! (I am waiting Adult ASD assessment/diagnosis) I know EXACTLY what you mean ('inner secretary' - great description BTW).

    I have seen a massive deterioration in my ability to plan ahead; I've started missing appointments or turning up late because I get my timings wrong - unheard of in the past. Every time it happens I am left in a complete quandary over how it's happened AGAIN!!! It's inexplicable and I can't believe I cannot control this. I've probably been in denial about this for about 6 years (round about I was told I was peri-menopausal) thinking that it's just a phase but am coming to the realisation that for whatever reason, my brain just isn't the same as it used to be.

    I use my other half a lot now asking him to make sure I don't forget a doctors appointment even though I've got a reminder on my phone to tell me what time to leave the house because I just can't trust my goldfish brain to not get distracted with - anything really - picking a sock up off the floor, answering a text message, walking upstairs, opening the fridge! At work I have to tell people not to tell me anything verbally because I will just forget it.

    I don't know if it's because I am older (I am certanily less able to mask and more prone to burn out in my late 40s), because of hormone changes or my life being more complex because of FT work and busy family life (I have 8 y/o twins). Like you I am less able to cope with email/work tasks, deadlines, planning meetings and live in perpetual fear of forgetting important actions. So many times I startle myself when I suddenly remember something really critical - I find myself breathing an inner sigh of relief mixed with incredulity over how something so important just slipped off my radar. I then pretend that this happens to everyone when I know I am pretending to myself that this is actually becoming a big problem for me. I live in fear that something really bad is going to happen.

    I'm actually on sick leave from work currently because I just hit the wall a couple of weeks ago and thought I was going to have a breakdown in the office. I sat at my desk for about 3 hours not being able to make a decision about what to do next: emails, late tasks, new tasks, plan which tasks to do; tasks which were dependent on other tasks so can't be done until I've planned all the tasks. The questions just kept going round in my head and I couldn't move.

    This had been building for a while and even though I spoke to my line manager about the complexity of my work and my suspicions that I am ASD and my need for a more structured approach to work she was really dogmatic and unhelpful so I literally burned out. She's a manager who's been through a government leadership scheme which has given her a deluded sense of her own abilities; she's had about 5 minutes life experience, sits in an office not getting her hands dirty but dishing out orders while she surrounds herself with really capable people who inadvertently assist her in maintaining the illusion that she's a talented achiever - take the people away and she's nothing.

    Fortunately I am about to move line management from this robot to a human being with decades of experience. I have an appt with Occupational Health and will ask them to help me convey the changes which need to made in my working life and have a meeting with the Dir of HR so I can feedback to him on how my organisation has contributed to my current unfitness for work!

    In terms of solutions before I went off work I had started to look at project management tools which I've not employed much in the past: driver diagrams and critical paths specifically to try and help keep me focussed. Lists have always featured in my life and I have a need to get things out of my head and onto paper so I can literally SEE the plan on a page so Gantt charts (tasks down the side, time line along the top) have always been helpful. I also have my own action charts to help me.

    I have to say that I have found it hard to carve out time to get into a routine with my work and employ these tools in the way that I know they would help me so it's a bit of a circular problem. What I do know if that in order for me to go back to work, I will need to have some adaptions to enable my Aspie brain to cope. I'm just at that point of having to fess up to my new line manager that apart from being peri-menopausal, I'm suspect I'm also a closet Aspie who is awaiting formal diagnosis - this puts me in a vulnerable position of course as I will have to trust that this new person doesn't just think I'm a complete weirdo.

    Big sigh...

    Anyway, thanks for posting. Sorry for the essay. These conversations are part of my self-therapy :-)