I can’t be trusted. When it comes to my own goals, I need external accountability because my ADHD is quite happy to do whatever pops into my brain at that moment. If left to my own devices, which is often, I’ll do anything other than what’s on my to-do list.
The problem is that I’m currently underemployed and working from home for myself. That means I don’t have a boss checking in on me. I don’t have coworkers asking about projects. And I no longer have students asking me when I’m going to grade their papers. EVENTUALLY, TYLER AND BRITNEY! QUIT ASKING!
No, as a writer without consistent work, most of my deadlines are self-set. That’s bad.
Unfortunately, this is also the case with every other realm of my life. Cleaning my house, saving money, reading books, and moving my body—they’re all dependent upon my ability to act, which is to say they don’t get done. My list of projects is now untenable, and nothing makes me feel like a failure faster than having unfinished projects.
I had to do something, but almost nothing could get me to act. Almost.
When I Knew I Needed Accountability
TW // suicidal thoughts
I suffer from premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), which I describe as PMS on steroids. That’s an oversimplification, though, because most people then think PMS isn’t that bad, and they haven’t heard of PMDD. Of the many symptoms, PMDD increases one’s risk of suicide. Untreated, it is hell. When I started on meds for it, my husband was grateful. I had no idea it was that noticeable, let alone that bad.
When I started on a med for fibromyalgia pain, I had to stop the med for PMDD. That’s when things got dark. I noticed I was increasingly depressed during the luteal phase of my menstrual cycle. The PMDD was back with a vengeance.
On August 21st at 12:53 a.m., I sent an email to my husband, therapist, (some) family members, and my most trusted friends. It was the first time I admitted to multiple people at once that I was having suicidal thoughts, and it was the first time I’d talked about it in detail since the PMDD had returned.
In the email, I asked for help. It was the most nerve-wracking thing I’ve done in some time, especially because I was trusting some people I’d never said these things to before.
The Accountability Support System
The response from my friends actually caused ADHD paralysis, and it was the most wonderful feeling. It took me a month to work up the emotions and energy to properly reply. I sent it to 21 people, and almost everyone either offered help or let me know they were struggling too. One friend responded within an hour and a half.
Their humanity overwhelmed me. There’s no end to my gratitude for them. I still have moments when I’m embarrassed to have sent that email, but the resulting help changed my life for the better.
The problem was that everyone was so willing to help that I couldn’t figure out what to ask of whom. Some friends offered specific help, like my friend (who is a therapist) sending me information about ADHD every week. In my initial email, I’d mentioned the possibility of a book club; one friend said, “I’m in as long as it’s not paranormal romance,” while another friend said, “I’m in as long as it’s paranormal romance.” I laughed for a long time after that one.
Beyond getting my meds sorted out to get PMDD back under control, the things I needed help with most were body movement and writing. I knew asking my friends to hold me accountable would help, but I needed extra incentive. And the best incentive for me at the moment is financial. I’ve made $80 this month, and I’m trying to save for a car. Money is, well, at a premium.
That’s how my Expensive Accountability Plan was born.
I asked my most active friend to help me. I do two workouts a week. Ideally, one of those workouts involves the physical therapy exercises I received for my shitty knees; the other is cardio. On Sundays, he texts me and asks me how movement went. If I don’t do one of the workouts, I owe him a Diet Coke. If I don’t do either, I owe him an alcoholic beverage. Buying someone alcohol is expensive in and of itself, but I’m also no longer a drinker and would prefer not to buy anyone booze.
I implemented this at the beginning of October. The only workout I missed was this past Sunday, thanks to horrid body pain. (My friend gave me a pass, which was kind.) However, I did a workout today that I hadn’t planned. So far, I’ve not had to buy him anything.
I’ve been working on a romance novel for ten years. I finally decided I want to have it published sooner rather than later. My goal was the end of this year, but I’m behind schedule, so I’m going for the end of next year. The problem was that I wasn’t working on it. It needs substantial developmental edits, but I kept putting those off because that’s the part I hate.
One friend and I do body doubling once a week, and while I’d been using that time to work on the business, I didn’t know what to do with it once I closed up shop. I decided I’d use the time to work on the book. But my friend and I do get a little distracted sometimes, so while I had the dedicated time, I didn’t have full accountability.
I asked a fellow writer friend to be my accountability buddy. If I don’t work on the edits each week, I owe her $5 toward purchases at Half Price Books. Really, I’d love to go shopping with her there, but again, I don’t have money for that.
Similar to the body movement goal, I implemented that at the beginning of October. Unfortunately, I failed at two weeks, so I currently owe her $10. That’s $10 out of the free spending money I have each month, and that means less fun money for me. However, I HAVE gotten through four chapters, and that’s more than I thought I’d do.
Of course, I might feel less pressure about this expensive accountability if I had a job. The problem is that I haven’t done a normal job in a long, long time. I hadn’t even looked at my resume in probably seven years. And I’d rather watch a documentary about spiders than write a cover letter.
This was the perfect opportunity to work on my freelance writing career.
I asked another friend—a fellow romance reader and Chicago Cubs fan—if she’d be up for accountability on my writing. Once a month, I need to submit one nonfiction piece and one fiction piece for publication. If I fail at one, I’ll pay her $5 toward Cubs tickets. If I fail at both, I’ll pay her $10 towards Cubs tickets.
Not only did I submit a fiction piece last night, but I also wrote a nonfiction piece for which I got paid! That means I don’t owe my friend any money, AND I’ve made progress on my career!
The Future, Conan?
Combined, failing at my goals could cost me as much as $100 a month, and that’s more than I can afford. In my first month of this experiment, I’ll only be out $10. That tells me this is working, and my therapist pointed out that I am, indeed, doing the thing.
I have a lot of hope for November, and I’m thinking of expanding the plan to include a reading challenge, upping the number of workouts, and adding more writing submissions. However, I want three months of this experiment done before I start making additions. I don’t want to overwhelm myself or end up in debt.
It also helps that I’m back on the meds to alleviate the PMDD symptoms. While the fibromyalgia pain has become a separate problem and a post for another day, my down days have been far less intense. I’m more motivated to care about myself and my life again.
What remains the best part of all of this is simply how my friends stepped up when I asked. At a young age, I learned that if I wanted something done, I had to do it myself. Asking for help meant I’d be disappointed. However, I think that’s changed, and I’m thrilled to be wrong.
From this, I’ve also developed a detailed plan for my goals, implemented monthly hangouts with my closest friends, hired a house cleaner, found new areas to focus on in therapy, started reading more (and worked it into my sleep hygiene routine), and addressed ways to work on my marriage.
Without the meds, I wouldn’t have the mindset for this. Without my friends, I wouldn’t have started at all.
>>This is part of my project to write at least 500 words a day throughout the rest of the 2023.<<