As I sat down this morning to edit blog posts which I wrote yesterday, I received a call from my mom. Since I have a tendency to not manage my time well, I asked my mom, “Can we set this conversation for 15 minutes?” When I hung up the phone, I realized that it ended up being 45 minutes, mostly due to my own inquisitiveness and some added unrelated comments at the end.
After the conversation was over, I discussed my time management faux pas with my husband, who is a school psychologist, and I realized another “mistake” I had made (there is no such thing as failure, only feedback!). For a while now, he has been helping me recognize my struggle with certain areas of executive functioning—time management, flexibility, and impulsivity. We have discussed this a lot in relation to my second book about self-love and dating, and we have observed it in all areas of my life—one other major area being phone conversations. I could be in the middle of working on an important task, get a phone call out of the blue and all of a sudden it’s an hour later. I fall behind on my plan for the day, and the whole thing snowballs. I may hold off on eating to make up for lost time—which invariably leads to low blood sugar and irritability and/or feeling faint. Or I may miss the chance to go for my daily swim. Or worse, swim anyway at a later point in the day and mess up whatever I had planned for then (sending out any final important emails, eating dinner on time, relaxing before the following day’s work, etc.)
So today with all of this in mind, I realized where I misstepped. While I did a great job of starting the conversation with my mom by setting a time limit, I did not set a REALISTIC one. Looking back, what she wanted to discuss could not take 15 minutes, but I didn’t know that, because I didn’t ask her for enough details on why she had called. I just went straight to: Can this take only 15 minutes?
So next time, the first thing I am going to ask her for is a bit of a summary of what she wants to discuss. Then, and only then, am I going to make an HONEST appraisal of how long I think it would take. In this case, 30 minutes. Then I will decide if I HONESTLY have 30 minutes, or if I only have 15, and if that is the case, then I will suggest that we set up a time to speak later in the day. Also, if I really want to be realistic, I will add 10 minutes of extra cushion time.
Going through this calculation made me feel better. Once I realized that this conversation could never have taken 15 minutes, I blamed myself less. But I also got a wake-up call for how to change my approach to out-of-the-blue phone calls from loved ones; how to be more proactive and strategic in planning and managing my time.
You will notice that I capitalized the words REALISTIC and HONEST/LY. That is because I have a tendency to say what people want to hear and make demands of myself that I SHOULD be able to do. One of my greatest challenges in life is acknowledging my own physical and emotional limitations. I want to do everything right. I want it to come out perfectly. I have a very top down approach. It is very hard for me to step back and say, “What can I do now, realistically?” or “If I’m being honest with myself, what can I do, and what can’t I do in this situation?”
I don’t like not being able to answer the call, either literally or figuratively, either from myself or from others I care about.
I am writing about this because, as I said, these executive functioning issues came up a lot while I was working on my second book. In fact, one of my greatest motivations in writing and publishing this book was to create more conversation about this area of mental health (as well as the topics of low self-esteem and anxiety).
Executive functioning skills do not get enough attention in the mainstream and they don’t get as much press as other mental health issues.
I don’t have ADHD, so the discussion of executive functioning was never openly addressed by any of the psychotherapists or psychiatrists that I have seen over the past decade. I am sure they acknowledged it in their own mind as something that they were working on with me, but they never came out in the open and said, “Gila, you have issues with executive functioning.”
For years I begged for someone to diagnose me with something official. And while I was told that I had anxiety and low self-esteem, my husband was the first one to openly discuss with me what executive functioning was and how I struggled with several aspects of it. (He did so very respectfully and only after asking if I was open to discussing it.)
The thing about my issues with time management, flexibility, and impulsivity (all under the umbrella of executive functioning), is that much of the time I can function quite optimally even while having these challenges, and thus they can go overlooked and unnoticed. But other times in my life they have contributed to majorly detrimental experiences, particularly in the realm of dating and romance, with consequences much more negative and longer-lasting than becoming hangry from skipping a meal.
I don’t know if you have ever had something like this in your own life: aspects of yourself or your behavior that can generally get swept under the rug, that aren’t big, bad diagnoses, but never the less, impair your ability to live a happy and fulfilling life.
When I was a teenager I decided I wanted to pursue a career in which I could help people who were physically and mentally healthy become even healthier and thrive more in their life. At the time I didn’t know about positive psychology, for if I did, after completing my BA in psychology, I likely would have gone on to get a doctorate in it.
Today I look back at my college application essay in which I wrote about my desire to help people with my passion for health and science. Fifteen years later, along with being a registered dietitian nutritionist, here I am, striving to bring awareness to mental health issues that got overlooked in my own life, in the hope that it will help shed light on others with related challenges.