The Spicy Sandwich Challenge
May I offer you a bite of what it's like to be part of the neurodivergent sandwich generation and the not-so-palatable challenges we face.
In this blog, I'm exploring what it feels like to try and navigate conditions like ADHD, autism, and dyslexia whilst also carrying the responsibility of caring for others and sharing some tips that will help manage overwhelm with All The Things.
The term “Sandwich Generation” was originally coined in 1981 by Dorothy Miller and Elaine Brody in 1981 to refer to women in their 30s – 40s (loosely) who as well as caring for young children, were also increasingly meeting the needs of friends, older family members, employers and perhaps other responsibilities such as volunteering etc and so were “sandwiched” between multiple layers of responsibility. (source)
Whilst it isn’t a new term, over the turmoil of the past few years, this group of women, many of whom would also be either on the fringes or deep into peri/menopause have never been more squeezed.
This alone can be a stressful and overwhelming experience for anyone, but especially so for those who also have late-diagnosed ASD or ADHD, it can be even more challenging.
For many late-diagnosed individuals (myself included), the realisation that they have autism or ADHD can be a huge relief. It can help explain many of the difficulties they have experienced throughout their lives and give them the tools and support they need to better manage their condition.
However, rediscovering who you are later in life whilst learning to manage in a world built for neurotypicals AND keeping on top of life in general - exhausting.
It’s no wonder that we have gotten so used to being squeezed from every direction, we’ve become acclimated to our nervous systems constantly being activated and the exhaustion this active state brings.
All this is to say that if you are a woman aged 30 – 50 with multiple caring responsibilities, a job or business to focus on and you are neurodivergent – it's time to stop trying to be all the things to all the people all the time, and start focusing on YOU - your needs, your wants and your wellbeing.
Stop gaslighting yourself that life should be easy, or that you are the one getting it wrong somehow whilst everyone else is thriving.
To be honest, we're all out here herding cats whilst running on empty.
The problem is the systems we live and work in - not you.
Your job here is one of creating a set of practices that are going to support you navigate the many challenges of life in recognition that life is not easy.
So, these may seem like simple, obvious tips, but sometimes we need a reminder to come back to what is simple and obvious when everything else continues to be so damn complicated.
1. Prioritise self-care: Taking care of yourself is essential to managing the stress that comes with being a member of the sandwich generation.
Prompt - How can you make time each day to do something that supports you to feel rested/energised/connected?
Tip - Create a pick and mix of self-care activities you enjoy that range from 5-10 minutes to a full day so you always have some inspiration
2. Seek connection: Reach out to friends, family, or support groups for help and support. Joining a support group of individuals with similar experiences can be particularly helpful, as it provides a safe and understanding environment to discuss challenges and find solutions.
Prompt - What things are you currently experiencing in life that is very likely to also be experienced by others and how would you benefit by reaching out for support?
Tip - Create a strawberry friend list (inspired by Unmasking Autism by Dr Devon Price). This is a list of the people who make you feel most supported and validated just as you are. Add a 🍓 to their name on your phone as a reminder to respond to their messages and engage with them often.
3. Be organised: Creating a routine and structure can help individuals manage their day-to-day responsibilities. This might include creating a to-do list, setting reminders, or breaking tasks down into smaller, more manageable chunks. Remember, if you are neurodivergent, you may need different tools and practices from what is usually recommended for neurotypical folks.
Prompt - What about the idea of routine feels attractive to you, and what creates resistance?
Tip - effective routine and structure may look different for you based on your neurotype - play and experiment with different tools, techniques and apps etc to see what works for you rather than trying to make what's usually recommended fit around your needs.
4. Advocate for yourself: It's important to feel confident in communicating your needs and accepting that meeting those needs may look like accepting outside help. Seek out resources to help you manage - this might include seeking out therapy, medication, or other forms of treatment that may help you feel more in control of life.
Prompt - When you are honest with yourself, where are you struggling to manage and keep on top of things? Who or what would help you feel more supported and in control?
Tip - Fear of being vulnerable can be a common blocker to reaching out and asking for help from others. If you are feeling resistance to seeking help, explore through journaling and self-enquiry what this resistance is protecting you from, and what that resistance needs to feel safe.
5. Practice gratitude: Focusing on the positives in life, such as the love and support of family and friends, can help you maintain a positive outlook and manage stress.
Prompt - What about your life do you appreciate? Who are you grateful for and why? What about yourself are you grateful for?
Tip - establish a nightly gratitude practice of answering these three questions as you prepare for sleep. Focusing on the who and what that is good in your life helps to amplify the positive impact of those benefits and supports you to better manage the not-so-positive.
6. Remember to have fun: Finding joy in life, even amidst the challenges of being a member of the sandwich generation (especially if you have a spicy mind!), can help you to fill up your cup, restore your creativity and bring some light to a life that may be feeling heavy.
Prompt - What did you do as a child that brought you joy? How can you bring more of that feeling into your life now?
Tip - Create a financial and time budget allocated to joy and pleasure - just for you. For example, you may decide to allocate £30 and half a day a month to go on a solo lunch date, or you may have £9 and 60 minutes a month to invest in joining something like my Dark Moon Club - a mini membership for monthly self-connection rituals for people who want to take care of themselves and commit to a regular self-care practice - but also believe they don’t have time for it.
If you're serious about getting your life into order and feeling less like you're stuck on a runaway train, you're going to have to get serious about putting yourself and your needs first. Remember, you are worthy of having your needs met. You are worthy of joy and rest. You are worthy of having more from life - whatever that looks like and means to you.
Even just for a moment, take away all the responsibilities you carry and bring your connection back to who you are and what you want. Start from there and see where your journey takes you. And if you'd like some company on that journey - I'd love to be there for you.