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How Many People With Executive Dysfunction Does It Take to Screw In a Light Bulb?

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It’s a classic joke format with which you’re likely familiar. Sure, it’s often used in derogatory ways, but in this case I’d love you to read between the lines. The answer may not be what you expect.

How many people with executive dysfunction does it take to screw in a light bulb?

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Let’s first talk about executive dysfunction. It’s been on my mind a lot recently; executive dysfunction is often a symptom of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in addition to:

That’s because executive dysfunction represents a number of behaviors in two main categories: organization and regulation. Planning and executing tasks, for example, may feel overwhelming. It may be difficult to remember to pick up something at the store or find it difficult to control impulses.

Or, it may be difficult to remember to buy a light bulb, buy or borrow a stepladder, or may feel overwhelming to even go about the business of changing a light bulb in the first place.

Yes, I’m speaking from personal experience.

The house I live in has a number of spotlights on the ceiling of our downstairs rooms, namely a large living room and a combined kitchen and large dining area. All-in-all, that’s about 16 spotlights which are the main source of illumination for the downstairs rooms.

At the moment, only about three are working. Another is threatening to stop working any day now.

Even though I would never judge someone else for this, I feel so ashamed that I haven’t just borrowed my neighbor’s stepladder, found out what light bulb I need to purchase, go to the store, purchase the right ones, and replace them all so that my partner and I are no longer forced to live in gloom and darkness. It’s been a while, too. Over the course of a few years, they’ve gone out one by one. We mostly use lamps, now, and while this isn’t the worst thing in the world, it’s certainly an inconvenience when I could just flick on the darn lights if they were working correctly.

It’s taken a while to realize that executive dysfunction is likely to blame. I struggle with it in a number of areas in my life, from finances to household chores. I’ve yet to find a good way to manage it, though a number of solutions exist: cognitive behavioral therapy for example, or using lists to plan and execute tasks. It’s frustrating, too. I know that it would (or “should”) just be easier to change the light bulbs, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. Why? I don’t know. Well… I do. It’s executive dysfunction.

It’s not the only “easy” household task that needs completing but I struggle to get started. One of our doors needs repairing. I need to tidy the cables behind my computer. The bookcases could use a dusting. The list goes on, extending to my car, my website, my ambitions, and so on.

The reason I wanted to write this article is that I know there are other people out there struggling in exactly the same way, and contrary to the headline I chose for this story, it’s not a joke. It’s a very real way that mental illness causes us to struggle with tasks that neurotypical people may not think about twice. To other people, they may change the light bulb as soon as it stops working. For you and I, we continue living in the dark because somehow, that’s easier than just getting the job done.

So, how many people with executive dysfunction does it take to screw in a light bulb? Definitely more than one; two, maybe, so that someone can keep you accountable for the tasks you don’t want to do. My partner has executive dysfunction too, though, so together we definitely need some extra help in getting things done. There’s no easy answer to how many people it takes, but I know I can’t quite do this alone.

Getty Images photo via Halfpoint

Originally published: August 18, 2022
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