Category : ADHD

Rewriting the Story, Part 1

As much of an optimist as I am, I still think the power of positive thinking is kind of bullshit. You can’t wish your brain chemistry to work better any more than you can wish arthritis or diabetes away. A lot of “power of positive thinking” writing is, frankly, obnoxiously vague pablum. Yes, sure, we create reality with our minds. But if your brain isn’t giving you the right chemicals at the right time, your reality is going to be at least a little warped.

At the same time, based on experience, I think positive thinking can be pretty powerful. Depression and anxiety are a combination (often a potent one, like a Long Island Iced Tea) of brain chemistry and psychological issues that have built up over your lifetime. Depression, anxiety, OCD, BPD, these frequently need some kind of medication to help adjust wonky brain chemistry, but I truly don’t think you can deal with mental health through medication alone. So I embrace the paradox of positive thinking being both a powerful tool and a big bottle of snake oil. Bottom line: use whatever tools work.

For example:

Driving home from work the other day, I got distracted for a few seconds by something on the side of the road (that something being the “Amusing Breeze” sculpture) (it’s fun and cute, right?) and when my eyes went back to the road, I saw the cars in front of me had slowed to a near stop, while I was still heading towards them at around 40 m.p.h. I slammed on my brakes and screeched to a stop with an inch or two between me and the car in front of me. All of the books and CDs in the passenger seat at my side went flying onto the floor. Traffic started moving again, and as I continued my drive home, my anxiety dial was turned up to at least a 9. I mentally berated myself, cursing my easily distracted ADHD brain, “Stupid, Neff! Really, really stupid!”

But wait a minute! Stop the presses! Yes, I should keep my eyes on the road at all times. Yes, I should give my full attention to the cars around me, ignoring the whimsical art on the side of the road. And yet, was anyone hurt by my sudden stop? Nope. Did I actually hit anything or anyone? Nuh uh. I thought about it some more (while also paying attention to my driving, because I can multitask when I need to) and decided that instead of following a narrative that tells what a fuck-up I am, the story should be about how my ADHD brain gives me quick wits and reflexes, allowing me to respond instantly to my situation, keeping me from getting into an accident.

My anxiety and depression are so tied up with my life with ADHD, it can be easy to turn my perspective over to them, seeing myself as a bundle of all the negative traits myself and others have pinned on me. And while it’s true that I’m not always perfect, I rarely make the kinds of catastrophic mistakes that cause serious harm, that can’t be rectified, that undo the world around me. Depression and anxiety are lying motherfuckers, and even if I need the help of medication to fight their lies, that doesn’t make me more broken, more rotten, more of a loser than anyone else. This is exactly where positive thinking, reframing my reality, rewriting my story is helpful.

To be continued…

Get Up and Go

I noticed something a few years ago (before I was diagnosed with ADHD). When I got to work, I would be full of energy and determination to Get Things Done as I walked from my car to the building and on to my desk. As soon as I sat down at my computer and began checking emails, I lost all of my energy and drive, slumping into lethargy, apathetic to whatever projects I was working on. It was then that I first asked for a standing desk, figuring I could keep my energy going if I just kept standing. It took a while before I finally got to work consistently at a standing desk and it’s just what I suspected: it’s easier for me to keep my enthusiasm going when I don’t tumble into a chair as soon as I get to work.

This is great for my job, but what about the rest of the time?

My combo alarm (part phone alarm, part cat bugging me for his breakfast) went off yesterday morning and because I’d gotten a good night’s sleep (which isn’t typical for a Sunday night), I woke up easily and had pep in my step as I walked to the kitchen to get Oberon his food. Then I sat down at my laptop and felt all of my pep dissipate, like soda pop losing its fizz. I was so unenthused to do much of anything that after checking my email and social media sites, I moved to the sofa, Oberon curled up in my lap, and I suddenly realized I didn’t give a fuck about doing anything. Instant torpor and boredom. It took everything I had to get up and get myself out the door to go to work.

I have no interest in being driven to succeed. I have no interest in rushing through life, worried about productivity. (A family member once said to me, “They say there are Type A people and Type B people. You must be Extreme Type B.”) But I’m also tired of moving slow and losing what energy I have, what enthusiasm I have to do things I really, really want to do.

I know I need to exercise, or “actively meditate” if one prefers (and I kind of do). It seems clear that this “active meditation” should start right after I get out of bed. Feeding my cat is a pretty mild, easy form of active meditation (so decrees Oberon, King o’ the Cats!). I’m looking into yoga and tai chi as other forms of active meditation. I would look into walking outside if it weren’t so disgustingly hot and humid and sunny here. Getting a standing desk for home? Also something of a priority.

I can’t be active all the time. Everybody needs time to rest. But it’s becoming clearer and clearer that my brain works better when I’m not sitting still and I need to jump on that. Figuratively AND literally.

Dream Into Action

I’ve been feeling like I’m in a rut lately. The good thing is, I’m getting set to make some pretty big changes in my life. But at the same time, I’m worried that I’ll just jump into a different rut. I wish wish wish I was confident in who I am, where I’ve been, and where I’m going. But I’m not. I’m marbled with insecurities and doubts. And so…

My “not really a plan, but plan-adjacent” move to Milwaukee has now graduated to actual plan status. Which means I’m now actively looking for a new job in a different, distant place. This helps explain my current anxiety, because looking for a job gives me even more anxiety than having a job. And yes, having a job makes me anxious, because I’m pretty much always convinced I’m one bad day away from being fired, or at least getting in trouble for sucking at my job.

If I were to make a Venn diagram of my applying for and keeping jobs, the Things I’m Good At And Enjoy Doing circle and the Jobs I Can Get circle wouldn’t even touch. I’m not saying they can’t objectively overlap, in fact I live in hope that they will and they do, I just don’t have much confidence in ever having a job where I’m doing things I love and am great at, where I don’t get bored to the point of distraction. With ADHD, it’s easy to get bored and easy to get distracted, ignoring things I should be doing in favor of things I want to be doing. And then I start to worry that I’m going to get in trouble, like when I was in school and I would blow off my schoolwork to write and draw comics.

I know, I know, any job, every job, can get boring at times. That’s why it’s called “work” and not “nap time, followed by juice and cookies and a story about a purple elephant named Eric.” But when I’m doing things I really love to do, I either don’t get bored (that’s called “hyperfocus,” and it can make people think those of us with ADHD don’t really have a problem with attention) (we do, just not when we’re doing something that’s consistently pinging our “interest” button) or if I do, I can easily switch to doing something else I love. I haven’t had a paying job yet that allows for that. Or…maybe I have had jobs where I could, maybe my current job is one where I could, but advocating for myself–after a lifetime of feeling a like an underachieving slacker, of being told over and over again that I need to apply myself more, work harder, pay attention–well, advocating for myself does not come easy.

(I should note that I have been told a number of times that I’m doing well at my current job, and I’ve been told to speak up and ask for changes if I think I need them. Which is amazing, because I’ve never had that happen in a job before. And still, the anxiety of getting in trouble persists. I’m streaked with insecurities and doubts. And so…)

It’s scary to ask for what I want. What if what I want isn’t a real job? Or it’s a job I don’t have the professional and/or educational qualifications for? Or it doesn’t pay enough for me to live on? How do I even find jobs like that? Are there listings for Jobs For Disorganized Dreamers? All of these worries make even figuring out what I want, what I really, really want, difficult and a potential trigger for depression. And all of these worries make the idea of declaring what I want, asking for what I want, difficult and anxiety-triggering. Which, you know, good times.

But I’m working on it. I’m brainstorming and free-associating ideas. I’m posing myself the questions, “What if there are no limits to the kind of jobs I could have? What if none of my answers are wrong answers?” I’m doing my best to shut out the voices that say I have to look for and apply for certain types of jobs in a certain way (even if I don’t know many ways to look for jobs because I’ve only ever done it the way people told me to) and I’m doing my best to shut up my inner critic that tells me I can’t do this (which ain’t easy, because that demon bastard has been with me for a long, long time and knows the best ways to get to me). I’m being very selective about who I ask for help on this because, frankly, I’ve had too many experiences of people trying to help me and doing it in all the wrong ways. I’m scared and I’m excited. I may be riddled with insecurities and doubts, but I’m also bursting with energy and potential.

And so…

Panic! in the Brainpan

I don’t know if other ADHD people get this, but I suspect I’m not alone here. It goes like this:

I’m asked to do something for school or work, something I’ve never done before but also something that shouldn’t be too difficult to complete. But…I get distracted, I forget about it, and then the deadline is either breathing right down my neck or it breathed and flew on by and now I’m late in getting this thing done. Fuuuuuck! I scramble to get this should-be-simple task started and finished–I can do this, right? They asked me to do it, so how hard can it be?–when my brain suddenly goes all kablooey, shattering and scattering in 23 different directions. I can’t focus on where or how to start, I can’t think of where to look for information on it or who to ask for help with the task, I can’t do much of anything besides looking around like a squirrel in the middle of a road.

Oh, and panic, of course. There’s always panic.

As I’ve written about before, growing up ADHD included a lot of negative feedback, scolding and punishment, because I didn’t and couldn’t always do things the way I was expected to do, including finishing things I’d started or starting things I’d been asked to do. Scraping those psychological barnacles off, getting over the fear of fucking everything up, it isn’t an easy job. I’m working on it, but when my instinct is to slam my own panic button when faced with not finishing an assignment, neatly wrapping it all up in a bow, well, y’know, old habits and instincts die hard. Welcome to the anxiety party, pal!

Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. Energy is my gift! Hang the blessed DJ! Lather, rinse, repeat. And sooner or later, I’ll have rewashed my own brain. But in the meantime, I’ll still have some freakouts in the ADHD discotheque of my head.

Up and at ‘Em

I’ve been meditating for years. Not consistently, mind you. I always intend to do it consistently, but for one reason or another it always ends up being a sporadic thing. If there’s one thing I’m consistent at, it’s being sporadic.

I know there are physiological reasons why meditation can help with depression and anxiety, and it just plain feels good to do it regularly. But I got to thinking recently that for someone with ADHD, sitting still for long periods of time may be, in a certain sense, fighting against the tide instead of surfing it. I wondered if perhaps a more active form of meditation would work better for me. And then it dawned on me: “active meditation” is a way of describing physical exercise.

Here’s a thing: in the past 10 years, I’ve put on about 50 pounds. Every time I see my doctor, I’ve put on another pound or two. I’m not close to being morbidly obese and I know that weight is not equal to health. Still, I’d like to lose a little weight, if only for my self-esteem (that weird, fragile thing that sits on my shoulder and whispers things good and bad into my ear), and I’m very clearly out of shape.

So I need to exercise regularly. As much as my lazy, sofa-loving, PE-hating self would like to deny it, if I want to lower my slightly-too-high blood pressure, decrease my expanding belly and chin, not get out of breath walking up a flight of stairs, and develop a meditation that uses the gift of my energy, I need to exercise regularly.

I should mention that after I spent a day walking all over the convention center at Planet Comicon, my muscles were sore for a few days…but in a way that felt good. Which encourages me to get into a regular exercise routine. But there are some psychological issues that are putting up barriers to exercising.

Mostly, it’s kind of a social anxiety thing. I feel very, very self-conscious and uncomfortable exercising where other people can see me. The thought of going to a gym terrifies me, even if accompanied by a friend. Even the thought of going for a walk around my neighborhood makes me feel weird enough that I find it terribly hard to motivate myself to get up off of my ass and move. I’ve done some yoga before, but I can’t afford to take actual yoga classes and, again, the thought of doing it around other people makes me uncomfortable.

I don’t want to let my anxiety and neurosis stop me from exercising when I know–I know–that it’s good for me and will make me feel better in a bunch of different ways. But I also don’t want to push myself so hard that it colors the exercise experience a dismal grey. It’s just too easy to give up, so I need to find a way to get exercise that’s comfortable and fun and makes me want to stick with it.