Category : ADHD

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.

Hang on for Adventure!

I’ve written about wanting to make my anxiety a superpower instead of a weakness. I’ve called my ADHD a superpower, a gift. There’s a reason for this, a method to my madness and a madness to my method.

Let’s travel back to when I was a little boy. I can’t remember when I started reading comic books (although I can remember some of the earliest comics I read), so I suppose I must have been reading them since I learned how to read (or to be more accurate, since I taught myself how to read, because I started down the literacy road on my own, driven by my parents’ annoyance at me constantly asking them to translate the written word for me). Few things touched me the way superhero comics did. They weren’t just stories, they were…gateways into worlds of infinite possibilities and secret instructions on how to be a good person in a world that is strange and confusing and unfair. Because of the writing and pictures of comics, I want to be a writer and artist when I grew up. But more than that…

More than that, I wanted to be a superhero when I grew up.

I meant this figuratively, obviously. I never really wanted to grow up to wear a mask and tights, fighting bank robbers and would-be world conquerors. But I also meant this literally. I wanted to live in a world that was mysterious and wonderful and weird, a world where I felt significant and powerful, a world where my talents and abilities were super-talents and super-abilities.

Not surprisingly, voicing this to other people got me teased. As an emotionally sensitive kid, the teasing hurt a lot, worse than a wasp sting, but it wasn’t anything I wasn’t dealing with because of my desire to write and draw (encouraged in grade school, much less so in middle and high school), and I knew in my gut that I’d get over it. Eventually, people who knew me just rolled their eyes, probably assuming it was “Josh being Josh,” nothing to be taken seriously. Except for my dad.

For whatever reason, my dad seemed to take what I said–everything I said–very seriously. If I made a self-deprecating joke about myself, he’d lecture me on how I was expressing some deep neurosis, a sign of how fucked up I was. My dad loved to tell me how fucked up I was (which was, according to him, the fault of both myself and my mother). When I voiced anything about wanting to be a superhero (which I did because I process my thoughts externally), my dad took this as a sign that I had a severe difficulty dealing with reality. Even when I reached adulthood, my dad felt it necessary to remind me that I lived in “the real world.” (When I said that when I got married someday, I wanted the wedding to involve acrobats and a magician, my dad angrily growled, “This isn’t one of your comic books!” Because I guess wanting to circus-up a wedding ceremony is a terrible, terrible thing that nobody in the “real world” would ever do.) (And for the record, I’ve never read a comic that had a wedding with acrobats and a magician.) The nicest reaction I ever got from my dad when expressing a desire for a superheroic world was a patronizing smile, a waggling of his fingers, and “coo-coo” noises, because when you think your son has a problem dealing with reality, mocking him as crazy should help, right?

(With all my dreaming-out-loud, it’s a wonder I never mentioned chaos magic to my dad, but in retrospect, I’m immensely glad I never did. I can only imagine what he would have made from “you can change the world by changing your brain” and “reality is what you can get away with.”)

For the record, I’ve been professionally diagnosed with anxiety, ADHD, and cyclothymia, but I’ve never been diagnosed as delusional. The only delusions my health professionals have needed to address are the typical “I suck and I’m completely unsuited for dealing with the world.” In fact, my therapist, a wonderfully enthusiastic and encouraging woman named Crystal, has used superheroes as a metaphor for how I could better accept who I am and use my gifts to help myself and the people around me.

That’s the thing, you see. I truly believe that superhero stories have a lot to teach us about how to accept who we are and how to use our gifts to make the world a better place. It’s not about wearing a mask and tights (although I encourage anyone who wants to to dress that way, because it’s a pretty cool look), it’s about living a life that’s deliberately colorful, weird, wonderful, mysterious, courageous, compassionate, and dramatic. It’s about living in a world bursting with possibility and significance, where anything and everything can point you towards acceptance and enlightenment, a world that isn’t depressing and doomed because each and every one of us has the ability to save the world and make it a better, happier place.

In the first two seasons of The Flash (a TV show I personally find very inspiring), the season-long conflicts with the Big Bads have always boiled down to “Barry Allen has the physical power to defeat his foes, even if they appear to be superior to him, but what he lacks is the confidence in his own abilities and will.” Which is my biggest problem. I need to conquer the feeling of “I suck and I’m completely unsuited for dealing with the world.” I have the abilities, I have the powers. Energy is my gift.

So when I write about ADHD and anxiety being superpowers, this is me reclaiming my desire to be a superhero from my father and the people who teased me. This isn’t a delusion, this isn’t an inability to deal with the real world, this is accepting that stories are meaningful and instructive, that the darkness in the world isn’t stronger than I am, that I am powerful and good, that reality is what I can get away with. This is me refusing to let others shame and mock me into compliance. This is me tired of living a double life, taking off the mask of conformity and showing the world who I really am: caring and hopeful, creative and imaginative, energetic and mercurial.

Energy Is My Gift

I was formally diagnosed with ADHD four years ago, but I’ve shown symptoms all my life. I was the daydreamer who would lose myself in things I was drawn to and fascinated by, but found it near-impossible to focus on and complete things I was bored or frustrated by. I wasn’t hyperactive in the sense of being in motion nonstop (which is what most people associate with ADHD), but I’ve always been teased for my nonstop, rapid-fire speech that jumped from topic to topic. (As one friend in college would say to me, “You’ve gone nonlinear again.”) By the time I was diagnosed, my blood pressure was high enough that my doctor couldn’t prescribe the usual ADHD meds, and I decided that even if she could, I didn’t want them. I’d grown to like the way my brain could quickly move from one thing to another, lightning-fast and nonlinear. I liked my ability to wander through dreams while awake. Energy is my gift. Imagination is my gift. The problem wasn’t me, the problem was the lack of support I’d gotten all my life from people who didn’t understand or accept the way my brain worked. Neurodiversity FTW!

Except…okay, I’ll fess up, it’s sometimes frustrating to have an ADHD brain. Being particularly sensitive to bright lights and loud noises, being highly emotionally sensitive, walking into a room and forgetting why I went in there, those aren’t fun all the time. Also, there’s a pretty high amount of comorbitity with ADHD and other mental health problems, particularly anxiety disorders. Anxiety is all kinds of not fun. (Bipolar disorder is also not much fun, but that’s a different story for a different time.)

However, I’ve recently started noticing something interesting. Sometimes my anxiety is that skincrawling fear that I’ve talked about, while other times, when I’ve taken an inventory of my physical sensations and mental feelings, it’s not so much fear as it is a build-up of energy that I don’t know how to expel. I wasn’t feeling nervous and afraid, I was feeling fidgety and annoyed and angry. I’ve begun to suspect that this isn’t always an anxiety disorder thing. Sometimes this is an ADHD hyperactivity thing. After growing up being consistently scolded for exhibiting behaviors that are indicative of ADHD, doing my best to hide them and fight them, I don’t have a repertoire of ways to deal with a build-up of energy, anxious or otherwise. This is something I need to work on.

Whether my energy is focused towards wanting to act out in ways I’ve trained myself not to do (even though those ways are essentially harmless) or it’s focused towards the uncertainty, fear, insecurity, and dread of anxiety, I need to remind myself that my energy is a feature, not a bug. A strength, not a weakness. A gift, not a curse. There’s a lot of accumulated negative self-talk, a mess of bad code, scrambled up in my head. That stuff needs to be hacked, rewritten and redirected.

10 CLS
30 GOTO 20
40 END


I went to Planet Comicon this past weekend. I had a great time overall, but there were, as always, some physical and mental issues that I had to deal with. Since I’ve been paying much more attention lately to how I deal with my environment, examining why I feel the way I do at certain times and what could be triggering me, I made some notes:

  • One of the defining characteristics of ADHD is heightened sensitivity, both physically and emotionally. When there’s a lot of sensory input coming in, like lots of different conversations buzzing around, music, announcements, bright lights, flashing lights, and so on and so forth, it’s easy for me to become overstimulated and overwhelmed. One way I dealt with this was to not have too many plans at the convention. It wasn’t anything I purposefully set out to do, but when I got there, I just wandered around, letting myself be distracted and drawn to whatever was the shiniest, basically drifting on a sea of sound and vision. And it was fun! Even when I made plans to meet up with friends, I left the plans vague enough that I didn’t feel pressured to try to focus on one thing or another for too long (or to be at a certain place at a certain time, because that’s a stressy buzzkill).
  • On the downside, the convention hall was consistently hot. I don’t do well in heat. Never have. I shed and adjusted some of the layers I arrived in, but I never really got comfortable, feeling flushed and sweating and sluggish almost the entire time. This hit at my emotional sensitivity, making me tired and cranky, which in turn cranked up my anxiety and the feeling of being overwhelmed. As the day went on, I felt more and more drained, even when I was enjoying myself.Planet Comicon, motherfuckers!
  • As an extrovert, I need interaction with people to energize myself. This can be an uneven affair when I go somewhere alone, like I did to the con. Social anxiety means it’s not always easy for me to strike up conversations with strangers, and being in a sea of strangers can be really, really overwhelming. I connected with some friends at points during the con, and chatting with them, joking around, getting handshakes and hugs, that all helped dial the anxiety down and even helped me block out some of the overwhelming sensory input.
  • However, being at the con alone meant I had too-long stretches of time with no one to talk to or have physical contact with. I think that was a big mistake. I’d do much better having at least one companion to interact with and touch.
  • Touch can be a funny thing. Physical contact with people is very comforting for me–unless I’m physically uncomfortable, when it can be jarring. Being overheated in the convention hall meant there were a number of times when I didn’t want to touch anyone or anything. Which, again, dialed the anxiety up. (Also, if I’m not sure if physical contact is welcome, I feel nervous and insecure and afraid to touch people, which, yup, dials the anxiety up.)

If I were going to do it all over again, I think only a couple of changes would have made a big difference:

  • Wearing just a T-shirt and shorts (instead of the jeans, button-down shirt, and bow tie I wore) would have kept me cooler, enough that I wouldn’t have felt so uncomfortable, cranky, drained, anxious. I would rather dress up (I don’t really do cosplay, but I do like to look dapper).
  • Bringing a companion/plus-one along, or going with a group of friends, would have kept me more anchored and energized, less lonely and anxious.

Being attentive to my state of being and my surroundings, and running this self-diagnostic after the fact, was very helpful in getting better at living well with ADHD (and, yes, anxiety). As Stan Lee would say, Excelsior!