Saturday, November 21, 2009

TV makes you ADHD

If TV and modern lightning-speed editing make people ADHD, then what the hell am I?

I understand that when people say things like that, there may be some truth to the assertion that modern kids, and modern audiences are getting less practice at disciplining their attention spans. I ABSOLUTELY see that there could be truth to that. I absolutely see that it is easy to overdiagnose ADHD. Absolutely. But we were a family that for a while didn't even have a television. We also NEVER went to movies (probably because neither of my parents can sit through them, haha). Both of my parents grew up in rural areas where kids self-entertained for hours, and as much as possible that is what our life was like when I was little, just in a more urban place.

When I was little, I would READ for HOURRRSSS. I would play and invent games, and even play alone...I would ride my bike, and color and draw, and play with dolls. I loved swimming. I loved listening to music in my room and dancing. And I loved, loved, loved, activities that involved crazy amounts of detail and precision and focus. Hyperfocus...if you will. In fact, I was the Queen of Hyperfocus. I would get so absorbed in reading or play or whatever, for so long and with such intensity that I did not want to stop to eat, or go to the bathroom, to the point where I would only notice because I felt sick. Sometimes the only thing I would stop for was following my mother around for hours and hours and hours, snapping my fingers incessantly and talkingtalkingtalking until she couldn't stand it anymore.

We did not rely on "quick" entertainment. We all had our own hobbies and activities, and there was actually a LOT of quiet in our house, especially on the weekends. I was given tons of time to form my own thoughts, and opinions in my head and through my activities. And I always had plenty of things to keep me entertained at home. I read novels, while my peers were watching cartoons.

The second I left the house it was another story. Kids talked about video games and tv shows and movies that even now I can't believe that anyone would let a child watch. They talked about being "bored", a concept I had no real grasp of. They honestly, a lot of the time, talked about things that didn't interest me even though it seemed to me that they should, and this created a lot of confusion. My friends would ask what I did on the weekend and I would say "my parents made soup and then I rode my bike and we all read the newspaper".

School was dull and confusing. I felt like I was being pulled in a bunch of directions all day, few of which interested me, and would spend the day in fear of "getting in trouble" because I knew I wasn't doing what I was supposed to do, but didn't know how to "do" whatever it was I was supposed to do. If things did interest me, they were over too quickly, and the movement from one activity to another all day was weird. But isn't that the definition of ADHD? Inability to regulate attention? When you can't regulate your attention well, and the scenery constantly shifts...this cannot be a good combo. The overhead lights bothered me all day and the kids didn't make sense, even though I thought they were funny and terrifying. Teachers were always confused about why I seemed to understand things, but couldn't keep up on the in class assignments at all (as reflected in my report cards). I rarely got in trouble because I wasn't disruptive, but even as a child I didn't quite understand why I would have so much trouble doing the assignments, but they would send me to the next grade anyway. It made me feel like I was getting away with something, and that I was faking something.

At home I would wrap my teeth as they fell out in little tissues and keep them in a little box, but at school I truly couldn't figure out how to keep my desk organized, and it was really embarrassing. As I got older it was messy notebooks, messy lockers, messy bedrooms. At home I would make lists and lists and lists of names and places and things that I obsessed over and labeled and organized and categorized, but at school, I was the girl with the fruit flies hatching in her desk.

All this time, I lived a life that had little to do with TV, or movies, or quick fix entertainment.

So...just sayin'.

Friday, November 20, 2009

1000 widget focus, meet 1000 widget fortress...

Treating my ADHD has given me appreciation for cool things like CLOSED DOORS, not answering emails unless I have the time, and ignoring phone calls when I'm trying to get things done. It has also given me the ability to say NO. Unfortunately right now that puts me in conflict with pretty much everything and everyone in my life. And I can't tell you, you know honestly, it's totally fucking crazymaking. I now that this is all normal "transition", but I'm fucking sick of it and it's fucking pissing me off.

There, I said it. And I just want shit to quit pulling me in 15 directions. And I will do whatever I have to do, to make that happen, even if it means ignoring situations that just plain "can't hear" my "no".

I could go on and on about all the awesome, proactive things I'm going to have to do to make this situation suck less...but I actually have too much shit to do right now! Closing office door. Sent boss for lunch.

Ignoring phone. Praying for four more hours in day.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Do ruminants ruminate?

When a normally anxious person gets a whole new life, thanks to medication, that is free of anxiety, this opens up whole new adventures in the brain, and whole new relationships to emotions.

This mind used to latch onto all kinds of ridiculous things that I really didn't care that much about, just to keep moving. Or rather, just to keep busy while moving too quickly. When you have anxiety slathered all over your ADHD, or ADHD slathered all over your anxiety. it is likely that you will anxiously roll the same anxious thought-garbage around in your head all day long in a desperate quest for either quiet or stillness, neither of which seems to hold still long enough to be grabbed.

My quieter, calmer mind observes this phenomenon with great (calm) interest. It's not an all day affair anymore. When it happens it's very distinct and noticeable. And even a little annoying (to myself, and okay, sometimes to others too...especially when I would get stuck "thinking out loud").

The subjects of the thoughts is not the element of's the rumination and the perpetual motion. The constant rolling of sharp-edged, agitating thoughts, in a desperate attempt to make them smoother. A quest to stifle Chinese water-torture on the "self" itself.

Watching this with interest today...did not take the anti-anxiety medication last night, out of a refill. It's not like I turn into some kind of anxiety ravaged maniac in the absence of medication. I just feel the edge creep back in...notice that it takes a little longer to let go of certain random thoughts...notice a fluttery feeling in my stomach...

Considering the stress of my life I'm really feeling pretty good and am actually a little relieved to know that even on the days when I take medication I still CAN feel stress in less intrusive ways. If I didn't have any feeling of stress right now I WOULD be seriously worried about my mental health! But...I'll be happy to get the refill and take it again and just take that edge away. I still marvel that lived so many years that way...

A Gift from ADHD Heaven

As previously posted, we lost our assistant here at the office, and while it was inevitable, it created some obvious difficulties, the largest of which being that I really don't have the time just now, to be two people in this office.

The Boss called a couple of mornings ago as I was turning on my brain and computer for the day and exclaimed "I FOUND A PERFECT ASSISTANT! PERFECT! SHE'S CALLING AT 10, BRING HER IN!".

We interviewed her and she indeed seems to be...a PERFECT fit. Only time will tell, but the biggest obstacle to hiring in this office is finding "the right personality" for the environment. There are a few major quirks existing in our office...two of which are me and the Boss, haha.

She's very comfortable with people, has a lot of waitressing experience (which weirdly is actually something that is a HUGE plus in this office, where between the clients and the coworkers you could go nuts if you can't think on your feet, multi-task and cope with people ranging from prosecutors to incarcerated convicts...lots of big personalities and...quite frankly...mental health issues!). Her grammar was also impeccable. Angels from heaven descend.

Somehow, don't remember how, we're talking this morning as I'm training her and it comes out that...dundundunnnnnnnn...she's an adult ADHDer too.


Some people would think that three ADHDers in one office (that would be ALL of us) things might get a little, mmmm, well, you know, ADHD-like in the "bad" stereotypical way. But honestly, as any adult ADHDer can attest to, we all have to work to develop some great coping skills to get away with getting through life on a daily basis. Plus she, like me, is "official" and diagnosed, and seems to have put thought into what methods work for her in terms of organizing. Even though her experience was not in "what we do" here at the office, she had a solid work record so she's clearly figured out some tricks. The Boss has his tricks, I have mine, she has hers...and at least in the case of me and the Boss, our tricks are complementary, and we both double check ourselves and each other...with a third pair of eyeballs on deck...she seems to have a really cooperative spirit too, and be interested in learning. My hopes are high; we'll see how this goes.

I cannot help but squeal a little about the fact that...she LOVES my checklists. I showed her the office daily task checklists...the new client checklists...and the others...she grabbed the daily task one right away and started writing notes for her day tomorrow on it.

We're turning into an accidental ADHD mecca!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A classic ADHDer adult moment...

So there I am last night at the local Chamber of Commerce's Citizen of the Year dinner, as a guest of a big company that is a terrific giver of support to the local arts community...

And I'm the only BRIGHT RED coat in a SEA OF BLACK SUITS. I'm very petite, have rather rock and roll hair, and while I was wearing "business gear" I had chosen to wear a new bright red dress overcoat...I am a business person, but my businesses are arts-centered after all, so I was dressed for my role...and there I was...

BRIGHT RED in a sea of tall men and women in authoritative black.

Made me chuckle ;)

Sunday, November 15, 2009 breakthrough imminent...

My therapist loves to comment on the weight/value of the fact that I was not diagnosed with ADHD until I was almost finished with a Master's degree. I know that she's trying to give me perspective on my accomplishments and for that, I'm grateful, but the thing, there's not always a "but" there just happens to be one here...the thing is, it's less remarkable to me, because I'm me, and I'm on the inside, and I lived it. It sucked sometimes, but I did it, so the implausability is outweighed, by the fact that I know it isn't impossible. Seems less remarkable to me somehow, knowing that well...I did it.

I had a very specific process that got me through grad school. I go to the first day of class and I look at each of the deadlines on that list and think about what each of them will require. I make a list of what they will require and then I attack it viciously, while I'm still in class. By the time I've left that first class, I have made a list of exactly how many journals articles I'm going to look up and I have outlined my final project with one first choice topic, and usually a backup topic just in case.

By the end of the first week I have created a little folder on my computer desktop that contains a big ol' wad of the articles I will need for the semester, and I have already considered turning in my second assignment early, having completed the first already. Once I have gotten to that stage, I am able to relax a tiny bit and then will typically deal with the deadlines as they come up. I already have the materials on hand though, which is usually the most consuming part for me, that gathering. I enjoy writing, so the written assignments are easily digested. The group work is harder for brain moves fast and patience is not my natural strong point. I put on a good face for my classmates, but I spend a lot of time behind the scenes getting really really frustrated with the pace of group work, and getting really frustrated because I have the experience that a lot of ADHDers have where you see the end-point and 15 routes to get to it before the rest of the class is on step you sit and wait...and maybe even have to deal with classmates telling you that you are wrong...until suddenly they "get" it and the project does get finished and the frustration is over.

When I was younger I would take people's comments to heart and thought that they actually meant something, and would internalize "oh, they're right, I'm wrong" and I would fade into the background of the assignment. I am less likely now to internalize that kind of criticism, and have found different ways to cut through it...turning the questions back on my classmates for example, that's a good one. Not in a jerky way but in an "oh well why don't you tell us what your idea is so we can consider it too" kind of way. Or I will push the group a little to decide on an overview, before going off on abstract tangents, and detailed logistical concerns...if we have an overview (which I rely on HEAVILY to get anything done) then I can relax and let them wax abstract until the cows return from practical thinking land to make them integrate things in a meaningful way.

So...I have my "ways of working" that allow me to succeed. If I get thrown off from that at all though...well in grad school life I haven't had that occur yet, until now.

As an undergrad and sooner...yeah. I was always the underperformer. I was always academically disappointing to myself, and others, and frustrating to teachers, who couldn't figure out what it was going to take to make me "focus" because that was identified over and over again as my "problem". And yet, nobody ever thought "ADHD?"...oh no, of course not. It's so much easier to torture people with assumed moral failings and persistent stereotypes. here I am right now, and after a great grad school run where I have been consistently, compulsively disciplined and superhumanly ON THE BALL for the first time in my life and on top of things and kicking I am floundering. I told myself over these past several months that I should not be motivating myself with fear...that was the only thing I had found that worked. And I had really internalized that whole "your grades mean something about your character" thing to a terrible degree that I struggle to get rid I didn't know how to let go of fear, and still succeed.

And then, on top of that, my medication trials were not smooth and unfortunately right at the beginning of the semester, right when I do ALL of my semester planning, I was literally unable to do so. I could not think clearly enough to even get to class or communicate well, never mind employ logic and planning to stay on track in class. Then my professors started asking questions and I checked in with my advisor to let her know what was going on...and my professors and my advisor were so open and understanding that it was a relief.

I just had to figure out how to DO this, without doing it that same way, with that same fear of failure motivating me, and my grades determining my character. I've been trying to figure this all out, while getting used to new meds, breaking up with my boyfriend, learning new things about myself, losing my assistant at work (so I have had to work more and my schedule is now revolving around work instead of school) and deal with weird pressure from some family about "my progress" and what they think it means...and having a few people in my near vicinity struggling with their own mental health issues and their struggles are crapping out all over in my direction, which takes energy to fend off. It's been completely insane, and the only positive nugget see in all of that happening at once is that at least I have been given a complex puzzle to solve while I'm trying out new skills. If my life was boring, perhaps it would take even longer to learn these same things. I am being forced to learn to deal with them all at once.

And I am and I have been so behind in school and still am, and I'm really worried about it...and I've been in this situation with school before, but before it was a result of my inability to organize, and inability to prioritize (hilariously, my antidote to this has been putting EVERYTHING at the top of the list, which is more effective, but still a total inability to prioritize, haha), and I would have too many balls in the air, all of which I chose, and my life seemed out of control and I would do crazy things. One time, and I did confess, and am still embarrassed to admit it, but I lied to a professor about why I couldn't turn in my final portfolio. Most of the time I would just pull an allnighter, do well enough to "pass" and tell myself that it didn't matter that much...even though it chewed at my self-esteem because I didn't know how to have a life that wasn't like that. I felt like because I was "smart" I should be able to sort everything out and that because I couldn't, there was something wrong with me (morally speaking, not chemical imbalance-wise).

I would be (always) on the verge of blowing it and either pull off a last minute success, or one of those projects where the professor says "well, here's an okay grade but if you'd spent more time on it, it would have been an A" or I'd just parely pass and tell myself I didn't care. Or...sometimes, I would just fail...I had no idea how to make a plan and sometimes no interest, and didn't know that other people had plans and didn't just do things by the seats of their pants, and occasionally when I actually would start a plan I would quit it because it was so boring...and I would get distracted...and suddenly I was in three plays, and working on another project, and partying and woring three jobs and...failing in school. Over and over and over and over and over.

I realized, as I am sitting here today trying to get "caught up"...that trying to catch up is its own obstacle, and it's an obstacle that I don't really know how to deal with. I have never know how to deal with it. Dealing with it has always meant failure...turning things in late never feels good, even if there should be at least the satisfaction of finishing. And I had the epiphany that...I need to do what I always do, but perhaps subtract the self-torture. I have been struggling to just jump into the fray of the online class discussions without going back and giving myself the framework, because I was trying to prove, to who I don't know, that I could just go with the flow and that would accomplish something...uh, no. That's what I used to do in the old-old days and it didn't work!

I'm finally hearing an important piece of what my therapist has been trying to tell me...don't throw the good out with the bad, don't throw the baby with the bathwater. Use the coping techniques that were WORKING and maybe try them with a new attitude. Oh. Ohhhhhh. Oh. So I guess she wasn't just saying "darn, you did great getting this far without a diagnosis" she is also saying "there must be a reason, you must have been doing something that worked". I guess because I'm having so many new feelings, I thought I had to have new coping techniques. And I do need to change some out or tweak them.

After all that explanation, the point I'm trying to get to is that I am sitting here making a plan. And not just a plan, but an even better plan than the notes I used to make on my syllabus. I am making a checklist, because I have discovered at work that I like those, because I check things off and it gives me a nice sense of accomplishment. A visual to support my achievement. I'll admit that right this second, the list is a little overwhelming, but I am starting to feel better because I have a "plan" and I can "see" it on paper in front of me, and I can start checking things off on it later tonight as I finish stuff.

But first...I need to go collect some articles...just like I always that I can read them and get some of the easier assignments checked off on my list, and start to feel even better...instead of just quitting, and wasting my energy on rationalizing another failure.