Sunday, 31 July 2011
Mayhaps you desire to — SQUIRREL!
Continuing the 2011 theme of Get Your Shit Together, Heather, I attended an ADHD workshop last weekend. I was diagnosed with ADHD when I was five, and to my parents credit they forewent Ritalin for my tiny body and decided to try some other techniques to help me cope. In the ‘80s, of course, there was no Google, but the guidance counselor gave them a pamphlet called DEALING WITH DIFFICULT CHILDREN, and page one suggested sports to help exhaust a difficult child’s body and calm her mind.
Getting me into athletics was the best decision my parents ever made. Sports are the only thing in my life I’ve ever been naturally good at. Playing them gave me confidence. And a reason to pass my classes. And, yeah, it kept my mind in better check than it would have been running willy-nilly, wild and free.
In my adult life, once Google was available, I developed an ADHD action plan and went on Ritilan. Over the course of a decade, I was as stable as stable can be, ADHD-wise. I mean, there were things that I struggled with: drifting off into elaborate daydreams, losing important stuff, not being able to focus without complete silence or white noise, and generally being super unorganized. But lassoing my brain was a lot easier. The problem with Ritilan was that it clouded my creativity. On it, I could have one creative idea a week, and tackle that creative idea to completion. Off it -- I accidentally discovered -- I could have a million creative ideas a day.
Actually, honestly, off of Ritilan, there was no limit to my creativity. Reading, writing, photography, Photoshopping, painting, drawing: I couldn’t be stopped. I wasn’t a professional or anything, but I knew I had the capacity to be competent at ALL of those things if I just worked really hard at it. So, after talking it over with Amy and my sister, I came off the Ritilan to try to really tap into the non-accounting part of my brain.
I had a plan in place to keep myself from going on some kind of manic overload, and the plan worked. I had an 8 to 5 job. I had standing exercise, education and social plans. My life was clockwork, and part of that clockwork was my writing time. I wrote for a certain number of hours a day, and got better and better and better at it; and then one day, like magic, I got offered a gig writing. And that gig turned into more gigs which turned into more gigs which turned into more gigs. Before I realized what was happening, I was writing full time.
And that’s when my ADHD started going haywire.
I wasn’t prepared, in any way, to become a full-time writer. I wasn’t qualified, skill-wise. I had no idea that actual writing is only about 35 percent of being a full-time writer. I didn’t realize how much time would go into marketing myself and building my brand and interacting on social media and all that stuff that’s kind of necessary in the new world order. I didn’t know how much time I’d spend photo editing and researching and pitching and getting the shit kicked out of me by readers and networking and responding to emails and all that other time-chomping stuff. And, of course, I didn’t know it was going to make my ADHD go berzerk.
Things that are so simple for normal people -- returning phone calls, putting keys on the key hook, transferring clothes from the hamper to the washing machine, focusing without a box fan nearby, mailing birthday cards on time, remembering to eat -- have always been tough for me. But after I started writing full-time, they became fucking impossible.
The act of writing is so satisfying to me that it makes my internal dopamine production go absolutely batshit crazy. So it was just full-on: idea! create! dopamine! idea! create! dopamine! idea! create! dopamine! idea! create! dopamine! for who knows how many hours a day, for who knows how many days a month. It was pretty much constant, and pretty much an addiction.
Living with ADHD is tricky, but having a relationship with someone with ADHD -- especially when it is unchecked like mine has been for the past three years -- is infuriating. My parents used to exhaust themselves insisting that I just needed to try harder. Try harder not to lose my shit. Try harder to keep my room clean. Try harder to get places on time. Try harder to do my damn homework. It was worse, I think, because I didn’t have trouble with certain parts of those problems. I never lost my favorite books. I was never late to basketball practice. I never missed a history assignment. It was like, you know, “You only remember the things you care about remembering!” But that wasn’t true. I earnestly agreed that I needed to/would try harder, but no matter how hard I tried to try harder, I just couldn’t be better at those things.
I think that’s probably what it’s like to love someone with unchecked ADHD, too. Try harder to remember our anniversary. Try harder to return my emails. Try harder not to get so fucking hyper-focused on your career that everything else becomes peripheral or invisible. It’s like, “If you loved me, you’d do this and this and this.” And I’m like, “Well, that can’t be true, because I don’t do that and that and that, and I can feel in my heart how deeply I love you.” And it’s just like when I was in high school: I want to do that and that and that, but no matter how hard I try, I can’t try hard enough to make it happen.
I think, deep down inside, I really have always thought -- maybe because I’ve heard it so much -- that it was an issue of me not caring enough. But it’s not. It’s just not.
Here’s what I’ve learned as I’ve started trying to solve some of my ADHD conundrums: I -- I, not my online persona -- am very loved by very many people. People who are willing to give me more grace and space than I could ever hope to deserve. It’s shocking, kind of. And freeing too. And I’ve also learned that I’m capable of managing this thing. I’m always going to struggle. I’m always going to daydream. I’m always going to mail Christmas presents late. I’m always going to lose my phone, my keys, my debit card. I'm always going to get sidetracked on Twitter instead of responding to texts. I'm always going to let myself get swallowed up by my own imagination.
But I can own that and not let my ADHD own me.
I’m gonna make it as a writer. And I’m gonna make it as a friend. And one day, I’m gonna throw a Hogwarts-themed party where those two things collide: My book and my best mates, thriving in the same space.
Of course it's happening inside my head, but why on earth should it mean that it is not real?
Posted by Heather Anne Hogan at 11:05 pm