A few years ago, a psychologist suggested I’ve been dealing with generalized anxiety and depression throughout my life. A year ago, a therapist suggested I have ADHD. Both of these diagnoses explained a lot of what I’ve dealt with in my life. A lot of the time, I feel like this:
Other times, I feel more like this:
Both have been strong forces in my life.
I’ve had a pretty rough few weeks, and for much of the time, I’ve felt small, scared, and insecure about my ability to cope as an adult. My demons have been screaming in my head, repeating things I’ve been told all my life. “You’re immature and irresponsible!” “You spend too much time daydreaming!” “You’re unrealistic!” For a long time now I’ve felt broken, doing what I can to take myself apart and glue myself back together, new and improved. I’ve been trying to learn new habits, chastising myself when it seems like I’m not learning them fast enough, not getting better fast enough.
And then I thought about my recent post on refusing to apologize for some aspects of my personality. I thought about the self-help books I’ve been reading, the medication I take, the therapy I’m in. And I decided I AM NOT BROKEN AND THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH ME. I mean, I know I’m not perfect, I know I have my faults, I make mistakes, I fuck things up. But not any more than anyone else I know. And yes, there are changes I want to make so that my life is easier for me. But I’m not on a timetable. There’s no rushing deadline of “I have to be relaxed and focused by such-and-such date OR ELSE!” There’s no end goal of “I’ve finally achieved mental stability and life focus. I’M DONE!” And I don’t have any responsibility to anyone else to get “better,” to be “unbroken.”
I think the biggest impediment to healing is the belief that you’re horribly fucked up and broken, when what you should be doing is accepting yourself for who you are and loving yourself for it. Today, I’m loving myself for who I am and not stressing about all the “horribly broken things” in my head that “need to be fixed.”
This is Dicken:
He’s generally a pretty lazy mutt, happy to sleep the day away. But if he doesn’t get outside and run around at least a little bit every day, he quickly turns into a cranky, snappish little asshole.
I think Dicken and I have some things in common.
We actually call him “the ADD dog” because he is so easily distracted (not just by squirrels) and because he has these terrier outbursts of extreme energy when he’ll tear through the house, racing from one end to the other, over and over, for 5-10 minutes, before collapsing into a ball of scruffy fur on the sofa.
Basically, I need to remind myself on a daily basis that I need to get outside and I need to get some kind of exercise for better mind and body health. It’s really easy for me to forget and spend my day in physical lethargy…and then turn into a cranky, snappish little asshole. And that can be rough on myself and the people around me.
Dude, I know. You’ve been chastised ever since you were a little kid for being “irresponsible” and “inattentive.” You’ve been teased for being “unrealistic” and “lost in your own head.” You’ve never been good at showing up on time or meeting strict deadlines. You’ve made mistakes. Sometimes you’ve made the same mistakes over and over again. Yes, it’s frustrating. Yes, it’s disappointing. You feel like you’re letting people down and you hate that. You’re worried someone’s going to yell at you, which you also hate.
Here’s the thing: you’re working on it. You’re sincerely trying to get your life in order, to sort out what’s really important and what isn’t, to learn from your mistakes and do better. You’ll still fail sometimes. It’s OK. Everybody fucks up. Everybody is scared, uncertain, insecure–just like you. Yes, people will feel disappointed in you. Some people might even get angry and yell at you. But you’re doing the best you can. So be good to yourself. Stop yelling at yourself. Stop telling yourself you’re stupid, incompetent, a fuck-up.
Tell other people they should be kind and merciful to themselves. They shouldn’t beat up on themselves too much. And while you’re telling them that, tell yourself that, too. OK?
I know it may not always seem this way, but I love you, man. Really.
All the best,
Having been reading quite a bit on ADD since my diagnosis, I’ve found that one common trait of people with ADD is the intensity of their emotions and the way their emotions can rapidly shift based on the smallest of triggers. Which goes a long way towards explaining why I’ve always been a moody person (or as a child, “sensitive”) who has great difficulty getting past sudden mood shifts and bad feelings. People with ADD are also frequently very sensitive to the emotions of people around them, which also explains a lot about me and Brooke.
One thing Brooke and I often find ourselves dealing with is how my moods can affect hers, and vice versa. If one of us is suddenly feeling sad or anxious, it’s hard for the other person to not be affected by it. Brooke got some bad news last night and it’s really dragged her mood down. I feel bad for her and I feel bad in general. Her down mood has pulled the mood of the house down. She knows this, I know this, she’s been apologizing since last night, but we both know that there’s nothing either of us can do about it. I don’t resent her for this, and she doesn’t expect me to ignore her mood.
On the plus side, I completely understand how and why her mood would suddenly drop like this and why she would have a difficult time bringing her mood back up. I can empathize and be supportive, without resenting her bad mood. And she does the same for me when it’s my mood that brings the house down. Our emotions may be all over the place, but we know they’re all over the place, and we can generally deal with that.
It’s all part of the fun of living in an ADD household.
Now it can be told:
I posted about looking for a new job, after being diagnosed with ADD and coming to understand why I’ve struggled so much with my job and felt like it was such a bad fit for me. I started to look outside the box I’d put myself in, but at the same time, I recognized that I really like libraries, I like working with the public, and staying in my library system would be easier than trying to find a brand-new job.
Well, thanks to some excellent, understanding HR people, I’m being shifted in the library system from web content to working reference at one of our branches. Because of the nature of the job, the duties won’t really need to be adjusted much to accommodate my ADD. I’ll be working with the public more, moving around more (rather than sitting at a desk for hours at a time, staring at a monitor), and I won’t have to juggle multiple long-term projects with variable deadlines. In some ways, it’s not going to be a dramatic change, since I’ve been doing reference work for a while now in addition to my web duties (and it’s something I’ve done many times before). But being able to just focus on what’s in front of me, rather than constantly worrying about deadlines and time management, will be a huge shift in terms of mental and emotional energy, anxiety, and depression. To say I’m relieved and excited is a bit of an understatement. I’ve been struggling for the past five years. I suddenly feel…free. Free to really focus my time and energy on writing and play. Free to enjoy my time away from work, rather than worrying about everything I haven’t gotten done.
I’ll be in training this week, then officially switching to my new position and workplace next week. It’s the dawn of a new age!
As I read more about ADD (a name I’m coming to really dislike, but that’s a whole nother discussion) and look at my life with a new clarity of vision, I come to better understand mistakes I’ve made and wrong paths I’ve wandered down. After years of struggling with my job as a web content developer, I went to my supervisor last week and told her this job and I are not a good fit and I’ll be actively looking for a new job. This position demands a level of focus, attention to detail, and long-term organization that I just can’t achieve. I’ve tried for a long time to “get better” at my job, feeling all the while like the proverbial square peg in a round hole, and cursing myself for not being able to get organized and focused enough to make a real difference. I’m leaving a lot out, but suffice to say, this wasn’t a snap decision nor an uninformed one.
So I’m looking for a new gig, and not necessarily one in libraries. I’m trying to smash my preconceived notions about what I can and can’t do, job-wise. It’s not easy, though, having spent decades seeing myself one way and no looking at myself in a whole new way. I need advice, feedback, input. But I don’t need it from anyone or everyone. If you don’t understand how ADD works or how I perform at my best, I don’t need to hear from you, no matter how good your intentions or how much you care about me. I’ve gotten a lot of bad advice from good people over the years, and this is not the time for that.
If you understand ADD, if you know what my particular strengths and weaknesses are, please let me know if you’re willing to help me look for a new job. And if you don’t know about this jazz but you love me and care about my future, please wish me luck as I try to sort this stuff out.
ADDENDUM: Over on Twitter, my friend Gareth suggested that it would be much easier to help me if I could say how much I need to make at minimum. He’s right, of course, but…well, I hadn’t actually figured that out yet. I’ll get to work on that.