Thursday, 20 October 2016

When it Doesn't Get Better

[childhood abuse, sexual assault of a minor mention, animal cruelty mention, particularly bad vomit mention, mental health: depression, anxiety, PTSD, ADHD, autism, weight loss, under-eating, arthritis, thyroid issues, swearing]


I just woke up after over 24 hours of sleep, and quite honestly, I could quite happily go straight back to the land of slumber for a further 24 hours. I won’t, but I could, and that’s not quite right. I’m sure many things happened on Wednesday the 19th of October, but I wasn’t one of them!

There's a narrative that’s applied to many things in life, one of them being health (particularly mental), and that is the “it gets better” trope; I want to talk about what happens when it doesn’t, because I fall into that unfortunate category of peoples. To clarify: it will, of course, get incrementally better at times, but just as it will be better for some periods, it will also be worse for others. When I say “get better”, I mean ‘be completely recovered’, and that will likely never be my reality.

2016 has been quite the year; I’d argue that it’s been a strange one for all of us, but the things that are personal to me include: being diagnosed with ADHD, being diagnosed with PTSD, discovering that I have an underactive thyroid, having my arthritic bones be looked into after a decade of pain, and being hounded by the fatigue that I have felt all my life.

Make no mistake, I have been incapacitated for most of my time on this earth. I was born with ADHD; I was first traumatised as a very young child; I have always struggled with fatigue and weight issues, and my earliest memory of having painful joints are as a 12-year-old. I am 23 now, and it seems bizarre that I have stormed through life with all of these things and never made them known or had them be noticed, but that’s because I thought it was my fault.

Yes, friends, that’s right; I have blamed myself for my many problems for 23 years. ADHD, among other things, makes me constantly late, forgetful, spaced out, mentally absent, often overwhelmed, and highly reactive. I just thought I was selfish. PTSD makes me scared, sometimes frozen, unable to talk about certain things, agoraphobic, and extremely socially anxious. I thought I was weak, pathetic, and attention-seeking. My thyroid makes me tired, depressed, and makes it difficult to lose weight. I, along with many in society, thought I was disgusting, to the point where I have often stopped eating more than one meal a day and now have problems eating altogether. My arthritic bones make me struggle to move for long periods of time, cause me constant pain, make me endlessly tired, and fucking hurt. I thought that they were like that because I’m fat, because that’s what it always comes down to, isn’t it? If I had a quid for every time a doctor has told me to lose weight as though it would solve all my problems… never mind that I pretty much can’t without starving myself. You’ve got to laugh for crying.

I absorbed the messages that society pushes: suck it up, we all have problems. I’m constantly tired too; stop complaining. Everyone hates waking up; it feels like being hit by a train for all of us, you’re so dramatic. You obviously don’t take good care of yourself, your weight tells me as much, so maybe stop being such a slob and you’ll feel better. You’re always late! Don’t you care about anything? Being late to something means that you don’t want to be there, and that’s rude! Were you even listening to me just now? How could you forget again?! You’re useless! Maybe you should go outside and get some fresh air? It’s not healthy to spend so much time alone; it’s like you want to be this way! My body hurts too, stop making excuses! Maybe it’s because you sleep so much? God, you’re so lazy.

Over and over and over and over… until it I believed it was true. As well as this, I have the whole abused for the first 15 years of my life thing that made my default state pretty much set to ‘everything is my fault; I deserve the bad things that happen to me.’ I never really had a chance. How are you supposed to realise that anything is wrong with you when the entire world is shouting at you for your symptoms and you’re so fiercely abused that you’re barely even an autonomous being? I wasn’t trained to monitor myself because I didn’t cultivate a self; I was too busy monitoring my father to see whether he was going to be my my best friend that day or berate me.

I recently discovered something called Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, otherwise known as Atypical Depression; it’s much like regular depression, but with the adage that your mood can improve with positive events and crash with negative ones. It’s apparently a classic symptom of ADHD that hasn’t made it into the DSM yet, and discovering it has been how I imagine meeting a long lost family member might feel. The question: “for your entire life have you always been much more sensitive than other people you know to rejection, teasing, criticism, or your own perception that you have failed or fallen short?”

YES. God, yes! I still worry on some level that I want to be this way; I can’t shake the idea that I’m somehow pretending to be ill, that if I just tried harder I would be completely well. I still feel intense abandonment and rejection, eight years later, because my father left my company to sexually assault a slightly younger 15-year-old. Deep in my mind, I still blame myself; if only I had been more interesting, more engaging, more beautiful, more, more, more, then he would have chosen me to sexually assault; I could have spared her; I should have known. Of course this is complete Freudian bullshit, but it’s what I thought and believed when the police told me of his crimes eight long years ago, and my broken mind still hasn’t let go. I still flinch when I think of the one B grade I got in my GCSE’s and I almost cry when I think of my A-Levels, and it’s ridiculous; I did incredibly well and was under extreme circumstances! I sob whenever I think my friends have had fun without me, because I am momentarily convinced that they don’t love me, and that they mock my very existence when I can’t hear them.

This phenomenon makes you develop into one of two types of people: the first is the people pleaser, who will do anything and everything to gain approval, even if it is detrimental to themselves, and the second is the avoider, who will fall out of the rhythm of life and never attempt anything because they would rather fail by proxy than fail having tried. Because of my abuse, I used to be the first type; because of my chronic illnesses, I am now the second. I finally know why I am a perfectionist. I finally understand myself.

I will always have intense mood swings that result in bouts of depression. I won’t always have PTSD, and for that I am incredibly grateful, but I will always have to deal with the effects that come from being an abuse survivor. I will always struggle with my weight and feel constantly fatigued. I will likely always have a sore body and bones that ache and pop as though they have lived through years of action. I will always be spaced out, and late, and forgetful, and hypersensitive. I will always have a body and mind that mean I cannot function in the way that society expects of me. I will always be like this. Always. And I have to somehow make peace with that. I can be treated with various medicines that help me focus, and alleviate both my depressive spells and constant anxiety; there are pills that restore my thyroids balance, and painkillers to help soothe my chronic pain, but the fact remains: I will never be in truly good health.

It’s terrifying. I have watched my peers graduate, get masters, and achieve full time positions in their fields, but I haven’t even finished my undergrad degree. I watch them travel and socialize with friends, all whilst I am bed-bound and asleep for the majority of my existence. I watch them move around the country and successfully run their own households as I live with my parents, because I am incapable of taking care of myself, and I know that this isn’t my fault, of course I do, even when I don’t believe it, but that doesn’t make it any less sad.

I’m sad, guys. I’ve been frozen in time. I’m notoriously hard on myself, not to mention impatient, and I just want to succeed again. I feel completely lost, because nobody wants to listen to my experiences, and if I’m honest, I don’t blame them. No one wants to hear about the time your dad made you watch while he held your dog down in a freezing cold shower; no on wants to listen while you cry about the time he made you watch someone eat their own vomit; no one wants to hear about how tired you are and how much your bones hurt, because who isn’t tired, right?! Who isn’t exhausted to the point of not being able to function or leave the house… oh, wait.

I don’t feel very relatable lately. There used to be a time when people were glad that I talked so frankly about my health, because it helped them realise things about themselves and their own experiences. I liked that time; it made my pain feel almost worthwhile, but there comes a point where you stop being inspiring and start to kind of… bum people out. Hell, I even bum myself out! I’m aware that I’m the only guest at my two-year long pity party; I’m undoubtedly going to eventually feel at least marginally better than I do now, there’s even a slim chance that whatever’s wrong with my bones is reversible, but I have been so ill for so long that I’m starting to lose hope. I feel like a spectator of what are supposed to be some of the most active years of ones’ life, as though I’m trapped behind a large pane of soundproof glass as I look upon the rest of the world continuing on without me.

I try to end these posts on a positive note, because people desire a happy ending; that’s why the “it gets better” narrative is even a thing, but my positivity can’t come from that place anymore; I’m trying to accept that I might never know of it, and I need to learn to be okay with that. If you are like me, a person whose life has been commandeered by illness or disability, be it mental or physical, then I want you to know that it’s normal to feel resentful. I feel cheated; I feel like years of my life have been stolen from me, but do you know what? Fuck what we’re “supposed” to do, fuck what's “normal”, fuck the narrative, because it’s not us that are defective; it’s the expectations that we are forced to meet. Some people quite literally cannot do it, but why should that make us failures? We don’t exist to inspire others; we don’t exist to be a wholly happy ending. Within the fields ADHD and autism, there is something called the neurodivergence movement; it aims to normalise these types of brains, the neurodivergent brains, and considers them different rather than defective. I adore and fully subscribe to this idea, because my brain, with all its faults and illnesses, is a good brain that I am mostly thankful to have. It is a brain that misses many things, but sometimes reveals things to me that other brains might never notice.

I aim to love my body in the same way, and I think I will come to in time; I have a lot of experience, because I’ve hardly ever fit the narrative. I’m fat in a world for thin people; I’m queer in a world designed for straight and cisgender people; I’m neurodivergent in a world built for neurotypical people; I’m physically unwell in a world made for able-bodied people; I’m mentally ill in a world that demands stability; I’m different, and I get so caught up in being angry at myself for it, but why? Comparing ourselves to others is unfair and unrealistic, because my experience isn’t going to match the average one. I don’t even believe that the one shown to us is the average one! The chronically and mentally ill are everywhere, and we deserve to have our efforts recognised, even when they look minimal or non-existent to others.

You are not a failure because you don’t fit the narrative! Again, you are not a failure because you don’t fit the narrative. It might never “get better”, but it will get manageable. You are enough; your efforts are real whether they are noticed or not, and you are stronger and braver than many can see or comprehend. Their lack of understanding doesn’t mean that it isn’t true. Once again, this time louder, say it with me, believe it:

You are not a failure because you don’t fit the narrative.

I love you. I am proud of you, of us. I might be a stranger to you, but when it feels like no one understands you or is on your side, know that I am here with you. You are not alone, and you are not and never have been a failure. You just don’t fit the narrative, and that's okay.

<3

Friday, 1 July 2016

Recovery is Bittersweet

Having grown up at the hands of an abusive parent and dealing with a developmental disorder that wouldn’t be spotted for years, being mentally ill has always been my normal. We absorb a lot of information in our formative years, and even the most loving and supportive parents can say or do things that cause negative reactions that resonate very deeply with their child. To a certain point, this can’t be helped; you cannot account for every reaction that your child might have to what is an offhand comment. Children are emotional and instinctive; their entire universe comprises of making sense of the things they encounter. The damage is done when the interactions that they encounter are repeatedly negative, abusive, or oppressive.

When I was around 10, I had a sudden realisation that some of the ways that I behaved towards the people I loved weren’t particularly nice. In hindsight, I can see that I was mimicking some of my father’s entitlement, but then, as a child in the midst of abuse, I came to the conclusion that I was a terrible, terrible person. I was under the impression that this negativity came from within me, that it somehow lived in my soul because I was inherently selfish, and that it was my duty as a person to make everyone around me have positive experiences, even (especially) at my own expense.

Looking back now, I can see that my behaviours were innocuous compared to the ones that I had learned from. I was bossy, I demanded the first pick of activities with friends, and I was slightly arrogant, but inherently evil? Not so much.

This realisation lead to what I have dubbed ‘The Original Breakdown’. Everything about my being did a complete 180 in a matter of weeks: my posture became hunched and my body language closed off; I apologised for every action I took, from putting my hand up to answer something in class to holding a door for someone, every action was delivered with an apology; I would leave the room whenever banal gossip took place, for fear that I would hurt someone, for fear that if I took part in negativity I would unleash the monster that lived in my soul. My father’s words swam around my head on an infinite loop: “You’re fucking stupid,” became my mantra. “Don’t be so fucking ridiculous.” This hurts to type, not least because the version of myself that I was so scared of becoming was just a hot-headed and bossy kid, but also because the “monster” that terrorised me was my father, and I was blaming myself for his actions. I was punishing myself for his transgressions. I was co-dependant.

A few years later a pseudo-psychologist came to my school for an event and offered to answer any personal questions. I went to him, pretending that a problem a friend was having was my own so that I might better know how to help them, because, you know, sacrificing my own opportunities for others was kind of my thing. I, of course, didn’t believe that I had any problems. Denial is incredibly powerful, and I wasn’t anywhere near ready to emerge from my delusional world. Mr. Doctor instantly picked up on my incessant apologising. “You apologise for the air that you breathe,” he said. “You seem to think that you don’t deserve to be alive.”

Huh. Not bad for a pseudo-guy.

***

Recovery is the most bittersweet journey I have every embarked on. I have years of faulty wiring to undo, and an infinite amount of past versions of myself to apologise to and mourn for. My then undiagnosed ADHD caused my life to be filled with a whirlwind of mistakes, and in a world designed for neuro-typical people with a father who resented my existence, my default state became “everything is my fault. I am a bad person.”

It hurts. It hurts to think of my slow demise into a completely malleable and self-hating being. It hurts to know that the horrors of my childhood caused a ripple effect that define many of my actions to this day. I apologise far less, but it is still incredibly frequent. Whenever I have friction with another person, no matter how sure I am that I am not in the wrong, I will ruminate over it for days and slip into a cycle of obsessive self-hatred. It used to be months, sometimes even years, but it is still there. I still freeze whenever I pick up on the bad mood of a loved one; I wait in terror for them to lash out at me, even when I know with complete certainty that it has nothing to do with me. Only recently have I addressed serious health concerns that have been present for over a decade, because I have only just fully accepted that I am worth good health. It took being carted off in an ambulance with heart problems for me to even acknowledge any pains I had. The subconscious message repeats: I deserve this.

I sometimes still blame myself for my ADHD. I still call myself stupid when I make careless mistakes that are completely symptomatic, even with the knowledge that it is completely neuro-biological and out of my control, because I was designed to do just that. I was taught from a very young age that I am completely responsible for any and all of the negativity that I encounter.

I am currently on medication for my ADHD, and having a direct comparison of neuro-typical life to the inescapable fog that is ADHD has been both astounding and enlightening. I have many comparisons in my life: I know what it is like to be abused and not abused; I know what it is like to be deeply depressed and joyous; I know what it is like to be completely agoraphobic, compared to less severe anxieties, but these things came to me slowly, with (an often an inadequate amount of) time to process them. With the ADHD medication, it was night and day. I switch on when I take it and boot down when it wears off. Every day I dance with functionality, only for it to leave me when the sun sets. I didn’t realise how much my ADHD limited my abilities (hint: it’s a lot). I didn’t know how much more simple life was supposed to be, and it breaks my heart that I and so many others like me spend decades of their lives blaming themselves and thinking of themselves as failures. It breaks my heart that I had so little self-worth that I never even questioned my difficulties; of course it was my fault, everything is my fault.

To know what the average person deals with is a blessing in many ways, and I am so grateful that I have the opportunity to have access to the help I need, but it has taught me something that I always knew whilst not fully appreciating: life is incredibly difficult with any kind of disorder, and people are generally not very forgiving. The events of my life thus far have made me very sensitive to suffering, and I see it everywhere I go. It’s in the news and in our minds. It permeates everything. It can feel so futile to take your mental health seriously when compared to the pain some people experience, but life doesn’t work like that. Shit is shit, and no matter how much of it you stand in it’ll get on your shoes. It is never too late to take yourself seriously. It is never too late to become your own friend. This process has been long and hard, but my god am I glad I started it.

Recovery is bittersweet. They don’t tell you that, because they know you’re hanging on by a thread; they don’t want you to think it isn’t worth trying, but I can’t lie: it’s bitter going down, a vile sensation, but hell, it leaves such a sweet and pleasant aftertaste that I would put myself through it a thousand times more just to experience the joys that I didn’t know life could bring.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Not Built for This World

(Content Note: depression, anxiety, ADHD, OCD, suicide, alcohol, self-harm, abuse, food issues)

2016 is the year I realised that I was not built for this world.

In 2014, I was diagnosed with severe depression and an anxiety disorder. I drank in the mornings and isolated myself to my room; I painted on a lipstick smile every morning and removed it every night to see my grey, lifeless face staring back at me. I was a party girl looking for any way to feel again, to live again. I stopped eating, and people told me I looked better. I drank too much and people told me I was fun. I concealed myself under layers of what looked like youthful vitality, but was actually a host of incredibly unhealthy coping mechanisms. I was dying.

I met with death in the middle of the night, blackout drunk on the side of the road, and drenched from head to toe. It was that fine kind of rain, you’ll know the one if you’ve spent any time up north; it’s the kind of rain that you barely notice until you’re out of it, and you return to the cloying warmth of a heated house only to realise that you’re soaked to the soul. I remember laughing wildly at the pathetic fallacy, and wondering if the sky was crying because I was unable to, because my emotions had died before I had. I waited patiently for a car to step in front of, when I suddenly remembered a conversation I’d once had with my mum. She had told me about a train driver who had been involved in someone’s suicide. “He never recovered,” she said, “he blamed himself for the rest of his life.”

I couldn’t give this pain to another person. I lost my nerve. The car went past. Death said it wasn’t my time; he told me to retreat, and I don’t remember doing so, but I must have done because I am here.

My memories of 2014 are fragmented, at best. I remember being drunk. I remember lying face down on the floor with my eyes clenched shut when I couldn’t cope with the thoughts anymore. I remember scratching myself until I bled, and putting cigarettes out on my arms. I remember writing an essay about the Vietnam War and sobbing as I wrote the conclusion, because I hated humanity; I hated existing. I cried for the pain that people caused each other; I didn’t know how to cry for the pain that was inside of me. I still, to this day, sometimes have to avoid the news. I am privileged that I can do that; I am privileged that I don’t live it. I will always feel guilty.

I walked past people convinced they could hear my thoughts. I thought the government was going to come and find me. The wind told me secrets: it said that my friends hated me, that I was worthless, that I was incapable of loving and being loved. I later snapped at one of these friends, and she was, understandably, angry. She asked why I was being aggressive, and when I realised that my answer was, “because the wind told me you were laughing at me,” I knew it was time to get help.

I have been on medication for two years now, and will probably be on it for a long time yet. I had something called psychotic depression, which is when you display symptoms similar to the onset of schizophrenia: intrusive thoughts, hallucinations, believing that people are plotting against you. I only lived that for a year, but some people live it for their entire lives. They are stronger than I will ever be able to imagine.

I thought that medication was the end. I thought my problems had been solved, but I was lying to myself. I grew up in an abusive home with a tyrannical father, which made me so good at lying to myself that I no longer realising that I was doing it. How are you supposed to have any grasp on what is normal when you are born into chaos? How are you supposed to acknowledge that your mental health is atrocious when you have been taught that you aren’t an individual? There’s nothing to save when you’re worth nothing; I was just an extension. I never had to chance to become my own person, so I have to do it now, as an adult, and I am expected to function as well as everybody else, but I can’t.

With each day that I continue, I realise just how severe my life has been. I was recently diagnosed with ADHD, for which I had to see a psychiatrist, and he spoke of “severe trauma” as though I understood that that was what had happened to me. Consciously, I do understand, but something in my mind is terrified to completely acknowledge the past, because each time I do there is another thing that I have to work out, or another mental illness, or another way that I am not functional.

Mental illness is prevalent on both sides of my family; being born into abuse and given the genes I have, I never really stood a chance. I recently realised that I have inherited OCD. As with ADHD, it took me far too long to realise, because these illnesses are highly characterised and rarely fully understood by the general public. I am not a hyperactive little boy, so my ADHD was missed. I am inattentive, forgetful, daydream-y, and somehow managed to keep up good grades. I learned that girls are often incredibly talented at masking their symptoms because they are socialised differently, and they take personal responsibility for something that is actually a disability. I am one of these girls.

The OCD I have is a sub-type of the disorder, known as relationship OCD. I am not obsessively neat, or clean. I am not alarmed by mess. The type I have means that you obsess about relationships, that you wake up in cold sweats at the thought of being with someone no matter how much you love them. Your brain attacks you with intrusive thoughts about how you don’t really love people, you’re incapable of love, love isn’t real anyway, until you wake up sobbing and begging for your mind to just switch off, to just be quiet for one second so that you can enjoy what you have.

There are people who laugh at safe spaces, and content warnings, as though people are pathetic for not being able to survive in this world. I am not pathetic. I barely leave the house, I am tired for days after I socialise, I might look pathetic to you but the mental energy that it takes me to live through the day is something that you can’t understand. These people think I am weak, but I am stronger than they will ever dream of being.

A lecturer that I spoke to about my mental health joked with me that I keep getting letters added after my name, but none of them are academic. We chuckled, but it was a melancholy laughter; it’s funny because if you don’t laugh, if you don’t keep smiling, you might fall apart. You’ve got to laugh for crying. With every letter added, I get further isolated from my peers, but I also get one step closer to dealing with my trauma and its lasting effects that reach further than I could have ever imagined. I worry incessantly that people will stop taking me seriously. When it was depression, people didn’t understand but they sympathised. When it was ADHD people didn’t understand. Now it’s OCD as well, and I live in fear that I am a walking joke to everyone that I encounter, but I have to talk about these things; I have to admit them. Lying to myself almost killed me, and I want to live. It’s more that than altruism, but I want people to read these things in case they see themselves in my words. I want people to understand their problems quicker than I ever could, because my understanding almost came too late. I want you to know that you are not alone, that I am not built for this world either, and that there are things that can be done, ways to cope. I want you to know that I love you, and that different doesn’t have to always mean bad.

I am not built for this world, but I live in it. There is no shame in creating a life that you can handle. I feared my differences, and I feared being judged, but the only person who needs to understand you is yourself; everything else comes later.

Depression, anxiety, ADHD, OCD; these are just words, just letters. You are not your symptoms. You are an amalgamation of thoughts, and experiences, and laughter, and tears, and connections with people who adore you and who you love despite the terror that comes with loving them. People are intolerant, they’re scared of these letters because they think it dehumanises you, but for me these letters are freedom. They are a way for me to understand a girl who never had a fighting chance, and they give me the information I need to give that chance to myself.


I wasn’t built for this world, but I was made to build myself, and I will keep fighting with my lettered weapons until the day I die. We are not alone; we are the many, and we deserve to live in this world. It’s the world that doesn’t deserve us.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Neurodivergent

Lately I have been going through A Thing. This thing being the fact that my brain is wired differently to the way that many brains are, which is a somewhat glorious discovery because I thought I was just as useless as edible underwear, but coming to terms with it is proving somewhat challenging.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before (/s), but I have ADD. I have ADD and I’m kind of mad about it, because hardly anyone knows what the fuck ADD actually is, which means that very few people understand it, and, therefore, me. I know, I know, special snowflake and all that. Woe is me for I am so different from The Norm and I will never circumvent this dilemma! If I’m honest, fuck the “norm” (if there even is such a thing); I’ve never fit into that bollocks and now I know why, but I’m frustrated. Having a different brain-type has its upsides; us ADDers are non-linear thinkers which means we’re sometimes super creative and can spot connections between very unlikely things, but it’s difficult to celebrate these things when I can’t fucking remember to brush my teeth twice a day.

I thought they’d give me some medication to help me focus and send me on my merry way, but it turns out I am not going to have access to this medication until after I hand my dissertation in… and I haven’t started it. That’s right, folks. If you need comforting on how little you’ve done for your degree then I’m your gal. Swing by my place and I’ll show you the empty word document that is my dissertation and we’ll have a good laugh about it.

I just need people to understand how debilitating ADD can actually be. There are a lot of different opinions about from the people who have it: some people see it as a superpower; others see it as a disability. I think it has elements of both of those things. The thing is, people with Attention Deficit Disorder CANNOT FOCUS for long periods of time. We literally struggle to pay attention to things. Let’s play a game called what-my-brain-is-doing-in-lectures:

Oh he just said that Bob Dylan didn’t openly oppose the Vietnam War, that’s interesting!! Isn’t it weird that Bob Dylan’s name is Bob… like Bob Marley! Imagine someone just calling them Bob, hahaha… they should have done what Adele and Cher did, just the single name and all that, that’d be a good laugh. ‘Buffalo Soldier’ by Bob. Why do I think Bob is a funny name? Is it because it’s a palindrome? It reminds me so seagulls because they bob on the sea. Someone over there just sneezed! What was I thinking about? I can small strawberry, is it my lip balm? It might be the girl in front of me. I don’t really like strawberries, they’re too sour sometimes. It’s my hair! I forgot that I used that heat protection spray, my hair feels SO SOFT… fuck, I think I left my straighteners on! Oh wait, they turn themselves off after an hour, that’s why you bought them, remember? Oh fuck, I stopped listening, what’s this lecturer saying now?

I found all my lecture notes from first year the other day, and no joke, in almost EVERY SINGLE LECTURE I had written about half a page of notes and then a message to myself, always along the lines of ‘sorry future me, I stopped listening.’ Like, what are you supposed to do with that? I’m learning so much… about how little attention I pay to learning.

I always knew that I didn’t listen in lectures. To be honest, I thought everyone sat there and daydreamed for an hour or two, and I always managed to reel myself back in so it didn’t seem like a problem, you know? What’s even more alarming are the symptoms of ADD that I didn’t even realise I had, or, worse, the symptoms that I knew about but tried to cover up because I was embarrassed.

I’m messy, which is horrendous because mess makes me anxious. I hid this one both because of that and because inviting your friends into your cesspool gets kind of embarrassing after the fifth time. There can only be so many times that you “haven’t had time to clean” when you’re a student who’s too anxious for extra curricular activities.

I’m forgetful, which is horrendous because a working memory is kind of essential for being an adult. You told me a thing and I didn’t write it down? Forget it. I’ll smile and nod because I’m embarrassed that I’m going to forget what you’ve just said the instant you move on, but I don’t got it. I used to majorly beat myself up for this one; I thought I was selfish and unorganized and lazy but it turns out I have ADD. To remedy this, I have started carrying a notebook with me that I write all my passing thoughts in. It’s always full of delicious secrets at the end of the day (if ‘delicious secrets’ means ‘appointments’ and ‘things I have to remember’). I forget everything. Literally everything. Appointments, the names of objects, names, things I need to do, my washing, to shower, everything. I think too fast to get shit done, I’ve already moved on! I’ll aim to clean my room, put on some music to dance to while I do it, get distracted by a tab that’s open and 5 hours later it’s past 11 and I’ve lost half a day. Every day. YOU try getting stuff done when you could be distracted by a breeze.

I’m bad with money, because impulsivity is a symptom of ADD. I’m trying to fix this one by recording my transactions and it’s kind of working… by which I mean that I am spending less than I did before but still nowhere within my means. Impulsivity isn’t the only reason that money disappears when I’m in control of it; budgeting takes planning, forethought, remembering to bring lunches that you remembered to buy the ingredients for and remembered to cook. I didn’t pre pack my lunch, I was too busy being sucked into the internet because it’s the perfect tool for someone with ADD. There is always new information. Everywhere. I am stimulated wherever I go and I don’t even have to leave my bed! Bliss.

I am chronically late. Chronically. It’s a vicious cycle: I am running late because I am distracted; I realise I am late and imagine walking into a full lecture theatre with everyone looking at me; I panic, I am more late, more panic, too late, don’t go. I feel like I run on a different measurement of time to everyone else. If I am hyperfocused, I lose hours as though they are minutes; if I’m struggling to focus I experience minutes as though they are hours. Hyperfocus, by the way, is something that happens to us ADDers. We get stuck on a stimulating task and hyperfocus on it so much so that we forget everything else around us. I once hyperfocused on a painting and painted for 12 hours solid. I’m looking at it now, it’s not even that good. Probably because I did it for 12 hours without a proper break.

Some people with ADD are very emotional and extremely sensitive to criticism. I am one of these people. I feel all of the feelings all of the time. Telling me to stop being so emotional is the equivalent of yelling at your computer because it isn't listening to you cry about your ex and passing you tissues; I am just not wired that way. Some people think that being intuitive and listening to your emotions makes you stupid; you know the types, they're the ones who think that science is absolute truth when it's a whole bunch of trial and error and use words like "rationally" to talk down to people. These people scare me, but I probably scare them too. I quite like the idea that they think I'm unhinged and could go off on one at any moment, when the reality is more like I cry when someone does something nice for me and feel overwhelmingly sad all day when I read the news.

There’s a whole host of other bollocks that I’m sure I’ll rant about at a later date. I’m just so frustrated. I struggle to function on a basic level, and I feel like I am watching my peers surpass me because I’m stuck with the organisational skills of a child. I feel like I can’t function without a responsible adult, and that’s embarrassing. How am I supposed to do a degree when I can’t even remember to turn the oven off? The kitchen is mighty warm, but the bills that I’ll inevitably forget to pay will be through the roof.

I forgot what I was about to type because my girlfriend started singing along to the song that’s playing, that’s how my life is. I won’t let this beat me, because that’s not how I do; I’ve been through enough bollocks in my life to feel vaguely confident that I’ll emerge victorious, but it’s difficult. It’s really difficult. This diagnosis has been a blessing and a curse: I finally know what the hell is going on with me, but I have to learn how to cope with this for the rest of my life. It’s not something that is ever going to go away. I am never going to remember well. I am never going to experience this world in the way that it was built, because I do not function well. Productivity wasn’t invented with people like me in mind. I am neurodivergent, which Word doesn’t even recognise as a word because we are the forgotten.

When I was fourteen I remember having a conversation with my mum. She asked what I wanted to be when I was older, and I said a singer (#spon, here’s some singing I did). I remember crying that night, thinking about having an office job. I didn’t know that I had ADD, I just knew that I would not thrive in that environment. I didn’t know why; I just knew. I resolved that day to somehow cheat the system because I didn’t fit into it. I have always felt abnormal, but I’m just divergent. Different doesn’t have to mean bad, even when it fucking feels like it.

To all my neurodivergent friends with dyslexia, Tourette’s, autism, anything, we can totally do this. We might not “fit in”, but we fit somewhere. To all my neurotypical friends, please read about these things. Being different is difficult enough, but feeling like you have to justify it? That’s when the damage begins. Go easy, because the stuff that you find as automatic as breathing doesn’t come naturally to us. We’re divergent, we’ll probably take a different path to you, but we’ll get there in the end. That’s what I do really, isn’t it; I wing it. A professional winger. A neurodivergent professional winger of things who always gets there in the end.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

ADD: My Secret Disorder

[Content Note: Abuse, Suicide, ADHD]

Hello.

It’s me.

I was wondering if after all these months you’d like to read this rambling post journeying through my brain.

In the last post I mainly talked about a haircut I had that caused a full fringe to deplete any sense of attractiveness I may have had. A couple of months after this revelation, I cut my beautiful (read: ratty) long hair with KITCHEN SCISSORS into a gorgeous (read: questionable) bob. I never learn, but it turns out there is a medical reason for this: I have ADD!

Yes, friends; I, latecomer to every party, forgetter of deadlines, daydreamer extraordinaire, have Attention Deficit Disorder. I, whose room becomes a landfill if I attempt to dress myself. I, the one who has never quite grasped making three balanced meals a day, or sorting out my washing, or remembering where I put any damn object I need. The shirt I am wearing is five wears old. Happy birthday, shirt! Your present is being doused in perfume; a process that my mum affectionately refers to as a “student shower.”

Little old me, who has been repeatedly penalised for being late, not paying attention in class, procrastinating, getting distracted, and forgetting what the ever loving fuck I’m talking about, has ADD. What was I saying? Something about me only being able to focus on creative things? It’s because of my ADD. Oh yeah, I almost forgot, ADHD apparently runs in my family, although I am the only one to be officially diagnosed. This would be hilarious to you if you ever met my sister; I suspect that she, unlike me, has the hyperactive subset of this disorder (that’s where the H comes from), and my mum, bless her unconditional love for both of us, often refers to her as “Zippy on speed.”

It seems blatant! I have ADD! In other news, water is wet. You’d think it was obvious reading the above, no? Well, you’d be wrong. Or perhaps you’d be right and I’m an idiot. Let’s talk about that.

So, if you’ve read this blog before you might recall that I’ve had a somewhat interesting life, if ‘interesting’ meant ‘horrendous in places’ and ‘somewhat impossible to pull together.’ I grew up with one abusive parent and one fantastic one, who, under the thumb of the latter, never truly had her chance to shine until he was removed. I say removed because this is exactly what happened; the police literally removed him from our presence on somewhat unrelated charges, and now he is no longer a part of our lives. I go into this in detail in older posts, but the point I am trying to make is that when you are raised in an abusive home, it seems kind of obvious that you will not function as well as your peers. I just never thought much of it; I’m late to everything because I have crippling anxiety because I was abused; I’m forgetful because my brain is processing 15 years of abuse. Seems to make sense, right?

The “fun” thing about ADD is that you’re likely to suffer from other mental health ailments as well as having ADD itself. This is known as ‘comorbidity’, and means that the depression and anxiety I have previously talked about are, unfortunately, completely real. They have masked my ADD, and my ADD has exacerbated them. So much fun is being had in my think tank. Do you think this is enough cheese and crackers for three mental illnesses?

So, we reach the second year of university, and I am Not Coping. I have my Epic Breakdown and open the floodgates of years of oppression. It wasn’t pretty; I nearly didn’t make it out alive, but here I am, to annoy you with more blog posts! I put my everything into staying alive and slowly improved, and now I quite like being alive a lot of the time. I used to think the bastards were lying, but they weren’t. Honestly, if one more person had told me ‘it gets better!!1!’ I would have punched them square in the face, but depression is a dirty liar and it probably will. Sometimes when the darkness overwhelms and the thoughts creep in I fear that it will get worse again, but I’ll cross that bridge if/when I come to it.

Anyway, apologies, that was a tangent. It’s because I have ADD; I love tangents.

So, after my Epic Breakdown I was feeling mentally “okay”, but something was still off. I didn’t want to die, but I couldn’t focus, I was still always late, and forgetful, and tired, and if I’m honest, I felt completely useless. I thought I was broken forever; I kind of just assumed that I would always feel exhausted after such mental upheaval.

I continued this way for two more years, until a week and a half ago when I was browsing online at 4am. Don’t judge me, I have ADD and I find it hard to regulate things. Anyway, back to my early morning browsing: someone that I met in an opera I had been in prior to my Epic Breakdown had shared an article about ADHD in women on facebook that I only had the serendipitous joy of seeing it because I am a night-owl and she lives in America. I thought to myself ‘cool, I know women with ADHD, I will read this’, and my life was forever changed.

It was eerie; it was like I’d written these words myself. Could I trust 4am me with this information? Was I being silly? I had never read anything that had resonated with me so strongly. It was an honest to god lightbulb moment, my entire self lit up and I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t think about anything else other than this disorder that I’d only just learned wasn’t all about hyperactive little boys but was about forgetful women, too! It was about women like me, who struggle so much to function but try to compensate because it’s embarrassing; women like me, who are seen as quirky but unreliable, fun but fundamentally flawed; women who can’t handle their hectic lives and don’t understand why. It was like reading a diary I’d forgotten that I’d written. I knew that this was it, and so I impatiently waited for the world to wake, rang my mum, and off to the doctors we went.

Once I was there, my certainty dwindled. If I’m honest, it disappeared with speed so alarming that I wondered if I was losing it again, but I explained my fears to a doctor, and he immediately told me that I was right. It would need specialists for an actual diagnosis, but as far as he was concerned it was conclusive.

I cried. I sobbed. I howled. I cursed my genetics and digested the fact that everything that I hated about myself was out of my control. I got internally angry at people from times long since passed who had dismissed me because of these qualities. I mourned opportunities that I had missed or squandered because I was disabled. I finally understood why I couldn’t cope, why my suicidal thoughts so often gravitated around ‘I can’t do it’; I was right, I can’t do it, but now there is a reason, and everything that I hate myself for, everything that makes me different, everything that has made me feel so outside of the system we are shoehorned into has a name.

I realised that I had never connected these characteristics to my childhood self, who also struggled with them, for two reasons: 1) I didn’t know what ADHD was. I had a very limited view of it and the different ways it could manifest itself, and 2) my brain had done the simultaneously incredibly helpful and completely debilitating act of separating my life into a before and after split; before my dad was arrested, and after my dad was arrested. Before is where the horrors lie, and my brain put them in a place that was conscious access only. I have had to travel there and connect that young girl with who I am now; a process that has been necessary, but incredibly uncomfortable.

I cannot explain how much this diagnosis has already changed my life. I thought I was selfish and useless, but I just have ADD! The more I read about it, the more everything clicks into place: people with ADD are often fatigued from trying to keep up with the world; they often struggle much more with obesity, because our brains cannot follow routines without help and consequently forget to eat, feel hunger pangs, and eat too much because we feel ravenous; we’re more likely to become addicted to things; we can’t process delayed gratification; we talk more than you think we should, we’re babblers, we don’t know how to stop; we’re often creative as hell, but never finish anything; we forget everything, so much forgetting.


My brain doesn’t work like yours, and I ask that you forgive me for it. It’s going to take me some time to forgive myself, but this is not my fault. I don’t know what’s next, but I do know that now my treatment can be tailored towards helping me manage. ADD: my secret disorder. I should get a show! It could be like the Kardashians except it will be various clips of me being late to things and forgetting what I went into a room for…. 

What was I saying?