Imposter Syndrome

e1d57-atoz2019tenthannHere’s the thing:  I don’t have an official ADHD diagnosis.

I fit all the diagnostic criteria; have since I was probably about seven years old.  I’ve spent hours researching it, and the first time I stumbled upon a group for ADHD adults discussing their experiences, I legitimately started crying with relief and recognition.  I’ve discussed my issues in depth with my PCP, who recommended I get in touch with someone about a potential assessment, because it sounded to him like there was a  pretty high likelihood that I’d get a positive diagnosis.  But I’m not officially diagnosed with ADHD.

There’s a number of reasons for that — primary among them is that I’m continually getting conflicting information about whether or not my insurance will cover the assessment (either entirely or in part) because it’s not directly impacting my career or employability, and therefore may not be deemed “medically necessary” (apparently the fact that I experience nearly constant existential frustration doesn’t matter so long as I am able to work, because surely that is the measure of my worth.  But, anyway, that’s another rant for another day).

There is no doubt in my mind, when I reflect on my life and on my experiences, especially when I compare them to the experiences of other adults with ADHD, that I have ADHD.  And yet, the fact that I haven’t had a professional diagnose me still, sometimes, gives me a horrible sense of imposter syndrome.

It’s bad enough that in 2019, people are still trying to delegitimize the condition — people think of ADHD as a childhood condition, or worse still, that there are so many who believe ADHD can be “cured” by eating certain foods or exercising (not to say exercisng can’t help some of the symptoms for some people!  But it certainly doesn’t cure them), and, yes, people still claiming that ADHD doesn’t exist (it’s just kids being brats and adults being lazy — because you know how we lazy adults love to hate ourselves and live in a constant state of anxiety and confusion, right?)

But even once I push through all that BS (trying not to internalize it), there’s the uncomfortable feeling that my experiences aren’t valid (even as they match up, with textbook perfection, with the experiences of others with the condition).

If I really had ADHD, why wasn’t I diagnosed earlier?

(Probably because ADHD has historically been seen as a “boy’s issue,” and only more recently have people realized that the Inattentive Type is more prevalent in females than the stereotypical Hyperactive type).

Shouldn’t I have failed out of school (aren’t all people with ADHD “poor students”)? 

(Oooh, hey, you’re forgetting those crying jags after every parent-teacher night where your folks were pissed because your teachers told them that I was brilliant, and had amazing things to contribute, but why weren’t the assignments getting turned in?  And you were petrified to let them down, and got things in late, and did extra credit work, and thank God you were smart enough to ace most of the tests?  Oh, and also, lots of people with ADHD get good grades; there are several first hand accounts in place like The Mighty and ADDitude Magazine trying to combat that stereotype).

I was never a troublemaker at school, either, shouldn’t I have been bouncing off the walls?

(See above, re: Inattentive type ADHD.  My impulsivity presents in other ways, like starting fifty million projects, having manic periods of directionless energy/ambition, and becoming passionately involved in something before quickly losing interest).

Here’s something to remember– for every person diagnosed with ADHD, there was a period of time prior to their diagnosis.  They still had ADHD during that time.  A diagnosis gave name to their experiences, it did not give them validity.  My experiences are valid.  I know they are valid.  I also know they match up with everything I’ve learned — from personal research, discussion with other ADHD adults, and fifteen years in Special Education — about ADHD.

Someday soon, I hope to sort this insurance BS out and get an official diagnosis.

Until then, hi.  My name’s Jess.  And I know I have ADHD.

 

ADHD Humor

e1d57-atoz2019tenthannWhy is the most popular ADHD joke the damn “…SQUIRREL!” one?  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not even that it’s inaccurate, exactly (I definitely have “squirrel” moments), but geez.

I enjoy comedy, and I think I’d be pressed to give you a hard line answer to the kind of comedy or humor I enjoy — my tastes are eclectic, and I don’t think I could sum it up entirely in a concise way. But one of the things I enjoy the most is observational humor, because when done right, it makes me feel good — it makes me feel less alone, more seen, and just generally vindicated, you know?

So I thought – ahem, partially because I’m still recovering from the stomach bug — that today would be a short entry, and I would share with you a few of my favorite humorous ADHD posts.*

Also, this Buzzfeed listicle is pretty spot on, I have to say.

Do you have a favorite ADHD meme?


* These have been gathered from various places over time; I take credit for none of them, have left watermarks on those that have them, but found these over time on curated sites.

Goal-setting Tips

e1d57-atoz2019tenthannToday I wanted to talk about goals, so I figured I’d start by sharing my current goal of never getting this damn stomach bug ever again.  Before this season, I had gone since high school — almost 20 years! — without getting a stomach bug, and 2019 rolls the hell in, and I get hammered twice (and that’s still better than my son, who’s had it at least three times, and a few coworkers how just got hit with it for what is either the fourth or fifth time this year).

Anyway, that being said, I didn’t really get to prep anything for today, since I was busy recuperating, but I thought I’d go ahead a talk a bit about goals anyway.

I often feel like I am hugely ambitious, in potentia — like, I could be hugely successful an get a ton of stuff done if I could just get my act together and actually work towards some of my goals.  As with most things, I’ve gotten somewhat better about actually making commitments to doing an completing tasks in the last few years, and have found pretty good success in following the SMART goals method — making goals specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time bound.  When you consider that the biggest stumbling blocks of most people with ADHD are vagueness/lack of clarity, lack of structure, lack of interest and procrastination/time management, it’s probably not a surprise that — even if we still stumble more frequently that most while following the program — the program actually does help (though it can’t perform miracles; you still have to get yourself to the table, so to speak).

I was an adult before I heard of SMART goals, while assistant in a Junior Health class my first year as an IA, and I loved that part of the class was a semester long project, with regular check-ins, that helped the students develop, and follow through, on a SMART goal.  It was another in what has continued to be an on-going series os moments that dually makes me incredibly proud of the place I work and makes me wonder where these people and these methods were when I was a young adult, and creating new habits would have been, perhaps, slightly easier (not that it’s ever impossible!)

But, I’ll admit, despite knowing that SMART goal planning, I don’t always follow it to the letter.  I definitely have goals that aren’t time bound (don’t we all have something sort of simmering on the back burner that we want to do “some day,” usually a grander item, but with lower priority or relevance to our currents lives?), and several of my goals lack specificity, but often it’s because I find the flexibility helpful or conducive to that specific goal.  The more you learn to work within the SMART goals framework, the more, I think, you’ll understand how it relates to certain goals and what you can get away with tweaking to reap the most positive results.

Other things that I’ve learned from my own personal experiences:

Writing things down helps in so, so many ways.  Writing things down holds you accountable, so write down goals, plans, steps, and deadlines in your journal or planner (but also but it in a digital calendar, the kind that will send you reminders!  Writing stuff down helps me a lot, but uh, the whole thing with my ADHD is I don’t always remember to check my planner).  The bigger benefit I have found with writing things down is that I have a record of my experiences that allows me to look back an see patterns in my behavior, my progress, and my failings or shortcomings.  It allows you to check in with yourself, see if you’re on track, brain dump any concerns, frustrations, or issues you may have, and generally makes you feel more connected to what you are tying to accomplish.

Start small.  I almost didn’t include this because I thought, surely this is sort of implied in the SMART goal method?  But it’s technically not.  Look, if you want to get healthy, “Go to the gym four times a week for a month” might technically fit the SMART goal outline — it’s specific, time bound, technically (on paper) achievable, definitely measurable, and maybe you really want to start a gym routine and it feels relevant to you.  But you need to look at where you currently are first — just because you are free to go to the gym four days a week doesn’t mean it’s actually an achievable goal, especially if your currently level of activity is “sitting on my couch watching Queer Eye for five hours a night” (ahem, not… not that that’s a personal example or anything).  If health is your overarching goal, start with going to the gym once a week for a month, then work up to two, or three, etc.  Instead of suddenly imposing a strict 9 pm bedtime in a quest to get more rest, maybe move your bedtime up by ten or fifteen minutes at a time over the course of a few weeks.  A goal can be SMART on paper, but you need to apply it to your real life, and if this is going to work for you, or burn you out after Week One.

Start with one goal, or keep goals interconnected.  Every New Year, for years and year, I was going to overhaul my whole life.  All at once!  All of it!  Which lasted about two weeks.  I’m sure you all have similar stories.  Habits take time to develop, and if you are trying to be mindful and deliberate in your goal setting, then you likely only have the time, energy, and mental capacity to focus on one major goal at a time (doubly so if you have ADHD).  If you’re that guy and you really want to be ambitious, see if you can combine goals in a synergistic way, or choose goals that naturally or organically link together.  For example, you might want to drink more water, and less soda (or cut it out all together).  Those are two separate goals, but they work together incredibly well.  Maybe, you want to start a YouTube channel and also read more books; you can set a goal to start a BookTube channel where you review books in your preferred genre.  But keep it to one goal, or one hybrid goal; you won’t get anywhere if your goal is “organize my house and my wardrobe and stop eating junk food and go to the gym every day and write a novel and…”  Remember, after a month or so (habits take about 21 days to become slightly more automated behaviors), you can check in with yourself and see if you are ready to take on another goal.

Seek out and connect with other people with the same goals.  And don’t tell me you don’t know where to look; you’re on a blog, you clearly have some sense of social media.  Search blogs, create your own blog, or forum, or message board, or talk to your friends on Facebook about starting a group there.  I’ve said it before, having people “watching” me (and I mean that in, like, the least creepy sense possible) as well as being seen as a support person for others keeps me more engaged than if I’m the only person holding myself to the task.  Plus, working with other people allows you to map out more detailed road maps, gives you a support/knowledge pool if issues arise, and can really build a sense of camaraderie and connection.

One that note…

Reward yourself with experiences with people, not with things.  I’ve said this in a few articles I’ve written about NaNoWriMo over on Medium.  Do you know how many times I’ve said things like, “well, that’s it! I can’t have this chocolate until I finish this chapter,” and some other part of me is like, “bitch, you thought,” and then I eat the damn chocolate?  Because I know when I’m BSing myself.  No one is going to stop me eating the chocolate, whether I achieve that goal or not.  But if my goal is, “a nice dinner out with my husband” when I complete a step on my goal, guess what?  My husband won’t go out to eat with me until I finish that step.  So — coffee with a friend if you hit word count.  A Girl’s Night Out if you’ve hit the gym three times this week.  You need to be transparent and let your fiends know this is the plan, but trust me, it will help.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve found to work well for me.  I’m actually making good progress on all my creative goals right now (though I think I’m going to willingly allow myself to fall one day behind in NaPoWriMo because I am just feeling sick and overwhelmed.  Hmm, we’ll see how the evening plays out).

What goals are you all currently working on, and how are you holding yourselves to them?

Fixations and Fandoms

e1d57-atoz2019tenthannOkay, so here’s a cheat day (spoiler alert: there might be a few of them this month), though, in my defense, internet fandom is the realm of high emotions and hyper-fixation, and is incredibly kind to — and honestly, probably dominated by — fans with neurodivergences.

This was partially inspired by my husband, who, when I told him I was thinking of doing the A-to-Z Challenge and was brainstorming themes, wondered aloud if I thought I had “enough fandoms” to do a Fandom A-to-Z.  Which, honestly, I think would be both a challenge and a boatload of fun, but instead I decided to keep more thematically connected to the blog.  And, since this blog is both personal and about neurodivergence, I figured I could spare a couple of posts that hit on one or both slightly more tangentially.

I have been in fandom for the better part of my life.  I honestly think I’m as drawn to fandom as I am because of who I am — I fixate, hyperfocus, and perseverate as a simple fact of my existence, and I’ve engaged in a what I’d call mild maladaptive daydreaming to some extent since I was nine years old. The fact that fandom accepts and celebrates that level of devotion, focus, and enthusiasm and allows a safe, social space for escapist fantasy speaks to me on a deep, down-in-my-soul level.

I feel like mainstream perception of fandom has improved exponentially over my lifetime, though I also think there is still some of the old stigma; people, I think, assume fandom skews younger than it does, and s a result tends to infantilizes adults who are active participants (though, as I said, this is become less of an issue as more and more people are becoming openly fannish).  My own fandom has, ever since I entered fandom at 12 or 13 years old, skewed heavily toward female/queer-centered spaces and fandoms, spanning a wide age range; I think the current perception that fandom skews younger is because younger fans 1.) have co-opted most of the new mediums that are conducive to fandoms gathering, 2.) have more time in which to pursue fannish activities, and 3.) have less of a reason to be covert about their ages/mask or compartmentalize their lives outside of fandom.

I am very careful about who I reveal my fannishness to; I guess that sound hypocritical, since here I am blogging about it, but I mean in more specific terms.  I’ll talk about being fannish, or even about a particular fandom, but I likely won’t share meta, or art, or fanfic (even though I produce and consume all three) publicly — and lest you think that’s silly or overly dramatic, I’d like to point out that the phrase, “in the fandom closet” exists for a reason.  However, while I’m not going to be plastering my blog with links to my fandom personas or any of my fanfic, I’m happy to talk fandom in a more general sense with anyone who is interested… and often people who are less than interested, to be honest.

To that end, it’s incredibly hard for me to talk succinctly about fandom, so in lieu of writing a cohesive piece beyond what I’ve already got, let me give you a few Fandom Tidbits and Highlights, and I encourage other readers with fannish leanings to share their own.

Year I Got Involved with Fandom:  1996
How Old I Was:  13
First Fandoms:  Disney, specifically Darkwing Duck, The Lion King, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
First Fandom I Ever Wrote For:  Les Miserables
Longest Active Involvement in a Fandom:  Harry Potter
Most Intense Involvement in a Fandom:  House, M.D.
Fandom I’ve Read the Most Fic For:  House, M.D.
Fandom I’ve Written the Most Fic For (Published or Not): Les Miserables and Sherlock
First Convention I Ever Attended:  LeakyCon 2009
Most Hit-Me-Out-of-the-Blue Fandom:  Clay Aiken/The Claymates, post American Idol Season 2
Fandom That Has Had the Greatest Impact on My Real Life:  Supernatural and GISHWHES
Fandoms for Which I’ve Encountered Cast or Creators: RENT, Welcome to Night Vale, Steven Universe
Fandom for Which I’ve Attended the Most IRL Events:  Sherlock and Doctor Who

I welcome questions, discussion, and further contributions.

Seriously.  I can talk about this all day.

Executive Functioning

e1d57-atoz2019tenthannExecutive function/dysfunction is a term I throw around a lot, and I’ve got to admit, it was laughably late in life before I really understood what it really meant.  Over time, working in my field (Special Ed.), identifying with so many of my students,and doing my own research, I started to realize that executive functioning is more than, say, a messy backpack or late assignments.

It’s actually executive functions — plural — and when we talk about executive dysfunction, we’re actually talking about a set of several separate-but-related skills that people with ADHD and other neurodivergences have relative weakness (and relative strength) in.  Different sources have different ways of categorizing skills, but some commonly accepted categories are working memory, organization, task planning, emotional control, initiating work, time management, monitoring, and shifting attention.

I am definitely weaker than most people in all these areas, but my areas of relative strength are monitoring (“The ability to judge the quantity and quality of ones work based on expected standards”) and emotional control, though that is still considerably lower than my monitoring skills, and pretty low overall (but much, much stronger than it was when I was a child/teenager).

Also, executive functions aren’t all or nothing, and I find that because they are all so tightly intertwined (and because we all have other things going on in our minds that can impact our behavior), that I actually function slightly better or worse even in my problem areas depending on situations and circumstance — for example, my intense anxiety and fear of both letting people down and being caught off guard, I often have an extremely good handle on my work schedule, our timetable at work, where I (and my coworkers!) are all supposed to be, etc.  So for example, while I honest-to-God lose my phone every ten minutes (at the height of work activity, that is not an exaggeration), I know exactly where I’m supposed to be with my students every minute of the day.

For  long time, I thought that these bright spots meant that I must not have “real issues,” it really must just be carelessness or laziness, but the emotional toll the anxiety causes me made me realize it was really just a separate mental issue that happened to, under a very specific set of circumstances, work in my favor.  But living at that level of hyper-vigilance at all times and for all things would be devastatingly emotionally and mentally exhausting.

Do you know when I realized all of that stuff — the task shifting, the emotional regulation issues, the time management — all fell under the executive functioning designation?  I was an adult.  Like, not an especially young adult — and adult who had been working in the Special Ed. field for several years, and would never have looked into or learned more about it had I not been working with kids with the diagnosis.  I feel like the outsider’s perception (if they even have one) when they hear “executive dysfunction” is messy room/desk, absentmindedly misplaces things, etc.  I especially feel like the emotional component is entirely overlooked.  I spent so much of my childhood being screamed at about my “hysterics” and disproportionate reactions to seemingly inconsequential things, and I wound up spending a years feeling angry at myself for what I knew were over-wrought responses, but which I simply couldn’t control.

And hey, if any of this sounds familiar to you, this past Christmas I got The Adult Executive Functioning Workbook, which included a link to an executive dysfunction test that will rate your relative strengths and weaknesses in several areas.  It’s a short test, and obviously not a formal diagnosis, but it is interesting to get a perspective on where you’re strengths and deficiencies lie (don’t worry, you don’t have to provide your email to take the quiz).

Day in the Life

e1d57-atoz2019tenthannI talk a lot about my management strategies – how I keep my life in order, how I clean, how I manage and organize my life, my time, my home.  And those strategies work, when I can keep up with them.

But sometime parenthood, work, and ADHD create a perfect storm and I spend days overwhelmed and exhausted.  On those days, it doesn’t take much to catalyze a full-blown backwards slide — it just takes a lapse in my hyper-vigilance.  It takes one day of not paying attention to start everything falling back into chaos again.

I feel like bloggers, especially parent bloggers (and vloggers) don’t like to showcase that.  And I guess, in some ways, that makes sense – why would we?  Why would we want people looking at our own imperfect lives when we’ve been conditioned that media for consumption (especially media revolving around family) has to be cultivated and curated to show only the Best Of?  Why would we, as media consumers, want to look at other people’s messes, when our own lives can be so chaotic?

But, I mean… we should.  I’m sorry, we should.  Because as much as I will continue to strive to be better at keeping up with my responsibilities, I refuse to believe that my chaos is that much worse than other people’s — and if it is, then you deserve to see what it is I’m grappling with.

I feel like so much of the pressure on me — the pressure I put on myself — is because I feel like everyone else is in such a better place than me.  And don’t get me wrong, if I found out all my friends had chaotic houses, it wouldn’t make me less ambitious to keep my house in order (I objectively function better in a more organized environment), but maybe I’d feel like less of a failure.  Like, less of an abject failure as an adult, a partner, a parent.

This is, in no way, the worst of the worst.  But this is my house.  This is what I woke up to this morning.

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To reiterate — this is mild.  This is, “my husband’s day off is Wednesday, so he spent time doing some picking-up while I was at work and my son was at child care but my son spent the night at home with the stomach bug and I managed to get nothing else done.”  You should see the house after “hell week at work” or “Jessica had the flu,” or “overzealous attempt at an especially ambitious art project.”  Those’ll strike fear into your hearts.

For so many of us — parents, neurodivergent folk, people with health issues, etc. — especially those of us who feel like we are part of blogger/vlogger lifestyle culture, representations of actual, unstaged chaotic homes are legitimately important.

We are not failures.  We just get overwhelmed sometimes.

We are not bad parents.  Housecleaning just takes a back seat to other parenting duties sometimes.

We are not slobs.  We just have executive dysfunction issues.

I’m not proud of my chaos, but I’m tired of being ashamed of it.

Saturday morning, I start over, and hope I have a better, longer run this time.

“Blessing” of ADHD

e1d57-atoz2019tenthannI have issues with people telling me how to feel about, well, my issues.

I’ve always been my own harshest critic; no one can rip me apart as violently and vehemently as I do to myself.  While I’m known at work and amongst peers for giving people ample chances (arguably more than they deserve) and being compassionate and nurturing, I rarely extend those niceties to myself.

Someone else might be having a hard time, but me?  I’m just a fuck-up.

To be fair, I’ve never fully bought into that – it’s a dark, passing thought that luckily has never found enough purchase to grow roots and blossom into a full-blown mindset.  But it’s a thought that, throughout my life, has recurred with fair frequency, and among the ADHD community, I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

So I understand and appreciate when people try to spin ADHD as a gift, I really do.  

But I’m not sure I fully buy into that, either.

I don’t know, at this point in my life, if it’s possible to separate who I am as a person from my ADHD.  So much of how I think (literally), and how I react to and interact my environment is so deeply entwined with my neurotype that it can’t be considered a separate entity, though I do sometime use othering language (My ADHD makes me…, Because of my ADHD…)  It is who I am, and I have made some sort of peace with that, but I don’t buy into the boundless, unconditional positivity that people want to force on me.

Some people are proud; that is an inextricable part of their unique personhood.  Pride is a wonderful thing – self-reliance and strength. But pride can also be self-sabotaging, making you incapable of admitting a wrong, or asking for or accepting help.  Some people are strong-willed, and admirably stand up for their beliefs and refuse to cow to the demands of others, but in excess this can become obstinance and rigidity, and make people incapable of learning and growing.

My point is, we are spectral – everything we do and are exist along a spectra of values.  Pride is wonderful until it becomes vanity; a strong-will is admirable until it tips over into bull-headedness.

And there are a number of qualities I associate with ADHD that can be useful, wonderful, brilliant, and sometimes are — but sometimes aren’t.  Sometimes they’re too much — too, too much — or just not enough.

I often love my hyper-focus; when I am really into something, I am driven to excel in it, or to learn everything I can about it.  Fixations sometimes arise out of the blue, and they are exciting, and unexpected, and I love discovering new interests and new activities to engage in.  But when I’m in full hyper-fixation mode, my internal sense of time stops; as far as I know, I could have been engaged for thirty minutes or three hours; I really have no innate sense.  I often hyper-fixate at the expense of other things – things like basic hygiene or household maintenance or sleep – and while I’m not a risk-taker, I’m creatively impulsive, so it’s incredibly difficult for me to not, say, decide I’m really into painting and then go a drop a ton of money on supplies for a hobby that may only hold my attention for a few weeks.

I love the intensity with which I love things.  Mundane things, things that would probably be described as routine or possibly even dull, make me transcendentally happy; I once read something by Emerson where he described being “glad to the brink of fear,” and that resonated with me deeply.  I seldom feel contentment, but I often feel waves of intense happiness and joy in the present moment. On the other side of this, though, is that I feel unpleasant emotions equally intensely. Small inconveniences can make me rage. Perceived slights can send me into anxiety spirals (I’ve learned, in adulthood, that this might be something called Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria).  The ups, in other wards, can be downright euphoric, but sometimes I’d rather have less intense “highs” if it meant tempering the “lows.”

I still want to remain positive.  I still want to believe that this thing that can sometimes feel like such a heavy burden has, within it, something that can buoy me up. Something that is a Net Good, and not just a zero sum total of positive and negatives.  When I think of it in those terms, I am left with a few things.

I am left with my compassion; my understanding that sometimes, even the seemingly half-assed attempts that others may sneer it is the hand-to-God best someone can do.  I understand that sometimes the weight of existence is already the heaviest load someone can handle, and in those moments, if I cannot lighten the load, I at least know not to add to it.  I understand intimately that different people have vastly different needs and capabilities, and know that equal treatment is not the same as equitable treatment (and I always try to be equitable). I try to be patient even with the people who most try my patience; they are usually the ones who need it most.

I am left with my sense of humor; my brain traces through-lines and finds connections in the most bizarre places, and I am constantly amusing myself with roundabout trains of thought and musings that probably seem like non-sequiturs to anyone not privvy to my internal monologue.  I find myself having to preface a lot of things I say with, “Ok, so I was think about X, which made me think about Y, which called to mind Z,” and while that might get tiring, I still love the connections my brain makes, and I love my sense of humor.

I am left with my creativity; the unique thoughts I bring to the table, the idiosyncratic way I process and use language and syntax, the things that draw my eye and interest and set my perspective apart.  For all I lament about lack of time to hone my skills, I love the raw material.  I love what my potential for creativity is.

We all have to come to terms with ourselves, with who we are and the way we are wired.

This is me.  I am not a burden, but sometimes I am burdened.

I am not a blessing, but sometimes I am blessed.

I am a balancing act.  And I still need practice.