285. variegated

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paint-260701_640I finally scheduled an AD/HD assessment for myself. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that it isn’t until the end of the month.

When I called to speak with the clinic about setting up an appointment, they asked what I felt were my three biggest area of impairment.

And I froze.

Just three?

For how much I’ve thought and written about this, the bottom dropped out from under my completely and my mind went blank.

It was humiliating but illustrative.


The DSM-5 criteria for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (annotated):

1. Inattention: Six (or more) of the following symptoms have persisted for at least 6 months to a degree that is inconsistent with developmental level and that negatively impacts directly on social and academic/occupational activities:

a. Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or during other activities.

My first semester in grad school in 2015, we had an assignment to review and analyze one year of professional journal issues related to our area of focus. I chose American Archivist. Or rather, I missed the “one year” part and ended up looking at all 77 volumes going back to 1938 and did a qualitative analysis of article titles and subjects covered. This is just one spectacular example of the types of “careless mistakes” I make on a daily basis. I can read through instructions multiple times and the last time I’ll focus on one intriguing detail that will blot out all the other steps.

b. Often has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities.

During the time that it took to write the above paragraphs, I watched five YouTube videos, looked up diagnostic criteria for three other conditions in the DSM-5, read three blog entries, scrolled through my Facebook feed, went to pet the dogs, took photos of the sleeping dogs, refilled my water glass, checked email, looked through an ADHD resources website, refilled my water glass again, went upstairs to look for a book, forgot why I went upstairs and ended up wiping down the granite countertops in the kitchen…

c. Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.

It’s not that I’m not listening. It’s that I’m trying to remember what you said ten seconds ago, because it was probably important, and I’m not taking notes. I should be taking notes. Where’s my notebook? Why don’t I have a notebook on my desk? Where are the notebooks in the building? Oh god, you just said something else that sounded important. What were you saying earlier again? Augh, why am I not taking notes? Oh, right, I was looking for my notebook. Where do they keep the notebooks again? I should really go get one. Oh gods, yes, you’re still talking!! I should really be taking notes…

d. Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace.

See a., b., and c. Also e.

e. Often has difficulty organizing tasks and activities.

It’s ironic that cataloging was the area of librarianship that most excites me, because I am not organized at all in my personal life. Things typically go where I’m going to find them. There’s always a moment at the outset of any task or activity where I feel utterly overwhelmed and overcome with anxiety about how to proceed. If I am working by myself, it’s usually not a problem—if I can sustain the mental energy and it’s something that interests, that is. Usually I start with the thing that seems most important, which may simply be the first thing that catches my attention and seems important. Because priorities are a tricky thing for me—either nothing is a priority, or everything is.

Yeah, I don’t understand priorities.

f. Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort.

This should not be interpreted as laziness. It’s more that a lengthy chapter in a book or an article looks like Mount Everest to me. I know that, to get through it, I’m going to have to take notes to keep track of all the details, and fend off all the other distractions that I know are going to crop up the minute I try to focus.

g. Often loses things necessary for tasks or activities.

Notebooks. Pens. Allergy medication. Sunglasses. Sunscreen. Books. Laptop. Flash drive. Car keys. Work keys. Canvas bags. Lists (oh god, lists). Food. Security badges. Etc.

h. Is often easily distracted by extraneous stimuli (for older adolescents and adults, may include unrelated thoughts).

See below. Also, having a conversation with me that stays on topic is near impossible. In the span of about thirty seconds I could interrupt myself 2-3 times with a related thought that quickly turns unrelated, which will lead to various anecdotes and things that I am suddenly able to remember that I would never be able to recall if I tried. Last semester I interrupted myself in a final presentation to comment that a thing I’d just explained sounded like a really interesting research question, and I almost didn’t get back on topic, even with my notes. I got lost during a piano performance once when someone sneezed or moved in my peripheral vision, causing me to lose focus entirely.

i. Is often forgetful in daily activities.

A frequent occurrence for me is to walk into a room and have no idea why I’m there. For a while I worried that this was a symptom of early-onset Alzheimer’s. In reality, what happens between the time that I set out to go get something and the time that I arrive is that I’ve gone down numerous thought holes and daydream tunnels, and was really only half focused when I decided I needed to go get the thing that I’ve arrived in the room to fetch. This happens to me at least three times a day.


People talk about AD/HD as if it’s a license to be whimsical and carefree.

It’s exhausting and stressful.

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282. doldrums

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The period in the weeks and months after school lets out have been some of the most listless recently. I am doing a practicum internship this summer, but that’s not the same as class.

As one who depends on adrenaline energy to get through the day, lacking the power of structure and urgency to propel me takes the proverbial wind out of my sails. One day is much like another.

I have one more semester and then this is real life, albeit with a master’s degree.

Thankfully I have the nonsense with the American government to distract me.


Recently I’ve been doing some more formal reading on AD/HD to get a better handle on this condition and how I can prevent it from wreaking any further havoc on my life.

  • Barkley, Russell A., and Christine M. Benton. Taking charge of adult ADHD. New York: Guilford Press, 2010.
  • Sarkis, Stephanie Moulton. Adult ADD: a guide for the newly diagnosed. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, 2011.

As Vivian observes in Wit, “My only defense is the acquisition of vocabulary.

As I observed in a previous post, one theory about the cause of AD/HD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder) is that it is due in part to a dopamine disorder, the neurotransmitter that helps to regulate emotional responses and take action to achieve specific goals, along with feelings of reward and pleasure.

It’s thought that AD/HD may be a deficiency of dopamine receptors, meaning that although dopamine is produced at normal levels in the brain, there aren’t enough receptors to process that neurotransmitter.

There may also be higher concentrations of proteins called dopamine transporters in the brains of AD/HD people, meaning that for these individuals dopamine is prevented by that protein from moving from one cell to the next.

This helps outline three of the most prominent hallmarks of this condition in my life: namely, an inability to regulate my emotions, an inability to follow through on my goals (despite all my best intentions), and experiencing a hollowness when it comes to rewards and pleasure.

Even when I do manage to achieve a goal, or manage to do something impressive, I can’t enjoy it.

At the conclusion of my senior composition recital in college, I recall standing in front of my applauding peers and teachers just after the final notes of the last piece, and feeling as if all of it were an afterthought. I’d already moved on to the next thing, but I had to act as if I was enjoying the moment. It was awful.

I always thought this was because my parents consistently downplayed my successes lest pride go to my heart, instead attributing my efforts to Jesus’ work.

Maybe it’s simply a lack of dopamine in my brain.

Dr. Russell Barkley calls AD/HD a “blindness to the future” or “intention deficit disorder” rather than an “attention disorder.”

It’s a “nearsightedness to time.”


As I alluded to several posts ago, like most AD/HD folks, I have an easy time starting projects, but a much harder time finishing them. I have eight promising bars of different pieces of music, but quickly lost interest once I’d begun.

My computer is full of writing projects that I started but forgot about or got bored with.

Even this blog has several dozen drafts of posts I began but never finished.

Any kind of long-term planning or habit formation is dependent on the successful function dopamine in the brain.¹ For those of us with AD/HD, that dopamine dysfunction makes it incredibly difficult to follow through with long-term projects because we don’t experience any of those chemical rewards that NT² brains do as soon as we’ve begun or meet benchmarks.

For me, AD/HD is characterized by the tyranny of the “now” and the “new.” Things are interesting or important so long as they are right in front of my face, or immediately looming on the temporal horizon. Otherwise, they are a problem for the me of the future.

And the frustrating thing is that I recognize that this is a problem. I have so much field data about how I’ve fucked up by waiting until the last minute to start projects, missed deadlines, and lost out on opportunities because they just weren’t urgent enough.

Even worse, my behavior is mystifying and frustrating to those close to me. You’re very intelligent, they say, so why can you just work hard to apply yourself?

Great question. Let me get back to you on that.³


The personal ramification of AD/HD for me is that it makes long-term relationships very difficult to manage.

Like with projects, unless I see people every day, I’m going to forget about them, no matter how good of friends we are. My brain has trouble processing anything outside of the “now.”

Plus, I often test friends’ patience with my impulsiveness and short temper. A deficiency of dopamine, along with a practically inactive anterior cingulate cortex, means that before I’ve had a chance to think about the consequences of my blowing up, I’ve already done it and am horrified and perplexed by my behavior.

What this means for my dating life is that… well, nothing good.

To begin, all of the above can prove deterrents for potential boyfriends. Most gay men are actually pretty averse to crazy, and mine has a way of manifesting itself on its own.

A lack of emotional regulation means that, although I rarely feel attracted to a guy, when I do, holy shit.

My crushes are very intense.

If I’d been out in high school, I probably would’ve learned coping techniques to avoid verbally vomiting on guys I like as often, or to avoid my anxiety turning me into a veritable tweak-fest of awkwardness around someone.

It’s also very difficult for me to retain romantic or sexual feelings for most guys beyond an initial encounter. Without the dopamine rush of reward in a sexual experience, romantic feelings are tough to sustain.

I worry that AD/HD has ruined my chances at finding a decent guy.


References/Footnotes:

¹ Georgia Health Sciences University. “Habit formation is enabled by gateway to brain cells.” ScienceDaily. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111221140448.htm (accessed July 4, 2017).
² NT = Neurotypical.
³ Though I have every intention of actually getting back to you about this in the moment, in actuality I’ll have forgotten that we even had this conversation within two minutes, meaning that I won’t get back to you and you’ll think I’m a complete flake.

279. hiraeth

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You’re unhappy. You’re isolated. You think you’re the cause of this unhappiness and are unworthy of affection so you’ve few friends… you can’t stop thinking about what you’ve lost, again, for which you blame yourself. So the cycle goes on, the snake eating its own tail.

– Dr. Seward, “The Day Tennyson Died,” in Penny Dreadful (Season 3)


I’m finally done with the spring semester of grad school, so I can write again.

This term felt harder to get through than others, maybe because I’m so close to the end of my master’s—seven months, exactly. Even though the two courses I took were interesting and the projects that I worked on intriguing, summoning the resolve to get through the last two weeks of the semester felt like scaling Everest in the middle of a storm.

By last week, it felt like I was just hanging on for dear life.

I’ve realized that in addition to depression and anxiety, there’s a third spoke to my fun wheel of mental health merriment: adult attention deficit disorder.

It’s one of those conditions that I always associated with rowdy boys, or an excuse for subpar students.

Yet what the literature has taught me is there are three types of ADD:

  • Type 1: Predominantly Inattentive
  • Type 2: Predominantly Hyperactive
  • Type 3: Combination

It’s the second type that gets the most press, while the first one most often gets missed or misdiagnosed.

Amen, Daniel. “Are There Really 7 Types of ADD?” ADDitude Magazine. April 17, 2017. https://www.additudemag.com/slideshows/7-types-of-add-adhd-amen/.

Type 1 is the one I seem to have.

Had I not been homeschooled, and been fortunate to live in a district with decent in-school mental health services, I might have been diagnosed earlier, because so many of the symptoms describe things I’ve struggled with over the years, such as:

  • Poor sustained attention span for reading, paperwork, etc.
  • High susceptibility to boredom by tedious material
  • Frequent lateness for appointments/work
  • A tendency to misplace things frequently
  • Poor organization and planning
  • Procrastination until deadlines are imminent
  • Failure to listen carefully to directions
    (source)

I see evidence of this type of ADD throughout my life, in various manifestations. For example:

  • My bed growing up being covered in books as I’d read a couple of pages in one, then switch to another
  • Starting hundreds of writing and composing projects, but only completing a handful
  • Constantly losing my keys, books, belt, etc.
  • Making careless mistakes on tests or project work
  • Struggling to process verbal statements or instructions unless I take copious notes, or record audio to review later
  • Having no concept of time and constantly being late
  • Double-booking myself for appointments

What I’m learning from the literature so far is that ADD is not a matter of laziness. People with this condition lack filters most people have to block out distractions and stimuli.

For people like me, everything in an environment is a potential distraction, because everything comes in at once.

There are other characteristics of ADD, such as the ability to hyperfocus on things that interest someone, which is how I was able to practice piano for three hours a day growing up, or lose track of hours reading Pathfinder background material for a character backstory.

There are other less positive characteristics, such as fixed or inflexible thinking and an inability to shift easily from one task to another, which sounds like a contradiction until you consider that it takes neurotypicals an average of 25 minutes to refocus on a task after an interruption (Sullivan & Thompson, 2013). For people with ADD, day-to-day workplace multitasking can leave them feeling like untethered balloons in the wind.

Poor self-image is also a characteristic of ADD since individuals with this condition tend to be hyper aware of how they differ from others. Our post-Industrial Revolution society values conformity and efficiency, so people (and children especially) with ADD are often made to feel bad, inferior, or worthless.

And for me, add all the religious bullshit on top of that about how I wasn’t living up to the ideals the Bible supposedly set for me, along with post-traumatic stress from the trauma of internalized homophobia.

Then add the fact that ADD is often comorbid with other conditions—depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, substance abuse, schizoid personality disorder, and so on.

Fun.


A few weeks ago, I had a realization that I tend to scrutinize my sexuality and sexual values with the same level of severity that I used for evaluating my spiritual life.

Growing up on the bookish side, I developed a quasi Christian Gnostic, Neoplatonic mindset in which I came to view the body as low and bestial, while the soul and intellect could remain pure and uncorrupted by physical desires with discipline.

In retrospect, I think some of that was in response to being made by my parents to feel my needs (beyond physical sustenance) were unworthy, a bother, and therefore bad. My mind did what it needed to for survival.

Basically, I learned to discount my needs and my feelings.

This stayed with me, even after I came out. There is still a part of my mind that views physical desire as base and vulgar (as well as fearing it), and emotional connection as the highest and purest form of intimacy. This is also a coping mechanism in response to realizing that, as a demisexual, I didn’t experience attraction in the same way as most other men.

So I went back to my Gnostic, Neoplatonic roots.


A while ago I was reading Rik Isensee’s 1991 book Growing Up Gay In a Dysfunctional Family. It helped put into perspective how my parents employed shame and the threat of withholding love, and how they taught me to view homosexuality as wrong. There’s a lot in there about the effects of self-hatred on sexual development, and the emergence of self-deprivation.

I still have difficulty acknowledging my physical desires as legitimate as asking for something requires believing I’m worthy.

So analyzing everything to death is a surefire way of ensuring that I never have to deal with any of it.