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)
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.
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
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.
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.