282. doldrums


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.


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.


208. contiguous


Arkham HorrorThis past weekend proved to be quite a blur of activity, confirming yet again that I am an introvert who requires significant time away from other human beings in order to survive. Or at least stay sane.

My friends Matt and Jason put on their annual four-day mini game convention at their home, and this was my first time attending. There were at least ten people staying at the house for the entire four days, and another five or so who came for just the day — like a regular convention.

Basically, there was a lot of game playing. Card games. Tabletop games. Competitive games. Cooperative games. Games with blocks. Games with mechanical pieces.

And there was food, beverage and snacks throughout.

I and one other attendee were there as “house elves.” Our job was essentially housekeeping — to keep the place in relative order for four days. There was the kitchen to keep clean, the bar, several game tables, a jug of water to refill, hand towels to wash, fold and redistribute. For all this, our room and board for the entire weekend was covered.

What I wasn’t counting on was the emotional toll the four days would take on me. Being around people is an exhausting enough of an enterprise on normal days. Being with people almost non-stop for four days — some of whom I didn’t know — was tantamount to blowing my entire monthly emotional budget in one go. By Sunday, I had nothing left.

This is the stupid reality of being an introvert, and a schizoid to boot. We’re not antisocial. The “Unabombers” and Howard Hughes of the world have that well covered, thank you very much. We’re often driven by loneliness to seek out other people, but it requires the focus of a deficit hawk to manage our emotional energy so that we can spend time with other people but not burn out completely while doing so.

I didn’t do such a good job of emotional resource management.

It might not have been so difficult if my life were going better at the present. As it is, I don’t know if my bastard landlord is going to pull some shenanigans to defraud me of my security deposit on my apartment come May. I’m working this week at a short-term temp assignment but don’t know where income will come from after March 21.

This afternoon I got a letter in the mail from the University of Southern California saying:

After careful review of your application and supporting material, the Admission Committee has asked me to inform you that your application to the Master of Music program in Composition for Fall 2014 has not been approved, and we are not able to offer you admission to this program.

Not that I was really expecting to get in after the last two rejections from the Eastman School of Music and the University of Michigan. However, to be thirty-one years old and basically starting over at this stage in life feels as if my game character has died and I’m starting over with a brand new character.

As Julia Sweeney might say, “That’s a special feeling.”

It might not have been such a rough weekend if three factors hadn’t whittled away what little there is of my inner confidence:

First, I was one of the very few single people there. The vast majority of attenders came with a spouse or partner. There were all the usual imagined slights — private jokes, knowing looks, pet names, etc. All the things that make single people feel… well, conspicuously single. On Saturday we watched a movie, and virtually everyone was sitting with a significant other. And I was sitting in a bean bag chair with myself and a gin-and-tonic.

Second, I felt very much outside of my tax bracket. One evening while wiping down the bar and putting glasses in the dishwasher, I overheard a conversation between three people about sailing. Not just sailing — yacht sailing, which is about one of the most expensive hobbies one could have besides, oh, I don’t know, collecting Persian carpets or playing polo. Everyone else there seemed to have jobs, careers… lives.

Third, no one seemed to like me. Now, of course I know myself well enough to know that this is likely not the case. I have a tendency to project my own insecurities on to strangers and assume the worst. I interpret random glances and remarks as signs of disapproval or dislike.

Who is that guy? What’s he doing here? He doesn’t talk to anybody. Seriously, what’s wrong with him? And he has no clue how to play this game. What a loser…

Add to that the fact that I won hardly any of the games, and what games I did win were by sheer luck or attrition. As Harry protests to Hermione and Ron in Order of the Phoenix, “I didn’t know what I was doing half the time, I didn’t plan any of it, I just did whatever I could think of, and I nearly always had help.”

Admittedly, I hate losing games. Or anything. In college, I failed the black-key minor scale portion of the required piano proficiency exam. I had a piano lesson afterward, and ended up in tears at the beginning. My teacher noted, “You’re not used to failing anything, are you?” I could say a lot about that, about my parents’ exacting standards and the exacting standards I still hold myself to. Another time, perhaps.

But this weekend, every loss seemed to be a reminder of how worthless I usually feel, how unattractive and undesirable. I feel as if I don’t have anything meaningful to contribute, no useful skills to offer. I feel unworthy of most people’s company or goodwill.

It’s suffocating and beyond demoralizing.

I worry that I’ll never do anything significant with my life.

That I’ll never find a man I’m compatible with.

A friend asked me on Sunday: “Why so mean to yourself?”

Probably because it’s one thing I’m proficient at.