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.

275. vergangenheitsbewältigung

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broken-mirror
According to a Buzzfeed video, vergangenheitsbewältigung roughly translates to in English: “to deal with the past and eventually overcome it.”

Thanks to X years of coaching German lied and picking up bits and pieces of the language, I can correctly pronounce this word without much prompting.

Even the umlaut.

Unfortunately, the concept itself seems to be one I have particular difficulty with.


Let’s start with an excerpt from an episode of This American Life:

Linda Perlstein: This is the time of biggest growth for a human being, aside from infancy… what happens in your early stages of puberty is this fast overproduction of brain cells and connections, far more than you actually need. And only some of them are going to survive puberty. This growth in your frontal cortex, it peaks at 11 for girls and 12 for boys. And then what happens is the cells just fight it out for survival. And the ones that last are the ones you exercise more.

Ira Glass: In other words, during those years, your brain turns you into you, the adult you.

This got me to thinking about my own adolescence and what was happening during the formative years Perlstein is talking about.

Puberty started around age 12 for me. For most boys, it happens in community with other young males. There’s competition, and cruelty, but also camaraderie. I experienced it in a vacuum as a homeschooled youth, with two younger sisters and parents who preferred to pretend nothing was happening.

I had to educate myself about puberty and adolescence by reading medical guidebooks that we had on hand at home, and at our local public library.

This was also where I first (inadvertently) learned about homosexuality.

Puberty was frightening, and deeply uncomfortable. I had no frame of reference to compare my own bodily experience against, and nothing with which to normalize it. Rather than evolving with my body and celebrating its masculinity, it became a symbol of shame and revulsion, something to be ashamed of rather than expressed.

It didn’t help that I was also learning in church that the body was a corrupting influence and a potential tool for Satan, right around the time that I was becoming aware of my own homosexuality.

Couple that with our community’s obsession with spiritual warfare and you’ve got a recipe for anxiety and hyper awareness that would destabilize the sturdiest of people.


Just over a year ago I wrote about watching Jessica Jones, how it deals with living with life-changing trauma, and encountering one’s past to find strength in overcoming it.

The character of Kilgrave was a frightening reminder of how much voices of the past are still taking up residence in my head, whispering, distorting and shaping perceptions, essentially pulling the reins of my behavior and choices for the last few decades.

Around the same time, I also got into another Netflix series, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which I found surprisingly emblematic for my own experience of having been trapped in my own proverbial bunker for fifteen years.

This second season seems to deal more with the ramifications of dealing with the trauma of having had your personal agency stolen from you in those formative middle school years, when you’re supposed to begin dealing and coping with all those complicated adult feelings and emotions.


I had a pretty good session with my therapist today in which I finally came out to her about the four personas taking up residence in my head. Writing about them over the last few weeks was good groundwork in preparing to talk about it, because I was able to hit on a few insights while describing what is going on.

One of the things my therapist said today was that people raised in extreme religious environments often fragment their personalities in the way that I described. To make sense of what we’re told every day, we mentally the bury parts of ourselves that are problematic, sinful, and “wrong” in order to be accepted, or acceptable, and to survive.

While my forward-facing social, public self has developed and grown, the four parts that I described a few posts ago—the Dark Man, the Enforcer, the Rake, and the Child—all represent parts of me that did not. In order to stay safe, they went into a sort of mental cryogenic stasis, coming out only when needed, so they didn’t mature along with the rest of me. My child self is still eight years old, the age when I took literally the Bible verse that says to “put away childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11).

The Dark Man is still the critical, judgmental, severe parent that fed my perfectionist nature when my flesh-and-blood parents failed to do so. He’s largely responsible for the sense I have of being overly rigid and inflexible.

Forbidden sexual feelings that I vehemently repressed for years, never being explored, realized, or integrated healthily into my personality remain detached and largely inaccessible to this day.

The Enforcer represents the desires and ambitions that I had to squelch and suppress every day, which then inverted into a dark, malevolent, amoral force that provided the energy to kill dreams that God/my parents didn’t approve of and bury my sexual self, but which has also allowed me to kill friendships and reject my family. This is where my black-and-white thinking largely stems from.

In short, these are survival mechanisms that took on a limited life of their own, but are holding me back from true growth and flourishing.

My therapist did have one piece of advice: to not make these personas out to be bigger or more than what they are, and to not grant them too much power or agency.

She also pointed out the fact that I’m actually aware of these parts of myself that are “stuck” is a sign of significant progress.

But all of this is a huge reason why I’m still single.

I’m not prepared to unleash the Four Horsemen of my Psyche onto some unsuspecting bastard.