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.


117. excogitate


excogitateverb: 1) To think out; devise; invent; 2) To study intently and carefully in order to grasp or comprehend fully.

Now is not the time for verbal swordplay, for unlikely flights of imagination and wildly shifting perspectives, for metaphysical conceit, for wit.

And nothing would be worse than a scholarly analysis. Erudition. Interpretation. Complication. Now is a time for simplicity. Now is a time for, dare I say it, kindness.

I thought being extremely smart would take care of it. But I see that I have been found out.

— Margaret Edson, Wit

I’ve always been a solitary sort of person. Just ask my roommates. Like the stereotypical scholar, I can hole away in my room for a day or two, seemingly without the need for human company. The west end of my bedroom is lined with books up to the ceiling, and my headboard is currently filled with volumes that are in the process of being read. I often emerge having forgotten how to actually talk to people, or converse with them in a way that isn’t on paper or screen. Such is the peril of the writer.

When I was about twelve years old, I distinctly recall driving to church with my family. I don’t remember specifically why, but on this occasion I can remember being angry with my father. That isn’t particularly notable since I was often angry with my father. Aside from the occasional connection over music, we’ve never really gotten on well. That in itself is also probably not particularly notable. It’s the age old theme, isn’t it? Father against son? Son against father? The Jungians were fascinated by “father hunger” and the pang felt for an absent parent, physically or otherwise.

My own father was physically present in the home as much as he could be. When we were younger he literally worked across the street at the Christian community college he taught at in rural Kansas. My two younger sisters and I were homeschooled during our entire stay there (1986-1993), so we’d see him when he came home for lunch some days. But he was largely absent emotionally. He and I rarely spent any time together, and if we did it often ended in a fight and me getting sent to my room. I don’t know if I even knew what was going on, if I knew to ask for his attention, or if he even knew how to reach out. Likely he did not. His own father was distant, from what I can hear, and physically abusive towards his own children.

So that afternoon, driving to church, sitting behind my dad with my sisters in the backseat of his blue Saturn, I suddenly decided then and there that I was going to have nothing more to do with love of any kind. (Yes, I know, very Ring des Nibelungen. And yes—das Rheingold is a gimmick.) It was messy, nonsensical, human, and left the lover open to getting taken advantage of and hurt. The best course of action was to shut myself off from the world; to be hard and untouchable; and all that sort of thing.

But the sad thing is that it rather worked. Now, this is around the time that I started to enter puberty, and was also starting to get an inkling that I might not be heterosexual, despite all the indoctrination and against the expectations of my family, so this may have been an unconscious tactic to guard against them finding out.

Part of it was too that I was tired of not being accepted by my family. Shortly after this my parents started attending parenting seminars and began to see all of the mistakes that they’d made, but it was rather too late for all of that. The damage had been done. And to keep myself safe, I shut my family out. I refused to let any of them love me, because for so much of my early years “love” meant getting hurt. Sadly, this also meant that attempts on my parents’ part to make amends for that glanced off, and were met instead with violent resentment from my child-self.

Even now, I still resent my parents for what they didn’t do then; but there’s no going back to change anything. They’ve apologized, but I doubt it will ever be enough.

Yes, other people have had much worse from their parents—years of physical (and even sexual) abuse, neglect, abandonment, etc. But it feels as though they left me half-formed as an adult. Most people miss out on those things from their parents, but find it in friends or other parental figures. My younger sister and I were homeschooled up until the 9th grade; but aside from some friends from church and a few kids in the neighborhood, I didn’t have many friends. My younger sister had many friends from dance, and my youngest sister had friends from band. For me, I threw myself into the only thing I was decent at: piano. I practiced a lot, sometimes up to four hours a day.

For me, love, self-worth and acceptance are tied up in what I do, and how good I am at those things. Any failure (perceived or real) is viewed as a personal defect that downgrades my personal worth. The only way that I felt I could get my parents’ approval was to be really good at piano. And for a while I was. Then I was good at composition. And then I wasn’t getting commissions, and getting rejection letters from competitions and contests and artists.

And the sick thing is that I know intellectually what’s happening. I’m writing about it in an almost auto-narrative fashion! But I can’t seem to do anything about it.

As desperately as I want to be in a relationship, there’s no way I could be in one right now without unconsciously sabotaging it. I can’t believe that anyone loves me because I don’t truly love myself.

So much for being smart.