Friday, September 21, 2012

Picking up and leaving off

I suppose I could make some expected, self-deprecating jokes about my abandonment of this blog and the difficulty in follow-through that's common to AD/HD. I am kind of inclined to bash myself a bit, actually, but maybe that's just habit. I feel badly that I've kept people waiting--I've gotten some nice emails from readers who've said they miss my posts and have made me feel like this project would be worth continuing, if I could. But here's what happened:

At the end of July I went to France, all by myself, and I had an amazing time. I walked the entirety of Paris, just about, and put every electron volt I could summon into the experience of enjoying myself, and then I took the train to a little village of 35 residents on a mountain in Languedoc and spent a week at an artists' retreat, writing poems and eating good food and playing the ukulele.

Two years ago, even one year ago, I would not have been able to make this trip and I won't go into all the reasons why--but sometimes I have to remind myself that I'm actually awake, and living this life. I feel so fortunate to be where I am, and to have found a way to live that makes sense and allows for joy after feeling impoverished for so long, in so many ways.

My plan was to take a break from the blog while I traveled, and pick up where I left off when I got back.

I've thought about this a lot, though, and I'm pretty sure that would be a bad idea. I'm pretty sure if I went on with this, it would just become another AD/HD blog about superficialities: how I put off important decisions until it's too late to make them at all, and feel like I'm always scrambling because everything, everything, everything takes me so much longer than I imagine it will, and how people come to my apartment and tell me I'm so tidy but they don't see the inside of my file drawer which is filled with folders labelled "stuff to sort out later" and "stuff that confuses me" and "stuff I forgot to deal with" and they don't see me open that drawer when I'm actually looking for something and start to cry. It's not the drawer or the folders or the papers--lost opportunities for money and publication, some of them, and, worse, lost opportunities for human connection: unanswered letters, requests, invitations--that make me feel different from everyone else, it's the crying. And I think this is the part of the AD/HD syndrome, whatever it is on a biological or psychological or cultural level, that people don't talk about very much--and that I just don't have the strength or need, having already expressed it, to keep writing blog posts about.

A blog seems like a failure unless it goes on and on, doesn't it? I feel a bit like a failure, ending this, but I also feel like I've done what I set out to do: I've told some of my story and connected with a few people who feel some of the same things. I've said some things that seem important about the way AD/HD, and mental illnesses and disorders in general, are portrayed in the media. I've mentioned a few resources I've found interesting and helpful. I've kind of gone from seeing the blog as an abandoned project to seeing it as a project that is actually finished. And that's kind of exciting: wow, hooray, I finished a project! I think perhaps that I made a mistake in choosing the blog format for this project in the first place: perhaps I would have been wiser to write an essay and try to find publication for it--but there was an urgency to my desire to share my experience, and the interaction the blog allows for has been important to me. So--perhaps I have simply applied the blog format in a nontraditional way.

Since so many people who've been in touch about what I've written here have talked about depression as a part of their experience, I would like to make one last recommendation (actually this is my only book recommendation, though I've mentioned lots of books): Darian Leader's The New Black. This is one of the smartest, most compassionate, and beautifully written books on the complexities of depression I've ever read.

Thanks so much to those who've read the blog! I have appreciated your kindness and generosity. I hope those who have written will continue to stay in touch.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Love & Work

I'm interested in hearing about how others with AD/HD have managed their work lives and careers--there are a lot of interesting stories there. In Buzz, Katherine Ellison writes about how perfectly being a foreign correspondent suited her: the constant travel and excitement enabled her to use some of her AD/HD traits as strengths. Her high energy level, restlessness, and need for novelty were satisfied by the job, and the structure imposed by the deadlines kept her tendencies toward distraction and procrastination in check.

I wouldn't make it one day as a foreign correspondent, though I was once a reporter for a small-town newspaper. I liked that job quite a lot, but even travelling daily around the county to interview people and cover school board meetings was exhausting to me. I liked that each day was different and I liked finally sitting down with all my notes and pulling them together into a news story, but I found it hard to shift gears between the long stretches of solitude at my desk or in my car and the kind of intense talking and listening involved in reporting. My head often seemed to be somewhere else, and I had trouble staying interested in the standard kinds of journalistic questions, and would ask pastors what they thought happens when we die instead of asking them about the Christmas program, and town clerks what their childhoods were like instead of asking them for the sand and salt budget.

I adore my work as a poetry professor, and I feel so fortunate to have wound up here, especially considering the circuitous route I've taken. There has been some luck involved (I have a lot to say about luck and AD/HD--I'll save that for another post), but it has also come out of absolute commitment to a peculiar and impractical vocation, and to an area that, on the surface, seems to offer few opportunities. Neither of those commitments were made rationally or with any idea that a job would come out of them, so I guess that makes me all the luckier.

Here's an (almost) complete, chronological list of jobs I've held since I graduated from college with a creative writing focus in 1993:

Dishwasher
Barista
Bookseller
Museum Guard
Newspaper Reporter
Ice Cream Scoop
Store Clerk
Human Resources Assistant
Textbook Manager
Godiva Boutique Sales Assistant
Library Circulation Assistant
Library Reserves Assistant
Arts High School Creative Writing Teacher
Arts Camp Creative Writing Teacher
Visiting Lecturer in Creative Writing
Visiting Assistant Professor in Creative Writing

The photo above is from my days as a museum guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art--I'm in the bottom row, second from the left.

Clearly my trajectory has been unconventional and uneven. Shifts such as the one from Newspaper Reporter to Ice Cream Scoop reflect events in my life, or moves--over the course of all of this I lived in eight different cities, grieved the death of a lover, got married, went to graduate school, and published a book, among many other things.

I spent a lot of time flopping around. I'm not sure how I wound up where I am, and sometimes it feels like my luck and my blessings are too fragile even to breathe on. In The Gift of Adult ADD Lara Honos-Webb says that despite what we were taught in school, we don't have to be good at everything. Having just one passion in life, and nurturing it even when it seems to offer no potential for worldly advancement, is enough in the end--though it can make for a difficult road along the way. I had no choice. Even when I was living in New York City, making minimum wage and living on sweet potatoes and coffee, I knew there was nothing besides poetry that could ever sustain me.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Ordinary materials

So, here's the problem. I'm feeling a little bit stuck with this blogging project, and because I think some of my AD/HD habits are contributing to the difficulty it seems to make sense to share some of what's going on.

Starting this blog was an impulsive decision, but one that I still think makes sense. It seems to me that much of what's available about Adult AD/HD, especially online, is either very clinical in nature or very superficial. There are impenetrable articles in medical journals, and then there are articles about how to organize your sock drawer and balance your checkbook. 

I've found only a few blogs that do a good job of telling what the experience of AD/HD actually feels like, and I wanted to contribute my experience to that growing body of work. I also wanted to provide a place to talk about news and findings in AD/HD research, and to critique the representation of AD/HD stereotypes in the media.

The media part of all of this has just made me mad. I get so mad I can hardly breathe, seeing those ridiculous photos I've labelled "Poster Children," and so I think I need to stop focusing on those stereotypes. Outlets that choose to illustrate articles about the incidence and treatment of a disorder that affects the quality of life of millions, and that underlies and contributes to co-morbid conditions like depression and bipolar disorder--conditions that kill people--with photographs like this (!), are simply not worth my time. These images are unfortunately all too common, and the underlying prejudice is pervasive and dangerous, but I've realized that I can't take that on here. Not in any meaningful way, and not without perpetuating and contributing to the negativity.

My Weekly News Gazette seemed like a good idea at first, too, but now I realize there are much better and more comprehensive clearinghouses for AD/HD news. Stephanie Sarkis's ADHD Daily, for one. So from now on I'll only comment on news items when I have personal observations to make about them, or when they relate to something else I've been thinking about.

What's left? Just me, and my experience of AD/HD. Which seems, from the responses to the blog I've gotten so far, to be what people want to hear about, anyway. I guess that's what I actually do go to personal blogs for: the flavor of a life, what the ordinary materials of a day amount to for another individual. When I look at my page stats for the site, the posts that have been read the most are the ones in which I talk about my blurts and my ukulele and my butterfly necklace. Those were the posts I most enjoyed writing, too.

Often, in my life, I have shared too much. I am quick to trust and sometimes my disclosures have had negative consequences. I've felt cheapened by giving away secrets about myself that are better than the person I've shared them with. I've frightened off people I like. In the worst cases, my vulnerabilities have been exploited and used against me. I worry that this whole blog is an instance of oversharing, and I worry about what my impulsive decision to share myself here might cost me.

But I can't seem to close myself down. My way of operating in the world has always been a dangerous way, I think. I don't know how to be cool or glib or ironic. I have this sloppy, shaggy heart that's always getting into the wrong peoples' yards. I believe the best way to counter the pervasive AD/HD stereotypes is to tell my story. Personal narratives need to replace the myths and oversimplifications. I'm going to keep trying to do that here, and I'm just going to have to trust that people who can use these words will find them, and that I'm smart and resourceful enough to handle the consequences of honesty.

Thanks so much for reading.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Pitying the rain

...Ask a glass of water why it pities
the rain. Ask the lunatic yard dog why it tolerates the leash.
                                                        -Terrance Hayes, "Lighthead's Guide to the Galaxy"

I have tried on both the glass's and the rain's philosophies. The glass is the clock with its beautiful, awful numbers that never stay still and the rain is the long, wastefully spent middle of summer, wishing I were better, wishing I were more. The glass is a clean calendar page or a song I know all the chords to or a star chart; the rain is being lost in the tunnels under Penn Station. Sometimes the rain is what I want: I want to walk out the door with no clear idea of where I'll be at the end of the morning. I want to spend the day on my bed, watching the sky unfurl and not bothering to tether my thoughts to anything solid.

I asked some friends, recently, if they would take short a vacation from embodiment if they could. I still don't know my own answer to that. The body's bigger than we remember to remember, I think: all our perceptions of beauty and comfort come through the senses, and I'm beginning to realize just how physical emotions are, too. How could I understand joy, or even contentment, without the accompanying sensations of bodily expansion and well-being? What is fear without the constriction of the chest, the legs' urge to kick or flee? I don't know enough about neuroscience to say this in technical terms, but in what I have read it has interested me that our very thoughts are made of physical relationships within the brain, connections and electrical currents passing between structures, and all within the context of the body's experience of what's outside of itself, and what it accepts into itself.

I believe in the intangible, too--there's more to me than flesh and electricity. I have no proof of that, except that when I play my ukulele I become music, and each time I step into the ocean I know, with absolute certainty, that I am more than food--even though it may well be my time to serve that purpose. But form is what allows me to recognize the music that I am.

Hayes is talking about form in his wonderful poem, which is a kind of ars poetica:

Not what you see, but what you perceive:
that's poetry. Not the noise, but its rhythm; an arrangement
of derangements; I'll eat you to live: that's poetry.

Art accepts form--requires, like the lunatic yard dog, an arrangement for itself, a container that both sets it apart from the noise around it and offers its content as a unified message that can be experienced on the sensory, human level.

This is why poetry is where I've always wanted to live. I struggle to make a structure that makes sense for myself, for my life: I think I have spent entire months of my life standing in the hallway, trying to remember a word while the world waited for me to take some meaningful action: make a telephone call or go to the store and buy a newspaper. I've spent months on my bed, watching contrails. Now, in these dog days of summer, I ask myself what I've been doing with all my beautiful time, all this abundance, and whatever the answer is it's never enough.

Begin with the body. The way it wakes up each morning, stretching its muscles and longing for coffee. The sweetness of sitting on the floor in the sun, playing my ukulele, watching the pigeons circling the church spire.

Someday I will learn from my vocation how to hold time the way poems do.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Poster Child

So. Do we give this website points for at least choosing a photo of a girl to accompany an article about AD/HD? This image was spotted by my friend Claire, and the article is a reposting of a piece first published in May in the UK's Guardian Observer: Ritalin use for ADHD children soars fourfold. The article focuses on one British Member of Parliament's interpretation of a business report (as opposed to a scientific study), and the Guardian included a photo that's pretty classic in its own right.

The website that paired the article with this photo captioned it, "The BrainDead Generation: Normal children have been turned into zombies while psychopathic children have become better manipulators thanks to psychiatric intervention, brought to you by Big Pharma." I'm not sure if this photo represents a zombie or a psychopath, but either way I'm not going to link to the source of this photo because, frankly, the website it's from scares the hell out of me. I don't want them finding my reference to their site through a linkback. Let me know if you're curious--I'll email you the URL.

It's alarming to realize there are people in the world who actively and vocally hate those with mental health issues. It makes me wonder if I'm being stupid and reckless to share my problems with the world in this way. I hope not.

The irony is that this is actually pretty close to what I looked like in high school--and I wasn't even on any medications!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Weekly AD/HD News Gazette

Hey, so this is really cool: my last post, The gift and curse of the blurt, is featured today at Dr. Stephanie Sarkis' ADHD Daily. Sarkis' daily is a great clearinghouse for AD/HD news and blog stories, and it really is published daily.

The news item that interested me the most this week was posted Tuesday at GoodTherapy.orgFollow-Up Study Reveals Executive Function Impairment in Girls With ADHD. It reports on the findings of a study by Meghan Miller of the Department of Psychology at the University of California--one of the only long-term studies of girls with AD/HD that's been done to date. Here's an excerpt:
The participants were all in their late teens, and had been followed for over a decade. Miller assessed the girls for various executive functions including organization, attention, planning, working memory, response regulation, and set shifting. She found that the girls with impaired executive function in early childhood exhibited deficiencies in academic and professional performance in their late teens and early adulthood. Miller also discovered that the girls who had experienced remission from ADHD symptoms during the 10-year period scored equally poorly on executive function tasks as the girls who had persistent symptoms. This suggests that the presence of ADHD in early childhood can impact executive functioning throughout adolescence with and without the maintenance of symptom severity.
And here's something to set your teeth on edge: ADHD Is a Fake Disorder Designed To Excuse Bullying and Recklessness. Published at policymic, this article by middle school teacher Chadwick Harvey begins:
The increased propagating of fake disorders like attention deficit disorder (ADD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), and quite a few others has done nothing more than to offer a sense of alleviation of personal responsibility among those diagnosed. What ever happened to the concept of self-control?
The question seems to arise from Harvey's experience with one difficult student, whose AD/HD diagnosis, Harvey claims,  "practically provided him with a license to get away with murder."

If nothing else, be sure to at least check out the photo that accompanies the article. Classic.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The gift and curse of the blurt

Here's my blog's namesake herself, Mnemosyne, putting her hand on the back of someone's head to help him (or her?) remember something. This little scene reminds me of times I've been at a party, maybe ever so slightly tipsy, and I've suddenly remembered and blurted out some quotation or anecdote or factoid that I didn't even know I knew, but that suits the moment perfectly--it's funny and fascinating and wonderful, and feels like a real contribution. It does seem like a kind of blessing--like something outside of myself must have given me access to whatever it is I've called up.

I have a strange and complicated relationship with blurting, though. Even when my blurts are well-received I worry about them, a little. I don't think the experience of blurting is unique to those with AD/HD, but maybe those of us with the disorder are less likely to see our successful blurts as straightforward gifts. I think of mine rather as moments of good fortune counterpointing lots of past embarrassment and a general practice of forcibly holding myself back.

What makes my blurts successful, when they are successful, is that they're uniquely mine. I recognize them: they use the same shampoo I use and have the same habit of falling asleep in the afternoon sun and look terrible in green. But that is what also has made me so self-conscious about my blurts in general: I have always felt different from other people and when I was younger that difference was pointed out often by my peers: "you're weird." I can't tell you how many times I heard that. When we're teenagers, oddness can become a source of pride, but in elementary and middle school it's a terrible curse. And I internalized all of those voices and learned to keep my mouth shut, most of the time, so no one would recognize just how different I really was and comment on it. I closed up my mouth with a key, and that became a constant practice, like it is for a Benedictine nun. Silence is safe, but it's also lonely.

It took a long time to outgrow that silence, and I still feel like it's hanging around the edges of my life, as are the consequences of so much loneliness. Being a poet and having other poets and artists as friends and colleagues and students has allowed me to become more comfortable with my blurts: a group of writers is pretty much guaranteed to nod in appreciative understanding when the conversation is about the recent drought and you suddenly blurt out that you've just remembered how in love you are with the word "estuarine," for example. Part of growing up and learning to take care of myself has involved developing a sense for who I need to be shy around--who will be judgmental and dismissive--and who will recognize my blurts as flashes of what's best in me, finding expression in their unpredictable and possibly even somewhat divine ways.