Mental health, neurodiversity, and stigma

That’s a way more serious title than normal isn’t it?  I feel like I should add an “Oh my” but it needs to be serious I think.

I have ADHD.  I have depression.  I am open about these things as I feel that we should be open about them, and that by being open about them, I can hopefully help others too.

Anyway, this is about the ADHD.

I do not see it as a disability.  I do not have a neurologically typical (NT) brain.  I have a different brain.  An ADHD brain.  By letting people know this about me, I am not making excuses or asking for handouts (physically or emotionally), I am letting you know that I think in a different way than other people may, and this is why.  I am helping you to understand me.  In the same way if you know that someone is Autistic and is telling you Every Detail Ever about an actor from the 50s, this is because it is their current hyperfixation, and they want to share that information with you.

My brain can be amazing.  I see things from different angles to many NT people.  It is my brain that allows me to be Steve Rogers (pre-serum).  My brain may not see the flag challenge as climbing the pole, it is much more likely to go with the taking the pole down instead.  Or if you want to go all high brow, we can go with cutting the Gordian Knot instead of trying to undo it.

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My brain gives me the power to hyperfocus, and shut out the world for just one thing (ok, it is selective about whether or not I can choose The Thing – “Uh, less hyperfocus on the boy child’s birthday presents, more on the assignment” was yelled across the room last week).

But it also does the other thing.  The disorganised, forgetting, no time management, no planning thing.

This is where medication (for me) comes in – it isn’t for everyone, I know.

Have I shared the marble analogy on here before?  I don’t know, if not, here it is:

The NT brain is a good container filled with marbles.  Those marbles are all the thoughts and things to do and remember.  You carry them around easily every day.

The ADHD brain has no container.  You’re carrying the marbles in your hands, and they fall about all over the place, you constantly drop some no matter how hard you try.

Medication is like a bag with a small hole.  You get to put your marbles in it, and they are so much easier to carry around, like an NT person can, but sometimes they still slip through the hole.  But you are aware that the bag has a hole, so you keep an eye on it, make sure you keep a finger there to stop any slipping through.  Make sure you have something to help catch any that do slip through etc.

Medication doesn’t stop my ADHD, but it means that I am aware of it.  It means that I know that I have to check that the gas is turned off.  I know that I must take notes in THE SAME notebook for each class.  That I must write down everything as I will totally not remember that, regardless of my brain telling me that I totally will.

Since September, my medication hasn’t been working.  We have realised it was hormone based (yep, more unresearched issues with female ADHD), and have now made med changes to fix it, but it means that for the last term at university, I have had no bag for my marbles.

My notes are all over the place and seldom make sense.  I have missed dates that I totally didn’t need to write down.  I have missed meetings because I forgot to check my calendar.

As a result, I have fallen behind.

I have had to apply for an assignment extension.

The point of all this though is, I feel shame.  So much shame.

I had intended to get through university without any special treatment because of ADHD (except smaller exam rooms), and I feel like I have failed myself.  I feel like I have just not bothered and used it as an “excuse”.

I haven’t though.  My rational brain says that I couldn’t reach the high shelf, so I asked for a step.  I didn’t ask for the shelves to be lowered or for someone to get my stuff for me, just for a step so I could do it myself.

But my brain that knows years of stigma from society, tv, media says that I am just lazy, making excuses and wanting an easy ride.

How do we rewire that?  How do we learn to cut out the negative misinformation that we have had pumped into us for years to see things clearly?

It is the same with depression – it is a chemical imbalance.  It is no difference to not producing enough insulin.  Healthy women with no hormonal problems take birth control pills with no stigma, so why can’t people who NEED different chemicals be open about it and accept that it is just normal.  Why do we lie to work about stomach bugs when really it is that our brains have noped out for the day?

I don’t have a solution.  I don’t have answers.  I do have an ongoing battle with myself.  But I’ll keep fighting, and maybe one day I will win.

When character visualisation goes bad…

Teeny tiny post because I’m drowning under uni work, but this is related so shut it.

I can’t picture characters in books. I can see the scene, I can see their build and clothing, but hair and faces – nothing.

Generally it’s not a problem, but I do often substitute them for someone I know of the same name. So an adult Charlotte will be a grown up version of a friend Strawb had at nursery etc.

Sometimes however my brain thinks it’s funny, and substitutes the wrong thing, and I can’t fix it.

Up until now, the worst had been a woman called Ainsley in “The Edible Woman” who instantly transformed into this:

But it has decided to go one better for my dissertation reading of “Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief” who has a friend called Grover.

Seriously. FML.

Please tell me other brains hate their humans too?

The Impact of a Person

If you follow me on Twitter (which of course you do; I’m Hilarious and Very Interesting, naturally) you’ll have seen that I am a smidge passionate about the UCU (University and College Union) Strikes that are happening this week.

Don’t worry. I’m not about to talk strike content here (I will add in a link from another blog when it’s done). I am going to talk about why I care so much though.

Obviously, it is about the issues being fought, but it is also WHO is fighting.

Teachers in a school you think of as working with your child, moulding them. Lecturers at a university are more seen as talking at a group of people.

But it is so much more than that. They are so much more than that.

I’m going to be listing lecturers by name because they are people, not generic blobs. I’ll prob miss someone and then they’ll hate me, but it’s not deliberate I promise.

Going to university has changed my life. It has changed me. I see a (ok, kinda fuzzy) future ahead of me that I never had before. I have more self confidence than ever in my life. I understand so much more about myself. It isn’t from going and listening to people talk and then handing them work. It is from the people themselves.

Frances Hawkhead was one of my first lecturers. She showed me so much about feminism and gender inequality than I ever expected. She opened my eyes so what should have been obvious, but wasn’t.

Roy Watson was the first lecturer that I had for seminars that made me feel comfortable blurting out my thoughts on whatever we discussed. I stopped a lifetime of caring if people thought I was saying something “right” or “relevant”, and just talked.

Jim Pope showed me that being passionate about digital stories made me no less of an English student.

Tom Masters showed me patience and dignity in the face of some truly bizarre stories that we wrote for him.

Dr Phil Wilkinson gave me belief in my blog even before he was teaching me a unit. (OK, now he has given me an age complex, but swings n roundabouts).

Sam Goodman gave me existential dread, but also self belief. He picked up my sobbing terrified pieces and made me believe that I knew more than I realised, and I could share that knowledge. Also, that everyone else felt exactly the same.

Dan Hogan made me believe that my writing had value. Oh, and also showed me that Tigger in human form does exist.

Billy Proctor helped me remember that I get out what I put in, but more importantly, that you never know what someone else is dealing with in their own life.

So many more… Chindu teaching me to chill out, Yugin and his quiet loveliness, Hywel and his unwavering calm, Rebecca and her chirpiness…

I’ve gotten all of this and more, on top of the academic knowledge I’ve gained, from people often being underpaid, overworked, and in insecure jobs.

It’s not OK.

People are why these strikes matter.

People. Not employees. Not statistics.

People.

Is it a 1 or a 5? Dealing with Emotional Dysregulation and ADHD.

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Me, because the hairy one left a shoe somewhere that I bumped into it

Sometimes.  Not a lot obviously, but sometimes, I have been known to “overreact”.

Fun thing with ADHD (like there weren’t enough with the increased premature death rates, and the losing Everything Ever Owned™) is this thing called Emotional Dysregulation.

What is this joy of which you speak, oh blogging one?

Well boys and girls, it means that our emotions tend to be, to use the technical term, batfuck crazy.

“Normal” people, the neurologically typical (NT) have emotions in steps.  They go up one at a time from steady, to a bit upset, to a bit more upset etc.  With ADHD and emotional dysregulation, we can do the one at a time steps, but as a general rule, we tend to leap/fall from step one to step five.

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So what does this mean in the real world?

Pretty much everything is very intense, and kinda exhausting.

Say you hear someone on the school run comment that your child always wears odd socks.  NT emotions – you’re maybe a bit miffed that they noticed.  Think to yourself maybe you might get some pairs up together.  Then carry on with your day.

With ED (not erectile dysfunction, we’re on emotions here people), we bump that up some levels.  That parent is judging your ability to be a good mother.  They think that you are neglecting your child.  The reason she doesn’t get invited to people’s houses is because they know that YOU are the failing parent and they are scared you might offer to take their child.  You spent the rest of the day worrying about the fact that your child will never have a close friendship or good socialisation skills because you can’t get your shit together long enough to ball some socks together.  You get home, desperately wanting to fix All The Clothes, but you’re exhausted from worrying all day, so you nap.

With children and emotions, it is similar.  You told them off for leaving their shoes in the hallway AGAIN. They dissolve into tears.  FGS kid, pull it together, it was just your shoes!  Stop trying to make me feel guilty for telling you off.  Within 5 minutes you have forgotten all about the shoes.

But to them, they have jumped to step 5.  It isn’t that you told them off about the shoes.  It is that they have let you down again.  You will never love them as much as a child who can put away their shoes.  You will remember this forever and every time you look at them you will see a disgrace of a child.

That’s just one example obviously, but it works for most things.  When your child comes out of school saying that she had the worst day and all her friends hate her, to her it was that day. Reality was probably more that her friend wanted to play with someone else for afternoon play, but to her, she believes that she is hated.

There IS a good side to this though.  Picture positive emotions.

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We went to a hotel last week, and I was genuinely excited by how the blinds moved.  Full proper excitement.  You don’t get that so often when you go up in increments of one.

Love.  When we fall, we fall hard.  It is terrifying, but also incredible.

Caring.  If we want to be caring, we go all out.

So it isn’t all bad.

Bear with us.  If you have one of my people in your life, or if you are one of my people – remind them about the levels.  When you see them getting “over” upset or angry, ask them (gently) if it is a 5 or actually a 1.  (If it is anger, maybe wait until the main burst is over).  If you feel yourself getting intensely emotional, try to ask yourself – is it really a 5?

It isn’t always a 1 to 5 leap.  We like to mix things up, so can do 1 step increments too.  But it often is, and it is as confusing and distressing for us as it may be for you.  Also remember, for adult women, this dysregulation also gets mixed in with the normal hormonal emotional changes such as PMT.  That can feel like going straight to 10.

Emotions turning on a pin, emotions heightened so much – it is exhausting.  It is draining. It is not intentional though, and for us, every emotion felt is very real and very valid.

 

ADHD Awareness Month – Will my child be OK?

My daily/weekly ADHD Awareness Month posts went exactly as you would have expected.

Anyway… Question 2.

As a mum of a 15yr old ADHD girlie, I guess I just need reassurance that she will be able to do normal daily shit like drive…. not oooh shiny crash oooh shiny crash as I imagine her to be. Cook a meal without burning the house down because she got distracted.

In other words, what strategies do you use to just get through a day unharmed? xx

I’m going to start with this :

Emma Watson – Actress and women’s rights activist

Simone Biles – American gymnast

Katherine Ellison – Pulitzer Prize winning journalist

Audra McDonald – Activist, six-time Tony Award-winning singer and actress.

Plus a whole host of other names.

Being a woman with ADHD has a lot of challenges, but it is not a sentence to a lifetime of failing.

I know that isn’t what you asked, but I know it is a fear that lurks for many parents.

But, back to survival.

Routines and a good support system are the main answer. Also, for me, medication.

Alexa and her ilk are goddesses. Being able to yell “start timer for ten minutes” or “add soap to the shopping list” is a life saver. If you don’t have any processing issues then you can easily start cooking, go and find the timer, go and add things to a shopping list, and dinner is all good. If you have ADHD, there are more steps to that process than you could imagine. Just one step of yelling is incredible. Obviously it’s not fool proof. You still need to remember to listen for the alarm, and act on it once you yell at it to stop. But it is a hell of a lot easier than my life was without it.

Driving – for me, it can be a haven. I feel my brain settle on a long journey. Many with ADHD are excellent drivers due to being aware of so much going on. Others never feel confident enough, but live absolutely fine never driving at all.

She’s young and aware, which is a huge thing. She can build her own routines that make sense to her. I spent so long trying to keep my keys in my bag etc. Then I realised that every time I lost them, they were on a particular shelf. They now live there. Why put them where they “should” live, when my brain clearly says they live on that shelf. Key loss has reduced so much – when they’re missing, it’s because I’ve come in through the back door and broken the chain of events.

I don’t know how much of that has helped, but honestly, ADHD is frustrating as hell, but I truly believe that it has some amazing parts, and that with the right support, such as supportive parents, she’ll be just fine.

ADHD Awareness Month Questions… Doing chores.

So we’re 8 days into ADHD Awareness Month, so I should probably start the posts I intended to write answering questions about ADHD.

Obviously I could have done them as I got the questions and had them ready to post come October, but that isn’t how ADHD works.

You want to do The Thing. You’re passionate about The Thing. But The Thing doesn’t need doing now, so you will do The Thing closer to the time as there are other things you should be doing now. (But you don’t care about those things so you hide from them and do nothing). Then it is 8 days into October and you have assignments but you are writing blog posts.

Amusingly one of the assignments is blogging, but not this kind of blogging…

Anyway…

Question time!

If there is a problem with attention span, would it be easier to divide the daily chores into 20 sec segments and complete them all slowly throughout the day?

This kinda comes back to The Thing.

The ADHD brain is a fickle thing. It thrives on rewards, and instant gratification. Knowing that when everything is done there will be something awesome (in the case of chores, a clean house, or a great dinner) does nothing much as it is too far away.

For me personally, yes, dividing it into chunks of an absolute maximum of 20 mins helps, but there needs to be a reward and a break of 5-10 minutes after each chunk.

Focus apps where you grow trees etc may seem childish, but that feeling of “I made something and I can see it NOW” provides that little dopamine blast to keep going.

Apps like Unfck Your Habitat are awesome too as there is no thinking about the next job, you get given one at random. It adds to the gamification aspect, again, providing that dopamine hit.

The other thing I love with the timer aspect is seeing how long things actually take. Realising it only takes two minutes to fill the dishwasher makes it far less daunting. Obviously only when I can remember to remind myself that it only takes two minutes.

There is the other problem though of hyperfocus… If you get in the zone and then clean every inch of the bathroom for three hours, you get a really clean bathroom (and a bigger hit), but nothing else done. People who can snap out of hyperfocus are magical beings to me.

So, as a tl;dr

Yes. Dividing it into small chunks is a good way to get through as long as the rewards are there too.

Store bought is FINE.

At the beginning of May, I came off my antidepressants (chill, I did it gradually… Not my first rodeo). I didn’t feel like mine were doing their thing, so I was going to try a different type that is meant to be good for fibro too…(yeah, I’ve kinda accepted that is a thing).

So, I came off mine, and I felt good. I wasn’t in a swirling pit of darkness!

I decided that I wouldn’t go onto the new ones, and I would try life au naturel. Maybe my brain had figured out the serotonin thing.

Throughout the summer I have had many discussions with the Hairy One about being off my meds. He felt it wasn’t working. But I wasn’t in a big black hole. My bubble wasn’t filled with smoke. Clearly he was misinterpreting my actions, because I was good.

My biggest brat moved away at the start of September. I expected to be upset. I expected to miss her. I did not expect to plummet into darkness, worry, and paranoia.

Days passed and instead of finding a new normal, I just fell further. I made the call to see my GP. He was away for a few weeks, but I figured that would give me time to work out if it was just me dealing badly with the change, or if it was my brain chemistry.

A week later, and it was getting worse. The Hairy One convinced me to let him call the Dr again, and talk to any of them rather than wait for my chosen one…

So… I am on day 3 of the new meds. I don’t know if it is placebo, but I feel better. Part of me says they’re meant to kick in in a week or so, but the other part says I’m experiencing side effects from them, so why can’t they be affecting my brain already?

Feeling better is making me think more clearly though. I’m looking back on the summer, and realise that my adamance that I was fine was based on me not being enshrouded in darkness… To me, depression is the blackness. I couldn’t see that it is more than that, that the serotonin can be awol without being at rock bottom.

Why though? Why do I tell everyone else that there is nothing wrong with antidepressants, and yet my determination to try a few months without them was purely to not be on medication. There was no medical reason to stop them. Just the desire to not take them. What would happen if I did that with my thyroid meds?? Then it would be my body that needed tlc and fixing.

Now it is my relationship that needs tlc and fixing. I am angry with myself for causing this, but it is normal angry, not a big noose of guilt and self loathing.

It’s going to be gradual, but I should be coming back to myself soon, just bear with me a bit longer.

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