Restructuring My Mornings for a More Functional Brain

I’ve always had serious trouble waking up before noon, but for the past couple weeks I’ve been waking up pretty consistently around 9:30am. Usually a little bit earlier, because I have a setting on my phone that senses when I start to move around naturally and triggers the alarm then, so it doesn’t interrupt a deeper sleep cycle. That makes it a lot easier for me to just get up and not hit the snooze button, and not hitting the snooze button means I don’t fall into a horrible sleep inertia trap.

I’ve added a tiny bit of journalling right after I wake up and before I check my phone. Free-writing first thing in the morning was always too daunting for me, so I picked up something called The Five Minute Journal. It’s a little silly, but it gives writing first thing in the morning a little bit of structure, and it really does only take about five minutes to fill out. I’d like to eventually start free-writing every morning, but this is a good soft start. It also focuses on setting intentions for the day that are realistic, which is something I really struggle with. You pick three things that would make the day feel successful if they got done, not fifteen. It’s handy.

I make my tea and breakfast, heat up the dog food, and I usually listen to audiobooks while I eat and feed the pups.

I cuddle the pups and the bunny for fifteen to thirty minutes, usually also while listening to audiobooks or watching documentaries on youtube. If I don’t schedule this in, it tends to happen anyway, so I just decided to embrace it. At this point I’m usually still in my pajamas, which is fine.

I either set my computer in my office or on the living room couch, and I start work. Or I get distracted and start work an hour later. I’m still working out the kinks in this new schedule, but just being able to wake up well, without a lot of stress or tiredness, makes a huge difference in my whole day.

The main thing, other than having the right medication for my ADHD, that makes all of this possible is that I’ve been really insistent about getting into bed around 12:30am or 1am. I take a pretty long time to fall asleep, even when I’m not stressed about anything, so I need a solid head-start or I’m definitely not going to get enough sleep before my alarm goes off.

Another hard lesson that I’ve had to learn is that I always take a pretty long time to actually get into bed once I start getting myself ready. I end up doing the dinner dishes, letting the dogs out for a last bathroom break, checking all the doors to make sure they’re locked, rechecking them because I don’t trust my memory, turning off all the lights, putting the bunny back in his cage for the night and giving him his bedtime treat. (He’s ridiculously spoiled, but in my defense, he’s also super cute.) Anyway, you get the idea. It takes a while for me to actually put on my pajamas and get into bed, so I have to start a lot earlier than my actual planned bedtime. Starting early for anything is not a thing I, or most people with ADHD, tend to excel at, but the aforementioned medication early in the day and a well-timed dose of melatonin in the evening make it easier.

It’s a work in progress, but it does feel like I’m really making that progress. It feels good.

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A weird and interesting dead tree with dead vines wrapped around it at my dog park.
Blackberry leaves and thorns with a cloudy sky in the background.

Sorry for Ghosting on Y’all

Some things that happened over the last couple of months:

We had an unexpected houseguest who stayed with us for a month and some change.

My dogs consequently developed the delightful habit of baying almost constantly at any hint of someone walking by the house, instead of just barking their heads off at the odd squirrel or package delivery. It was not great for my nerves.

I adopted a little rabbit in need. His name is Frodo. He has some special needs that he’ll hopefully grow out of, so I occasionally get to stay up until 4am nursing him. It’s okay, though. He gives me cute bunny kisses to make up for it.

Some of the African violets my friend gave me finally bloomed for the first time, and they were lovely. For a couple of days.

Frodo ate all the flowers off of the African violets, dug up a fern, and then decimated my windowbox basil, making himself temporarily ill and living up to his hobbit name.

The beautiful fish pond that came with our house quit working for real and several solid weekends of work haven’t managed to get it up and running yet. Our fish are not happy about this, but the mosquitos are.

An unexplained fly invasion of almost biblical proportions. The lizard and our small, bouncy dog enjoyed this more than I did.

Several meltdowns on my part, or possibly one slow and prolonged meltdown that lasted for about a month and some change.

I eventually stopped banging my head against a brick wall in my Somnolence manuscript and decided to work on something lighter for a while, so I’m currently writing the second draft of a young adult book that’s been waiting in my project list for years. It is cute and it has dragons. Jumping between projects usually isn’t recommended, but if it’s between less than ideal practice and another month of being too stressed and up in my own head to actually get words on the page, I’ll take it. Some words written, even on what’s technically the wrong project, are infinitely better than no words written at all.

I learned how to make pizza without garlic or dairy, so my husband and I can both eat it, and it is really awesome.

I completely reworked my scheduling practices and managed to wrench my sleeping patterns back to mostly normal and almost enough rest each night.

I got a couple of very cute pink plants today, partially as a reward to myself for pulling my shit back together after letting myself get pretty thoroughly derailed, and partially as a bribe to myself to get back into writing blog posts even though it’s embarrassing to have just vanished for two months. So, I’m back now.

A Walk in the Woods

I’m still doing my best to keep up my walking habit. It got harder over the winter, but there’s tons of beautiful scenery to enjoy now. There are longer gaps than I’d prefer between my proper long walks, but I also try not to let it turn into a source of guilt, because guilt is like ADHD kryptonite. Even if I forget or get busy for a week, I’ll always come back to it because it’s fun and it makes me feel good. Plus, I find all sorts of cool things to take pictures of.

White mushrooms on a log
Pink bleeding heart flowers in front of a mossy log
A fern frond
Cute yellow wildflowers
A little slug enjoying a nice mossy patch
These might be salmonberry blossoms. I vaguely remember them from last year.

The Goose Girl

So, my little sister gave me The Goose Girl ┬áby Shannon Hale many years ago, and then it sat on my shelf and moved from apartment to apartment with me for so long that I completely forgot where it even came from, and I almost tossed it out when she was helping me sort my office. She kindly reminded me that she had given it to me, because she’s a very nice person, so I finally sat down to read it. It’s a little bit slow to start, so it took me a few sittings to get through the set-up, and then I hit the part where the story really takes off and binged the rest in one night. It was pretty great. I totally regret not having read it sooner.

First off, I think anyone who is not neurotypical has a good chance of finding the main character, Ani, highly relatable. She doesn’t connect easily with other humans, but not for lack of trying. She doesn’t have an instinctive grasp of social interactions and protocol, so it feels like everyone around her is understanding and communicating things that aren’t accessible to her. She doesn’t read people super well, so she tends to take what they say fairly literally and at face value. She’s naturally honest and forthright, and has a strong sense of justice. She has a deep interest in animals, and feels stifled when she’s forced to focus on all the things that people think are more appropriate for her. She tries her best to fit into a mold that isn’t made for someone like her, and feels like a failure because she can’t do it. She’s pretty much every autistic or ADHD teenage girl, basically.

I kind of love Ani.

I also love that the story doesn’t frame her as a failure, even though she often feels like one. Her differentness isn’t portrayed as the problem, her unsuitable environment and the people who take advantage of her are. She doesn’t need to change who she is in order to succeed, she needs to find a place where she can heal, grow, and be appreciated for the kind of person that she already is.

The set-up: Ani, short for Anidori-Kiladra, is the crown princess of a small kingdom. Some people in this world have different magical gifts which allow them to understand and speak the languages of animals, elements, or other people. Her mother the queen is a skilled people-speaker, but Ani has a talent for understanding animals rather than other humans. Her aunt helps her to develop this skill when she’s very young, but soon Ani is pressured by her mother to focus only on her future duties as queen and to put aside her “childish” interests.

When it becomes clear that she’s not well-suited to the life that her mother had originally planned out for her, she is sent away to marry a prince from a neighboring kingdom, but she meets tragedy and betrayal along the way. In order to survive, she has to run away from everything she’s ever known and learn to trust her own judgement.

Content warnings after the picture, if you’re interested.

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CW: Emotional abuse, some physical violence, and animal-related tragedy.
(If you’re the kind of person who breaks down when bad stuff happens to the dog in the movie, you’re gonna have a hard time with some parts of this book. There’s no dog, but you get the idea.)

I Honestly Can’t Think of a Title For This

I’ve been a brain-foggy pile of useless since I got home from my trip. I think the disruption to my sleep schedule and somewhat questionable food choices kinda caught up with me really hard. Wasn’t breathing so well at night, and wasn’t sleeping sensible lengths of time, so I tried to compensate with sleep meds that left me incredibly spaced out and weird the next day. So, lesson learned, I guess. I’ll be even more careful about all of that next time I travel, and I guess I need to not use those over the counter sleep aids too much if I want my brain to work the next day for anything other than zoning out to educational dinosaur videos on youtube and then wondering where the hell the past six hours went and why I’m still in my pajamas. It’s a little funny in retrospect, but getting into a shower and then into outside clothes generally shouldn’t use up absolutely all of my mental energy for a given day.

Really makes you wonder why sleep isn’t just a wee bit easier, given how it’s essential for survival and stuff. I know literally everything about modern life fucks with our natural biological rhythms, but come on.

I say this while typing on a white screen at past-my-bedtime o’clock, of course.

Some gorgeous deep pink geraniums a friend gave me because she’s super nice. They rode in my front seat all the way home from California. I thought I didn’t like geraniums because I was used to those eye-scaldingly red ones that smell super weird when you break their leaves, but I was wrong.

ADHD Willpower Drain

There’s a theory that every choice we make in a day uses up a portion of our supply of willpower. It gets replenished while we sleep, and drained over the course of the day the more decisions we have to make. That’s part of why habits and routines are so helpful, if you can form them, because ideally they each take one or more choices out of the day by making those actions automatic.

I think that that kind of incremental willpower drain is extra hard on people with ADHD, because every time my brain goes “I wonder how hard it would be to build a miniature beach in an aquarium complete with real tiny fish and crustaceans” I have to use a little bit of energy to stop myself from immediately googling the best sources for Thai micro crabs and corkscrew vallisneria. I have to use some willpower every time I think of a cool thing to draw, which happens multiple times a day. I have to use it to decide that I’ll go out in the garden later because I’m currently writing my blog post. And then I have to decide that again fifteen minutes later when the dogs get excited and bark at a squirrel outside the window. And again when I hear the birds outside on our bird feeder. And again when I remember that I meant to move our tomato seedlings back inside so they won’t get sunburned.

Eventually, I usually get derailed. Maybe it’s because I just run out of willpower juice after ignoring every random suggestion my brain makes while I’m trying to just do one damn thing at a time.

I have no proposed solution at the moment. I’ve just been observing how many times a day I have to decide not to do a random thing and how tired that eventually makes me feel. It also, unfortunately, makes me sort of averse to doing creative stuff on a whim even when I do have the free time for it. I get into the habit of telling myself I’ll do that stuff later, even when I totally could just do it now.

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One of the trees in my yard that unexpectedly makes flowers. They are white and pretty and I have no idea what kind they are.
Little white tree flowers on the deck. They’ve been falling like snow, in part because the local birds seem to find them delicious. It’s pretty, but they stick to your shoes if you walk around on them.

Balancing Creative Attachment

I’ve been struggling with some mounting anxiety about writing choices lately. I tend to get into worry spirals about my plot decisions and characters and how different people I know, and lots of people I don’t know, might react to them. Sometimes I can cope with creative anxiety by emotionally pulling back from my work, especially when processing professional feedback, but I think I’ve actually done that too much. I’ve kind of lost track of my affection for Orane and my emotional involvement in her journey. Some distance is definitely good, because a writer who is afraid to make bad things happen to their good people is generally not going to tell a very compelling story.

On the other hand, though, staying that emotionally detached from the story has left me much more subject to the pressure of other people’s opinions. I can’t really feel comfortable with any of my choices because I’m not trusting my own judgement and creative intuition anymore. There’s no point writing a book entirely driven by what I think other people might think. There’s nothing wrong with writing to a particular market, but that’s not my goal at the moment and it’s definitely not what I’ve been doing. I’ve just been scared of judgement. My instinct is to escape the judgement by not writing anything anyone could possibly judge, but that really means not writing anything at all.

That anxiety reached an unpleasant peak this week, where I couldn’t even think about my work without my head just filling up with a whirlpool of worries. I literally can’t function under that much external influence, since every single thing will ultimately be judged negatively by some people and positively by others. There’s no way to please everyone, so for now I’m trying to focus inward and reconnect with my own judgement and creative preferences.

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Image: A pussy willow in late afternoon sunlight.

Writing days this past week: 1