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.
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.
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.
I’ve started watching the Tidying Up show with Marie Kondo, not because I’m actually planning to follow her method at the moment, but just because she’s such a delight to watch and listen to. I also loved her book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and would highly recommend it as a very relaxing read. It’s an excellent bedtime book.
In spite of all the totally legitimate criticism of the minimalist movement, Marie is really nonjudgemental and seems to be purely motivated by a desire to help people make their own environments comfortable for themselves, not to make them fit into any particular image. If that box of Star Wars memorabilia makes you happy, she wants to help you display it, not guilt you into throwing it away. She really strikes me, above all else, as a person who has completely leaned into who she is, her own unique view of the world, and what matters to her. I think that’s pretty special.
I have a slowly growing little list of shows that are both positive and relaxing, and Tidying Up is going on it. The Great British Baking show and Queer Eye are also pretty high up there. I never realized how starved I was for just seeing basic kindness on TV until I first found myself watching a baking competition where the contestants would often stop work just to help each other. Even the comedians on GBBS give out hugs and encouragement in equal measure with their kindhearted teasing and jokes.
Queer Eye offers something even more rare, which is a group of men doing emotional labor for other men. Many straight men rely almost entirely on their female partners for that kind of emotional processing and support, and it can be terribly isolating. The men of Queer Eye are gentle and encouraging, and they provide a great image of non-toxic masculinity. Plus, the show offers a lot of body positivity for men, another rarity.
Side note: There was a great discussion I saw a while ago about how this heavy reliance on their female partners can encourage men to believe in the mythical Friend Zone. Men tend to view any kind of emotional labor as something you only exchange with a romantic partner, whereas women usually also give and receive that kind of support from friends. Thus, basic supportive friendship for a woman looks, to a straight man, like a relationship. This is not a good thing. It wears women out, trying to keep up with the needs of a person who isn’t getting emotional support from anyone else in their life, and is part of why older men tend to die soon after losing their partners. They have no emotional support networks to take up the strain, unlike most older women. Plus, it encourages men to ruin perfectly good friendships by putting their female friends in The Girlfriend Zone. Knock this off, dudes. Being friends isn’t a consolation prize, y’all just need to learn how to do it right.
Here are some of the shows on my kindness porn list:
This one is not a TV show, but Jessica Kellgren-Fozard has a youtube channel, Jessica Out of the Closet, that is pretty much like distilled sunshine. She’s a disability activist, vintage beauty vlogger, and she shares stories about her life with her wife and their two dogs. Sometimes she also talks about her beliefs as a quaker, and about queer and disabled historical figures. She’s one of the most positive and intentionally kind people I’ve ever seen in my life.
Big Dreams, Small Spaces is a British show about renovating small gardens so that they’re more functional and beautiful for the families who need them. They often feature disabled people, with a focus on accessibility and tailoring those spaces really well to the people who will use them.
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is a short one, but very fun to watch. The host, Samin Nosrat, is incredibly passionate about good food, with none of the usual quibbling about calories or creepy talk about guilty pleasures. She enjoys herself, teaches about the important basic elements of flavor, and she goes out and talks to people who make amazing food around the world. She also has a book.
If anyone has any suggestions for more shows I should add to this list, I’d love to hear them.
Halloween is theoretically a spooky time, but let’s be real, it’s all just fun. People enjoy the little thrills, but mostly it’s an excuse to be creative and silly. Those thrills aren’t even really fear, they’re the excitement of being allowed to look at and celebrate things that are still slightly taboo. We’re not supposed to talk about death too lightly, except right now, when we can hang human skeletons and cute little ghosts from our trees. They’re even selling adorable little fake dog and lizard skeletons in every shop, although most of the time people might think it’s a little weird that I keep real ones in my office.
The most exciting things in life are often the things that have the capacity to be a little scary. That’s why we like roller-coasters, painfully spicy food, kinky sex, and sharing our artistic work in spite of the fairly legitimate terror of rejection and/or mockery. The people who seem to enjoy themselves the most fully are the ones who manage to do what they do in spite of the fear, even learning to embrace the fear, rather than because they had no fear to start with. It’s no fun without the thrill, or maybe there’s just less of a sense of triumph if we didn’t have to push through some discomfort to get to the goal.
People who procrastinate tend to be overly optimistic about how long things will take. Its not that they don’t think about the time, it’s just that they tend to expect things to go well. I’m often late to appointments, because when I think about how long it takes to get to my psychiatrist’s office, I only remember the times when there was no traffic, the lights were all green, and I got there with a couple of minutes to spare after leaving late.
This kinda makes sense, because technically that is the most accurate example of how long it actually takes to drive there, but it still makes me late. Of course, the sensible thing to do would be to take that best-case scenario I came up with and tack on extra time for dealing with potential traffic, but that optimism also applies to my memories of how much the traffic could slow me down. I remember that one time I got stuck in traffic and was still only five minutes late, not the multiple times when I missed my appointment entirely due to a complete standstill on I5.
I think that the perfectionism that often comes with ADHD can be linked with this misplaced optimism when planning. When we look ahead, we often envision how everything should go, not how badly it might go. When we think about a project, we think of how it should turn out, and don’t leave ourselves much room for error, or even just for being human beings with human limitations. “Good enough” isn’t a thing that ADHD life primes us to celebrate, even though good enough on a consistent basis can be so much more powerful than occasional perfection.
When I think about doing a good job on a project, I envision perfection, not my personal best work, and certainly not my personal norm. My personal norm involves difficulty with focus, annoying nausea, rushing to finish things that I forgot, being extremely tired because of lack of sleep, and responsibilities to other people. It’s messy.
My personal best generally shows when I get lucky and none of these things wind up impeding me. Those days are my commutes without traffic. They’re the shining image of productivity that I hold up in my mind when forming expectations, optimistically believing I can duplicate that experience whenever I need to, even though many potential complications are actually out of my control. Life happens, and ADHD itself frequently makes the roads to success more trafficky. It causes accidents that can block progress for the rest of the day.
I believe that the excess of negative reinforcement that ADHD kids tend to receive contributes to this underlying belief that only perfect outcomes are worth considering. Our personal best sometimes looks a lot like the bare minimum to neurotypicals, which means we don’t get much praise for even our most extraordinary efforts. The people around us can’t always see that effort, and the results alone may not impress them. They only see that we didn’t do as well as they expected. Instead of praise for doing what we could, we frequently face nitpicking and corrections. This encourages a belief that only complete perfection will ever satisfy our parents, and later-on our partners and friends.
If our very best wasn’t good enough for others, why should it be good enough for us? Sure, we could say “screw them and their negativity” but that’s simply not how people work. We’re not designed to ignore that kind of conditioning, especially when we’re young, but even as adults. We’re likely to either give up, because we can’t do better than our best and our best wasn’t good enough, or to chase perfection till we fall apart. Often, we wind up swapping between those two, because perfectionism is exhausting, but you’re just not allowed to quit being human and become a cat.
Another aspect of this constant negative reinforcement is that we’re basically taught to ignore limitations like lack of sleep, trouble with focus, and other legitimate struggles. When we’re constantly being told that we’re lazy and just not trying hard enough, what we’re learning is that nothing is ever a reason to fail. When being tired, confused, uncomfortable, or unable to find vital materials is never accepted as a roadblock by the people around you, you learn to just not think about what might go wrong. Why should we, if it feels like there’s nothing we can do to stop having problems, and they’re not really acknowledged by the people judging us? It’s not a realistic way to engage with the world, but it’s a potential side-effect of perfectionism. We just don’t consider our own limits, because our limits have never been respected or acknowledged. Under those conditions, thinking about worst-case scenarios doesn’t feel like productive prep-work, it feels like a recipe for an anxiety attack.
A final example of all this in action: I wound up writing most of this post at 2am on Thursday and then finishing it Friday night, because I didn’t expect to need more than a couple of hours to wrap it up. That’s how long it usually takes me to edit a post when I have most of my thoughts on the page in advance, I’m very focused, and nothing pulls me away from the computer. It is not how long it actually takes me on average to finish a post, but my brain refuses to accept most of that imperfect data. It’s tainted by all those other factors. Even when I’m literally writing a post about this phenomenon, it still gets me.
Edited to add, because I got a bit carried away and forgot to actually articulate the tip: I guess the point here is really just to consider what might be affecting your expectations, and try to compensate for that with better context and more self-compassion. You’re not wrong for struggling, and the things that stop you are legitimate and worth considering. Both your best and your norm are good enough, and being able to live with those standards will take you much farther than perfection ever will.
Man, I am really struggling to write this post. It’s not that I’m thinking about a difficult topic, it’s just that I don’t really have anything coherent on my mind. There’s plenty of stuff floating around up there, but none of it seems to be coalescing in a timely fashion. I’ve started a couple of drafts on different topics, but I’m not ready to share those ones yet.
I did go for a really nice walk around the neighborhood this evening, partly in hope of kicking my brain into gear. It helped a bit, I think. There’s a pretty little park a few blocks up from me with a really great view, and the pups and I wandered around in it for a while.
I’m working on weaning myself off using my phone to fall asleep, which is difficult, and a bit scary, because I’ve really relied on audiobooks to help me sleep for a long time. It was what I needed around the time when I started, but I think it’s become more of a distraction than a help as my general mental health has improved. Plus, I hate getting tangled in my earbud cord when I roll over. It’s so annoying.
Keeping myself occupied was a good strategy when I couldn’t generally control or predict my mental state, but I really want to get comfortable in my own head again. If for no other reason than to boost my general creativity. Taking inspiration and learning from other people’s work is awesome, but it can be hard to create your own things when you’re constantly exposed to the creations of others.