Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Attention-Deficit, Gift-Condition Experiment

I apologize for how scattered my inaugural post was. I can't say it'll get much better right away, but I'm working on it. I don't know exactly how to blog. My  fiance just reminded me that she told me quite a while ago that she thinks I should, but I didn't want to pull focus from whatever project I was working on then- desperately trying not to get side tracked by anything else. So instead, I waited until I forgot all about her suggestion and came up with the idea on my own. Then it seemed brilliant, of course! She is much smarter than I am, very grounded and often points out the things that should probably be obvious to me but aren't. She also seems to love me enough to understand my condition*  is a  part of me- it separates me and makes me unique enough that she encourages me to be better by thinking that I already am. She knows that I won't stop trying to match the vision of the man she's made me out to be, so without nagging me to change, she just looks at me like I'm something special and all of a sudden, I've got the desire to move Hell and Earth to see to it that I am worthy of her look.

*(I used the term condition for lack of a better word- I know I'm not like the one legged guy who won the race at the Olympics, but I feel like there are things about me that come naturally to most of the population that just don't work for me. So while I don't exactly think it is always a negative, I have to find a way of labeling it because I imagine it will be a frequent talking point in this blog as it is the biggest, most challenging puzzle I've tried solving to date. So far I'm not satisfied with any name I've given it. Saying I have ADD when I haven't been diagnosed properly seems offensive to those who have been diagnosed, calling it a gift seems pretentious, and saying "my condition" sounds like a giant fucking pity party... but at times, any of those terms seem appropriate, depending on the context. So, I'm still searching and welcome any ideas you have).

My ability to stick to topics may actually get worse before it gets better though. That last post and the whole coming to terms with of my likely condition of ADD was the launching pad for a new experiment. Throughout the course of a day, I am so unaware of what's right in front of me that I frequently bang my arms on doorknobs at every turn, I fumble pens at least a dozen times a day, stand in front of computers trying to remember why I pulled up to them in the first place, I trip on my own legs regularly like I am going through puberty and only just getting used to this body I've lived in forever, and I get headaches that feel like my skull is caving in from trying to suppress each little ideas from surfacing- out of fear that they will distract me and I'll lose focus. 

Realizing that if I do have ADD, it has likely manifested itself as these many curiosities about my being that I've frequently wondered about. Tracing the likelihood of having ADD to the core of many traits that are good and others that are potentially harmful to my goals, I realized that if I do have ADD, I could try handling that one major thing in different ways and it might have a widespread effect on each of the many factors about me that it contributes to.

So rather than suppress my ADD nature, I took it out for a walk. I decided that as much as possible, I would give every thought that demanded a spotlight on my mind's stage exactly what it was after. I would tweet about the random ones, I would Facebook post those that could not be contained by character limits, I would jot down a note about the ones that seemed more like the seeds of ideas for novels or characters in novels or thoughts that seemed more appropriate for delving more deeply into at a later time. The first blog post I made was actually Day 1 of that experiment. Today I am just shy of a week. 

Here is what I have discovered so far:

1) I feel more like me than I have felt in ages. I remember talking to a friend once, a couple years after high school. She had moved away and was in town for a visit. After talking for a little bit, she pretty bluntly asked me what had happened to me- and without demanding an explanation, I told her I did not rightly know. I had known exactly what she was talking about. I had been wondering the same thing. After High School, I started working at a convenient store where I was quickly promoted to Assistant Manager. 

In the work world, my inability to sit still and my tendency to want to juggle a lot of different things at once was being applauded as an asset that nobody else seemed capable of matching. Since having been beaten down over it in high school, it felt good to succeed at something- especially in the workplace arena, where I knew that many expected or worried that I would to fail. While Assistant Manager of Circle K doesn't seem all that glamorous to me now, fresh out of school and being trusted with that responsibility at a time when most of my friends had even shittier jobs in the fast food industry, it became a source of pride. I tried to be even better at my job. For the first time in my life, but sadly not the last, I lost sight of what had always been unique about me and I mostly abandoned my aspirations at writing. 

I started mimicking the behaviors of those more successful than I was and making trades on parts of myself that I never knew had value. And why should I? Publicly, anyways, being scatterbrained is never exactly lauded or given a compliment. We all hear the stories about how Einstein couldn't tied his shoes, but nowadays if a kid doesn't fit the mold, we assume he is defective and overlook all of their other amazing traits in order to put a band aid on the one. If Einstein was on Ritalin, how would that have changed the world? Being ricochet minded was never counted as an asset, so trying to temper it down in trade for higher monetary earnings and bigger titles seemed like a winning deal. Try as I might, there were edges that would not be reshaped- I would get into trouble over the little details of things, but it was often overlooked because I was getting the workload of multiple people accomplished on a daily basis. 

So when Cyndi asked what happened to me, not in a mean spirited or shitty way, but out of genuine concern, I started crying. I told her that I hadn't written in over a year- I didn't really know how to. The ideas weren't coming anymore, the well ran dry. And what time was there? Circle K was open 24 hours, so I was literally on call for work at any minute of the day- an occurrence that happened frequently. She told me that it was strange to see me worry about anything and she didn't like it. 

In high school I was so confident that I used to grab some squeaky toy artifact that looked like it could be an object some quirky teacher used as a hall pass. I'd walk into a friend's classroom, walk right up to the teacher and ask, "Is there a Jeff Sparks in here? Mrs. Kelly needs to speak with him right away, please." I was marked absent from class already, but by waiting it out until a few minutes after roll call, I could successfully break a buddy out of class and keep them from getting the same automated phone call I'd become an expert at intercepting later that night. 

Looking back, I'm happy with the work skills I learned and the paths I took to get where I am now, but I wonder how much easier life would have been if I were more self aware about the reasons behind the way I am. I'm glad that I've been successful at being an adult, but maybe it would have gone easier if I was conscious of the choices I was making along the way? If I was more aware of how much a part of me my own brain's chemistry was, would I have been more successful at writing to this point?  Was I even mature enough to receive that information? It's equally possible that I would have rebelled against the working world as I did in high school and ended up smoking crack out of broken light bulbs, so I don't know if changing things is a great idea. It's like the Biff-a-verse in Back to the Future II. Change one thing, bring back one Sports Book Almanac, and everything goes to Hell. I am really happy with everything in my life today, except my life's main goal, the one I've had since I was a kid, writing my first play in the 7th Grade (The drama program even performed it- it was kind of a big deal. lol). I do hope that if it turns out that I have ADD, I can reeducate people in some way on how we are damaging society by forcing these kids into a box that they don't fit. We are playing Gods over an evolutionary course that we don't fully understand ourselves, and diminishing the expansion of ideas that could benefit our species... but back to the point. 

From that conversation I had with Cyndi, I began to actively, yet slowly, recaptured parts of myself that I had previously undervalued. Maybe I would have been able to put words to it myself eventually, maybe I would have figured out what my spirit was made of, but that conversation quickly became a road map for me. It put shape to what it was that I was trying to regain, and while I have made ground and lost ground in many different ways in the twelve years since then, it was the first time I tried to put shape to the man I wanted to be. It was my compass for many years to come. 

Flash forward to today, and the experiment of giving my brain adequate space to run around, and for the first time, I feel like I am the shape of the man that I want to be- keeping in consideration that some key ingredients to that person are a never ending quest to better understand myself and others, a thirst for personal growth and a discontent with the way things are that makes my journey never ending, never boring.

2) Where did all this energy come from? I have been on a slow, steady tumble into being middle aged for the better part of the last decade. My joints ache from working retail, standing for 40-60 hours a week without rest. Extinguishing thoughts one after another, forcing absolute focus on one object at a time- these things that everyone else around me was doing without a second thought, so I always thought that I should be able to do too- they drained me. By midday of nearly every single day, I was fatigued to the point of needing a nap or a caffeine boost, or suffer through the blaring headaches that followed if I tried to press on. Then I would get home and, as long as I was able to stretch my brain out, reclaim some space and not have to focus directly on just one thing, I'd level out, be back to normal and ready to tackle the at home stuff. 

I've been to doctors about it. Some of them prescribed depression meds, anxiety meds. Others helped me lose a little weight and said that the energy would come back when I was back in peak physical shape (now I see that I frequently used food as an anchor, trying to physically tranquilize myself into being stationary, both in body and mind). None of that stuff ever really worked for me. Sometimes those things would grant temporary relief, but that was the best it ever got. 

Once I made the choice to start writing everything down (another suggestion that my dearly betrothed made that I summarily dismissed and rediscovered on my own terms), it was like a chemical rush of adrenaline was pumping through my body all day long. My mind was in a frenzy, and for the first few days, it was seriously making me dizzy. Part way through day 4, I had to leave work early because I felt feverish, coulped with a vertigo like swirling in my gut. I was nearly spinning out of control. More ideas than I could process came rushing to the surface, one after another. I was working in a way that seemed obviously less organized from an outsiders point of view- my coworkers were asking me if I was okay because my almost militant need for everything to be completely organized at all times was instantly thrown out the window- but it didn't depreciate my own speed of getting things done, and I was able to sort things out in time to have a proper hand off to the next person. It was absolutely exhilarating. 

I couldn't afford to give any of my thoughts more than a few seconds each, but writing it down made it feel like I was telling a child that was pulling on my apron strings, "Okay, okay- just let me finish what I'm working on and we'll schedule some time to play together later." Sated, these ideas would quiet down and stop distracting me from everything else that needed to be done and it cleared the path for new ideas to emerge- ideas that would have normally been backed up as I actively tried to suppress an idea that was fighting to be heard before it. 

I worry what my bosses would say if they saw how much I was working on things that were not work, but if they looked at those days objectively, I got more than my share done and was so full of energy that customers took notice of my disposition and responded very well! One of my customers brought me some chocolate covered, peanut butter filled pretzels on day two of my experiment because he said that I made a shitty day he was having turn completely around the day before, just by being upbeat and high spirited myself. Waking up in the morning isn't difficult anymore- I've been excited to get more writing done and review the notes I made from the day before to see which of them are fully cooked enough to get more play time, whether in this blog or towards the book I'm working on or even in the form of deeper degrees of note taking. Going to sleep at night was a little harder at first- I actually stayed up until 3:30am one night and was still out of bed by 8am the next morning, with enough energy to write and fill the day completely. 

I've tapered off the initial high a bit, but am still coasting evenly at a pace that is much greater than I was used to. I attributed my gradual energy decline to being old, to letting my mind rot by filling it with things I had no real interest in, but now I have to wonder if it was this easy to fix all along. Just let my brain do what it wants, even while spinning the plates of my daily needs and everything will be just fine? Stop trying to control everything to the last decimal place and let my mind work in exactly the way it is wired to? Insane thinking, right?

Conclusion: I still have a lot of details to hammer out. I'd like to consult a professional and see what they think, maybe avoid some pitfalls that I'm not yet aware of. I still have anxiety issues, although some of my triggers don't seem like as big a threat. It's probably too soon to tell whether it's just because I'm riding the high or if it's a sustainable change. 

Most of my anxiety comes from being around a bunch of other people, outside of my comfort zone. I have major attacks during visits to most big stores: Coscto, Target, grocery stores. Something about being in a herd of people that all seem to be focused on their objectives with little or no regard for everyone else around them is unnerving to me- all I can focus on is the people watching until I want to run away. When I lived on my own, I would grocery shop in the middle of the night to avoid those crowds and spent time with a whole different crowd of deranged weirdos. When I absolutely have to go now, I plug in my earphones and try to jump into the music, sometimes even singing out loud like a crazy person and effectively becoming the exact thing that creeps me out. Mostly, my fiance does the shopping though. I do the cooking, she does the shopping. It's nice because after work, cooking is one of the activities that engages my ADD. It lets me calculate several different things at once and I usually am able to spend time on top of that doing some internet research on a few ideas that hadn't been given their fair turn at the forefront of my brain yet. 

My biggest fear with the new way I'm approaching things is that, like everything else I've tried (albeit that I didn't always understand the source of the thing I was trying to address), my biggest fear is that I will see results from this method because it is new and exciting and fresh, but just like my hundreds of alternative approaches at writing a book that I can finish, this will become too familiar and stop being engaging. Once a puzzle is solved, it's not that exciting of a toy to play with. I worry that this will become a familiar, uninteresting way of approaching things after a while, and then where will I be? 

I think I mentioned in my last post that I listen to music without vocals whenever I write, as a means of shutting out the rest of the world. Well, even that becomes stale every so often. When I start to recognize too many of the songs, it starts to lose its effectiveness at holding part of my attention at bay because the tunes don't grab enough of my attention and I drift more easily into things that are not the task in front of me. When that happens, I need to dump another several hundred songs into the mix (always looking for suggestions on any genre of music without vocals, btw). 

I hope that I never learn the melody of this new way of approaching things and welcome anyone who can help suggest ways of keeping myself off balanced enough to be engaged with life and the living of it on a daily basis.

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