Anyone who ever thinks that the ADHD brain can be turned off has never had to deal with one while blind for a week. The days of wearing an eye mask on doctor’s orders did help me get more sleep than normal. It’s logical to fall asleep when it’s dark all the time anyway, but that didn’t necessarily make that sleep any less, um, “active” than my waking thoughts.
I had some bizarre dreams during my enforced lack of vision. For instance, have you ever seen those megachurches along interstate highways in the Southwest or Midwest – or just in California, period! – that look like ranches and have testosterone-laden names like “GUTS Church,” “Cowboy Church,” or “VIVE Church?” They feature boxing matches, baptisms in stock tanks, and battle-ready women’s weekends? Well, my brain created one for the horses those cowboys rode in on! It was called the Whipped Church and was led by Rev. Tacky, who preached that if parishioners were obedient to the Triple Crown in this life they’d roam free – unbridled and unwhipped – in the next. It had a food court where you could literally make hay about your faith and even a bookie onsite. (The horses, too, needed to get in on the betting action to be able to afford their “suggested” church donations.) Of course, as in many megachurches, Rev. Tacky was also known to stirrup some political diatribes alongside the entertainment!
I first assumed I should be ashamed for admitting to such a rowdy dream itself, but my Partner discovered a show called BoJack Horseman on Netflix uses a similar premise – horses running Hollywood – to satirize current events. Rather than being ashamed that my brain is so far out there as to produce that dream, I should instead probably be ashamed that my dream wasn’t quite far enough out there. I managed to somehow subconsciously mind-meld with Will Arnett and Amy Sedaris without ever having so much as received a Netflix recommendation about their show. (I actually kind of wonder how Netflix hasn’t ever suggested it? What demographic profile don’t I fit? Will I have to subvert Netflix’s impression of me by watching the show just because?)
My brain also decided it needed to write a YA dystopian novel. Full-length, with eight named characters, a beginning, middle, climax and denouement. And, of course, because my life is ruled by trauma right now, it decided that YA novel needed main characters who were more realistically affected by mental illness and the impact of worldwide trauma – that’s what dystopia is, after all – than most dystopian fiction I’ve read. I’m pretty sure the dream was prompted by the fact that the first book on tape I listened to during my week of no vision was one of those progressive feminist novels (not YA at all) that was clearly very proud of itself for including characters that were neurodiverse, but whose characters hit me in the uncanny valley about their mental illness portrayal. I couldn’t figure out why the book unnerved me so much initially, but my Partner agreed with my assessment of it after listening for a bit. He’s becoming a connoisseur of the trauma experience himself, sadly.
My subconscious apparently felt the need to continue considering the problem and ultimately determined that the characters felt like DSM-V checklists of their supposed diagnoses rather than people. They displayed all of the symptoms on the diagnostic questionnaire, but with none of the messy bleed-over between diagnoses or unique expressions of those symptoms built upon their own personality that have characterized my experiences and most of what I’ve read from other bloggers. It felt like the author did a lot of research, but she had no lived experience to make her symptom portrayals convincing. My brain is still so stuck on its soapbox about how we further stigmatize ourselves within the mental illness community by claiming some diagnoses are worse than others or that a person is better off if they are “high-functioning” vs. “low-functioning” that it had to create an entire book in my brain about the impact of within-group stigma in a future world with even more inequitable and ineffective mental health care to further prove its point.
I’d roll my eyes at myself for being that preachy in my dreams – literally and satirically – but I had my first generic PTSD nightmare last night since the spate of randomness. Even an entire YA “novel” about a terrifying possible future is a refreshing change from a replay of my real past. I got to at least direct the terrible things happening to my characters instead of having to (re)live them myself as the captive actor. I’ll happily stay diligent about wearing my eye mask for an hour daily to rest my eyes – my neuro-ophthalmologist recommended it after reviewing guidelines for eye care with Ehlers-Danlos – if it will continue to bore my brain into re-deriving better comedians’ ideas or playing novel writing instead of endless nightmares. My brain has already demonstrated that it can write trauma from re-deriving my own story. Anything my brain creates that isn’t a variation on my own trauma is a treat.
That said, my answers to Mackenzie’s questions prove why, nightmares or not, I would rather trust my own brain to write my story than anyone else’s.
Today’s questions courtesy of Life with an Illness:
1. Does blogging replace or enhance journaling?
- Replaces. I sucked at journaling. But, I like writing drafts of blog posts in pretty leather-bound journals (until EDS makes my hands cramp.)
2. Do you think education, as it is today, does justice to life and learning?
- Two words: undiagnosed ADHD. The impact of that in my K-12 life was to be forever caught in the loop wherein I was too intelligent for any diagnosis – smart girls can’t have ADHD, right? eye roll – but too ADHD to be considered gifted. I was tested for gifted in third grade. In addition to rejection sensitive dysphoria, I already had a history of dealing with The System by that point, as well as a C-PTSD-induced hyperawareness of power dynamics that instantly recognized that the psychologist – who held absolute power over me in the testing room – did not believe I deserved to be there. (I don’t know why. Probably ADHD hyperactivity.) When I confronted him, he confirmed my suspicions. My response was not to complain to any other authority figure or to request a new administrator – I was just a third grader, but I had already internalized that authority figures couldn’t be trusted to help – but to make a snap decision mid-panic attack to intentionally sabotage my test. When the psychologist inevitably told everyone I hadn’t “passed”, I’d at least have the mental balm of knowing that he didn’t have the validity in administration to truly say one way or the other. The test would be invalid, even if only I knew it. I ate a bunch of things I was allergic to during the allotted break, which affected my cognition exactly how you’d expect. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t test as gifted, but the fact that I’d self-sabotaged meant I could still pretend there was the possibility that test – and that psychologist – were wrong. Thus began my lifelong phobia of standardized testing. I did eventually test into gifted in high school. I had to if I wanted any chance at an elite university, and I really wanted that chance. It was my ticket out of the 9th Circle of Hell. My school heavily gate-kept: only “gifted” students were allowed to try out for teams like Academic Decathlon or competitive science fairs or the other nerdy extracurriculars that are effectively mandatory for elite-school admission. I went to the library and read practitioner-oriented textbooks on how the Stanford-Binet was administered, what other tests could substitute if I didn’t make the threshold on that default, and what accommodations were permitted. I quelled my panic and RSD just enough to charm my second psychologist into offering those legally permissible accommodations even without formal diagnoses. I made at least the mandatory 135+ criterion and chose never to know my official IQ. I still wanted to preserve my thin illusion that I was whatever I wanted to be, not whatever a number said. I never believed I was gifted anyway, even as I tried to convince myself of that possibility. I self-defeatingly told myself that all the work I’d done to earn accommodations, ingratiate myself to my examiner, and learn the mechanics of the test well enough to take it even with my phobia invalidated my score just as much as my self-destruction had my first one, despite all the scoring manuals I’d read to the contrary. I still believed I was stupid, and it didn’t help when I finally got that early admit elite school admission letter and brought a photocopy of it to school to show off to the teachers who’d doubted me. One teacher held it up to the light, saw there was no official watermark, and – rather than assume it was a photocopy – still found it easier to believe I’d forged the letter than was intelligent enough to get in! (It was a photocopy because even undiagnosed I knew enough not to bring an original to lose!) I hope the joke is on all of those doubters now, though, because I learned at that elite school that most of the standardized tests that K-12 lives and dies by – including IQ tests – are horribly culturally biased, poorly designed and inaccurate. I also earned undergraduate and graduate degrees that would allow me to at least statistically validate my own test items if I ever truly wanted to.
3. When do you find time to blog?
- Usually I write drafts – in my journal or on Evernote – on trains or in waiting rooms. I vaguely edit them and post them on weekends. I’ve semi-upped my game on not-FMLA, but the lack of vision did hamper my intentions.
4. What is that one post made by you that you like the most, and why?
- I ranted about standardized tests and how K-12 screws over neurodiverse traumatized kids above, so probably where I wrote about how to actually identify ADHD in smart girls. It was a humorous post, but a true one. And, it seems like it has reassured a few other self-sabotaging smart girls who needed someone to affirm that “No, you aren’t stupid. Your brain just works differently.”
5. What is your favourite book or series?
- I plead the ADHD “can’t remember anything or make up my mind.” I usually say The Crucible, even though it is a play.
6. Would you rather explore the deep ocean or outer space?
- That’s really tough. I think deep ocean, but I’d love to be able to safely do either without fainting!
7. How long would you survive the zombie apocalypse?
- How much ammo do I have? I can’t run to save my life, but with a semi-automatic and bullets anyone can do okay.
8. T-Rex or dragon?
- Dragon. Fire-breathing and flight? Yes, please!
9. If you would be a character in someone’s book, who would you like to write it?
- I’d rather write my own nightmare – er story – than let anyone else do that. Been there, done that, and no one else will write my story ever again if I can help it.
10 Have you ever visited a place just because you saw it in a book/series/animation/movie? What was that place?
- No, but I once visited a random storefront during a conference because I was running a historical D&D game set in that city. It was one of the few buildings from that era that was still around. I pretended to shop – even bought some artisanal something-or-other to be polite – long enough to map it. The entire time I was outwardly looking at crafty knickknacks I was mentally envisioning what the building would look like magically destroyed (the game was a historical fantasy), or how someone could break into it if there were armed guards out front.
11. How has writing/blogging effected your life?
- Though I would never want anyone else to write my story, I also don’t own my own story enough. That’s partially because I have some legitimate gaps in memory from dissociation, ADHD and brain fog, but it’s mostly because of shame. This blog has helped me shed some of that toxic shame and own writing, “Just because you don’t always want to recognize that the things I’ve experienced did happen, doesn’t mean that they didn’t or that I should be ashamed of them.”