There’s no knock-knock joke here. Orange is the most common awareness ribbon color for ADHD Awareness Month. ADHD Awareness Month being in October is about the only ‘awareness’ anything that I can ever remain even vaguely aware of. Because there are entirely too many awareness months – and colors, and ribbons! – and my brain just lumps all of them into “October.” (And, I’d still almost certainly have been capable of forgetting even that, except that today is also “World Mental Health Day.” Other bloggers who are more cognizant of the world than I am have kindly reminded me of that via their posts.)
October being ADHD Awareness Month is, conveniently enough, the perfect segue to ask a question of you all, my blog friends, that was specifically requested by my Partner (without him knowing anything about the synergistic timing!)
Partner: “Hey, Lavender? You’re blog friends with people who have neurotypical spouses, right? I want you to ask them, ‘How often do their neurotypical partners spin around and go where is this thing I just had in my hands?’ Because I now realize that I do this constantly. I’ve just never compared myself to anybody but you. Like, I feel the answer is not zero times, but it is also probably not every five minutes.”
Lavender (amused): “Once you make peace with [your own neurodiversity] labels, you can never un-see how much they fit ever again, can you?”
Partner: “It’s just the frustration of having a measuring cup in your hand, putting it down and not knowing where it went. Why is it over there now? How did it get there? Why am I unable to hold these extremely simple facts in memory?”
Lavender: “I’ll write it down and post it as an addendum to the post I was going to write this weekend.”
Partner (surprisingly intense): “No, this isn’t an idle question. I actually want an answer. Can you do it now? Saying you’ll write it down is creating the very good chance you’ll forget to before you do, and it will never happen. I know how that works! I’m neurodiverse, too! I just want to know how neurodiverse I am. How far left of field am I? Am I just out in the far outfield somewhere? Or am I in a different field entirely? You are literally the only other adult I’ve ever lived with. I have no valid frame of reference here. I’d like to know exactly how ADHD I am. I think the answer might be ‘more than mildly,’ but all I can deduce from comparison is ‘not as severely as you.’ That’s only about as helpful as saying that a campfire isn’t as hot as the sun. I need a yardstick for the neurotypical end. I need to know whether we’re extreme outliers on a bell curve of forgetful experiences that everyone has at least occasionally. Or whether our experiences of things just disappearing out of existence if we don’t keep looking at them at all times is so fundamentally qualitatively different that neurotypicals look at us like ‘what is wrong with you?‘”
Because, after about ten months, 2020 has just been stupid for those of us with executive functioning issues. And, it has been getting to my Partner these past couple of weeks.
Are my partner and I the only ones who feel like being inside all the time ramps up both our need for concrete structures to mark time and simultaneously makes us worse at enforcing those structures for ourselves?
To the point where, lately, when Google pops up its “you have a Zoom meeting in 15 minutes” auto-notification I have to set an alarm for fifteen minutes hence anyway because there is a very good likelihood that even if I did nothing for the next fifteen-minute timeframe that I would still somehow slip away in my awareness until I somehow ended up late for the meeting anyway?! Despite having done nothing for those fifteen minutes but stare at the clock ‘responsibly’ the whole time?!
And to the point where, as noted above, my Partner has managed to lose just about every measuring cup and spoon we own somewhere within the confines of our one-bedroom-sized apartment kitchen?
For awhile, in August and September, I was going in to work roughly 1-2 days per week. That was surprisingly helpful to re-orient us both to the passage of time. If nothing else, it was a good excuse to go get sodas or candy or some other such random treat and to remember to go take a walk since I was going to be ‘out anyway.’ (We have a rule in our house that we’re only allowed to eat cheap sugary treats if we both make the effort to walk out and buy them the moment we want them. Because otherwise we’d both lack any self-control whatsoever, and we would do things like eat the entire month’s worth of snacks we bought in one sitting. My Partner coined the phrase ‘the unit of consumption is one’ to describe sweets. As in, ‘it doesn’t matter what portion size we buy. We will eat all of whatever the entire portion is at once anyway. Because the unit of consumption for all sweets in this house is one.’ Cases of coke are not allowed to exist in our household!)
Unfortunately, my work now has a small cluster of positive cases of a different kind, and we will all likely be returning to entirely virtual office work again until January as a precaution. (We weren’t sloppy. My work has actually been pretty great about nightly professional sanitation, masks on the entire time we are indoors, and social distancing. We’re just near enough to a post-secondary institution – and have enough staff with children in school and/or at that post-secondary institution – that outbreaks there have turned into transmission vectors for our zip code as a whole.)
Having fewer markers of time + the general malaise that is October 2020 has been rough when our respective executive functioning isn’t always that awesome to begin with.
It has been rough enough, in fact, that my Partner’s own self-perception of more pronounced executive functioning issues + the ubiquitous opportunities for telehealth led to him finally seeking official confirmation and treatment for (at least) the ADHD component of his own neurodiversity in late summer. He first broached the topic with his own newly assigned PCP (after work changed our insurance yet again), who referred him in-house to someone who assessed him and started him on non-stimulant ADHD meds as placeholders until my own psychiatrist could see him and determine the best long-term med option for him.
He was unconvinced those initial meds were doing much for him until – because time is hard and his own doctor wasn’t willing to refill even a non-stimulant brand new prescription automatically – he had to actually remember to get more of them when he ran out. (He is, unsurprisingly, as bad at refilling prescriptions that don’t auto-renew as I am.)
Three weeks of being off meds again after a period of almost two months of being on them have led to him driving himself batty hyperfocusing on just how scattered his default state of being has always been. I try not to laugh (too much, at least) at this. Because I remember that same period in my early diagnosis. I remember blithely announcing that, “I don’t think these meds are actually doing anything” until everyone around me (including my boss at that time) started spontaneously saying how much more “coherent” I was. I remember my first time forgetting to refill my meds, and I remember being shocked by my return to that same live-wire state of my own nervous system that I had never realized other people didn’t experience. And, I remember that corresponding frustration of getting my meds back again and thinking, “Fine, they’re better than nothing, but why don’t they fix everything? Why do I still [insert very neurodiverse thing here]?”
And, I remember that I went through something very similar while integrating the ASD part of my own neurodiverse experience alongside the ADHD about a year or so ago. All the while my Partner had accepted the former about himself for about as long as I’d accepted the latter (and only very gently laughed at me for taking so long to recognize it in comparison.)
Thus, I will post his question this week to help him contextualize where he falls on the ADHD spectrum for himself. Because I know that all of my own debates about what labels do and do not mean do not substitute for his own need to do the same. And because sharing his experiences with neurodiversity is a good reminder that, “If you know one neurodiverse person, you still only know one neurodiverse person.” Presentations of neurodiversity – especially dual neurodiversity – differ a lot between people. Even between two neurodiverse people who so clearly assortatively matched themselves that is almost scary sometimes.
I posted his question immediately, before I could forget. (Or, at least “immediately” in the sense of I started the post right away! In the WordPress editor itself! But, I did take the time to do at least a bit of introductory framing for the question, as evidenced by my nod to ADHD Awareness Month…)
But, because I also collect random things he says for Brevity is the Soul of Apathetically posts, when I took notes on exactly what he wanted me to ask, I happened to notice a theme to his quotes from the past couple of weeks. I realized that – because I do mostly succeed now at writing things down that I say I will, I swear! – I had independently collected enough of his commentary on the state of neurodiversity to craft an impromptu ADHD Awareness post just from his experiences.
So, for the sake of raising “awareness,” enjoy my Partner’s humorous** commentary on the life neurodiverse over the past few weeks. (And also, seriously, answer his question about how often neurotypicals lose things! He genuinely wants to know, and now he’s made me really curious!)
Partner: “BBC plays old Star Trek late at night. And, you know what struck me? Data – their Android who is heavily coded as old-school ASD, mind you – did a poetry reading. And, it wasn’t great. But, everyone showed up for him, from the captain on down, and they appreciated it and helped him enjoy things that he enjoyed. Because what’s the harm in having fun being weird? Why not just be supportive?”
Lavender: “I saw a meme this morning from a neurodiverse group saying isn’t it frustrating how neurotypicals love to tell each other to stop trying to fit in, ‘you do you’, and ‘whatever you are, be the best that thing you can be!’ But, then they love to turn around and tell us constantly how we should just be more like everyone else?”
Partner: “Even Geordi, when pressed, was just like, well, your poetry was very clever and technically correct. Your iambic pentameter was spot on and you had some good word play, but it wasn’t really emotionally evocative. And Data was like, ‘Great, I’ll work on that.’ End of story. Why can’t that just be how everyone interacts?”
Lavender: “Honestly? Technically correct and clever wordplay are pretty much all I even want out of my poetry. Emotionally evocative isn’t really required. I’m looking Data’s poetry up online.”
Lavender reads Data’s Ode to Spot poem online
Lavender (reading aloud and giggling): “This is awesome! I aspire to be as technically correct and clever a poet as Data someday. Hey, speaking of ‘possibly clever’, read this poem from 2017 that I wrote. I won’t be self-conscious about it. I promise! It’s not in Data’s league, but I think it’s kind of clever anyway!”
Partner (upon reading): “You rhymed ‘mood’ with ‘attitude’. That is just spectacular…”
Lavender: “Yes, I did. It takes skill to rhyme two different synonyms with each other. I appreciate myself for my depth as well as breath of word awareness.”
Partner (skeptically): “Okay, you do you…”
Lavender: “Wasn’t that the point of this whole conversation?”
Partner (pausing with his head through the rungs of a new barstool that we just got and that he had been playing with): “Thinking about it, I’m guessing this isn’t neurotypical behavior?”
Lavender (utterly oblivious to his deviation from normal social rules and thus focusing only on what two characters on t.v. are saying): “I don’t know. It’s maybe a bit blunt for neurotypicals to talk about their feelings quite that directly without all the usual politeness obfuscations, but it doesn’t seem particularly neurodiverse to me, either?”
Partner: “No, I mean this stool I’ve had over my head for the past fifteen minutes? I don’t think most neurotypicals will just happily play with a stool for fifteen minutes?”
Lavender (thinking): “Hmm. Probably not? Or have their spouse not notice the stool because playing with random household objects as stim toys just seems perfectly normal? I’m guessing that’s not very neurotypical either?”
Contestant on reality t.v. mentions having ‘eye contact issues’
Partner: “And, now that he’s mentioned it, I realize I can’t actually tell if reality t.v. participants are neurodiverse. Because even though I know they aren’t ‘real’ people when they are only in my t.v. – and not people I actually know – I apparently still find it painful to look directly in their eyes when they are looking directly at the camera. I didn’t notice that he doesn’t make eye contact until he told the camera he doesn’t make eye contact because I don’t make eye contact either!”
Watching Harry Potter (which we don’t exactly endorse because J.K. Rowling is a terrible person. It was just on the same channel we’d left on for hours already, and once we drifted into watching we, at least, were relieved to read that Daniel Radcliffe and other stars have taken public stands in favor of rights for all gender expressions.)
Lavender: “How does Lupin forget it’s the full moon? That’s, like, the literal most important part of his life?”
Partner and Lavender (two seconds later in unison): “Lycanthropy plus ADHD must suck!”
Partner twenty minutes further into the movie
Partner: “Wait. How do you remember your moon cycle with ADHD?”
Lavender: “Tracking apps and recurring subscriptions for necessities on Amazon.”
Partner: “Pause [the t.v.] for a moment. I’ve decided to embrace ADHD and tell you about something completely irrelevant to the show right now. Because I read about it a week ago, and I wanted to tell you then. But, I forgot about it almost immediately and never got to tell you. From now on, I’m just going to embrace that if I don’t say something the moment I think of it, I won’t be able to hold on to it.”
Lavender: “I don’t know know why you didn’t before? Interrupting me never bothers me. And, God knows, I do it enough to you…”
Partner: “Yeah, but I was taught not to, and that people think that’s rude. But, if they don’t mind, why should I?! It’s just been engrained in me that ‘If it was important enough, you’d have remembered it. And, if you don’t remember it when it’s your turn to speak, what you had to say must not have been that important after all.’ I never got to speak because I couldn’t speak when I could remember without interrupting, and it’s rude to interrupt. No more! I’m just going to say things when I think of them!”
Lavender: “Just to be clear, though, that they mostly do hate it. That freedom only applies in this house. If you try it in the rest of the world, it’s going to go badly. So, don’t forget to put on both your masks before you walk out the door…”
Partner: “There’s a blog post in that. ‘Put on both your masks before you walk out the door’…”
Partner: “I was a latchkey kid. I used to know where all the unlatched windows were in my house growing up. I used to know how to pop the lock on a sliding glass door. I once broke my parents’ window because – as I was popping the lock to let myself in – a huge spider crawled out and I grabbed the screen handle to hit it instinctively because spiders are terrifying and all spiders must die! That’s not directly relevant to the point, I guess, but, anyway, my point was that I used to lock myself out at least two or three times a month, from childhood on. Until you and I started living together and, between the two of us, one of us would have keys. That’s an ADHD thing, right?”
Lavender: “Yeah, but you do realize that there’s a solution to that, right? Just make four sets of the same keys and hide them someplace others won’t think to look! It’s the only way I ever functioned until we started living together. How do you think I didn’t go broke on locksmiths when I still drove? I had four sets of hidden car keys because I kept locking my keys in my car!”
Partner: “I had to pick my own car door a couple of times a month with a coat hangar because I locked my keys in the car. But, I always prided myself on how I never needed a locksmith. I could get myself out of my own messes.”
Lavender: “The duplicate key solution only fails when you have proprietary apartment keys you aren’t allowed to duplicate. I swear I told you this early on when we were first dating? Exactly because we commiserated on how we both had this same problem? How did I forget to share that for your diagnosis?”
Partner: “Yeah, I remember that first place you lived in when we first met. How many times did I come over ‘to keep you company’ while you waited for emergency management as an excuse to get closer to you? Because the keys cost something like $200 each to have duplicates made?”
Lavender: “Yeah, you might owe that apartment complex us ending up dating even when I said I was taking a break from dating! And, you told me one of those times about how you were, at least, in charge of the card machine that issued card badges at your work. So, it really helped that you could just issue yourself a temporary new card whenever you left yours at home without anyone ever having to know how frequently you left yours behind.”
Partner: “You were the only person I ever opened up to about anything. When I told you those stories you just assumed they were normal for everyone because they were normal to you. So, I also assumed they were normal for everyone because they were normal for you.”
Lavender (sarcastically ironic): “Well, it’s good to know you picked up some useful skills as coping mechanisms. If it does come to a dystopian nightmare post-election, at least you’ve got the skills to keep us safe in the bombed-out remains of buildings the YA fiction I read suggests we’ll have to break into for shelter.”
Partner thinks for a minute
Partner (somberly): “You know what white male privilege is, Lavender? White male privilege is walking around a car with a coat hangar and people just walking right on by as I did this always just assuming that I was breaking into my own car. White privilege is carrying a wrench around the back of my house as a teenager to help me pop the lock on the house window and people just going ‘okay, he must belong here’ instead of deciding I was a delinquent. Because I looked so nice and ‘respectable.’ I realize – now that I think about it – that I’ve only ever been stopped by the police for that kind of stupid stuff once in my entire life. Add to your blog post how unfair it is that I’ve never been arrested for being ADHD. But, I totally would have if I weren’t white…”
**Okay, that last quote wasn’t exactly funny. It is, however, a good reminder to also be aware this October that intersectionality is real. Especially if you know what it is like to face prejudice on one axis (e.g. disability), please try to also use what privilege you have on any other axes in which you haven’t had to fight to fight for those who don’t have it. Because I’d prefer to not live in either that dystopian YA fiction I mentioned above or in more of the same fundamentally inequitable U.S. that I’m currently living in.
Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out my Glossary of Terms.