I am no longer sure I’d call anything George R.R. Martin writes “good.” He burned some bridges with this leal reader with Winds of Winter. I finished a real-life Ph.D. with ADHD in less time than it has taken GRRM to write one book. I’m more than fine with HBO scripting the only conclusion to a Song of Ice and Fire to ever see the light of day. At least it means that there will be a conclusion. There is, however, still something disheartening about getting most of the way through the book GRRM wrote instead and realizing he only covered the firsthalf of 300 years of Targaryen history. Fire and Blood: 300 Years Before Game of Thrones (a Targaryen History) is an epic monument to paid procrastination and GRMM still couldn’t even finish it? Really?
That is…disappointing. Especially given the fact I am listening to the prequel on audiobook, and it is 26 hours long! I’ve been encouraged by my neuro-ophthalmologist to rest my eyes when I don’t need them for work because their ability to focus together continues to decline. Thanks, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. Listening to GRRM’s words instead of reading them makes certain quirks of his writing almost painfully apparent. (I wonder if his editors were equally burned by this point and so desperate to ship anything new of his that they only gave Fire and Blood a minimal once-over?)
Three-quarters in, I’m not sure from a literary standpoint whether Fire and Blood is actually well-written. It overuses words. Like, seriously overuses them. Like “overuses them so much that it has become a game for my Partner and me to take a non-alcoholic drink every time he uses the word ‘leal.'” (GRMM is obsessed with loyalty, but our ‘drinking’ game has to be non-alcoholic because I’m pretty sure we’d both die if we tried to use alcohol during the playing of The Leal Deal. GRRM has singlehandedly ensured that even this girl who is dysautonomic has consumed many more than her recommended liters of water daily this week.) It also has an annoying habit of setting up mysteries that are never resolved. “What was in that letter” will never be known to readers. I’m fairly sure GRRM knew what was in the letter – it’s his imagination after all – so would it have killed him to tell us? What does playing coy accomplish in a one-off?
I am not sure, for these reasons, whether what I’m currently reading is actually good. I am sure, however, that admitting I’m reading it is, at least, not embarrassing. That is not true of many of the other books I have read over the years.
Write out your routine in your planner, including basic self-care essentials like physical therapy and tracking water intake and medications, alongside your work deadlines. It’s a nice little shot of dopamine to cross off basic self-care tasks in your planner, and it helps with managing energy levels at work.
But, write all appointments in pencil because life is unpredictable. Sometimes you will, for instance, have to reshuffle an entire week’s predictable routine of physical therapy, actual therapy, meals and the like to attend a beneficial career training. It helps if you can erase to adapt.
If and when you willingly disrupt your usual daily work routine to attend an onsite continuing education training that will likely make you more desirable to positive unpredictabilities such as career advancement in the future, suck it up and ask to take notes on a laptop. Planners can be written out by hand. Course notes cannot. DO NOT try to take notes by hand with a pen for two hours. It can – and will – destroy your wrists.
If you ignore the advice in #3 above, at least do not further compound the problem by then attempting to write a full blog post within 48 hours of failing at the above.
I am guilty of #3 this week, and my wrists and hands are screaming at me for it. I will attempt to take my own advice and not also be guilty of #4. Full blog posts will resume as soon as my joints have forgiven me for thinking I could still take hand-written notes this far along in a progressive diagnosis. I couldn’t take notes by hand even back when I was still in undergrad. I don’t know why I forgot that fact during professional training this week?
In the meantime, have a picture of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. It is, after all, the reason (alongside Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria and a bully-in-my-brain that still feels toxic shame over asking for accommodations like using a computer instead of just taking hand-written notes like everyone else. The Evil Queen has nothing on the bully in my own brain.) I should have just said I can’t handle hand-written note taking, even if the training did take place over a “working lunch” and most people were capable of balancing food in one hand and a notebook and pen in the other. I didn’t. Because toxic shame sucks…
See you all when I’m finished paying for that lack of self-advocacy. (The artwork, for anyone wondering, was created before the aforementioned overdoing it.)
Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out the Glossary of Terms.
A lot of popular wisdom is rather dubious when actually examined. For instance, the common career advice to, “Shoot for the moon. If you miss, you will still land among the stars.” Unless the flat-Earthers know something I really don’t, even good old Sol is much further away from us than the moon…
Another bit of dubious popular wisdom I hear regularly from would-be experts (who have usually never heard of most of my diagnoses before) is, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” I certainly am careful with my diet, but an apple a day does not keep the doctor away for me. In fact, following the common wisdom for most of my working life to eat as naturally as possible on business trips to minimize GI symptoms has been about the worst possible choice for me. On travel per diem – and thus not responsible for remembering expiration dates for the fresh veggies and fruit that I so often forget in my fridge for weeks until they spoil – I would load up on all of the fresh fruit in an attempt to keep the gastroenterologist away. And, yet, I always felt like my IBS symptoms were worse on business trips anyway. The inevitable refrain from the “apple a day folks” – and many of the doctors that were supposedly being kept away – was that it was just “my anxiety” exacerbating my symptoms. So, I both had to plan for disaster each time and for the bully-in-my-brain to refrain how it was my fault since I couldn’t just “relax.”
Things that went through my mind in the process of composing this week’s blog post:
To Partner: “We need more of those crushable baking potato chips that are not potato chips…”
Hey, there is an entire site devoted to logging prior weather in the U.S.! Someone anticipated the deep-seated need of the ADHD community for a site to fact check them when they write, “Even though it seems hard to believe when we hit the 70s this week, we were in the 20s just last week” and they can’t perceive time well enough to remember if it really was “just last week” – or only felt like it.
Good. My Partner added bread crumbs to our order.
That historical weather site was probably intended for historical fiction. Solipsism is great in theory, but the idea that my mind shapes all of reality falls apart immediately upon being reminded that there is (still) no site to determine the actual word I am looking for from the random descriptions of my ADHD/brain-fogged mind. If the Internet were built around me, there would be. Ipso facto, my mind is not the only one that exists.
To Partner: “You are right that if we order bread crumbs instead of making them, then they are not ‘crushable’ but ‘already crushed.’ Isn’t tense relative to the frame of reference though? By the frame of reference of the bread crumbs, the description is ‘already crushed.’ Potato chips don’t come pre-crushed. So, didn’t I use the correct tense for their frame of reference?”
The moment an AI can obtain ‘bread crumbs’ from ‘crushable baking potato chips that are not potato chips’ – regardless of tense – is probably the moment we achieve the Singularity.
This list of random thoughts is about to be longer than the rest of the blog post.
This is also why my Partner and I crush games like Taboo and Heads Up. Maybe I should just go with that and make this post about how effective communication in relationships becomes even more convoluted with brain fog?
I should still explain why I was originally looking up the weather last week to fact check myself, even though it seems kind of anti-climactic now to state that chronic illness and ADHD can lead to word-finding difficulties when I’ve clearly shown it.
Wait, my original example works just as well as an example of effective communication with chronic illness! I can just relay the original conversation from last week’s cold snap that was intended to become a polished blog post verbatim! Crushing it.
Emotional flashbacks are tricky to recognize. You can become thoroughly caught up in the fight/flight/freeze responses of the past without even realizing you have shifted. And, even if you do realize you are in one, it can be tricky to recognize to what, exactly, you are flashing back. There are, after all, so many discreet instances of various types of trauma in C-PTSD that they all blend together into one continuous mess. Emotional flashbacks rarely have a clear visual component, whether projected in the real world as per the traditional public conception of a PTSD “flashback” or just replaying a memory from your personal mental mindfield.
Nothing about 2018 was unique, except possibly learning for sure that others knew all along about my childhood trauma and, frankly, my dear didn’t give a damn. I’ve had to testify against abusive group homes before. I’ve had my grad program tell me, “Defend the same week as I fought past abuse or forgo everything by dropping out.” That’s not really that different from a boss whose first words upon learning about the life-or-death stakes of 2018 were that bothering him with that knowledge constituted proof that I was a poor-performer, that I’d always been one, and that I’d probably always be one and whose last words before I went on not-FMLA were, “You have three months. Deal with the issue and return to being useful or this company will have no more use for you.” (Let it be known that his claims about my performance have no official backing. Threats aside, my boss has always managed to be in the right mood on my actual performance review day to rate me a high performer on paper, even if he gaslights that reality later whenever he finds it convenient. But, that doesn’t help much when it’s his company.) Hell, I’ve even had to testify to abuse enablers in the 9th Circle of Hell both of those times the same week as my birthday. And, I already hated my birthday because not correctly perceiving social schemas around birthdays as an undiagnosed ADHD child made them dreaded dates as far back as I can remember.
It really comes as no surprise, then, that it’s typically hard for me to determine what I am reliving in an emotional flashback (or even that I’m in one). It comes as more of a surprise when I do realize. There are only two instances where I can even predict that I’ll have an emotional flashback, much less to what specific memory.
I could use this post to say something vaguely motivational like “feel the fear and do it away” or that it’s possible to “seize the day,” even with chronic physical or mental health challenges. I could use this post to talk about FOMO or the crash that occurs when the future calls in a lien on the present in payment for spoons borrowed against it. I could do any of those things, but I won’t. I may be the only guru I trust, but I only (mostly?) trust myself because I don’t attempt to say the kinds of motivational stuff even I can’t listen to without rolling my eyes. I still prefer snark over spirituality.
Also, I know that I couldn’t back those topics up if I tried. I mean, how could I plausibly talk about seizing a moment when I have no idea what a moment even feels like?
First, for those wondering. The bad news is that I don’t have a new job quite yet. The good news is that that is because the interview process keeps getting longer each time I go through it. I’m not finished with it yet, but I’m also not out of the running yet, either. There are more stages than I expected. I’ll be making that longer commute at least one more time before I can determine if I’ll be making it permanent.
I’ll use that “at least one more time” as a chance to gather more data for my current hypothesis that one particular section of the subway line that I would need to take as part of that new commute truly has a higher likelihood of entertainment value than the earlier sections of the same line that I used to take daily. I find that, including this post, I have now written about the actions of my fellow passengers – and/or other ads and experienced events – five(!) times. These points of data make a beautiful line (bonus points if you are now singing that song along with me), and, for a would-be daily rider who is also a data analyst, a beautiful new series for my blog. I’m retroactively subtitling the previous four posts about commuting “Subway Sociology” entries #1, #2, #3 and #4.
One hypothesis is that this more-northerly-than-I-previously-commuted section of the line just has more interesting passengers in general. The null hypothesis, in turn, is instead that I have just needed more distraction from my own brain while riding this particular section of the subway – and thus have been more inclined to notice the fascinating actions of my fellow passengers while riding the rails – than while making other trips. I’ll need more data to truly determine, but, either way, my fifth unofficial/first official foray into subway sociology was a welcome distraction during what would otherwise have been a solid hour for the bully-in-my-brain to psych me out before my last interview.
It takes a lot of confidence to do anything other than stick headphones in your ear and avoid eye contact with fellow passengers on a subway. It takes a unique level of confidence to do double duty during your commute and incorporate your daily workout into it as well. Yet, one of my fellow passengers on the way to my last interview had the brass balls – er, brass bars – to do just that.
Content warning: mentions of past abuse and medical crises. Mentions of the 9th Circle of Hell.
Zeitgeist means “spirit of the times.” It is the idea that you have to judge the past by the understanding of those of its day, not necessarily by modern conceptions. Scheissegeist…well let’s just say that is a term for how I judge 2018 by its time and leave it at that…
The following things happened (with a bit of obscurity thrown in to preserve anonymity) on March 7, 2018:
My boss stated that he thought my branch office deserved to be closed and everyone in it fired. He stated at our staff meeting that “this is one of those days that I wish I didn’t have to work with any of you idiots, but, since I do, read this book for next week and reflect on why you all are so impossible to work with.”
We had our meeting with X client.
I practiced my statement about the abuse allegations we plan to file in the 9th Circle of Hell with my therapist because I was worried I was going to dissociate while giving it if I didn’t prep first.
It was raining hard when I got back from therapy and I had forgotten my umbrella and wasn’t wearing my waterproof coat. I got thoroughly soaked on the way home.
I read the management book my boss had assigned at the staff meeting that he thought would “fix” the problems with our office. (2019 post-script: the book itself was ok, but I don’t think my boss ever took any of its advice himself!)
How do I know for certain that this all happened on March 7th, 2018? Especially given that I don’t remember as much of the previous two months – including the night of a medical emergency that turned out to have been caused by the abuse I was practicing my statement for on March 7th – as a non-traumatized person would? I know because my lack of memory of the past two months was starting to seriously freak me out. How, exactly, was I supposed to file an abuse case over something so serious as medical neglect and use of medications for coercive control when I couldn’t remember large chunks of the night that my family member went into crisis as a result of that abuse? You’d think that given how close that night veered towards disaster – we were incredibly lucky we caught things when we did or I still can’t fully process what would have happened – the details would be forever seared into my brain. But, the human brain has many ways to respond to trauma. Some brains do etch every detail into their memory to the point that they can never forget any of them. Other brains, however, don’t.
Other brains survive by doing exactly the opposite. When trauma recurs, my dissociative brain falls back on the childhood survival strategy it knows best: blocking it all out because it’s too painful to remember and still function in day-to-day life.
I promised last week to share how I stayed sane without regular access to therapy in the 9th Circle of Hell during an entire year of fighting against abuse that ultimately went much deeper than even that first statement I was practicing for on March 7th, 2018. The above is my single biggest resource. On March 7th, 2018, I started what I now call my “reality journal.” I’ve experienced enough gaslighting and abuse in my life – not to mention pesky time loss from dissociation – that I have come to fear my brain’s ability to give abusers what they most want by pushing its own delete button. The fact that my boss was already making comments like those above routinely during staff meetings was further blurring the lines between the 9th Circle of Hell and my daily life last March in ways that I also recognized weren’t good. It’s hard to hold on to critical details during dissociation. I knew I had to, though, to fight back against the 9th Circle of Hell. My own dissociative memory has always been one of my secret Achilles’ heels in fighting that place. It’s hard to speak to what my brain wants so hard to never remember. My Partner figured out the reality journal workaround that is the best way I have found to date to help with grounding. On March 6th, 2018, he bought me a simple three-subject lined notebook from the nearest CVS and suggested I literally write down what happened to me each day 1) simply 2) linearly and 3) devoid of emotionally triggering language.
Writing simply, linearly and neutrally is much harder than it seems.
ADHD is known for a very non-linear conception of time. We can perceive “now” and “not now” – and pretty much all other emotionally salient times we have ever experienced get lumped into one or the other dichotomously. Whatever emotion is activated in the “now” concurrently activates all the other similar emotional times we have ever experienced all at once. If the emotion is the same, it’s in the “now.” And, anything emotionally different might as well have never existed. It’s in the “not now” that might as well be “never was and never will be.” That sort of sucks when the emotion currently activated is trauma, as it means I don’t just activate current trauma, I effectively relive every single similar experience as though it is all happening at once. I have had a lot of traumatic experiences.
I’m also rather verbose. Left to my own devices, my reality journal would contain all the minutia of the day to the point where I exhausted myself too much to keep up with it regularly. When I did manage to keep it up, it would inevitably be too detailed to actually pick out the important bits from the rest of the mess.
The point of my reality journal is to have it available to rely on when either my own brain tries to push the big red self-destruct button on my memories or when some asshole abuser tries to spin reality to protect themselves from retribution for what they have done. It helps, then, to write my cheat sheet without any language that could possibly trigger me enough to further encourage my brain to zone out when it is supposed to be keeping me grounded. Thus, the final guideline of non-emotional language. Despite my very best attempts at keeping my language neutral, many of those entries still make me cry to read. Some of them I even had to fill out with my Partner’s help because my brain had managed to push the delete button before the day even afforded me enough downtime to write my notes. But, every day is in there.
I have filled my reality journal out every single day since March 7th, 2018. It is now February 3rd, 2019. That means for almost 11 months – through Hell and occasional rain water – I have written down what has happened to me in that same no-nonsense way. And, because I’m paranoid and have been in an apartment fire or two, I’ve backed that journal up every month to my trusty Evernote account. One of these days I will spill coffee on the thing, but I have a plan for it.
And, as horrible as 2018 was, there are some good things in that simple linear record. The good things are rare, but they are there. If I am to believe my own reality journal, the majority of the good things that happened to me in 2018 involved my Partner cooking for me! I wrote a lot about the various meals he made, including one time when he perfected Chick-fil-A knockoff sandwiches with homemade Chick-fil-A sauce. (Their sandwiches are pretty great, but their corporate morals are icky. They deserve to be plagiarized.) Left to my own devices, I’d probably only remember the bad news we got while eating those sandwiches, but, thanks to my reality journal, I also remember that he did make them and they were good. (I can also remember to pester him to make them again.) My ADHD brain may have overwritten the positive emotions from that dinner date with the terror from a later phone call, but at least I have written evidence that I felt them at one point.
I also suck at self-care, but there is something about seeing a “ledger” that is so far into the trauma red that it makes me want to at least try and add back in a rare good thing to fight back in black. Which brings me to the second important thing that kept me sane in the 9th Circle of Hell last year: I brought with me proof that I have a life outside of it.
The reality journal technique is something a person can start at any time. February 3rd, 2019 is as good a day as March 7th, 2018. (It might even be better. If I had it to do over again, I’d have started my journal on January 1st, 2018, when I was still in Iceland!) My second technique took quite a bit of advance planning, but when I finally pulled it off, it helped me enough to be worth recommending to even my brain fogged, ADHD or otherwise forgetful readers.
There are a lot of benefits to mindfulness meditation for mental health. However, as I have mentioned before, standard meditations don’t work for me. I don’t do “aspirational” or “gratitude.” I’m not awesome at emptying my mind, and I want to throttle most guided meditation leaders and mantra chanters. The only guru I apparently trust is myself. So, I made my own guided meditations.
I wrote out a play on a mountain meditation/envisioning a generic “peaceful happy” place meditation. Then I rewrote it to incorporate my usual mental snark. And, I took it a step further by making it actually visual instead of just “guided imagery.” The closest thing I have to a truly “safe place” is on the opposite coast. But, it is a place my Partner and I only ever return to once a year for a special event. I had to plan pretty far ahead to record my guided meditation there in 2018. Yet, it was worth it, because going there in 2018 might be the only time I can truly say I was “happy” – not just “not sad” or “relieved” – that year after the night of that first fateful medical near-disaster. (Iceland was pretty great, but that was pre-Crisis!)
I recorded myself in my “happy” place reading my own version of a guided meditation to myself. In the grey void of depression – especially with my non-linear ADHD brain – it can be pretty hard to believe I have ever felt any emotion other than mute horror. It helped to have the visual and auditory proof of myself sounding happy in the one place that is the most decidedly different from the 9th Circle of Hell that I can think of. It also helps that I recorded a “safe space” meditation for myself in a place that also isn’t quite the everyday world I live in, either. I like the East Coast. I like my life here on those days when I’m not talking to my bully-of-a-boss or anyone from the 9th Circle of Hell. But, the same townhouse in which we have made homemade Chick-fil-A in and watched dumb action movies with a bottle of wine is also the same townhouse where the phone has rung in the middle of the night and where I regularly speak to that bully-of-a-boss via webcam. There are many emotions permeating the air of my every day, where the place I recorded as my “safe” place is just…happy. It isn’t a trauma place, and it isn’t a complex “real world” place either. It’s a place where there was one dominant emotion, and that emotion wasn’t trauma.
If you have experienced trauma or depression for long enough, I will admit “happy” might feel too hard to come by to aim to record on a personalized guided meditation. I also acknowledge that traveling to the opposite coast is a bit pricy for a safe place. But, if you do happen to have a day or a place or a time when you feel any happiness – or even if you just walk through a new park that has no negative emotions associated directly with it and looks pretty – I recommend you pull out your phone and push the record button on your camera and record yourself telling yourself that things don’t suck right at that moment. The best evidence I have found that the past isn’t forever and that there is a world outside of the 9th Circle of Hell is my own voice telling myself that in a place that isn’t it. If “happy” seems a bit much to hope to capture on film – and, well, if I didn’t have years of memories associated with that one “safe place” I probably couldn’t have pulled off “happy” last year post-Crisis even there – “relieved” or “vaguely interested” would probably do in a pinch. The main trick is to record yourself in a moment when you sound and feel something other than emotionally numb. Those moments can be few and far between, so it takes pre-planning to capture them. But, once you have them, you have them for the next period of numbness.
I know the inherent nature of the 9th Circle of Hell and trauma itself means that I probably will return to numb as my baseline, but my reality journal and my guided meditations have at least helped me remember that there is a world outside of my own personal Hell. I fully intend to keep on filling out my reality journal ad infinitum and to record additional personalized guided meditations whenever I travel, go to an amazing new restaurant, or just have a moment when I am sitting somewhere visually interesting and realize “hey, life doesn’t suck right now.”
It helps to hear my own prior self reminding me to consider the full Zeitgeist of a Hell year like 2018, with all its complexity, instead of just its Scheissegeist and the various even older ghosts of my past that came before it in the 9th Circle of Hell.
Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out the Glossary of Terms.
My Partner and I are going to a game night tonight hosted by someone I met through an ADHD support group. So, of course, I had a dream that the hosts kept serving me party food on real plates, and I kept progressively dropping them. I desperately tried to explain, “Please stop giving me nice things. I drop things constantly,” but somehow the china I was handed just kept getting progressively finer…
On the one hand, I hope that doesn’t become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is wet and slippery out today. I also didn’t sleep well – no thanks to that dream. And, it would be nice to actually make “friends” with people before I break something (of theirs or of mine) in front of them. On the other hand, if there will ever be a household where, “I know I’m clumsy, but I forgot to put my plate down before my hands got too tired” might actually make for an understandable explanation, perhaps it would be a fellow neurodiverse household?
I’m sure this dream has nothing at all to do with the fact that I read the Ehlers-Danlos Society’s “Mental Health Care Toolbox” on Facebook yesterday or the fact that it noted that people with EDS and HSD have a higher incidence of anxiety, depression, and ADHD. Or the fact that I have fallen down in public places twice recently. Nothing at all…
Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out the Glossary of Terms.