Don’t Think of a White Elephant

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Image: Generic logo for an unnamed drug store. Text reads: “Drug Store, Inc.: when you care enough to send the very least.” Meme created at https://makeameme.org/.

George Lakoff talks about how the moment you mention something – especially if you immediately tell the person not to think about it – all they can do is think about it. So, if I tell you “don’t think of an elephant,” all you’ll be able to think about is the elephant in the room.

Now, I don’t know if he specifically chose the elephant example as evidence that all the metaphorical elephants in the room we aren’t talking about can’t be ignored, but even if he didn’t, there’s a lesson in there about why telling someone to “just not think about” their depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc. will always be doomed to fail. He also used the elephant example as an overt lesson for Progressives that they don’t seem to have taken enough to mind for the 2018 midterms. Progressives, Lakoff argues, need to use their own talking points to their own cognitive advantage. They need to spend less time refuting Republicans and more time standing up for something better. It isn’t enough to just state over and over that they oppose Trump’s inhumane and cruel plans. Because, when they only talk about his position, people don’t really remember theirs – all they remember is the position Democrats told them to forget about! As George Lakoff reminds liberals: if they only oppose their opposition they instead give Republicans twice their voters’ cognitive airtime. Progressives should stick to their own ideas, talking points, and actionable platforms. They shouldn’t mention what they don’t want their voters to even cognitively flirt with from the other side.

Because you really can’t “not think of an elephant.”

Unless, of course, you happen to have ADHD and your office holds a generic winter-holiday white elephant gift exchange.

Continue reading “Don’t Think of a White Elephant”

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Blog Awards Series #4: Mamas, Don’t Let Your Blogs Grow Up to Be About Cowboys

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:

Continue reading “Blog Awards Series #4: Mamas, Don’t Let Your Blogs Grow Up to Be About Cowboys”

Messages in a Bottle #7.2: 525,600 Words

Written at some point prior in May 2018, intended for 5-26-18, my one-year blogiversary. The intro to this post (including why it is so delayed) is here.

525,600 minutes, 525,000 moments so dear.

525,600 minutes – how do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee.

In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.

In 525,600 minutes – how do you measure a year in the life?

How about love? How about love? How about love? Measure in love. Seasons of

love.

525,600 minutes! 525,000 journeys to plan. 525,600 minutes – how can you measure

the life of a woman or man?

In truths that she learned, or in times that he cried. In bridges he burned, or

the way that she died. (don’t worry, not a tw, despite what the lyric might suggest!)

It’s time now to sing out, though the story never ends

Let’s celebrate remember a year in the life of friends

I had to perform that song as a pledge event for my sorority in college. Pledging unending sisterhood or some such. Does it surprise anyone that I joined a sorority? Honestly, it kind of surprises me, too. I’m also kind of surprised I didn’t fall over while attempting to vaguely “dance.” Undiagnosed Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome explains a lot in hindsight about why I got kicked out of ballet class (and soccer) and hidden away in the back where no one could see me for that college initiation “performance.” But, rush was a thing that was a fairly big event even at my geeky college. I did it as something to do to fit in in a new place, and I was sufficiently mystified when offered a bid that I accepted it partly on some vague grounds of “leadership activities look good for grad school” and partly some deeper, “you mean there might be a school where I’m actually vaguely acceptable for who I am?” I am a very forward planner and easily flattered by simply not being rejected.

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Blog Awards Series #1: The Internet is for Blog Awards

We could alternately title this post “What Do You Do with a Degree in STEM on Not FMLA?”

I have never seen Avenue Q. This, in and of itself, is not that unusual, even for someone who likes musicals. I’ve never seen Hamilton, and that boils down to nothing more than the fact that even the cheapest tickets are multiple hundreds of dollars! For many years, Avenue Q was the Hamilton of its day. I had the soundtrack on my playlist, but couldn’t afford to see any production of it as a poor grad student.

However, eventually, I got tickets for it. I got tickets for it no less than *three* times in fact, and each time something managed to happen. One time, it was a major argument with my Partner that was triggered by – what else? – PTSD symptoms. That argument ended up being very instrumental in us getting to where we are today, so I don’t regret it. It helped me to learn to trust. It helped me learn that sometimes things can unravel and still be stitched up again. It also meant I missed orchestra section seats to Avenue Q.

The second time we attempted, I honestly don’t remember what kept me from actually using our tickets. It might have been 9th Circle of Hell stuff or work stuff: I honestly don’t know anymore! The third time we were just plain too sick to use the tickets. By that time, we were no longer risking big money. We simply had tickets to a local community theater production, but still, my Partner and I were ‘cursed.’

We talked briefly about seeing if there was a local production of Avenue Q during my not-FMLA, especially one before we returned to the 9th Circle of Hell. It’s probably good we didn’t, as we both have spent the past several days incredibly sick. We’d likely have missed the show again, were we to have tried.

Although I just posted yesterday, I’m going to go ahead and start my blog awards series today. I’m only, oh, a week or so later than I claimed! I have already acknowledged I have blog awards going back to July 2017.  If I don’t just start posting, the ADHD forgetfulness probably means I’ll forget again until it’s too embarrassing to bring up.

I take back everything I said about WordPress’s new save feature. I patiently found all seven of those blog awards and saved them on the app on my phone. Guess what posts are no longer showing up? Sometimes technology works, and you are the broken one. Sometimes the beta version really is broken, and that is absolutely what happened with the WordPress save feature! I planned to start with the oldest post and work forward, but I’m starting instead with the most recent. It was the easiest to find!

Today’s entry is from Ashley of Mental Health @ Home:

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Messages in a Bottle #6: Cool as a Snowball in H#ll

From what I can tell, we briefly hit temperatures that were literally hotter than (the 9th Circle of) Hell this week. And, just as the Northeast might get a break from the insane heat wave that is gripping most of the country – for two days at least – I might be leaving it for another roundtrip to Hell. Argh. The 9th Circle of Hell additionally lives up its name by having always been unlivable in the summertime for someone growing up with undiagnosed Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and the dysautonomia that likes to hitchhike.

I recently(ish) read two separate blog posts (by Narcoleptic Aspie and Crafts, Chronic Illness and Adulting) about how bizarre trying to use a Fitbit or another fitness tracker is for someone with a condition that includes autonomic nervous system dysfunction. Lavender from two years ago completely agrees with that sentiment.

I also discovered this random “journal” entry – not even written in my usual locked leather-bound journal because I was simply too out-of-it to hand-write anything – floating around in the flotsam and jetsam of my personal Dropbox.

The date of syncing of the post was late-July 2016, though given that my text notes sync to Dropbox only when I use wifi, not data, on my phone, the note itself could have been written on my phone anytime within a few weeks of that date. Out of curiosity, I went back and looked at my phone to see what Samsung Health recorded as my low heart rate at around 5:30am in July 2016. (Yes, this does mean my phone is over two years old, for anyone asking. I drop it constantly I’m not going to replace it every time a new model comes out just to shatter another screen!) I suspect this entry corresponds to a heart rate of 46 on July 12th, 2016. My recorded high for that month (156) also seems to have come at a time I marked myself as “at rest.”

It’s strange to think that if, on that date, I’d considered that I actually did have those extremes of heart rate while simply sitting inside in the A/C – and that it was my body, not my technology, that was broken – I might have been diagnosed at least a year earlier. But, of course, I assumed the technology just wasn’t that reliable. (Also, would that I could go back in time to a moment when the world wasn’t ending right now, as was the case two years ago! You know it’s a Messages in a Bottle when it contains that line. The world most certainly isn’t okay in “right now, right now!)

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Data Minding

I first intended to post about the fact that statistical algorithms can pick out individuals with various mental health diagnoses from the type of language they use on social media last November, but I lost my hyperfocus on the topic almost immediately after I read the original media blurb about a new study. I also forgot to ever read the study itself, which was sad because it should have been right up my alley. (In my defense, I was probably exhausted at the time. I usually am.)

I suppose in hindsight there was nothing stopping me from writing the post after November – when I finally remembered it existed – but I’d have felt like a failure as a blogger. I mean, aren’t bloggers supposed to produce semi-current content for their readers? I’d also hate to disappoint any of my readers who might be statistical outliers, but apparently statistical algorithms can also pick that out.  At least online, I’m not the only one with the attention span of a gnat. Articles over a month old are ancient in the blogosphere. Got to play to my audience and pretend I’m aware of the passing of time.

I truly thought my chance had come and gone. I could have cried with relief when another article came out this month referencing similar research about the language used by individuals with mental health diagnoses on social media. Sometimes I do get a second chance to make a first impression. (I will confess my own self-regulation of my own science ideals vs. science practice hasn’t improved since November. I haven’t read the original research cited in this new article, either.)

I managed to get a timely post up, and I know that – this time- I won’t disappoint my readers. I posted extremely relevant content and I intentionally set myself up to succeed…

…by failing forward. I mean, after all, I did just manage to write the most statistically obnoxious – I mean “optimal” – example ever of a social media post by someone with ADHD above. It should trigger as many automated flags as possible during data mining that I truly have the diagnosis that I know I have. I was, however, only diagnosed in adulthood.

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Messages in a Bottle #4: Cold Lang Syne

Today’s winter storm event – Winter Storm Liam – is turning out to be a non-event for my area. There are two more potential snowmakers behind it, per my favorite bedtime story,  aka The Weather Channel. Maybe those will live up to the hype that Liam didn’t.

The blizzard we ran into in Iceland in the final installment from my holiday trip was decidedly not a non-event. I assume it was the same bomb cyclone, aka Winter Storm Grayson, that caused our complications as the one that caused problems for most of the U.S. Either way, this entry is dated 1/2/18. Its lessons include a) always scan your important documents into Evernote if you have ADHD, even if you are on vacation, and b) get the winter damage rider on your rental car if you visit Iceland in January. The pic of just sheets of white is a road. If you don’t believe me, look for the road signs as hints. We drove in that.

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Messages in a Bottle #2: No-Boxed-Lunch Day

I feel like I should offer some post hoc commentary on this blog post, but maybe next time. I think I’ve mentioned before that one of the most frustrating aspects of any form of chronic illness seems to be that we also become extra vulnerable to any acute illnesses that are going around. The two do not not play nice together, and there are currently a lot of acute illnesses “going around.” In the week and a half since I’ve been back to work, I’ve gotten sick with two separate strains of crumminess that are going around the office and have dealt with a “flare” (or whatever you call an uptick in symptoms of dysautonomia) in tandem with both. This three-day weekend is being spent in bed.

This post was written on 12/27/17 in Northern Iceland, after grocery stores had re-opened, we’d had a full meal cooked in our little cabin and we had seen the Northern Lights for what would end up being the only time the entire trip, because we later ran into a blizzard!

So, most places I have visited over Christmas are either “multicultural” (read: opportunistically capitalist) enough, don’t celebrate Christmas/Boxing Day as national holidays or are otherwise open for tourists on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.  Iceland isn’t.

Now, we knew this. We knew that we should either book a reservation at a high-end restaurant (the only ones likely to be open) before the trip – before the restaurant sold out – or plan to hit the local grocery store (our more affordable option) before about noon on Christmas Eve to stock up. We planned to stock up on Christmas Eve and drive to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula on Christmas Day, check-in to our hotel with its electronic self-check code, and use its kitchenette to make ourselves food while we explored the area on our own. We planned to avoid the lack of options by simply cooking like we always do. You know what they say about the best-laid plans…

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Membership BADDges: Identifying ADHD in Girls with Co-morbid Anxiety

It’s rough being an intelligent girl with ADHD. If such a girl is halfway successful, multiple doctors’ 15-minute default assumptions that she merely has anxiety/depression will too often have been the reason she spent most of her twenties ineffectually medicated with SSRIs – and labeled treatment resistant – instead of receiving the medications that will eventually change her life.

Such a girl has probably railed against the gatekeepers that barred her from having a shot at becoming truly successful – not just halfway – for so many irreplaceable years. She probably has become lost in an RSD spiral at least once after scoring off the charts on her ADHD self-assessment and being shot down anyway because she “did okay in high school.”

Such a girl may even have spent the first year after her formal ADHD diagnosis doubting it. She never forgot the doctor who said her difficulties were due to a lack of skills, not a neurological condition. She may have heard the bully-in-her-brain aping that doctor – telling her that she chose a job she “wasn’t good at” – for quite some time before she learned to trust her lifetime of ADHD experience over an ignorant GP.

If she has learned to trust in diagnostic criteria over doubt, she may become incandescent with rage when she sees other smart girls in Facebook groups and on WordPress being treated the way she once was treated. She may start to write an angry blog post after thinking back on what it was like to be told that she “didn’t need ADHD medications to solve her problems” – she just needed to choose a job within her “realistic personal capabilities.” She may instead realize that diagnostic criteria and angry rants wouldn’t necessarily have helped her in her own diagnosis journey. They wouldn’t necessarily have penetrated the fog of self-flagellation at the time.

She might then wonder what would have helped her feel more confident that she really did have a neurological condition back in her undiagnosed twenties. One thing that would have helped would have been to know that the “ADHD” versus “anxiety/depression” dichotomy is a false one. If a smart girl has ADHD, she most likely has anxiety and/or depression, too. It would have further helped her to have learned how to recognize her ADHD lurking behind her anxiety. It would have helped her to recognize her shibboleths: little traits of hers that stem from the diagnostic criteria for ADHD and aren’t as easily confused with other diagnoses as a non-specific criterion like feeling overwhelmed.  It would have helped to have some way to laugh about just how ADHD she was, not internalize the issues.

The following are some of those shibboleths that one such girl, known as Lavender, shared with another smart girl still in the process of being diagnosed. (She has added a few since that original exchange!) They have no formal diagnostic validity as an ADHD screener, but they probably have a fairly high specificity (though maybe not sensitivity!) To use the guide, assign the female subject +1 points for each item as described below. There is no clear-cut diagnostic threshold for ADHD. As in Improv, everything is made up and the points don’t matter. However, if the girl happens to self-identify with a few of these traits, she is more than welcome to an unofficial Membership BADDge, at least in this girl’s book.

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When You Find Your Tribe

When I started my blog, I think I fully intended to write a “what is ADHD” explanation post. In true ADHD fashion, though, I procrastinated because I could never get it “right” – until I eventually just forgot I intended to write one at all. This post sounds so much like what I would have written, if I could go back in time and write a blog during the original diagnosis process itself.

I remember that stage right before/during diagnosis where I Googled All the Things! I remember feeling like, “Oh my God, finally a questionnaire I don’t have to half fake just to score high enough to get help!” I am glad someone actually was clever enough to put these thoughts into a blog post in media res, and that thanks to the wonder of the reblog I can creatively “borrow” it with one click!

Also, for anyone reading closely, the bit in this post about women with ADHD being good in a crisis? It can still be true for those who are co-diagnosed with PTSD. I’m always the calm, rationale, almost-detached person during the crisis itself. I’ve been so calm I’ve been called selfish repeatedly in my life simply for not freaking out enough. I’ve carried that stoicism far enough you’d never even know I had PTSD if I didn’t tell you. It’s when the crisis is over, in the privacy of my own home, that the toll starts to show. Calling me selfish is also a big trigger for me, for both PTSD and RSD reasons.

`O ka hali`a aloha i hiki mai

It seems fitting that I’m finally writing a post so long after my last one.  I definitely need to invest more time in blogging since it’s both therapeutic and provides a means to remember the fun adventures we’ve experienced!

Today isn’t about a family adventure however.

Today’s post is twenty years plus in the making.

If you haven’t yet guessed, as a child I experienced more than my fair share of trauma and mental illness.  It’s impacted me long into life, but I’m grateful for the strength I’ve gained from it.  I’m the person I am today, the person my friends, family and husband love in spite of or because of it.

For over twenty years, I’ve been told that I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and depression.  Let’s say my primary care physicians have told me that since I was eight, which means it’s been 28 years of…

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