Month: April 2014

Iron Jungle

Today is day 2 of a new resolution to go to gym everyday, to feel if a boost of serotonin could help with energy, anxious thoughts, and most of all concentration.

I go to a seedy gym in central Amsterdam which is actually quite endearing to me, for its shabbiness.  There is a light in the movement studio which came untethered on one side and has been hanging at a rakish angle since I started going there.  The movement room where we do serene yoga is like an industrial dungeon, with loud roaring pipes, no windows and sallow lights.  Lying on a mat you can see outside a stampede of legs and feet pounding away on treadmills, going absolutely nowhere.

Outside the movement studio is the cycling (spinning) room where spinners can participate in trainings with a virtual teacher, a cheerful Dutch man who appears on a large TV screen in front of the bikes.  You can choose which landscape you’d like to virtually spin through, so sometimes the teacher rides along serene Dutch meadows which are changed half an hour later for Meditteranean peaks. 

In the main hall are a sea of exercise bikes, treadmills and cross-trainers filled with rows of people staring fixedly at TV screens ahead of them, or listening to headphones, striding pedalling or stomping doggedly on their machines.

There is an easy comaraderie in this detached scene.  Yesterday when I got on the cross-trainer I felt like I was signing a deal with the devil.  Gyms have always represented to me a world which is fat-phobic (burn, baby burn) and mechanical.  I have participated in countless conversations along the lines of “why wouldn’t you rather jog in nature?” and have been committed to dance exercise which is conscious, and body-aware for the last 10 years.  That said, I felt almost rebellious when I started my first cross-training.  And strangely…I almost liked it.  The tinny gym music, the sense of being joined with the fellow striders in a common purpose, the smells of sweat and determination, the sheer, sheer mindlessness of it all. 


What Not to Say…if someone comes out as ADD

Coming out with ADD feels sometimes a lot like coming out the closet.  There is the same nervousness when I’m about to tell, the same vulnerability and question in my mind if the person will think differently of me.  Unlike with coming out as having a girlfriend, however, people often feel a need to contradict me when I tell them I have adult ADD and offer their own theories about what could be going on with me.  So I have created a small guide for What to (not) say if someone tells you they have been diagnosed with ADD.

1) Don’t say that this is a conspiracy of the pharmaceutical industry to over-medicate me.

I am aware that ADD can be over-diagnosed in schools.  I am aware of the pharmaceutical industry’s love of placing profit over people.This response doesn’t help me at all, and is very patronising for is suggests that I am a blinded sucker who hasn’t devoted careful and pained thinking to all of these matters.  If I am choosing to communicate that I have the diagnosis of ADD, it is because I have chosen to accept this diagnosis.

2) Don’t tell me that “everyone” is distracted sometimes, and that this is just part of my personality.

Very similar to response 1., this suggests that I have foolishly run off to medicate myself with no real basis or thought.  It also puts me in the awkward and difficult position of having to defend myself to you and “prove” my diagnosis.  Very similar I think to the “you’re not depressed, you’re a bit blue” response.  Its shit.

3) Don’t start suggesting cures unless I ASK you for advice.  Believe me, no one spends more time thinking about how to treat what is going on with them than the one experiencing the condition.  I have chosen which coaches/peers/blogs/websites to consult.  Your telling me to down cod-liver oil while swimming 6 laps every mornign isn’t going to help me.

And now for the DO:

DO respond sensitively and recognise that I have chosen to tell you something I feel vulnerable about.

DO ask questions.  Things like “how does this affect you?”, “what was the process that led you to seek psychological counselling?”  and “how is it going?” are all great questions.  They all show me that you respect my judgement, and are interested and want to find out more about my experience.

DO ask how you can help.   


letter to Rosie

It took 30 years for me to be diagnosed with ADD.  How did it take that long?  How did it miss 10 years in a schoolroom, an undergraduate degree, an MA, countless jobs…
Maybe because my parents saw my dreaminess as evidence of an imaginative nature.  Because they saw my chaotic disorganisation and losing of keys as eccentricity (prized in our family) rather than pathology.  Or maybe, as one psychologist notes, because girls are so much more rarely diagnosed with ADD being usually much more dreamy that hyper, pleasing than trouble-making and therefore less noticeable to the teacher’s eye.
Or maybe because this is the first time that I have tried to do a PhD, this unique mindfuck of four years with no structure and the end goal of “an original contribution to knowledge.”
A friend of mine in Cape Town remarked sadly “does anyone escape their PhD without being diagnosed psychoactive drugs?” I don’t know.
What does it mean to have an ADD mind?  Beyond the checklist of “symptoms”at the doctor’s office.  What does it mean to live in my mind?
One thing it means is that I need action.  My body needs movement like water.  When I am moving, dancing, to good music or bad but anything loud I feel so free like my brain is cavorting.  Thoughts flicker around (like the idea to write this article) but then disperse playfully.  I am blanked.  When I don’t move, I feel the consequences very quickly.  Nagging thoughts, sluggishness, looping anxiety going over the same ground like picking a scab.  And yet my life is built around thinking, not moving.  Sitting in front of a computer, reading, typing.  Sometimes after a day of work in Utrecht as I return home I feel fossilised.  And i see that staring back at me in the eyes of the commuters around me.
I have been described Ritalin to try by a psychiatrist who was either chronically awkward or just creepy.  I am giving him the benefit of the doubt, and assuming the former.  He gave me 5 mgs to  take every 3-4 hours, increasing to double that if necessary. The first time I tried it I got a headache and felt edgy, like I was at a party coming off bad drugs and noticing for the first time the shit strewn around on the floor.  My lips tingled and suddenly I felt far away from Annelli, mentally and physically.  Far away from the world outside.
I didn’t take it again but I will, I will persist and see if after a while the edginess wears off, and it helps. And increase the dose if needs be.
And at the same time, I am thinking what if I went the other way and instead of resisted this mind I went with it and heeded its call to move.  If I took gym like you would take medicine, dosing on treadmills and yoga-cat-cows, salsa-ing to frenetic Zumba beats, lifting weights with the prowling men in the iron forest of the of the gym, going danhcing on the weekends as religion, soaking in a sweet beer numbness.
What then?