[letter from another student and my response]
early 30s F PhD Student ADHD
from: xx sent 5 days ago
Hey, how are you? I read your posts with interest because I have the EXACT Same problem with obsessive thinking when my PhD stuff gets tough. I was supposed to finish writing this year and spend the first 7 months of 2016 obsessively reading about the stock market and playing stocks (ugh) and just realized today I have finished NOTHING this year.
Have you managed to make any progress with obsessive thinking? How do you cope with the PhD stuff when you look around and everyone is moving forward and you’re underperforming? The emotional stuff is the worst part…
All the years I have spent berating myself for not being good enough, for losing things, for working inconsistently, for never being able to keep up a diary, have concealed an underlying, insidious hope: if I try hard enough, I will not have ADD. I will work consistently. I won’t lose things. I will remember to e-mail people back. I won’t make sloppy mistakes. All of that is possible, I think, if I persevere. When the cold hard facts show that the work is still patchy, the mistakes still happen and my inbox contains several thousand mails, I get completely furious. Because in my logic this must mean that I’m just not really trying.
On the one zillionth repetition of this particular cycle of blame and recrimination, it suddenly occurred to me that maybe I am wrong. Maybe the real truth is even scarier, and for that reason harder to accept. Maybe, I really can’t help it. It’s not in my control and no amount of internal screaming will change that. Let me repeat: It. is. not. in. my.control. that. I. have. ADD(and that I will therefore behave like I have ADD). Yes, there are strategies and APPS and approaches. Yes, you can learn to deal with it as best you can. But I will always have bad days. I will always have a mind that can go from sharp as glass to a foggy blur. I will always worry that I can’t translate myself in a language that other people will understand. I always find it difficult to sustain more than one conversation at once, or be in a group at a party. I am disabled. Yes, disabled. And this is what it means.
There is a wonderful book of essays by psychologist Stephen Grosz called The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves. The one story which sticks in my head above all others is about an exceptionally disturbed boy the psychologist worked with. The two of them had a tumultuous and terribly frustrating therapeutic process where the boy did everything he could to anger Grosz (spitting, swearing, shouting anti-semitic curses) and Grosz, despite all his psychological training, could not help getting riled up, stuck, furious. In a consultation with another wise psychologist he came to understand that the boy and him were continuing this fight because they were avoiding facing something very painful: that the boy was unfixable. He was too damaged to be helped. There was nothing they could do, even though they both desperately wanted to. Staying in that cycle allowed them to drown out that reality in angry noise because they weren’t ready to deal with it yet.
For me, this story provided a key for understanding my situation, my mental rage when things don’t go the way I want them to. It is a loud performance to try and pretend to be in control, while actually sometimes there is nothing to do and nothing that can be done.