Coming Down

I am off the drugs. For now at least. the psychiatrist found out that my heart was beating at 107 instead of 70 – something, and I was edgy and up-down and I couldn’t figure out for sure if they even were working. She suggested that I try something else but something in me just said enough, for now. Maybe later I will reconsider but for now it is great. My hair is growing back tentatively, scruffy little fluffs. I can drink a beer without feeling like i’ve been hit with a hammer the next morning, and most of all, I feel like I have my body back again. The responses are predictable, not wonderfully good and not suddenly bad. I know the kinks of this body.

Now I am off I am experiencing my mind in full flow, and trying to figure out what exactly it is that makes it hard to work. These are the things I have discovered so far. When I start researching something, I want to find out every morsel of information about it. So, while one article will do i find myself reading 5. Its like the more I know the more I realise I don’t know, and that makes me feel stupid and then desperate to cram it in. Researching so much means I then want to write about it, and a topic which should be two paragraphs (background to Web 2.0, for example) becomes 2 pages, much too weighty, which then throws off the flow of the argument, which then throws mw off.

Also, I have a zillion unrelated thoughts pinging around my mind, many of them related to things I have to do or have forgotten to do. I found with the Concerta when it was working that this is one of the main areas of my mind which quietened down, when I was busy with something it was like everything else faded away. Many of these thoughts are very anxious: you didn’t phone x! What about changing medical insurance? I always forget y…and etc. It is like the worries are on rotation, like those old CD players which hold 8 disks, and come circling around again. Its a kind of shoring-up instinct, or putting out fires. i’m so used to living on the brink of minor disaster(library book lost, fine not paid) that I just don’t trust myself anymore. The constant rotation of worries is almost a habit, like patting your pocket to see if you have your bank card (and keys, and train pass and..) probably if the to-do list was empty I would still do it.

The other kind of thoughts I have in the back of my mind are painful ones. Aching loss for my grandmother, whose birthday is coming around soon. Depression at political issues, and painful layers of memories specifically relating to xenophobia against African refugees living in South Africa, which is now being repeated in a different way in the Netherlands.  The anti-immigrant and increasingly anti-poor policies of the Dutch government is incredibly depressing, and don’t get me started on the South African one. I don’t think I can be cured of these anxieties, or should be cured. (and no I don’t have a bloody syndrome or disorder.) Its just learning to live with them.

As the inestimable Cindy Crabb says in her wonderful “anti-depression guide” “There is nothing wrong with a little depression. It is a reasonable response to this fucked up world and you don’t need to hide it or deny it. But too much depression can be a real drag.”

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A Phd For My Hair

There is something symbolic about hair. Think of Samson and Delilah, where the hair had all the power. So I am trying to figure out what it means that mine is falling out. Every day, there are a few more whisps – I brush my hand through my hair to find it full of stray ones. Dark coils clog the shower. I have always had a very thick, glossy head of hair, so this isn’t noticeable, yet, to the outside observer. Only I can feel that my head is lighter, and see the naked white scalp visible which never was before.

I look it up, and see that this is one of the common symptoms of Concerta (1 in 10), along with a very long list of others. When I mention it to the psychiatrist (I can’t bring myself to say “my”), he is dismissive. Looks at me warily and then says something like “looks ok.” Maybe it does look ok, but I am telling you that it is not ok you fucker. In general, he is dismissive. There I am, an intelligent grown woman, and my questions are answered with grunts and mumbles. He won’t even look at me, instead he looks instead at his computer intently as if searching for the secrets of the world.

Then onto the scale for the monthly weigh-in, like a turkey, and then a band is put on my arm and he pumps pumps pumps it full of air until it squeezes, to ascertain my blood pressure. Then suddenly it deflates, pooped, the air squeezed out. My blood pressure is high (very) compared to the last time he checked. I ask, what causes this? What can I do to counter-act it? Grunt, grunt, grunt.

Piggy doctor, I am here. A breathing, living, inquisitive, cautious woman trying to make the best decisions for myself and my body. Get the fuck off your high horse and give me some information.

Being philosophical by nature, I wonder about the significance of taking Concerta which helps with finishing this PhD in exchange for my hair (how many strands do I pay per day?) Let’s leave my heart out of it for now, and just concentrate on the hair. What a deal with the devil, if there ever were one. What a pact. The thing is, I have decided it is worth it. I will give all my hairs up until there is notable unflattering baldness for a leg up in writing my PhD..

I leave the psychiatrist’s office completely demoralized (now, I realize, feeling very trampled upon). Some weeks later when I visit my psychologist, I tell him about it. Psychologist N. is a long, kind-looking man. Young (maybe my age) with short gelled hair. Today, he is wearing a brightly patterned hoodie. He confesses he had no time to prepare for our session, and fixes me with an observant eye. I have come to like him, very much. And to trust him even, this unlikely candidate for my secrets, this person I thought initially a light weight, who is actually strong enough for me. Immediately when I tell him about the psychiatrist I start crying, blurring mascara on a tissue and sniffling. N keeps quiet, as doubtless he is trained to do. And then he is amazing. He said it’s not on for a psychiatrist to not answer my questions, is affronted for me, and sorry. He sets up an appointment with another psychiatrist that I can talk to, and suddenly I feel like I’m not crazy.

Raising a fat child who likes food

I am fat. I call myself that provocatively, inspired by zine writers who have embraced the term over the more polite “overweight”, “big”, “solid”, “full-figured and you name it euphemisms. I choose it also over the medicalised “obese” which sounds so smugly factual. “Fat” harnesses some of the stigma coming from the eye of the looker. By medical definition, I am fat. I should way x to be “healthy”, and instead, I weigh xx. I can’t remember a time after age 12 or so when I was slim. As a kid I was all skin and bone and up and down trees like a monkey, completely lacking in self-consciousness. Then as a teen, I got plumper, filling out with the curvy hips, the belly, the breasts which are my own.

The thing that astounds me about all of this is that I have had such little trouble from the outside world for being fat. That I have a great love for food, and most of the time, a love for my body too. I love the strength of my legs. The way I can walk, and walk, and walk and not get tired – or dance and dance. I love the fullness of my cleavage. I like the soft pear of my hips. I love eating, and the pleasures of cooking, or being cooked for by my lover. I love

I got disheartened writing this, because I realized that it is a half truth. Here is the other half: I am conscious of being fatter than my girlfriend, and think that she is more of a “catch” than me because of her slim size. I hate very fat people in my head, watch them with morbid fascination, and think – well – at least I’m not THAT fat. At least I can walk easily. I wish I could lose a few kilos and go back to my 3 years-ago weight (which I din’t appreciate at the time). I have even been reading this Dukan book, which proposes eating only fish, non-fat dairy, prawns and a spoon and a half of oat bran for a week, and considering this proposition seriously. That is the other side. If someone said: press this button and get thin! I would do it.

I had an eating disorder for 2 weeks when I was 16. I was driving around the wet Irish countryside with my parents for weeks on end in a “mind-broadening” trip abroad, following my dad on tour. I was despondent like only a 16-year old can be: thoroughly. I had just heard that the person I was besotted with was having sex with someone else. I was far away from all my friends and in the full-time clutches of my family. I decided to do the only thing I could control: I would have an eating disorder. For 2 weeks, I ate carrots, drank black coffee and smoked. Everything I ate, I wrote down in a little book. I don’t remember what my parents thought of all this but I can guess they were bemusedly indulgent of the whole experiment. I went on long jogs along the rugged cliffs, and drank coffee and smoked in pubs, while scrawling in my journal. I got thinner. I felt powerful, miserable, strong, alive.

2 weeks later we went to Barcelona, another part of the tour. There I met the children of my parent’s friends, Adrian and Sara. 18 and 16, they were the perfect age for me to hang out with. They were also worldly, sophisticated, fun. Their parents had a bohemian den of a flat, covered in art and filled with actors. Long dinners took place round their dining room table full of red wine, cigarette smoke and food, food, food. Adran and Sara loved food. While teenagers I knew went out to drink, Spanish teenagers went out to eat. Late at night at balmy tables, we would eat: manchego cheese and salad and asparagus covered in mayonnaise and crispy calamari hot on the plate. My diet dissolved in Barcelona, when I realized that those pleasures were what life really should be made of.

A Laying Down of Arms

Another thing that has happened with this new phase of my treatment is that somehow, I have stopped fighting with myself. I think of this as a laying down of arms, because I have been so angry for so long. Author of Scattered Minds Dr Gabor Mate writes of a process of learning to live with ADD that includes the need for healing from years of guilt and frustration and shame. I hadn’t realised how angry I was until I stopped feeling that way. I have had a miraculously smooth ride so far, borne of the privilege to go to good schools and university that had an inclusive approach to education. And much more significantly, from having parents who only ever treated me like there were things right with me, not wrong with me. So I escaped, somehow, the battering that many people with ADD experience in a school system where you have to sit mutely at a desk from age 5 or 6, and achieve, achieve, achieve.

But that didn’t stop me from being angry with myself. Now I am detoxing from years of a very masochistic relationship to writing. if we were in a relationship, me and my writing, it would surely be characterised as abusive. Write on demand! write now and it had better be good! Why do you start so late! Why do you always produce this shit? why don’t you live up to your potential? This is a crash-and-burn style of writing, and I could only bring myself to do it at the last moment, drunk on no sleep and desperation, spit spit spit it out do it now.

And then cringe in shame at the outcome, handed in missing commas and some sense. And then the flagellation would start up again. Is it any wonder we were missing trust in this relationship? With the guidance of Julia Cameron’s free writing exercises and novel ideas like “artist dates” I have started to detox. I have started to talk to “my writer” as Cameron would say, and ask what it wants.

My writer wants no internet. My writer wants loving encouragement. My writer wants low stakes. My writer wants to go dancing often. My writer wants adventure – to write on trains, in art galleries, in sleazy cafes with interesting patrons. Now I am producing writing like other people wash dishes. Regular, and sometimes messy, and rather good.

This part of the process is so subtle its hard to describe. Living with ADD is not (just) about concentration and planning schedules. Much more than that, for me its been about this laying down of arms, calling off the fight. The peace of that is so sweet it makes me marvel every day.

Presence of Mind

I never realised how literal that phrase could be.  To have “presence of mind.” Another one is “self possession” – to be, somehow, in possession of yourself. For the first time, over the last 6 weeks, I can say that I have a reliable stream of presence of mind.  Not that I have never been present before, but it was erratic to say the least.  i came across an old research diary written in Australia last year.  In it, I say despairingly “my thoughts are flying around like bats i can’t control.” Once again, I was at sea, in the library.  It made me so sad to see that because it reminded me how long this struggle has been, and from where I am now, I can see how futile it has been to fight for so long alone.  seeing that now makes me think that that person who wrote that needs help.

i have been taking Concerta for the last six weeks.  This was my “last resort”, borne of desperation when yet another draft came out muddled beyond recognition and was returned scratched all over with “track changes” comments that showed the entire thing would need to be rewritten. the despair was deep.  Imagine, knowing that you are bright as plum pudding, and knowing that you have a lot to say, and then it comes out as muddled mulch, or mulch with a few brilliant flashes.

So I thought I would take this lifeline that is a health system where i can afford to see a psychiatrist and psychologist and try medication in a way that I’ll be carefully monitored. So I have been taking Concerta for 6 weeks now, and the effects feel nothing short of miraculous. After a few days, i realised i could concentrate like never before. And think clearly. And structure information. I could “hear myself think” – maybe for the first time. It has meant that i am not scared to work anymore. And now I can hear myself think I remember how much I have done already. I realise that I love writing and I always have. And I love reading what other people have to say. And I love thinking about that, and then putting a spin on it in my own way. And that is all, but I mean all, that academic work is. So the next few months will be spent doing just that. Hungrily, intensively. Reading and writing and reading and at the end I’ll have something they call a thesis. My life has changed, and the fight is over. I have presence of mind.

With this new presence, I feel like my shape can get clearer to other people as well. At least to people in my work. This is who I am. This is what I am arguing for. This is where I stand. That presence can be threatening, maybe. I am not anymore vague and amenable. I have thoughts and arguments and I am Up to Something with an ambition I could never before admit.

I dunno what this ambition is exactly. It certainly is not becoming a professor or High Up for the sake of prestige or some such rot (I know many who do that for other reasons, don’t get me wrong). My ambition is to write, to share my ideas with people. My ambition is to make art (in a very wide sense of that term) and my ambition is to be the kind of teacher who gives you a whiff that the way you think is beautiful and you are too and that you are Up to Something in your own way.

ADD and the Myth of the Tormented Genius

There is one response to revealing my ADD-diagnosis that I haven’t discussed yet. This response is typified by saying something like “but you must’t think of it as a disability. You are just gifted, and so creative.”

Well now, I have a lot to say about this. Firstly, I recognise the sweetness behind the response. Also, it appeals to my ego to think of myself as this uber creative type.

However, ultimately, I think this response is ultimately disempowering to me. Let me explain why: for me, it is helpful to self-identify as having a disability. This is a label that doubtless many other people with ADD would be uncomfortable with. SO let me be clear, I speak only for myself here. For me, identifying as having a disability is to identify with a powerful disability-rights movement that mobilised around the slogan “we are not disabled, the world disables us.” The intention of this movement is to show the social and environmental contexts of disability, the ways that disability is in fact produced and manufactured by, for example, a building without an elevator for a wheelchair.

In my case, the university environment I am in disables me in a number of ways: in expecting students to be able to structure, research, write a book in four years with limited support. By making the expectations for said book implicit, rather than explicit. I must make “an original contribution to knowledge.” What is that? I must “master my field.” How? What does that mean to you? More subtly, I think the university disables students by pretending that this process is easy. Maybe, even by pretending that a strong academic mind is also one that is psychologically “normal”, untainted my mental illness. I have been scared of revealing my status for fear of not being offered a job after I finish, for example. For the possibility of being seen as “fragile” instead of the much-needed “functional.”

In these ways, I have a disability within the university. Stating that is empowering for me, you don’t need to protect me from the words that I use. In contrast, saying that I am “just gifted”, or “creative” erases the acknowledgement of the difficulties I experience in this environment. It erases the ways that I am disabled, and puts the onus back on me, the one who needs to “overcome” their own circumstances.

If I stay in the university, I hope I will be able to live out of the closet with my disability. I hope I will be able to make a space for other students with mental illness or ADD to do the same.

Depression

What is this deep gloom, this creeping listlessness, they call Depression? I have never known depression, at least the chronic kind, before. Mine seems to lighten up after a few days, or when the circumstances change or I’m sufficiently distracted. Suddenly I will notice one day, I’m Back. I’m solid. Maybe even there’s a lilt in my step. My thoughts are playing peacefully again.
People with ADD are much more likely to get depressed, statistically speaking. I can imagine why. There are the circumstances of life and Functioning and earning a living and all the other facets of being a fully participatuing subject in a capitalist society with 9-5 work hours which just don’t gel with the chaotic, the disorganized, the eccentrically-minded. And then there is the demonizing of those who don’t Function in the way they’re supposed to. Stupid! Lazy! Not Contributing to society.

It is a mindfuck these days to think that being is contribution enough. Breathing, living, existing is enough to make you valuable. I certainly don’t believe it. From the age of 14 I clamoured for a job, hitting the streets with my faux-sophistication and baby-faced naivety and my CV. I wanted a job because I wanted independence, desperately. And I also wanted to prove to myself I could survive. Surviving has always been a point of great pride. I have a friend of a gloomy disposition who is in touch with her pain (I think only too well.) While I am a good friend to her, supportive, part of my mind is always thinking “buck-up, why don’t you? Get it together! You are privileged to the end of your toes.” Which I realize is very much addressed to myself.

What is this thing called depression? My best friend and first love had it, for years. I kept on thinking if I could get her to eat enough fresh fruit and hug her enough, it would pass. It didn’t. What is this thing called depression? A surrendering of control.

Last weekend I had It, it came in waves of rollicking pain and puffy face and red tears. It was about not being able to be an activist in the way I wanted to be, at a squat eviction for refugees. I couldn’t go there, I couldn’t help. I couldn’t be there in the way I thought I should, I would. Anger and rage at that failiure mixed with despair at the mounds of unfolded clothes on the floor, the dirty kitchen, the living room strewn with stuff, the deadlines for writing which had gone flying by, the sheer uncontrollable-ness of it all.

Then days following of blankness and lethargy and internet and internet and internet TV.

And today…I’m back, solid. Hello again, I missed you.

Cheap Tricks and Small Mercies

This week I have come face to face with this writing life, which is to be mine for the next year.  Writing, not writing, procrastinating, writing some more, getting distracted, coming back.  I am coming to realise that there is never going to be a grand solution which will radically change the way that I work (and think) I am coming to realise that this is it.  Maybe this is what my PhD will give me in the end – this coming to terms with myself and what i (can’t) do. I have been doing the free writing everyday and really getting into it.  Especially because there is so much going on right now – personally, emotionally, work-wise.

Julia Cameron’s writings are so consoling and refreshing.  I carry around a small book of essays called “The Right to Write” almost as a talisman.  When i am feeling really shitty I can fish one out.  I think the essays are performative in that she is saying “just write” and you can feel from the fresh roughness of her own writing that that is exactly what she is doing.  Sometimes it seems that a phrase doesn’t quite jive and that just makes the writing more lively.

2 essays in particular have been lingering in my mind: one called “cheap tricks” and another about “loneliness”.  In cheap tricks she describes how she deals with resistance to writing with “tricks” like calling a friend to support her, going on a coffee date, bribing herself with a yearned-for treat. What I got from it is that she will be ruthless and relentless in her desire to write, and do whatever it takes, even if it is ‘cheap’. She hints that there is nothing noble about writing, and the urge to write isn’t constant or in-born.  It is cultivated.  I like that!  Also the dailiness of it feels so relevant for me.  One day I will be spilling ideas like beans, my mind sharp like a knife.  The next day I will be sluggish and slow and kind of misty.  Those days, each days need a different strategy.

The other one, about loneliness is something I am thinking about a lot.  I am so scared of being lonely.  Since as long as I can remember but especially since junior school when my lack of popularity meant I was often alone watching a video at home on a friday, utterly miserable at being left out from the parties and soccer games I knew my classmates around the block were hatching.  That sting, the shame of being out the loop has never left me even though I am now 30!

Writing can be so solitary and I rail against that.  I also realised that I am terrified of being left alone with my racing thoughts, with this energy inside me which can so often turn to bad.  These thoughts which can go obsessive in a second, turning and turning over old regrets, new irritations, wishes and hankerings.  This weekend I tried being there more with myself, and whatever i am thinking.  It wasn’t so bad.  I realised that these thoughts are very transitive, and easily distracted into something more pleasant.  I also realised that in my writing I have a constant friend and eavesdropper on this wild mind.  My writing will always understand.

Now it is the end of the weekend, and i have read some articles, written 1000 words, cleaned the drain, sorted the lounge, made a letter box, baked scones and coffee, worked under a big old tree, worked in the cool library, written an e-mail to a long-lost friend, washed loads of clothes and dishes and put up some colourful posters.

Now back to the library, and to lure me out the house a cool sorbet on the way.

relaxed, alert and waiting

Today, working with myself meant going to gym.  Zumba to be precise.  It seemed like I would be too late and that instead I should hurry straight to work.  But then I noticed how tight my shoulders were, with a little twinge in my neck.  I noticed how stuffy my thoughts were- literally stuffed into my head too full and simmering in anxiety. And I Just Went to my imperfect heaven that gym with dungeon ambiance and just danced.  Afterwards, I was sweaty and relieved and now I can breathe again.

I’ve noticed, my mind is full of delight.  I’ll start writing on a chapter of my PhD, and ideas will come tumbling out.  Good ideas.  Good turns of phrase too.  Like when I am focussed and relaxed at the same time it is just so easy.  And pleasurable, even, to write.

SHAME

All my life I’ve tried to avoid being typical and being categorisable.  This what part of what made me stubbornly resist coming out the closet.  I couldn’t bear the idea of being put in this Lesbian box and people thinking that they knew what I was like or should be.  I also couldn’t bear the mundaneity of the Coming Out conversation – the familar script, the “mom”, “dad”…I think these stubborn concerns subconsciously held me back from becoming just like any other sexually confused but happy (or at least not single) queer person for a long time.

That said, imagine how I feel being diagnosed with the most ubiquitous disorder of our modern times, being placed in the same category as over-stimulated hyperactive boys who play TV games all day.  It was horrifying.  But then still I try to set myself aside by asserting that this is something which only affects my work, my PhD so it is kind of an elite version.  

When they asked questions about whether I have problems of low-self esteem or low self-confidence of course I thought not.  But yesterday I realised this is not true.  I was returning an e-mail to a man who had asked for my assistance on a research project.  I had said yes and then when his students contacted me, I never wrote back.  Then the man wrote again to say they were having their presentation the next day, and I never replied because I was so embarrassed for not having responded to his students. Finally I wrote back after missing the presentation to apologise, but my words – “busy” – just seemed so inadequete.  I was truly ashamed, and that is a shame that is very familiar to me.  When it may seem to other people like I just don’t care, and actually it is that I don’t remember, or wrote it on a piece of paper which I lost and never located again, so forgot.  Or started using a diary and then left it somewhere.  This everyday carelessness is a constant source of shame.

My whole life I have felt like there is not enough time.  But I realise that actually I don’t have enough space in my mind, it is cloudy and busy and I am always late and that is what it is like to be me.  A very, very typical person with ADD.