Friday, February 27, 2015

Finding flow with ADD


As a writer with ADD, I already have an uphill battle: quieting my mind long enough to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) is rather like running an obstacle course while spectators throw things at me. I sit down, shut down my Facebook feed, think about how to phrase a thought and BAM! a (figurative) tomato smacks me in the head. Two minutes later, I'm settling into my sentences and KAPOW! Silly String lands on my fingers. Writing with ADD is a series of beginnings, like driving down a busy street and following a bus with stops on every corner. If you know me, you know I don't like stopping on every corner. In fact, I go out of my way NOT to stop at every corner. I know every back road in town so that I can avoid frequent stops. You can imagine my frustration when trying to write.

Folks with ADD are sometimes blessed with hyper (or deep) attention. My husband can do this. He can tune out everything so much that I can stand in front of him and say his name five times before he looks up from an article on his iPad. I rarely reach this state, this bliss of what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls "flow." That isn't to say I've never experienced flow (or what athletes call The Zone). I just don't experience it often. My brain never shuts up!

Add to this equation, if you will, children. My daughter will draw or read or make jewelry while I putter around. My son - on the other hand - is an external processor. Everything he thinks, he verbalizes. And if my husband or I don't respond immediately, he isn't deterred or frustrated. He just keeps saying our names or repeats his observation/question/anecdote/joke/song until he receives acknowledgement.

Writer friends of mine have shared writing strategies with me in the past, highlighting how they have been able to write every day, or twice a week, or every Sunday. These include: shutting the door, asking your spouse/partner to be in charge for the day, wearing a string around your neck as a sign that means you cannot be disturbed, going to a park/coffee shop/library for the day, writing after the kids have gone to bed. I have tried some of these strategies with moderate success. But people with ADD struggle to make any routine stick. We get bored easily, so saying I'm going to write from 5:30-7:30 a.m. every morning is much easier to say than to do.

In a surprise turn of events last night, I decided to a.) write a poem, b.) write on the couch in the family room while my family was home and milling about, and c.) worked on it while my son curled up beside me with a book and shared my afghan. I'm pleased to say . . . it worked! So maybe the lesson here for writers of the ADD persuasion is this:

Write when and where you can.

Can it really be as simple as that?

If you'd like to learn more about Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and the idea of "flow," check out his TED talk.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Why I Love The Snow


In Louisville we call it "snowcapolypse." In Colorado and Maine they call it Tuesday.

My hometown was hit with the first major snow storm of 2015 on Sunday night. The snow began late that night and continued throughout the day yesterday. Roads, homes, and trees were draped in white. It's lovely, really. Because I love the snow and the winter. Everything quiets down and becomes sleepy. The only colors are the black of buildings buried under the white of snow. Occasionally, a red cardinal pops into view, the miracle of its feathers spark a moment of life and energy into the scenery until it flies away.

Most of my friends complain about the snow every winter, even though we are never hit as hard as the East Coast or mountain states. They complain about the cold, the wet drifts, the slow traffic, the dirty remains of the melted snow. They celebrate snow days with the kids until they have to return to work and the kids are still off and they scramble for child care or until they get cabin fever and need a break from the kids.

Not me. I love it.

I fantasize about a writing retreat in the mountains blanketed in snow. When I tell my husband this, he cringes. Our ADD presents very different. He needs constant stimuli: noise, movement, dialogue, internet. When we first started dating and I was over at his condo a lot, I would follow him from room to room turning off all of his electronics: radio, television, lights, computer. I crave the silence to unrattle my brain, to unpack the ideas and let them stretch, to move in slower motion than my everyday busy self.

And so I love the snow. It forces me to stop.

Slow down. Think.

I hope it doesn't melt too quickly. Maybe I'll get an hour or two of writing in while the kids sled if I'm lucky.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Overwhelm: ADD and emotions

Surely, you have experienced the sensation of being overwhelmed before. Whether it is caused by sensory overload - which happened to one of my son's sweet friends at his laser tag party, yesterday - or emotional stress, real or imagined, at some time or another you're going to feel like running away or hiding in a cave by the sea. Preferably, one of those caves with Egyptian cotton linens and fluffy towels for drying off after a swim. And hot cocoa served round-the-clock by helpful sea lions. But I digress. Folks with ADD tend to feel overwhelmed a pinch more than the rest of everybody. Hence my long absence.

I won't bore you with the details of why I've been away from you lovelies, but I do want to focus on the overwhelm. Yes, I know it's a transitive verb, not a noun; however, I think there needs to be a noun form of this feeling, because this baby has legs.

Here's what Merriam Webster has to say about the word:

  • To upset or overthrow
  • To cover over completely; to submerge
    • To overcome by superior force or numbers
    • To overpower in thought and feeling

I think it's fair to say that we can all relate to the final definition - to overpower in thought and feeling, but I also think the idea of submersion is on point. When I feel overwhelmed it's a tidal sensation, a feeling of swimming against a large wave of judgement or fury or disappointment or inadequacy or grief. You swim against those powerful negative states of mind, but they're bigger than you so you submerge. In the ADD bible,


You Mean I'm Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?!: The Classic Self-Help Book for Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder

 By Kate Kelly, Peggy Ramundo

the authors Kelly and Ramundo call this feeling "the state of overwhelm," "emotional boggle," and "stuckness." While I have experienced all of this sensations, I'm not sure I correlate them. When I am feeling overwhelmed, I am not stuck, per se. I am flushed with powerful emotion. Sometimes I just need to acknowledge the feelings and let things around me slide: the dishes, mail, email, laundry, etc. Of course, this doesn't explain why I let these things slide on a daily basis, but you get my meaning. I don't feel stuck; I feel emotional.

Other times, the overwhelm hits when I'm in a socially awkward moment. I experience this when I go to parties or conferences and either don't know what to say or say something that isn't particularly appropriate for the occasion. For instance, "Hello, what's new?" is a question I might be asked in one of these situations. Answering, "Pretty good, but I've had to go to the gynecologist three times this month and I'm a bit tired of spreading my legs," is not necessarily the appropriate response for this setting.

Sometimes I feel the overwhelm when I must make a decision. Shopping is unpleasant for me, especially in a warehouse or outlet mall. I love the idea of IKEA, but the shopping experience in an IKEA triggers my overwhelm. Okay, I'll take the unpronounceable Swedish sectional that looks so pretty in the showroom, but so help me God, do not make me find the four boxes of parts in the warehouse before I pop a Xanax!

In my recent past, the overwhelm took shape as 1.) too much work/not enough pay (I was adjuncting again) and 2.) personal grief. The class I taught was great, I just wasn't prepared to teach it - I was called in to take another professor's place - so I played catch-up all semester, staying one tentative step ahead of my students every day. I felt off-balance. As someone with ADD, I like to have my syllabus prepared and feel confident about my assignments before the first day of class. That just never happened with this class.

As for the personal grief, I don't think I'm unusual. Whether you have ADD or not, grief can submerge you. I lost a dear friend. My high school friends and I were with her for each step of her path. I was with her when she passed. It was horrible. ADD had nothing to do with the overwhelm; the overwhelm  was inevitable. I'm thankful to my husband for cleaning the dishes and putting the kids to bed, for holding me and understanding. 

I'm coming out the other end of the overwhelm and I'm happy to be back with you, my bloggy friends. 

Whether or not you have been diagnosed with ADD, I wonder how you deal with the overwhelm. What are your coping strategies? I tend to give in to it and then put the pieces back together once I'm washed back ashore. 

Please share your experiences or thoughts in the comments section.