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.