ADHD Tales

I had several revelations this week. The first one happened when we went to Ohio Renaissance Festival. I’m not fond of crowds, feeling crowded, too much noise that I can’t filter, and overall loud people in small spaces. I once got a migraine back in college at a store in one of the malls that was so full of circular racks it was hard to move anywhere. When we went on our road trip back in 2015 and I got sick between Portland and Arcata, CA, that illness exacerbated my sensory issues that I didn’t realize were sensory issues back then. We found a place to eat dinner but it was a wide open space that was full of not only students at Humboldt, but older locals who live and work there. There was so much going on, the light was dim, I had a hard time reading the menu, and I really just wanted to crawl into bed. Every minute that passed, the internal buzzing intensified until I felt I was going to explode. Chaz saw how it became painful and as soon as we were done, we got out and it was like releasing built up pressure as soon as we were away. I was still sick though.

Being able to filter out conversations and focus on doing a thing or another conversation became something I had to force myself to do when sharing an office with other people and not enough buffers between us like a modular wall. Whether it was my-coworkers having at least two different conversations going on or one conversation and several on the phone with clients, service providers, state social workers, or Kentucky’s Medicaid gatekeepers. I was less inclined to eavesdrop so I could focus on meeting my own deadlines and getting as much done on my task list before leaving for the day. At one point I was going in an hour to an hour and a half earlier than everyone else just to be able to get as much done with no one else there and have music playing in the background to keep me going. If I could’ve, I would’ve used headphones to listen to music the entire time I was in the office but there was that pesky telephone of mine that I had to listen for.

Back home, we have big street festivals called Ho’olaule’a. Waikīkī is the biggest of them, blocking the main drag of Kalākaua Avenue for entertainment stages and vendors. People at the stages generally stay in the street, but because it felt like the entire island was there, there are areas where you have to squeeze through the crowd on the sidewalk to get where you’re going. I didn’t go every often because the crowds were too much for me and Waikīkī is one of the last places I would want to have a meltdown (not that I realized that’s what they were back then).

When I went to Bonnaroo with Chaz and two of our friends (the three of them had gone together in previous years. I always looked for a spot that I knew wouldn’t get crowded at every stage we went to. That’s how much I try to avoid crowds in crowds. And I’m pretty sure this is why I dislike General Admission only shows where there is no seating and shows where people crowd into the seats that aren’t theirs. I end up getting surrounded, the buzzing starts, and I hyperfixate on the people crowding me instead of enjoying the music.

So, there we were at OHR in the 3 Fools Pub, me eating smoked turkey with relish on it (because there were no sides or veg at that vendor that were safe for me), listening to Pirate’s Creed at the edge of the pub where people were passing by behind me and everyone inside was clapping, stomping, and yelling along. I thought that I should probably prepare myself to leave when I knew it would be coming. But. BUT. I sat for a minute and really paid attention to my body. All was calm. CALM. I should’ve at least had a low level buzzing. I’m not saying I like crowds now, but having Adderall on board made it more tolerable. There was a point in a shop that had very little room to move in the first place and people were just standing, not really looking, just standing and I was stuck. Brain kicked in and screamed, OUT. Which I did after saying “excuse me” to everyone literally standing between me and outside. Without Adderall, it likely would’ve been worse and strangers would’ve thought I was rude.

My next revelation yesterday after a perfect storm of things I couldn’t control in a short period of time—an order arrived that was missing things and my attempt to contact the seller with their link was just me talking to an AI thinking I was asking a hardware question and then finding out another order was delivered around noon (which was hours before) but there was no box—spending an hour dealing with those two issues and trying to do ALL THE THINGS to fix them at once because I knew I’d forget if I didn’t, being 60 words away from my daily word count goal with dinner closing in as this happened, hormones going bonkers before my period starts (hormone changes affects our neurodivergence), and being late taking my afternoon Adderall because I forgot to reset my timer after my midday dose. I was melting down. Big time. As mentioned, I was trying to do all the things while worrying about my writing and dinner and Brain screaming, GO CRY, all at the same time. With everything going on at once in my head, it was hard to do anything at all. I got up from my desk and went out to the living room to cry but tried calling the charity that picked up donations that morning in case they accidentally picked up the boxes…but I hung up since I knew they were there before the order was delivered. Returned to my desk still frazzled and absolutely paralyzed by too much in my head going on simultaneously—like having multiple TVs on at once with different shows and no matter how hard you try you can’t focus on one and tune everything else out to take care of the first thing. That’s when I looked at the clock and realized I was late for my Adderall. That turned out to be the first thing. Then I did the next thing and the next thing and the next thing. By the time I was done I decided I wasn’t going to cook dinner. I told Chaz I needed to eat my feelings. What I realized later was, I needed the foods that were going to give me a good dopamine fix—burger (lettuce wrapped), fries, and a chocolate peanut butter shake that took me back to the KC Drive-Inn days—Waffle Hot Dog and an Ono Ono Shake with chocolate. Once I was done with the things, I focused on those last 60 words and getting to a place where I felt comfortable enough to stop for the day.

Later, as I was brain dumping in my Morning Journal I had another revelation. When I get overwhelmed like that it’s not that I can’t keep my composure as I order through everything and do it—if I was still working in a psychiatric residential treatment setting, I could. External controls had me able to do a 1 second freak out internally and then jump into doing what needed doing. I was very good at assessing the environment in a crisis quickly and deciding what needs to happen first, next, potential backup next, potential second backup next, and on and on. But there are no external controls for me anymore. It’s all on me. What it is is that I can’t keep my composure because my brain is short circuiting 24/7 and only dopamine can fix it short-term before I need more again. It’s wild to realize all these moments I’ve had before where I felt like I was about to break social norms because I couldn’t keep it together, that I was somehow defective because I lacked “control” and “patience” and blah blah blah…I think my fellow Neurodivergents know what I’m talking about. But no, they were true neurodivergent meltdowns that I cannot control. None of us can. It’s like expecting someone with a tic disorder to control their bodies to prevent tics. That’s not how it works and society needs to accept that their precious norms are ableist. Honestly, I’m done masking and pretending. I’m not going to do it anymore. It got me nowhere for decades and I was punished/abused for my neurodivergent traits—it’s a stunning eye opener to realize that and maybe even if I had been diagnosed sooner, adults and my emotionally abusive ex would’ve still acted as they had while telling me I couldn’t keep using my neurodivergence as an excuse.

For those of you not familiar with what dopamine has to do with neurodivergent brains, it’s the neurotransmitter that not only helps us feel pleasure, but how we think and plan as well. It’s not that we don’t make enough of it, we do. It’s that the dopamine we have is as ADHD as we are. It works like this: Dopamine Ships need to make it to the Dopamine Harbors for everything to run smoothing. The problem is our Dopamine Ships space out and miss the Dopamine Harbors disrupting what our nerves are able to transmit between each other.

I don’t know what next week will bring, but avoiding another meltdown like yesterday would be nice.

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