Sunday, August 10, 2014

ADHD: Reverie Revolution

Last June I watched “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” with friends. Here was a man, like me, who daydreamed excessively. I wish I could say that Hollywood made a laughable exaggeration of how epic daydreams could be, but I'm afraid they were fairly comparable to mine. Although I don't drift away into a reverie in the middle of conversations or when on the job, I do drift away—far, far away beyond the restraints of this mortal world or time.

The original short story portrayed Mitty as a noble Everyman who fought the banality of his life with the only weapon he had on hand: his imagination. It celebrated his struggle to rise above subservience and become a leader even if only within his mind. The movie featuring Ben Stiller took a different approach.[1] Like the short story, Mitty here was a subservient man with only his daydreams to give his life a semblance of meaning. The effect over all, however, was pathetic, not noble. Going places and doing things were activities that other people did. Mitty's life was empty, and he seemed ruled by fear and indecisiveness. I related with this man so intensely, and they depicted his failures so completely, that I would have stopped watching if I hadn't invited friends over to watch the movie with me. Fortunately, I gritted my teeth and stayed seated. By the time the credits rolled I was ultimately delighted with the movie. The message of the movie lingered with me for days. Even today it still haunts me.

Aside from daydreaming, Mitty and I shared something else in common: We seemed to be waiting for life to happen. Obviously, Mitty is a fictional character, whereas I have real life children to raise, money to earn, books to write, and a life to live. Also, no business would place a man with that fractured an attention span at the head of his department. Still the same, I feel as if Mitty is a kindred spirit who knows the pain of being trapped in a loop of waiting for life to begin, but escaping from the loop only within the mind.

Unlike Mitty, I don't have a small life savings to suddenly spend on an impulsive trip to the volatile extremes of Iceland or to exchange desserts with Afghanistan warlords in the bitter, windy recluses of mountainsides in search for a photographer's missing slide, but one fateful day, when his world was crumbling around him, Mitty stopped daydreaming about success and began to live it. He took a leap of faith. This symbolic action resonated with me.

When I get the urge to LEAP, I am reminded of the chains that hold me securely attached to the ground. They yank me back to reality the same way a dog reaching the end of its leash is rudely stopped short. Like the dog, I have been trained by life to approach the end of my leash timidly and with great caution. The death of Mitty's father snuffed out the flame of life in his heart. The death of my marriage doused mine. Is it any wonder that like Mitty I have turned to daydreaming to escape?

Yet what a waste of time daydreaming is! I spend time imagining success instead of building it. This is why I have been making it a goal this year to stop that infernal pastime. With ADHD and my random impulses, this has proved to be a very difficult goal to achieve, but I am determined. Daydreaming is not just a waste of precious time, but also induces depression whenever I return to reality. Also, I discovered that excessive daydreaming produced a stupor that exacerbated my ADHD. As I detailed before, daydreaming is something that I have long been concerned about. It is an escape that harms.

Despite several false starts, today marks the 62nd consecutive day that I have not allowed myself to drift away into a dreamlike stupor. Each day I live through without daydreaming, I add a paper link to a chain I hang on the wall. The chain became so long this last time that it reached the floor, so now I use a different color link to mark tens of days.

I make a distinction between catching myself daydreaming and choosing to daydream. I must control the latter before I can minimize the former. Still, I give myself a three strikes rule. If I slip into a daydream more than three times in one day, I am not doing enough to prevent it and therefore destroy the chain and begin anew.

I have “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” to thank for this recent success—a success that has helped me become so much more productive. The greatest result this Summer is the progress I am making on my book on overcoming suicide. The final draft revisions have a new clarity that the book didn't have before. I may not have caught a flight to Greenland and got the girl of my dreams like Walter Mitty, but I feel as if I have stopped waiting for the first time in years. Daydreams are fun, but living the dream is better.


  1. I have not watched the Danny Kaye version all the way through, but in saw enough to know from where Stiller's movie likely took it's creative lead.  ↩

 

 



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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Three Tiny Things to Prevent Illness from Triggering Depression

Even overcast skies can be beautiful. © Douglas Cootey

I don’t walk around all day with my face pulled into a frown while I vocally worry about my disabilities—contrary to what some people claim I do. Instead, disability is more like a land mine rudely placed into the middle of my day when I’m otherwise trying to get things done.

I am clinically and chronically depressed, which means I am depressed almost all the time. I also have a chronic motor tic disorder—a label that covers the involuntary ticking, both vocal and muscular, but not the curling, extending, locking, and all around neurological meltdown that often happens as well. As you know, I manage both without medication because I have to. I use a variety of coping strategies, especially eating and sleeping well. I also make an effort to keep myself free of stress.

What happens when a summer virus drops in from out of town and decides to stay for three weeks? I definitely stop sleeping and eating well, which triggers ticking. Then I fall behind on freelance work and bounce a check. Hello, stress. Let’s not even mention how little I’ve been working on my book project. Last week I was ticking non-stop. Ticking is more than involuntary muscle twitching, or even flailing. It’s like an electrical storm within my mind which makes thinking difficult and being productive even more so. This week, I just have depression, as if that isn’t enough all on its own, but I’m grateful that the ticking has subsided.

How do I stay upbeat?


Staying upbeat when your life feels like it’s in free fall is challenging, but there are a few tricks I employ to stay ahead of depression’s grip. I’ve written in greater detail about fighting depression, but today I want to focus on the seemingly insignificant steps that helped me turn my day around.
  1. Acknowledge your limitations, then think of how to work around them. People often will tell you the exact opposite. Usually, these are people who don’t have your particular hardships. They think that being positive (for you) is all about burying your problems and pretending they don’t exist. Let me tell you, it’s not a great coping strategy. If those people had a broken leg, denial wouldn’t help them walk. They would need a cast and crutches for that, and they wouldn’t appreciate you telling them to stop talking about their broken leg when you wanted them to go somewhere with you.

    I find that identifying the problem gives me power over it, which also helps me understand the nature of my obstacle so I can move around it. That’s what happened to me today. I was still sick, but I recognized that depression was picking out drapes with the virus to remodel my apartment. I needed to take a stand. Those drapes would give my depression a depression.

  2. Do something! An epiphany is useless unless you act upon it. Doing almost anything sets the wheels in motion. First I ate, then prayed. Exercising faith is a positive activity for me. You may find mindfulness or meditation helpful as well. Then I set a timer to make sure to eat lightly every two hours. I then played Pushmo for a bit until I felt better. (It’s a great next gen puzzle game for the Wii U.)

    I find puzzle solving helps me fight depression, especially when I don’t have energy to actually move about. The puzzles get my mind working and help push the depression into the background. When I was ready, I busied myself with my ThreeDo list.

    If I could do things over again, I’d remember to take Tylenol and Vitamin C supplements. The medicine would have sped up my recovery.

  3. Give yourself credit. Even if these activities sound insignificant to you, they were extremely important for me to do. Sitting under a cloud of depression is easy. Forcing yourself to move out from under the cloud is hard. Giving yourself positive feedback for a successful effort helps offset the negativity of depression.

Know the difference between positive thinking and denial


Positive, upbeat thinking is a tool to help you regulate your mind and push forward. It's not a bucket of pretty colored paint to hide your problems from view. Negativity is seeing only closed doors in front of you and positivity as seeing only open doors. When you expect failure, you guarantee it because you stop trying. Positive thinking keeps us opening one door and then the next until we find the way out. It's not a glassy-eyed, state of ignorant denial. It is forward thinking with intelligence. Each step away from the control of depression helps you reclaim your mood as well as your sense of well-being. Don’t knock the baby steps. With small steps we accomplish great things.


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Monday, June 30, 2014

ADHD: Four Rules To Fake It When You Forget Somebody's Name

I attended a church picnic the other day. The sun was bright, yet the weather was cool. It was a perfect day for outdoor frolicking. I wasn’t sure if I would attend at first because my girls weren’t with me. Watching other people’s families have fun isn’t high up on my things to do on a lovely Saturday afternoon, especially if they are happy li’l nuclear families, but I decided to go anyway. It was the first activity since being assigned to the new ward[1] and I wanted to meet & mingle.

Since it was a stake picnic, all the wards in our stake were in attendance, including the one I used to attend. I walked around and tried to recall names of the new ward members I had met on previous Sundays and said hello to the people I bumped into from my previous ward, but then somebody called out my name. Her hair was up and she was in large, dark sunglasses. All I could see of her face was her welcoming smile.

“Brother Cootey! It's good to see you!”“Yeah, it's good to see you, too!”

We chatted a bit about my daughter who used to be in her young women's program, then I walked away. Only at that point did I remember her name. I was so used to meeting people from my new ward that day and having those awkward “You're…um…Joel?”/“And you're…uh…Douglas?” moments, that I went back to her and said, “Hey! You're Sister Wengle!”[2] This wouldn’t have been a problem if I we hadn’t seen each other for two years, but it had only been two months.

She wasn't wearing her sunglasses then, so I could see the hurt in her eyes. Ouch. I hate letting people down. I let her know that I have ADHD and tend to forget names, and she was a good sport, but it was a splash of cold water on a warm moment. I shouldn't have let her know that I forgot her name. It violated my number two rule, but it was an impulse. Open mouth; insert foot. You know he drill.

People with ADHD tend to have issues with working memory. There is often a barrier preventing us from accessing information at the appropriate moment. The effect is the same as forgetting, but if you understand about the delay, perhaps now you'll understand why so many ADHD adults suddenly interrupt a conversation with “Oh! I forgot to get the toilet paper!”

That poor sister was surprised at how well I was at faking that I remembered her name. Yes, I’m very good at it. I decided to master this problem after noticing a friend on campus many years ago. He was a quarter of a mile away, but it was unmistakably him. I ran across the quad and called out, “Hey! …!” and then came to an awkward stop in front of him. I had gone blank. He wasn’t impressed. There’s probably a reason we aren’t friends anymore, whatever his name was.

I’ve had over twenty years of practice since then, and I don’t get myself in those situations anymore. That awkward picnic moment was an aberration for me, so I’m going over my rules to have another twenty years without incident, and now I share my rules with you.

  1. SMILE– A smile will put both of you at ease. The minute they see that certain panicked look on your face, the jig is up. Keep your face calm and friendly instead.
  2. DON'T ADMIT YOU FORGOT THEIR NAME– If you haven’t seen them for a while, chances are they’ve forgotten your name, too. Besides, that information is floating just out of your reach. Relax and let it drift into your orbit. After all, you know them, right? Why needlessly hurt their feelings? This doesn’t change how happy you are to see them.
  3. CHOOSE YOUR WORDS CAREFULLY– Your word choices can expose you and lead to an embarrassing moment, so practice saying, “Hey, how are you doing?”, not “Hey, how are you doing, …?” with an awkward “Ohmigosh-I-forgot-their-name!” face. Say “How’s your husband?”, not, “How’s …(Is it Ken? Cole? Kermit‽)” Try “What’s that smart kid of yours been up to?” They’ll probably fill in his name for you.
  4. DODGE & WEAVE– Conversations with old colleagues or neighbors at the DMV or supermarket are usually very brief. The moment is too fast for names to matter. You’ll probably remember when you pull out of your parking space. Until then, ask them about their work, their marriage, their kids, etc. Catching up may even jog that swiss cheese memory of yours.

The only time you should admit you can't recall their name is if they figure it out, or you plan on having an extended conversation. Then remember rule number one and mention your momentary lapse in memory. You'll have time to smooth things over. I can't say that everyone who I've been honest with has been happy about my lapse in memory, but none of those moments have ever been as bad as things were for me before I followed these rules.

People like to believe that they are memorable. Don’t you? Forgetting someone's name makes them feel as if you've forgotten who they are. You & I know that name is somewhere in our noggin. We haven't forgotten that person at all, but they won't always understand. If you have a hard time remembering people’s names, follow these rules to get you through most social greetings. For some reason they’re easier to remember than those darn names.


  1. Wards are what Mormons call their congregations. Several wards make up a stake. Several stakes make up an area. As populations change, sometimes reorganizing the ward boundaries becomes necessary. In my case, my apartment complex was reassigned to a different ward. I didn't move, but where I attended church did.  ↩

  2. Name changed to protect that sister's identity, and not because I forgot her name again.  ↩



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Friday, June 20, 2014

Sunset Therapy

One of my favorite methods of treating Depression is to go out for a simple walk. Another is to exercise creativity in some way. When I combine the two together, it is very effective therapy indeed. I love the challenge of capturing sunsets with my iPhone and playing with filters to get the perfect effect that expresses my mood. Lately, I've been so very stressed because my car is off the road. I've sunk $1600 into it this week and it still didn't pass inspection. So frustrating.

Thankfully, Mother Nature has sent me glorious sunsets to lift my spirits.

 

 

What types of activities lift your spirits and help you fight Depression? Share them with us below.

 



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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

ADHD & Fearing Failure

My dusty art dust. Abandoned and forgotten, but no more.

“It's a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you're ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There's almost no such thing as ready. There's only now. And you may as well do it now. I mean, I say that confidently as if I'm about to go bungee jumping or something - I'm not. I'm not a crazed risk taker. But I do think that, generally speaking, now is as good a time as any.”

~Hugh Laurie

 

That quote drifted across my Facebook stream sometime last weekend. Normally, I snort disdainfully at inspirational quotes overlaid on gauzy photos full of dappled sunlight, but this was not one of those occasions. Actors aren't normally my source for inspirational quotes. They are no different than any other person with a demanding job. They may seem more beautiful than your average person, but they aren't necessarily so in person. Many actors are convinced that their opinions on politics or global weather are the right opinions because they are famous, their peers share their opinions, and they have a microphone in their face more times than you or I, but their opinions are not necessarily more valid than your crazy uncle's or loud-mouthed neighbor's. It is a different matter when they share insight from their own experiences. Then I take notice. Hugh Laurie's commentary on waiting struck me like lightning on a clear day. Waiting has been one of the problems in my life.

Fortunately, I'm not waiting anymore. There were many times in the past where I held off doing something because I felt I wasn't ready. When you put something off long enough, we well know it can become a case of procrastination, but sometimes it can also be a case of fear.

A lifetime of ADHD failures taught me in my twenties that there was a ceiling that limited how high I could fly. Out of high school I believed that there was no ceiling, but hitting that ceiling with the velocity of rocket propelled naivety taught me pain. Instead of caution, I learned fear. Instead of learning to prepare, I learned to stop. It wasn't a conscientious decision that I made. I simply found myself sitting on the curb watching the parade of achievers march on by while I nursed a sore face. To be fair, becoming disabled at twenty-five certainly factored into my new world view, but ADHD failures are bright and colorful things, done boldly and with great fanfare for all to notice. I became ashamed and left the parade.

This certainly didn't apply to all areas of my life, but where my dreams were concerned, I practiced and waited. I was never quite ready, never quite finished. After my divorce, however, I came to a conclusion. Not only did I miss the speed of a rocket beneath my feet, but I was bored of waiting. Unfortunately, because of life's complications I have been pressing forward in hops and skips, but not with bounds that could scale tall buildings. Laurie's quote came at an opportune time for me.

Not only am I fired up to finish my book on overcoming suicide, but I see that in many ways I had begun waiting again. I had begun to believe that I wasn't quite ready, and maybe, perhaps, my voice on the subject wasn't a qualified one. This is likely because my project came to a stop when my editor took maternity leave. I had idle time to worry, but it is also true that adults with ADHD have notoriously low self-esteem.

I should have applied to my writing the lesson that I learned with my recent drawing project. In December I decided that I had waited to be ready to draw long enough. I had been sketching in fits and starts, but not with any purpose. However, there could be only so many remedial sketches I could do before I bored myself away from drawing forever. I decided to force myself to draw online—anonymously for the moment—but in public so that others could see. My first sketches were terrible things, especially in comparison to how I used to draw. Before I became disabled with a tic disorder I loved to draw daily. Then I became frustrated and afraid of that blank canvas. My ticking still interfered in small ways, but looking over the past six months of efforts surprised me. I had progressed so much. I had proven to myself that I could do it. So I made new goals for June to increase my drawing output and step up my efforts—one of which is to clear away the boxes around my art desk, dust it off, and actually use it for the first time in years.

ADHD does help us make some glorious mistakes. However, if I had stopped cooking years ago because I repeatedly forgot about pans on the burner and let them melt into slag, I wouldn't be feeding my children wonderful meals today. In the same way, if I don't publish this book of mine, I'll never grow and develop as a writer. It's time to put my work forward and stop waiting.

 



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