Plognark's Adventures with his Stupid, Stupid Brain

Spirit Summoner

Yes, yes, I am in fact alive. Shocking, I know.

A few things before I launch into my... whatever stream of conscience madness I'm preparing to unleash.

COMMENTS: I believe that I have fixed the comment issue that was screwing up registered users; I finally set it so they can just straight up bypass the spam filter.

So that's good. Also, I've now disabled anonymous user registrations. If you want an account, or I inadvertently delete your account when I finish purging FIVE THOUSAND #$*&ING SPAM BOT ACCOUNTS just go right ahead and leave me a human-sounding comment and I'll manually make you a new one. Anyone can leave a comment, but it will be going into the spam moderation queue. Can't be helped; just too much spam. Try to compose your comments to look as non-spammy as possible and we should be good.


Ok, well, for the other stuff. Ummm... yeah, ok, where to begin...

I have ADHD.

Yeah, I know, big deal, right?

Well, I didn't figure this out until this month, August 2011. Note that, next month, I turn THIRTY-FUCKING-THREE. This is, to put it mildly, something that should have been figured out decades ago. At least two would have been nice. Earlier would have been fantastic.

But no, no such luck. I won't try to be one of those insufferable high-road pricks and say that I'm not bitter and annoyed about the whole thing. I'm bitter, and annoyed. Really bitter, and really annoyed, actually.

I didn't know shit about ADHD until recently. It's one of those mental conditions that a lot of people think is just laziness and a lack of discipline and motivation. I admit, I once thought that as well. Let's just chalk that one up to ignorance. As it turns out, it's a brain chemistry thing. It's not laziness or any sort of moral failing... it's tough giving every last ounce of energy your brain can muster to focus on the simplest task, like drawing for more than fifteen minutes at a stretch. Hell, sometimes more than five minutes.

It's like having hundreds of little mini anxiety attacks every day. I never really knew what boredom was because I always kept my brain engaged thinking about stuff. For me, and other people with ADHD, I assume, boredom is like death. You've got to do anything you possibly can to keep the dopamine levels high, to get that little burst to keep your mental gears churning.

There's plenty of literature on it and a ton of information on the internet. I won't bore you with more details about what it is, just a quick overview. It's a dopamine dysfunction, plain and simple. Some combination of screwy genes making screwy proteins making your brain permanently short on dopamine.

It's a huge part of why my artistic productivity is so inconsistent. I love art. It's what I want to do, it's what I think about all the time. And yet, I hit patches where I just can't do it. It's not a traditional art block; it's something else.

Imagine if there was something you loved, that you were good at, that you wanted desperately to work on all the time, that everyone told you you should be working on.

Now imagine that you have a mini anxiety attack after five minutes of doing it. That you have to go and do something else or it feels like your spine is going to crawl out of the back of your neck to go do something else, dragging your brain with it.

It's exhausting and miserable. Especially when you think it's just some kind of motivational failure on your part. Imagine beating yourself up for being a lazy fuck for twenty years, of thinking you're destined to be a failure because you can't get off your ass and even start new projects. You develop a real love/hate relationship with whatever it is you're good at. I certainly have.

I have had some really dark moments where I've completed some awesome epic picture, and felt nothing afterwards. Maybe a minute of happiness, but that creeping little anxiety doesn't go away. Nothing makes it go away except intense mental stimulation; video games, complicated science articles, taking apart machines, puzzles, etc. That quiets the little bastard, as long as you keep doing it. Once you stop, it's back again. And if you keep at it for too long that itchy brain feeling comes back anyway.

Well, you get what I mean. It sucks. Certainly not the worst thing in the world, but when you think that the problem is a matter of your own personal weakness and laziness, it can turn you into a miserable, self loathing douche.

This whole thing was a long time coming. There was a slow build up of awareness that something was seriously off. It actually started in earnest with the art commissions. Or rather, the fact that I just couldn't fucking do them. Just finishing one commission became a mini psychological trauma; an exhausting exercise in self contempt.

For a while I thought it was just that old saying: if you turn a beloved hobby into a job, you'll hate it. I've gone through this cycle many times before... trying to do pen and ink work for a gallery, different aborted comic ideas, web comics, game designs, etc. I never finish them. I burn out after a few months, and then go inactive for for a few more before I can will myself to get back to it.

But that wasn't it. I stopped even working on my own art, once I hit that threshold where the internal dopamine reward diminished. You do something interesting long enough and it stops being novel and interesting. Art is hard work; many hours just putting down lines and colors. It's fun, but it has some seriously monotonous moments.

DeviantArt helped too. There are so many incredibly productive and talented people on that site... and I realized that I just wasn't one of them. Sure, I have a screwed up imagination (a plus if you're a fantasy artist or cartoonist), but I couldn't put in the time needed. Couldn't beat my brain hard enough to make it let me do the work.

So one day I joke to my shrink (yes, I see a shrink) about how I wish I could take some ADHD meds sometimes to help me focus, even though I don't have ADHD. I had read an article about people abusing Adderall and Ritalin in college to help them study, and thought it was fucked up but interesting.

So my shrink says "well, maybe you have ADHD." And I says "No doc, there's no way. I'm not hyper or anything like that." and she says "Well, let's do a quick test and see."

So I take the little anecdotal test, and score a couple on the hyperactivity scale, which anyone can hit. But then I went nine for nine on the inattentive scale.

At that moment, my mind was blown. A little. There was more to come. You go through that reflection phase, where you try to evaluate your past in light of new information. I think we all do that when we learn something sort of heavy. I read books about it, rampaged across the internet digging up info, and came to a startling conclusion: My brain was messed up.

It all fit. The big one was reading Delivered from Distraction; a hell of a good book on the topic. It 'resonated' with me, as my shrink phrased it. I didn't have a word for it, at the time. I've known I was sort of fucked in the head for decades now; lots of mental illness in my family, and I've always thought it was OCD or PTSD or depression or dysthymia or maybe some borderline personality disorder or somehting. Nothing ever quite fit right, and I never even considered ADHD.

I'm not a religious person. Anyone who's been following my art or website for whatever reason should be pretty aware of that by now. But reading a book about ADHD, by someone with ADHD, was the closest thing I've ever come to having a religious epiphany. A dawning awareness of something profound that hits you like a wave. A mixture of hope and fear sadness and happiness and just overwhelming emotional shit. Buckets of it. Hitting you in the brain. Monkeys throwing buckets of emotional shit at your brain, while laughing at you for being so idiotically unaware for so long. Yeah, like that.

Long story short, I had to find a psychiatrist. Psychologists are a dime a dozen. MD's who specialize in mental stuff? Harder to find. Harder still to get an appointment with. But I did, and I got me some amphetamines. And even that's hard, because that shit is a schedule two controlled substance. You need authorizations on top of authorizations and signatures and insurance approval and a nightmare of red tape to get it.

So I annoyed my wife to the point that she nearly stabbed me in the neck with a butter knife for talking about it incessantly. It turns out that once the depression and self loathing go away, the hyperactivity comes back. Sometimes a lot. But she didn't slay me for aggravating her, which is more a testament to her tolerance than anything else. I finally got the stuff, and, well, ok, time to try it out.

That's a scary god damn moment. What if it didn't work? What if I was destined to be a scatter brained, unproductive schmuck for life? Fuck. Then there's the idea of being on another stupid pill to function, and the condemnation a lot of people give to anyone who needs any kind of chemical crutch. It's hard to drop that kind of shit. Rationally I know better; I know that there are a billion things that can go awry with the brain or body and that there is absolutely no guarantee that you're going to be ok. There's no ideal state of humanity that we can all achieve if we just try hard enough. But still, you just can't shake that idea that it's a moral failure to need this stuff. 'You don't have ADHD, you're just being lazy and whiny, and your parents didn't discipline you enough, blah blah judgmental drek blah blah blah'.

...

So I took the pill. I was sitting at work, waiting to see what would happen.

Yep, waited a while.

Felt like an eternity. That's another thing with ADHD; we don't track the passage of time very well. Humans are bad at it in general; people like me are even worse.

And then, quiet.

I never really understood how loud the inside of my head is. I knew that I had racing thoughts; hell, it's kept me from sleep as long as I can remember. But the quiet... was not what I expected. The idea of taking an amphetamine (technically dextroamphetamine) is sort of nuts in general, and the idea that it would lead to such quiet and calm is even more so.

But it did. Just quiet, and calm. No racing sounds and images, no anxiety from every little thing going on, no exhausting fight to keep things focused in my head.

I admit I actually got a little emotional at work there, what with my new found super powers of normal concentration. I never even realized all of the mental tricks and the little techniques I have for managing my job. Dozens of post-it notes with little processes and reminders, saved files with lists of steps and procedures for even simple things that shouldn't be hard to remember. No more triple checking numbers and information and names and dates. I've been written up for poor job performance over this stuff before. Hell, I've been fired from jobs for being careless and inattentive before.

It's like having a computer with too little memory. In order to move on to the next task or set of steps in the process you have to unload everything from the last thing you did. Only the computer is your brain. I probably didn't need to spell out that analogy, but what the hell.

The meds shouldn't have worked this well. It's too simple an explanation. It feels too easy, to obvious in hindsight. My shrink even asked me how the hell this was missed when I was a kid, given how glaringly obvious it was once we knew what to look for. I'm still not sure myself; the signs were all there, and it wasn't like I wasn't a pain in the ass kid in school. I had shitty grades and behavior problems and was constantly distracted, drawing when I should be paying attention. I guess there's not much use in dwelling on what might have been, but we all do it anyway.

The real moment of truth was sitting down to draw. There have been times, usually after a long hiatus, where I can feel myself getting into the flow of drawing. It's not just drawing; it can be sculpting or programming or carpentry or anything... just making stuff. You hit a zone where you just go, you know what to do and just work on it, and it feels fucking great. It's not euphoric, just deeply satisfying. Maybe it's a zen sort of thing, I don't know.

But I sat down to work on some art, and just got lost in it again. I haven't had that in so long, just a memory of what it was like. Even the monotonous parts of it feel... good, I guess. I'm not used to that. I can get caught up in my work without every little tick or noise or itch or distraction intruding and breaking me from the flow. I can work without that brain itch trying to claw out of the back of my head after five minutes. No more fighting my own biochemistry just to do fifteen minutes of art a day.

So that's where I'm at. It's been six days on this stuff, and I've already done more art than I was able to will myself to do in the last month. Yeah, really, six days, that's all.

I can't make any promises about where this is going, really. I'm awesome at doubting my own thoughts, so maybe this is just some early crazy phase where everything feels wonderful and shiny and new, and it's bound to wear off. But I don't think so.

So now that I've gotten all this long winded self indulgent crap out of my system, I think it's time to pick up the pen and go draw. I'll let you know how it goes.

Comments

Great post, guy. Very insightful. I really hope the meds work well for you and that you find your zone again. I'm a big fan of your art. You've got mad skills.

All the best,

Dr. Al

Still tweaking the dosage and getting a sense of the duration, but it's been completely life altering, and in a good way.

The only vaguely similar thing I can relate to this with would be the first time I went in to have my vision corrected. That first time you sit in an optometrist's office and they start going through all the lenses and you notice that, "Hey, I can actually read those funny little blurs that were completely indecipherable 30 seconds ago!" is pretty weird. It's surreal to think you were managing to survive walking around half blind, but you just don't know what "normal" is like because it's such a slow decline that it's imperceptible until corrected. Seldom is "normal" taken away suddenly; it's something that disappears gradually and you don't realize it until someone slaps you in the face with it.

For what it's worth, I'm glad you've found an answer to a question that's inscrutability must have been infuriating. I can relate to having a simple pill work wonders. I would be a complete allergic mess if not for OTC meds taken daily. Not as much of a hassle as yours, but still. I try to stay away from pills, but sometimes you just have to admit that your body's fouled up and the miracle of modern science can patch the gap. With any luck you won't develop a tolerance. Revel in the shiny "newness" of this while you can. Coming from a pessimistic atheist misanthrope, don't make light of any happiness that stumbles into your path; just accept it and ride the wave as far as it will carry you.

There's definitely a new-and-shiny aspect to it that's bound to diminish in time, but fortunately a tolerance to this stuff is pretty uncommon. You'd have to go well beyond the therapeutic levels to get there, and the toxicity of the dextro is miniscule compared to some other variants, like meth.

I've known I've had ADHD for years, and all thanks to my brother. He was in the midst of college and struggling. He is a bright guy, so they tried to check for problems, and found ADD. By the way, I don't even know if there's a difference other than name in ADD and ADHD anymore (if they've merged or not) but I do know that I was checked out soon after for exhibiting a lot of the same distracted behavior, and the same troubles. I don't think I would have graduated without the help I got, because it was still a near thing. I got great grades for a while, but then depression set in. Yay. Once THAT was treated too, I quickly got shit together. However, I kept having reactions to my meds. So, while in my first semester of college, I just stopped taking them. My depression VANISHED. My ADHD, not so much. So, yay, I didn't want to cut myself (not kill, just cut) anymore. But I still had trouble focusing. I started to learn to 'manage' it, but it really can take such an extreme act of will to do the smallest damn things that I frequently think about going back to meds. If they were cheaper, I probably would. However, I'm getting married in less than 3 weeks and I'm paying for it! I am disorganized and messy, and I forget some things like you can't believe, but others get LOCKED into my memory and I can recite those memories well enough to make people envy my ability. It's truly a frustrating experience, and has caused a lot of stress for this wedding! And now I've gotten distracted yea...

I guess my drawn out comment is me saying I feel your pain, and am happy for you. I hope to get similar relief once I get back to that point. I was never sure if I would go back on meds or not, but your experience has encouraged me to try again :)

Yeah, from what I can tell ADD and ADHD are pretty much interchangeable. There are sub types within it, of course, but there's more to it than some of the older definitions. Hyperactivity, Impulsivity, and Inattentiveness.

I actually got into a phase of cutting as well. Not the emo attention seeking bullshit either, but just making a tiny nick or shallow slice. The pain grounds you when you feel like your brain is completely out of your control. Tethers those racing thoughts a bit and helps focus. The military were less understanding, and thought it was a suicide attempt and sent me home with an honorable discharge with an RE4 'Psychologically Unfit for Active Duty' reenlistment code.

That was a rough patch, but it was such a critical moment that defines who I am now. It was a rare one where I knew that however that whole situation shook itself out, it was going to completely upend everything in my life. You don't get to see those coming and actually plan for them too often. Usually they blindside you and you can only deal with them after the fact.

You should give the meds a try. I'm on Adderall XR, which is good but doesn't last as long as advertised. Six to eight hours at a clip. There are plenty of options out there. Vyvanse, Ritalin, etc. You should try one and see if it works!