Sunday, August 25, 2019

Work in Progress (Not Perfection)

Speaking of new beginnings - I say like it hasn't been over two months since my last post - I began work on the umpteenth re-imagining of my novel Grimalkin. Which is to say, I wrote over a chapter in a fit of inspiration one day; and I have spent every day since developing characters and working out the plot, mostly while showering, trying to sleep, or even driving.

Mind you, I always pay attention to cars and lights and stop signs and little woodland creatures, but once I missed a turn, and another time I thought I missed a turn only to realize I was totally on track, if a bit discombobulated from lost time.

(Seriously, though - don't plot and drive.)

Little remains of the last incarnation, apart from the general setting and a few characters, some re-imagined much like the story itself. Ironically, one of the supporting characters that made the cut was one I intended to remove, but there's a stronger case for her now, and I can't imagine Grimalkin without her. 

I've also been polishing my short story, "Alpha" (soon to be published), dabbling in other pursuits, and battling crippling self doubt. It's been a tough summer that began with an unexpected pet death and culminated in adjusting to a higher dose of a non-stimulant while managing grief and lifelong frustrations magnified by the worsening state of the world.

Recently I saw a Tumblr post from another writer with ADHD about Terry Pratchett. Pratchett set a surprisingly modest daily writing goal of 400 words for being such a prolific writer, and it just sounded so tantalizingly manageable. I glanced back at the new beginning of Grimalkin, which is more than double that, and I don't think it took me over an hour to churn it out. 

Of course, that's my typical MO: either the words pour out, or they bottleneck somewhere between brain and fingers. Supposedly Writer's Block is a myth, and anyone who experiences it isn't REALLY a writer, but surely irritability can plague the brain as much as the bowels. 

(Yes, I know it's a gross analogy, but it's also pretty accurate, though I do hope the actual output of my brain isn't proverbial poo.)

((Then again, that often sells...))

Moving on...

I debated sharing the new opening chapter of Grimalkin or excerpts from my other short stories, and maybe I still will, but I do plan to release a proper website. I just have to pick a host and relearn coding, and honestly, it all just sounds an awful lot like work. 

(It's possible I may be lazy independently of having poor executive functioning.)

((It's also possible my ongoing woes about the futility of life coupled with my inability to find the right words to inspire positive change have killed my motivation.)) 

(((No, I'm not depressed, at least not clinically, just...paying attention.)))

I've been leery of speaking precisely for fear of providing a glimpse of what it's like inside my brain when I let my thoughts run amok, but maybe that's what I need to ease the bottleneck. And, bringing this post full circle, my existential angst has been key to thematic content and the development of one of the supporting characters in Grimalkin

I can assure you she's more optimistic than I am. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

A New Beginning

I've always wanted to write (and act, and sing and play guitar and piano in a rock band, and direct, etc.) but before that I was a reader. I still remember cracking the code and learning to read in Kindergarten. It opened new worlds to me, and I wanted to explore them all. 

My favorite book as a child that remains one of my favorites today was Howliday Inn by James Howe; Bunnicula by James and Deborah Howe was and is a close second. Both books aged well, and are great for reading aloud to children.

Within a few years, I was maxing out my library card with a stack of chapter books: Nancy Drew (the newer ones from the 80s when she actually did stuff), Sweet Valley Twins, Sweet Valley High, The Babysitter's Club, The Fabulous Five, and so on. I'd be done within a matter of days, to my dad's dismay. 

My dad introduced me to The Gunslinger by Stephen King when I was in fifth grade. I'd already flipped through his gruesome graphic novella Cycle of the Werewolf by the time I was nine. He even gave the library permission to let me check out adult novels, hoping it would extend the time between visits but fewer could be checked out at a time, and I still blew through King and Koontz pretty quickly as well.

It's no surprise that some of my own writing was hailed as "well written but kind of morbid," a childhood memory my husband and I strangely have in common.

The golden era was when I happened upon the YA section. Back then it was mostly Sweet Valley U (which was oddly, consistently bleak) and romance, but YA horror was a growing sub genre dominated by Fear Street by R.L. Stine (which I recognized as schlock, but still devoured) and also books by Christopher Pike and trilogies by L. J. Smith.

The trilogy format really captured my interest as both a reader and writer. So many of the books I've attempted over the years were developed as potential trilogies. There was just one huge, glaring problem: I'm great at ideas; I'm bad at finishing anything I start.

Shocker, I know.

I came to two big epiphanies this year: I need to start small, and I need to go back to basics. And by going back to basics, I mean way back. The first stories weren't written. They were passed down orally. And the one thing my favorite books have in common, be it the original Bunnicula series of my youth or the Discworld books of Sir Terry Pratchett I discovered as an adult, is that they are as pleasurable to read aloud as they are on the page.

To the end of starting small, my first published work will not be a trilogy or even a novel, but a short story aptly named "Alpha." 

The story began not with an idea but with a quote.

Sir Terry Pratchett once advised "Fantasy doesn’t have to be fantastic. American writers in particular find this much harder to grasp. You need to have your feet on the ground as much as your head in the clouds. The cute dragon that sits on your shoulder also craps all down your back, but this makes it more interesting because it gives it an added dimension."

I realized this was part of what made his stories so enjoyable to me and wondered if I could challenge myself to apply a similar approach. I'm not good at world building, so I decided I wanted to delve into magical realism with a story taking a ridiculous notion growing in popularity to its literal extreme.

I don't want to give too much away, but "Alpha" is the culmination of that writing experiment, and it has been selected for publishing in the WritingBloc Deception! anthology. 

It's not just a start.


Friday, April 26, 2019

Through the Looking Glass

Last year my diagnosing psychologist said there wasn’t a place ADHD ended and I began, but in the year since, I’ve learned that’s not entirely true. While I didn’t see her until last year, I knew the time had come nearly a year prior.

For the third time in as many months, I hit my head badly enough to break the skin. I parked my car and looked at my phone. I saw something that triggered my anger. When I stepped out of the car, I thought I’d forgotten my purse (it was already slung over my shoulder.) I quickly turned, smacked my head less than an inch from my temple, and saw stars. I had to sit for several minutes. The pain was so intense, it radiated to my shoulder.

Just a week later I managed to get a goose egg on the other side from my locker at the gym.

Again.

Anyway, my first step was mentioning the possibility of ADHD to my husband. As expected, he looked at me like I was crazy. Then I could see something click into place. He finally had an explanation for at least some of my quirks that confounded him since the beginning: my impatience, aimless wandering, random outbursts, spacing out, procrastination...

...It only took several months later to seek help. I worried she would say nothing was wrong with me; I was just crazy. Even when she confirmed my diagnosis, I still asked if I was crazy. She assured me I was sane. Given her profit model, I felt safe taking it to heart. Besides, it’s not in my nature to sugarcoat personal failings; what would be the point?


"She generally gave herself very good advice (though she very seldom followed it), and sometimes she scolded herself so severely as to bring tears to her eyes..."

- Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll

Then I saw my physician and started taking 40 mg of a non-stimulant proven to ease ADHD symptoms. Even if it worked, it would never be as effective as a stimulant and it would take longer to have a noticeable effect, but it would work 24/7 once it did.

The only side effects I’ve experienced were temporary. Synthetic food tasted bad, and I didn’t crave sweets and salty foods as much (Kraft Mac ‘n Cheese still tastes sugary and gross.) I have a theory it’s not so much that our medication kills our appetites; rather, so many of us eat for the wrong reasons, like boredom and sadness, we have to learn how to eat to live instead of living to eat when the compulsion is gone.

After a couple weeks, I was driving to the gym with nothing on my mind except the next lyric of the song I was listening to, and anything directly related to the drive. It freaked me out. I told my husband, and he just looked at me like, “and?” It turns out everybody else doesn’t have three or four trains of thought at all times, even and especially while driving.

“Y’all don’t do a lot of thinking, do you?” I asked, at once envious and horrified.


"We sleepwalk through our lives, because how could we live if we were always this awake?”
- Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men



I worried the medication was doing what so many naysayers claim it does, and robbing me of my personality. As it turns out, I can still juggle multiple trains of thought; I just have control over when I do instead of being at my brain’s mercy when I should focus on driving or working, or when I want to sleep.
I felt better rested, and even though I still loathed chores and the daily minutiae, they became more tolerable. I almost never lost my keys, sunglasses, or phone anymore.
Everything was great, until late summer. My husband noticed a decline, too. Normally the dosage is increased from 40 mg to 80 mg after a few weeks if there’s no concerning side effects because 40 mg isn’t enough for most. I’d been fine at 40 mg for several months, but part of me was scared. What if increasing it made no difference?
After months of enjoying a sense of normalcy I never knew I was missing, I couldn’t go back. I kept thinking about the novel Flowers for Algernon. Yeah, it was about a guy that went from an IQ in the 60s to a genius before his treatment started to wear off, not someone who just had ADHD and an above average IQ to compensate, but his loneliness resonated with me.

"I just want to be smart like other pepul so I can have lots of frends." 
- Daniel Keyes, Flowers for Algernon





Fortunately the increase helped. My husband worried I was slipping again in December, but I was confident it was just the holiday excitement.

One day I came home on a lunch break and watched my favorite YouTuber talk about ADHD and accidents. I realized the last time I hurt myself was breaking my toe in karate a couple months before, a totally normal sports injury. I was excited to share my progress, but then I realized I was running late, so I ran out the door and hit my head getting into the car. Not hard, but I was embarrassed and didn’t want my husband to know.

I can be increased to 100 mg, but that’s the highest allowable dosage. The alternative is trying stimulants. They are called stimulants because they stimulate production of chemicals we don’t produce as well as people who are neurotypical (stimulants function very differently in NTs who abuse them.) The downside is they only last so long and we can still be plagued by problems like insomnia, which exacerbate symptoms.

I’m not a zombie. Medication didn’t change my personality. If anything, I have a better sense of who I am. I’m still very much go, go, go, and I want to do all the things - but I’m actually competent and stick with them. My abilities are starting to match my ambitions. Who knows what I could have accomplished had I done something sooner.


"That's the thing about human life--there is no control group, no way to ever know how any of us would have turned out if any variables had been changed.”
- Daniel Keyes, Flowers for Algernon



I’m also less of a danger to myself and others.
No, we aren’t ALL a little ADHD any more than anyone who is sad now and then can be said to suffer from actual depression (that was one of those short term side effects - holy crap! - glad it was temporary.) And it’s not just whimsical personality quirks to be celebrated and embraced either (though understanding from others certainly helps.)
Depending on severity, we’re at greater risk for injury (including car accidents and self harm) and death. Emotional dis-regulation, inattention, and impulsiveness can be dangerous. Who knew?
I don’t even have legs riddled with mystery bruises from bumping into stationary objects (in my own home!) anymore. All my life I thought I was clumsy and uncoordinated, but maybe that’s one place where the line between ADHD and me can be drawn.


"Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle.”

- Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll




I also have a clearer sense of where I fit in my problems, and while ADHD poses challenges to maintaining friendships, it’s not always my fault when things go wrong, though it does make me a convenient scapegoat just as I sometimes observe happening to my son or others with neurological differences.

The biggest disappointment about medication is that while it can help what’s wrong with me, it can’t do anything about anyone else. I foolishly imagined I’d suddenly know all the right things to say at exactly the right time to fix...well, everything, but I have to settle for being less of a walking disaster.

As originally posted on social media spring 2019

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Adventures in Alyland

Until fifth grade, my report cards typically read, “She is bright, but she talks too much.” My name appeared on the board with such regularity it became a stain in third grade, and once my teacher almost gave me a check mark instead of a verbal warning until my classmates came to my defense (they still liked me then.)  
Occasionally I was even “island boy.” 
I grew tired of spending part or all of recess next to the wall. I also started to feel competitive, but I was nonathletic. School was easy. I tested well, but struggled to turn in completed work. I learned to keep my mouth shut and get my work done. It kept me on the honor roll (pizza! ice cream!) and off the wall, but didn’t make me very popular with peers. 

"And she had worked on her smile in the mirror. Usually May's smile looked like a
grimace. But she'd gotten it to look halfway normal, she thought. Girls with nice
smiles made friends."  


- Jodi Lynn Anderson, May Bird and the Ever After   

I had a hard time negotiating “girl world.” It seemed like everyone started playing a game to which I didn’t know the rules, and I don’t think I’d follow them if I did. And it wasn’t like I couldn’t read people, when I wasn’t in my own little world. Quite the opposite. I was overwhelmed. I also preferred books and video games to boys and gossip. 
At home, I could either be found in my room reading a book (several a day) with the radio on and the TV on mute, or pacing “like a caged tiger” (according to my dad.)  
I used to bite my nails until they bled, but kicked that bad habit the time I started to chew on a nail, and I forgot I was still holding the other end of a cord plugged into the wall.  
I ate out of boredom and because chewing helped still my restless mind.  
“...it was not until someone tapped her on the shoulder or said her name that
Coraline would come back from a million miles away with a start, and all in a
fraction of a second have to remember who she was, and what her name
was, and that she was even there at all.”  


- Neil Gaiman, Coraline 
I didn’t sleep well. My mind was always racing: either playing back the day’s events, trying to figure out where things went wrong, what I should have said but didn’t, and what I shouldn’t have said but did, or formulating my thoughts and opinions about every issue under the sun, making sure I was being as objective as possible, considering every side and angle. 
I was sick a lot, but I didn’t want to miss school because math was getting harder, and I knew if I fell behind, I’d never catch up again. Strangely, it seemed easier to concentrate even though cold medicines muted my senses, or maybe because they muted my senses. They also made me feel sicker, and nowadays I don’t take much more than Ibuprofen, if that. 

“And though, truly, she sometimes felt like something inside her had disappeared, it seemed that must be a natural part of growing up. Standing out too much made one feel too alone to do it forever.”  
- Jodi Lynn Anderson, May Bird: Warrior Princess


In college, I sometimes forgot to eat, but eventually it became a game of how long I could go. I was often running late because I would check and re-check my door to make sure it was locked (or maybe I only ever checked once - I could never remember.) I suspected what my problem was but I figured I’d gotten by so far, why bother doing anything now?  
(Except I wasn’t really getting by, and wouldn’t it be nice to do more than just get by?)
All was forgotten until I had the boys, and they became mobile. I could barely manage myself let alone twins, especially one who stuck out like a sore thumb around other children. For the first time in my life, I was socially ostracized not because of me, but because of my child.
But it was still because of me because I couldn’t manage him. We moved closer to family. He attends a good school with patient teachers that see his ingenuity and kindness, and some things have gotten better, but others...second grade, and he was already becoming socially isolated in a way I didn’t experience until middle school. 

“First Sight means you can see what really is there, and Second Thoughts mean thinking about what you are thinking. And in Tiffany's case, there were sometimes Third Thoughts and Fourth Thoughts although these sometimes led her to walk into doors.”  
- Terry Pratchett, I Shall Wear Midnight 

Meanwhile I’ve been climbing the walls, I can’t hold a thought for any length of time, except the bad ones, and I’m tired of sticking out like a sore thumb in my own way and having a target on my back, or losing my keys or my phone or my sunglasses, or injuring myself because I’m angry or lost in thought. 
(And while my husband is patient and understanding, having to repeat himself, sometimes twice, because I zone out or even wander away mid-conversation must get old.)
I sought help for my son and I, and it’s still early in the process, but his well being is my main concern, as is maintaining his spark and creativity. While I should have taken care of myself sooner, and I wonder how different life would be if girls like me didn’t slip through the cracks for so long, I’m still proud I made it this far without too many negative coping strategies.


“I knew who I was this morning, but I've changed a few times since then.”


- Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland 


I doubt anyone who has made fun of me for being weird, or a “spaz,” or the “dumbest smart person” could withstand even a day with my brain. I have ADHD, a term used to describe a specific set of very real traits I’ve dealt with all my life. According to my diagnosing psychologist, there isn’t a place where it ends, and I begin. 
It’s a part of me, but not the entirety of me.  
Whoever that is...
As originally posted on social media spring 2018 

Work in Progress (Not Perfection)

Speaking of new beginnings - I say like it hasn't been over two months since my last post - I began work on the umpteenth re-imagining ...