Monday, July 20, 2015

The origin story

So here we are.

I am embarking on a new adventure chronicling my learning and treatment journey through being an adult with ADD, anxiety and depression. Over the past few months I have been learning increasingly about myself and how my brain works, and have focused on trauma as a possible source of all of my symptoms. I will go into that backstory later, but for now, that context is enough to explain where I will be coming from with this blog, and it's anybody's guess where it will go to.

A little about me:

I am a 37-year-old white cisgendered woman (I mention this to frame my journey within my myriad privileges) with a "history of depression and anxiety," not to mention a history of being totally awesome. I was diagnosed with ADD last December (2014) after a couple of years speculating about the origins of my symptoms.

Several more-interesting-than-average things have occurred in my life to date. That is to say, "interesting" as in "May you live in interesting times.", ie: traumas. These go back quite a ways, to the point that I can't recall whether I was ever neurotypical despite having many clear memories of being five years old. I am currently working on the assumption that I once was, and that for me, my symptoms began with trauma.

"But, Otherkin," [not my real name, obviously. My folks are much nicer than that] you may be wondering, "Where did you get that idea?"

A few months ago I was in a counseling session when my therapist expressed, as an aside during a conversation about my difficulties at that time, that "often the symptoms of ADD are actually undiagnosed trauma." That stuck out for me, because a lot of the negatives in my life (diagnoses, negative experiences, failures) have made me feel utterly helpless. Having atypical neurology is invisible, and peoples expectations tend to reflect their own abilities. This can make life overwhelmingly frustrating for those of us whose brains do very different things. The expectations of others, and my inability to meet those, cause me anxiety that can lead to depression. Hearing that there was a possible identifiable cause was the first glimmer of hope that there might also be a cure. I want a cure.

Now, I am speaking only from my own context here. It is important to note that atypical neurology can be as much a thing to be respected and valued as to be railed against. Atypical neurology can be like a whole other set of superpowers - there are advantages, even for me. For instance, I can think incredibly quickly through possible outcomes of situations when I am not feeling emotional about them. It has often annoyed friends that by the time I ask for advice it's because I've thought through every option I can see, and suggestions are often met with an impatient, "No, I have considered that already, and it won't work because X. I am asking for new ideas." Not knowing which outcomes I've already explored in my head leaves other people at a loss when trying to present me with new avenues. One of my self-work action items is to learn patience with others as I need them to treat me with patience.

The advantages of having my own set of superpowers, however, are insufficient when compared with the advantages I see neurotypical people utilizing daily. If you are neurotypical, there is a good chance you can have a conversation in a room with multiple conversations happening. I can try, but the crossed streams of audio bombarding me from every direction confuse me tremendously. Even if there is art on the walls where we are, or the floor is intricate, or there are people walking by the window, my attention can slip from my current interaction to other sights or sounds and I easily lose the thread of what is being said to me. This is not due to a lack of interest, but due to sensory inundation.

This is not something within my control, and has often led to people asking me if I have hearing loss, as it appears that I can't hear what they are saying. The reality is that I often can't parse conversations held in proximity to distractions because it's as though I am trying to make out minute details of twelve songs that are being played simultaneously and the volume is fluctuating on all of them. A combination of stimuli is overwhelming to me.

It took a long time before I was able to understand why I couldn't do what other people could do. I believed I was lazy. I believed I was broken somehow but could not understand what was wrong with me - I pictured myself as a machine what would go "Whirrrrrrr" at the push of a button, yet produce nothing. If it wasn't for the friends and acquaintances who themselves had ADD/ADHD and suggested to me that I might be experiencing the same thing, I never would have asked my doctor to look into it, and I would still be disconsolately sitting in one place wondering what the hell was wrong with me and hating myself for my perceived ineptitude.

This being a blog written by an adult with ADD, you'll simply have to forgive the narrative meandering that is sure to occur. I could probably spend more time on editing, but I also have a real life to attend to, and while I can hyperfocus on writing or reading, I can't hyperfocus on editing my own work: There is too much re-reading and jumping around, and I feel like I am trying to hang on to the back of a bullet train by my fingertips. To get back to the point of this post, once my interest was piqued in the possibility of curing myself, I headed to the library and found some books that I thought sounded promising.The first one I read was "The Trauma Spectrum: Hidden Wounds and Human Resiliency" by Robert Scaer, a neurologist who spends a good deal of the book describing how trauma changes the brain. According to his book, it is entirely possible for trauma to cause multiple physical symptoms - anything from IBS to whiplash, he says, could be a trauma response. 

Every symptom that has felt like an invisible wall between me and the rest of the world may be the result of traumas that I have experienced. Every one of them was listed in his book as being a symptom of trauma. ADD, anxiety, depression... in me, these could all stem from the same source. 

My "general anxiety disorder" may be the result of a process termed "kindling", wherein the initial trauma causes hypersensitivity to anything looking like the original trauma. Trauma begets "smaller" trauma like a ripple in a pond, resulting in anxiety reactions to less and less directly-related stimuli until, over time, one feels a general sense of unease permeating daily life. I identified with this especially. 

Going over my own memories of my life, testing them against his hypothesis, I could see a pattern stemming from my own original traumas. Much of what he presented resonated with me, and the implications of neuroplasticity in terms of healing potential have inspired me to continue learning. 

I am now working my way through The PTSD Workbook and am finding it helpful. This blog will chronicle my process. I don't know where this is going to go, as I said, but this is where it begins.

Thanks for reading.

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