The last few months have been exceptionally good ones for me for the most part. Then about three weeks ago I got very physically sick (awful stomach bug), which knocked me out for almost a week. I never really caught up on my work obligations but that didn’t become clear until I was trying to prepare for a three-day out-of-town sailing trip while also coordinating several gatherings to celebrate my birthday (the idea of a single large gathering of good friends being too impersonal for the introvert in me).

In any case things fell apart last Saturday (today is Wednesday). I think I am only now beginning to pick up the pieces. In the spectrum of mental-health dysfunction five completely unproductive, over-eating, bed-bound days, are not really all that bad. However when one is running one’s own business without a partner that kind of inattention creates a calamity of unattended obligations. All the more so because in many ways my business is doing better than it ever has, with new clients calling every week.

(One would think that faced with such a situation I would pursue the rational solution: nose to the grindstone, work, work, work … Alas, some brains are not so well controlled, and mine, at least when I am alone, is one of them.)

So I cancelled two gatherings planned for my birthday, missed my planned sailing trip, justifiably pissed off the person I was to have gone sailing with, spent another day wallowing in bad (Freudian slip), and even as I climb out of it now, am still feeling pretty pessimistic about life. Finally, with the help of one of my staff, I’m starting to tackle what feels like a mountain of outstanding work commitments.

In the middle of it all news comes of Robin William’s suicide. Given my slump I was already actively, and thank God, successfully, beating away suicidal thoughts. Perhaps for that reason the news did not throw me as much as it otherwise might have. Nevertheless it is deeply saddening to lose yet another talent to the ravages of mental illness. (Addiction, to me, is also mental illness, and the deaths of Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Whitney Houston are two others that resonate harshly for me.)

I did think “there but for the grace of God go I.” And so, although it is a painful gift, I came to realise that William’s death brought some ease to the self-judgement that so often accompanies depression. If someone so talented, so capable, so wealthy, and apparently well-connected could lose a battle that I was still fighting, perhaps I should not judge my circumstances and my feeble efforts so harshly.

Ultimately the truth remains that despite all the resources that one can only imagine Williams had at his disposal, he still could not slay the demons that tortured him, and in the end chose the only path that he felt would guarantee him peace. With deep feelings of both loss and compassion I sincerely hope he has found it


Just life

Was thinking about how many posts I have in draft form; my style of writing (preachy?); how little I talk from the heart (from my perspective — I’m sure most of this seems very personal info to share publicly) about mental health challenges, particularly in ways that are most meaningful to others with a serious psychiatric diagnosis.

One of the things that is meaningful to most of us is medication. I’ve been doing remarkably well in the last four months. While there have been some major positive developments in my life that have helped, mood is always an underlying thing that go south no matter how much is good in your life. In the last year I’ve changed my meds completely and I think that’s really helped:

Instead of relying on cipralex, wellbutrin or a combo, omega fatty acid supplements, and intermittent clonazepam, I’m now on daily lamotrigine and daily moclobemide. Clonazepam remains a powerful last-resort intervention, but I use it far less frequently (usually 2 – 3 times per month for rapid mood stabilization). Moclobemide is probably the best antidepressant that I’ve ever taken. It’s amazing that old drugs can be so powerful and so underutilized. My biggest fear is that it may be pulled from the market. Expecting to return to the Omega 3-6-9 supplements soon.

Aside from that, saw this on Facebook and thought it was pretty cool.

That’s it!


Loving ourselves – the Coles’ Notes version

There are so many dimensions to loving yourself. I got a wonderful note from a friend thanking me for teaching him to love himself more (not sure how I did that but happy to be thanked). I was about to send him a response talking about that journey and then realised that my words for him are words for me, and perhaps for all of us.

Learning to love yourself takes practise and effort. It’s one thing to love ourselves in terms of our thinking: learning to think positively about ourselves and unlearning thoughts of self-judgment. Those thoughts include our beliefs about ourselves and visions for our own future as well as seeing ourselves as unworthy or in ways that are negative and limiting.

It’s another thing to love ourselves in terms of our behaviour. That would include how we eat, exercise and take care of our bodies, and also how we respond to triggers that are rooted in past experience rather than the present moment.

Both are life-long projects but where these two spheres of loving overlap can be especially challenging territory: how do my beliefs about myself and my capacity to achieve, do, or be something affect my choices and actions every day? Learning to be comfortable in our own skin and lose self-consciousness so as to be unaffected around others is another area of overlap which for many of us can be very challenging. And addictions are another area where thinking and behaviour overlap to a degree that makes it difficult to love ourselves through our actions.

What is fascinating to me is that even when we have been loved deeply, all our lives (as I know I have been) there are still ways in which we neglect to love ourselves. Perhaps that is because love is not just a feeling. Love is something we do by committing and choosing to act in ways that are caring. And acting in caring ways is not as simple as it sounds, and learning to do so takes wisdom, practice, and effort. And that’s no different when the person I am loving is me.


Facebook as the gateway drug to the internet

Feels so good after 24 hours without Facebook.

Hasn’t actually been that hard to resist; it’s not a difficult thing to stay away from. But the problem is that once you are on, all the things you find there are endlessly engaging. And whenever you are on the internet, it’s literally a click away.

Facebook knows that the pull isn’t great; it is more a force of habit. That’s one reason they make it almost impossible to delete your profile. A couple of extra clicks and you are right back.

What I did seems to be more effective and also less guilt-inducing (insofar as Facebook is actually a useful tool for keeping in touch with people, hiding my profile feels like rejecting, almost unfriending, them). I typed up a random password which I stood absolutely no chance of remembering. Then I used that password to reset my Facebook password. I placed the printed password in an envelope and voila. It’s no longer a click away … and so far, quite resistible. Suddenly no time spent watching funny videos or looking at cute pictures of pets. I am sure the major current affairs pieces will still cross my desk.


A hundred more points of privilege

BuzzFeed puts out a quiz, apparently to raise awareness about privilege, and the quiz itself betrays remarkable ignorance about privilege. How about starting at the beginning:

  1. I have access to clean water.
  2. I have access to clean food and a sanitary place in which to prepare it.
  3. I have access to medical care, even if I have to pay for it.
  4. I know who my parents are.
  5. I can remember my relationship with my father(s), and those memories are mostly positive ones.
  6. I can remember my relationship with my mother(s), and those memories are mostly positive ones.
  7. I had parental figures in my life who were not my mother or my father.
  8. My memories of my childhood are mostly happy ones.
  9. Neither of my parents was absent from my childhood because they were incarcerated.
  10. I have never lost someone in my family to an act of violence.
  11. I have had the experience of positive relationships with people who are my family beyond my siblings and parents.
  12. There are members of my family who I consider role models.
  13. There are members of my family who have been recognized publicly for their professional success.
  14. I still have family members who are alive and who I know I could count on for help if I needed it.
  15. I have had the experience of a romantic relationship.
  16. I have had a romantic relationship with someone I considered my spouse or partner.
  17. I have never had to fear rejection by a romantic partner because of my mental health or disability.
  18. I have never had to fear rejection by a romantic partner because of my physical health or disability.
  19. I have never experienced the isolation and grief of losing a spouse or partner to death.
  20. I have friends.
  21. I have friends I know I can turn to for support if I needed to.
  22. I know that there are people who will miss me when I die.
  23. I know that I am loved.
  24. I have experienced unconditional love.
  25. I know that there are people who trust me.
  26. I have access to social spaces with other people in which I can feel comfortable.
  27. I feel I have a community to which I feel comfortable saying I belong.
  28. I have never felt burdened by being the primary caregiver for someone with a lifelong disability or illness.
  29. I have never lived with fear or guilt because of the possibility that others may see me as a burden because of my disability or lifelong illness.
  30. I live in the country which I consider my home, or could choose to live there without serious threats to my safety.
  31. I have had the experience of living in a place where most people look like me.
  32. I have never had the status of an immigrant.
  33. I have never had the status of a refugee.
  34. I do not live in a place where my ability to function is limited because I am not fluent in the language that is commonly spoken.
  35. I have never been in a situation where I directly experienced or was at real, immediate risk of, gun violence.
  36. I have lived in a place where there was a stable government.
  37. I have lived in a place where I could vote if I chose to.
  38. I have never had the experience of fearing for my safety at the hands of police or security forces.
  39. I have never had the experience of living in a place where police or security forces regularly patrol the streets with automatic weapons.
  40. I have never lived in a place where people die regularly from bombing.
  41. I live in a place where rioting is rare and unusual.
  42. I have never felt helpless and vulnerable while surrounded by a protest or riot.
  43. I have never lived in a place experiencing direct war.
  44. I have had the experience of living in a house with sound walls, real doors, and a roof.
  45. I have never been forced to live in a dwelling whose walls and roof had holes and gaps that we had to regularly patch.
  46. I have never been forced to live in a place where my safety was at regular risk because of flooding.
  47. I have never been forced to live in a place where my safety was at risk because of poor public sanitation.
  48. I do not have to fear serious illness from diseases that are common where I live.
  49. The dwellings that were my home have always been wired for electrical power, and at least some of the time, had electrical power.
  50. I have lived in a house with indoor plumbing, such as running water or a toilet.
  51. I have never been forced to live in such a way that there was nowhere private to bathe, clean myself, dress, or void bodily waste.
  52. I have never been forced to share a bed with someone else for a period of months or years because the alternative was to sleep on the floor.
  53. I have had the experience of owning a piece of clothing that was new.
  54. I could always wear shoes when I needed to; I have never walked barefoot because I did not own even a single pair of shoes.
  55. I have never had the experience of being wet or cold for weeks because I could not afford appropriate clothing.
  56. I have owned a mechanical means of transportation.
  57. I have driven in an automobile.
  58. I, or someone in my family, has owned an automobile.
  59. I know how to drive an automobile.
  60. I can speak.
  61. I can speak English.
  62. I can understand English.
  63. I can write English.
  64. I can hear.
  65. I can see.
  66. I can walk without assistance from a person or machine.
  67. I have never been confined against my will.
  68. I have never been aware that I am under observation because the medical establishment doubts my sanity.
  69. I have never seriously doubted my own sanity.
  70. I have never had the experience of being psychotic.
  71. I have never had the experience of doubting whether I would be believed because of my mental health history.
  72. I have never lived in fear of homelessness or destitution because of my mental health status or disability.
  73. I have never had the experience of not being able to communicate to those around me for days, weeks, or more, even when I desperately needed to.
  74. I know how to read.
  75. I can write.
  76. I have had the experience of going to school regularly.
  77. My ability to attend school was not determined by my gender.
  78. My ability to attend school was not determined by my skin colour.
  79. My ability to attend school as a child was not dependent on my family’s financial circumstances or need for labour.
  80. I never went hungry at school because my family lacked the ability to feed me.
  81. I know how to perform basic arithmetic.
  82. I have a bank account.
  83. I have, at least at some point in my life, been able to keep money aside for more than a month or two.
  84. I am over the age of 21.
  85. I am under the age of 40.
  86. I am under the age of 70.
  87. I have had the experience of holding a job.
  88. I have had the experience of holding a job that paid me enough that my daily needs for food, shelter and clothing could be met.
  89. I have held a job that gave me pleasure.
  90. I have held a job at which I felt competent and appreciated.
  91. I have had the experience of shopping in a supermarket.
  92. I have never had the experience of walking into a place where food was sold and seeing large numbers of bare shelves because food was so scarce there was simply no food available to place on them.
  93. I have never lived in a place affected by famine.
  94. I have never had to ask someone else for financial assistance.
  95. I have owned a telephone.
  96. I have owned a television.
  97. I have used a computer.
  98. I know how to use a computer to access the internet.
  99. I have owned a computer.
  100. I have an email address and I know how to use it.
  101. I have travelled in a plane.
  102. I have visited a large, modern city.
  103. I have lived and worked in more than one city.
  104. I have lived and worked in more than one country.
  105. And so on …

The thing is, when you define privilege by the top rungs of the ladder, you are implicitly invalidating the status of others. You are also making their disadvantage invisible. Privilege is not an inherently bad thing. Ignorance of it is.


Understanding ADHD … especially for parents and non-believers

A couple in front of me are having a chat. The engine hums steadily but there are creaks and shudders with each hill and turn. Now, behind me, more talking … is that a language I don’t know, or just a strong accent? Random electronic noises meaninglessly disrupt the comfort of strangers. The scenery changes around me and I watch as the morning shakes off the rain and the sun pokes lazily through the clouds; sloth appropriate to its namesake day of rest.

I struggle to write this but the process calms me as I become more engaged. Narrative is a brush that paints pictures that thousands of years of storytelling have trained our brains to see. I am eventually less distracted by everything around me as my bus makes its way from one city to another.

The common belief about ADD is that it is an inability to pay attention. Depending on how you define attention, this can be true. It is also possible to see ADD as the opposite: ADDled minds notice everything. Our attention works like that of a photographer constantly seeking to be enthralled. Her camera has a focus that is sharp and revealing, but if a subject does not engross her, she moves on because she hungers deeply for one that does. Once she becomes engaged in a subject however, she will become so immersed in it that everything around her disappears.

The need for a stimulating subject is a powerful one for us. To describe it as a hunger is not really strong enough. Interest and engagement are like oxygen for the minds of those of us with ADD. If we are not keenly interested in something, the fact is that our minds do not work very well, or at least they do not at all work like neurotypical  brains do. We search for stimulation because our brains need it like air. And we examine and are distracted by everything around us because our minds require that we search for stimulus.

If you do not have ADD spend a few minutes reading the last two paragraphs. Instead of saying “yes, well, everyone’s mind works better when they are interested in what they are doing” think about it from the opposite perspective. What if your mind barely worked at all unless you were intensely interested in what you were doing.

The ways in which we experience ADD are diverse (I don’t use the ‘H’ to describe myself because I can usually sit still, though staying seated can be quite difficult). Within that diversity are experiences that are so distinct in their commonality that when those of us with ADHD meet one another, we immediately recognize our kin. While the pathologizing and medicating of childhood is something to be deeply wary of, my life would have been much, much easier had I understood how my mind works when I was seven instead of thirty-nine. The signs were certainly all there from early childhood.

For parents wrestling with what seems like a daunting diagnosis, take comfort in the fact that a diagnosis, especially if accurate, is not a curse. And there are significant benefits to embracing, rather than trying to escape, the condition. I would suggest learning to recognize that photographer in your child. Notice the subjects that are enthralling and engross their attention. If you think that nothing does so, take your child out into the world and expose them to as many new activities, interests, and ideas as possible. (Actually, that’s a great idea for all kids, but there are so many challenges to being a parent.) Eventually, something will absorb your kid in a way that astounds you. Find ways to support them in pursuing these interests constructively, and celebrate their achievements as they do. Explore careers that build on their passion. Also teach them to feel a sense of pride when they complete and accomplish anything, but especially things that are mundane, which they likely don’t feel passionate about.

All of these approaches are especially important if your child is struggling to demonstrate success in more conventional pursuits. Be gentle with your children and teach them to be patient with their capacity for distraction and its consequences. Teach them the importance of working with others so that they can get help with the apparently simple tasks that they may find challenging. Often, at least for adults, simply working with others is stimulation enough to get our minds to function in a more typical fashion. As team-members people with ADHD can contribute our excitement, our energy, our eagerness to get started, our ability to scan and notice everything around us, and to focus keenly on an engaging problem until we find a solution. But often we must rely on the help of others to see a project through to completion. And we must practise how to mediate our capacity for disruption and how to work with others constructively. It does not hurt us to learn and accept these things about ourselves.

One of the distinctions between ADHD as an adult and ADHD as a child is the corrosive effect of the frustration that comes with decades of perceived failure. This is particularly harsh on adults who were not diagnosed as children or teens, and/or who have not found a niche as adults in which they clearly excel because they are engaged.  Without a diagnosis we cannot understand why simple tasks like making one’s bed (which can take me half an hour, even when I am actively trying to keep focused on doing so) are so maddeningly difficult. Misplacing our keys in the three seconds between when we get into the car and when we need to start it is deeply unsettling when we have no understanding of why it happens. When we accept that our minds simply work differently, our lives become much less stressful. If we are fortunate we find a career in which we are successful, and we come to understand that the mind that enables us to focus so keenly on our areas of passionate interest is one that will inevitably struggle with the mundane.

With that understanding we are much more able to handle the frustrations that come with the irrationally daunting challenge of laundry, and the extra half-an-hour (or more, if we are unlucky) that we must spend every day finding things that we put down in the most ridiculous of places. We develop the habit of being forgiving and gentle with ourselves when we need to be. As I must be now because I realise that my bus is slowing down but I am too late to get off at my stop, and must settle for exiting at the next.