Pre-kiwiburn anxiety

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Friday 27th January, 1:30pm: I’m still in the office though I’m now off the clock. Going to write this as quickly as possible because if I’m going to make it to Kiwiburn before it gets dark, I really need to get moving. As an experiment I want to write and publish this post now, before I leave, and then compare it to how I feel when I get back.

I haven’t been to a festival in years. Like six years. I haven’t taken any psychedelics in the that time either. What’s commonly happened when I’ve been on psychedelics is that I’ve been all ‘This is really beautiful, but I’d be enjoying this so much more if I had my life sorted out’.

Since six years ago – its fair to say that I’ve gone through something of a positive transformation – albeit not without some major bumps on the road.

Where I was six years ago, was that I had just finished a year’s intensive supervision through the justice system, for my apparently incorrigible graffiti habits (I also received a second jail warning), and I was committed to not getting in trouble with the law again. New Zealand has clean slate legislation which means that your convictions will be wiped if you don’t offend for 7 years (providing you haven’t committed some serious offences, haven’t been to prison, and the clean slate applies in New Zealand only).

My convictions have been clean slated. I’m now employed in IT and am on a positive career trajectory. I have other projects I’m working on. My spending habits are for the most part under control. I have fairly healthy eating and exercise habits. I’ve since been diagnosed with ADHD and am generally better at impulse control.

I quit drinking six months ago – and the effects are mostly positive. I’m more energetic, my mood is better,  I save money (though I spend more on pinball now) and I’m losing weight. The downside, is that I’m easily agitated and quite impatient.

I’m starting to feel bored. 

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So, taking psychedelics kind of sounds like a good idea. I’m at the point where I feel like I’ve got my shit sorted (though of course I can always trim away my internet addiction, be a more pleasant person, and generally be more productive), so let’s have an inspiring psychedelic experience?

The context I like to take psychedelics in is at good music festivals. There’s good trippy music, other trippy people, and if that’s too much you can go hang out in nature.

I want to be clear – you don’t need to have drugs to enjoy a festival – but if you want to take drugs – I think a festival is a good place to take them.

Here’s the rub. I live in New Zealand and the police and customs are way too effective at their jobs. New Zealand, being a small country on the corner of the globe makes it easy to police contraband. In recent years there’s been growing discontent about the lack of cannabis at this time of year. Time magazine even wrote an article about it. 

Kiwiburn, the New Zealand equivalent of Burning Man had been on my radar since around November last year. But a combination of misreading the dates, not wanting to go if I didn’t have a big sack of weed to go with, and not having much leave accrued at work meant that I ultimately decided to pass this year.

Until last weekend – when I went to a small outdoor music gathering, enjoyed the music, and really wanting to have a holiday decided to go.

So my decision to go to Kiwiburn is decidedly last minute. I found a ticket, booked and my leave, and now (actually right now as I’m writing this, I feel ok) last night, I’m feeling quite anxious about going. Primarily, I’m concerned that I’m going to go to this festival, and be stuck there, not enjoying myself.

Specifically the concerns I have are:

  • I don’t have a tent. I thought I did, but apparently I’ve lost it. If it rains I’ll be screwed. I can hope/ask for shelter when I get there – but generally I don’t think it’s a good philosophy to rely on the kindness of strangers. I’m a capitalist like that.
  • No drugs. Am I going to be bored/uncomfortable being completely sober in a paddock somewhere?
  • FOMO – Relating to the drugs thing. Feeling like everyone around me is having a good time, and I’m not.
  • Fear of rejection – Because I’m in a situation where I need the help of strangers – I feel like if I’m refused that help that will be confirmation of my unlikableness.
  • I have to hitchhike. Fear of getting stuck in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night.

A lot of this comes down to my unpreparedness. Given that I only made the decision to go this week, a lot of these concerns would have been alleviated if I’d made the decision to go months ago – I would have had time to find a crew to go with etc.

And this comes back to impulsiveness – I feel like I may be making myself a victim of my own impulsiveness/second guessing myself. There’s comforting and respectable about being deliberate in your actions.

So that’s where I’m at now. Writing this has served to make me feel a bit more anxious, and I’m otherwise trying every mental trick I can to feel a bit better. At the moment I feel a mix of reasonable concern (‘is it going to rain?, where am I going to sleep?’), and nervous excitement. I guess that’s a good way to be.

See you in three days! 🙂

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Computer games, productivity and ADHD.

Recently, I’ve been adopting a ‘it’s ok not be always doing something productive’ policy. The idea being – that’ll I’ll be productive and focused at work, and then outside of work, while it’s good to have some amount of extra-curricular productivity – the focus more being on enjoying one’s life, but more so, relaxing and being happy, so that I’m able to be relaxed and productive at work.

One basis for this attitude, in the list of common death regrets, one is ‘I wish I didn’t work so hard’.

We can break kinds of activities in to three groups. For example for me, they might be:

Necessary Life Maintainence Spare Time
Things that need to be done, or else drastic consequences Things that need to be done as part of a healthy lifestyle, but can be put off without drastic consequences Things that it’s up to you to decide what you do with that time.
  • Going to work
  • Tiding my room
  • Doing my washing
  • Doing exercise
  • Shopping for healthy food
Productive

  • Writing
  • Taking photos for Humans of Newtown
  • Programming

Non-productive

  • Playing computer games.
  • Playing board games
  • Playing pinball
  • Watching movies
  • Browsing the internet

The attitude I’ve generally found the most successful regarding producing creative work is to ‘do art when I’m enjoying it’. I typically find that creative work that is just bursting to getting out, particularly writing, 1) is easy to write. Five hundred to a thousand words in an hour is fairly common. 2) It tends to be my favorite work in retrospect.

On the other hand – while I really enjoy TV shows and movies – I like them better than books – I find often I’m not in a relaxed enough state to relax and be immersed in the film. In these states, I’m likely to only half watch the film, while I use my phone or browse the internet. I don’t want to ruin the experience of a good movie or TV show by only half watching, so I’d prefer to put off watching a TV show or movie until I’m sufficiently exhausted enough to be satisfied with just sitting back and being immersed.

Recently, due to better organisation, I’ve found myself having more free time – the chores done, it’s not a gym day, and I’m a bit bored and restless, but I really don’t feel like writing.

Doing something social is out, because that tends to be time consuming, and we’re really talking about killing a couple of hours in the evening.

This is where computer games can be good, but… the barrier for me for a lot of games, is that they seem to have a high upfront cost in the learning the game. You need to spend quite a lot of time learning the game.

The Civilization series is a game I’ve played since Civilization II. It has a great sweet spot of active engagement on my part, (ie. as opposed to a movie which doesn’t require my interaction), as well as being easy enough on the mind that if not really thinking, the game will still move ahead (unlike some writing or other productive work).

The problem with Civilization though – is that it’s a long running game. Completing a game requires more like ten hours, whereas I’m really looking for a game that I can complete in two.

ADHD diagnosis, three months (and one year) on.

Note: This post was initially titled ‘ADHD diagnosis, three months on. I wrote it a year ago, and then ‘left it to stew’… where it’s been sitting for the last year. Primarily I was mostly concerned about offending my parents if I’m honest.

When I wrote my first ADHD post, as a small aside I mentioned that the psychiatrist had mentioned that often people who are diagnosed later in life can feel frustrated or angry that they weren’t diagnosed earlier.

When I was first diagnosed, the primary emotion was relief and happiness. I felt happy that there was a good explanation as to why I often have had difficulty relating to other people, and that it could be given a name, and that there is medication to treat it.

More recently I have been feeling a bit more frustrated that I wasn’t diagnosed earlier, and thinking ‘what if’ – what if I had been diagnosed as a kid?

It’s not like the idea that I had ADHD as a kid was completely foreign. My mother had cut out an article about ADHD and stuck it to the fridge. While she didn’t say so, the commonly expressed opinion of my siblings was this was in reference to me. This coined a phrase – whenever I was acting out my siblings would say ‘David, get off the fridge!’.

Interestingly enough though – I can’t for the life of me remember what kinds of things I did as a kid that constituted hyperactivity.  You think of your typical hyperactive kid as very loud, always running around and getting into things. While I did do things that are otherwise typical of ADHD behaviour, mainly losing things, breaking things and forgetting things, the primary thing that I remember is being absorbed in reading. This obviously isn’t a complete picture, because I was also characterised as being an attention seeker – but again I can’t remember what things I did to seek attention. I do remember frequently and repeatedly complaining “I’mmmmmmmmmmmm boooooorrrrrreeeeeeeeddd’ in an obnoxious manner.   😀

I asked one of my sisters about what hyperactive things I did, and she couldn’t remember either.

So there were suggestions that I had ADHD as a kid, but my parents didn’t do anything about it.

A possible explanation for this is, my performance at school was still pretty good. My school reports consistently said ‘David has potential but needs to apply himself’ but I always marked reasonably well at my subjects, and was at the top of my classes in maths.

I have a hypothesis for this. Especially for a subject like maths, primary level math problems are short and discreet. These kinds of problems might actually suit someone with ADHD, providing that immediate short term sense of stimulation and satisfaction each time a problem is solved. The nature of the teaching also involves ongoing teacher engagement.  It’s not until a problem requires sustained concentration that ADHD might be disruptive.

It’s not like my parents were averse to getting additional help for their kids – they enrolled my older in some after school tuition because he couldn’t read. But here we have a very distinct problem – not reading, that the solution for is quite apparent. General hyperactive behaviour does not have an immediately obviously solution, unless you know what you’re looking for.

Also – the school did refer me to some kind of child psychologist when I was about nine.

The experience as I remember it was this: I was sitting at my desk reading a book. An adult was in the room and some of the girls appeared to be showing off to her showing her some of the work they’d done. She then came and talked to me and asked me what I was doing (I was reading book). She then invited me to talk to her in another room. In the room she asked me a series of math related (‘A train is travelling…’) and some English questions (one of them was asking the meaning of the word ‘transparent’ – I didn’t know).

The psychologist obviously didn’t make an ADHD diagnosis, but my mum told me that she’d said that I have the maths brain of a sixteen year old, whatever that means.

It’s fruitless to imagine how things might be different if I had be diagnosed as a kid. There’s no changing the past and so it’s a matter of dealing with my life as it is now.

However, at the same time acknowledging how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking is often the first step for moving forward.

It’s also interesting to reflect on how society has changed. The idea of therapy and psychological assessments are a lot more acceptable now. I’m not sure if that means that parents in New Zealand are sending their kids to therapy or psychologists more frequently now.

 

ADHD diagnosis: Six months on

It’s been about six months six I was diagnosed with ADHD. Here’s an outline of a few of my thoughts and experiences.

Losing things

When I first started taking medication I noticed certain behaviours of mine. For example I’d put something down, and then five seconds later not remember where I’d put it. Was this the drugs doing this? Or was my mind always like this and the drugs made me aware of it?

I’d started my Things David Has Lost blog only shortly before starting medication, and during the early stages of medication I made plenty of entries.

More recently, I’ve been losing less stuff. I couldn’t say that’s a product of medication or otherwise improved habits, perhaps in part due to starting the blog.

Sleep and focus

When I started the medication I found I could also drink a lot of coffee (five coffees a day!), and that the coffee, as well as the medication, appeared to help with focus and productivity at work with no negative side effects – I was sleeping fine. The early stages of medication appeared to cure my insomnia and that was awesome.

More recently though, the insomnia has come back.

My hypothesis is that in the initial stages of medication there was a period of mental calm that allowed me to relax in the evenings.

Now, if I’m honest I’m spending more time on social media and I’m simply not as mentally exhausted in the evening. Fixing this I imagine is a matter of changing my habits and being more productive at work.

Anxiety

One major negative effect is that recently I’ve been experiencing anxiety attacks, which is something I haven’t experienced before.

It is similar to past patterns. In the past I’ve swung between periods of manicness where I’ve been motivated and energetic, but also feeling intense emotions and stress. The stress usually triggers a depressive episode where I feel unmotivated and numb, but the stress and intense emotions are lacking.

The difference now is these intense emotional experiences feel a lot more pronounced, and cause hyperventilation.

This is something I’ll probably address by changing medication.

Identity

There is the issue of personal identity. Being diagnosed with ADHD allows me to put a label on my brand of crazy, rather than putting it down to ‘he’s just a bit unconventional’.

But I’m cautious about adopting an identity this way. I expressed this caution in my initial post when I mentioned the Barnum effect – where specific sounding, but actually pretty general descriptions of one’s personality sound tailored to an individual.

For example there’s this list: 19 Illustrations That Sum Up Being In A Relationship When You Have ADHD.

7. Making plans can get a little crazy sometimes.

Not all of them resonate with me, but a few do:

1. What people think ADHD partners are like vs What they’re actually like
3. First date distractions
4. Start of a relationship.
5. Reasons why non-ADHD partner is annoyed.
Definitely not 6. I don’t ignore messages
7. Making plans. Omg.
11. Listening to someone tell a story.
17. Benefits of dating something with ADHD.
19. Partner as the centre of the universe.

There is a pleasure in reading these lists and identifying with them. But at the same time, I think it is sensible not to allow lists like this or any description of personalities define you, or let yourself project certain of your own behaviours into fitting the prescribed behaviours.

I think this open but cautious approach is the right one to take – it allows you to take pleasure in relating to other people, while also keeping an accurate impression of yourself and your influence on your surroundings.

Initial thoughts about an ADHD diagnosis.

Recently a psychiatrist diagnosed me with ADHD and prescribed me Ritalin, following talking to myself and my mother (whom she was asking questions about me as a child).

The purpose of this post is discuss my thoughts about the initial relevance and impact of this diagnosis.

It is also to document what my current understanding of ADHD is, before I do any serious research.

There are two common reactions I would like to discuss, when I’ve mentioned it to people.

  • “Are you relieved?”
  • “Is ADHD even a thing?”.

I think both of these are interesting and relevant discussion angles. I’d like to make it clear I don’t have a negative emotional response to either point.

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, we should discuss:

What is ADHD? 

ADHD, in my understanding, and it’s important this is only my current understanding, having not don’t much research, is mental condition characterised by three behavioural symptoms:

  • Impulsivity
  • Inattentiveness
  • Hyperactivity.

I think what’s important, is highlight that ADHD is defined by these symptoms, unlike a more tangible disease, like cancer, AIDS or the common cold, where you can physically see the cancer cells, or test for the virus.(Now arguably something like the common cold is more likely to be diagnosed by its symptoms, not by looking for the physical cause. However, if we wanted to prove it, we could still find the original virus).

ADHD on the hand, it’s unknown what ‘causes it’ – all the diagnosis is, is identifying the patient has this collection of distinct behavioral symptoms.

This does then, lend itself to the question ‘Is ADHD even a thing?’ – after all there is no virus or physically different brain structure to identify. (Actually the ADHD brain structure totally is different). 

My understanding is that ADHD is caused by naturally lower levels on dopamine in the brain – meaning that the ADHD brain is constantly looking for more stimulation in order to trigger a dopamine release. This is what causes the ADHD symptoms.

(NB. I’m aware that there’s a major contradiction here! On one hand I’m saying that ADHD is defined by its symptoms, and on the other I’m saying ADHD is caused by something. Edit coming soon).

The medication – stimulants, stimulate the brains as to satisfy this ‘itch’, and allow the person with ADHD to focus on what they were otherwise doing.

“Are you relieved?” 

The short answer is – yes, there was an immediate feeling of relief.

The rationale for this is pretty straight forward – if there is something that has been bothering you (and certainly there was, otherwise would not have been consulting a psychiatrist in the first place) then a diagnosis provides and answer and gives you direction to start tackling the problem – resources to read, people to talk to etc.

And certainly, looking at the symptoms of ADHD, the diagnosis does resound with me.

  • Impulsivity? Certainly when I was a teenager and my early 20s. These days I’d argue that I’m actually perhaps less impulsive than a lot people (I like knowing what I’m going to do).
  • Hyperactivity? Apparently as a kid, and at times yes, I like to dance about the office at times.
  • Inattentiveness? Frequently – and I think this sometimes annoys people when it seems that I’m not paying attention.

However, I’m quite aware of a psychological quirk called the Barnum effect.

Essentially the Barnum effect is the observation that certainly personality traits, though seeming specific, resonate with everyone.

These are traits like (straight from Wikipedia):

  1. You have a great need for other people to like and admire you.
  2. You have a tendency to be critical of yourself.
  3. You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage.
  4. While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them.
  5. Your sexual adjustment has presented problems for you.
  6. Disciplined and self-controlled outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure inside.
  7. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing.
  8. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations.
  9. You pride yourself as an independent thinker and do not accept others’ statements without satisfactory proof.
  10. You have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others.
  11. At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, reserved.
  12. Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic.
  13. Security is one of your major goals in life.

The Barnum effect is precisely the reason that horoscopes resonate with people. People read the characteristics of their star sign, and think ‘That’s so me!’.  But these characteristics, though seeming specific and individualistic, will actually resonate with anyone reading them.

So I’m aware that when I’m told that I exhibit these three particular behavioural symptoms, and I identify with them, that it’s possible that these are just simply particularly normal behavioural patterns, and not something specific to me.

A second consideration here is: “Ok, I’ve been diagnosed with ADHD – so what?”

Unlike something like cancer, or a brain tumour, where once the disease has been identified, it can be treated – the tumour can be removed – the diagnosis doesn’t actually change anything, I still need to deal with my life and behavioural patterns.

On this point, it’s not as entirely [helpless] as that. The diagnosis gives specific resources to consider using, or support groups to look at.

And the medication is something specific and will possibly help.

Is ADHD even a thing? 

This kind of question can be offensive to some. The same kind of thing can be applied to other conditions:

  • Is depression even a thing? Or are they just lazy?
  • Is gender disphoria even a thing? Or have they just sexually confused?
  • Is homosexuality even a thing? Or are they just a deviant?
  • Is otherkin even a thing? Or are the just a teenager looking for a unique identity?

(I’m trying to find examples where it’s you could at least have a debate whether it’s a ‘thing’ or not, I’m struggling a little).

I think certainly – it’s reasonable to see these things as a bit greyer than physical conditions like cancer or serious mental conditions like schizophrenia (unless all schizophrenic patients are faking or exaggerating the voices they hear, schizophrenics’ brains clearly operate dramatically differently to rest of us).

Make no mistake – there is controversy about whether ADHD is a thing.

When I went to the library to find books on ADHD entire books are dedicated to the controversy of ADHD.

It is a condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), however it’s worth mentioning that the DSM isn’t infallible. A good example is how homosexuality used to be in the DSM – which I guess is subject to criticism because today homosexuality isn’t seen as something that needs to be managed or cured.

In my mind there are two controversies.

– Is ADHD even a thing?

In this day of internet, information and social media addiction, one could argue that short attention spans are simply a product of this world of instant data and a lot of it. I myself do have something of a social media habit. However, this arguments neglects that ADHD was recognised before the age of the internet.

Or in a different vein – ADHD is simply a different personality type, and not something that needs fixing or treating with stimulants.

I think that it’s reasonable to suggest that ADHD is a personality trait, just like people angering easily might be a personality trait, or people being shy might be a personality trait. But that doesn’t mean ‘therefore we shouldn’t do anything about it’. A shy person might find that they’re looked over for promotions for example, and so they’d do well to learn how to manage their personality such that they’re still able to have a progressive career.

– The treatment of ADHD with stimulants.

I think this is probably the more  solid controversy, where it’s a concern that especially we’re giving children reasonably powerful stimulants to manage the condition. The medical profession is criticised for not being creative in managing ADHD, and simply jumping straight to giving children stimulants.

My understanding is that overtime the use of stimulants and the diagnosis for ADHD has become more accepted.

Before my diagnosis a new age friend of my shared this video on her Facebook. This quite clearly shows the anti ADHD-diagnosis/anti-treatment viewpoint.

(When I googled I found another one which is a much stronger anti-drug message)

Bonus Round: Do you feel ripped off that you weren’t diagnosed earlier? 

This question came up from my psychiatrist, when I mentioned my blog Things David Has Lost.  She interpreted the blog title as an expression of regret, rather than its quite literal meaning.

The question here is reasonable – one could argue that had you been diagnosed and treated earlier then you might have been more focused at school, have a more advanced career by now etc.

But firstly that assumes that the ADHD diagnosis is useful in the first place, which we’ve already talked about.

And secondly, this is classic paradox of choice like thinking. When imagining what ‘could have been’ it’s easy to assume that that path would have been all smooth sailing, which isn’t necessarily the case.

Conclusion

Mainly – I want to read more to understand actually what ADHD is, and what it’s causes are.

I want to read about how medication is used to treat it.

Also – need to come in and tidy up some of the overt hanging threads in this post.