The last four years have fucked with me in ways out of which I’ve only really started clawing myself over the last year or so. I went from feeling like I could do anything and improve the lives of the people around me, to feeling like an unreliable piece of shit whose only skills were botching my responsibilities and disappointing the people I knew. I gave up on learning to play the hand I was dealt, neglected the people I love, and grew to cope with all of my problems the only way I knew: by ignoring them. But the scales are finally starting to tip in my favour, and it’s time for me to end my exile.
I quit my internship, like the last two, because I refused to continue taking money when I couldn’t think clearly enough to do even half of the work I should’ve been doing. Three internships — 2014, 2015, 2016 — and three early resignations. This was a huge blow: my teaching job was the only one of the four jobs I had ever been hired for that I could hold down for more than a few months, but I immediately dismissed it as an outlier and started believing this was the just deserts for my intrinsic incompetence.
I learned that I have ADHD, a condition whose symptoms would later be described as comparable to early dementia (Callahan et al. via @FioraAeterna), and started treating it with stimulants, which went a long way towards helping me through my final year.
I crossed the finish line without failing a single unit (though a couple were close). I still lived with my parents, so unbeknownst to me, my life was about to get way harder, and this gave me a false sense of confidence in the completeness of stimulant therapy alone.
I fucked off to Sydney to start my new job, leaving way too many loose ends untied. I had underdelivered on the handover that I promised the new ComSSA committee, and to add insult to injury, went unreachable for months at a time, and would end up waiting a year before making a serious attempt to deliver the rest.
A couple of months in, work sent me to my alma mater to shill our graduate program, together with the two colleagues that I graduated with. I procrastinated writing my slide deck until my taxi ride there, but unsatisfied with the mere punishment of presenting bad slides, my utterly broken time management delivered me to the venue so late that my part should’ve started and ended by the time I arrived, forcing my colleague to improvise it.
Without the skills I needed to exercise agency over my cursed brain, my life quickly deteriorated and I floundered at work. I spent what felt like every waking hour either at work or struggling to get ready for work or ensuring that I could make it to work on time, but for all my effort I received a mediocre performance review and no promotion.
Mum suggested that we plan my time in Perth when I went home for the holidays. This was pretty foreign to me — planning wasn’t something I had ever done of my own volition — but so was the result, which marked the start of my belated learning of the truth behind the “drugs and therapy” advice that every Mental Illness 101 includes.
One of my closest friends invited me to his wedding. I prepared my outfit and gift and I was happy with the fruits of my preparation, but I left some of it to the morning of the day. I rushed to show up on time but misread my invitation, mistaking the reception place for the wedding place, and I missed the wedding.
I’ve started getting the hang of my limitations and adapting to them with appropriate tools. I remind myself to do things with timers, alarms, or calendar events, depending on how long I’m deferring them by. I’m learning how to use org-mode and Trello as structured extensions of my memory, rather than write-only black holes like Sublime Text buffers. These are just a couple of examples, and ADHD management is definitely a subject worth exploring further, but that’s a job for another day.
I’ve turned away when I knew I made a mistake
Instead of dealing with it
I’ve wasted good chances I’ve had in this life
That other people won’t even get
I put off setting things right with Andy
And now he’s dead
Reading this essay about ADHD by @gravislizard was a crucial moment that brought me to tears, and I think it’s just as useful an introduction to what I grapple with every day. Pretty much all of the experiences he wrote about resonate with me, but there’s one that I’ll highlight shortly, because it helps explain something I wrote a couple of years ago:
To all who have sent me a thing and are still waiting for a response (be it for a day or for ten months), I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be rude.
The short version of my excuse goes like this. Every time I reply to a message, I feel like I’m faced with two more to which I haven’t, and I feel overwhelmed, so I cope with that feeling by ignoring the cause. As the problem grows, I feel more anxious about the thought of saying “sorry for the late response” with a straight face, when all this time, I knew how long you’ve been waiting, and you know how long I’ve kept you waiting, so I ignore it. I haven’t learned how to break a task into manageable pieces, and if I can’t solve a problem thoroughly in one sitting or a few, I ignore it.
What might not make sense is why I would see replying to a message as a difficult task (though I’ve conflated difficult with big there), but as he explains, it can be really hard for me to follow through and finish my replies between getting lost in the woods and straight up forgetting, but I needed to realise how neglectful it was for me to concede defeat:
Suppose I’m at work and I think, “I need to send an email to <people> about <issue>.” Before I can do anything, I’m already thinking about the issue.
I try to write the email, but as I’m writing it, questions fill my head. I try to push them aside and just concentrate on the initial task, send a simple email, but the questions keep hounding me. I have to stop and get answers to them or I can’t think about the email. And if I can’t get answers, I’m stuck. I just can’t proceed. I end up staring at the empty compose window for ten minutes, writing the first sentence over and over, because my mind is so far out of the game I can’t even do basic grammar.
ADHD’s also a motherfucker. get texted at 8AM “wanna hang out tonight”, read it, forget to reply until 3PM.
I’m not saying you owe people a timely reply to their texts, right? hey check this out: i absolutely am. like hey it’s your friendships but when you don’t reply to people it actually does hurt them. source: me spending the entire day feeling like shit on both sides of this
If you reach out to me, you should hear back from me by the end of the day (or the next at worst). I’ve made commitments like this with a few of the people in my life, and those have been much easier said than done, so how will this be any different?
I’ll try to reply in chunks that mirror my thought processes, rather than set out to write one perfect message that’s completely devoid of uncertainty and unknowns. The latter encourages the very kind of “depth-first search” that will leave me lost in the woods, and it’s not really how conversations are supposed to work.
I’ll get comfortable with admitting that from time to time I’m too cooked to respond properly. Even if it means you might need to suspend your disbelief, because you’ve only sent me a funny video and how hard can a response to that be? Accepting that some of my 503 errors might make me look silly is better than working myself up to an extended panic attack that I’ll cope with by ignoring you for three months.
I’ll remind myself that — like any goal I want to convert to a habit — some number of failures will be inevitable, and they’re a signal that I should look for ways to tweak my approach and make it more reliable, not that my whole effort was pointless and I should put it in the bin. As obvious as this sounds, it wasn’t obvious to me until a year ago, before which I believed I couldn’t make or break a habit for longer than three days.
One thing that hasn’t helped my state of mind over the years was the knowledge that I’m trans while feeling unable to do anything about it, but I’m elated to say I’ve finally started my transition (they/them for now, but don’t panic if you drop a he/him here and there). Conveniently enough دیلان (dîlan) isn’t exclusively masculine, and one source even describes it as a woman’s name, so I’m pretty comfortable with my name.
Shout out to Adam, Alex, Alex, Aria, Brock, Carmel, Cyra, Emily, Jaci, James, Jason, Josh, Kieran, Krystal, Luke, Mike, Mike, Millie, Sandro, Scott, my parents, and anyone who hasn’t given up on me by now. I wouldn’t be here without your support.
I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Will you meet me there?