Discover more from Body Type
Some things about my body and my brain
And what they have to do with my writing practice and this newsletter.
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Yesterday I talked to two different health care professionals after doing some tests within the past couple of weeks. One told me I have sleep apnea, and the other told me I have “extreme attention impairments” consistent with ADHD. I’m going to start using a CPAP machine while I sleep, and I have a follow-up appointment next week about the ADHD test result and what comes next.
I had these tests done because for the past year or so, the fatigue and problems focusing I’ve been dealing with have been sources of personal misery and shame. I’ve beat myself up about not working out as much (even though I advise against that kind of thing) or having what feels like 10 percent of the energy I used to for my workouts. I’ve relentlessly bullied myself for feeling unable to concentrate, disorganized, inept at managing my time, prone to procrastination, or frozen in overwhelm.
And while these results offer me a degree of relief — I’m not tired because I’m “lazy” or something, I’m tired because my breathing is stopping and starting again all night — I’m also feeling conflicted about them. Even though everyone in my immediate family is a heavy snorer (a doctor called my dad’s “explosive”!) or has been diagnosed with sleep apnea, and I apparently have a narrow airway and a large tongue (lol?) which my doctor said contributes to the issue, I can’t get out of my head something else she told me: Sleep apnea can kick in if a person gains even 10 percent of their body weight. In the past two years I’ve done exactly that. It’s a vicious cycle, right? I am exhausted because my sleep quality is poor, so I have less energy to exercise and an increased appetite, which means weight gain, which can make my sleep quality even worse. I don’t want to wear the CPAP Bane mask, to be quite honest, and there’s a little voice in my head telling me it’s my “fault” that I have to.
I’ve also harbored some pretty unfair, ignorant opinions about ADHD. I’ve wondered if it seems like so many people are being diagnosed with it lately because modern culture and technology are so prone to making us feel inattentive and distracted. I’ve thought that some people, aswrites here, “are likely convincing themselves that they have ADHD, subconsciously at least, due to social contagion.” (Please read the “set of statements that are not contradictory about ADHD” in that piece — I agree with all of them; especially “ADHD is a real condition; a lot of people have ADHD; people with ADHD deserve compassion for their condition.”) I’ve worried I’m maybe “convincing myself” I have ADHD because I choose to take on a colossal pile of tasks and obligations, have trouble giving all of them my attention and focus, and then get overwhelmed and freeze or shut down, because of course I do — I took on way too much.
But lately, it’s not just that I’m spinning too many plates and letting one or two crash to the floor. I am doing things like suddenly getting up in the middle of writing to go do something trivial in another room that feels incredibly urgent, and then I get distracted by something else along the way. Then, time has whooshed by and I have to push my work to-dos to the next day, at which point I’m much more stressed. I’ll be working on editing a piece of writing for my day job and have a thought about an event three weeks in the future and then get up to go rifle through my closet for the clothes I want to wear to it; it’s like I’m on autopilot and have no control over this impulse. I spent the other day writing a draft invitation to a birthday party event I want to throw for myself (my birthday is 11 weeks from now) for two hours. I just kept reading and re-reading and reorganizing the text on the draft. I have no idea how or why I got sucked into that preoccupation, but I know I should have been doing my job instead. I do things like this and then snap out of them feeling disoriented, frustrated, exhausted, and out of control of myself.
In in my earlier years, much of what Heidi Borst writes about here has been exactly my experience:
Primary school was easy for me; from third grade on, I was enrolled in gifted classes and earned straight A’s. Nonetheless, I recall many tear-laden homework sessions where exasperation over a tricky math problem threw me into emotional overload. During study sessions, I often became disinterested and zoned out, rereading sections of text until I could focus enough to absorb the information. I attributed my difficulties to character flaws: I was spacey and forgetful, a master procrastinator lacking drive and ambition.
As my doctor explained to me, a lot of people with ADHD do a lot of “compensatory behaviors” for most of their life, so they’re able to do well in school and work and be pretty high-functioning even with a simmering undercurrent of constant anxiety and stress (I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder when I was 13). I think part of the reason I never realized how distractible I am is because I worked in an office setting my whole life before a couple of years ago. Now that I work from home full-time, my task-switching, distractibility, and obligation paralysis has bloomed and thrived like a black mold. I can panic-freeze at the thought of editing a 60-page report and flop onto my bed with my phone to get lost in a rabbit hole for three hours instead, and no one will be the wiser. But at some point, I have to get the work done, and I do get it done — I just wait until the 11th-hour deadline makes me get it done.
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That’s another thing that feels like a compensatory behavior to me; I’ve always felt like I “do better under deadline,” but I’m not sure that’s true. I think I can only work under a rapidly approaching deadline. Since I have trouble focusing on things in general, I utilize the threat of imminent deadline to essentially bully myself into finishing stuff. All my writing work — this newsletter, my book proposal edits, freelance pieces of writing — is done last-minute in a near-panicked state. To get done the things I do, I fill my Google Calendar with reminders, email myself reminders, write a to-do list on my phone and also one on paper (I redo both of these constantly throughout the day), and set a bunch of alarms. I do not trust myself to just remember to do things. I get a lot of shit done, and I get it done really well. But behind the scenes it’s a disaster. It’s me locking myself in my office having not slept well or showered or exercised or cleaned my room or paid my bills, sprinting to a finish line and collapsing on the other side of it, wondering, “Why does this have to feel this fucking difficult?”
Maybe you’re thinking (I am) that all of this would just feel easier if I didn’t try to do so much. Believe me, I’m there. My psyche is pounding a bright-read alarm labeled PRIORITIES, PLEASE, and I need to listen. There are some things I need to give up. But what I refuse to give up right now are my commitments to communicating with the people who read this newsletter, and finishing my book. I know that working on both of these projects while I hold down a full-time job (and, you know, try to talk to my husband and go outside once in a while), is hard. But I’ve always written, despite how hard it is to fit it into life sometimes, because it’s good hard. Because I love doing it, because it’s just part of me. I want to be able to do it while feeling less exhausted and consumed by chaos in my mind. I’m glad that these recent test results might help me in that regard.
I’m also letting you know about them because there was a time in my life when I felt like proving (to myself and other people) that I had superhuman strength in body and mind was a worthy pursuit. It’s not. I don’t have superhuman strength, never did, and never will. I’m just someone trying to do my little projects who is having a hard time. I think there’s a lot of us like that.
I have a lot of things half-written or almost done that I want to share with you here. I appreciate you being ready to read them when I’m ready to publish them. I’d like to be less guided by irrational and unrealistic publication deadlines I set for myself, and more guided by just writing when I want to write, when I have something to say, when I want to share. That’s why I wrote this today.
I also found this in an old journal recently, from when I was 10. It made me laugh.