Paralytic Perfectionism

Hello all! This is the first time in months I’ve posted anything, and I am nervous. Why am I nervous?

Because I hate to pick things back up.

I do. I always have. I love starting fresh, with a clean slate of paper, and working on it. I love starting things- new jobs, new hobbies, new projects, bring ’em on.  But I have ADHD. I’ve discussed ADHD before on my blog and today’s post is about the most insidious and frustrating outgrowth of my ADHD, Paralytic Perfectionism.

The clean slate of paper. You start with the clean slate, you pick up your pen, and you start to write. The first couple sentences come easy- after all, you have a good idea, right?

Right?

Wait, you’re four or five sentences in and you’re losing your idea. That’s okay, you say, I’ll find it with some good old trial and error. So you try, you make a mistake. No big deal, right?

Right?

No. It is a big deal. How can you possibly write the entirety of the essay if you can’t get the thesis statement right? How can you continue? After all, the body of the text has to flow naturally from the starting point, and if you’ve made an error at the starting point, you’ve failed. You haven’t erred, no, you’ve failed. It will never be as good as you want it to be, you’ll never be as good as you want to be, why can’t you just not make mistakes, why can’t you just do it right the first time???

Paralytic Perfectionism.

If you make a mistake, it’s not okay, because it means so much more than the misplaced word or incoherent sentence. It means you’re not good enough. Now this train of thought may rightly seem crazy to some people, but if you suffer from ADHD, it can consume you. So you step away from the project, thinking you may return. And then it moulders in a drawer, in an unopened computer file. Now and again you’re reminded of it, and the thought of the mistake, the unfinished project, lances into you. You’re reminded of all the other things you’ve left undone, all the other things you have to do. You spiral.

So you stop trying new things. The beautiful tabula rasa becomes a taunt. You can’t do it. You can’t do it. Paralysis. Don’t move, don’t talk, don’t think. The only way to avoid these hundreds of cascading little failures is to lock yourself away, to stop. To sit. To regret.

Until you don’t. Until one day you remember that no one cares so much about your little mistakes. Until you remember that no mistake made could possibly weigh on you as much as the ghosts of all those abandoned projects, forsaken correspondences, those tupperware containers filled with rotting mysteries at the back of the fridge. And in a frenzy of activity lasting a few days you manage to do a month’s worth of writing, calling, cleaning. Soon enough, you’ve cleared things up, and the tabula rasa, the blank slate, is restored.

Until you mess it up again. The cycle continues. But each time it gets a little shorter, your recovery a little better, you get a tiny bit more comfortable with making mistakes. You still rue that you didn’t learn how to gracefully accept shortcomings as a kid, you may blame someone for not teaching you, but now you realise that you’re an adult with ADHD. You know why you feel like this. There’s a reason for your pain. A reason that can be dealt with.

So you come back to the blog you’ve neglected for months. And you tell yourself you can write a few posts, at least, before you drift away again. You tell yourself that this work matters, because it does. You leave the door open to do better.

And that’s all you can do.

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I live in Tucson Arizona now, and I’m hoping to be more regular about this blog. If you like what I write, please reach out and let me know! Ask me any question that comes to mind, and if you really like this post please feel free to share it on whatever social media you deem appropriate.

I’m still me, so regularity may be a pipe dream, but I can promise a content storm for the next little while!

How I Learned To Live, Wanting to Die

Thanksgiving Day, 2007. I stand in my basement bedroom, a cord in my hands. The most insistent thought beats like a drum in my head- Die, die, die. I wrap the cord around my neck and I pull. I pull, hoping to strangle myself. I don’t think through the fact that even if I could make myself pass out by this course of action, once I passed out my grip would release and I’d be able to breathe once more. It’s hard to think clearly when all you want to do is die.

That was the first time I tried to kill myself. Over the next decade I’d try or begin to try many more times. I tied belts around coat hooks and door knobs and attempt very slow and ineffectual hangings. I’d linger for a while at the edges of cliffs or on the top of the Salt Lake City Public Library, while a small voice would say “Jump!” In September of 2011, I drove my mother’s car into a rocky slope on the side of a highway in Idaho, going 87 miles an hour. I survived with just a few scratches.

These urges were overpowering before I transitioned, before I started treating my ADHD and my bipolar disorder. They’ve reduced over time, but sadly they haven’t ever completely gone away. I’ll go a week or two now without considering it, which was unfathomable to me only a few years ago, but the urge still crops up from time to time. I think the reality is the urge may never really go away.

This morning I found myself pondering it a moment. Some voice in my head says “just end this sordid tale, here and now.” But I managed to ride out the impulse. There’s no one magic fix to suicidal ideation. Having supportive people to talk to helps, certainly, as does therapy, but the ideas will still crop up, and they are alarming and discouraging, especially when one is otherwise on an upwards trajectory.

So, how do I cope with occasionally and persistently wanting to die? Ironically, I’ve embraced Death as a kind of deity, and a source of joy.

I had a realisation walking in the Salt Lake Cemetery (which is my favourite place to stroll); that all of us are fated to die, and that is a very good thing. Death gives life its meaning. To paraphrase Mark Twain, “it is the scarcity which makes anything precious.” Death is the one true unifying characteristic of life, and indeed of the universe itself. Everything will eventually decay and die and run out of energy. Our story has an end.

Knowing this, accepting it, I realised that more than anything I want the story of my life to be an interesting one. It doesn’t have to be a happy story, and hell it probably won’t be, but I’ll be damned if people don’t have a lot of good tales to tell about me at my funeral.

So how does this help when I feel suicidal? My life’s been pretty interesting so far- what would be the real harm in writing that last page myself? Setting aside the grief it would cause those who love me (because once I’m dead that won’t really affect me), it would make a bad story if I took the shortcut to the end. It’s not how I should end my story, plain and simple. I may die the second after I post this from an aneurysm, later today in a freak accident, or in 75 years in a bed surrounded by close friends and family, but all of those, I believe, would be better than if I’d killed myself this morning.

Death is universal and unavoidable. She will take us all into her cold and tranquil arms one day. But I firmly believe that the moment anointed should belong to her, not to me. So I breathe deep, I text or call some friends, and remind myself that the urge will pass. That I don’t have to take that grave responsibility onto my shoulders. Because Lady Death is the one who should write those closing words- “And then, Beatrice died. The End.

Until those words are written I need to live, to write, to laugh, to love, to cry, to drink, to dance- all the pain and joy of life is still mine to experience. I’ll keep writing my story, and when Lady Death comes for me, I’ll embrace her as an old and cherished friend. When she wants me, she’ll have me, but the choice will be hers, not mine. What peace it brings me to know that.

Remark from the Heart: Depression

A “Remark from the Heart”, shall, on this website, serve to be a no-bullshit no-frills no-frippery kind of warning label. This is “hot off the press” writing as my mother would call it. Uncompromising and impolite, others might call it.

Today’s remark is on the subject of depression, a demon which has dogged me ever since my early years, and her twin sister in sorrow, dysphoria, the disconnected sense of misery most transgender people feel between their gender and their physical appearance. They come in tandem, usually, and one will typically engender the other.

They kill my ability to write. Even getting these few short remarks on the page, messy and discombobulated as they are, is taking a Herculean mental effort. There are sort of gossamer webs between the active part of my brain and my fingers, slowing the nerve impulses. The words are there in my mind, but they fade and fray as they travel down the nerves to my hands, and I have to exercise an absurd amount of willpower just to communicate them.

The sisters completely deflate me. I’ve spent maybe twenty-five minutes total out of my bed today, and it’s almost six pm. Admittedly, having recent snowfall and arthritis means that there’s a physical pain aspect to this as well, but if I wasn’t so damn depressed I’d at least be sitting at my back table to write, and maybe I might have done a dish or two rather than letting them pile in the sink.

Depression isn’t romantic. It’s ugly. It’s matted hair, oily skin, messy rooms, rotting food. It’s having the feeling that everything is wrong, desiring to change it, but having no will, no energy, and no hope by which to do so.

TrenchI logically know that it will pass- it always does. But when I’m down here in the trenches, the salvos of self-hatred bursting around me and pouring out so much toxic feeling, it doesn’t feel like it will abate. Everything is grey and brown and pale sickly blue, and as I huddle here I can only try to remember what it feels like to hope for happiness again.

This will abate. Yet no one, least of all myself, can make me believe so- not at least until the fog finally lifts once more, and I see the sun on the other side.