It’s a familiar cycle. I get excited. I start laying plans. My head fills with ideas and they come at breakneck speed. Next thing I know, I’ve got a myriad of planned projects, all with very promising starts, and I’m spread so thin I can’t remember which way is up. Stop. Rinse. Repeat.
I remember when I was younger, I went through whole periods when these tidal waves of creativity could be focused and controlled just enough to make my goal. I remember being frustrated at times because I knew that, if I could just teach myself to slow down and focus, I could do ten times better. My grades? Usually sad in any subject I wasn’t devoted to. My tests? Usually a perfect reflection of a brain that made Walter Mitty look superbly tuned in. I knew my writing, already good, would evolve into something with true depth, if I could just concentrate. But that level of focus I knew I needed was always just beyond me. Nobody’s perfect, right?
In recent years, particularly since a bad bout of mold poisoning, my ability to manage my constantly jitterbugging brain has fallen to almost nothing. I realized that, of course, but I don’t think I really understood the level; if I can’t focus on a book, it’s okay. I’m still working to fix my nightmare of a book, right? And the problem with finishing it – even though it is right there – isn’t my fault either, right? I’ve got all these money issues and I’m trying to figure that out. Not that I can really focus on that because I’m thinking about this podcast I’m starting and videos I’m making for Patreon. Oh, and I’ve got these stories to finish writing and the character blogs to deal with…. But, really. Not my fault. Is it?
I’ve suspected something for years. I’ve thought that it is not just possible, but probable that I have ADHD. And, before we go on, this is not something I actually see as a deficit on most days. Back when I had control of it, even if it was tentative control, it worked for me. It wrote stories like Getting Thin. The sort of stories that gained me a handwritten rejection letter on my very first big girl submission to a major magazine (Seventeen back in 2000). When I can guide it, it is something like riding a rollercoaster. I have no control over speed, but I am on the rails and, baby, I am flying! But, without that control, it’s like being on a runaway train and knowing the bridge is out. I’m on the rails. But I don’t get to stay there. Crash and burn is pretty much the only destination on the books.
Now, a lot of people are probably saying ‘go get help’. There are a number of reasons I refuse to go to a doctor. Five little words. “Maybe you are just depressed.” Oh the rage this line can evoke in me. Like, if I really could breathe fire, I’d have melted a few people at this point.
I was born with heart issues and that only matters in pointing out that I understand the difference between being truly ill and looking for attention. By eight years old, I’d been through stuff that would have put an adult in a padded room (like waking up during an operation). As far as doctors go, I was avoiding them before they became the pill wielding enemy they are today. I never go to them unless I’m broken and, usually, not until I’ve tried everything else. Including witch doctors and acupuncture. The time I spent (unwillingly) with them during my time in Britain and Germany only furthered my prejudice by several light years.
You know why? I’m not bloody depressed. However, I am, apparently, too stupid to know that. Or a liar. Or just looking for attention. Nor would I take a pill for something I didn’t have, which got me labeled ‘uncooperative’. You are absolutely right uncooperative, Doc. You take the pills, if you like them so much. Nor do I believe most depressed people need pills rather than a doctor who isn’t lazy to figure out why their brain has begun trying to hurt them. Depression, as the Germans say, is almost always a symptom. Not the cause. But my doctors weren’t interested in causes. They were interested in a pill that would make me quiet and that, thanks to the staggering number of side effects, could be blamed for every other problem I ever had, including broken bones, if they spun it right. I really wish I was exaggerating.
But I’m not depressed to begin with. So taking a pill I don’t need in any way would do more harm than good. But tell that to the military doctors. Every single time after a certain point, I believe 2008 or 2009, I heard that line. And I was in to see the doctors for about three issues.
Once because – and this is fun – they put me on a new beta blocker. Only, instead of being a beta blocker to properly regulate my heart rate, it was a medication for high blood pressure. And I have an extremely well documented case of low blood pressure. Not that they bothered to read my files. Because, after all, I was just being dramatic. So, all together now, I was probably just depressed. I went to the doctor, said I knew it was the medication because, you know. I’ve only had this particular condition my entire life. I know when my meds aren’t working properly. The high point of that particular story is I physically threatened a military doctor to, finally, get him to send me to a British doctor off base who had, like, an actual education. And THAT godsend of man managed to get me totally off the meds for the first time in my life. I cannot describe the liberation. I’d been wearing that chain every second of my life since I had my first heart attack at six months. No more pills. No more trying to explain to a man who, apparently, slept through certain classes that no, I can’t be too young for this heart issue because you kinda, sorta have to be born with it, you idiot. No more pharmacies in countries where they don’t have the kind the military will pay for, no more surrendering to the (lacking) judgment of someone who can’t tell the difference between high blood pressure and low, even when it’s written down in detail for him.
I’m not bitter at all.
The next time I went in, it was for back pain and, happily, it was to a different doctor. Not so happily, he had the same broken record stuck in his throat. Maybe you’re just depressed. I can’t stand up straight, can’t sit down. I have to use a cane to move. But. You know. It’s all in my FUCKING head. Sure. Pardon the cussing, but this, really, was beginning to get under my damn skin. Long story short. After multiple requests (and refusal of the happy pills) I finally got a scan. And they discovered I have Lower Lumbar Degenerative Disease (hey, I’ve gone off a lot of horses). No worries, I keep my back muscles strong and, really, it sounds way more impressive than it is. Honestly, the fact that they would rather put me on pills that permanently alter brain chemistry (and cause a myriad of negative side effects) is way more disturbing than their refusal to believe I’m in pain when I say I am.
The final straw? Repeated visits. Repeated insistence that they listen. I can’t get out of bed. And, when I say that, I mean I lacked the ability to actually lift my own body. I was so tired. So forgetful. I slept up to 18 hours a day. I could spend ten minutes looking for a word I’d known all my life. Coughing so hard I wondered if I’d begun to sleep smoke or something. Headaches, joint pain, constant and unrelenting fear that I had some sort of aggressive cancer. I had to give up my horse. I was scared to death; my husband was deployed and my dogs needed me to get up and feed them, but I felt more and more weak every single day.
Would you like to sing the chorus? Oh, but this one had a fun tag line. I was probably just depressed AND how foolish to worry about cancer! Because I don’t have two siblings who died of cancer and a mother who had brain tumors when I was five. Right. Cancer is seriously nothing to worry about.
We got stationed in Germany when the ex came home. I thought ‘great, maybe they will listen there!’. And, during the move, I realized that, one, whoever had re-plastered (or whatever the Brits call it) the listed building we lived in had not used the proper materials. The room I was sleeping in? Covered in mold that was perfectly camouflaged by my weak limbs and the dark beams it was growing on. I also suspected thyroid issues. Two, military doctors have all had that stupid broken record installed and, seriously, if I could, I would start a freaking civil suit because it wasn’t just me. I went to the doctors on the German base. And the chorus goes?
I had had just about enough. I turned that doctor in to Patient Advocacy. I paid a German doctor for blood work and, big shocker, my thyroid was out of balance. And she was pleasant enough to make me realize that her and the British doctor proved it wasn’t doctors in general. Just American doctors. But, you know what? We were hanging out in pine forests, we were breathing the perfect, clean air. We rented a house with a steam sauna. Slowly, my strength was returning without any help from the doctors. As it returned, I went back to my hiking (in those same pine forests) spending hours wandering around with my husky in the clean air, eating fruit and vegetables because I was strong enough to cook again, and, day by day, I felt myself returning. And I was so relieved I had a few good cries of joy.
Now. I get that a lot of depressed people do not want to admit they are depressed. But that doesn’t mean they don’t know. I am the sort of drunk that remembers everything she does and, worse, has complete control of my actions. I don’t bother pretending anything; you can’t expect anyone to help you if you won’t tell them what’s wrong. When I am sad, I say I’m sad. If I was mentally wrecked, I’d admit it and ask for help – so long as it didn’t come in pill form. So it is infuriating me that, when I said I wasn’t depressed, I was basically told I didn’t know what I was talking about and dismissed. FYI, it was a combination of mold poisoning and a very mild gluten intolerance that, thankfully, straightened itself out.
Today, I am damn near good as new. Damn near because there is this new level of attention issues. I can’t focus the way I want and, today, I was forced to understand exactly how bad it’s become. Understand, it’s not that I’ve been in denial. Things like this have a way of slipping under the radar. They get worse in tiny increments. So, I’ve been having all this book drama – pulled it, by the way, but only until I’m feeling better – and I’ve stretched myself into a thousand directions that need to be resolved so I can move forward. The fact that I misunderstood the depth of my issues isn’t at all surprising when you think of it that way.
As usual, it was a book that brought me clarity.
You can roll your eyes. It’s good exercise for them.
So, when I was a child, I loved this book called ‘The Dollhouse Murders’ by Betty Ren Wright. Imagine my delight when, shuffling through Bob’s Books in Charleston in search of the Native American section, I spotted my old friend in the children’s section. Of course I bought it. Of course I cracked it open the second I got home. And made a very unsettling realization.
I couldn’t focus on the first paragraph. This book isn’t freaking Emerson. It is straight up grade four reading. As an actual grade four reader, I could finish it in the half hour it took to get home from the nearest K-Mart. Not even kidding. Nor is it really that impressive. But now? I had to re-read that first paragraph about three times in order to absorb it. And this is a book I know well, even all these years later. It was a little like realizing I’d suddenly gone deaf by trying to listen to my favorite song (currently Roads Untraveled by Linkin Park). And, yes. I realize this won’t just go away on it’s own, no matter how many pine forests I go hiking in.
No doctors, though. At least, not yet. I can sense that this is more than just a need to meditate more. This is internal. This is, somehow, biological and linked to that last sickness. But I’ll only take a pill when all other options have been exhausted. So I’m running again. And I went straight to the nearest vitamin world because, well, I’ll never claim I’ve been eating healthy. A few brain vitamins and some iron (I know that is an issue) are certainly on the menu, as is the extreme clean eating I do whenever I feel out of wack. Most important, though, is my decision to take a minor break. Not from my blogs or working on my books. But from stressing. I pulled Bone Deep because I know it isn’t what it should be. And I don’t mean perfect. I mean comparable to Getting Thin. I mean the book it has the potential to be, if I could concentrate on it alone instead of it and every other thing in the universe. I am closer to the bottom of my game than I am to the top and I need to fix that.
I’m explaining this because everyone deserves to understand why I flaked out. I’m not happy about this. But I am dedicated to fixing the book. I’m dedicated to fixing whatever is out of alignment with me. Don’t worry. I have faith. There is an answer out there. I just have to find it.