And Then Suddenly, Everything Made Sense…

Can you learn to work with attention deficit disorder rather than fighting against it when writing? Cait Reynolds, my guest today, tells her story. Over to you, Cait.

Life is not like a yo-yo. It’s more like an insane game of racquetball with a very agile, pissed-off octopus. Everything comes at you from all sides.

If you’re a writer (or trying to be), that racquetball game includes trick shots and volleys of hope, despair, panic, procrastination, frustration, rejection, criticism, trudging, shiny new ideas, self-doubt, self-loathing, jealousy and a healthy dose of worry.

All of that is normal enough. Except when it isn’t.

I was diagnosed with Adult ADD (attention deficit disorder) back in April of 2013. I was shocked (shocked, I tell you!), but then, as all the pieces fell into place and I matched up symptoms with evidence in my life, I began to feel a profound sense of relief.

It was like, suddenly, everything made sense. The procrastination, the ability to start a hundred novels and never finish one of them, the panic and paralysis—sitting frozen and unable to do anything because to start one thing was to start a downward spiral that was all too familiar in my life.

You know that spiral?

New idea. Amazing. Brilliant. Guaranteed best-seller. I’m going to write this sucker in a month.

10,000 words in. Okay, you know, I should do some research on XYZ because I don’t really know about ABC, and then I need to do this dishes, and…

Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter, thou art fiends that abscond with mine time!

Oh my God, I haven’t worked on the book in three days. I don’t know if I can get back to that magical moment of inspiration. I can only write with the magical moment of inspiration.

It has been five days. I’m a horrible person. I’m a failure. Look at everyone else, cranking out the word counts, publishing book after book. I can’t even finish one measly story.

Two weeks of denial, secret panic attacks, Angry Birds, putting off laundry and dishes, refusing to talk about the book, scrambling desperately for a reason to keep holding onto the dream of writing because…

Obviously, I’m an idiot. I’m lazy. I’m a bad, bad person. Why can’t I seem to do this? Everyone else can? Everyone else pays their bills, holds down jobs, writes books, and finds time to make cupcakes with organic frosting and little bedazzled soap dishes from Pinterest.

I’m a horrible person. I’m so ashamed. I’m going to nap. I’m going to sleep. I’m going to pretend none of this is happening.

Oh my God! I have a new idea! FINALLY! This is the idea I have been waiting for. The reason nothing else ever worked is because they were all bad ideas!

New idea. Amazing. Brilliant. Guaranteed best-seller. I’m going to write this sucker in a month.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how ADD has affected me in the past as a writer. It would take an entire book (new idea… amazing… brilliant… guaranteed best-seller… oh, sorry) to describe how ADD affected me in all areas of my life.

The point is that, before I realized I had ADD, I believed something was wrong with me almost on a moral level. Procrastination became laziness. Panic meant I was weak-willed. Abandoning a work-in-progress meant I lacked any self-discipline at all. The list of psychological degradations just went on and on.

When I began to learn about ADD’s neurochemistry and effect on cognitive processes, I felt like a giant checklist in the sky had just opened up before me, and everything was ticking and tying together. I saw that I wasn’t a bad person or undeserving of success. I saw that I had some neurological and biological problems that could be treated.

Basically, my diagnosis of ADD was like a giant celebration for me. It was a second chance if I wanted it to be.

And I did.

I worked with my therapist and my psychiatrist to develop a set of tools that ranged from behavior modification to medication. These tools are what I am learning to use every day, not just in my writing, but in my life.

I’ve come to the horrifying realization that I have a severely limited ability to prioritize and to set reasonable, achievable goals. This isn’t because I’m stupid. This is because a bunch of slacker chemicals in my brain aren’t working. I have learnt to work with the flow of my short attention span instead of judging myself by my ability to sit still for more than 30 minutes at a time.

The medication I take gives me the ability to slow down, focus longer, take a step back to assess the situation, and thoughtfully work my way through to a resolution. The medication also slows down the onset of the panic attacks and holds the anxiety at bay just enough that I now can see them coming and have a fighting chance at using my nifty new cognitive behavior techniques to short-circuit them.

I’m still learning how to do all of this. I make a lot of mistakes. I have days of “relapses” where all I can do is snuggle my dog and look at Pinterest to keep myself calm. But, every day that I work at “working with” ADD is a day I didn’t give up. Over times, those days will outnumber the ones where the world seems to be squeezing my ribs, robbing my breath, and whispering doubt in my ear.

For the first time in my life, I have hope—real hope—that I can achieve what I’ve always dreamed of, using my talents to their fullest.

And hope is the best diagnosis of all.