Well it is the first Wednesday of the month, so that must mean that it is officially the Insecure Writer’s Support Group Day. For those of you not in the know, Alex J. Cavanaugh created this wonderful community of writers in order “To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!” It really is a wonderful community of writers, and I highly recommend you go Alex’s site and check out some of the links. Writers more often than not welcome new readership. It serves to boost our little egos.
There are moments throughout my day, particularly when I’m tired, when my mind wonders every which way but here. I will be on my phone going back and forth surfing through the same five or six sites obsessively, knowing full well that I had visited the site just 20 minutes earlier and that the likelihood of the site being updated with any new content where probably slim to none. Yet I will repeatedly check back in hope that something, anything new, might be found that will spark my interest. That my mind will find something that it can home in on and stay fixated on for longer than a few minutes. My thoughts jump from subject to subject. Worry to worry. From one day dream to the next. This fragmented state of mind is amplified even more so when I’m at work, due to the repetitive and tedious nature of the job.
There isn’t a whole lot of opportunity to think outside the box doing my job. There is little to no chance of using whatever ounce of creativity that one possesses and apply it any meaningful way to any of the menial tasks that I’m stuck doing for ten hours a day. I try to focus. I try to concentrate at the mundane task at hand, but as much as I try, as much as I try to ignore all the constant chatter of my inner voice, I fail. I don’t have the energy to keep my thoughts at bay. The only time I can quiet my inner monologue, the only time I can keep out all the outside distraction, is when I’m at home by myself, with the dogs laying on our bed angry that I’m ignoring them, while I’m sitting in front of the computer, listening to some soft tunes, writing down what are little fragments of myself for the blog.
When I’m writing something pretty amazing happens to my mind. All that persistent chatter that under any other circumstances would be continuous, just cease to be. My train of thought becomes focused. The voice that I’ve always wanted to speak with, but never could because it’s been stuck hidden away by a mind that moves much faster than the tongue I was born with, is finally given full reign to articulate in a way that does not make me feel half-witted. So many folks like me are so hard pressed to find the courage to open their mouths to speak their mind if they had not have had a chance to rehearse exactly what they wanted to say, or risk stumbling through their words awkwardly. This fear kills off any chance of being able to enjoy a moment of spontaneity. Which is where some of life’s greatest moments are born.
Writing liberates me. It makes me feel whole. Time slows down and it allows things that were hidden behind a fuzzy haze of doubt, became clear and focused. It puts me in touch with feelings that I did not know where there. It makes me realize how much I love being alive.
Writing is a solitary endeavor. When I write, I become detached from the world. As if I no longer belong to it. I become almost a ghost, someone living outside this plane of existence. Observing a world that hardly notices me anyway. I like to open the shades in our computer room, and let some light come through through. I’ll take a few moments to become a casual observer. I will see a couples walking by, sometimes with grocery bags, other times walking their dogs, and I will wonder to myself what is their story. How did they meet? Have they been together long? What stormy patches have their relationship survived through? Is there still love in their hearts for each other? Or are they simply together only because they are trying to uphold some standard that society had forced upon them long before they were ever born?
From my window I spot kids walking to and from school. Sometimes they are being accompanied by their parents. Other times they are alone alone. I ponder what kind of lives do their parents and guardians give them? I ask myself which one of those kids find themselves dealing with the kinds of issues I grew with? How will they cope with trying to survive their ordeal? Which of these kids are growing up in a stable loving home, where their parents go to bed thanking God that their kids where brought into their lives? Which parents don’t take their children for granted, and vice versa? I wonder to myself what course will their lives take them? What sort of impact with their decisions will have on the world, not only in the near future, but centuries down the line, when they are nothing more than particles floating in the air.
When I sit down to write my mind expands and all possibilities become endless. It is truly a magical feeling. I only wish it was something I could do more often. It’s hard to fit in the time while working long hours, and trying to live the life of a responsible adult. But right now I will take what I can get. Because when I sit down to write these little rants, it feels like I’m finally learning how to speak.
Friday will mark 3 months since I started Lost Around the Block. 60 post and god knows how many thousands of words later I’m finally starting to get a feel of what I am doing. The blog has evolved in a way that makes it different then what I had originally intended. When I first got the inspiration to start this blog I had hoped that it would primarily catered to folks with ADHD and Anxiety. I was going to use this as a platform to voice my frustration with the disorder. I also wanted to perhaps re-blog articles that I thought were interesting and that brought other insights about these disorders. Yet from the very moment I sat down to write my first post “I lost track of time…” I realized that this site would probably be going in a different direction.
I found myself writing about personal subject matters. About experiences that I had mostly kept to myself. It was liberating to write some of these stories down for everyone to read. I know some folks would think that it must have felt empowering. But I wouldn’t exactly put it that way. I think empowering is the wrong choice of word. For me it’s more like exhaling after holding my breath for a ridiculously long amount of time. It feels more like relief.
The main reason behind the change was rather simple. I wanted to write about something that was a bit more relatable. I found that I was way more interested in writing about universal themes. Who amongst us doesn’t have unfulfilled dreams? Who has never experienced regret? Have you ever met a person that didn’t feel like they left something unresolved? Who doesn’t know about the erational elation of being in love? I found myself wanting to tell those kinds of stories. I wanted to demonstrate that no matter how different our life experiences might be, we can still relate to each other in some very basic ways. Look I don’t care, who you are, what part of the planet you come from, what god, if any, that you believe in, we are all bound by the love and pain that we feel from just being alive. And that is what Lost Around the Block has come to symbolize for me.
Each time I write one of my long winded post I feel like the knot of chains that kept my brain shackled for so long are being loosed. It’s as if I am discovering a whole new aspect of myself that I did not know was even there. And you know what? It feels pretty fucking great. I still struggle with my confidence. I still find myself going over stuff that I had posted previously and cringing at the way I structured a sentence or by some awkward analogy that I may had made. I’m not totally confident in my writing ability because I find that I still write in the same fashion that I think, which is fragmented. This in turn makes my writing a little choppy. A little stiff. It doesn’t always flow smoothly like a stream. I want my writing to glide. I’m just not there yet.
I also find myself struggling with the length of my post. Everyone is too busy just trying to get through their day. Who the hell has time to sit down to read through 2,000, 3,000, 4,000 words written by someone that they have never even heard off. And I don’t blame them. Time is a valuable commodity and you don’t ever want to waste your time reading something that in the end may not have the desired payoff. But I try not to censor myself too much. I allow myself some breathing room. I don’t feel like I’m a competent writer yet, so I try give myself the space to allow my ideas to flesh themselves out in the most natural way possible. Which in turn leads to some very long post. But it’s all part of the learning experience. Finding one’s true voice is not the easiest the easiest thing for me.
Writing gives me a sense of accomplishment that I had not felt in a long time. I like sharing my life experiences with you all. It is a delicate balance of course. I constantly struggle with what aspects of my life I want to keep to myself and what things I want to share with perfect strangers. Thankfully I haven’t felt ashamed about anything I have written so far. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my 35 years. Mistakes that for years made me feel like an incompetent jackass that had no hope of ever feeling content with his life. But it is my past. They did happen and I am not doing myself any favors by pretending that I haven’t made them. Besides I truly believe that you can’t really move on with your life and accomplish something worth your while until you have come to terms with your past. I hope my writing will help me succeed in that regard.
By the way, if you are a struggling writer, or just like to discover some great writing, go check out this great blog that I found called The Insecure Writer’s Support Group. It’s a great little community of writers that have come together to express some of the joys and struggles of writing. I hope you get a chance to check the site out. It will be well worth your time.
“High anxiety whenever you’re near –
High anxiety – it’s you that I fear.
My heart’s afraid to fly – it’s crashed before …
But then you take my hand;
My heart starts to soar once more.
High anxiety … it’s always the same;
High anxiety … it’s you that I blame.
It’s very clear to me I’ve got to give in.
High anxiety: you win.”
In 1977, the master of comedy, Mel Brooks, released his Alfred Hitchckiik spoof, High Anxiety . In this film Mel Brooks plays the brilliant Dr. Richard H. Thorndyke, the new administrator of The Psycho-Neurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous. He’s been framed for a murder that he did not commit. He goes on the run, accompanied by Victoria Brisbane ( played by the always funny Maeline Kahn) to clear his good name, and to reunite Victoria with her missing father. However he finds the task a bit challenging because he must also contend with his own anxiety disorder. Naturally, hijinx ensue.
I’ve experienced my own hijinx while suffering from anxiety. Off course they only tended to feel comical after the fact. I make a correlation between Mel Brook’s film and my own experiences with the disorder because it helps me to illustrate how ridiculous and yet difficult it can be to deal with a brain that has gone a tad bit haywire. You stick out a bit more than others. You do things that might seem strange or come off as being anti social. You find it difficult to relate with others. You get down on yourself. You become envious of people that can do something as mundane as sitting quietly on a chair thinking of absolutely nothing. You lash out at the gods above and wonder why they chose to curse you with such a handicap. You spend a shit load of time wondering what your life might have been like if you were normal. That’s the other thing too. That word, normal, takes on a whole new meaning. The word takes on a life of it’s own. It morphs from something simple, and tangible, to something almost mystical. It becomes this far of place, that can never be reached like, Shambhala, or Atlantis. It is lost to you for all time.
Off course the reality is that there is nothing abnormal about having a mental disorder. Your brain just has difficulty regulating particular functions that allow you to do certain tasks with relative ease. The cause of mental disorders are usually biological, environmental, or psychiatric in nature, although most likely it is actually a combination of all three. But when you discover that you suffer from a mental disorder, you just can’t help but feel like you are different. That you are not like everyone else.
The other thing that people don’t realize about mental disorders is that often times you don’t just suffer from just one. If you were do a bit of research about the different types of mental disorders, you would find that many share common symptoms. In fact oftentimes it is difficult to discern one mental disorder from another. Let’s take me for example. I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder about 4 years ago, however the physiatrist that I was seeing also believed that my history showed evidence of dyslexia, depression and ADHD. As Lucille and Buster Bluth would probably agree, I’m a bit of a “Hot Mess”.
Trying to achieve any level of success with so many handicaps, so to speak, makes it a tad bit challenging. Take the dyslexia for example. Almost every single time I write the word “and” I spelled it out n-a-d, “nad”. Granted, the 11 year old in me gets a bit of a kick out of it, however writing “nad” in a professional setting all the time, can get a bit awkward. I tend to spell words like store as “sotre” or the as “eth”. I remember having such a hard time reading as a kid. It was freaking torcher. I would see words backwards, I had a hard time telling aparts words that sounded similar. Even today, when someone speaks to me very rapidly, my brain seem to pick up only half of the information that is being transmitted. I still cringe at the thought of me having to read out loud in the classroom back when I was in elementary school. The kids would laugh at me and call me stupid and retarded. Making matters worse I was the only Puerto Rican kid, in a predominantly Italian school. I already felt like an outsider because of the way I looked, but now I was the dumb kid in class too. I couldn’t help but see school as a torture chamber created specifically to hurt me in every which way possible.
Although my anxiety disorder would not develop fully for another 30 years, I believe it is at this point that the foundation for the disorder was established. I was such a nervous kid. I hated school, I hated homework. I felt stupid and clumsy and not at all normal. And things were about to get worse.
My ADHD sure didn’t help things along. When folks think about ADHD they immediately image a rambunctious kid that runs around all day as if he had fire ants crawling up his ass. And yes, that is not so far from the truth for some. After all ADHD stands for Attention Deficit, Hyperactivity disorder. The thing is that although many kids do suffer from the Hyperactive part, others, like myself, suffered from the Attention deficit side of things.
What does it mean to have attention deficit in the first place. Well it basically means that the mechanism that regulates attention is faulty. So your brain has a harder time being able to maintain focus on any task that requires real attention. Especially if it is something, tedious, repetitive and uninspiring. Some people can sit down, read a poem out loud a dozen times and retain the poem to memory. In order to achieve that, you need to be able to push away all distractions long enough, for your brain to be able to imprint the poem into memory. I on the other hand can read the same poem 3 or 4 dozen times, and only about half of the poem will be retained. The reason being is that my brain has a much harder time quieting any external or even internal stimuli. So as I’m reciting the poem over and over again, some random thought will just come through. But but not only will the random thought pop in, but it will completely take over, and I will literally forget that I was trying to commit the poem into memory. Until eventually I snap out of it, notice that I am no longer concentrate on the poem and go back to it. However within a few minutes I will lose track of what I am doing yet again.
I remember there was this one occasion, when I was in kindergarten. I had probably been daydreaming deeply, when the kid sitting in front of me, passed back a small stack of papers. I snapped out of whatever world I had been visiting in my head, and found myself completely confused as to why these papers were being passed to me. The teacher looked at me annoyed and told me, “take one and pass it back”. I did as I was told. I looked down on the sheet and figured out that it was some kind of quiz. But for some reason I couldn’t register what exactly I was supposed to do with it. I looked around and saw the boy sitting next to me writing his name on the sheet of paper. His name was Tommy One Name Or Another (Sorry I can’t quite recall his name). So for reasons unknown to me I figured I was supposed to write Tommy One Name Or Another on my sheet too. He began to answer the question on the quiz when he notices me peeking at his paper. So off course he hunched over and blocks my view of the answers with his arms and body. I was clueless. I was scared. I was afraid to raise my hand and ask what were we supposed to do. I didn’t want to look stupid in front of the class. So I remained silent. I left the rest of the quiz blank, and prayed silently to God that the teacher would somehow not notice me sitting there. Or better yet, that he would be kind enough to transport me away from this dumb, boring classroom and into a another world that didn’t have quizzes and teachers, and mean classmates. Maybe to a world where the Autobots, Gi-Joe, Voltron and the rest of the cartoon characters that I obsessed about, lived, and fought and had fun, wild adventures.
Sadly, God did not hear me that day. Or chose not too. Because after about 20 minutes, our teacher came around to collect our sheets. She came up to me. Looked at my blank quizz, with Tommy One Name Or Another’s name on it, and laughed. “So your name is now Tommy One Name Or Another?” She asked in a mocking tone. I was confused. I just smiled up at her like what I can only imagine she interpreted as a grinning idiot. She then reached out, grabbed me by my ear and pulled me out of the classroom as all the rest of the kids laughed at me. Yeah, having ADHD can do a number on a young kid’s confidence.
Now please allow me to apologize if I have given off the impression that having ADHD means you can’t concentrate. Cause that is not remotely true. In fact it can also mean the complete opposite. Another symptom of ADHD is that you can find yourself becoming hyper-focus on one thing. At the detriment of everything else. Sometimes I will remain seated writing even though I know my ass should have already been on his way to work. I will put off doing chores to play video games or watch a movie. I find myself talking with co workers a lot longer than I should be doing. And the reason I do that is because they are all much more interesting to do than whatever menial, yet essential task I need to be doing in the first place. So much of what we do throughout the course of the day is so repetitive, monotonous, and uninspired. It takes focus to get through such tasks, but for folks with ADHD, we find it really, really, hard to concentrate on those kinds of things. However if I find something that is remotely interesting, my brain will make all the effort to absorb every aspect of whatever has my interest. That is until the subject ceases to aid in the release of healthy level of dopamine into my brain. Once that happens, I drop that subject like a bad habit and move on to whatever else that will give my brain that kick it hungers for. Trust me, that is not an easy way to live life. It’s like being a damn Pogo stick sometimes. Hopping from one thing to another.
And then there is the anxiety. The bane of my existence. Do you have any idea what i like to always be on edge? To always be questioning how others are constantly viewing you? Sometimes I get so nervous and excitable that my brain will work faster than my tongue. I want to get a words out that I hope will make me seem intellectual, suave, charismatic. But the words come out much too quick. My tongue gets tangled and trips over itself. At best, I come off sounding like Yoda. Speaking backwards. “Smart, I sound, yes?” At worst, I come off sounding a little less articulate than Mishka the Talking Husky.
All my life I’ve been fearful of how those around me view me. Do they think I’m stupid, mentally challenged, or perhaps an anti-social prick. Others probably imagine that I think of myself as some tough guy cause I’m big, and I rarely talk with others. I imagine others see me much like the Hogar, the mentally challenge big man from Game of Thrones. But to be totally forthright with you. What probably really bothers me most of all, is the thought that most people don’t think or have any concrete opinion of me at all. And that is so much worse. Humans are a social animal. We need to be with other people. We need to have a sense of community. We need a place to belong. And we need to find our niche in that community. Most of us want to serve some useful role. Even as adults we want to be padded on the head like we were as children, and be complimented on “what a good job you are doing”, or “what a soul person you are”. You want to feel loved, and appreciated. You want to feel like you serve a worthy purpose. But when you feel like a bit of an outcast, you don’t have that sense. You feel different. You can’t relate to anyone. I think that is why I always was gravitated towards the arts. Whether it was drawing for hours in high school, coming up with sketches to impress my friends, or writing poetry in college. I could allow the work to speak for itself. And I didn’t have to worry about my own clumsy ass getting in the way of how people perceive those things. In a sense those work’s were an extension of me. So if they liked them, then that mean that they liked me. And that was a darn good feeling.
Yes my friends. All that self doubt. That inability to feel like you a worthy of love and friendship, can makes it difficult to achieve any real level of success in life. However all hope is not lost. You don’t have to be a victim of circumstance. You can achieve a level of self autonomy. You can change you stars, so to speak. Unfortunately, you can’t start up that path until you’ve hit rock bottom. I will be exploring some of the details of that very dark period, next time.
To be be continued…
UP NEXT: High Anxiety Part II, or How Tom Earned his Tiger Stripes.