ADHD

Anxiety, my rude, neurotic room-mate

I have always had an ambient buzz of anxiety sitting in my body. Always. Thanks to Remeron, not anymore! Which is great. But it means that when I DO experience anxiety recently, I REALLY notice it. I think because it’s no longer a constant…it’s just popping up in appropriate places, instead of being the annoying electrical whine-hum in every scene.

Basically I spent my life with a screaming person (anxiety!) in my house in the next room over. Instead of dealing with it, for 30+ years (my longest relationship ever, by far) I simply kept the door to their room closed. because I had to. You just can’t get through life with a screamer like that if you actually acknowledge it all the time. I could still hear the screams and the sound had me on edge, constantly…but the sound was muffled a little bit. Now, I’ve stopped pacing, flung the door open wide, and have the luxury, at last of the energy to find new ways to deal with this issue. The Mirtazapine, a tetracyclic antidepressant sometimes used to treat anxiety (generic for Remeron), flat out shuts the screamer up much of the time and the silence is GORgeous so it doesn’t matter if the door is open or closed. But sometimes the screamer has a legitimate complaint and will start screaming again and in comparison to the silence, that sound is hell (better than a randomly screaming screamer though!). Door’s open and I can’t ignore the screamer. So I might actually stop in the doorway and ask the screamer what’s wrong. And if the screamer can tell me, I can deal with their concern, and maybe get them to stop screaming. A few times, when I was in the middle of a stressful project this weekend, I couldn’t figure out what in the hell was wrong with that screamer…but they got tired and stopped screaming after a couple of days anyway. Eventually maybe I’ll learn how to understand what the screamer is telling me in those kinds of situations but…ongoing project I guess.

The feeling of all of this is new though so at first I thought oh crap…something bad is happening again with medication. But in this case I’m fairly certain (because I feel SO relaxed most of the rest of the time) that it’s just a matter of readjusting. And how cool is this…I used to live with anxiety that I had to expend enormous amounts of energy trying to ignore because it was so constant that over-ride (and giving in to obsessive-compulsive behaviors from time to time) was what I had to do to get through the day. I had to say “that’s just anxiety making decisions for me so I have to ignore it” and push through my feelings and just act. It was a matter of survival, not choice. Now…much of the time the anxiety just isn’t there and I marvel at how thin that line was between relaxation and the constant, malicious buzz. So that now, when I DO feel it…it is safer for me to check in with myself about why I am feeling that way, and actually consider if that anxiety is giving me good information that I can actually use to make decisions! I can at least use it to try to understand why certain things makes me nervous, and then proceed from there.

When ambient anxiety was my daily reality, I think that my method of coping was just fine…ignoring my feelings and even giving in to some impulses I shouldn’t have was what I needed to do, and it was the only thing I COULD do under the circumstances. This process is freeing my feelings and allowing me to trust myself that much more, because the blatantly questionable anxiousness has been eliminated. Revolution and nothing less.

I am not thinking in terms of regret but I can’t help thinking about the millions examples of how anxiety was running the show for me. Its tentacles wrapped around and through me and throughout every aspect of my life. And that line was so thin all that time…life without anxiety was available to me all that time. Seriously, it’s pointless to regret decisions that I clearly wasn’t ready to make earlier in life but it’s pretty stunning to ponder.

Another fascinating tweak of understanding anxiety better is that I feel that I understand the line (at least for me) between anxiety and what we presently call ADHD that much better now. Some people experience anxiety as a result of ADHD, and I think that I also have that experience at times. But the weird ways that anxiety would nest in my body and my thoughts…it’s just not the same thing. I get a little amped up when I’m worried because I’m feeling disorganized, but it’s different from the ball that sat for probably 18 years beneath my left shoulder blade. The constant throat clearing that I couldn’t stop myself from when I would just feel wiggy for no reason. The ambient sense of impending action or reaction. The self-consciousness of worry.

A perfect illustration of where the line is, exactly, is this: sitting in a meeting as I was yesterday. I arrived at the meeting and sat in my chair. I was feeling fairly relaxed, though groggy as I usually do in the morning. Doesn’t matter what time I go to sleep at night or how much sleep I get, I’m not feeling awesome until about an hour or two after I wake up. I’m sitting in the chair, free of ambient anxiety. But I can’t hold my mind still…and I’m watching other people in the meeting…and I start picking my finger nails, and I start jiggling my leg, and I start repositioning my legs under me like a little kid trying to get comfy in a big people chair except I’m in a conference room and I have to remind myself to adopt an adult posture, and then I realize that there’s a bank president sitting next to me and what is this person going to think of me if they notice that–oh hey, is there a water cooler in here, nope just coffee, get up to get water, no, don’t get up, then they’re know you’re not paying attention, stifle impulse, watch others, moves legs, wiggle feet in shoes, glad I wore what I did because it’s cold in the room, checking out paintings on the far wall (I don’t like rooms with nothing on the wall when I have to wait, that’s the worst).

This whole time, between bouts of figeting I’m working to appear that I am listening. Occasionally I try taking notes, but realize there’s not much to take notes about and of course once I realize that my mind is off an running again and I am spending the meeting working to appear that I’m paying attention instead of actually paying attention and THAT is the problem.

The funny thing about these kinds of situations is that because you’re paying attention to everything else going on in the room you start to notice the others who can’t pay attention. They’re not everywhere but they ARE in places you wouldn’t expect sometimes., like in this meeting Some of the most powerful, wealthy players in many circles are the ones that can’t pay attention and keep checking their Blackberries, and accidentally interrupt people, but they’re charismatic and funny and they get away with it because all of these behaviors are–for those who have ever taken an acting class or studied human behavior–high status behaviors and if you have money and status people expect you to display these kinds of behaviors. If you aren’t rich or powerful people label you in a very different way. In the right situations, interrupting, refusing attention, and commanding attention with charisma are signs that someone is of higher status than you, or at least they think they are. They are also signs that an ADHDer was lucky and resourceful enough to quickly get themselves into a position in life where those behaviors will get them promoted instead of fired. I would bet there’s a pretty even split between business people having these characteristics consciously or as a result of earned status…and having them because they have ADHD and think out of the box. The right circumstances and maybe even some compulsive ADHD risk-taking put them in the fortunate position of being “the boss” or the shot caller instead of in the unemployment line.

So…what I forgot to mention previously was that I took my Vyvanse not long after I sat down in the meeting. I fidgeted and worked to appear normal for nearly an hour…then the Vyvanse started working and I was able to sit still and contribute to the conversation instead of just skipping through it like a rock on a lake. Suddenly I wasn’t even noticing the people around me because…I didn’t care, because my brain wasn’t flying.

This whole time, I did NOT feel anxious. That feeling I’ve come to know as anxiety was not even in check, it simply did not exist.

And this seems to be the pattern, the new way of things. The Mirtazapine soothes the anxiety away and the Vyvanse stills my mind.

I just can’t believe I lived like that all this time! Gee, I wonder why it was easier to constantly make “new” choices instead of stick around long enough to really challenge my intellect and set some goals. Between my disordered anxiety and ADHD I was already spending so much energy fighting to appear “normal” I could have been…well, exactly where I am now. Finally able to explore the other possibilities, whatever they may prove to be.

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3 thoughts on “Anxiety, my rude, neurotic room-mate

  1. Thought-provoking post, Kathy. Thanks for putting into words what I'm sure many people experience — and suspect they're fairly alone,This part in particular…wow….living in the heart of Silicon Valley, I'd say you cracked the code. :-)Katy wrote: If you aren't rich or powerful people label you in a very different way. In the right situations, interrupting, refusing attention, and commanding attention with charisma are signs that someone is of higher status than you, or at least they think they are. They are also signs that an ADHDer was lucky and resourceful enough to quickly get themselves into a position in life where those behaviors will get them promoted instead of fired. I would bet there's a pretty even split between business people having these characteristics consciously or as a result of earned status…and having them because they have ADHD and think out of the box. The right circumstances and maybe even some compulsive ADHD risk-taking put them in the fortunate position of being "the boss" or the shot caller instead of in the unemployment line.

  2. And thank you, Katy, for validating the reason why I and many other advocates-volunteers feel so passionately about people having access to accurate information about medications used to treat ADHD (and why we are often disparaged as "pharma shills" when really we're just committed to social justice).I love it that you're now able to make choices based on what you want rather than what "disordered anxiety, etc." wants. Congratulations!

  3. I left the SF Bay Area about 5 years ago, AND studied acting and playwriting as an undergrad…! Status is a fascinating thing. In one acting class we literally had to do status exercises. The instructor would have 2-3 students go up in front of the class, then give each student secret instructions on how they were to relate to other things and people in the room. So a student might go up there and be given a piece of paper that said "you are low status in relation to the chair and you are high status in relation to the person playing your boss". Then we would improvise through the scene and hilarity would ensue as the student struggled with protecting the chair from the boss who only wanted to sit…that exercise changed the way I look at the world :)Gina, I couldn't agree more…we all have a RIGHT to accurate and thorough information about drugs. I had a family member die as a result of ineffectively treated anxiety (suicide). I won't be a statistic to make other people feel better when there's perfectly good medications out there that can help me truly live. Meds aren't for everyone, but they're great for me, and at least if you know what your options are, you are better equipped to make choices.

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