The light floods in

This is my first day on stimulant medication for my ADHD. I wasn’t sure if I’d notice anything today as it is a v low dose to start with. Then as I was driving back from dropping N at school I felt it kick in and just… wow! I’d been feeling stressed and agitated because school emailed late last night to say there was a positive LFT in her year group and they needed to stay off till the student had got a PCR test done. Then they emailed at 8.10 to say it was a computer error (more like a parent ticked the wrong box when logging the test result late last night!!) and they could go in after all. By this time N’s bus had left so I had to drive her to school and she took ages to get ready so I had been snapping at her and feeling flustered about the day ahead, and then…

Then the fog lifted. I could see. I could see the world, even though it was grey. Everything came to life and there was colour and it was 3D. I never have this kind of mental clarity but on grey days it is usually really, really foggy inside my head and I can’t see or think properly (because sunlight helps us produce norepinephrine, which along with dopamine is super deficient in ADHD brains, and so for me grey days have always meant fog and dysfunction and a total inability to focus or think or feel energised).

Suddenly everything inside went eerily quiet. I felt calm. I noticed I was having one thought at a time and I could finish that thought and then move to the next. In fact, I physically couldn’t start another thought until one was finished. I was calm inside, settled. In my house everything looked clear and my brain was calm and focused as I looked round and was able to take in one thing at a time. I typed a text to R to tell him and I was able to watch my fingers typing the words and finish each sentence before thinking what to write next. ‘Everything has slowed down’ I wrote to him. ‘I’ve never felt this calm and slow in my whole life’.

Midsummer’s Day. The day when light flooded my life.

I asked if I could phone R because I needed to share this moment with someone who gets it and has been beside me on this journey of waiting for meds since mid-April, but also the other huge journeys that make up my life so far. When we spoke I could listen to what R was saying. Actually listen to it. I could focus on it and take in what he was saying, picture it, pause, decide how to respond. My mind and body felt slow and calm, not restless or agitated or flooded with an urgency to do and say and think something else. I could imagine being with him next week and not having anything to say because there was nothing that needed saying (in which case we will just hug, he said). It feels impossible to dredge up concerns that don’t matter at this moment in time because they can’t be dealt with now anyway. Usually my brain floods with everything at once because ADHD brains lack a filter for incoming stimuli, including our own thoughts.

After the call I remembered I needed to phone DFS because N spilt smoothie on the sofa yesterday. Normally the thought of finding the paperwork and working out what to do would mean I avoided this for days and sometimes weeks or even forever (there is still a different stain on it I never got round to claiming for). I went straight upstairs, found the paperwork, went to the website and was able to read and follow the instructions. I could read each word at a time without jumping ahead or trying to absorb everything by osmosis. I didn’t feel overwhelmed. I worked out what to do and made a call. When the call handler put me on hold I was able to just sit there, calm and still. I didn’t feel the need to fidget or open a tab on my laptop or wander off somewhere. I felt calm and patient. I could then listen to what the man said and wait till he finished before speaking, or even thinking of what I would say.

I was able to make a plan for the day without getting overwhelmed or flooded by what needs doing and when I should do it. I think of something I need to do and then I just do it. For example, getting a glass of water (which I usually procrastinate for hours, even when I’m so thirsty I can’t think of anything else), using the toilet, writing something down. I saw something on the floor that shouldn’t be there and instead of walking past it I picked it up and put it where it needed to go.

I meditated and I was able to sit perfectly still easily. No restlessness in mind or body. No fidgeting. I could focus on each breath one at a time and it wasn’t like someone was scribbling snatches of words and images and urges to do things inside my head. I didn’t get bored or restless or need to keep checking how much longer was left. I’ve meditated practically every day for nearly 9 years and it has never felt like that. I’ve had calm and peace and even euphoria, but never stillness in my mind and body like that. I’ve never had just one thing in my mind at once and no restless energy in my body.

I am about to start work now as I’ve given myself some time to let this sink in and I need to shift my focus (I can tell it is going to require work to ensure I focus on the right things each day!). Already there is no frantic switching between tabs on the laptop and apps on my phone, seeking out stimulation to provide the dopamine my brain needs to function. Having one thought at a time means I can focus on what needs doing before moving to the next thing. I don’t feel agitated typing like I normally do because my fingers can’t keep up with the thoughts in my brain and I can’t finish a thought before moving to the next. I can type each word at a time and just let my brain provide one word at a time. My brain isn’t flooded or overwhelmed.

It’s no wonder I have felt overwhelmed all the time when my brain was flooded like that, with every thought, every possibility, every memory and every plan jostling for attention and with my brain constantly seeking stimulation because it couldn’t function without dopamine and so I was stimulation-seeking and ending up more overwhelmed. I wonder how it will affect my sensory overload and auditory processing issues…

I know this feeling of brightness and newness won’t last. I know the effects will die down or not feel as pronounced after a week or two. I don’t feel euphoric though, which often happens in the first couple of weeks of ADHD meds and leads to people feeling let down when their brain adjusts and feeling ‘normal’ becomes normal, I just feel blown away by how different this is. Clarity and calm and stillness. Is this really how so many non-ADHD people feel? No wonder they get so much done and function so well. And for me the main thing is that it means methylphenidates will work for me and I just have to hope I don’t get intolerable side effects. I know they might not last forever for me, but I can see how much healing this state of being, for N and I, is going to bring to our relationship and how much better able we will be to do all the other things we both need to manage our ADHD (and for me, I know I will be able to do the things to heal from attachment trauma more easily now). So even if they work for a few years then that is fine by me, although there are people who’ve been on extended release methylphenidate for nearly 2 decades and it still works fine so there is no guarantee it will stop working.

It won’t cure my ADHD. I will still be forgetful and have a lack of working memory and issues with distractability and getting started on what I actually need to do. I will still have executive dysfunction and will need to work hard at other strategies to make sure I prioritise and get started on things I need to do (instead of hyperfocusing on this blog post haha – it has been so easy to write this and really focus on it and not get distracted and go and do other stuff, but it is not what I should be doing right now!) but it feels as though these other strategies will actually be able to take effect now I’m on meds. I can imagine responding better to yoga and meditation and yoga nidra and other healing things now because I will be able to actually focus on them! And of course now my nervous system will be calmer I will have less stress chemicals constantly flooding my body, meaning my health will improve in this way too.

Wisdom is that meds for ADHD are the bottom line and enable all the other positive lifestyle changes and therapy and coaching and so on to really take effect. So I guess I’ve kind of done things the other way around and it will be interesting to see if these things begin to actually work more now I’m being treated. It also explains why after decades of healing in different ways I still felt the same a lot of the time – overwhelmed basically, and unable to do things or listen or focus and just feeling agitated and chronically irritable, and foggy and slow and lacking in energy (not attachment pain and emotional flashbacks as they are a lot better, but all the other things that make my life so hard).

I can’t wait to do yoga at lunchtime and see how it feels, or to read a book or watch TV and see if there is a difference. I can’t wait to be with my friends and to be able to listen to what they are saying without having to try really hard to pay attention, or constantly interrupting them or zoning out and having to ask them to repeat themselves multiple times. I can’t wait to see how it affects me over the next couple of weeks and then longer term. There are so many changes I’ve wanted to implement but the ADHD got in my way!

Edit: to add – I ate my lunch just eating. Still. Not looking at my phone or feeling bored or restless. Just eating. And then I did yoga. OMFG!! No wonder non-ADHD people find yoga so beneficial. I could stay still in each pose. It’s like when you throw a block of wood down and it beds in where it lands. My body was like that. I set the pose and it felt solid and then I could stay in it. Perfectly still. There was a constant crawling restlessness inside me before that I never knew was there till today. Even when my body was externally still (rare) there has been a restless energy rushing through me. I thought it was my mind that was agitated but it was my body too. Nothing inside me has ever been still and my body has never, ever felt like this before. And during yoga my mind was also still and empty. If a thought came, a single thought now, not hundreds at once, I gently nudged it away. I wasn’t bored or restless or anxious to move to the next pose. I didn’t have to try really hard to be in my body. I was in it the whole time, effortlessly. It’s not hard to see that yoga will have a more beneficial impact when it is done in this way!

I can’t wait to live and not feel overwhelmed emotionally and cognitively nearly all the time – for me this was the symptom I heard about that made me sit up and notice what ADHD is, and how it is not what we think it is (it is not an ‘attention-deficit’ at all) back at Christmas – ‘a constant state of overwhelm’ yep, that sounds like me! And then when I read about executive dysfunction that stops ADHD brains actually doing the things they not only need but want to do it all fell into place. I’ve lost so much of my life unable to do things even though I want to, feeling overwhelmed but also totally unable to do anything. Not being able to do things I want to do, even when I have the time and space, has been such a loss and I hope I might be about to be able to change this.

So anyway, here we are. I hope the positive effects last, even if they fade into the background a little over the next few weeks, and that this is the beginning of something huge and wonderful coming my way! I’ve read so many positive stories of ADHD meds being absolutely life-changing for so many people the last few months, enabling them to take charge of their life and stick to habits and meet goals, helping them be less impulsive and agitated and to feel more emotionally regulated and less foggy and lethargic. These stories have kept me going while I waited to start meds, and I can’t believe this day is finally here for me!

Time to let go…

So much change is taking place inside me and in my external world at the moment. Shifts that would be imperceptible to observers but for me, from my vantage point, are profound and life-changing and very, very welcome. I wonder about the future of this blog and whether I will keep it going, because even if I go back to therapy with K I won’t be doing attachment work with her anymore and that is the journey I set out to record here. I will see how it goes over the coming months. I just feel a strong pull to be living again, moving into the future, instead of picking over the past and my relationship with K, as I needed to do for so long. I am not sure where blogging fits into that or whether I even have things to say that people want to read anymore. Do people in depth psychotherapy even want to read about life after that intense work is done? I think for me it was triggering to think that there would come a time when I didn’t need K because of course I couldn’t imagine feeling differently than I did back then. There are still threads to draw together, and I like the cohesive narrative blogging enables me to weave, and so I feel that blogging is still an important part of my life. I guess I’ll just see what happens…

Being diagnosed with ADHD and learning about it has been utterly transformational for me. I’m finding so many missing puzzle pieces that are enabling me to make sense of my brain and life in a way I’ve never been able to before. It’s like all the pieces of me are inside a kaleidoscope and the patterns being made are now entirely different than they used to be – clearer and more vibrant – because every aspect of me is in there now. I can see myself in a way I’ve not been able to before. I am beginning to accept that my brain has deficits because of ADHD and to live my life in recognition of this. I am learning how to make life easier for myself as someone with an ADHD brain and it feels SO GOOD. I’ve also only just started on this path and so I am really excited by what is possible in the months and years to come, especially when I start medication in 6 weeks’ time, but also through coaching and learning and trying new things. (To clarify, ADHD is hell to live with most of the time, I totally reject the ‘neurodiversity’ movement and I don’t ascribe to the view that ADHD is a gift or a ‘difference’ – it is a disorder, a deficit, and it causes pain and suffering and addiction and leaves those with it dealing with some truly difficult, and usually misunderstood stuff, but I do know that for me there is freedom and growth in embracing it and using my knowledge and self-awareness to make real change in my life.

The other huge change is that I am starting to integrate the reality of experiencing chronic pain into my life and to actually tell people close to me about it. This is huge after years of basically not telling anyone I am in pain. My first dose of the Covid vaccine triggered an absolutely huge flare of pain and other physical symptoms. It has lasted 2 and a half weeks now and is only just beginning to ease (though I had two better days on holiday last week) and at times it was completely debilitating and left me nauseous and vomiting and unable to even lie still it hurt so much. If I was ever in any doubt about the state of my nervous system, and the chronic inflammation present in my system still, I am not now.

There is a lot I want to write about pain and ADHD so I’ve decided to split this post into three and write about these latter two aspects separately, because they are deserving of their own posts I think.

And so to K. What does all this change mean for the future of my work with her? Is she in my future? Right now life is expanding and I am enjoying that and I know whatever happens in September I don’t want to go back to how things were. Even if we could work in-person again, for 2 hours each week, I wouldn’t want to go back to how we were working in March last year. I am not the same person and I want to keep moving forward because I am enjoying this part of my journey so much.

Generally I rarely think of K these days, but she was in my mind last week as we were on holiday in the same place as we were when I first spoke to her on the phone about starting therapy. It is such a special place for me, a place where Nina and I have returned many times, a place I spent lots of time with my dad as a child and teen and young adult. It is the place where I have found so many pieces of myself over the last 9 years and where I learnt so much about the simplicity and beauty of life that brings me joy and peace. And it is a place I later found out K used to live and that is special to her too. It is a place that had so much meaning in our work. And while I was there I felt sad because that work is in the past now. I had a really strong sense of wanting to go back in time to August nearly 6 years ago when I was just about to meet her and to be able to start working with her again, knowing I had 5 years and 550 hours in the room with her ahead of me. It is over though. That part of our work is in the past. Whatever comes next it will be different and not how it was at all.

During my treatment today R said he could sense I was ready for something. I knew what it was as soon as he said that because it was on my mind and it came up last week in kinesiology too. It is time to let K go. It is time to move forward in my life without her. What the shape of this will be I don’t yet know, and whether it will mean the end of my time with her or the start of something else remains to be seen, but I know that it is time and I am ready. Last week when we were away, and when we returned home to our lovely, calm house that I have worked so hard in so many ways to bring into reality for us, I had such a deep sense of being an adult now, living an adult life, and finding joy in ways that are authentic for me. There are struggles and Nina is incredibly difficult to parent at times as a teenage girl who also has ADHD, but there is so much growth and change and moving forward for both of us at the moment. I am giving her tools and a language to understand herself as I learn more about myself and my ADHD brain, and, as they are for me, I imagine her ‘limitations’ will become less limiting as she embraces them and integrates them into who she is. It was a wonderful feeling, to be so fully grounded in my own life, and even as the intense pain has flared again this week, I’ve been able to hold on to this feeling.

K and I won’t work how we used to ever again. We won’t do parts work again. We won’t delve into my past together. We won’t do craft or read stories or watch films. I don’t need to do these things anymore. If we work again it will be to help me manage my life as it is now, and any obstacles that come up over the months and years ahead. My path for the next couple of months is to let go of what we once had together. First I need to hold it gently. Bundle it up and keep it close to me. Take in how special and all-consuming it once was. And then I need to let it go.

And from there my path is open. My kinesiology session last week brought up things around K and how I must do what I need instead of what I want when it comes to making a decision over whether to return. I want her but I don’t need her and I don’t know if I can get what I need in my life now from her come autumn anyway. Psychotherapy is so disruptive. It’s hard work. It stirs things up and brings them to the surface. It churns things up and then we work through them and eventually things get better, but it rarely makes things better in the moment. I don’t know if I want to go back to that or if I need to. It put my life on hold. I am ready to live now. I think the test if I go back will be if I can take anything from it without losing my ability to live. I don’t want it to consume me. I want it to support me in being me and moving forward and learning to live with ADHD and the remnants of my childhood. I wonder if another medium is the best way to make the changes I need now, as they feel so practical and ‘of the world’ and different from the work I used to do with K.

I’m scared in going back I’ll either lose me or I’ll lose what K and I had. And while I know I need to let go of what we had for all those years, perhaps to then be confronted each week with how different things are will be too much and will bring a pain that is unnecessary. I don’t want everything to turn to shit again when therapy’s place in my life has shifted. I want – need – any healing work I do now to enhance my life because the time when I needed it just to make it possible to live at all is past.

I wanted to transition into something softer with K, when the time to end our depth work came, but that softness may not ever be possible when we cannot be in the room or in nature together again. And I’m just not sure I want to go digging again. I’m not sure what psychotherapy even is without that though. What is psychotherapy if not digging and uncovering and making meaning? Part of me wants the K who knows me back, the K who empathises with my struggles and takes pride in my progress and career and all the changes I am making. Part of me can’t wait to share all I’ve done and learnt and the ways I’ve changed in the past year with her, but part of me knows that is old me needing her to know everything. New me likes to keep things a little closer and to have aspects of herself that are not shared with others and dissected and made to make sense.

My favourite part of the week always used to be telling K about it.

I am not that person anymore. I want to be living my life instead of simply observing it.

What K and I had was incredibly strong and special. It won’t be like that again. Part of me thinks it is better to leave it as it was when we started the break in August – intact, bundled up, a discrete and special period of my life. Going back and it being lacking in some way could hurt so much more than letting it peacefully recede into the past. I’m scared going back and not having the depth we once had will take away the past, stop it feeling real. I don’t want that. I want to keep our past intact somehow.

I am sad we missed out the final stages of our depth work. I am sad that I couldn’t spend more time enjoying being close to her before the pandemic hit. I am sad we couldn’t integrate our work together, but as my kinesiologist said last week – the pandemic is your path, not being able to see K is your path, it is all your path. And it is. I trust my path. I trust the universe to bring me the healing I need and want, even if that means not working with K again. I suspect those of us in long-term therapy doing depth attachment work will never feel it is done or that we are ready to end, because our attachment wounding doesn’t just disappear even when the depth work of psychotherapy is done. We have a lifetime of healing ahead, but not all of it needs to be done, even can be done, in the context of that unique and strange relationship. I know I will always struggle with attachment and I am under no illusion that the difficult excruciating disorganised attachment feelings will rear their ugly heads from time-to-time in my relationships and that I will experience abandonment flashbacks and confusion and untameable feelings.

I have come so far though and I don’t want to go backwards. So instead I sit and wait and watch to see which path emerges over the next few months and if there is a way of working with K that carries me forward without breaking my heart at the same time. Either way, it is time to let go and I am ready for that.