Much of the point of starting up a blog again is to give myself space to be imperfect.
I like Medium for essay-writing, but the formality of the platform can be daunting. I can’t muse or ramble there; I feel like anything I post has to clear a certain bar: painstaking research, tight prose, a certain completeness and elegance of message. But the words these days aren’t coming together easily or naturally; the act of writing feels like trying to shove a block of cheese through a fine mesh strainer: it mostly doesn’t work, and what I do produce is just goo. (And yes, that was literally the best metaphor I could come up with after several days of thinking about it, which is doubtless demonstrative of the problem.)
There are so many causal contenders for this headspace: I’ve been in strict isolation for four months now, and I have many emotions about the trash fire that is my home country. I am lonely and anxious and frustrated and despairing and distracted. This is all on top of the memoryfail that I’ve been experiencing for the past several years, which I postulate is a fun symptom of perimenopause.
But beneath those problems lies another, more basic issue. Recognizing my autism has also led me to take another long look at executive dysfunction and consider how it applies to me. I first discovered the concept in 2012, as part of my long-running attempts to figure out what was going on with my younger stepdaughter. It was immediately obvious to me that she had either ADHD or another executive function disorder, but I didn’t recognize myself in the symptom list.
I realize now this was a mistake, if an understandable one. Even eight years later, the concept of executive functions is so imperfectly understood that no two sources can agree on how to delineate them. I was misled the first time around because there are some executive functions that I handle just fine. For example, I’m good — probably better than average — at what’s often called ‘cognitive flexibility’, which shows up in things like task-switching, or coping with a change in plans. My brain has a very small turning radius.
But one thing I’ve learned about autism is that it’s not a prix fixe meal, where everybody gets identical courses; it’s more like a buffet, where each person ends up with a different mix on their plate. ADHD, which has a high comorbidity with autism, seems to be the same: you can have deficits in some areas and not in others.
And in hindsight, there are several executive functions I’ve struggled with my whole life, the worst one being what’s known as ‘initiation’ or ‘motivation’. I know that to the uninitiated (see what I did there) that will sound like a copout for ‘laziness’, but in fact this phenomenon is due to dopamine deficits in the brain — this is why dopamine-releasing drugs like amphetamines are prescribed for ADHD.
I asked my aunt last year to tell me what she remembers me being like as a child (she’s the only person I can talk to who goes back that far) and the second thing she mentioned was how much I ‘procrastinated’ … which is exactly what initiation dysfunction looks like from the outside. It’s a struggle for me to work up the impetus to do most things, most of the time, and the more boring and repetitive something is, the more trouble I have.
In thinking about my circumstances here and now, I’ve realized they are motivational death: I’m stuck in the house, so my environment never changes, and we no longer have housekeeping help, so all the repetitive cleaning is on me. I wash the same dishes and sweep the same floors and scoop the same litterboxes day after day. I try to switch up the food I cook, but chopping one vegetable is very much like chopping another. It is all tedious in the extreme. I told Jak the other day that the reason I’d cleaned the leather on our sofa (rather than spending the same time on any number of more urgently filthy surfaces) was because it was something unusual and different. He laughed, and I laughed with him, but I was dead serious.
I do have a few tricks for dealing with motivational deficit. In recent years, podcasts have been my saving grace: I discovered that if I’m learning something interesting, my body will often go on autopilot and handle tasks that would leave me stuck if I were to actually think about them. The problem comes when depressive anhedonia sets in, as it sometimes randomly does, and then absolutely nothing is interesting or satisfying or pleasurable. I’ve felt like I’m teetering on the verge of anhedonia every day for about a week now, and my functionality level has been correspondingly low. In fact, a lot of things that usually help me are working rarely or not at all.
If I lived in the States — and if we weren’t in a global pandemic — I would be working towards getting tested for ADHD, in hopes of getting meds that would provide what my brain seems to be missing. Here in Mexico, though, I don’t have much in the way of options. Jak has agreed to help me try to incrementally desensitize myself out of my agoraphobia, on the theory that an occasional change of scenery couldn’t hurt. Don’t know how well that will go, but that’s … all I’ve got.
I hope this doesn’t come across as whingy. I know that I am lucky, and that many people are having a harder time right now than I am. Unfortunately, recognizing things could be a lot worse doesn’t actually make me feel better.
I need to stop tweaking this and just post it. (I did warn you at the beginning that my writing here wasn’t going to be either complete or elegant. Genuinely sorry about that, but imperfect is better than not at all, right? Right?)