I: The Tiniest Most Digestible Things
Interior of Hunters Point Library, Steven Holl Architects | Image Credits: author
Once upon a time, I told myself I was going to sit down and write an autobiography. Clearly I did not, but admittedly I think you should thank me for not forcing anyone to read what would probably the driest life story of a 16-year old girl. A hop, skip and a jump in years later and here I am, writing at long last. Don’t worry, you didn’t just accidentally sign on to read a long, what I hope can someday be a profound and captivating, book. In recent years I’ve come to realize that moderation, taking things slow, baby steps if you will, can make approaching things in life SIGNIFICANTLY easier and more attainable. This past summer I was diagnosed with ADHD and GAD. Most of us are probably quite familiar with my friend ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. You’ve probably come across someone with ADHD many times in life. Common identifiers include, but are not limited to: a short attention span, often changing the subject, forgetfulness, forgetfulness, forgetfulness … I’m being dramatic obviously, but I hope you get the point. As an aside, if you think you have untreated ADHD you should read a book called FASTMINDS by Craig Surman, Karen Weintraub, and Tim Bilkey. My partner and I read it together before I was diagnosed and it helped clarify a few things for us about what we could have been (and ended up) dealing with.
Back to the acronyms, GAD is one that most people know about but might not know they know what they think they know, you know? No it doesn’t stand for Gassy Abdominal District and no it doesn’t stand for Great Ass, Damn (although that would be great). GAD is my good old buddy, General Anxiety Disorder (cue the big reveal, ribbon cut, fireworks, or whatever else floats your boat). Most of us just know GAD as Anxiety, and a lot of people although they assume they know what it is, don’t actually have the foggiest. Sure Anxiety means being nervous to walk into a crowd of people I don’t know or afraid to try something new, but that’s not what it means for everyone. I am a social butterfly who loves to be the life of the party and quite frankly, my ADHD fills me with the need to try a new thing every week or I’ll become excruciatingly bored. For me Anxiety is second guessing everything I do, even if I have done it a million times before. It means not wanting to go to work some days because, “what if I screw up and everyone hates me?” It is a mountain of the most ridiculous and obscene “what if” thoughts, and like a zit covered in concealer, no matter how hard a may work to hide it, it’s still there. Lots of folks living with the fun acronym cocktail I mentioned, are medicated, meditate, mediate, masturbate, or whatever other thing gets them through. Living with Anxiety may not always be easy, but one thing’s for sure, it is definitely all it was cracked up to be.
The beauty of ADHD is you’re never short of thoughts and ideas, each one passing by the central consciousness like a compelling train. The real fun is seeing if the train will bring you back to where you started before you forget what the hell you were talking about in the first place. Good news, it did! As I was saying, breaking big things into smaller things, believe it or not makes things much more digestible, achievable and much, MUCH less intimidating. I finished my Masters of Architecture in April 2020 which, although I don’t say it often enough, doing so with undiagnosed ADHD and Anxiety was incredibly difficult, discouraging and down right awful. This summer, even though I hated so many aspects of doing my M.Arch, I decided I wanted to do a PhD. Why, yes I do know I sound contradictory and perhaps insane, thank you checking in. The prospect of higher education has always appealed to me. After the initial wave of exhaustion and criticism of my own work washed over me, suddenly what I had completed became much more impressive and in my mind it made the next step that much more achievable, or so I thought. For weeks I danced around saying that this was the year I’d apply. For weeks I did not start research, or applying or really anything that needed to be done to actually move forward with my “big idea”. And as the initial excitement wore off, the fear slithered in and Anxiety walked back in the front door greeting me with open arms.
I want to be clear in saying that in the interim of those two periods I was still anxious, for me Anxiety is like a sinusoidal wave. We have ups and downs together and the realization of all the steps I had to do for this application was a major down. Suddenly opening my laptop would make my heart beat 10 times faster, when people asked what my plans were after my partner completed their Masters, I panicked and used my favourite line “I don’t know.” Therapy is a great way to develop coping mechanisms, but unfortunately dear reader, this instance pre-dates my journey to the comfy couch, so I was on my own. Time went by and rather than start I stared at a seemingly unachievable mountain of a list and it peered back into my soul telling me I couldn’t do it. Fret not, I wouldn’t have brought this up if there wasn’t at least some development in plot and character. My partner sat me down one day and said I should break the big list into a series of smaller lists, I promptly attempted and failed. My partner told me to “just start writing something” and I wrote two sentences and quit. Finally, they said to talk to an old professor and basically lay it all on the line. So, I did. I met with him over coffee (let the record show I am a tea only drinker, those who know me will attest to the fact that caffeine is the last thing a hyperactive can’t stop, won’t stop gal like myself needs). I shared my ideas and he asked really profound questions, he gave me writing prompts that proved to be the stepping stone I needed to get started on the list.
The application didn’t come together overnight, that’s for sure. It took me ages to iron out a research proposal and even more difficultly, write a statement of interest of why I deserved to go to the institution of my choice. It was quite the process, and even as I am writing this my application has still not been submitted. To be fair my poor applicants’ portal faced an IT meltdown and has been giving me an unnecessarily hard time, but it is on the verge of completion which brings a smile to my anxious and overworked soul. There will be nothing more satisfying than hitting the submit button after all these weeks, except perhaps a nice cold drink of water when you’re suffering from severe cottonmouth. For weeks I asked myself “what if I don’t get in? What if they hate my application? What if I’m not good enough?” And today while the fear still rattles around my boneyard brain, I don’t care. As my therapist said I need to practice flipping my thoughts. More and more I find myself asking “what if I do get in? I wonder how much funding I can get? What will TA’ing a course be like?” Once again I feel the excitement of the potential of such a new and exciting step in my life. And while I won’t share with you which institution I am applying to as I may wish to curse this nameless school in a later post to satisfy my ego, I will say I look forward to hitting the submit button on this particular endeavour. Sure there are other things that make me anxious, but this seems to be lower and lower on the Anxiety spectrum than before.
The moral of this rant is that, no this is not a novel, who knows how regular it will be and who cares about who this is geared towards. All things considered, I like to think that it is the first of many stepping stones on my journey to writing the book that I have so long dreamed about and will one day see to fruition.