Like Icarus: rewriting the narrative of what someone with ADHD needs to thrive

I want things, I strive, I get excited by things, I push myself very hard, I often don’t know how to stop and don’t want to…its my default mode…but then when my wings, as it were, melt, I fall quickly backwards and I struggle. The relationship of this ADHD personality of mine to chronic health is a topic I find myself exploring more and more.

When this happens, and if I don’t do something to get those wings beating so fast again, I quickly fall into wholesale collapse….collapse of my mood and of my health, from which position it is increasingly more challenging to get back up again as I age, even though I have gathered more tools to help myself to do it. Its one of several reasons why I have always preferred to be in charge of my own life and all of my own projects but never more so than at this time of my life; because no one else is as invested in them the same way that I am!

Even when an imposed source of overstimulation withdraws abuptly, let alone one of my own creating, I have to work quickly to maintain that feeling of stimulation or I quickly flounder, languish, crash to the ground. As I mentioned in my last couple of posts, I need such transitions to be forewarned and to have modalities in place to help bridge the gap between one source of positive stimulation and the other.

Years of taking the advice of so many sources (when it comes to fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue and such) to relax, to take it easy, to stop everything, to put my feet up and let healing take its course have largely been the wrong advice for my ADHD. Yes, there are times I need to do that; but always with an end in sight. Never, oh never, should I have been left to wonder when or if life’s heart would ever start beating again and to hell with all those people who still tell you this is for life and there is no getting over it!

Also, more and more, I am coming to identify years of chronic illness as the deficit between my autism and my ADHD. Yes (as per my other post) I do crave routine, quiet and solitude for my autism…but that doesn’t mean I don’t long to be stimulated. Yes, my autistic self heaved the biggest sigh of relief ever when I was able to completely stop going out to work and just be “autistic me” in my own company, or at least the nearest attempt at this since childhood which, frankly, some significant part of me had never wanted to end (and which is, I hear, a classic autistic sentiment).

Yet, initial reboot from three decades of high stress and masking over, I never intended to languish. It’s why, within a couple of years and still extremely compromised in my health, I set myself the task of…not only teaching myself to paint but…becoming really good at it, as-in an internationally viable artist (and I achieved it and now have work hanging all over the world and in books and famous glossy magazines). Most people take up some sort of hobby when chronic illness grounds them at home for a long time but I have always had to go that extra yard.

In my inner sanctum there is always something Big going on; be it an idea I’m developing or some project of my own creating. No, these things may not seem “big” by outside measures (and largely, I don’t bother sharing them with other people because I don’t expect them to relate) but they are hugely and positively stimulating to me, which is all that matters.

So, when I stop, as I already said, its as though my wings suddenly melt away and I quickly fall to the ground with nothing whatsoever there to save my fall. Imagine that one minute I am experiencing all the high intensity heat on my face and the feeling of immense power and thrust towards some self-chosen objective, and then the next its as though my metaphorical muscles have melted away or my instructions to them to keep working has trip-wired; I lose momentum, I can’t seem to gain traction, its out of my power to forward-project any more and I’m thrown, inert and wounded, to the ground. In many ways, chronic illness has been reenacting this inner state for me, in the most visceral of ways, these past 16 years with its endless peaks and then sudden backtracks and crashes. Coming to relate the pattern to my ADHD, even if I don’t quite have the solution to it, feels like one massive key to the door of understanding it and certainly explains how repeatedly keen I am…no, not just keen but compelled…to get back up again, reconstruct those wings and get myself back up there like my life depends on it (in a way, when you have ADHD, it does).

Thinking about it, how much did I loathe to be told to convalesce when I was a child…even when really unwell, I never did agree to go to my bed but would stimulate with TV and a pile of books and the whole excitement-thing of being home in the daytime (where I really wanted to be) at last, like a bonus school holiday. I’m just the same as an adult. This whole softly softly thing for recovery has been my very nemesis all these years and is one of the reasons the Gupta Program for recovery only got me so far. Yes, the retraining and its various modules are sound and I have adapted them to my own purposes but I got really bored of some of the daily retraining methods and never could get along with that core thing of sitting it out, as in, not pushing or doing anything to force myself to be well or expecting too much or going that extra yard or over-exerting even slightly. For some people, the absence of these factors may create a surprisingly useful void in their lifelong habitual stress, one they may learn to gain benefit from if only they can only try to take their foot off the pedal or cease doing other people’s bidding for long enough to reboot their belief systems. However, bear in mind that when I get too busy, its generally at my own bidding because I like to be stimulated and, for me, ceasing to be stimulated is like removing the oxygen mask from my life; I asphyxiate from lack of motion, from the very void of stimulation and then I atrophy into the worst version of myself…the chronically defeated, the person without point or even joy because to feel exhilarated by the stimulation of my own mind (and the ability to act upon that at will) is my default position, is hardwired into my ADHD psyche and without it I’m simply not me any more.

What I am saying is, it’s not that lack of stimulation made me ill in the first place (that, I believe, was from years of masking and trauma, not fitting into the world, not realising I was neurodivergent) so much as the fact that it put that extra word “chronic” into the sentence because, once I loose traction in my ability to feed my fundamental need for stimulation, I lose the ability to be fully alive. For me, its like removing air!

I notice, also, in present time and looking back, that all of my family are wired this way; I see the same trait in siblings (oh how they struggle, how they languish in boredom and flounder in their health, when externally imposed limitations thwart their innate desire to be active and compelled in some positively stimulating interest or other!) and I also know they were there, strongly, in my parents…we were always a busy, highly animated family in the least conventional of ways. Its all I have ever known, both nature and nurture and, truly, its where I am happiest…to be stimulated is to have a point, to want to get up in the morning, to feel the fire of enthusiasm warm against my face as I strive upwards towards some self-appointed goal. It’s how I am, and to take it away is to defeat me or for me to defeat myself…so, many times, I have defeated myself, believing I was doing “the right thing for my recovery”.

Like Icarus, my ADHD compels me fly to close to the sun, both literally and metaphorically; my real, close, relationship with the sun (which I have written about before) plays out a kind of archetype version of this side of me. Yes, I sometimes push too hard, strive to much but (and I guess illness has taught me this) age and wisdom has taught me to moderate at least the worst of my excesses. We live in a cursory society; so many of our stories warn us away from what might be good for us or worth challenging and this would seem to apply to neurodivergence…our culture prefers to speak of this in the language of deficit, to assume that ADHD is too intense or too much (we are too much!) and that it needs fixing, medicating, shutting down, normalising. Perhaps those very areas where I have most deferred to the cultural viewpoint, particularly in my earlier decades, are the very same areas where I have most struggled and, in the end, made myself ill.

Questioning the narrative has become my default position in more recent times, not least since realising and owning my own neurodivergence. What may be sound advice for one person may very-well not apply, or even be the polar opposite, for me and this is one of those times. Increasingly, my little successes in the face of chronic illness arise out of not bowing to the mantra of rest and recuperation, of gentleness and passivity, of stillness and calm but of rising up to find the next most interesting and engaging and highly compelling source of stimulation I can get my teeth into. It worked when I took up painting all those years ago and I believe (though it may take a new interest this time…another ADHD trait) it will work again, and again, and again…at least for me.

2 thoughts on “Like Icarus: rewriting the narrative of what someone with ADHD needs to thrive

  1. Thinking about your artwork in the context of this post, I can really see it as the juncture of your autism and ADHD! My ADHD friends, all of whom are vastly creative, produce amazingly detailed projects, just astounding. And you know how important light is for us autistics! Put them together, and there’s your remarkable art!

    Liked by 1 person

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