This post originally appeared on my tinyletter, Where is my Mind?
Growing up, I was often accused of being lazy. This, I have learned, is a common misunderstanding of people with ADHD. I heard it all the time – from my parents, from my teachers, from my grandfather, from my step-father. I could, and in fact preferred, sitting down with a book and reading for hours rather than do yard work or renovations or errands or whatever else it was decided I could or should be doing rather than reading.
As I got older, it became worse, as I would sleep all weekend and do as little as possible. I was, if my step-father was to be believed, the laziest (and most ungrateful) person in the world. Never mind that by the time I was 13, I was up every morning at 5am to go swimming, then went to school all day, and then went to swim team again in the evening. And then I joined band, as well. And I tutored. And I babysat. And I took lifesaving/lifeguarding courses. And I did debate team. And I wrote. And I organized all of the social activities for the swim team.
How could I be lazy?
I was always happier the busier I was, the more things I had going. My senior year of high school, where I also decided to do the school play and be the videographer for the school talent show, my swim coach wrote on my end-of-season “report card” that he had never known anyone who did as much as I did, who got as much as I did done.
But I was lazy.
I spend a lot of time trying to untangle how much of my desire to “be busy” stems from being called lazy for so many years and how much of it is because of my ADHD, keeping my mind occupied, keeping it from running away from itself, getting into trouble.
This continued on into university and beyond. Academia was good for me because of our culture of business and overwork, a place where I could, in theory, thrive. But I wasn’t hyper-specialized enough (or maybe I was too much – it depends on the day) to really be successful – my projects and interests were too all-over-the-place. I did grad school, did student politics, did master’s swimming, did side-gigs writing and researching, did my own stuff on top of school stuff, and I taught.
For the past decade, more or less, post giving up my tenure-track job, I always had more than a few jobs. Part of it was because of financial insecurity, part of it was because I needed to be busy again. While I was in California for instance, I coached swimming, I was writing my dissertation, I was applying for tenure-track jobs (187 of them!), I was teaching writing-intensive courses, oh, and I was also starting a family.
Then, post-tenure-track job, after I added a second kid and finished editing two books of essays and publishing a number of articles, I started my blog, my own company, then started teaching, freelance writing, doing technical writing, social media work, maintaining my research, being a mom and a wife. I was on a 5/4 course load.
Then, I gave most of it up. I took a job and decided that the pay was enough and the work meaningful enough that I could let all of the side-hustles go. I could relax and put all of my energies into this new job that I had been working so hard to try and get all those years of side-projects and jobs and work.
It was a terrible idea.
There were a number of circumstances that came together in such a way as to make me as miserable as possible, but my decision to give up all of my side-gigs and projects were a significant contributor to my deteriorating mental state. I was bored, and not in some productive way, but in an existential crisis kind of way. My mind wanders, naturally, because of the ADHD. But when I have a lot going on, it has places to go, stuff to focus on. When I didn’t have anything to focus one, well, it went really, really dark.
While I didn’t *need* the extra work, apparently, I did.
I got professional help, but I also got busy again. I started coaching, I started freelance writing again, I found projects to work on, I found writing I wanted to do. I started teaching online, doing freelance instructional design.
Now, most of this work all looks exactly the same – me, on my computer, reading and typing (except for the coaching, but there is a surprising amount of administrative work that you have to do between the times you are on deck, even as an assistant coach). And maybe I still look lazy from the outside: I don’t work out, I don’t hike, I don’t really have any manual hobbies, and when I’m not working, I’m usually just sitting and watching tv (or some other screen).
But what they don’t see is that my mind is always working, and my body gets just as tired from the mental exertion, not to mention walking back and forth on pool deck every night. And even when I’m watching TV, I am usually also on social media, interacting, learning, collecting, connecting, working.
Or I’m playing Candy Crush, but we all have our vices.
I’m sure there are people who look at my and what do (or don’t) do in the same way I used to look at my grandfather when we would go up to our cottage over the weekends in the summer time and he would spend the whole weekend working on something on the property, while I just wanted to sit and read and swim. Why have a cottage on a lake if all you’re going to do is work the whole time you’re there?
But I think I get it now. I recently went through a lull with all my work. A contract ended. Manuscripts were out with editors. Deadlines were being waiting on. I was back to “only” two jobs – my job-job and coaching. And my mental health deteriorated. I have not spiraled in a long time, but last week, I spiraled. Now, you might argue that I am ignoring my mental health through being so busy, but my mind doesn’t idol, it revs and if it doesn’t have anywhere to go, it crashes, hard.
The analogy was a bit tortured, but anyway.
I also got sick (I’m not sure which one came first, but they reinforced each other), so was also stuck at home, unable to do anything. I worried the depression was no longer well-managed. I worried the anxiety was coming back. I worried about worrying so much.
Folks, that’s what spiraling is all about.
But I took care of myself, and I took a look at what I was (or wasn’t) doing. And, I found a new side-project to tide me over until a deadline, or I get some writing feedback, or another big project comes along (and I think I’m starting to formulate one that even relates to my work, so bonus!).
And I wrote more than 1200 words here, so there’s that, too.