Not-Arrested Development and Counterwill
I'm heading back to work on Thursday. It's been almost four months of short term disability, but I feel ready to return. Sleep is trending in the right direction, my attitude and mood are positive, and I've worked a lot on analyzing what went wrong and addressing those shortcomings. I feel good. I feel better, happy, light. I may not make as much money compared to my engineering cohort, but these kinds of benefits and supports from my company make up for it. I’m happy, they’re happy, it’s all good, man. Certainly you could quantify such benefits into a financial amount, but there are qualitative benefits that can't really be explained outside of one's heart. How much money is a poem worth when it kisses your spirit?
This week’s reading of Scattered Minds was also a lot lighter, coming with a lot of validation. Chapter 29 is called “The Physical and Spiritual Environment: Self-Parenting” and it provides a guideline for all the areas that folks with ADHD need to manage a bit more closely than others. (And oddly, I've started many books over the years but this will be the first one in a long time that I actually finish.) This guideline coincides roughly with the activities I’d been using all summer to structure my life after the reboot, which felt pretty good. The author asks “what are the environmental conditions necessary for development?” and these are his answers:
The physical space
Meditation and mindfulness
I'll go through the high points and provide some quick comments.
The physical space
The disorganized ADHD mind tends to lead to a disorganized space, which can become a vicious cycle. I can't find the reference, but he also recommends that people with ADHD work in short bursts using a timer, which sounds exactly like my personal implementation of the Pomodoro Method, The Half-Hour of Power. Validation!
I wrote recently how I started the detox from substances that would interfere with my sleep cycle. Two weeks in and I've held on strong, with a few snack attacks aided by the grocery store's candy and chips aisle. I'm also practicing great sleep hygiene during a period where I don't really have much mental work, which unfortunately makes it harder to sleep at night. I'm not wearing out my brain enough throughout the day, but this is the preferable option compared to stress-induced insomnia.
Apparently it’s common for ADHD to also present with eating disorders. Imagine that, extreme anxiety works its way into multiple areas in the brain! I would guess that I have a problem with binge eating, but that hasn’t been a specific problem in this phase of lower stress. Meal prepping and budgeting have helped me to cut down on unnecessary calories and spending, but it’s also given me an opportunity to better plan my meals.
I find nutrition to be quite confusing despite all of the knowledge and research we have to date. Mostly, I just try to keep the contents of my plate as colourful as possible, and I try to fuel myself adequately before an activity and refuel after. We roughly know that the gut bacteria form a type of second brain, so I try to give it a diversity of healthy foods. I'm drinking tons more iced water and way less fizzy sugar drinks. I normally indulge in fun summer drinks like slushes to beat this kind of hot weather, but I’m pretty sure I’ve only had a few this whole heat wave, whereas I used to get a few a week. Recently, I figured out that I could still indulge in some unhealthy snacking by boosting it with some healthier alternatives, like taking a bite of carrot sticks along with my potato chips. I’ve also been told that I look like I’ve lost a lot of weight this summer, though I don't know how much since I stopped weighing myself a long time ago. Gender equity means that everyone needs to stop talking about bodies and appearance in general as a way of reducing the lethal amount of focus we direct at womens' bodies, so I'll limit the discussion there.
In short, book says to eat better. I'm doing that already, so I just gotta keep it up while working full-time. Hurray me!
Heck ya. After a couple injuries and ergonomic issues, I’m back at it. I took a couple months to detour into solidifying my core, and now I can get back to the weights. I've already clocked over 900 km on my ebike this summer!
The tendency in ADHD is to simply sit in one spot as you dive deeper into random Wikipedia articles and picking up new hobbies for a day. Such folks also tend to experience and generate a lot of tension, so exercising and stretching are especially important to achieving and maintaining long-term health, not to mention all of the stress and anxiety that brew and bubble over every other hour. 30 minutes a day of strenuous activity with elevated heart rate is a general recommendation for everyone, which helps particularly in ADHD with regulating mood, stress, motivation, attention, chemical levels, all that jazz. Personally, I can't regulate my emotions all that effectively until I hit the barbell, so access to a gym and weights will be kind of a non-negotiable for me for the next little while.
So that's it. As I wrap up this period in time, I've been getting tons of validation that I'm on the right track. Thanks for all the encouraging feedback, everyone!
Next up, an interesting topic that I will need some more time to stew on, but I’ll just externalize it for now.
Counterwill is the automatic rejection of any will imposed upon the person. Ideally, a fully mature adult is capable of receiving multiple suggestions while still intending to go their own way, without taking offence or reacting automatically. My picture of counterwill is of a person who hasn’t finished deciding what they want, so when another person is proposing one path forward, they reject (or counter) the suggestion automatically. Note that counterwill isn't the same as disagreeing with another opinion. The key difference is in the immediate refusal to do anything except what that individual wants, which they still haven't figured out. That sounds like something a child would do, no?
It’s not a word I had encountered before this book, but it’ll be a fairly familiar concept to most. Parents of human children will recall a time when their infants learned how to say the word “no.” Seeing the great power held within this simple word, the youngster realized they were not yet worthy to wield such a weapon and then they never said it again. loljk
I believe it’s also called differentiation or individuation. For the very first stage of development, the newborn clings to its caregivers for dear life and so identifies as being one with them. When they survive to reach the later developmental stages, they learn the discomfort of always going along with their parents' whims, so they decide to rebel in little ways. The child’s personality appears, and they start the process of becoming their own person. One could say that this cycle repeats or that it never really stops and instead intensifies with age, but the important part for the ADHD brain is the lack of progress in this area. As you might guess, Maté points to the insecure attachment between the ADHD child and parent, which results in a reduced ability to achieve independence.
He also shares a story of a patient named Steven, referred for ADHD assessment. Somewhere along the interview process, it is revealed that Steven wanted to pursue a career playing classical music on the clarinet. Apparently he was some sort of child prodigy, and it didn't hurt that his mom was an actress and his dad a talented musician. Unfortunately, his dad relentlessly pressured him to constantly practice his music, up to four hours a day, resorting to violence if he did not comply. Eventually Steven quit at the age of sixteen. He said it was the greatest regret of his life, though Maté told him it was probably the most logical thing he could do at the time.
The concept of counterwill informs us that it likely wasn’t truly Steven’s decision to quit but rather a reaction to the father’s forcefulness. I suppose the healthier version of that story would be if Steven had developed both a stronger understanding of who he was and what he wanted, created strong boundaries with his pushy father, and after a period of cooling off to settle matters between the two (and within himself), continued investing in his passion in pursuit of his dream career. That's a lot to ask of any teenager, much less a neurodivergent one. Is that even possible with an abusive and overbearing stage parent?
I'm intrigued by the process, but I haven't really been able to digest it much beyond trying to understand the basic parameters. Alas, it's been looping in my head for a while, so maybe thinking out loud will create space to deepen my understanding.
Wrap It Up
I’m feeling validated about what I’ve been doing all summer to rebuild my life after the reboot. Lots of resting and actively untangling all the messy bits. Setting up my environment for a comfortable pace of development, like in the areas of cleaning my physical space, sleeping better, fuelling myself with decent food, and exercising. I have one more week before I go back to work, so gonna soak up some sun and prepare my body.