Normally Abnormal: ADHD, Imposter Syndrome, and Trying to be the Best Herd of Cats Herding Herds of Cats

What is up everybody? Anything new, exciting, or interesting? The day is just beginning here. The sun is peeking out over the mountains, shining directly into my eyes, making it an act of blind will to type. My cat is grandiosely showing me his asshole, like I’m supposed to give him a ribbon for world’s best sphincter. My coffee is already cold, and I’ve lost it thrice already.

Life has been abnormal for so long it is the new normal. I wouldn’t know stability if it whacked me upside the head. I’ve been homeschooling my kids since March of last year. That is not to imply I’m doing well, but I am a terrible witness of my own life because everything tends to be labelled as “not good enough”.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Being the Imposter Syndrome Poster Child

Impostor syndrome means that I simultaneously try to create the world’s bestest most amazingest homeschool (or whatever objective I have for the day), paralyze myself with doubt and criticism, ruminate on destroying my children’s futures, and attempt to give myself affirmations that I am good enough, smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like me. Err’y damn day, except today, I’m gonna write about it too! Join me, won’t you?

Occasionally, I stop ruminating long enough to remember that I have ADHD, so do the kids, my husband, and most of the people I know. The common thread I find in all of us is that we all do not fairly account for, appreciate, or understand how much ADHD affects every facet of our existence. If I did, I would be able to stop these ruminations and remind myself that I feel this way because I have ADHD and Imposter Syndrome is a normal struggle for ADHDers. Maybe then, I could just take a deep breath, appreciate whatever I have done and stop focusing on whatever I have not. Maybe, just maybe, I could realize that all of the things I think are abnormal, wrong, or bad are actually perfectly normal.

Maybe.

But the truth is imposter syndrome or any negative stimuli is far more interesting than being content. It’s a double edged sword, right? Constantly thinking I’m a hack or whatever makes me go to insane lengths to be amazing and overcome my non existent or very existent shortcomings. I can’t imagine who I am if I’m not kicking my own ass on some level. At the same time, when not wielded properly, it’s a wonderful tool of self-destruction and self-loathing, etc. The ADHD mind loves stimulation and it doesn’t differentiate whether or not the stimulation benefits or hurts.

I’ve been studying ADHD like crazy lately because it is my current hyperfocus and because it’s currently driving me insane. I knew homeschool wasn’t going to be a walk in the park, but what I didn’t account for was how much spotlight would be brought to my issues, their issues, and all of the issues in between. When I myself am a herd of cats, attempting to herd herds of cats, how hard can it be? Spoiler: It is, in fact, very, very hard.

I wanted to homeschool the kids because I am a masochist believe that they can do better in this environment versus traditional education because schools lack resources to support ADHD and I’ve watched them all struggle long enough. Of course, we had found great programs in PA just in time to move to NV and blow it all to shit.

Don’t cry about the problem, find your solution

Covid provided an opportunity to give homeschooling a go plus highlight how utterly messed up we all are between a cross country move, a pandemic, and years of upheaval brought on by myriads of mental health crises. To be honest, I think the past year was less about edumacation and more about coping. We’re all a fucking mess, and yet, I’d say, we’re all still better than we’ve been. I see us all as “little seeds of potentiality planted in the soils of struggle-buses to blossom into flowers of awesome-sauce”. I just need to consistently see that instead of blaming or hating myself for every single perceived or real fuck up…. maybe trying compliments or something generally nicer than “you suck.” And that is actually way harder to do than it is to type. I shall explain why eventually.

But, all of that is specific to me and my world, and I’m crying about problems, not finding solutions. I am working to create an ADHD focused and supportive environment for all of us, and that made me realize how woefully lacking I am in truly understanding our brains. Knowing shit and understanding shit are two completely different elements of life. I can KNOW out the wazoo about imposter syndrome/ADHD/whatever, but understanding how much it paints the lens I view my life…? Completely different. I’ve written similar observations regarding depression. These thoughts, really, just overtake everything, paint a completely different picture of life, and then spiral into utter insanity. There’s nothing worse then thinking yourself crazy.

You cannot give what you do not have

Of course, as with anything: you can’t give what you don’t have. I can’t “create a supportive environment of ADHD love and acceptance” or whatever psychobabble I want to give myself so I can inflate my sense of superiority if I don’t support, love, and accept my own friggin ADHD. I cannot simultaneously judge myself into the dirt over the very same issues I’m trying to teach my kids to transmute. Anything that I could say is a setback is also a huge asset, and if I keep struggling versus celebrating, what example am I setting for my little poopies?

The biggest success factor in homeschooling ze children would be confidence. Just believing in myself a teensy weensy bit. Believing I can do it, following my instincts, listening to myself, something other than kicking my own ass for all the perceived failures. The easiest way I can combat imposter syndrome is to start by remembering failure isn’t a dirty word. I mean, really, what is failure if not a pitstop on the highway of success? Isn’t success merely a result of not quitting?

Anything anyone sets their minds to is as good as done, and it’s actually even easier for people with ADHD when they don’t hate themselves for all of the normal parts of an ADHD mind.

When I hated myself, I did lots of terrible things to myself and vice versa. I’m once again at the point where I am so sick of my own shit. I’d really like to get back to doing cool things with this wrinkly grey matter. That statement – being sick of my own shit – is what I had started writing with before, so it’s definitely great for a new start. I can set my mind just as easily to getting my family relocated to NV as I can eat my emotions to escape the onslaught of intrusive thoughts and ruminations. It’s really just dictated by focus, attention, time, energy, and discipline –all the things impacted in positive and negative ways by ADHD.

Knowing and doing are two completely different things

I realized after watching an ADDITUDE webinar (ADDitude Magazine) called “ADHD Clarified” that I am totally the source of all my problems, and I keep crying about myself and my problems as opposed to creating my solutions. Of course, I KNOOOOOW (3 syllables) all that, but what do I do about it? If I am the problem, how do I change the problem that I am? Especially when whoever or whatever I am changes with my attention, which is impacted by ADHD…on and on. One is obviously perspective as I mentioned, and understanding would help too. Why is it this way? I can’t change something I don’t know or understand. But then of course, I must actually DO something with all the things I know, and eventually understand. That’s the kicker…

Ned Hallowell was one of the speakers on the webinar and he was talking about all the things I know but don’t do. As I say to my daughter when she flippantly tells me she knows (6 syllables) she has to clean her room after weeks of ignoring me: “Knowing and doing are two completely different things.” and then she says “I KNOW” and then I say it again….It’s SO much fun to argue with miniature versions of myself!

But that’s everything, not just parenting. Knowing and doing are two completely different things. So, exercise is beyond words important for managing the mind,. Another element is connection to others/socialization. It’s difficult for someone to be vulnerable and “real” if they’re paranoid about being found out for who they really are. Surrounding yourself with folks who love and appreciate you helps you love and appreciate …you or me? I don’t know. Fucking pronouns. Of course, a creative outlet is imperative. All the creativity I apply to beating myself up, would be better applied to writing in my shitty blog, at least. Or creatively running homeschool. It’s tough to do good creative if you’re blowing your proverbial load on telling yourself different ways why you suck. (or I suck. We suck. We all suck.) He was talking about discovering his love of writing and so forth, and the whole time I was thinking of my itchy ass and the utter neglect thereof. I have been exercising more, but not enough. My excuses are getting stronger than my body, and though my itchy ass has grown, it’s equal parts Neglect/Twinkies/Yoga. (that can be a pronoun for my blog or my butt. they both work)

As such, here I am, because knowing I need to write and writing are two very different things. The biggest barrier to actually writing is, of course, imposter syndrome. Visions of the mom in Carrie “they’re all gonna laugh at you” dance through my head every time I think about writing. And again, this is a super ADHD trait. These extremely vivid overactive imaginations can help me be super creative and super paranoid. I can imagine the best possible case scenario or worst possible case scenario – but guess which one is more stimulating, therefore the ADHD mind goes to it more?

Ugh, why does everything have to be so interconnected?

“I eat because I’m unhappy, and I’m unhappy because I eat”

~Fat Bastard

The Demon of the Mind

The webinar also talked about the “Demon of the mind” or Default Mode Network – which is rough for ADHD brains. Contentment is not a stimulating state, and ADHD minds constantly crave stimulation. Ruminating on all the reasons I suck is FAR more stimulating than peaceful acceptance of what is. I get that – it’s the same reason why meditation is so fucking hard. There is no time where my brain and the dog licking his balls are noisier quite like when I’m meditating. Likewise, the cat’s asshole becomes award winning. Maybe I’m sending mixed signals…But – stimulation is stimulation, baby.

It can be good stimulation – like writing, or bad stimulation – like chain smoking, rumination, self destructive behavior, etc. So, my brain wants all the stimulations but I keep going for the shit ones instead of going for things that actually help. Because it’s easier, and we all like doing easier things. It’s hard to sit down and write – it takes discipline, attention, time, energy, fucks given. And when you’re busy, you are a herd of cats herding herds of cats, or woodchucks chucking woods… It is rather superhuman to do it. Over time, the DMN can be modified by feeding it the right (almost typed write, how Freudian!) stuff. (Cue NKOTB)

Probably the easiest way to start shifting is to realize how powerful the ADHD mind is, how it is a superpower, and so I don’t “need” to be more human than human, I just need to get along with myself. I got the right stuff…baby! (omg, stop)

What I found super interesting was, again, it sounds like scientific Buddhism. Which is my SHIIIIIIIIT. John Vervaeke has this 50 part lecture series called “Awakening from the Meaning Crisis” which is basically putting all different philosophies and religious perspectives into cognitive science. So, for example, when he discusses Buddhism, he explains it both from the Buddha’s teachings but also how it applies psychologically. The point is this whole idea of DMN or Vervaeke describes parasitic processing, and addictions are the conditions the Buddha was describing when he was talking about suffering. Vervaeke said that it is a big misunderstanding and mistranslation that “All of life is suffering”. He pointed out the “no duh” for me, “it would be like saying everything is tall – it makes no sense, you can’t have tall without short.” So, clearly all of life is not suffering, although sometimes it really feels that way.

Life is Threatened by Suffering

He said the better translation would be something like “life is threatened by suffering” and he went on to explain parasitic processing. Which, like Hallowell’s explanation of DMN is – maladaptive coping skills, maladaptive stimuli seeking. We taught ourselves these shit things, and the more we try to not do the shit things, the more the shit things get done because the brain protects the brain. The brain perceives these things as stimuli, the brain wants stimuli, and if you don’t provide “good” stimuli, your brain will get it through the “bad” stimuli. This is how addiction becomes addiction. And really, what embodies suffering quite like addiction? But that’s all these things boils down to – maladaptive or adaptive dependencies on stimuli.

So what does it all mean, Basil? I kind of already touched on it. It means, if you wanna get out of the DMN or parasitic processing of the mind, you need to inject good shit. Much like any guidance on stopping addiction – you need to replace it with something else. Exercise, connection, mindfulness, creative outlets/expression, and all of the other things I’m supposed to do but “can’t do”. It’s super comforting that this IS shit, and it’s not just me. I think we all get convinced our issues are so important, so secret, so … “I can’t tell anyone what an utter fuck up I feel like because I need to pretend I’m doing a super grate jorb.”

I think, though, the bigger takeaway is that the more rejection and blame for all of the things that are normally abnormal – the more gifts are stifled. ADHD is a gift, it is a superpower, and while I may be terrible at a lot of things, I am exceptional at a few. I am creative, I am a talented writer, I have a gift of communication and expression, and my hyperfocus has helped me learn tomes of info – crash courses in psychology, philosophy, ADHD, whatever I decided I wanted to learn, I’ve learned. In short, one cannot cure imposter syndrome while being an imposter. (….and cue the Stuart Smalley Portion of my thesis)

I know none of this is unique, and realistically, it’s not even all that insightful. It’s a lot of regurgitation of shit I just learned. I have found that the more I am authentic – real authentic, not woo woo / new age authentic – the better it all is. (I’ll save more spirituality rants for another day, this word count is already too high)

There’s something to imposter syndrome that becomes some kind of… vicious spiral much like the depression spiral. The more inauthentic I am, the stronger imposter syndrome becomes. Which makes sense, because, like, I am being an imposter. So, to help get out of the demon mind or discipline my mind:

Connection & Authenticity: The more “real” I am, the less fearful I am of “being found out”. Every time I get scared of being myself, I remind myself that if they don’t like what I said/did/whatever, I’d rather them walk away from the real me than stick around with the fake. The blessing of the chaos of moving out here was that I don’t have a past to uphold. Everyone who has met me has met…me. Not my ego, not my Stepford self, just…me. And they blame all my shit on me being a surly East Coaster and not knowing the carefree ways of the West. They have accepted and loved me as I am and converted me to an avid ranch dressing fan. They describe me as funny, smart, and bizarrely obsessed with Gas Station sandwiches, which is a gross misrepresentation of the magic of Wawa. (Wawa I MISS YOU!!!!!!!!)

Creative Outlets: Thanks to better connections, I’ve been able to be more honest and more myself out here than ever before, and I think that’s actually part of the reason I haven’t written as much. I think before it was like, writing on the interwebs was my chance to get above water and take a deep breath and scream “I’m in here! I’m alive in here!” and I haven’t needed it as much. Writing taught me how to talk, so now the person babbling here is actually the person babbling around Nevada. Buuuuuut, I can’t expect myself to function if I don’t honor the very thing that brought me here. I can’t be here, I can’t have these friends or this life if I didn’t write, figure my shit out, fix my shit, and move my shit without writing shit down. It’s the only way to make sure I am not an imposter so that I don’t struggle so much thinking about being an imposter.

Exercise: Using my connections, I go for walks with my friends. It helps everything, it moves my ass, and it helps my ass get that luscious roundness I’ve been seeking/scratching.

Meditation/Mindfulness: When I’m not watching my cat’s ass, reminding myself to drop thoughts – literally, I don’t even have to think this, I don’t have to respond, I don’t have to anything. My brain is like a radio, I can change the channel, I can choose my thoughts, focus, attention. I can choose to watch or not watch my cat’s ass.

Shit, I should throw some kind of Among Us reference in all this. All this imposter talk and not one modern trend reference? Sus. All these Austin Powers references just date me, as I am clearly not with it or hip. Tuck a tuck a tuck a tucka! And if ya made it this far, thanks for reading along!

Links:

Podcast 348: ADHD Clarified: New Research Findings and Strategies (additudemag.com) <the webinar I reference

(1) Awakening from the Meaning Crisis – YouTube < the complete playlist of Meaning Crisis lectures.

(1) MEANING CRISIS AND CHILL – YouTube <If you learn/listen better with music – Akira the Don is livestreaming each lecture with lofi beats and it’s amazing. I had to skip ahead to the regular playlist b/c I couldn’t wait til the next episode. There’s 15 done so far, and the description gives the timestamp for when it starts.

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