Ever since I was young I’ve always been in a rush to define, understand and act, in order to move on. So, when I ended up in a bit of a state last year I resorted to my usual define, understand, act process. Currently as I emerge the other side of this episode, I’m starting to think that my learned set of actions were perhaps the worst thing I could have done at the time, and I wonder if I am any more resilient now as a result. Let me explain…
I wasn’t diagnosed with anything until I was 18 when I got a few titles — ADHD and wicked-bad short term memory. However, by that age (and to have survived and stayed in school) I’d managed to develop my own systems to handle their most disruptive manifestations.
The UK disability support services gave me a lot when I entered university — computers, printers, voice-activated software, dictaphone, extra time in exams — but all of this fell away because it didn’t actually help me — just helped me to hook my pals up with some cheap gear.
I managed a pretty successful university career, trading on the things I was good at; working outside in the “field”; working in teams; organisation; motivation; with the things I was bad at; lectures; exams. I made it through and even managed to add a Masters degree too at the end. All without pills, all without any real help from UK disability support services.
I figured I was in pretty good shape and carried on leveraging my talents (which incidentally is the topic of another article on the benefits of ADHD) into jobs and ended up in a senior position, based in Bangkok, Thailand for a Scandinavian research company in just 5 years.
Things were good, until I started to discuss moving back to Scandinavia. First, I didn’t get a job that had been (unofficially) promised to me (didn’t even get an interview). Second, my position was ‘re-organised’ into something at a much lower level and outside of my area of super-skills. Third, I was declined a promotion, based on the fact that the position I was heading to didn’t exist anymore. All this in the space of a few weeks, sent me into a spin which sucked in anyone close to me.
It was as if the rug had been pulled from beneath me. The way I had managed people, and the respect I had given my employees was not shown to me, and worse, nor were they doing anything physically wrong according to current working practice (morals are another thing). I saw someone with less experience than me get the job which I had been promised; I found I was the only one to be upset about the re-organisation and I became that most dangerous of things in the workplace, a lone voice of opposition.
I got super down, and really low. I felt betrayed, and I felt worthless. I felt like I had given 5 years of solid gold for this organisation and then been kicked in the nuts. It was around this time that I saw a friend just after he had picked up a big prescription of Ritalin from the pharmacy. It got me thinking…I’ve got a diagnosis — can I get some pills, maybe that’s the answer?
So very quickly (this was Thailand don’t forget) I was able to get my ritalin, BOOM, it blew my head off — I can barely take a strong coffee and ritalin send me over the edge, so I decided to try a more subtle form called Concerta and that worked fine. I didn’t need it every day, but to have a pack in my bag, means I can always deliver a solid day of work, wherever my head is that day. (The fact that I prioritise my productivity at work over almost all else says a lot about the situation)
But now I had a legal supplier, I started browsing….I mentioned the things happening with work and was given Cymbalta. I started slow and then went up to 60mg.
Cymbatla sorted me out. The infinite loops of anger (really sadness), sadness (really anger), frustration, and a whole heap of negative actions that were both in my head, and that I was dumping on my spouse and kids on a daily basis were more controllable. I developed the ability to just switch off the negative looping thoughts in my head at bedtime and then go to sleep. Things got much better. I still had the emotions, I still had the thoughts, but I was able to detach myself most of the times I wanted.
The pills gave me a break, and I needed that break. But then I moved away from Thailand and back to Scandinavia. I had no issues getting a renewed prescription for the Cymbalta. It was so easy it got me to thinking…what is the end-game for these pills. Is this it? Forever?
I liked the Cymbalta, don’t get me wrong. With them I was able to drink way more wine than before, and I love drinking wine. But I felt the stability they gave me, was entirely dependent on the pills. It wasn’t a real sense of resilience. For a kid to have completed virtually all of school with no help, was being an adult so hard I needed medication just to cope? I didn’t like what that said about me. I didn’t like being to dependent.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never been perfect, I’m simultaneously aggressive with some people, and meek with others. I have a work face and a home face. If I use an analogy of the film Twins with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito — the films premise is that all the good went into one and the bad into another. Well I kinda had these Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde masks too. The work one would be all good, and the home one a lot of the bad. A poor balance when you consider with which groups actually cares for me.
Without realising it, at work I had sold myself, and I was playing a role, one that wasn’t sustainable and wasn’t healthy. I was entirely dependent on my senior colleagues to feel good about myself, and at the same time, I was unable to internalise the positive praise I was getting at work. It was as unhealthy an addiction as I can imagine. I thirsted for more ‘things’ to show my brilliance— the promotion, the pay raise, the position, yet these prizes are infrequent at the best of times. Not the right type of things that should define ones daily mood — and yet they did. I had outsourced my self esteem and confidence to people who a) didn’t want it and b) didn’t even know they had it. I was incapable of defining my own emotions — I was like a baby — and at home in many ways I was acting just like one.
I realised then that the pills were a crutch. They had enabled me to stay in the game, but it was actually the game that was wrong. My problem wasn’t because of my ADHD diagnosis but it was because I was pegging my identity and self-worth myself against things I had little or no control over. It was a recipe for failure.
I see this trope everywhere. Its embedded in popular culture as much as it is embedded in the workplace. The concept defined by the fact that the only way is UP. I don’t want to throw the term around, but I lay this squarely at the door of the ‘late-capitalist’ time we live in. I was a sub-optimal capitalist and what that system supported me to do was to get back onto the wheel. The rewards; the job, money, “success”, were things I had little or no control over.
This left me with the question — How can I learn to define my own worth? I am responsible for my own actions, but responding to my society-induced problems with medication was nothing more than a patch, it wasn’t a fix.
But I can’t break the system today. I need a job — I have to work. But I have to struggle to not let it define me to such an extent as it did before. Like it or not I do live in the late-capitalist period.
I also need to see that myself, and my goddam senior managers alike are all isolated players on the same tradmill. They all are operating under the same conditions at different stages of awareness. I can’t hold them accountable for my depression or my disillusionment with my job.
Can one thrive? Yes, I think one can, but you need to know the rules of the game, which in some cases are fucking bleak — gold miners, textile workers, sex workers — and I think I’ve got problems. We are all fighting our own battles, the least we can do is recognise that this capitalist machine, to which we are all beholden, is largely a game of luck. And those at the bottom did nothing to deserve their position than those at the top. We must see the human in people and try to enjoy life before we die.