The Holy Grail Syndrome
I keep getting stuck on the idea that one thing, if only I can find it, will fix all my problems.
Maybe it’s a beautiful planner that if I purchase will finally allow my life to actually be organized. Maybe it’s a diet that will finally clear my head, help my weight, and allow me to have bountiful energy throughout the day. Maybe it’s a job that once I obtain will make me happy, fulfilled, and want to wake up early with a sense of purpose.
I call this the Holy Grail Syndrome, and I don’t think I’m the only one who suffers from it. While this probably crosses a spectrum of brains, I believe ADHDers are prone to it because we are always on the prowl for the next thing that will spike our dopamine & flood us with ideas. This often comes in the form of something new — something that doesn’t belong to us but rather hangs on the periphery of belonging.
On the edge of belonging is where the thing, whether it be a potential hobby or lover or piece of clothing, looks the most enticing. Here it belongs to the realm of imagination, where the dress on Amazon will be worn on dance floors & bars & gardening and you won’t ever want another dress or the camera you want to buy will be used for making small films that will win awards and you’ll travel the world and go to the Oscars and the camera will be the catalyst to your dreams coming true.
ADHDers don’t like steps, we can often see the beginning and the ending but struggle with the inbetween (here’s a great talk by Russel Barkley about it), and the Holy Grail is often something that skips the steps by casting us in the ideal version of ourselves with the thing we wish to possess.
So the gorgeous planner I want to buy (with a blue velvet cover and pretty pink font) will work because this time I’ll remember to go back to it, I won’t become bored with it, I’ll find it very rewarding to stay on task with it. The hobby I want to get into I’ll stick with because this time it’s truly the one hobby I can see myself doing, I won’t get sidetracked, I’ll build on it and be able to incorporate it into my career & life.
These Holy Grails have appeared to me throughout the years, like mirages, and I’ve always chased them. But in the end, they are always just that, a mirage. Because once I purchase that dress or start the hobby or complete a couple of pages in the planner, the excitement wears away.
In the past when this occurred I would decide that my calculation was off, and that the real Holy Grail lay somewhere still beyond me — so I would start the searching journey all over again.
Now when the mirage appears before me and beckons me closer, I try to slow down my brain before I dive quickly into this time will be different. These are a couple of things I’ve been doing now to help dissipate the mirage.
Imagine it with your average self
Your average self is who you have been in the past, not who you hope to become in the future. It’s a you that is imperfect, that has mood swings, that does get distracted, that has off days, and good days, and great days. It’s a you that’s tried things and then gotten bored. It’s a you that’s already bought things or tried things thinking that would be IT, the answer to everything, only to find it’s not.
Now when that feeling comes over me that if only I buy this or accomplish this I’ll be the person I’ve always wanted to be, I try to picture my average self in the equation. Which is to say, that for as excited as it may make me at the beginning, in the end I’ll probably be about as happy, optimistic, and sad as I currently am. Do I still want this thing, whatever it may be, imagining that I’ll be just as happy as I currently am?
Imagine it in your average space
I find that particularly when purchasing objects, I’m often picturing the objects in an idealized space as well. For example at the store Anthropologie, I thought I wanted a pair of twinkling earrings, but taking a step back I realized that I wanted the atmosphere of the store (openness of the floor, the low-hanging lights, the soft music) as opposed to the earrings. When I pictured where the new pair of earrings would actually go in the physical space at home, I thought of the other earrings I owned which sat sadly in a small bowl.
So when thinking of buying something or doing something, try to imagine it in the reality of your day-to-day space, not the space that you hope you might one day have.
Accepting the ebb and flow of interests
I think there is an arc in our society’s fabric, including the tale of the Holy Grail, and that’s the arc of the one journey, the one skill, the one hobby, that leads to a fulfilling and meaningful life.
I’m realizing that while this is a path, this isn’t the only path, and trying to fit myself into this narrative has done me more harm than good. My natural pattern is not to stick with one thing, but rather to become incredibly curious and invested in one thing, and then leave and become incredibly invested in another. A friend once said that her hobby was collecting and letting go of hobbies, which resonates with me completely.
So now when I see something that interests me, I no longer try to attach a sense of ‘this will be something that lasts forever and be part of my identity” like I used to. Instead, I try to plan for the time I inevitably lose interest, and to give myself room and grace to go onto the next thing that interests me.
While accepting this aspect of myself has brought me grace when it comes to physical things such as dresses and planners, I realize this isn’t a way forward when it comes to personal relationships or perhaps a job I really want to stick with.
I’ve been working with my Holy Grail Syndrome several ways here — for my partner (whom I plan to stick to for life) I often think of the therapist Esther Perel, who precautions anyone from thinking they ‘own’ their partner or that they truly know their partner. In other words, I try to see my partner as always beyond my reach, never quite known or owned, and therefore always new to me.
For jobs & work it can be tricky, particularly if the work is by definition repetitive, but I now know that I thrive best in a job with lots of fast-paced projects where I can play different parts and dive in and become incredibly invested for short bursts of time (weeks and months as opposed to years). Therefore I can play the tendency of the Holy Grail while also remaining within one position.
The answer is that there is no answer
The Holy Grail, an object out there that will cure you/fix you/make you whole — does not exist, as much as I want it to. While I could be wrong about this, (and still kind of hope I am wrong about this), I also know that life is too complicated and beautiful to be solved by one thing, and I believe that you know this as well.
I’m also learning that many of the cliches are true — that as I’m accepting the shortcomings within myself, just acknowledging their existence and allowing them to be and breathe instead of trying to change them, the lower the urge is becoming to seek the Holy Grail.
I’m learning that even if there is a thing out there that will complete me, that will fix me — I won’t find it, and that I’ll be happier setting myself up for a different journey. So instead of a journey of trying to find the thing beyond that will make my life have meaning, a journey of making meaning with the things right in front of me.