On my flight back home, I listened to a certain number of podcasts. I had some fitful sleep too, but not enough (overnight flight).
After finishing the episode of Heavyweight I was listening to, I immediately went for part 2 of the Search Engine piece on ADHD medication. (I talk about part 1 in a previous post.) As promised, and expected, the story it told was much closer to mine: a woman who discovers methylphenidate in her mid-thirties, which is life-changing for her – and she wonders why it took her so long.
Her story and mine are at the same time very different and very similar. Very different: she started really struggling with reading in childhood after surgery to remove a brain tumour when she was eight. I had none of that. I did, however, have heart surgery when I was six. And what she describes about how her operation is talked about (or not talked about) in her family feels very familiar. What she says about getting the implicit message, again and again, that “everything is ok”, “it’s normal”, “nothing is wrong”.
She was very objectively struggling as a child, and I think I can honestly say I was not. Academically, that is. Socially was another matter. Being good at school ended up defining me. At one point in the podcast, PJ and his guest talk about the two different paths they ended up going down, regarding their difficulties in school: “I’m not even going to try” and “I’ll manage, whatever the cost”. I think I spent a lot of my life “managing” without even realising there was a cost. It was “normal”, right. I do remember one episode, though, where I was getting a bad evaluation (it had to do with presenting science reports). I made some effort at improvement, and still got the same bad evaluation. My reaction was clearly “forget about this”. Thankfully my parents intervened, we talked things through with the teacher and started over with more support for me and an assurance that my efforts would be rewarded.
This reminds me of the Hidden Brain episode on perfectionism I listened to a few weeks back. It was a revelation to me. I’ve always seen myself as “over perfectionism”. I understood, as a teenager, that wanted to do things “too well” was keeping me from doing them. So I made a deal with myself that it was better to “just do, even not well” than “not do, perfectly”. And generally, what I do still is viewed as at least “very good”. I thought I had cracked perfectionism. For me, perfectionists are people who spend hours doing and redoing their tasks until they are perfect. People who are hard workers.
I’m none of that. I’m a first draft person. Quickly throw something together and be done with it. One might even say, on my internal compas, minimalistic. You know, Pareto’s Law – I do the 20%.
But listening to the podcast, I was shocked to hear that my strategy was in fact another kind of perfectionism. The drive behind is the same. The bar I set for myself is still impossibly high. Only, I set myself up to fail reaching it, from the start. If I don’t really try, then it makes sense I won’t reach it, right? If I didn’t really give it my all, then it hurts less when it’s not as good as it could.
Looks like I’ve been fooling myself all these years, and I am indeed a perfectionist, despite my frantic attempts not to. I have to say this realisation upset me – not because I was wrong, but because it forced me to realise that there is where lies the source of the excruciating pressure I put on myself.
Back to the Search Engine episode: the first part had bothered me also by the use of “amphetamine” (and “speed”) to cover ADHD medication. Methylphenidate is not amphetamine, and at least in Switzerland, amphetamine is not prescribed unless there fails to be a result with methylphenidate. I thought the tone was a bit dramatising of the drug (which is understandable given PJ’s personal history). So, I’m really glad this second part showed another type of ADHD story. In a way, it’s all very well to want to throw away the meds when you’ve lived your whole life on them, but that’s also maybe forgetting that they helped you bring you where you are. I’m surrounded by so many people who have gone through life with no diagnosis and no meds (like me), only to come crashing down somewhere in their forties or fifties. And at least in Switzerland, getting an ADHD diagnosis as an adult is hard, so imagine try to get that sorted out when you’re reached a state where you’re barely functioning anymore.
Unlike PJs guest, I take my medication even on my days off, because what I struggle with (without) is simply managing daily tasks, emotions, life in general. It’s not “just” for reading or concentrating. It’s to reign in some of my hyperactivity so that I can actually get somewhere, and not feel too shitty while I’m getting there.
So, definitely an episode to listen to, probably before the first part, actually.
After that I continued with Radiolab’s Poison Control. A rerun that I hadn’t heard the first time around (I think), and as always, very interesting. I’m not sure it’s the kind of episode that’s supposed to make you cry, however – the fact I was in tears listening to it probably says more about my mental state on that plane in the middle of the night than about the podcast itself. Do listen.
One of my very favorite podcasts is Meta de Choc, a French podcast on “why we believe what we believe”. It often covers topics linked to New Age spirituality – not as innocuous as you may think. The host, Elisabeth Feytit, does an extraordinary job of explaining very clearly what is at stake, why these beliefs are problematic, and where they stem from. This episode was on modern day witches (think wicca) and the sacred feminine. If you understand French, I definitely encourage you to listen. It’s possible that like me, you’ll feel a mixture of gratitude (and relief) that somebody is putting in words your concerns, and discouragement at how difficult/impossible it is to talk somebody out of this type of belief. As somebody said, you can’t reason somebody out of the position they didn’t reason themselves into in the first place.
To continue losing hope in humanity (what was I thinking?) I followed with the first three episodes of The Kids of Rutherford County. Seriously, in what dystopian world is it even imaginable to consider throwing elementary school age kids into jail (handcuffs, jumpsuit and all – as young as 8 years old) for a schoolyard fight scene? I listened at those three episodes in shock and disbelief. What is WRONG with people? I just don’t have the words (and you know me, usually I have more than enough words). It boggles the mind.
Aside from podcast recommendations: I made it home, tired (couldn’t stay awake in the train from Geneva, was afraid of missing my stop) and drained, but happy to see Oscar, who was visibly happy to see me too. It’s rainy and foggy and windy and stormy and cold here. I’m glad I planned on having a day off to settle before going back to work on Tuesday. I’ll go back to trying to fix my Lightroom sync problems (very annoying), eat something, watch a series or two and have an early night (easy with the jetlag). Bright side of things: I should be up nice and early tomorrow morning!