I was talking with someone a couple weeks back about writing, as I do from time to time, when a message from them made me stop, lean back in my chair, and stare at it thoughtfully. Paraphrasing, they told me that it was encouraging to see someone with ADHD working on a big, involved project because they also had ADHD and were one of those all-over-the-place, bits-and-pieces writers.
I’ve been staring at that message in my askbox ever since.
I think this is a message a lot of ADHD people internalise. That we’re messy and unreliable and flit from one thing to another and can’t just stick with things. It’s definitely something I got a lot of, growing up, with a frustrated parent trying to explain to me about commitment and responsibility and not knowing what to do with my constant answers of, ‘I forget!’ and ‘I don’t notice!’ and ‘I don’t want to anymore.’ Because those answers weren’t good enough, because real life depends on reliability, and being an absolute spacecase happy with living in filth and only doing the things that weren’t drowning me in obligation and disappointment wasn’t good enough.
“Just do the thing,” says a baffled person without ADHD. “You just… do it. It’s not that big a deal.”
ADHD is a lack of ability to Can. ADHD is savagely informing yourself of how stupid you are for forgetting something vital for the third time in a row after informing yourself that you were going to Remember this time, you would Put it Somewhere Obvious, and you would check after walking out the door, and you forgot it again anyway. ADHD is a problem not existing if it is not in front of your eyeballs. ADHD is coming up with a complex system of putting everything in front of your eyeballs so you never forget everything and then being surprised when you are suddenly overwhelmed. ADHD is having a perfectly-laid-out plan of attack in front of you and growing to hate yourself as you spend the next six hours getting distracted by YouTube and not being able to shut it down anyway. ADHD is virtuously shutting down all distractions and then staring at the thing you need to do and crying for the next three hours. ADHD is then snapping into hyperfocus mode and getting it done in one hour and beating yourself up about how much better it would have been if you’d just done the fucking thing.
And then you do it all again anyway. Because it’s not that hard. You should just be able to do the thing, fuck.
I love writing. I’ve been doing it for long enough now that I’m tolerably decent at it, and being part of fandom means that I basically get a shit-ton of compliments for something I like doing anyway. Most of all, writing has never meant obligation, to me. I shut that shit down hard and fast if I see it, because I never want it to be an obligation. I don’t even edit, because I spend so much mental energy on just getting it Done and Out that any further obligation on my behalf would ruin it for me.
There’s something comforting, about the fact that there are people expecting things from me. I dictate the terms of that expectation, and were anyone to get stroppy at me if I fail to give them something, I’d laugh in their fucking face, but I can’t deny that there is something very powerful about one’s skills being wanted. And in all honesty, that’s a huge part of what does it for me, with writing. My output would be much more infrequent, were there not literal hundreds of people patiently waiting on me. It’s a function of my self-esteem, and the ways people get esteem, but I’ve certainly had more than one heated conversation over my priorities when people wrap their heads around, “You’re writing for free? Instead of doing something useful?”
Look. If I have a point here that I want people to internalise about mental health, it’s this: Sometimes - a lot of the time! - Ability to Can is not transferable. My brain fails hard on the Standard Domestic Duties front, but does amazingly well on the Writing While In Lectures front. I’m gaining immeasurable value in my life, by doing my silly free internet writing. I post it because it also offers value to others, but I’d be writing anyway because it’s the kind of activity that Ability to Can will either exist or not exist for, regardless of whether I have Ability to Notice Trash Needs Emptying or Ability to Find Three Articles to Review for Assignment.
We’re all productive in our own ways. And I’m slowly learning that this isn’t an excuse - that, a lot of the time, I really don’t have the ability to pull myself together enough to start tackling my to-do list. A lot of the time, I don’t have enough Can in me to make the to-do list. It’s that Happy Naive Freeloader image from the outside, but in reality, from the inside, I’ve probably spent four hours screaming at myself to do the thing, given up, and decided to at least do something I enjoy.
That’s not a bad thing. For me, for me, the feeling of getting something Done when I publish a fic is worth the feel of the obligation from the following I gather - but the fact is? With ADHD, if you do anything, you are basically a goddamn superhero. Even if it’s worthless to the outside world. Even if its only purpose is to make you happy. The only way I’ve found to counteract my brain’s sneering and vitriol is to firmly insist that things might not be necessary - but they are necessary to me. Maybe it’s stupid of me to pour so much effort into free writing! But it’s necessary to me. Maybe you wanna beat yourself up about how the things you do never result in anything you can use for Real Purposes - but it’s necessary to you.
Which is where I come to my initial reaction to the ask. Sorry, long post, I know, but clearly I have Thoughts on the matter, and they are: Don’t ever fucking dare cheapen something you love by being the first to rage at yourself for it. Don’t ever ever ever use the parts of something you’re not working towards achieving to slam yourself. I’m good at sticking out longer works, but that’s because they provide opportunities that I love exploring. Don’t beat yourself up for being able to Write Properly or Art Properly or Anything Properly. Find the parts of the work you love, and dedicate yourself to that, because there’s more than enough eye-rolling you-can’t-even-do-the-thing in the rest of the world to bother with tainting the things you like, too. Write little snippets. Build worlds. Do sketches. Paint half your nails and leave the rest because your non-dominant hand is hard and you don’t wanna. Cook something and forget half the ingredients and decide you like it anyway. In at least one thing, please let yourself be flawed and incomplete and love it viciously anyway, because the fact that you did it at all is amazing and wonderful.
With ADHD, there is always going to be someone saying that you are not Doing Life Properly. Maybe you’re not! But that doesn’t mean you don’t get to choose how to make sure that life is worth living, beyond the framework of obligation.