Yours Truly: Front and Centre (Part II).

About a week ago I started to write this post but I needed to do a lot of soul searching and remembering. So I published the original short post you can see here. In order to preserve the continuity, I will reproduce the part about me growing up here again.

Childhood

You see, as a child, although I had quite a bit of anxiety already, I was fine being in the thick of fun performing in dance recitals, plays, and so on. In fact, like my father, I am a natural extrovert. With the onset of ADHD-PI (or ADD, as it used to be called) things have started to change. Of course at the time I had no idea about any of that alphabet soup, nor did anyone else in my backward-ass place of birth. The way to deal with unruly kids was to pump them full of tranquilisers and stuff them in the room with padded walls. As my attention began to wonder quite a lot, I became more and more introverted. (The running joke/explanation was that I had “deep inner world.” So as much as I tried to concentrate, there was only so much information that would sift through the inattention filter. No matter how much I studied, my marks kept getting more and more depressing and so did I. The level of anxiety though, kept going up and up. That wouldn’t do in my society of birth and so I did the best I could (and my best was quite good – too good, as it turned out) to put up the appearances of normality and to lock down any out-of-place feeling or impulse.)

The Move

Eventually my family moved to the more civilised part of the world but by that time a host of damage has already been inflicted. At the best of circumstances, it is hard enough being a teenager. Pair that with feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, fear augmented by the fact that suddenly everyone around you speaks a language you only have a cursory grasp on, and what you have is a recipe for disaster. Within a short time I became a complete introvert. I yearned though to be accepted and put all my efforts to try to be “normal” like everyone else. Throughout school, college, university, things kept getting progressively worse. There was a smaller burnout when I failed several courses because I couldn’t get myself going to school but I managed to recover from that through sheer willpower and an inbred dose of duty to the cell of society known as family. By that time I had almost no friends. I spent all my time either doing chores, or studying, or locking myself inside my brain and getting away into the fantasy world of books and television.

Obsessions

Here’s a thing about ADHD in all of its variations: if the task at hand is interesting and exciting, we can concentrate the shit out of it. Or is it on it? Regardless… My life has always been ruled by obsessions. My mind would get stuck on the idea and I would torture it to death until a new one came along. Each new obsession would get me excited and I would be able to function better overall for a period of time. This has been the case up to and including present time. I suppose I got so obsessed with the idea of being in love that when it was torn from me in such a cruel manner my world has completely disintegrated once again.

The Change

My culturally enforced devotion and natural closeness to my family, as well as books and TV, managed to keep me going for quite some time. But eventually things fall apart. I hit a  wall again. Though it took me a several years to realise, one event became a catalyst in the emotional slide at the time. One early September morning, I woke up very early contrary to my natural inclination to sleep until the neighbours start asking me to turn off my way-too-loud alarm clock. So I settled nicely in front of CNN morning newscast. Lewis Black once joked that between a headlines panel at the bottom of the screen, and the sidebar on the right showing you the state of the stock market (“so you know somebody’s getting rich but it ain’t fucking you”), and the weather on the opposite side bar, “and in the middle there’s this fucking head that’s talking at you”, watching CNN gives you ADD. For my already jumbled mind, however, that visual cacophony was heaven of stimulation. The news anchor appeared to be sitting on the roof of the building or somewhere high up and behind them I could see a city skyline with a plume of smoke rising. It would seem that a horrible accident has occurred and a passenger jet has somehow struck one of the towers of the World Trade Centre. As I was glued to the screen I noticed something that the anchors sitting with their back to the scene did not realise straight away: I saw the second plane heading for the already smoking complex. At that point this was no longer a coincidence, nor an accident however terrible. And the world has changed forever.

(First) Disintegration and The Big Lie

Whether 9/11 played a role in me falling completely apart within a short time or whether it was a coincidence is impossible to say with any certainty but my outlook on the world and life in general has soured quite a bit. By that time I was having an inordinate amount of difficulty with school and I began hating my chosen subject of study with passion. Within a semester I flunked out. Of course being me I could not bring myself to admit this to anyone and so I lied. I kept going through the paces of going to the university library and looking for a job all the while putting up appearances of getting up every morning to go to school. Needless to say that eventually that mirage has dissipated to reveal the ugly truth.

First Glimpse

The summer before 9/11 I came across a checklist for detecting whether a child may have ADD/ADHD. At the time I remember thinking “Wow! This describes me to a T!” However, after discussing this possibility with my summer coworkers, they have all reassured me that it couldn’t possibly be true. What no one, including me, has considered was that after years of locking down my feelings, impulses, and thoughts, it were unlikely that I would exhibit any outward signs of ADD/ADHD that educators and child care specialists are trained to look for in the subject. And so I ambled on, punching my way through learning, all the while trying to come to terms with the ugly reality that I was just too stupid for university learning.
Following my flunking out, I banged around from one meaningless telemarketing job to another. Since confidence is paramount to being a good salesman, it is only logical that I would keep getting fired from those jobs. And since I kept my situation secret from everyone who knew me, my feelings of hopelessness and despair were getting progressively worse.
Eventually my non-student status was found out by my family. It was bad but not as bad as I feared it would be. Everyone in my family held at least a masters degree except for my maternal grandfather (more about him at some later post) who apparently had similar problems to mine in school.
With the renewed dose (however small) of confidence due to the end of the world being slightly postponed, I eventually found a job to my liking and decided to make that area my professional career. I knew it would never amount to anything and be stuck in an entry level position for the rest of my life, but at least I had something and I made some friends who did not think I was a freak.

Things Are Looking Up

That ADD/ADHD checklist kept bothering me. So I went to see my old college psych professor. He said that my concerns were genuine and referred me to several professionals who could talk to me about Adult ADD. The assessment for ADD/ADHD apparently costs $800–$1,000. My family thought that this was a frivolous waste of money since I clearly could not have had ADD/ADHD. I was just inattentive and it was my own fault. (Only took a better part of a decade to convince them otherwise.) And so I went on, sinking deeper into the depression, unable to cope with my desire for better life, a life I knew I could never have. Eventually though I saved up some money and went to be part of a university study on Adult ADD that required only half of the standard fee. It wasn’t because I was convinced that I had it (though the possibility did exist as faint hope in the back of my mind). No. It was rather because IQ testing is a component of assessment and I needed to prove to my family that I was just not smart enough to go back to university like they wanted me to do. After an 8-9 hour ordeal I was thanked for my participation and told that I would be contacted by the person leading the research. They did and I learned that I wasn’t a cretin and that I had a particularly nasty case of ADD-I or ADHD-PI, as it is now called. My family was doing the I-told-you-so song and dance, conveniently avoiding the part about me actually having a serious problem.

The Present and More Obsessions

While I rode the high wave of knowing that there was an actual problem that I could deal with, the future looked bright indeed. I would discover new hobbies (obsessions) and dive deep into them. For a long time photography and hiking were my go-to ways to deal with the world. I discovered a local blues festival and fell in love with the music. It spoke to me on a deeply emotional level and it still does. When I hear those sounds, they transport me to a world with no pain, no worries and they mend (if only for a while) my worried mind.
Unfortunately, all those doubts, fears, misery, suicidal thoughts, feelings of inadequacy that lasted for over two decades did not manically disappear from my heart and soul. Masked by distractions of work and various obsessions they festered in the background, slowly rotting through my inner self deep inside my own mind.
Then things got pretty bad around late 2012 and kept being pretty bad for several months. I tried to concentrate on the good stuff: going to the gym to climb and improv. We did some pretty fun long form shows and I felt ecstatic. That didn’t last long. It never did. Whatever event, achievement, good thing would distract me for a bit would not dislodge the deep-seeded darkness within me.
And then I met Her. I liked Her but was not all that impressed. But there was something. It intrigued me. So we went out for a bit but She said she was not really interested in me romantically but wanted to remain friends and continue to hang out. I was fine being friends as I liked Her and so we spent a lot of time together. I met her friends and she met mine. For a while at least, the dark clouds maybe not receded but disappeared behind Her glow. Eventually we got together and I was lost. I was in love and I started to realise how unworthy I was of Her.

The darkness came back.

I fought against it but I fought alone. I fell into familiar patterns that have been reinforced by years of not doing anything about my issues. I started losing interest in most things and started getting the same weird aches and pains. Breakup followed soon after. As much as it was an inevitability, it still floored me. When She started seeing someone else right away I came undone. I disintegrated.

And that is where I am now. I started therapy and this blog. I have gotten a lot of support from my circle of friends and this new blogging community that I am discovering. I wish I could say things are looking up. The road in front of me is long and fraught with pitfalls and obstacles. But I have a support structure and people that care. I do not wish to let them down and there are many others who went through much worse and darker shit and came out on the other side. They are my inspiration and my strength.

This new voyage I embark upon, this is my forlorn hope.

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Day 13. Improv Rules For A Healthier Life.

Note how the tile talks about a “healthier life” not a happier one. There is a reason for that but more about it later. As previously mentioned, one of my obsessions – that arose from trying to distract myself from the fact that I have been depressed for the past 20 years or so – has been improv, otherwise also known as improvisational theatre. There are a number of resources and articles out there denoting an important relationship and similarity between therapy and improv, as well as between improv and life in general, including The Way of Improvisation by a Canadian improviser Dave Morris.

Discovering improv (purely by accident) has allowed me to better deal with my problems. And although it has delayed my most recent meltdown which finally made me seek professional help, it has also made me more aware of my life, my world, and my problems. In fact, the speed with which I went out searching for therapy can be directly credited to improv for making me more self-aware.

As one can easily deduct not only from my current situation but from life in general, knowing the recipe to better life and being able to live it are two different things. So this is not just for those that will somehow stumble upon my writings but also for myself. Now, as I have mentioned earlier, there are a number of articles and posts written on the same subject. I will concentrate here on things and problems peculiar to my life experience. This enlightenment does not mean that I have learned these lessons and am a happy guy and am now telling you that this will make you happy as well. This is rather a case of “do as I say, not as I do.” I have learned these lessons but putting them into action is a constant struggle that is life. These rules are not magic beans and they won’t grow your life into something you want the moment you read them. The reason I compare improv to therapy is because you have to work on this as much as you would in therapy. And improv and therapy are not mutually exclusive but complement each other. Do not leave or avoid therapy for a chance to play and be popular. That was my mistake and it has cost me dearly. The other important notion is that improv is not just comedy. As in real life, there can and should be plenty of dramatic material in it.

So without further ado, here are the improv rules for a healthier life:

1. Say “Yes, and”, don’t deny or block.
Here’s the thing: when shit happens some of us, especially those with an anxiety problem, tend to go apeshit. I in particular have been very angry at the unfairness of the universe for sticking me with this handicap in form of ADHD-PI. Here’s the other thing: there’s no point in it. You can rail against it, cry about it, hurt yourself in various ways and it won’t change a goddamn thing. The best you can do is take a deep breath and remind yourself to move on. Say yes to this because that is the only way you can move past the issue that you have been unfairly saddled with; saying “no” and throwing a hissy fit in the direction of God, universe, the Force, etc will leave you in the same place you already are. Also, do not say no to your feelings. Trying to deny being angry is just as pointless as being stuck being angry. The “and” part after “yes” is what will allow you to figure out how to live with yourself. So “YES:” I got ADHD-PI with deep depression and horrible anxiety; I have trouble forming relationships and being a normal, social human being; I am pissed and hurt, because things are not the way I want them to be. “AND” I am going to therapy and have started this blog to try to untangle the mess that I’m in.

2. Don’t block.
In improv, blocking is defined as rejecting your scene partner’s offer. This is similar to saying “no” but not quite easy same thing in my humble opinion. “No” will just stop the progression of the scene same as the progression of your life. Blocking just makes things go in a different direction. In my case, I would find new hobbies, start new relationships, and ignore the stuff going on in my head. In life, you are your own scene partner (the other being life itself) so listen to yourself, pay attention to yourself, and support yourself.

3. Be in the moment.
You probably have heard a saying: “Yesterday’s the past, tomorrow’s the future, but today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.” It is very inspirational but kind of a bullshit. If you ignore or deny your past, you cannot have any future; and if you ignore the future your present will seem bland and pointless. Know it, remember it, go for it, but live in the here and now. This is just as important in life as in improv. You have to know exactly what happened for the scene and life to make sense. But be in the moment because that’s the only thing that matters right now. You can plan what will happen in the scene later on but this is improv so anything can happen at any moment. If your head is too much in the past or the future, you can miss a wonderful gift that life or your scene partner can come up with at any moment.

4. Change.
If nothing happens in life or in a scene than no one cares, including (most importantly) yourself. Be a part of life and allow it to change you. Every character you meet has the potential to change you. Allow that to happen and you will be better for it.

5. Play the game and have fun.
Shakespeare wrote that life is a stage and we are all actors in it. I would go even further and say that life is a long-form improv play. I hate those “present is a gift” and “play is a play” type of overly sweet platitudes but here we (unintentionally) are. Life is not a mere open scene but rather a succession of them. Remember that life is a game and you don’t always know the rules. So play the cards your are dealt regardless whether you like them. Sooner or later you will get something you can use. There’s a guy in Brazil who spent the last 45 years in bed after contracting polio as a child. He is also an animator who is in the process of creating an animated show based on the book written by his polio-stricken friend who has been in the same hospital with him for all these years. Your experiences are your own and only you can figure out how to make each and every one of them count for something.
There are many formats in improv and they are all good and their choice depends on preferences of players. It is up to you to choose he one that enriches your life the most and even change from one to another. You can live your life as a montage of scenes related to each other, or make it a long-form narrative, or a Harold. The choice of how you live your life is yours. Just remember to have fun because if people see you have fun they will stay with you. Even when the scene or a period in your life is so full of drama and sorrow, as long as you go through it with poise and purpose knowing that this is but a moment and you treat it with no less importance at the fun part, then audiences and people around you will stay and be a part of your unique experience.

So these are some basic things about life and improv. I hope that they will help you the same as they are helping me. It’s important though to not get stuck on them and look beyond them. If you decide to take improv classes in the hopes of improv-ing you life then do so but remember to live your life and pay attention to it and not using the fun of improv to let yourself ignore that which is most important: your own real life. For life may be a stage, but stage is not a substitute for life.