Goodbye for Now

Forget the Gregorian calendar.  Summer’s over.  Because it was dark before I sat on the front porch.  Because I’m pushing aside thoughts of potential trainings for my sharp, new English teachers, confident we can dramatically improve writing scores this year.  Because it’s windy, rainy sweater weather.  But mostly, because Charming is gone.

The end of our Hampton Roads summer was as inevitable as the future of our relationship was uncertain.  Before a couple of months doing life together while Charming took this course and we continued investing in couple’s counseling, we committed to a decision point.  Surely, after this summer, we would know, for certain, one way or the other.  We’d lovingly part ways or commit to a bigger decision.

As August 26th and his departure drew near, I was grateful for the start of school, a welcomed obsession to occupy me no matter the outcome.  We hadn’t made much progress in our conflict resolution strategies.  While I sensed a growing strength and maturity developing between us, it wasn’t measurable; Charming wasn’t there yet.  He suggested an extension, and I held to our original date.  Training new teachers kept me free from worry in the week leading up to it.  I was going to know if I was going to spend the rest of my life with this man or begin the process of moving on.

The sleepless nights continue in this transition process of medication for insomnia common in ADHD patients.  Rediscovering myself through the lens of the diagnosis has been liberating and cathartic.  For the first three weeks after doctors started experimenting with medications, Charming was with me on those sleepless nights.  He’d stay with me, so even if I lay awake for hours, his presence, his touch, his breathing soothed and comforted me.  Night after night, he’d sleep easily, and I’d cuddle into him with my Agape Cornerstone beads, think, and pray.

I’d try not to think about this partnership imminently ending, but for the first time in two years, we had no future plans. Charming purchased us tickets on Friday night in Virginia Beach to see the Goo Goo Dolls.  It was our last shared Google Calendar event.  The next day, he’d move back home and resume work at the Pentagon… right after that long-anticipated, final Relationship Defining Talk.  August 26th.

If you’re an Xennial, the very mention of Goo Goo Dolls rouses nostalgia – middle school slow dances and hoping a hit from Dizzy up the Girl plays on your friend’s car radio.  The concert was amazing.  We met up with my friends Angel and Rob after the opening act, then took our respective seats encouraged by good, free conversation and mediocre, expensive vices, expectant for the musical experience to come.

Charming and were surprised by the number of newer songs we knew.  I was there for the old stuff, and one song in particular. Ten songs in, they hadn’t played it.  The girl beside me mentioned she hoped the next was, “Iris.”  It was the only one she knew.  It’s what I was waiting for.  And yes, it’s because of the movie soundtrack it played on.  When it was first released, City of Angels advanced to the top of my film favorites and stayed until I was old enough to question an angel’s desire to give up forever to be with a human woman and live a temporary life, and eventually to be angered at (spoiler alert) the sadistic irony of this woman’s death after two minutes together.

Nicholas Cage played the character well.  He fell in love with a doctor, but he was an angel, and when he learned he could “die” and become human, he made that call.  At fifteen, I longed for a man to love me that way.  How romantic!  He’d give up everything, even eternity.  It was romantic idealism at its finest, accosting the teenage mind with the irrational power of the abstract, tempting, obsessive, elusive, true love.

I don’t know that I ever really understood the words to the song, but I belted them out along with my girl friends at parties.  It paired well with teen angst and immediate gratification.  My adolescent brain boiled it down to this: Nothing else matters.  No one understands me.  Everything is broken.  It will end eventually, so I will enjoy being with you tonight.

It’s the narrative of the world, isn’t it?  We had a private dance show, it seemed, with some older women who’d had a little too much to drink.  I was feeling my age, realizing I looked more like them than the cute teens down in the front row who sing along with nineties’ songs they memorized last month.  Charming’s hand in mind tethered me to the present as John Rzeznik gave a real live soundtrack for what might be our last date.

For twenty songs, I waited, hoping the next intro would give me that long-anticipated, nostalgic song from my youth.  Slide, Black Balloon, So Alive, Here is Gone, Name, Better Days. They saved it for last.  We stood and swayed and waved our lighted devices.  I smiled when I heard the words: “And I’d give up forever to touch you ’cause I know that you feel me somehow.  You’re the closest to heaven that I’ll ever be, and I don’t want to go home right now.”  I loved having Charming hold me at night, and we’ve continued to honor God with our relationship.  We don’t ever have to give up forever.  One day, I will be in heaven, and so will he… but I could agree that I didn’t want to go home right then and face the decision point looming before us.

I cried when heard them sing, “And all I can taste is this moment, and all I can breathe is your life, and sooner or later it’s over; I just don’t wanna miss you tonight.”  The girl beside me sang along this time.  Charming sang along.  I sang along.  I hoped beyond hope that he was feeling what I was, that sooner or later wasn’t going to be tomorrow, that he was breathing in this moment and praying for more, too.

I actually wept when I heard the familiar lyrics with completely new meaning:  “And I don’t want the world to see me ’cause I don’t think that they’d understand.  When everything’s meant to be broken, I just want you to know who I am.”  Charming told me this summer he needed to be heard and he needed to be known.  Everything around us can and will fall apart, but he needed me to know him, deeply and completely.

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In that moment, swaying slowly amongst synchronized strangers, Charming was the only person in my world.  I clung to his hand wishing I’d never have to let it go.  If after twenty songs, that last song hadn’t been Iris, would the night have been a waste?  No, but it’s what I was there for.  And if the next day, Charming told me he wished me the best of luck, we’ll never know what we missed out on.  I only know Iris was the best part of the concert because it happened, and it’s when I knew.

Still relishing in the afterglow of the best of Goo Goo Dolls live in concert, we were slow to get to brunch and conversation on Saturday.  He was all packed up, so we just needed to make a decision and move forward.  It was a bit anticlimactic, I’ll admit.  Charming presented a strong case for taking some time process on his own and return in two weeks with a decision.

I’d told him no extensions.  I wanted to hold true to my word.  But it felt different this time.  I was hearing him.  I was listening to what he was saying, words just for me, and knowing him.  My desire for closure on a set date was semantics at this point; I love him.  He needs a couple more weeks.  How could I deny him that when just hours before I had my confirmation, swaying beside strangers.

We said goodbye for now.  I have plenty of new teachers and preps and students to fill my days.  The nights are longer now, though.  I miss Charming’s arm around my shoulder in the still, quiet hours of the night when everyone on Earth is asleep.  He holds me while I talk to God.  The Goo Goo Dolls couldn’t write a song about this unless they’ve experienced the incredible gift of a relationship with another broken human being that brings them closer to their Creator, to a life that glorifies God, an eternity in heaven.

Summer is over.  Charming is gone.  In two weeks, he promises a decision that is the product of thought, prayer, and wise counsel.  Maybe it’s all those sleepless nights with my Agape Cornerstones, but I’m at peace.

I don’t want to miss him tonight, but I don’t believe that everything is made to be broken.

Four Days with Charming

In the morning, I go back to school.  Like last year, I’m hoping staying ahead with my planning will bolster my work performance so that Charming matters won’t interfere.  Last summer ended with my post “Four Days Without Charming” detailing a break-up and swift reconciliation.  Twelve months later, the end of another summer in Hampton Roads means four days left for me and Charming.

After all, it’s been two years.  What do you do when the vast number of items in the “For” column are unequally weighted against a couple baggage violations on the “Con” side?  We’ve had an incredible journey.  We’ve navigated a dozen or so decision points about the future of our relationship, and the uncertainty and risk remain far more daunting than the fantastic lure of forever with a great love and best friend. In counseling last week, Dr. Huff asserted that choosing a marriage partner is a risk.  He saw no reason we shouldn’t move forward in terms of compatibility, and he reaffirmed the importance of honoring God with a relationship.

Saturday involved some serious post-discussions about the upcoming decision point.  It’s the critical moment we agreed upon in the spring when my biological clock was triggering unwanted alarms every day.  We were blessed with a summer in my neck of the woods while Charming took a ten week class, and with the benefit of couple’s counseling, we thought it reasonable to conclude we’d have a handle on our future course by this weekend.

That’s just four days away, and I can’t imagine after all our misadventures in recent weeks adjusting to my ADHD diagnosis and medication overhaul that he’ll be whipping out the perfect engagement ring.  So do I prepare for that outcome?  No, that would keep me up at night.  And there are plenty of other things to keep me up at night.

Like missing the magic pill that used to give me glorious sleep for 8 hours straight every night for eight years.  Trying to find some combination of new sleep strategies, natural and medicinal, ruling out various options after a week and a half of sleepless nights.  Adjusting to the crash after the ADHD medication wears off and discerning when I’m not in a good place for a deep conversation.  These are the current things, like the MRI tomorrow night that’s going to confirm my partially torn rotator cuff from the Italy trip needs surgery.  Most important of all, school starts tomorrow for teachers, and two weeks from today I’ll be greeting my next class of major investments.

I’ve often wondered if other teachers have trouble sleeping the night before like I do; regardless of pre-existing conditions, we’ll have a lot to think about tomorrow.  Maybe others opt not to procrastinate and just go ahead and start worrying about schedules and preps and balancing meetings a few days early.  I’m ready for my department meeting Thursday apart from a few forthcoming details from other invested parties.  My classes will be tough this year.  We’ve dropped one whole section of yearbook, which means we’ll have to produce a quality product to live up to last year’s standards with half the time and fourteen fewer staffers.  I can think of a myriad other concerns some of my friends might juggle instead of counting sheep tonight.

It’s not just about work though, it’s our lives.  As they unfold, amidst all the beautiful portraits revealed in the virtual gallery of our lives, relics and ruins punctuate the pristine halls.  It was that way in the Vatican museum, restored and vibrant pieces alongside broken remains important enough to keep on display.  And really, the ruins only made the undamaged prize pieces more glorious and worthy of pilgrimage.   In Pompeii, Mt. Vesuvius loomed triumphantly across the horizon as I glimpsed the petrified body of a baby and a sleeping man taken by his might centuries ago.  We’re sobered by the remains of what was great.

I think that’s why, if I dare to glimpse through the halls of my own virtual gallery, all about me, I’ll see a sea of beautiful moments captured, framed, sculpted into perceived permanency.  Musical leads, degrees, ribbons, awards, all in cases.  If Google Drive’s analytics suggested the best current showcase, it would be a collection of my dates with Charming.  We’re so good together; it’s hard to look away from all the shots we took.  We’ve achieved dreams and goals together.  Will there be more?

Great things happen, and we amass our trophies, certificates of merits and marriage, personally taking inventory of all we accumulate as we achieve dreams and goals.  Somehow, they stand tall against the ruins of things that that were destroyed, like Mt. Vesuvius.  How can we be impressed by its grandeur while we’re standing amidst ruins it created?   Somehow, people still live in Pompeii.  Is there any certainty Mt. Vesuvius won’t spew volcanic ash?  That’s a pretty incredible risk to take.

I wonder if marriage for Charming is like Mt. Vesuvius, having claimed so many personal treasures and turned them into relics in his own virtual gallery.   I can understand his hesitancy to take a risk and choose to marry an inactive Mt. Vesuvius in the hopes it won’t erupt, even if the current candidate has been tested safe for cohabitation.  How could he be 100% certain when he’s experienced the collateral damage of the associated mountain I want to climb with him?

I’m not sure whether to worry about this weekend’s decision point or school starting, but a beach day with Angel on Sunday brought some necessary clarity.  I was sitting in the shallow water at Ft. Monroe playing with the sand.  I was telling Angel and her husband, Rob, that summer was ending, and I was feeling it all slip through my fingers like grains of sand.  I’d written about that last week.

As I started to demonstrate, I realized the wet sand didn’t slip through my fingers at all.  The water acted as a bonding agent between the individual particles, creating a malleable mound like clay; however temporary, I laughed as I merged my open palms into a heart-shaped mold, and the moisture let me hold onto it.  For a little while in the surf, neither summer nor love wasn’t slipping through my fingers.

I believe that Charming and I are fallen and broken people saved by grace and walking similar paths to honor God with our lives and our relationship.  We could have some beautiful family portraits in a shared virtual gallery.  The relics and ruins will be there too, but we’d only see more manifest excellence in the permanent fixtures and additions.  I’m not sure what will become of the Google Drive photos and current showcase in my gallery if the fear of the risk outweighs amassed treasures and future potential.

I realize it’s cliché to say that God is the glue that holds the marriage together, but it makes sense.  It’s like He’s taking uncooperative grains of sand, going between them to hold love together, an eternal seal that keeps the heart intact.  Do we really believe that perfect love casts out fear?

Yesterday, Charming took me to the shooting range on base with some of his friends.  It had been a long time since I’d shot my pistol.  It was on our first date, actually.  Giving the impending decision point, it seemed fitting that one of potential last dates mirror that one.  Watching him handle a Beretta, I remembered the first time in Richmond.  I knew that day that I could marry him, despite knowing the painful sting of divorce myself.

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We’ve taken a lot of shots in our two years together.  These sleepless nights have given me ample time to remember why I love him and why I chose to wait after four days without him last summer.  One more counseling session, a Goo Goo Dolls concert, and Charming packs up and goes back to the Pentagon.  We have four more days, and I’m going to enjoy every moment with him.

We all have worries that keep us up at night, ADHD or not.   Tonight, I’ll try not to think about schedules and new teachers.  One thing at a time.  One day at a time.  One precious hour of sleep at a time.  In four days, I can start processing the beginning of life without Charming or forever with him.  For now, it’s time to turn off the electronic devices and initiate soothing bedtime routine.

Like Grains of Sand

Summer is waning.  I start school a week from tomorrow.  Charming goes back to DC in less than two weeks.  Gardening, house projects, and lazy beach days will be replaced by lesson planning, leadership meetings, and eighty new youth in my charge.  Like grains of sand in my palm, I’m grabbing all I can of summer freedom but feeling it slip through my fingers anyway.

This has been a truly good summer.  Shutterfly emailed today that my Italy Scrapbook is on its way: fifty-two pages of painstakingly arranged photos with carefully crafted text narration, the product of a month of stolen moments.  I feel in love with the motherland, came to accept parts of myself there, and strengthened bonds with my seven student travelers.  They’re graduating in June, and the blue-tiled halls of Kecoughtan will change for me; they were freshmen when I moved to Hampton three years ago.

This summer has been a time to experiment for two months with Charming and everyday life after a year and a half of long distance, weekend dating.  I love Sundays mornings at church, catching a Pokémon Go raid battle after, and making him watch baseball while I cook something with sauce and garlic and cheese.  Now that we’ve established some comfortable routines, he’ll wrap up his class and lead us both back to that familiar commute up I-95 N.  Or maybe just leaving, since we said after this summer, we would know… one way or the other.

And I still don’t.  How can I?  The “Laura Joy” we all knew three months ago was a thousand percent committed to marriage and a family with Charming.  On paper, he is the ideal mate for me, and our dating adventures only further endeared him to me.  He met every requirement on my Uncompromisable Qualities list except being ready for marriage.  Until May, I was just waiting for him to clear that last hurdle.

But then we started doing couple’s counseling.  Dr. Huff’s rather archaic, photocopied marital exercises have been highly effective in getting us to know and understand each other better, in part by evaluating our own needs and preferences.  I didn’t realize until one of those questionnaires that if my needs adoration and affection are left unmet, the result is not dissatisfaction with him, but with myself.  Consequently, by directing his loving attention in these ways, Charming actually boosts my confidence in our relationship and myself, double return on investment.

These are just the gears we’ve been working as it pertains to our potential union.  The reality is that our sessions with Dr. Huff led to the psychological testing which produced an ADHD diagnosis.  It’s only been two weeks, and Charming and I are both just getting to know this version of me.  Having ADHD doesn’t change who I am, not intrinsically, but it certainly alters my perception of myself and how I engage with the world around me.

In fact, armed with a little medication and an arsenal of coping strategies, I’m able to recognize when my attention is drifting sometimes, and I tell myself, “Be here, in this moment.”  I’m accepting more sullied qualities, like despite being an excellent communicator, I’m a poor conversationalist. That wasn’t on my radar until Charming mentioned it in counseling this weekend, and I flat-out suggested he find himself a girlfriend without a hyperactive attention disorder.

Looking down to avoid eye contact with him or Dr. Huff, what I was really trying to evade was the sting of the truth and its implications.  One of Charming’s top three emotional needs is for deep, quality conversation.  His dissatisfaction with me was cited through enumerated examples that struck a chord, albeit with a Thundershock charged attack that wrecked my defenses, triggering an offensive attack of my own.

I could see myself doing all the things Dr. Huff read aloud from Charming’s exercise and more: interrupting, talking too much, being distracted by other things, not asking clarifying or leading questions, prioritizing my own ideas.   As he read, I wanted to interrupt and say, “I have to say things before I forget them,” but that would have been too ironic for the session theme.  Instead, I wrote it in my journal, hit mute on it, and turned my attention back to him.  That was another good strategy.

I saw myself, too, in front of the class at the end of the year practically losing my sanity with all the interruptions about yearbook distribution while I was trying to teach.  I have ADHD.  I’m easily distracted.  One of the best ways I’ve found to cope is through order and structure that minimizes distractions so I’m juggling less.  One of my girls hung a huge poster over my door for kids to read the signs and not interrupt.  As silly as it looked, it worked.  I didn’t know that she was discerning the best solution for her teacher’s undiagnosed attention deficit disorder.

Every day, there’s a new strategy.  In a blog I found last week, a guy shared he turns an imaginary key in his pocket that locks his lips to keep him from speaking impulsively.  I wear a charm bracelet that I picked out at James Avery on my thirtieth birthday as my husband’s gift to me.  I left him within weeks, and I left the bracelet charm-less as a sterling silver symbol of unfulfilled potential.  Within ten minutes of that blog post and a few days of eBay’s Buy It Now option, the first charm for my bracelet arrived: a tiny, heart-engraved key that might symbolically help me control my temper by imitation, touching it when I need to set a guard over the door to my mouth.

There will be inevitably more strategies.  It hadn’t occurred to me until my diagnosis that my Summer Productivity organization projects were among the best ways to manage the associated undertones of anxiety by minimizing distractions and maximizing efficiency.  My entire immediate world is in order.  Every possession inside my house has a place, and it’s in it.  I threw away, gave away, put away, and then I breathed easier.  When the house was finished, I did my car.  Driving to my brother’s house for dinner tonight, I felt lighter.  The work was worth the missed time at the beach.  The peace, auto and home, will bolster me for the ADHD battle that is secondary education in the next three seasons.

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In a sense, what I’m doing outwardly with my physical possessions, I’ve been doing inwardly with qualities and characteristics.  I’m constantly thinking about what I’m thinking during conversations, a good intention-ed distraction from the person across from me, trying to assess the ways in which ADHD has shaped me unknowingly over the last three decades.  I remember the Laura Joy who was a thousand percent sure Charming was the one, but as I drove in my Piña Colada-scented car paradise, I was just contented to have my world in order for whatever comes next.

It’s back to school in a week, then a few more days or forever with Charming.  Maybe after all I’ve learned about myself this summer, after all he’s learned about me, I need him to be a thousand percent sure that I am the woman he wants to build a life and legacy as much as he’s needed that certainty himself.  He needs to be heard, and he needs to be known.  There are strategies I can use to help assuage its impact, but a quick Google search of the most common ADHD manifestations sets me at a conversational disadvantage to meet Charming’s emotional needs.  It seems somehow more daunting than Charming remembering to put his arm around me in church or praise my lasagna.

Like grains of sand in my palm, like the last days of summer freedom, I’m grabbing all I can of this time with Charming, afraid it too will slip through my fingers anyway.

My Agape Cornerstones

The blue cushions on my white wicker love seat have practically molded to my body from recent use.  I haven’t been cheating on writing nights, just sitting, sometimes smoking cloves, with lots of private thoughts as I process my first week after being diagnosed with ADHD.  It’s quiet now, the way I prefer… but the old school R&B was rocking next door an hour ago.

I was sitting here doing the final edits on my fifty-one page Italy scrapbook when my neighbor came out to enjoy the cool evening.  I noted the length of tonight’s cigar and realized he’d be listening for the foreseeable evening.  It’s really only happened a handful of times over the past 127 Tuesdays, most of them in consecutive weeks.  Armed with the fresh understanding of why it’s such a challenge for me to write with the added distraction, I stopped worrying about the problem and walked over to his front porch.

Hesitantly, I shared my recent news with my neighbor and what it meant for K-Ci and Jo Jo music, and he offered to keep it down on Tuesday nights.  He reassured me our relationship hadn’t been harmed in his tone, diction, and body language.  I was grateful that he was gracious.  I can sense his presence on the porch within earshot, and I’m comforted by it.  He is a good, strong man, and I don’t think he was surprised at the new label for my creative mind.

As an English teacher, particularly in a grade that emphasizes writing, I’ve been uniquely tasked to guide learners of diverse needs through their maturation in their understanding and correct use of the written word.  In college, I’d hooked on the implications of ADHD on an adolescent’s writing.  Difficulty focusing or giving attention to detail challenges the foundation of maintaining his train of thought or making careless mistakes or quitting after the first draft because tedious tasks are boring.

So why is it that, in writing, I can balance several thoughts, bouncing between them, keeping the others like dialogue bubbles just within reach, and ultimately arrive at unity in revelatory synthesis?  Tonight’s moment of epiphany starts with the realization that my passion for writing negates all associated boring, tedious undertones typically associated with crafting long passages.  My love for the written word supersedes the confines of my condition’s reach.

No, for me, I’d say while I’m writing I’m hyper-focused… consumed with the significance of the discovery dig in process.  The need to write led me to start blogging two and a half years ago.  Six months later, my blog brought Charming from Facebook to my doorstep.  About a year ago, I ended it because I worried about my timeline for kids and Charming’s inability to commit.  Though we opted to give it more time, a comment by my childhood mentor on one my posts suggested I needed to close the current volume and start on the next one.

I truly believed the old volume was about my past: failed marriage, cheating ex-boyfriend, starting over in Hampton, online dating.  The new one, quite naturally, must be about Charming.  Still, the desire to get married so we could start having children before my ovaries expire dominated most of our last calendar year together.  Six months ago, he suggested couple’s counseling to help us move forward.

It took a few months, fights, and doctors before we found the time and the right fit in Dr. Huff’s Saturday morning sessions.  I’d mentioned the medication I’ve been taking for sleep for nearly a decade, and though I couldn’t explain why it worked, I hoped to get off it.  The good psychologist suggested early on that he suspected I had ADHD.  No one had mentioned it before, but it was out there in the spring before Italy.  Dr. Huff encouraged me to do the extensive testing that landed him a positive diagnosis.

There has to be a balance between the private experiences and public confessions of a writer, but I’ve arrived at my disclosure scale concurrent with the journey that’s led me here to seek out this quiet solitude and type my way to sanity, taking the chaos of my attention-deficit brain and ordering it with meaning and purpose.  I have ADHD.  And I’m a writer.  As a teacher, I know those things usually don’t go together.

Maybe Deb was right a year ago about needing to write a new volume, but I couldn’t have anticipated the journey of self-discovery, self-acceptance, and self-improvement that I would embark up in four seasons to come.  I’ve written about every major failure, success, and change for two and a half years.  How could I, in clear conscious, hold close to the vest what many people who cohabitate with an ADHD brain may never be able to put into words on paper?

After Tuesday’s meeting with Dr. Huff, he sent a report with my diagnosis to my prescribing physician.  Friday, Leslie coached me through all my options for treatment, understanding my desire for the least amount of medicinal intervention.  She arrived at a strategy she believed would be effective, but I understood that going off the sleeping medicine I’ve been taking for nine years would be a challenge.

Charming helped me through the transition this weekend, suggesting a keep a journal to log the process.  It’s been four days, but I can tell you that taking one pill in the morning makes me a better person.  Our conversations were lengthy, deep, and enjoyable.  I was able to focus while driving on Charming while he shared about work and career plans, fully engaging in the present conversation.  At Water Country, I wasn’t bothered by crowds or lines, and Charming had to remind me to eat.  Loss of appetite: the one side effect, bound to help me achieve my ideal weight.

The days have been incredible.  At church on Sunday, I didn’t stop to look anything up or follow any mental rabbit trails.  I wasn’t fidgeting, not on the outside or on the inside.  I was at peace in the pew beside Charming, grateful for every writing night that led me to this new understanding of myself and how my brain works, grateful that he’d risen to the occasion to support me in every way I needed.

The nights have been long.  It’s temporary and it’s necessary.  I’m not a doctor, but I imagine if you take any medicine as long as this one, your synapses need some time to re-lubricate with natural, synthetic oil.  I’ve had a lot of time to think out here in the stillness of the night when it’s even quieter than now.  Saturday night, I breathed in the silence and prayed God would help me get to sleep.

No sooner had the thought sounded in my cranium that I was aware my brain had already moved on to something else.  The great revelation occurred to me, there.  It was 4 a.m.  No doubt, my mother was rising to go to her Agape corner, she calls it.  It’s the sun porch in her house where she prays, reads, and spends quiet time with God every day.  In Greek, Agape means the type of love that God has for us.

I never loved to pray like Mom.  That’s where the brain bounced next.  I didn’t like to pray because I could never concentrate.  I didn’t like to pray because I failed God after three minutes max.  My whole life, I’ve truly believed that I somehow loved God less because I couldn’t give Him my attention in prayer.  My love for the written word surpasses the bounds of my diagnosis, why not in conversations with the One who created me?

On Sunday night when I couldn’t sleep, I sat here again, thinking about prayer, wishing I could find a way to focus.  I realized I already had the idea in the Vatican Museum when I was purchasing a Rosary for a Catholic friend.  The others on the tour explained how to follow the beads and the spacing to recite various prayers.  I imagined it might be possible to focus on prayer if there were Protestant prayer beads.  Inspired by my roommate Jeana’s purchase of a rosary that wrapped into a bracelet, I got out my jewelry kit at 2 a.m.

An hour later, I’d created my own bracelet with precious stones.  Like the Rosary, I move from gem to gem, each one representing a different cornerstone in my life.  Different colors and shapes represent the key people and concepts.  While crafting it, I imagined laying in bed, even in the dark, starting with the first bead, The Lord’s Prayer, moving on to ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication, then to my parents and my brothers with their families and friends and work and so on all the way to me, ending with the Serenity Prayer.

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The bracelet means something for my relationship with God, the spiritual sphere not targeted by any medication.  I call it my Agape Cornerstones bracelets.  Little stones arranged to help me focus my abstract thoughts on something concrete, a strategy effective because God is the origin of the kind of grace Charming has been showing me since this diagnosis.

Agape love, God’s love, is not restricted by my ADHD, not disappointed by my hyper-distracted, high jacked train of thought.  If my Agape Cornerstones bracelet helps me come to enjoy His presence the way my mom does, then maybe in another two and a half years, praying could be like writing nights, too.

Italian Brain and Body Chemistry

This seems to be my summer of confessions, each week divulging some intimate detail others would keep private.  Two summers ago, I threw myself into failed online dating ventures.  Last summer, it was into adventures with Charming.  I suppose, this summer it’s into self-discovery.  My mother land, couple’s counseling, leveling up in Pokémon Go, and that extensive round of psychological testing I did two weeks ago.  And I’ve written about all of it.

I’m sitting on my front porch, like I always do, sipping red wine, like I always do.  I remember in our chorus room in high school, Mrs. Quackenbush would have us lay down to try and relax our whole bodies.  It would be quiet, even though I secretly longed for some sweet music accompaniment.  She’d start by calling out our most distant extremities, then mentally we’d focus on completely relaxing each muscle from toe to head.  I’ve used the strategy in my adult life when trying to sleep.

I can’t sleep with music.  I can’t write with music, either.  As a teen, I know I always studied with the TV or Boom box a few feet away.  As an adult, many tasks are paired with an appropriate Pandora soundtrack – cooking with the Oldies radio, working out with Eminem, cleaning with Maroon Five, or grading papers at my desk with Jack Johnson.  Essentially, when I’m engaged with the world, I like to fully engage in it with all my senses.

When I write, when I sleep. I unplug, I disengage.  I prefer the crickets and the wind chime on nights like tonight, but unwilling to give up my writer’s perch again to my neighbors listening to old school R&B a stone’s throw away, I made a new Pandora station, something about Tibetan healing sounds of nature.  It fakes serenity sufficiently to mask the nearby distraction.

And now I know why.  I know why… a lot of things, actually.  Dr. Huff sat me down this morning, this time without Charming, to discuss the results of my tests.  Mom had asked if both of us would complete the testing, to which I replied quickly, “No, Charming’s normal.”  Dad quipped up, “Nobody’s normal,” and I remembered she had me on speaker phone.

That’s the thing, though.  I’ve always known that there was something off about my chemistry.  Sleep should come easy after a hard day, but like a solar-powered energizer bunny, at the day’s end, I just have renewed reserves for thinking and processing.  When my body’s ready for a much needed recharge, my brain’s still trying to be productive.

I wonder if Dr. Huff’s diagnosis will come as a surprise to those who know me well, either through face to face interactions or a year or two’s equivalent reading my blog.  I’ve shepherded hundreds of students with the same condition over a decade of teaching, and I can usually pick them out before I fully read their accommodations for preferential seating.

How did I not see it?  I tote my sky blue journal in my butterfly Bible cover to church every Sunday.  I write down the key points and my connections.  Charming notices, I’m sure, that I often flip back to previous pages during the sermon, or look up related Bible passages to the one in focus.  For more than two decades, I’ve kept these journals.  I’ve written down prayers, quiet time highlights, sermon notes, and random lines of poetry or song lyrics I think of in the moment, smattering the margins.

I don’t journal to keep a record of these important lessons and study.  The living life record is simply a bonus, dozens of journals filled with remnants of ink reflecting my then-present paradigms.  No, I journal to try and sit still for sixty-minute intervals.  How did I not see it?  I support a classroom environment with several transitions with varied activities, never expecting my students to learn well by sitting in their chairs for an hour and a half.  The truth is, though, I can’t endure an hour lecture well either.

I prefer PD sessions where I can use my laptop, allowing me to maximize productivity during the training.  If we’re learning about an app, I’ve installed it and tried it out before the presenter finishes his greetings.  It’s no different than writing song lyrics during Mr. Bugaj’s math class and still maintaining an A.   I run every department meeting with a Prezi presentation that serves as a nice visual, yes, but it keeps me on track with the main points and meeting flow.

This weekend, Charming’s sister and brother-in-law drove down for an impromptu game night at my place.  We caught up over coffee, tea, and grown-up conversation then deepened the gathering with Anna’s pizza and a couple of rounds of Dominion.  I felt a distinct shift about an hour into the game.  I started picking at a scab on my hand.  I wondered if I had remembered to put the laundry in the dryer.  I saw empty plates dirtying up the table.  I questioned why I hadn’t thought to pair the night with a Pandora station.

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Clearly, despite every effort to enjoy a lazy night with friends, my brain chemistry wanted to pay attention to everything and anything but that strategy-based game.  I’m still not sure how I won the second round.  After hugs goodbye, the first thing I did was take my sleepy medicine.  Though I’m sure he meant nothing by it, I held on to his observant comment until tonight.  “It’s not normal to not be able to sleep.”  Yeah, I know.  I’m working on it.

Charming promised the results wouldn’t change anything for us, though I worried it would change things for me.  If I had a label, a diagnosis, an actual clinical mental condition, it would be immediate grounds a certain level of expected social judgment.  Will my new Pokémon friends Truslyder and Kapnkurch think differently of me?  Fortunately, I’m no longer obsessed with a perfect public image.  I much prefer the slightly damaged, wholly authentic one.

I like playing Candy Crush and watching TV, lying on the beach and reading, listening to music and baking.  Quiet suffocates me.  Until it’s time to sleep or write. Then I crave it.  I will the rest of the world to disappear and leave my synapses in peace that doesn’t come unless I take a pill an hour before bedtime.  For nearly a decade, I’ve done it, grateful to find a medical solution, but never sure why what I was taking worked at all.

Dr. Huff sat me down and delivered the results in the model of clinical bedside manner.  “You’re not psychotic.  You’re not bipolar.  You scored low on depression.  There’s some evidence of an explosive temper, but I think that’s a symptom of something else.”  He quelled some big fears, then explained what it meant to have ADHD combined with unspecified anxiety.  He had an hour, one-on-one, to get me pretty comfortable with the diagnosis and what it implied for the future.

So, I Googled it afterward, because an hour wasn’t really enough time.  Having ADHD means three things for me: difficulty sustaining attention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior.  Throw in a little anxiety, and you have the ingredients for a rather restless brain.  On writing nights, I put those synapses to good use, and given the diagnosis, I’m amazed at my own ability to string together seemingly unrelated strands of spaghetti.

Dr. Huff described women’s brains like that.  And I’ve been studying enough Italian to figure out that spaghetti is a plural world.  I went to Italy, origin of my bloodline, and understood more of what makes me me.  Myers-Briggs testing told me I was an ENFJ, and I analyzed how that personality type impacted my world view and my relationships.  I am me, who I was before a diagnosis, now also defined by ADHD and anxiety… and it makes me make so much more sense.

Writing nights really are all about the best parts of me coming together.  My neighbors withdrew, and in the quiet of the crickets’ hum, I witness the intersection of brain and body chemistry, of Italian blood and Christian breeding, a Type A trained to combat a condition with coping strategies that were effective enough nobody ever knew.  Not even me.