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.


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.

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