The Country Garden

I hope one day my internal world may become like the quintessential country garden. To the external spectator it presents a riot of colour, untamed beauty and freedom. However, behind the scenes there is an experienced overseer, tending to the plants and flowers within.

Gardens are susceptible to the influences of climate, seasons, and weather. They are transient, and not always predictable, or welcome. However, all offer fresh opportunities.

For example:

A warm, sunny day allows moments for production and growth.

Rain offers replenishment to the thirsty.

Strong winds, and lightning though potentially destructive, are thankfully short lived. The damage they create can feel despairing, but sometimes new opportunities arise for planting and repair.

Snow and ice, though bitter and inhospitable can be weathered with preparation, and investment in time to rest.

The earth needs nurturing soil, and awareness of the things that grow there.

Wild weeds are generally undesirable, but inevitable. Also, compared to their delicate, propagated cousins they tend to be more resilient and hardy. A vigilant, experienced gardener needs to spot these unwelcome guests early and pluck them out before they become established. If the process is avoided or neglected, weeds have roots designed to quickly dig deep or entwine amongst neighbours to make extraction challenging, effortful, and more complex.

Sometimes after weeding, a stubborn root remnant remains like an indelible stain. A conscientious gardener needs to remember the place, and make regular visits to check for almost certain return.

Other unwelcome guests include parasites such as aphids; they relentlessly consume and devour. A gardener might stoop down and happen upon a rose stem lost amongst a moving blanket of insects. The sight can leave them horrified, transfixed, and unable to widen their gaze.

A mindful gardener however, stands up and takes in the whole view. Familiar with Natural Order, they feel reassured by the presence of ladybirds, bees, and other wildlife that protect and support growth.

Sometimes, however, balance and harmony tip into destruction. This could be the result of distraction, neglect, or a series of unpredictable events unplanned, unanticipated and beyond control. In these situations, external support is needed. This might involve use of chemicals, and/or the guidance of another wise and experienced gardener.

All of this vigilance, repetition, learning, building, repairing, planning, careful acceptance and understanding can be exhausting. It is no doubt effortful, but also its own reward. Even gardeners with skill, expertise, and experience need to take care of their health and well-being so they can manage expectations of themselves accordingly.

So next time you pass a country garden on a Summer’s day, and delight in the explosion of colour contained by gracefully ageing stone walls — take a moment to appreciate the years spent, and time taken to cultivate such a display for you to enjoy.


The Lighthouse

I have often fantasised about living in a lighthouse. There is a definite allure with the isolation and solitude it offers. However, I am also drawn to the idea of bearing witness to a battle that is aeons old: the claim for dominance between terra firma, and the sea. One is fixed, rigid, and constant, whilst the other’s capricious nature yields, accommodates, explores, but also holds violent, powerful potential.

I imagine the exhilaration watching from above, furious waves railing against the land’s implacable nature, whilst feeling safe from harm within my own lighthouse of solid, grounded protection.

However, the purpose of a lighthouse is to offer orientation and a point of reference for travellers on turbulent waters. I try and imagine the sense of desperation, confusion and fear for sailors navigating through the night in dark, angry storms. I wonder what it must feel like when, just as all thought of hope is lost, through that stinging rain and roaring storm, you spot a piercing shaft of light. That beacon, that solitary building on a precipice between two worlds offers guidance and hope to all those at risk of drowning.

I wonder about my own inner conflicts, and the battles for dominance. I think of my mindfulness practice like the lighthouse; it offers sanctuary, grounding, and a beacon of hope when I am tossed about like a dandelion seed in the wind.

I hope that may be one day, I will feel the gentle ripples of thoughts and emotions lapping against the shores of my mind, with the occasional storm I can witness inside my lighthouse sanctuary knowing, it too will pass. I hope that may be one day, my lighthouse could also become a beacon for other lost souls, frightened and confused.

The fly

I am this fly

trapped in a jam jar.

I can see where I want to be

and buzz manically to get there,

but hit instead, an invisible wall.

Again and again and again.

Starved of oxygen I start to flail,

wings beat but no movement is made.

Then the lid gently opens –

just enough to replenish the air

before re-sealing my fate

to see, and travel to a place beyond reach.

Emergency first aid

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Family occasions can be an intense time for many people, and particularly challenging for people with ADHD. Why? ADHD often doesn’t provide that valuable space between a trigger and our response. The outcome can be explosions of emotion, or opinions shared without pause to rationally review the material for appropriateness and intended outcome.

Family engagement makes us particularly vulnerable because we meet with childhood history, and potential unresolved issues. Managing conflict is problematic, especially when we are filled with emotions difficult to control.

I was talking to a colleague about the intensity of seasonal celebrations with family, and why they can be so exhausting. I reflected on the effort required to maintain a congenial environment, and the personal guilt and self-recrimination when the façade of equanimity crumbles.

My colleague recounted a period in his life when he lived with relatives in Pakistan. He had no personal space or opportunity for solitude. He was in the company of others from the moment of waking, to falling asleep. I looked at him in bewilderment. “How did you survive?” I asked. He admitted initially it was very challenging, but eventually adjusted and found return to England created its own difficulties. He reflected how time on his own felt uncomfortable for a while, and created a sense of unease.

I thought about his experience. There is a growing body of evidence loneliness can be damaging to our health (Heinrich and Gullone, 2006; Klinenberg, 2016; Valtorta et al., 2018). I thought about my network of family and friends. I can’t remember the last time someone came to visit without planning and scheduling beforehand. Outside of work, I rarely see family or friends in person regularly or predictably.

I struggle with planning, and work on impulse. I have experienced the bitter reality of scrolling through my list of contacts during a dark hour of the soul to find no-one available for a shared cup of restorative tea. I have been left humiliated to reach-out for help and fail at the endeavour, ashamed I have given the message to others I could not cope, and angry with myself for my lack of self-sufficiency. These situations put vulnerable people at risk of turning to more responsive addictive activities to manage uncomfortable feelings and self-soothe, sometimes with regrettable consequences.

In situations where people are in regular company, (although I find the concept unpleasant and anxiety inducing) will eventually release the effort to create a false, but potentially less noxious presentation of themselves. If conflict and arguments arise, opportunities to reconcile and repair will present often. There would be an imperative to manage different opinions and perspectives so life in constant contact becomes bearable.

I have witnessed occasions where anger has been expressed in the presence of family. An emergency escape plan is rapidly deployed (it would surpass a building evacuation in terms of coordination and response). This is often followed by a period of quarantine by way of communicative silence, and the opening of backroom channels to make sense of the event and create endless hypotheses. Sometimes, a negotiator may be nominated to broker some form of resolution but an elephant will often be present in the room for weeks to follow.

Social media and the temptation to hide behind the written word of a text message, is all too alluring. However, hurt is easy to achieve by accusatory typing, but seeking sincere repair through apology is less certain when you are not physically with the person involved. Even a video call feels detached, and shrouded by an anxiety the conversation may be terminated at any moment by a press of a button.

The solution to the issue of reduced inter-personal contact is the intensification of amicability and social niceties. The challenge for someone on the Hyperactivity Attention Deficit Disorder spectrum is the sheer effort required to manage the requirement. I find myself oscillating between resentment against falsehood and dishonesty, versus an animalistic need for escape and time to recover.

Where does this leave us? Well, the wonderful saying, “Give me the strength to change what can be changed, the grace to accept what can’t, and the wisdom to know the difference” rings true here. We need to choose our battles, and plan our coping strategies.

I have accepted the need for time-out of social situations, and recovery time. I still feel selfish and anti-social, but the consequences of denying my needs is much more damaging. I would like to practise and learn the skills of expressing my feelings safely and without judgement. An excellent book by Rosenberg and Chopra (2015) provides a toolkit of language to navigate the thorny issues of expressing our wants and needs. However, as with all new skills, it takes practice and perseverance; but perhaps more importantly, requires opportunity to work with patient, understanding and willing participants.

Heinrich, L.M. and Gullone, E., 2006. The clinical significance of loneliness: A literature review. Clinical psychology review26(6), pp.695–718.

Klinenberg, E., 2016. Social isolation, loneliness, and living alone: Identifying the risks for public health. American journal of public health106(5), p.786.

Rosenberg, M. and Chopra, D., 2015. Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life: Life-Changing Tools for Healthy Relationships. PuddleDancer Press.

Valtorta, N.K., Kanaan, M., Gilbody, S. and Hanratty, B., 2018. Loneliness, social isolation and risk of cardiovascular disease in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. European journal of preventive cardiology25(13), pp.1387–1396.

Ode to ADHD

Start turning.

Round and round,

until you forget the beginning, and the end.

Go faster, and your world becomes a blur.

Go even faster, and you think “If I just hurry-up, it will all stop.”

Now stand still.

Trace the path of queasiness in your stomach.

Recall the things that didn’t happen, and the mistakes you’ve made.

Now bow your head and let shame wash over you.

Buckle at the knees. Submit, and experience every failure in slow, painful detail.

Shout —perhaps — scream, “ENOUGH!”

Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and listen.

Music ripples through your body. Embrace emotion that consumes completely, shudder at the intensity.

Now open your eyes.

See stretching shadows. The setting sun dreams of escape from darkness.

Start to move.

Feel your pulse quickening, your breath deepening.

May be there is life, passion and promise? Feel your skin tingle, your head lighten.

Move — breathe — move — breathe.

May be there is hope? See beauty others take for granted.

Move — breathe — move — breathe.

Rolling, rushing thoughts of everything, and nothing drift away.

I wrote this after a recent experience of Seasonal Affective Disorder. I have been unable to counteract the effects so far. I thought medication for ADHD would solve many of the challenges I face. Although it is helped considerably, my hard-wired brain is not keen to let go of many life-scripts embedded over 40 years of undiagnosed ADHD.

I would be interested in other’s experience of ADHD and Seasonal Affective Disorder and what has helped? I often feel like a rare, precious Orchid requiring constant, specific environmental conditions to thrive. I rebel against feelings of weakness and sensitivity to such an extent that I apply denial, and a veneer of toughness to bulldoze through problems — with unsurprisingly damaging consequences.

Wobbly Wheels

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

Working through the many tasks and challenges of daily life with, and without medication for ADHD has been a strange experience.

Recently, I watched with my Son an episode of “Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends”. The fire rescue engine got wheels to drive on the road. He had been so used to the train tracks for travelling that during his first outing on the road another engine laughed at him because of his “wobbly wheels”. For a while he was too embarrassed to try again, but found courage and resolve when he finally reconnected with his values and purpose: to put out fires, and be part of the rescue team.

It was probably no coincidence a children’s story should connect with my own life experience. Before medication, I read endless self-help books, mainly about becoming organised, time efficient, happy, effective in work and general life. However, I was like the engine on the train track, I could appreciate the scenery and get to my destinations, but the mode of travel remained unchanged.

With the wobbly wheels of medication I was able to explore different routes, but it was tiring to think differently, and to sustain the activity. I wanted to stay on familiar tracks, and my brain was unnerved by these new possibilities. It was tempting to fall back on old habits, although now it was with conscious awareness and choice. I could no longer pretend to myself I wasn’t in control; a space had opened between trigger and response.

I had been given an opportunity I didn’t want to grab, and then waste. Over time, I began to understand how to use my values and purpose to keep me persisting, practicing, and learning. I couldn’t just expect the “wobbly wheels” to work and make things better.

My escape operating system

Photo by Slyzyy on Pexels.com

Christmas often intensifies emotions, and ways of thinking that usually lurk in the basement shadows of our lives. As Christmas day approached with the usually frenetic activity of family, friends, food, presents, and unrealistic scheduling of events I found myself scanning the days ahead for any opportunity to escape the approaching landscape of sensory overload and overwhelm.

Unusually however, I caught myself in the act and wondered, “Where has this come from? Why is time alone so important that I feel like an addict subversively plotting his next fix?” Unnerved by this realisation, I explored the principle further and realised it wasn’t just a Christmas event. I engage in this activity all through the year. It is my baseline operating system.

So, what does this say about me? That constant exposure to human (and animal) interaction is so challenging I have developed and upgraded, over the years systems and strategies to escape? Amongst my vessels of need, I can feel the strain of prioritising, and transitioning between different demands. I did a quick inventory of my approaches.

Sometimes I will go inward, I can be present in a room, but thinking of many different things, none particularly practical like, “What are we having for dinner?” Or, “When are we doing a food shop?” I will listen and nod, but don’t hear. Outwardly, I might lose myself in a television series under the premise of ironing, be overly keen to undertake dog walking duties, or try to wake early in the morning to carve out some solitude.

I have built, over the years, a narrative suggesting selfishness. The seed was sewn in childhood and transitioning into adulthood, I have plucked and stored conversations that feed this voracious belief. It comes, in part, from my efforts to escape which can appear anti-social, and hurtful to those who desire my company.

So I have learned to hook my external escapes onto practical duties. In this fast-paced world of demands, and distractions mindful activities like washing laundry, or dishes have been replaced by machines, to give us more free-time. However, this is often consumed with distractions of electronic media, commuting, and general tasks of modern life. I can’t imagine for example, taking the opportunity to sit in silence, look out the window, and watch the rain.

Adult ADHD Blog

Living with undiagnosed Adult ADHD

Photo by Rodolfo Quiru00f3s on Pexels.com

Living with undiagnosed ADD worsened my mental health as the years progressed. My mind became a ruthless racehorse jockey, but the racehorse was old and weary. The rider, rather than accept the situation compassionately, responded by cruelly beating this beleaguered animal and expecting ever more from it. I think my mind forgot this horse was never championship material, and the gap between expectation and reality widened further. The beast tried its best to meet expectations, but rarely succeeded. So distracted and consumed by their constant struggle, rider and horse would often lose sight of the well-trodden path, straying into brambles and thickets. The horse would sometimes rebel, and at other times passively comply, but progress was hard to define.  

With medication, my mind has dismounted this poor horse and is now leading it kindly along life’s path. The two walk together, relearning how to communicate with each other, how to prioritise, and how to be compassionate. There are still voices of “try harder”, ”hurry up”, “be perfect”, “be strong” and “please others” but they are more like echoes in time, than the clamorous claxon call that deafened sense of perspective.