Can’t Check In When I’ve Been Checked Out

I had a contingency plan for getting things finished, but not for getting things started.  And I’m starting to get worried.


Going into the new year,  I made it a goal to chronicle my goals on this blog (since keeping it active was also one of my goals – goalception!)  I know myself well enough to have gone into this cognizant of my own short comings with regards to goal-setting – namely,  I am incredibly good at not following through with the things I start.

I figured documenting my goals in a public forum would be useful in the journey towards seeing them to completion.  It would be a written record that I could use to track personal progress, and the sense of having an audience would hold me accountable – after all,  people would be watching, and they’d have expectations.   I really thought I had it all sorted out.

As it turns out,  finishing projects isn’t my only hardship.

Starting is a massive pain in the ass, as well.

I’m starting to think it’s not just a quirk of my personality.  I’m starting to think I might have a genuine problem.

Well, “starting to think” is deceptive. I’ve been saying it for ages, but no one has ever listened.

I have a terrible time starting projects, and a worse time staying organized when I do.  When I sit down to try to get something started, I hit roadblocks that manifest as physical symptoms, like a racing pulse or crawling skin – I get to a point where I just have no clue what to do next, and no resources to get around that block.  I have trouble keeping up with and on top of even the most basic responsibilities – I mean things like, did I remember to take a shower today?  Did I remember to bring my lunch/medication/wallet with me?  Did I turn the gas off?  Where did I leave X,Y, or Z (something I had, put down, “lost,” found again, put down, “lost,” ad infinitum)? Did I remember to give Bear his nightly milk?  Did we brush his teeth?  Did I pay my bills?  Literal hours get away from me, and it’s… it’s not like a black out or “lose time” in that sense, but like, I can’t actually account for how much time is passing when I’m literally doing, just, nothing.  I can’t start anything, I can’t focus on anything, I can’t get anything done.

The sheer, pure, real want to accomplish something is not enough to make my brain click into the “Engaged”position, and I’ll just idle, feeling physically uncomfortable, just thrumming with this awkward, frustrated energy that just has nowhere to go, and I get increasingly angrier at myself.  I put off and put off and put off, to the point where things seem insurmountable and the thought of trying to conquer it hangs like a noose around my neck, and I shut down.

I’ve said for years I probably have ADHD.  I did well in school, though, so no one ever bothered testing me (even though doing well didn’t preclude literally skimming whole novels the night before a test/essay was due, and literally having screaming, crying panic attacks while getting every major project done at the last minute).  I went most of my life convinced that, because the end results were “A’s,” I couldn’t possibly have an issue.  I was just lazy.

A few weeks ago, after a particularly frustrating morning, I was crying in the car asking my husband (rhetorically) why I was such a screw up.

“You’re not a screw up,” he said.  “You’re just not neurotypical.”

It was the first time someone said something – anything – that suggested they believed my problems could be anything other than a failing of my character.  I’ve said for years that something was off, but this was the first time someone gave me a reason to finally feel like it wasn’t just something that I was making up inside my head – it was something that he had noticed, that he had seen.  It was something observable.

I don’t mean to suggest that struggles, issues, or illnesses, mental or otherwise, have to be visible to be real, because of course they don’t.  But when you spend your whole life surrounded by people who demand proof for what you are insisting is your lived experience, it’s vindicating when someone finally goddamn notices.

I just want to know that I’m not imagining this.  I want a definitive name to put to what is going on in my head – I’ve had anxiety issues my whole life, attentional issues for as long as I can remember, social issues since I was a kid.  I fit some criteria for autism, a hell of a lot for anxiety disorder, a ton for ADHD.  I can theorize and postulate for days; I just want to know.  Then we can talk strategies.  Then we can talk unpacking all the baggage weighing down my self-esteem my whole life.  Then we can talk moving forward.

I just want a word for my experiences.  I just want to give it a name.

Does anyone have advice or suggestions on going forward?  I am insured through my employer and live in MA in the US.


Sick Days


When I was a teenager, I missed a lot of school.  Like, 30-plus days a year.  And while the typical American school year is 180 days, I attended a private prep school that had 165-day school years, meaning I missed close to a fifth of a year, every year, up through graduation.  All things being equal, that totals roughly 3/4 of a year of high school that I missed – though, granted, not in one fell swoop.

The reasons for the absences are a topic for another blog entry – some were verified medical issues (I was incredibly prone to terrible ear and sinus infections well into my 20s), and some were what I would only later recognize as panic attacks and chronic anxiety.  Regardless of the reason, the point is that teenage me would jump on the opportunity to take a sick day, assuming no ill effects; I was on scholarships, enrolled in all Honors and AP classes, and despite my absences, graduated with High Honors.  If I could maintain academic standing and not have to go to school, hell, I’d do it. I was all about calling in sick.

Flash forward to me as an adult – I get sick far less frequently, and my anxiety (while it will likely never go away) no longer controls so much of my life.  I enjoy my job, and lucky for me that I do, because my job is paramount in the life I have created for myself.  I have a husband, a son, student loans, car payments, a mortgage – all the financial accouterments that you would expect of middle adulthood – and a job that expects that I show up if I intend to keep it.

Calling out now is almost unfathomable to me unless I have what I feel is an ironclad excuse – a reason why I absolutely, unquestionably cannot be there.  I take time off sparingly, which is  good thing… but I invariably feel guilty when I do, which is a not-so-good thing, and yet is something I can’t seem to move past.

I know, logically, I have no reason to feel bad about taking time off, particularly when I’m legitimately sick, but there’s always a little nagging thought inside my head that every time I take a day off, my coworkers all kind of look at each other knowingly, like they’re all in on some vast conspiracy theory regarding my work ethic and my standing in the ranks of Adulthood.  Like they all snicker and whisper to each other over lunch, “Yeah, she’s out again.  Can you believe it?  What a worthless, useless sack of–”

Whoa, whoa, whoa, what?  Why does my mind go there?  Why do I immediately jump to assuming that others assume the worst of me for taking the time to take care of myself?  Why do I assume that they’re invested in keeping track of my comings and goings in the the first place, let alone judging me for it?

It’s not as if I take days off indiscriminately.  When I was pregnant, I was granted 12 weeks of leave, but was also able to use sick time to get paid for part of it.  I used eight weeks of earned sick time, and when I returned from maternity leave, still had 32 sick days left.  I mean, shit.  Clearly I’m not taking random days off just to play hookey.

This week – just Friday, actually – I got hit by the bug that has been going around since mid-November – I’m actually astonished that I held out this long.  This time, I felt so awful (physically) that I wound up missing a job coaching day – which I never do.  Like, never ever ever do – only certain people have job site clearance, so I make it a point to try to never miss those days.

And man, I felt awful about it.  But my coworkers responses – since I had to email them so they could find coverage that had clerance – was, “Oh my God, don’t even worry about it, worry about feeling better!”

Which, honestly, sounds so much more like the people I know than those voices in my head do.  So this time around, I tried to “enjoy” my sick day.  I mean, I felt like crap, but I ignored the little voice in my head telling me to just suck it up and just took care of myself.

I slept most of the day.  I made myself coffee and ate ice cream.  I had dinosaur chicken nuggets for lunch and poptarts for breakfst.  I listened to my favorite podcasts.  I rewatched my favorite stand-up comedy specials.  I took a hot shower. I never changed out of my pajamas.

And now, at eight pm Saturday night, I’m actually feeling a little better – physically and emotionally.  But my mind still lingers on the question, why is taking time out – time that I earned through work – such an emotional hassle for me?  Why am I able to legitimize all these negative thoughts in my head when my day to day experiences with these people and situations lend no support to them?  Why the pendulum sweep from “any reason to stay home” to “any reason NOT to stay home?”  Why can’t I find a happy place in the middle?

Does anyone else struggle with allowing themselves self-care/time off?  Or has similar problems rationalizing their own needs away?