Neurotypical folks love to tote around “You just need to have a positive outlook on life!” or “It’s all in your head!” as solutions to the mental health problems in the world. Back when I worked in a hotel, one of my coworkers told me that I shouldn’t do that to myself when I brought up my own problems. The condescension that atypical people endure just going through life is outstanding, and the fact that we haven’t revolted against the whole world is incredible to me.
But sometimes neurotypicals aren’t too far off the mark…
I was diagnosed with ADHD when I was 12 years old. It doesn’t usually present in AFAB people as the same hyperactivity that AMAB people get. I didn’t bounce off the walls, I didn’t act out in class and get myself in trouble. And yet all the same in my early years instructors and teachers brought up the subject to my family. My mother had never felt the need to get me tested until that classic fear of rejection and a bunch of other fun ADHD tokens started to rain down upon me until I was drowning. I’d nearly failed my 7th grade English class because of a bad run during the winter and spring months. I’d always had problems during this time of year, and looking back I realize now it was because of my unrealized seasonal affective disorder (SAD); however, I’d always been able to bounce back up and recover from the lack of sunlight. The good grades could be mine again.
Not this time.
I remember being shackled with fear in the middle of the night as a book project that I’d been assigned went horribly unfinished. I was upset, crying, and angry with myself as I pulled myself out to the front porch and confessed what was I had failed to do to my mother. Within the next couple weeks I was tested positive for what my specialist at the time had trademarked “FastBraiin” (yes, the double i’s came from him typing too fast). He himself had ADHD, and while I sat in his office as he flashed an ever increasing list of numbers in front of me, asking me to recall them in order, I realized that life was set to never be the same again.
A lot of things happened within the next six months. I was prescribed Ritalin, broke my elbow falling out of a tree, and found my very first book on Wicca in the school library.
With these few things came the following:
- I learned that I hated taking medication and the way it made my brain so unsettlingly quiet.
- My rambunctious days of playing outside with the boys came to an end as being forced to sit around in a heavy cast led to my gaining 20 pounds in just a few months. I don’t know about you, but that kinda thing can ruin you as a kid.
- With Wicca came my first attempts at finding meaning in the world through a combination of science and metaphysics.
I continued to gain weight as I took the medication I was given, losing myself in my horrible writing and reading as much as I could from the library on all things mystic and magical, fiction and arguably nonfiction. With this weight came the literally crushing fact that it was deciding to go to two places: my breasts and my thighs. They only continued to get bigger, and it wasn’t until I was 16 that I’d finally had enough and stopped taking the Ritalin. It was too late, however. I was a DDD when I graduated, and until last year they’d grown to a HH. If those letters don’t make sense to you, I’ll just say that I looked like an anime character.
It would be easy to blame genetics for cursing me with an unholy amount of chest fat. My mother’s large, my great grandmother on my father’s side was apparently had a giant rack. Even with my loss of activity and weight gain in my early teens, I was doomed. I know that I share some of the blame, however, and that I brought at least part of the rib bending pain on myself with my complacency and choice to sit instead of run. But the rib bending ended last November. After fighting with the insurance to get it labeled Medically Necessary, only to get screwed over, my grandparents paid for me to get a breast reduction.
After several years of back and neck pain, being unable to even inhale without the pressure in the way and my chest cavity probably forever malformed, it was finally over.
Until it wasn’t. Because after having felt like I was slowly dying in the leading months, my own tits suffocating me until I could barely walk across the room, the anxiety truly set it. The never ending fear of “What if they grow back?” led me to the beginning of my previous semester at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College. It led me to my first yoga class.
Yoga is up there on the list of suggestions that neurotypicals will offer to them when you tell them about any mental health problem you may have. “You should try yoga!” the mentally healthy person, probably in a tracksuit and wearing their hair in a ponytail, says. “Go away!” every neuroatypical person around lashes out indignantly. Because how could someone who doesn’t understand what it’s like to fight with your brain possibly know what the best advice to give would be.
It turns out that, for me at least, it… kinda works.
I found myself in a crisis as I was still in recovery from my breast reduction surgery. The panic of needing to find a physical activity that I could do, but do so while I was taking college courses, had set in greatly. Especially after I’d gained 10 solid Depression Pounds from the last round I’d taken the spring before (because being overworked, surviving on coffee and occasionally muffins will ruin both your brain and your body). I couldn’t handle risking gaining more weight again and undoing all of the good that my grandparents had just paid thousands of dollars for. And so while picking out my courses, I selected a twice a week yoga class that cost $15 extra to participate in because of health and safety fees.
The interesting thing about yoga, I’ve found, is that it’s slow before it gets harder. A good instructor takes you through controlling your breath, focusing on your movement, and doesn’t pressure you into perfection. All bodies are different and yoga isn’t about straining yourself into poses that you’re not ready for. Before you start trying to tie yourself into a pretzel, you’re taught how to stand, how to sit, and how to breathe.
The steady pattern of inhale and exhale with each pose shift was probably the hardest thing for me to grasp. I was only two months post-op when I started. I still had dissolving stitches refusing to stop stabbing out of my flesh, and I’d just spent the last couple years feeling like death was upon me. Until this point my breathing was still shallow, anything deeper brought with it the psychological feeling of being strangled even though there is now significantly less getting in the way of my lungs. But it wasn’t too long before I finally got the hang of it.
The remarkable side benefits of yoga came in the weeks that followed. Like with any exercise, doing yoga doesn’t leave you much room for thinking. Your focus is on the voice of your instructor as they tell you when to breathe and what pose to move into with your flow. It’s a chance to dump the mind in exchange for new information. My ADHD and anxiety are unable to get in the way while I’m going through poses, leaving my mind with a newfound quiet for just long enough that I can get some peace. Each session is punctuated with meditation for the heart and breath to slow back down and for the mind to be at ease, my daily ritual coming to a comfortable close before I carry on with my day.
Meditation is met with mixed results depending on what your brain does. Folks with anxiety and/or depression may say that they can’t handle being alone with their thoughts for that long. Folks with ADHD may say that they can’t sit still for long enough.
For me, meditation puts a great big and beautiful metaphysical bow on the exercise. It’s a way for me to find relief from my near constant overthinking about everything. My ritual begins immediately after crawling out of bed. I set up my mat on the deck and practice for between 15 and 30 minutes, depending on the videos I follow. At the end of each practice, for a few minutes, I sit, close my eyes, and become aware of my body and mind. If I feel myself get twitchy, I keep my hands on my knees anyways, eyes closed and body still. If I start to notice my thoughts trying to turn to something irrelevant or unproductive, like a conversation from a week ago, then I force myself to hear the wind blowing through the trees around the house.
It’s helped me immeasurably, I feel, and I’ve been able to take it with me throughout the rest of my day whenever I need a moment to quiet my mind. Inhale, notice what’s wrong but don’t let it take over. Exhale, focus on the breath. Count if you have to. Just let yourself exist in this moment. And remember to breathe.