Executive Dysfunction Is a Whole Thing

All I’m saying is that if Jason Voorhees had executive dysfunction, a lot of kids would still be alive.
(Image by ROBYN MACKINNON)

So, I have a problem with something called “executive dysfunction”. Until recently, my response to that was basically, “Whatchu talkin’ bout, Willis?” But apparently, it’s a big deal within the neurodivergent community. Like, to the point that science-y types argue about whether it’s a thing or not. All I can say is that if there is an executive in my brain, that motherfucker is definitely dysfunctional because they’re not doing shit. They may even be making things worse.

What the Hell Is “Executive Dysfunction”?

I should probably start this off by explaining what executive dysfunction is. ADDitude magazine says it describes “the range of cognitive, behavioral, and emotional difficulties which often occur as a result of another disorder or a traumatic brain injury.” Or, to say it like a regular fucking person, it’s what happens when you can’t concentrate, act, or function like “normal” folks because some fucked-up shit happened to your brain. Understand that when I say, “fucked-up shit”, I’m not just talking about the developmental stuff; traumatic brain injury can also cause it. And, TBI is pretty much the definition of “some fucked-up shit happened to your brain.”

What’s It Look Like?

This isn’t an easy question to answer because, like so much involving this brain shit, everyone’s different. All I can really tell you about is how shows up my life. Now, this takes in a fuck ton of ground, and covering it exhaustively would make this post way longer than you’d want to read. But I think I can give you an idea of what it’s like with two quick stories.

A couple of Saturdays ago–when the roads were shitty because of ice and snow–I decided it would be a good time to straighten up the shelves in my laundry room. After reading an essay from my friend Hugh Hollowell, I got the bright idea to turn part of that space into a pantry. It made sense, you know. Even if it wasn’t going to be big enough for the amount of food mentioned in the post because having some extra stuff on hand couldn’t hurt. So, after a leisurely breakfast followed by my customary two cups of coffee, I stepped into the laundry room. And, saw this:

This? This is what ADHD looks like.

I just stood there, paralyzed, unable to even begin this task that I really wanted to accomplish. That lasted about 5 minutes. I made several attempts to get started before finally saying, “Ah, fuck this,” and making a 3rd cup of coffee. The thing is, I’ll come back to this several times over the next few months. One of those times, I’ll move something. Just one thing. Then, I’ll stop because it’s still over-fucking-whelming. But, it will be a beginning. That said, it’ll probably take me 6 fucking months to do something that should take an hour. Or, I could get a wild hair one day and knock it out in 30 minutes. It’s one or the other with no in-between.

Another thing executive function affects is working memory. It works like RAM on a computer, holding information in a way that your brain can access it quickly. I definitely have issues with that. Earlier this week, for example, I was having problems with my glasses fogging up due to my mask. So, I took them off and put them in my pocket. A few minutes later, I needed to look at something on my phone, so I put my glasses back on. I’m guessing that information never made it to my working memory because, less than 5 seconds later, I couldn’t find them. Because they were on my head! And, then there are the meltdowns, the missed appointments, and the inability to multitask.

How Do I Cope? I Have Mad Skills, Yo

Coping skills are an ND’s best fucking friend. While I should probably have more, I have developed enough to survive. Hell, even thrive. A lot of them involve everyone’s favorite whipping boy, the internet. In the past, paying my bills was a major issue. Even when I had the money. Because of my executive dysfunction, I would get distracted and just fucking forget to pay them. Now, with online banking and automatic bill pay, my bills get paid without any action from me. And, the calendar app on my phone sends me reminders of appointments and events. Provided, of course, I remember to enter them (this is a flaw in my system). And, my need for ritual and routine also helps. So, I do all right.

So Much Potential? Fuck You

One of the most irritating things about this shitty ass executive in my head is that, sometimes, the motherfucker on it. I mean, when they want to, that bastard can kick ass and take names. This usually happens when I find something interesting or novel. Those times, I can concentrate like a son-of-a-bitch and really get stuff done. But it’s hard to pin down. And, for the motherfucking life of me, I can’t make it happen. It just does. That was something my parents and teachers never understood. You don’t know how many times I heard “He has so much potential. If he’d only apply himself.” Which sucked because I was trying so hard to apply myself. And, getting absolutely no-fucking-where.

What the Deal Here?

So, why am I telling you all this? A couple of reasons, really. Like Flannery O’Connor, I process things by writing. She said once, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” And, I feel that, especially since I’m still trying to figure this shit out. But if all this bullshit helps someone else, that would be pretty fucking cool. And, there is a part of me that hopes some neurotypical parent/spouse/friend reads this and something clicks with them and they decide to be just a little less shitty with this person in their life who does such weird-ass shit. That maybe, just fucking maybe, a neurodivergent somewhere doesn’t have to hear about their goddamn potential so goddamn much. Is that a lot to hope for? Oh, hell yes. But, I am just that fucking optimistic.