My Neural Pathway of Freezing Up (And How I Plan on Defeating It)

Helloo friends and fellow lookie-loos! It’s time for an update. Not just for you––I personally need a reminder from time to time that I have deep and interesting thoughts. Who do you think these blogs are for? You? Ha! Nope. They’re for me. If I don’t spill my guts once in a while, I honestly start to wonder if I have any guts at all. But I doo! Guys! There’s such life in my mind, that I don’t express in my daily life––I can’t! There are earnest thoughts, feelings, ideas, impulses, likes, and dislikes that are just chillin’ patiently, all the time, waiting for me to give them a voice. But I so rarely do.

Most people don’t have to give it a second thought––they can just open their mouths, give their tongues a little wag, and all their thoughts come pouring out on their own. I’ve never been able to do that. Even at my most uninhibited (read: drunk), I have to painstakingly assemble my thoughts before I let them out. The less inhibited I feel, the quicker I seem to be able to do this, but it’s always work.

My aunt wondered aloud on a past blog post, why I had such meaningful and long-winded thoughts to share online, but never shared them with her, in real life. And I completely forgot to reply, until now, so this is your answer Aunt Luci: yes, I have lots of deep thoughts, but it’s like they’re cinched up tight in a bag, that only loosens its closure under a very specific set of circumstances. What that tends to looks like, is a significant amount of alone time, mixed with a wee bit of the alkie-haul (but not too much), stirred with a good thesaurus. Yes, I use a thesaurus from time to time, what of it?

Funny Gifs : lucille bluth GIF -

Anyway, it’s not that I can’t get good thinking in when I’m around people, although that too is difficult. I tend to use most of my energy in conversations just trying to pay attention. Honestly, it’s great to admit that. Now that I’m beginning to realize ADHD has had a huge affect on my life, I’m also starting to ponder the possibility that maybe I’m not the worst human being of all time. I’ve struggled my whole life with paying attention, and I’d basically just accepted that the reason was, I was dumb and/or judgmental.

For instance, say I’m in a small group of people and the conversation topic is, ohh let’s say Donald J. Trump (you remember––our twice impeached former president?). Well, do I ever have some deep (and also some superficial) thoughts about that guy! But this conversation is going at such a spirited pace that I barely have time to translate what one person has said, when another jumps in, and another, and then the topic shifts slightly, and before long, I’m overwhelmed!

My therapist tells me this is because, in my psych evaluation, my verbal processing score is only “average,” compared to most of my other scores being “above average.”

Anyway at this point in the conversation, it’s unlikely I’ll be able to catch up, so I’m left with a couple of options. Either I can stay put, and continue to watch the conversation bounce from person to person while barely comprehending any of it, or I can leave and write a strongly-worded blog about my own opinions.

If I stay, I’ll be expected to participate, but since I can’t participate at their pace, I’ll either hold up the conversation for hours while I try and formulate one cohesive sentence, or I’ll just open my mouth and let whatever dumb shit is at the tip of my tongue fall out, which never, ever ends well. But on the other hand, if I exit the conversation, I’ll look like a jackass that thinks I’m too cool for school or a dum-dum that doesn’t even have a brain to think with.

And those are my options! So––because holding up conversation and dumping un-processed thoughts on people is rude, selfish, and unproductive, I’ve thought for years that I was dumb, but!––not wanting anyone to know that––I’ve pretended to be snooty sometimes, because, first of all, it’s believable, but more importantly, the belief that “I’m above such things” is an easier pill to swallow than the ever-present, mocking voice in my head that says, “You’re slow.” And once the crew believed, he left the ship and I have been Roberts ever since.

In other words, it’s pretty easy to believe something if all the facts point to it––even if the facts are constructs of your own mind, and especially if you don’t have all the facts in the first place.

Siiiiiiiigh. Seriously guys, I don’t open up deeply to anyone very well––not even Adam. Of course, I’m constantly trying, but it’s exhausting work, and I rarely succeed to even the smallest degree. I’ve met a tiny amount of people in my life who––for some spooky reason––I find it easi-er to open up to. If you’re one of those people, first of all congratulations Corinne, but you of all people know best, how torn up I am by these thoughts.

I desire so deeply to be real. One of my strongest-held convictions is that if everyone were truly honest, there would be a lot less suffering in the world. True, a lot of sociopaths would be exposed for their honest lack of morals, which would definitely cause some suffering, but the majority of people––I think––are probably similar to me, in that they’re “hiding” their true thoughts and/or feelings based on false beliefs about themselves that they invented to make sense of the world.

I imagine there are tons of people out there who secretly thought they were stupid because they couldn’t understand politics (who does?), and then Trump came along, whose brand was “I’m not a politician,” and suddenly those people were acting like zombies with Alzheimer’s––completely contradicting their natures and just parroting whatever Trump says. Why? Because they never wanted to believe they were dumb, but they can’t climb out of that pit themselves; they––hang on, we need a power greater than ourselves to rescue us from our made-up facts.

There’s not a whole lot of difference between me and them, actually. They chose to get behind the strongman of Trump, and I’m choosing to get behind the strongman of science. I understand one a little more than the other (guess which), but I’m still willing to suspend my disbelief in order to think better of myself. And that’s all that Trumpers are doing. They just want to think well of themselves! Who can blame them for giving up their core values? As long as they can believe they’re not stupid, what’s the harm?

The Princess Bride Laughing GIF by filmeditor

Yeah, no need to freak out, I am completely aware of the harm.

Anyway, my point (at some point) was that when our lives don’t make sense, especially as kids, we’ll make up things to fill in the blanks. And it makes perfect sense that a lot of us would build our lives on those made-up beliefs, to the point where we don’t even know if we made them up or not.

Fortunately, being a reason-based thinker in general, I’m perfectly willing to give up my now-alien-sounding belief––that I vacillate between idiocracy and judgmentalism––since I’ve become aware of the new fact that I have and have always had Attention Deficit Disorder. I sincerely hope for this kind of revelation to happen in the lives of my friends and family who march behind Trump.

There are all kinds of strongmen we get behind, and there are all kinds of reasons we seek them out. I know this is a topic that I can’t put into a tidy nutshell. We humans are all one breed of animal*, but our experiences are vastly different. “Ultimately it’s up to each individual to parse out their own questions, but the proof is in the pudding for which answers are worth trusting.” -Carla Baudrons

*Just recently have been learning about homo sapiens, from a book I’m reading called Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Did you know that there were once many breeds within the genus “homo,” like there are many breeds of dogs? Homo sapiens with their relatively large brains and adventurous natures just wiped out the rest of them, along with a shit-ton of animals.

ANyway, this topic has gone on for quite some time! I kind of forget where I even started. Hang on, let me re-read this gobblety-gook… [time passes]… okay, I’m back, and I’m surprised if anybody is still reading because I have written a lot of words for how little I’ve meant to communicate. SIGH. This is my brain. Like it or leave it, but always…

Animated GIF

I guess what I was overall trying to get at was that I’m super, super grateful to have this new bit of information (that I have ADHD). It’s helping me slowly to see that I’m not dumb and I’m also not judgmental. But that doesn’t mean accessing my deep thoughts in conversation is easier. On the contrary, now I’m even more confused. At least before, I had reasons for my stilted conversational skills; now I just know that it’s not my fault––which is nice!––but I still want to know why I’m this way.

Here’s what the Mayo Clinic says about why people have ADHD:

Genetics. ADHD can run in families, and studies indicate that genes may play a role.
Environment. Certain environmental factors also may increase risk, such as lead exposure as a child.
Problems during development. Problems with the central nervous system at key moments in development may play a role.

The only thing there that I can see playing a role in my development of ADHD is genetics, but again––it doesn’t really answer the underlying question of whyyyy? So, since I have some time, and you who are still reading don’t care how long my blog posts are (as long as there are pictures), I’m going to put on my thinking cap and jot down some theories.

I can haz think neow.

Unprocessed pain from my past. This is a big topic, but basically the idea is that I had a recurring experience of bad things happening when I spoke off the cuff. I’ve found that I especially seem to have a hard time with people that I consider my superior in one way or another. This could very well be the root of my behavior––I can’t tell you how many times I got in trouble as a kid for things I said. And how much pain I’ve experienced as a result of opening up too much, too fast in relationships. Yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised if I just taught myself over time to clam up in the face of possible pain. Interesting.

Fear of not saying the right thing. I mean, I think this kind of falls under the Unprocessed Pain heading––it’s a neural pathway that’s definitely been a blazed into my brain, over and over. A few specific-ish memories: My parents always said that we kids could “tell them anything, as long as we’re respectful.” I had real beefs with them, a lot of the time, and I considered myself a reasonable person, even as a kid, so I would carefully, carefully bring my grievances about them, to them. I can’t think of a single time that turned out well for me. The worst that would happen is a Dad-spanking, the best was that Mom would glare at me, and then lock herself in her room to cry for the rest of the day. Of course that’s a child’s memory; I’m sure my mom had her own perspective, but that was how I experienced it.

Another thing that would happen a lot during one especially fraught relationship, was that I would say something, and le boyfriend would break down my words and tell me exactly how wrong I was, and that I should really consider the meaning of my words before I said them. Of course, this was the same message I got from my parents (“Think before you speak!”) and Mulan (“Reflect before you snack!”), but his input was invited and welcome, so it really wrought some damage. Another ex-friend of mine treated me the same way.

This is not at all to say that there’s anything wrong with thinking before you speak, lol. No, it’s the judgment behind the critique that does the harm. What was energetically communicated to me through the examples above was, “You better watch your mouth. If you say something naive, misinformed, or that I disagree with, you’ll disgust me and embarrass yourself.” And I’m sure I’m not wrong about that, at least most of the time. Unfortunately, I felt this kind of judgment so much, especially during that one relationship, that I took on the habit, myself. I still struggle with it, although I’m totally aware that it’s so detrimental. Ugh. So sad.

Survival mechanism––freezing. Okay, this kind of plays into what I’ve been saying too. When I get choked up and can’t talk, it absolutely feels like a panic response. Fight, flight, freeze, etc. It’s an automatic function in my brain that silences all other functions. When it happens, I can’t think, I can’t speak, I can’t do anything to rescue myself, I can’t ignore it, I can’t look away––it’s absolutely a deer-in-headlights situation. Why this is a behavior that’s categorized as “survival instinct,” I have no idea. It sure doesn’t seem like it could save anyone’s life, especially not the deer, poor thing.

By the way, I went hunting for a “deer in headlights funny” picture on Google Images, and I really wish I hadn’t. People have taken and posted pictures online of their deer-smashed-into-bumper accidents and it is gruesome and horrifying. What lobes of their brains are missing, that they think that’s an okay thing to do? I feel totally okay judging them. And RIP sweet deer. :(

White-tailed deer fawns are born across Wisconsin this spring
A lot nicer pictures come up for “pretty deer.”

Anyway, I wonder if it’s the same survival response of “playing dead.” Because that would make a little more sense, although not much, evolutionarily. What human predator is going to be like, “Huh, my food just made it easier for me to eat it, guess I’ll walk away now.” Right? Unless they’re the dumb idiot kind of animals that kill for sport, but they’re the exception, not the rule. So why do we freeze? I’m not convinced it’s just a survival mechanism.

I think the answer to that question for me probably goes back to childhood. No matter how smart you are as a kid, you’re still a kid. But let me use the deer-in-headlights example again. As a fawn, you haven’t experienced enough in life to teach you that cars are dangerous, so when one comes at you for the first time, your reaction is likely to pause and be curious about it.

When I was a kid and felt there was a great injustice happening, I’d take it to my parents, and I would be sternly rebuked, if not punished. But then what would I do? Nothing! I didn’t know what to do, I was confused and bewildered and afraid of more punishment, so I didn’t do anything! NORMAL. As I grew up, I was continually subjected to this type of behavior from people I perceived as smarter, older, prettier/handsomer, and just generally better than me. I continually didn’t know what to do in response, and assumed that I was too dumb, young, ugly, and bad to learn. I think this is also normal, but a lot of people seem to “grow out of it” at some point. I wonder why I never grew out of it. I wonder how other people do grow out of it.

Man, if you’re still reading, you deserve a reward. This has been one long-ass blog post, and I’ve barely updated you on my daily life at all! Well, maybe it’s all for the best. I’ll do another blog with an update, and this one can just be for the avid reader. But I do think it’s time to wrap it up. So…

In conclusion, it seems like my speaking problem (which is tied in very closely to my ADHD symptoms) is largely due to not knowing how to respond in emotionally abusive situations with figures of authority. The neural pathway was made at a young age, and reinforced throughout my teens and early twenties. Now in my early thirties, I still have the reaction to people I perceive as authority figures in my life, although the emotional abuse isn’t there (or is only very lightly there––some people just don’t know how to deal with awkward people, I get it!).

My way out of the behavior should be fairly simple, but probably not easy. Since it started with lack of knowledge, I think I can start to end it with the knowledge I’ve gained. So when the old pathway opens up in front of me, I’ll have another pathway to consider. Sorry, I know I said I was almost done, but I need to give an example of what I mean.

Say I’m talking with my dear, dear friend Annie (hi Annie!), who I have always known possesses an incredible intellect, strong reasoning ability, enormous breadth of knowledge, and an amazing capacity for caring––for people, animals, and the earth. She is strong-willed, confident, and holds to her convictions firmly. For all of these reasons, I feel pretty darn inferior to Annie, if I let myself go there.

By the way, Annie is selling Library book genre stickers, get you some.

I think perhaps the first step to changing the old neural pathway is letting go of comparison and judgment. I know from experience that those are both dangerous and slippery slopes. So step one: I practice releasing the habit of comparing myself to Annie, and make every attempt to let go of my blanket judgments about both of us. “Annie is not better than me, I am not better than Annie. Annie is my friend.” This step could last a while, but saying that mantra in my head has got to have better effects than my usual mantra, which is, “I am dumb, I am wrong, I am bad. Annie is better than me. Woe is me. Fuck my life.” Etc.

Anyway, if I can keep my head above water with my new mantra, step two is to reinforce it. I’ve created the new pathway, and now I have to walk it. At the beginning, this could look pretty messy. In the conversation with Annie, I try to bring my inner thoughts back to my mantra, like I try to focus on my breath during meditation. Once I’m in the mantra, regardless of whether I believe it or not yet, I can act on it. So instead of navel-gazing, I have the opportunity to consider what is happening right now––how Annie’s behaving, what she’s saying, what she’s implying, where her eyes are looking, and also how I’m feeling, what my impulses and desires are, the things I’m curious about––and act on the current facts.

I feel like I could write a book about this! There’s so much here! I’m really intrigued by all angles of the topic. But it’s gone on far too long, and my eyes are starting to feel like raisins again, so I’d better stop. I would love to hear your thoughts, whatever they are! ‘Kay bye!

2 thoughts on “My Neural Pathway of Freezing Up (And How I Plan on Defeating It)”

  1. Wow, thank you so much for sharing that Desiree. It’s such a new thing for me (adhd diagnosis), I’m definitely checking out that book!

  2. I relate to so much of this, Carla! I’ve been diagnosed with ADHD for 10 years, but only recently put together that my ADHD was tied to my difficulty with articulating my thoughts in conversation. I just pretended I didn’t have it for a long time, and only recently realized that acknowledging my struggles as a person with ADHD can help me make them more manageable. The book A Radical Guide for Women with ADHD is really good and you might find it useful for disentangling some of the childhood trauma stuff.

    Your fellow awkward conversationalist,

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