MORE ABOUT GROUNDHOG DAY RESOLUTIONS
For context, you may find these posts helpful in understanding the purpose of Groundhog Day Resolutions and my current set of goals.
Welcome to the October Groundhog Day Resolutions (GHDR) Report for 2023! The productive work of the last month was confined to paying project work which is comprised of finalizing a system design and getting to know new members of the development team. These are very positive developments, so I was surprised to find myself in The Cycle of Doom again.
In today's report I'm investigating why I keep falling into this pattern. I attempt to apply ideas taken from ADHD, Autism, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder readings to the history of Groundhog Day Resolutions.
- I'm in a spiral of depression-anxiety-bad habits aka The Cycle of Doom.
- My mental state can be described as dysregulated and disconnected.
- Both dysregulation and disconnection are mitigated by external moderation (e.g. people to collaborate with).
- External moderation needs can be met by being in a good community, but as an autistic person with PDA I have specific needs.
- I can meet needs if I embrace leadership to design the community, which is compatible with the PDA neurotype.
What is The Cycle of Doom?
The "Cycle of Doom—CoD" is a list of symptoms that trigger each other in turn, creating an endless loop. It's a vicious circle of depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior; in my case the set of triggers are:
- Feeling disconnected from the world
- Disconnection triggers emotional and executive dysregulation
- Dysregulation leads to binge consumption activities
- Binge activities lead to irregular sleep
- Irregular sleep leads to social isolation due not being awake in the daytime, and having to prioritize paying projects
- Social isolation leads to lack of "mutuality of spirit"Yes, I just made up this term. which is a form of connection with humanityYes, I just made up this term.
- Lack of mutuality promotes ongoing disconnection
Although the list seems very systematic in its presentation, it's not certain that "disconnection" is the starting trigger...it could be any of the other lines! To figure out how the Cycle of Doom (CoD) starts, a "traditional clinical approach" would apply a checklist of common therapies for each individual symptom, changing one thing at a time and then running some kind of evaluation afterwards. If no obvious health abnormalities are found, doctors will recommend adjusting diet and exercise in addition to taking vitamin supplements. They may suggest mental health assessments too; clinical evaluation did provide official diagnoses of ADHD, Autism Level 1In the US, this was associated with the term Aspergers Syndrome until recently, but Autism (ASD) Level 1 is broader in its definition., and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
Context 1: Neurodivergent Assumptions
Since then, I've spent a lot of time figuring out which of my personal quirks were strongly correlated with traits associated with these diagnostic labels. My current thinking is that I'm a combination of autistic and ADHD traits; this is often referred to online as hashtag #AuDHD or under the broader umbrella term neurodivergent (ND)The term "neurodivergent" is often used to contrast with "normal people unlike us" that are so-called "neurotypical". Another contrasting term pair are "autistic" versus "allistic". Although I consider myself as part of the neurodivergent group, I don't want to imply an 'us versus them' dynamic!.
Many of my strengths are autistic traits, like the ability to consume massive amounts of data and intuit the existence of patterns within data and notice minute inconsistencies in visual data. They are also some of my greatest challenges when I have to suffer through inconsistent information that I have to resolveThese are not typical traits described in the diagnostic literature for Autism as they tend to focus on socially-inconvenient behaviors within an assumptive context of "social expectations", not detailed mental modeling of the individual. This kind of qualitative description is more easily found in "lived experiences" reported by autistic folks that can verbalize their thoughts..
Back to the Cycle of Doom, I think there are two main triggers that are intertwined. Using myself as the context:
dysregulation is my shorthand term for "being unable to do what I know is good for me, instead doing something else." It's an inability to control my actions while being fully aware that they are detrimental, and my "willpower" is not strong enough to force the issue. Examples are binge-watching YouTube videos, cooking foods that I eat too much of, shopping for things I don't need. In general, when I am dysregulated I am (1) low on 'mental energy' and (2) engaging in consumptive rather than creative activities. In the context of my Groundhog Day Resolutions goals, I would much prefer to be doing those creative benefits-bringing activities, but the Cycle of Doom interferes.
disconnection is my shorthand term for "feeling that my actions and interests are unrelated to anyone else or the physical world, so there's no point to doing anything". It's also related to feeling that this how people feel about me even if they "have to interact with me". Neither of these feelings are true, but nevertheless these are strongly-felt and a constant anxiety that I now believe grew from being quite different from other kids and not knowing whyFor specific examples in rough note form, see Sri Relatability. I have also learned over time that I don't have an affinity for many mainstream social expectations which actually can lead to disconnection with many.
Context 2: Groundhog Day Goals
"Dysregulation" and "Disconnection" are the two big things on my mind right now, as the Cycle of Doom keeps coming up in my life. Over the past 15 years I've tried dozens of different approaches to overcome it, experiencing only small gains in actual productivity; instead, I have amassed a great deal of personal insight into how my mind works. Groundhog Day Resolutions itself has evolved because of this, originally starting as a simple tracking idea and then evolving into a system of goals and guiding principles tailored to accomodate my quirks and leverage my strengths.
The main theme of 2023 GHDR is to create community, create new tools, and better articulate who I am to other people. On the surface this may appear to be a generous act for improving the world for others (which it is), but it's also a pointed strategy for overcoming my Cycle of Doom in a way that I can control within the constraints of my abilities so that I can be more productive. Stated more simply, I believe that being trapped by the CoD is the major barrier to being consistently productive.
Having tried so many other reframings of the Cycle of Doom, I'm now thinking that it might be more of a "mechanical malfunction" than one of control. If the machine is broken, all the efforts to control it are going to fail no matter how skilled you are in operating it. Likewise, if the machine specializes in one kind of operation, expecting it to work in all situations is also going to fail. The important thing is that it's not the machine's fault or even necessarily the operator's fault. I am in both the role of machine and operator.
A Fanciful Machine Version of Sri
To understand how disconnection and dysregulation affect Groundhog Day Resolutions, I've described myself as a machine (e.g. like this). The working theory is pretty simple:
I can not operate toward my goals without the right fuel: external sources of people energy provide connection through mutual interests and shared benefit. I want to do work, but it needs to be closely shared with others, otherwise it is extremely difficult to work at all.
The gist of the machine is as follows:For fun I describe the machine operations in more detail here: Sri Machines
- There is a
SriComponentthat is my quirky self that is capable of making cool things under the right conditions.
- There is a
GHDRMachinethat represents Groundhog Day Resolutions
- There is an
Operatorthat is responsible for maintaining the conditions that allow
SriComponentto run without exploding or collapsing.
The two main takeaways:
SriComponent just doesn't run without people energy!
I've been running the component in starvation mode, forcing it into dysregulation which leads to binge behaviors that further damage my health. It's important to arrange for a steady stream of high-octane interaction.
The feeling of disconnection is entirely due to the lack of "high-octane interaction" (people energy), which leads to dysregulated
SriComponent operation and the Cycle of Doom.
The essential dilemma is that there are two roles to fulfill but only one of me:
SriComponent- it works best when fueled with the right kind of people energy. It runs inefficiently on alternative fuels, becoming increasingly dysregulated and unpredictable until it crashes. This triggers The Cycle of Doom, as the
SriComponentis no longer controllable and runs amok with binge activities.
Operator- is responsible for acquiring fuel for
GHDRMachineso it doesn't explode. Ideally this is a second person because being both Operator and SriComponent is even more inefficient.
Unfortunately for me, the mechanicals are the easy part. What's harder is finding interesting folks who want to engage with me. I think that this requires me to evolve into a leader of some kind.
A Leader Type of Sri
There's yet another role that I have to add after
Operator: Leader of GHDR Vision. One of the main strategic goals for GHDR is to create The ColonyLoosely, The Colony is a place where "positive-minded, self-empowered, curious, conscientious, competent, generous, and kind people" can gather and share their experiences for mutual benefit. not just because it will help me with energy, but because I think it would be really cool. The job of the Leader is to articulate that vision to all interested parties. However, the disconnection barrier resurfaces in a different form!
I think of disconnection as coming in two flavors: executive and emotional. The machine operation stuff above is the executive type, being closely related to my Autism+ADHD combined quirks and traits. By comparison, emotional disconnection is a defense mechanism born from the aftermath of anxiety.
There is an autism neurotype called Pervasive Drive for AutonomyAlso known as Pathological Demand Avoidance in clinical circles. The PDA term is mostly used in the U.K. and is not officially recognized in US diagnostic references. (PDA) that fits my lived experience (emphasis mine):
The core of PDA is an anxiety-driven need for autonomy. PDA causes someone to avoid demands and expectations for the sole purpose of remaining in control. When faced with a demand (even a really minor one), PDAers can have extreme reactions.
These intense reactions can be to demands that seem really minor to others (e.g., putting one glass in the dishwasher, doing one math problem, taking a shower). PDAers even have this intense negative reaction to demands that they themselves WANT to meet. They often really want to do it (be productive, be compliant, go to school, do the homework, have a job, etc.) but they cannot, because the anxiety is so intense. There is an incredibly strong feeling of “I can’t have my freedom be impinged on by external demands.”
The quoted passages above are from blogger Dr. Donna Henderson's post PDA: Not what you think it is!, and I found several relateable bullet points there:
- tend to have better eye contact and better social reciprocity than most with autism (note: this is one of the clinical diagnostic criteria that I didn't think applied to me, which had led to me ruling out autism for myself)
- tend to be more socially savvy than most people with autism and can actually use manipulation pretty well (note: my interest in communciations and communcation design)
- have great difficulty seeing the social hierarchy (note: in my case, rejecting it in favor of making a new one)
- may not do as well with routine and seem to need more novelty (note: oh goodness yes)
- may only struggle in one setting (note: this might be expressed more generally as the need for external conversational stimulation through interaction with other people)
- often enjoy and engage in role playing, sometimes to an extreme. (note: this was something I do a LOT but hadn't heard of this possibly being an autism trait until now)
I'm really interested in exploring the nature of PDA further, but the important takeaway is my need for control as a way to manage my anxiety about being trapped in certain situations. I need to be able to negotiate expectations and conditions with other people because not knowing makes me anxious. I have been burned uncountable times by poor communication and lack of caring. My life experience has conditioned me to expect disconnection as a result in every interaction I have with someone. At this point in my life, some of the anxiety I have is now a form of anger and resentment, which is another complication I don't want either!
An interesting realization is that the very idea of The Colony is an expression of PDA: by defining, marketing, and governing the development of this concept I am attempting to control for disconnection! In my dreams, The Colony will have people who do negotiate expectations and want to communicate with precision and good faith. Unfortunately for me, to even break ground on The Colony requires that high-octane interaction to fuel the delicate
It's hard to both want to reach out to people while simultaneously expecting disconnection as the likely outcome. This is the essential conflict that I think had me focused so much on becoming as self-sufficient and independent as possible, because I do not want to be trapped by this.
Summarizing the Challenge
This article hasn't gone in quite the direction I thought, but I'll start to wrap things up:
- I have been feeding the
SriComponenton the wrong kind of fuel, which results in unreliable behavior.
- I think I need a much larger source of external stimulation constantly to function well. The consequence of not finding this source is The Cycle of Doom.
- I may have to give up the control that characterizes the PDA Autism response patterns.
There are two closing thoughts to bookmark today's musings:
From a systems perspective, I think I do have a pretty good set of concepts to build on. The forever problem has been energy, motivation, connectedness, team, and tribe.
Without the externally-sourced fuel of high-octane interactions with like-minded/like-hearted people, I will remain in The Cycle of Doom.
I have tackled too large a project, and I feel dumb for not realizing that. I anticipate uncomfortable and humiliating compromise as a result but this is a conditioned anxiety response. This will be a really good step to take!
In my current state, I have very little energy. I therefore need to further reduce expectations of what I am capable of doing without the high-octane interaction that I crave. I have to be much more tactical given the limited resources I have. I am NOT starting with a shovel-ready plan with the resources to leap into action. Instead, I am upcycling my lemonade stand with whatever scraps of time and attention I can muster when I do find some high-octane interaction. I am poor in resources and attentional energy, and must work with what I have rather than feel bad about it.
That said, I'm not starting from scratch, and working within constraints is actually quite nice. I also have my past design work and a lot of applicable experience. For GHDR 2023 I'm developing just a few new things to add to the lemonade stand that will help me.
And so with that, I find my GHDR Goals for 2023 are largely the same as before:
- Write Something about The Colony to Establish Its Vision
- Build PDF Software to Make my Form Design Yearly Releases Easier to Customize
- Continue to Articulate Who I Am and What Makes Me Tick
And one last epiphany: maybe there is a serviceable alternative to high-octane people energy...MYSELF?
Taking the time to process and deconstruct my feelings into systematic understanding is a form of high-octane interaction with myself. Instead of thinking of it as self-indulgent navel-gazing as I tend to do, I should embrace it as the alternative is being sucked into the Cycle of Doom. After each report, clarity tends to linger for a week.
I'm not happy about lack of big news to report, but I have scaled my expectations in accordance to this report. Given the low level of attentional energy I have, I can use two upcoming deadlines to focus my attention without the need for high-octane interaction. These are:
- The software-generated Word Counting Calendar for Nanowrimo 2023 for November (coming up fast).
- The software-generated Emergent Task Planner Journal for 2024.
Both of these are part of my GHDR 2023 Goals. They are tedious beasts to produce with InDesign and Illustrator even with XML import, so these will be significant achievements. I feel a strong commitment to the users who have said they like them, and that kind of feedback is yet another serviceable source of motivational energy if I am not suppressed by The Cycle of Doom.
There are community-related activities going on also across multiple organizations that I'm part of, but in the spirit of scaling my expectations I am not going to worry about them. I'm going to list the next items on the list but am not going to compel myself to do it.
- The Colony Vision Statement is a key article of governance—a charter, if you will—for the kind of community I'd like to establish. I don't even know if I'm capable of leading such a thing, but drafing the statement help clarify what IS possible.
- Asking for and offering help is the foundation of any community. The work of leadership is to facilitate the greater vision and demonstrate how that is done.
- I can separate The Colony Vision Statement from my own identity. That makes it easier to debate the merits of culture and values without worrying that it might come across as an attack or dramatic indulgence.
That's it for now...thanks for reading!