One of the things I discovered about myself in the process of preparing for my sandan exam (third-degree black belt) a few months ago was how profoundly my ADHD affects me in my daily life. One of the things that’s been hardest for me is choosing. Thankfully, it’s becoming a little easier lately.
My Aiki Road Trip 2023
This post is part of a series: My Aiki Road Trip 2023. For about two weeks I’m sharing my adventures and photos on my way to the Aikido at Granlibakken retreat at Lake Tahoe, insights and fun during a week of great Aikido training with dear friends, and the trip back. I’m driving through the Mojave Desert, San Joaquin Valley, California’s Gold Country, and High Sierra, exploring the historic water situation — rivers, reservoirs, dams, flooding, and Tulare Lake, plus gold rush history, and amazing nature and scenery.
I’m mostly posting from my phone, with limited Internet access. There may be typos and glitches. I’ll come back to fix them later. You can email me at [email protected].
At the bottom of each post I include resources for further exploration about each day’s adventures – books, videos, maps, links, images, etc.. For the trip in general, here are more California History Resources for Road Trips.
Choosing, and Aikido Rank Tests
At our dojo, Aikido of San Diego, we are given the core requirements for what must be included (classic techniques, weapons practices, freestyle encounters, …), but we have a lot of freedom to design our own presentations around those requirements. Do we want to start out with a dramatic demonstration of sharp, hard, powerful-looking weapons skills? Or begin with something soft and flowing, and work up to elements with more energy and speed?
I knew this test was coming for years, of course. I had a list of things in my mind (and in a spreadsheet, of course) that I hadn’t been able to include on my previous tests, plus all sorts of cool and awesome things I’d learned or thought of since then. It’s easy to imagine including anything and everything. Like a kid in a candy store — “I’ll do this, and then that, and these other three things, and …” I could imagine a whole universe of exciting possibilities.
But in the last few weeks of preparation I ran into a mental brick wall. When it came to narrowing down and refining what I would actually include in my test I just couldn’t get it done. While I’d found it easy and fun to think through and visualize all the options available to me, the process of choosing from them was really, really hard — emotionally, viscerally hard. I spent months rethinking and revising. Even so, I was still working out the details right up to the last minute.
Choosing, and ADHD
I’d sort of known for many years that I probably had ADHD. I knew I’d struggled my whole academic career, shamed by teachers for not trying hard enough, for not “applying myself.” (As if admonishing a student ever helped them learn how to do better!) I’d known it decades ago, but figured that was in the past — something that affected me as a kid. But there wasn’t anything I could do about all that now.
Then, thanks to beta-reading an upcoming book for my author friend, Jesse Anderson (@ADHDJesse), I discovered much I hadn’t known about the badly-misnamed neuro-genetic disorder. It’s really not a problem of “attention deficit” or “hyperactivity.” Instead, ADHD is a disorder of executive function. People with ADHD have difficulty controlling our attention. This can look like being distracted — paying attention to anything and everything, flitting from interest to interest. It can look like perseveration — continuing to do one thing (oh, like playing a game on my phone) even when we know it’s time to move on to something else (ahem… say, getting to bed at a reasonable time).
There’s so much more that can be a part of ADHD: the need to seek out activities that create dopamine, procrastinating until the immediacy of imminent consequences compels us into action, exquisite sensitivity to criticism, difficulty planning and scheduling, and generally dealing with time, auditory processing disorder, autonomic nervous system problems, and a whole constellation of physical issues that are genetically related to ADHD.
Choosing, and Writing
What really caught my attention in my friend’s book was the idea of divergent versus convergent thinking. I, like many with ADHD, am very comfortable in the realm of divergent thinking: brainstorming, first drafts, imagining, idea generation. I think in a mind-mapping kind of way, with each idea-node spawning more ideas, expanding outward exponentially. What’s hard is the convergent part: deciding, editing, paring down, finalizing. Picking that one thing. Choosing.
Finishing my sandan essay, another required part of our testing process, was equally difficult. For four years I’d been tossing ideas into a note. I could write about seeking out coaching, about being supported by a community of friends, about accepting my limitations. I’d started a dozen essays, outlined concepts, and now I had to pick one, actually write a coherent piece, and edit into a presentable work, leaving all those other ideas on the proverbial cutting-room floor.
I slogged through it. I forced myself. I had to, there was a deadline! But it was painful. It was slow. I sometimes just stood and stared at the screen. I’d add a paragraph here, remove a few there. I stayed up way too late, night after night, making little progress.
Choosing to Get Help
Between the frustration of finalizing the plan for my exam, and the ridiculous amount of time and energy it took to finish a simple essay it started to dawn on me that ADHD wasn’t just an interesting thing from my past, it was a serious problem affecting me every day, and keeping me from achieving my goals. I had tons of great ideas, an precious few finished project to show for years of study and work.
To make a very complex story very short, I got diagnosed — ADHD, Combined Presentation (that’s attention deficit AND impulsiveness/hyperactivity). That diagnosis has allowed me to access treatment.
The results are subtle, but also amazing. My mind isn’t racing in eight directions at once. I can hear that little voice that says “Hey, maybe it’s time to call it a night and get some rest.” With the insights from all my recent learning, and some new tools, I can manage time better. I can pick one topic and write about it. I can choose.
Choosing, and My Upcoming Road Trip
In just a week I will be heading off to a week-long Aikido Retreat: Aikido at Granlibakken. It’s the first time I’m gone anywhere, or seen all these dear friends, in four years. I’m taking a few extra days on the way up and back, too, to see everything I can see in the San Joaquin Valley and California’s Gold Country. I’ll be staying in cool, old motels, checking out the historic water situation in the state, and visiting places I’ve not seen in decades, or not at all. And I’ll be sharing it here along the way, every day, if I can. I’m just way too excited about it!
Planning a trip is an exercise in living deliberately, and that means making a lot of choices.
I can’t do everything I want to do before heading out. The date of departure is set. Seven days left! Some things will have to be left undone. I’ve stocked up on cat food that should keep all our four-legged friends fed well past my return. I can’t leave a mess of my things all over the house for Michael to trip over while I’m gone. But planting some new flowers down by the mailbox? Nope.
I can’t take everything with me. What do I really need? What can I leave behind? Every item carries possibilities. If I take a swimsuit (and flip-flops, and sunscreen, and a cover-up) I’ll be able to swim in the many pools and lakes along the way. If take my dry bag and life vest I could go kayaking or rafting. I bought a few cute dresses so I’ll be able to go to a nice restaurant or two if I feel like it. Things aren’t just things, they make experiences possible.
I can’t see and experience everything along the way. The limited timespan of a road trip provides clear boundaries. I have been working out schedules for each day, not so I can necessarily stick to them minute-by-minute, but to keep me grounded in the reality that I need to choose which things I will actually be able to do each day while still leaving time to write, and get enough rest, too. On one day I plan to drive right past an amazing cavern, several cute historic towns, and a really interesting State Park, in favor of spending a few relaxed hours among some of the worlds biggest trees.
Some of our hardest choices concern how we spend our time. Time is irreplaceable. Whether on a road trip, or our journey through life, we only get so much of it. We have to choose.
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.”Annie Dillard
“The Writing Life”
About the Author — Linda Eskin
Linda Eskin began practicing Aikido in 2009, at age 46, to improve her horsemanship. From the beginning she was inspired to explore how Aikido is taught and learned. In addition to mentoring adults, and now teaching a weekly Focus on Fundamentals class for students of all ranks, she assisted in the children’s programs for over eight years.
Linda loves Aikido both from the technical perspective, and as a practice of awareness and embodiment. She is completing her forthcoming book, Aikido to Zanshin – 26 Essays on the Martial Art of Peace. Her passion is encouraging people to begin, and supporting new learners of all ages.
Linda trains with Dave Goldberg Sensei at Aikido of San Diego, in California, and holds the third black belt rank, sandan.