Disaster Response / Remover of Obstacles

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Two of the really great features (superpowers, really) of ADHD are resilience and being amazing at crisis management. Year ago, when I was immersed in yoga and learning all the great stories and myths, I was particularly drawn to the Hindu god, Ganesha, known as the “Remover of Obstacles.”

Stationed at the threshold of sacredness and awareness, mediating between the possibility of the profound and our often habitual, mundane perception of the world, Ganesh is the guiding force behind this very moment of experience – where desire meets possibility.

Ganesh: Removing the Obstacles (Minibook) by James H. Bae

My teen years and twenties were pretty chaotic, to put it mildly. If I’m completely honest, sometimes I’m amazed that I survived and got to where I am. That’s not an exaggeration. (And those stories are what the other blog is for!) One the dust settled (as in, once I got away from the turmoil and started a family), I could look back, look around, look around, and give myself some credit for some pretty serious strengths. I go a gorgeous Ganesha tattoo on my right arm to remind myself that I’m a “Remover of Obstacles” and a problem-solver extraordinaire. (He’s also the patron of letters and learning, so… yet another reason I’m drawn to him!)

I have a few stories going all the way back to childhood of my crisis-management powers, including a major bus accident in kindergarten. I was five years old and had only been going to kindergarten for a few weeks when a tank truck (those giant trucks hauling a fuel tank) ran a red light and smashed into my school bus. The bus driver was thrown out the window and killed immediately. Miraculously, though there were injuries, no one else (none of the kids) died.

My Dad was a firefighter, and I’d spent a lot of time in firehouses and crawling around on firetrucks. I watched my Dad go racing out of the house in the middle of the night to go to fires and accidents. Firefighters were heroes. Firefighters fixed everything and saved the day. So on that day, I remember getting up once the bus was done rolling, and instructing everyone to move towards the emergency door in the back. I told them that the firefighters were coming, and we’d all be ok. My Dad was at his other job, so he wasn’t one of the firefighters that helped us out of the bus, but I knew all the guys that were there. One of them, Bobby, told my Dad afterwards that he knew I was fine when he came up to me and I swatted him away saying, “I’m fine, go help someone else!” (This is all absolutely true. My family has laughed about it for decades.)

I’m the person who, anytime anything goes wrong or breaks, says, “I’ll fix it!” or “It’s fine, I’ll figure it out!” My son has asked me if I wish I didn’t have ADHD, and I’ve truthfully told him, “No because then I wouldn’t be me.” My ADHD diagnosis has done more for my self-acceptance and being able to find pride in my abilities than decades of therapy. For me, every problem is just a puzzle to figure out. I’m an extreme outside-the-box thinker, I see angles and solutions that most people can’t, and I’m not afraid of challenges. (Boredom, mundanity, and repetition are legitimately so much harder for me to manage.)

Need to do something with a website or a book layout I’m working on in Adobe InDesign? No problem! There’s nothing I can’t figure out. Car got a flat? I’m the first to hop out and change it. Something broken in the house? I’m immediately googling how to repair it. When my son was a few years old, he fell and smashed his face against a box that was on the floor where his head landed. When he stood up, he was crying and blood was running out of his mouth and down his chin. My mom was visiting at the time, and both she and my husband started to panic. My mom wanted to rush him to the ER, but I calmly said, “Let’s just wait a minute,” and carried him to the bathroom to rinse his mouth. He was fine, he just had a small gash on his inner lip that stopped bleeding almost the second he rinsed his mouth out.

Mind you, I have my moments. My ADHD also gives me an intensity of emotion and flashes of anger that will leave you wondering WTF just happened, but that’s almost always over non-emergency, non-crisis stuff and in highly emotional situations. (My emotions are just… bigger.) As described in this post on TotallyADD.com:

1.  Super In A Crisis

A recent study found that the ADHD brain tends to produce more Theta waves than the brains of average folks.  Theta waves are the ones you produce as you’re nodding off to sleep.  Or listening to your father-in-law share stories about bass fishing.  They indicate a state of deep relaxation.

So when something goes boom!—a disaster, a crisis, or even something thrilling—and most people’s brains overload, ours can jump up to… “normal”.   As one of the Doctors in ADD & Loving It?! says, in a 911 situation, we would turn to “The ADDer”.

Several doctors have told us that they see a lot of ADHD among E.R. doctors and nurses, police officers, fire and rescue personnel, journalists, stock traders, professional athletes, and entertainers.  When others are in crisis, we can be cool, calm and under control.

The downside?  When life is calm and cool and under control, we’re in crisis.  The staff meeting drones on into its second hour and we’re ready to explode with the fidgets.  This is likely why adults with ADD often end up involved in dangerous, high-risk activities—it wakes up their brains.

ADHD coach Alan Brown talks about making sure you make smart choices about how you get your thrills.  He used to feed his need for speed with drugs, now he races.  As for me, I’m calmer onstage in front of 1,000 people than I was before I sat down to write this blog.

Got that? A non crisis is a crisis to my brain. And an actual crisis… puts me in a state of deep relaxation! And yes, I have had problems making smart choices to “get my thrills.” I’ve gotten significantly better at it as I’ve gotten older. Not so much that I’ve gotten better—I still crave “thrills” and feel restless. I’ve just gotten better at dealing with it and not doing “something stupid” as I used to.

Anyway. Speaking of making a crisis out of a non-crisis, in the past few weeks I’ve been able to get moving on things I’ve been trying to accomplish for years. I lack follow-through, but also have some social anxiety and anxiety about doing simple tasks like… pick up the phone and make a necessary call in regard to work or volunteer opportunities. I made steps towards volunteering with the Red Cross over a decade ago. Every step is a big hurdle for me: filling out applications, phone calls, going to orientation sessions, doing training online. There were a few setbacks (like when the coordinator I was working with just kind of… disappeared?), and each one made it harder for me to go at it again.

So I decided the time is right to try once more. For real this time. I was sent an invite to select a time, from a list of available times, to schedule the call with the coordinator in my area to determine my areas of interest. Scheduling that call was hard because it means… talking on the phone. I left that web page open for a few days until I was finally able to just choose a darn time already (thank you, ADHD meds and management skills). Then today, I did my call and told them I was interested in communications (editing and web stuff) and disaster response.

I’ve been wanting to be part of the disaster response team and do first-aid certification for… oh… fifteen or so years? When he suggested I choose just one of those to start with, I asked what they needed most, and he told me that disaster response teams have the bigger need. So disaster response it is!

I’m giddy. Would you laugh at me if I told you that volunteering for disaster response with the Red Cross is kind of a dream come true? I’ve always wanted to volunteer and to contribute somehow, and I’ve come to realize that my greatest strength, and best way to contribute, is with crisis and disaster management (whether with the Red Cross or otherwise). I’m especially keen to work with international disaster response because, well, yeah, I love traveling and the international setting. But beyond that, the month I spent in Berlin and the time visiting the refugee camp there really affected me. I need something more from the time I spend abroad. Or rather, I need the time I spend abroad to be more than just frivolous travel, and going somewhere to quietly help in doing whatever needs doing sounds like just the ticket.


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