Mike Scrase: “Whirlwind of Imagination”, But the Whirlwind Was Just ADHD the Entire Time

Many, many years ago, Owen Watts, a former editor of mine, described me as a “whirlwind of imagination”.

Now, I have always loved this quote. I still love this quote. I am very happy to be described as a whirlwind, and Owen, if you are reading this, I would never ask you to apologise for calling me that.

However, it has recently come to my attention that that description of me might work on several more layers than Owen could ever have known. For the people who know me very well, honestly, I have no idea how we all managed to miss this for such a long time. Strap in for a heavy one, readers.

I wrote a comic about this and didn’t even realise that’s what it was about

You see those panels there? I wrote all that based around my experiences being born, and living with, a visual impairment. All of that can absolutely still be applied to my visual impairment, and I cannot emphasize enough how much my vision has impacted my life and shaped who I am.

I would never want people to think Zip was not about all of that. But as it turns out… Zip might have also been about something else as well. I mean, I read back the scene, the dialogue, featured above, and in highlight have no idea how I didn’t know that I was able to write Zip’s thoughts and feelings there as authentically as I did because I have absolutely raging ADHD.

How did I miss this?

When I wrote this scene, in truth, I did have ADHD on the brain. But where I approached this was: “well, if I had superspeed, and my mind moved faster than the entire rest of the world, how would I feel? I bet the closest thing would be ADHD, right?” So I did a bit of research and, as I always do when I attempt to write an experience which is not my own, tried to draw on aspects of my personality which were like ADHD.

Despite my visual impairment being the starting point for Zip, I have always tried to write it in a way that everyone can resonate with. For me, this meant not only making it applicable to disability in general, but also applicable to marginalised groups in general, AND applicable to anyone who had ever felt like an outcast, in general. But in doing this, I injected thoughts and feelings into Zip’s character which I thought were universal. Turns out, many of these these thoughts and feelings are very, very much an ADHD thing.

“We see Zip here in her lowest moment, and that timeless quality which San’s open panel brings to the table really hammers home how lost she is in her thoughts.

How long has Zip been wandering these train tracks, deep in thought? Who knows? Even she’s lost track.”

– You are describing ADHD, past self from like two months ago. That’s just ADHD.

I’m reminded again about how Lauren from The Friendly Neighborhood Comic Show enjoyed my use of captions to represent Zip’s thoughts throughout the story. The thing is, that if that worked at all, I think the reason is that I have my own captions. All the time. Forever and always.

Oh, and somehow, letterer Ferran Delgado managed to represent this beautifully with the way he spread out the dialogue. I will not speculate on how he knew what I was going for when even I didn’t know what I was going for, other than say it probably had a lot to do with him being a very experienced professional.

Just look at the way those caption boxes overlap: just like my thoughts overlap. Look at the spaces between them, or the fact they cascade downwards in an irregular, disorganised pattern. Did Ferran read my mind???

ADHD is not a quirk

I should really pivot now and talk about why ADHD is not simply something that gives me ideas for writing comics. I mean, it does, but typically when people think of a person with ADHD they think of someone quirky and fun. At most the perception is that it’s a minor, harmless, annoyance.

But it is, in fact: terrifying.

You most likely have a least one or two important things to remember. Everyone probably does. Now imagine that any one of these important things could simply disappear from your brain without any notice. Without you even necessarily realising it had. You might get that memory back in a few minutes, hours, days, weeks, or months. Or never. You might forget something important. Forever.

You will never know exactly which of your thoughts this will be subject to. Thus, over the course of your life, without even realising this isn’t something everyone does, you will develop habits of your own which allow you to power through tasks and getting them done before you forget what you were doing while you’re doing them.

I call this process a rhythm. Not a routine. I hate routines. A routine is something I am locked into committing to and cannot opt out of when a sudden whim drives me to. A rhythm is tool that I am free to deviant from if I wish: simply a step by step process that allows my brain to work on autopilot so that I can use a template for my own memory. This isn’t my only coping mechanism, but it is a common one for me.

The difficulty is establishing a rhythm in the first place. I often procrastinate learning new things, new tools, and new processes. This is because no rhythm exists for me there yet, and doing whatever it is I need to do repeatedly enough that a rhythm can be established may very well be an uphill battle.

It does not matter how important it is for me to remember something. In fact, the more important it is, the more detrimental this may be to me remembering it.

Is it because I don’t care? No. It’s because I care too much. You can be talking to me, and I’ll understand you are telling me something important, and because it’s important I will think about it. However, if I think about it, I run the risk of thinking so much that I forget to listen to the next thing that you say. Throughout the course of my life this has led to interactions with people who have thought I was deliberately ignoring them, and that looked a lot like… well, this:

I swear I had no idea the entire time I was writing this.

My mind moves at a million miles per minute. One thought leads me, tangentially to another, and another, and another until I have internally segued myself onto a completely different topic, possibly forgetting many of the individual other thoughts I had on the journey to get there. Not only will I forget to pay attention, I will actually not even realise that I have forgotten to pay attention: I am so lost in thought, always.

Is it a superpower?

But, I consistently complete scripts. I work to deadlines. I managed Kickstarter campaigns all by myself. How do I do all that if the above is true? Well, I also do something which I have recently learned is called hyperfocus. I could read you out a dictionary definition, or I could describe my experience with it, and so I’ll do the latter.

You see, for me, those moments where I can concentrate on a task are not necessarily a given, so when I can concentrate I concentrate hard, for fear of losing my streak. They are more often tasks that I am enjoying, however, just because I know I will enjoy a task does not guarantee hyperfocus. Thus I will often procrastinate say, writing a script. But once I’m on a roll, nothing will stop me. Great, right?

Except, the kinds of things that will not stop me can include, and often have included: sleep, food, bathroom breaks, and necessary rest. In my lifetime I have, I am not kidding, stayed at my desk for three days straight. Sat in one spot, writing a script. No food. No bathroom. No sleep. Just writing.

I loved every minute of it. I’m proud of the fact I did it. But was it healthy for me? There isn’t a doctor in the world who would say it was.

Getting myself Diagnosed

Full disclosure: I have not actually been able to get a diagnosis sorted out yet. Doing this as an adult in the UK is very, very difficult. But I am not the kind of person who likes to self diagnose, for fear that I may have fallen prey to the Dunning Kreuger effect. But, I have just told you that I sat in one spot and ignored my body’s basic survival needs for 72 hours. It wasn’t even difficult. I didn’t even notice that I was damaging myself.

Not only am I sure I have ADHD, I am sure that it is extremely severe, and extreme debilitating for me. I am going to try, very very hard, to focus enough to push past the barriers which have been placed in my way. Get diagnosed. Get treatment. Get help for something I have been managing all by myself, my entire life, without even knowing I was doing it. You better believe that this isn’t just a label I want because it makes me seem counterculture. If I don’t address this it literally might be what kills me. It may already have shortened my life irreversibly.

Which brings me back to Owen’s earlier description of me: “a whirlwind of imagination”. Aha! You thought I’d forgotten, didn’t you? Well I knew there was a danger of that, and I relied on another one of my own systems for preventing that from happening. Namely: doing things in the order that I remember to do them: not necessarily an order that makes logical sense to anyone else. To give you a peak behind the curtain, this paragraph was written before a few of the preceding ones, even though structurally, it belongs nears the end.

Oh, I was about to talk about something, wasn’t I? Oh yes! Owen’s quote. You see it’s apt because a whirlwind is high energy. It can move big things and seems very impressive. But a whirlwind is indiscriminate in what it picks up. It does not get to decide what it will and will not destroy.

In my lifetime, this condition has caused many people to compliment me. I’ve been called tireless, creative, intelligent, and detail oriented. But the funny thing is, many of the people calling me these things have also called me lazy, disorganised, careless, and stupid. I can see how someone would think I am any of these things, but the thing that makes me appear gifted is the very same that often makes me act like a total trashfire. A person like me is very valuable to a society that values productivity, until my ‘quirks’ stop being convenient for them to exploit.

I assure you, this image is extremely relevant to that last sentence.

Which brings me back to Zip: an idea I had over ten years ago, but has only just now reached its full potential. It was always about all of this, apparently. If that’s news to you, join the club. If anything I have said has interested or resonated with you, please consider backing my Kickstarter campaign, or if necessary, get yourself diagnosed as well. You aren’t quirky: you’re going to kill yourself if you go on without help. Trust me.

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Zip is self-published by Mike Scrase, Bristol UK. © Mike Scrase 2023. ISSN 2976-8721 (print) 2976-8721 (online). No similarity between the names, characters and institutions depicted in Zip with any real life names, persons, or institutions is intended. Any such similarities are purely coincidental. Printed in the UK by Stuart Lloyd Gould.