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“My Mind, Heart, and Body Were Like Wily Cats”

When my therapist asked, “How do you feel?” I had no idea how to gauge my feelings in real time. Learning to notice my thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations has helped me live in the moment for the first time — and enjoy it.

Before my ADHD diagnosis last year, living in the moment was an unknown concept to me. In the journey following my diagnosis, though, I became aware of how NOT present I was.

For much of my life, my mind has been distracted by everything except what is happening in the here and now. Favorite themes include dreaming about infinite possibilities, reflecting on memories, and chasing after the many ideas ricocheting inside my head.

In therapy, I was asked regularly, “How do you feel?” “Uh…” I’d say, my response hanging awkwardly in the air. My therapist’s question confused me because I honestly had no idea how to gauge my feelings in real time.

I think of my heart, mind, and body as cats. Sometimes they’re all super excited, playfully pouncing here and there in pursuit of prey. During those times, I feel invincible — like anything is possible.

But when my mind is laser-focused on researching some esoteric topic, or my heart so enamored with a movie character that I can’t stop repeatedly watching all of their scenes, my “cats” frustrate me. My ADHD frustrates me.

Getting stuck like that makes my finger start rapidly tapping on the computer mouse. Tapping, angrily tapping, because the cats aren’t cooperating. They’re doing their own thing and I’ve been sitting still for three straight hours, way overdue for a bathroom break, and held hostage by a mind or heart stubbornly refusing to stop so my body can get comfortable.

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In the Moment

A little over a year ago, as I was describing these maddening situations, my therapist suggested I try noticing the present moment. She said it would help me and she continued to suggest this technique throughout the next several months.

At first, I thought, Pshh, what is she talking about? It sounded impossible to me. Like trying to get the cats to perform a tap dance routine in sync – ludicrous!

But the more I thought about it, the more it started to make sense.

Then one day I finally got it. I’m a singer, and singing requires the mind, body, and heart to come together. Without cooperation from those independent parts, I don’t know what words and notes I’m singing, and I can’t sing them at the right time or express them with feeling. It’s not easy.

Singing is the hardest thing I do. Before my ADHD diagnosis, singing practice was really tough. I had to use sheer will to goad myself to stop procrastinating and get to work. By the time my practice began, I felt anxious and tense, which is not very conducive to free and expressive singing.

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I decided I needed a kinder, more effective way to practice. This meant somehow coaxing those wandering cats — my heart’s desire to watch cute dog videos, my mind’s worries about all those unfinished tasks, and my body’s reluctance to get up and move — into a singing-friendly state, where all the parts of me were present and ready to work together.

Taming the ADHD Cats

A year of experimenting led me to my current warm-up for singing: rocking out to my favorite pop songs, counting to 10 for each stretch, and noticing how tense or not tense my neck, shoulders, and other muscles feel.

Being aware of little changes like that from day to day has been a remarkable vehicle for transformation. It goes something like this: “Oh, my hips are tight, maybe I’ll take a walk!” The next day I might notice a lack of tension in my neck. “Hurrah, my neck hasn’t felt tense for three days now!

I’m finally starting to see why my therapist made all the fuss about being in the present. It may not seem significant, but it is. Gaining awareness of what’s going on inside myself is helpful and pretty cool, too!

In 2019 I received a wonderful gift: the ability to appreciate the present moment. Of course, remembering to do it in the first place and taking the time to take stock and notice how I’m feeling puts my sometimes-unreliable memory and patience to the test. But, hey, checking in for a split second even three times a day is a win because that’s three little “presents” I wouldn’t have otherwise noticed!

The best part is this: Each time I live in the present, I get to discover a different combination of emotions, thoughts, and sensations — sometimes chaotic, sometimes difficult, sometimes beautiful.

I find my ever-changing experience of the present moment exciting. It makes me the unique and dynamic person that I am — someone capable of making profound art and just as awesome for existing.

Emily Chen enjoys singing classical compositions and says singing helps her channel her sometimes excess energy in a meaningful way. Here is Emily singing “Moonlight’s Watermelon” composed by  Richard Hundley.

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