The Executive Dysfunction Tango


I turned on the new episode of Fox’s Prodigal Son, a show I am finding increasingly intriguing.

prod son - cell.jpg
TV needs to stop making insane asylums look so cozy, for a lot of reasons.

I looked down at my desk/control panel, and then again at my phone/hand-held communicator, as a news bulletin popped up. I looked up again, and ten minutes of the show had passed. I had next to no idea what was going on.

prod son - mal gloves.jpg
This guy did something, and they were all mad at him.

I then ran it back to the beginning. It’s only been 10 minutes; I’ll just catch up from the beginning.¬† I look down to my desk, but I am listening this time. I catch the elements of dialogue, but again, I’m a little lost.

prod son - mal blow up
This guy blew something up, but apparently everything is fine now?

Again, I return to the beginning. Eyes off the comms, on the display. 100%. But then I glance away for the briefest of seconds as text passes across the screen. I run it back – it was a chyron date stamp, letting us know that whatever Malcolm blew up happened last night, and our post-explosion activity is occurring 12 hours later.

I am caught up. I am ready to watch. Though my video game is still running, and text files of current projects and podcast scripts are still open on my desktop, awaiting my attention when I can focus on them again. I have sketches that await scanning and eventual Photoshop treatment. I have a black box full of cards labeled “Ideas,” with each thought categorized by type (Character, action, conflict, dialogue, miscellaneous). I have a whirlwind of *things* to complete. Or is it a minefield?

Focus. Turn. Pivot. Repeat.

prod son - tango
Remember to spot, or you’ll get dizzy.

Organizing all of these projects into a task rubric sometimes seems like a full-time job itself. And, thanks to some chemical dysfunction in the ol’ brain meats, the enormity of organizing, let alone doing, becomes so daunting to me as to physically suffocate. The amount of nothing I have done is staggering, sometimes.

Anxiety spirals are evidence of negative energy, at least as far as I’m concerned. We’re made of trillions of cells that got struck with lightning and tricked into living together under one singular consciousness. It’s like reverse DID[1], and we all shuffle around in the world, managing to keep most of those cells together, in the same order, every day. It’s really kind of remarkable.

Girl lying facedown on the green bluberry field in the Carpatian mountain
Every day is a story of triumph.

The Anxiety Spiral comes when we realize we have something to do and we pressure ourselves for not having already done it. Feeling the added weight of that pressure, we then turn to the task at hand with a sense of fatigue and negativity, which exaggerates the enormity of the project, triggering additional anxiety about its completion. This anxiety, fatigue, and pressure all mount to a point of virtual paralysis, where no work is completed at all. When one finally pushes past the nadir, and begins rising to the task again, the delay incurred by the spiral adds additional pressure, which starts the cycle anew.

spiral diagram finishing.png
This diagram took me three months to complete, and I’m only just now realizing that I didn’t put any labels on it.

This is a living representation of cumulative disadvantage[2], that most everyone experiences to some degree on a social or emotional level.

To an autistic person, this sort of mental turmoil can be analogous to a violent storm, a dizzying, disorienting maelstrom that can shake them to a physical degree, causing fever, fatigue, blood pressure spikes (both high and low), and nausea. For a person with NVLD[3] and Executive Dysfunction, naturally-occurring anxiety can make it so that this spiral begins before a task is even introduced.

I find a get a lot of relief from phone alarms and post-it notes. Physical, written lists of tasks that can be checked and organized by priority are a soothing method of grounding myself throughout a day of work. Sometimes, it is no small challenge just to make the lists and set the alarms, but in the face of deadlines and distractions, taking the time (after some grounding breathing and centering) can be one of the best decisions I make all day, week, or month.

I will still get distracted. I will still get tired. Even in the face of well bulleted agendas, I will still find myself bargaining the list down to a reasonable stopping point, and leaving tasks for tomorrow. This is my own fault for getting ambitious. But knowing that I can manage, with methods and routines, brings confidence enough to accomplish a great many things.

I still haven’t finished watching Prodigal Son.

prod son - mal huh
What did he blow up, anyway?

[1] Dissociative Identity Disorder, see

[2] Matthew Effect, see

[3] Nonverbal Learning Disorder, see

One response to “The Executive Dysfunction Tango”

  1. My son has NVLD. I enjoyed reading your post. Thank you for sharing your experience‚Ě£

    Liked by 1 person

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