Executive dysfunction

In psychology and neuroscience, executive dysfunction, or executive function deficit, is a disruption to the efficacy of the executive functions, which is a group of cognitive processes that regulate, control, and manage other cognitive processes.

It’s not laziness. It has nothing to do with not wanting something enough. It’s a complete lack of communication between my brain and my body. It’s my ability to “get my act together”.

Take getting up in the morning. It’s not that I don’t want to get up. I want to get up. I need to get up. Maybe I really need the bathroom, or I’m hungry, or there is something I have to do. But I don’t get up.

Because my body doesn’t want to listen to what I’m telling it to do. It doesn’t want to sit up, throw the legs out of bed and get on with it. Instead, it curls up tighter under the covers and goes back to sleep, no matter how much or how well I’ve slept.

So today I got out of bed at half past four. Yes, in the afternoon. I had been awake since nine, with my body going to sleep on and off whenever I have been trying too hard to convince it to get up. I needed a shower. I wanted to run some errands while it was still light out. I needed to pick up my laundry from downstairs.

“Nope,” said my body, and went to sleep.

People who haven’t experienced executive dysfunction (or impaired executive function, another name for it) have no idea what it feels like and are quick to condemn it as laziness or excuses. Sure, it’s hard for everyone to get up (especially in the winter season). But there is a world of difference between “hard” and “I literally cannot do it”.

Executive dysfunction is common among people who are on the autism spectrum. It also happens to people who suffer from depression or have ADHD – amongst others. I’m not an expert on this. (Side thought: Maybe I should write my term paper on what executive dysfunction is?)

I go through periods of this. There are times when I am the very essence of productivity. I pop out of bed at eight in the morning with no difficulty at all and do all the things. I love these times. I get to feel accomplished and, above all, normal. And then there are times that are the complete opposite. There is no popping out of bed. Making any kind of decision is like going through molasses while constantly forgetting where I’m supposed to go. I will space out and just stare ahead.

My periods of executive dysfunction are brought on by other people’s expectations. Or my own. I’m terrible at keeping the two separate. More than once (or twice…or ten times) I’ve broken down because I feel I’m disappointing people who are flabbergasted by my tearful apologies or furious accusations of “you expect so much of me but give nothing back!”

Send help.

“I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been.”
Virginia Woolf‘s last words


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