Is it OK to want more dopamine hits?

Am I doing things for the right reasons, or just because of the dopamine? Does it matter?

Is it OK to want more dopamine hits?

Is it OK to want more dopamine hits?

So last time I mentioned that I may feel less anxious being sketched or photographed naked than I would swim with jellyfish. What does that mean? I’m amazingly confident. Maybe? More likely it’s a result of ADHD dopamine from doing something risky. That may explain the feeling I got when wearing a thong to a New Year dip, or the boost I got from doing life drawing for the first time. The question is, how to use this wisely?

ADHD can be useful in quickly getting you into something new. I remember in the 90s at uni I printed off everything on PHP from the site Webmonkey and quickly learned how to code in it. (Excitement + interest) x ADHD = Results! Unfortunately, I can use it on everything. I’m currently researching a new kitchen tap. Not a sexy subject. My brain is being sluggish and my Autistic side is getting lost in all the details meaning I can’t make a decision. When it works, it’s incredibly useful. For example, I’m writing this while scoffing brekkie because my brain lit up with ideas this morning.

Getting into new things that your brain seems to want to do is great. Feels good and you learn more about yourself and the world. Once you’ve learnt something you want more. You keep exploring. Sometimes these passing interests stick, like wild swimming or life drawing. Other times they replace the previous thing you were super into making it seem like you were never into it at all.

A while back I wrote about why I never seemed to miss anything. Now I understand it’s ADHD sort of overwriting interests. While I had foot issues I didn’t miss running because I couldn’t see it, remember it, and had time to do new things. When I’m out and I see others running I miss it because my brain suddenly becomes interested in what’s in front of me. The danger here is getting into something, then seeing something new and getting into that 1 week later. During lockdown, I wanted to get into playing the Ukulele because I saw someone doing that on Twitch each day. Had I done so there would be an abandoned Uke next to my abandoned longboard.

Now of course, for an editorial / short-term documentary photographer, this is a real superpower. Curiosity + passion + strong ability to soak up info + empathy + camera = good work. Not so good for long-term project work because chances are you’ll get distracted after a few months and find your brain working against you to finish the project. This is why I struggle with video and prefer stills. Quick dopamine hits instead of trying to push through lots of tasks to get something, maybe. If this is you, lean into those short-term projects.

This childlike wonder and excitement is one of the best parts of ADHD. But the fleetingness of it and the dopamine hit, makes me wonder. Back to the thong.

A few years ago, while on a beach down south, I saw women walking around in bikinis. As a non-binary person who no longer sees any reason to believe that clothes are only for one gender, it got me thinking. “Why does society accept women’s bums in a tiny bikini, but not men’s? Maybe it does but men don’t even try because its bikini bottoms aren’t for sale in the menswear section?” Turns out they are, on ASOS. I bought a pair and an entire year later felt confident enough to try them, on a beach far from home. That said, I have a colourful beard so even 300 miles from home if the description of a “man” with a purple beard in a thong makes the news I’m sure friends know it’s me.

My first time out, like really out, in them felt great. I felt empowered. I was pushing boundaries, changing minds, and being cheeky. Swimming in them was wonderful. It was like I was wearing nothing at all. Nothing at all! I swam from an empty part of the beach to a busy part and walked out the sea like James Bond merged with a Bond Girl into the body of James Corden. Standing on the beach with my bum in full view of the world was not embarrassing to me. It’s not even a good bum that I was secretly hiding away. It’s been shaped by carbs and sitting for years. The world was deprived of nothing and yet there it was for all to admire. I hope people were admiring a confident person, not years of carb intake being held back by overstretched flab. Anyway… I felt great. Really great.

Or did I? Was I genuinely feeling empowered in a way that I could change the world, or was I simply high from dopamine? Fast forward 6 months and at New Year I wanted to wear the thong again. Anxiety took over and I wore my Speedo briefs to the big New Year dip. Over 100 swimmers and dippers were there with their families and friends. I saw women in bikinis running into the water and thought “Fluff it. Their bums are OK to be seen. Mine should be. You wanna get nuts? Let’s get nuts.” I quickly switched into my thong, under the sparkly dress I was wearing which I then whipped off to reveal my New Year attire. The tide was out so I gracefully walked past a looooot of people to eventually splash around in the water. My friends were shocked, laughed and asked whether I was doing it for a bet. I said no, that I was simply seizing the moment.

Or was I? Was I genuinely feeling empowered and seizing the day carpe diem style, or was I simply high from dopamine? Is it possible I was doing both and that’s OK? Everyone who was dipping that day was seizing the day as best they could. I was going a level up, and that’s my concern. Having done that what’s next? Running naked into the sea at New Year so I feel alive? What about the year after? Naked dash from my house to the sea? After that? Naked egg and spoon race to the sea?

Knowing how ADHD sort of works for me, I worry that I’ll be super into something for a moment and then need something new to trigger that dopamine-excited interest feeling. If I somehow normalise wearing a thong, my brain may no longer give me a dopamine hit from wearing one. Sure, it’ll be great to have used my ADHD to normalise male bums in thongs and I will have successfully changed the world, but I think my brain will want more. This is the repetitive trigger that social media relies on. Those systems want you to feel that dopamine increase so you keep scrolling. It feels good to endlessly scroll content. Social networks have abandoned chronological feeds that you were once able to catch up on and essentially complete, and replaced them with endless algorithms. Systems that learn what you like and continuously show it to you. Never-ending special interest dopamine-triggering content mixed with ads. These people have weaponised that feeling I like from being interested in things, and a part of me is fine with that because I do like it.

That’s the danger. Leaning into ADHD dopamine highs in the “wrong” ways. Which are? Well, hard to know because you feel good. People with ADHD often exhibit addictive personalities. Video games, drugs, alcohol, sex, etc. I’m fortunate in that video games are my main vice. Thankfully digital games take up no space at home, but they do cost me money and I rarely finish anything because something new comes out. That addiction is there. It feels good to buy a new game, even if I don’t get around to playing it. I’m aware of that and yet, new toy! This is the same reason why I repeatedly check the news throughout the day, and I need to block news sites. Something new? Yes, please! Sugar also plays into this. I’m better than I used to be but in my 20s, when I was unknowingly depressed, sugar was my friend. It kept me happy, but it was so fleeting I needed lots to get through the day. I put on weight, and put holes in my teeth and at 45 I still battle with that because why give up something that feels good?

There are definite issues I’m more aware of now, and being aware of them helps me question my actions. Am I doing something because this is genuinely me seizing the day for real positive reasons, or am I doing something just because it feels good? Am I standing on the beach in a thong because I’m trying to change the world, or selfishly soaking up a dopamine high? I think it’s healthy to ask that question so I can understand how to use this feeling for the right reasons. If it helps me work and if that work helps others, why question it? Let’s go!

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