Neurodivergent #5

I swear, I’m almost done with this.

So, a wee while ago, I got me a new & shiny adult ADHD diagnosis. It’s been utterly awesome.  Seriously, it’s one of the best things that ever happened to me.

First and foremost, it has given me a clue as to WHY almost everyone seems to zig when I zag. They’re not being weird at me: their brains are literally wired differently. They are not better actors than me, better able to fall into an inexplicably difficult (and often crushingly boring) part for the sake of having a quiet life; they are being themselves. They don’t have to act. Incredible as it may sound, the factory-standard “normal” is their natural setting.

They can’t help that, anymore than I can help being me, and that explains a hell of a lot. When I try to explain to them that I don’t feel X, that I don’t wanna do Y, or that Z doesn’t really work for me and they don’t believe me, it’s not a reflection of the value they place on my words. They have only one point of view on the world, same as I do. Unlike me, though, they believe that point of view to be universal. I’m not better than them, better able to empathise, more perceptive. I simply live with constant, daily reminders that other points of view exist. They live surrounded by people broadly like them, so they don’t. It’s an exposure issue. When they assume that “everyone does/is/feels/thinks X”, their are often almost right. It really depends on the acceptable margin of error one is willing to assign to that word, “everyone”. The impact of their conviction on our connection depends both on their willingness to have it shaken, on how far removed it is from my reality, and on how much of a barrier it builds around me, or between us.

For instance, I have had months-long “conversations” with people about the purpose and future of this blog. What that has generally boiled down to was them lecturing me at length about why I should do things I would hate in order to achieve goals that are not in fact my goals. When I’ve tried to explain that fact to them, the vast majority of them insisted that I was wrong. I want what they want, and if I state otherwise then I’m lying, to myself or to them. I found that annoying, excruciatingly disrespectful, and, eventually, a deal breaker – I cannot be friends with people who believe me to be other than I am, to be pretending, no matter how often I tell them otherwise. I don’t have a solid definition of “friendship,” but I’m sure it isn’t an endless fight to have your reality recognised.

I wonder now if they ADHD diagnosis would have helped me be more tolerant, or helped them understand. I doubt it. Chances are that the same people would have seen it as a flaw in me, a problem I can learn to overcome if I only work hard enough. I could be just like them, if only I tried!

Problem is, I don’t want to. I fucking love my brain, even when it hurts. I love the speed at which it operates. I love the way it can spot patterns and connections, however tenuous, and lead me on wild, exciting tangents. I love its ability to immerse itself into an activity, erasing the passage of time into an all-consuming now; yes, it may make me late for dinner, but now is when life happens and my brain naturally lives there. I got me a factory-issued Zen brain: how cool is that? And – not very Zen, I know – I absofuckingluely love the fact that my inner life is so vivid; I’d take my inside-of-the-pinball-machine emotional landscape over anyone’s Monet-inspired watercolour, thankyouverymuch.

I don’t love the fact that my memory is shite, that I lose things all the time, that making myself do chores is a little slice of hell, that my ability to focus and energy levels oscillate wildly. I don’t like the Achille’s heel of my rejection-sensitive dysphoria. But I can live with all that as a more than acceptable trade-off for having the most fun brain ever. Without the diagnosis, I would have never known how lucky I am.

I would also have never known how much of a giant pain in the ass I can be to those who don’t operate like me. I now have a list of basic human traits I don’t have and functions I can’t perform, or that I perform so wildly differently that it can still be an issue. That’s a problem when dealing with neurotypical people, particularly if an environment is not accepting, but it can become even more of an issue when dealing with people whose neurodivergence doesn’t match mine. In particular, some of my favourite people are on the autistic spectrum. We like each other a lot, but our brains are quite simply not designed to play well together. Knowing that fact has enabled us to have open and honest discussions about our needs, so we can try and meet in the middle instead of driving each other up the wall.

This is important: we sat down, brought out our baskets of needs and issues, spread them on the table, and talked about how we can meet as many of them as much as we can, together, so we’re all as happy as we can be, both with ourselves and with each other. The final result may look something like us masking our neurodivergence in order to function, but it isn’t: it is an entirely different process that embraces who we are. Its goal is to help us be ourselves and work together. We are creating a space in which we can both be and do. I’m 44, and I’ve never had that before. I’ve always had to choose, and sometimes the choice has been fucking expensive. What I have here and now is comfortable and comforting in a way that I can’t even begin to explain to people who’ve never had to act like someone else just in order to be. It’s home. I’m home.

A few months ago, I sat and listened to a self-defence instructor lecture us on “othering.” What she said was: “I can teach those people how not to be othered.” It hit me like a brick to the face at the time, but I wasn’t quite sure why. I knew I was one of “those people”, and I also knew that her cis/het/mono/white/anglo/upper-middle-class solution wasn’t going to work for me. I know how to pretend that I am what I’m not; that’s how I survived my childhood. I know how to “fit in,” more or less. I know how to “function”. I also know how much that hurts, the barrier it builds between you and the world, you and your loved ones, and you and yourself. Instead of being othered by others, you’re othering yourself; it may help you survive, but it won’t help you thrive. Where there is no acceptance, there can be no love. All there is is the endless grind of performing, performing, performing, while the person you really are lies not just unloved, but literally unlived.

Neurodivergent #4

A few weeks ago, I aced a test, which is generally the kind of thing that brings joy into my life. Alas, it was a test for adult ADHD.

This result has shocked and astonished my friends. Apparently everyone expected  me to have been diagnosed in school (thank you, friends). Alas, I’m old enough that, back in my days, that kind of diagnosis just wasn’t an option. In my school, you were either “normal” and expected to behave and perform “normally,” or one of the special kids who had their own separate classroom where they didn’t really do any schooling. There was no space to be just different enough from the norm to need a little bit of help, or just some leeway to do things your own way. You were in, or you were out.

There was also a real stigma on being anything other than “normal.” I’m fairly sure that my mother would have rather drowned me at birth than be pegged as the parent of a child with learning difficulties. Hell, I didn’t even get my dyslexia diagnosis until university, when I started tutoring students with learning difficulties. My mom and my teachers were fully aware that I couldn’t tell left from right, that I struggled to remember which way round numbers were supposed to go (we wrote in cursive, so letters weren’t as much of a problem as long as I started from the right corner of the page), and that I occasionally picked up a book upside down and started reading like that without noticing, but they put it down to me not paying enough attention. It was something I would grow out of, particularly if aided by enough telling-offs and the ambient shaming that was the hallmark of a good old-fashioned childhood.

The ADHD diagnosis has shocked and astonished me, too. I mean… I knew that I’m faster than the average bear, that my motivation doesn’t work like other people’s, that I either hyperfocus or can’t focus at all, that conversations with me inevitably go off on wild tangents, that my energy levels have only two settings (“CHARGE!!!” and “none”), that I can be a teeny weeny bit short on the impulse control front… I knew that things that other people don’t find difficult, like sitting the hell down and watching TV, are serious challenges for me… But I didn’t think anything of it. I didn’t put all these elements together, and I sure as hell didn’t see them as part of A Thing that I have, or rather A Thing that I am.

I also didn’t know that ADHD goes further; that it has a profound effect on my emotional environment – or, rather, what totally eluded me is that most people’s emotional environments are profoundly different from mine. From what I can gather, most people live in a painting, while I live in a neon sign – garishly coloured, and flashing on-and-off between blindingly bright and utterly black. It’s kinda pretty, and I enjoy it, but it’s damn hard to ignore. The bottom line is that the disconnect between how I react to emotional stimuli and how “normal” people react is due to the fact that I perceive those stimuli in a profoundly different way. We are exposed to very different experiences, even when, on the surface, we’re going through the same thing.

I thought everyone was stronger than me, more resilient, more immunised to the ups and downs of daily life. It turns out that my ups and down are just bigger, which is why they affect me more. That was an interesting revelation for me. Much like my dyslexia diagnosis, it has given me the opportunity to review how I measure myself against the world, kinda thang. Yeah, I find certain things infinitely more difficult than most people, but I can also do things most people can’t do. Way back when, I fell in love my dyslexia – not just to be resigned to it, because it isn’t going anywhere, but to actually be whole-heartedly glad that it’s a part of me. Now I’m learning to love my ADHD. I don’t know who I’d be without it.

Because I’m me, the diagnosis has also given me the opportunity to re-evaluate my internal mechanisms. I have new terminology and new criteria to play with, so I took my brain out of its casing and I am having a damn good look at it. The most interesting aspect of this exploration is learning to distinguish the things that are genuinely a part of me, and those that I’ve picked up en route. For instance, I got me some prime rejection sensitive dysphoria. Like it or not, it is a part of me, a direct result of the way in which my brain is wired. But – and here is where it gets fun – I also have a bunch of trauma from growing up in a fairly abusive environment. The combination of the two – being oversensitive to a particular stimulus and actually been smacked with that stimulus hard and repeatedly from infancy* – has given me a bunch of coping mechanisms, some of which are grossly counterproductive. Thing is, I can work towards changing my coping mechanisms, improving my habits, and reducing the impact of my trauma on my daily life, but the rejection sensitive dysphoria is never gonna go anywhere. I can do my damn best to mitigate its impact on my life, but I have to live with it.

Again, because I’m me, knowing that I live with it helps, a lot. The beast has a name. Now that I know that it exists, I can keep an eye on it, and maybe avoid it eating my goddamn face so often.

I find it interesting how often people caution others against embracing labels. They’re self-limiting. They’re depressing. They’re divisive. They give you excuses to be less than you could be. I mean, yeah, they can do all of  the above, if that’s how you use them, but you don’t have to. You can use them to know yourself better, to learn what makes you tick, which is pretty fucking critical if it’s different from what makes everyone else ticks. Know thyself, yo. If you don’t, how the fuck are you ever gonna love yourself?



[*Conundrum: would the same environment have been abusive for somebody wired differently from me? How does one measure the seriousness of abuse, when its impact can vary depending on whom it hits? But that’s a headfuck for another day.]






Neurodivergent #3

I have a friend whose name is not Tony, but when I thought about writing a blog about him this song got stuck in my head, so immagonna call him Tony.

Tony is either a superhero, or a total butt and extremely lucky. He is a very good listener. If I have a problem, I know he’ll lend me an ear, and I know that our conversation will not just make me feel better, but actually be useful. The issue is with the shape that usefulness can take.

There is a thing people habitually do that drives me up the wall. You mention a problem, and their response is to basically say “hey, so, have you thought about not having that problem?” Poor? Just get money! Sick? Just get better! Lonely? Just get friends! While there is a factual accuracy to their suggestions, their failure to recognise that there are some teeny weeny issues with their tactics are rather vexing – to me, anyway. Yes, I understand that ultimately the cure for poverty is money, that the cure for sickness is health, and so on, but it so happens that if I could easily get money I wouldn’t be poor, if I could magic myself better I wouldn’t be ill, etc.

Every single time someone pulls that stunt, I get frustrated. Not when Tony does it, though – and he does it quite a bit. The issue is that Tony gets it right – when he’s talking to me, anyway. Somehow, he can always tell the difference between something that I am, however temporarily (e.g. ill, poor, an ADHDer, etc.), and something that I do (e.g. letting my brainweasels scurry all over the place, shitting as they go). So I can tell him that my rejection sensitive dysphoria is kicking me in the teeth, and he’ll listen and commiserate. But if I tell him that I’m panicking because of a social engagement, he’ll come out with something like “but have you thought of not doing that?”

Rejection sensitive dysphoria is something I can’t get rid of – in a very real sense, it is a part of who I am. Social anxiety is a mental habit I have developed. While the two are intimately connected, they are not the same. It can be hard for me to remember that, but it’s true. While I can’t get rid of the rejection sensitive dysphoria (though knowing that it is A Thing helps a hell of a lot), I can work on my social anxiety and reduce its impact on my life. I’m lucky like that.

The jury is still out on whether Tony is lucky too. It could be that he genuinely has a superpower that enables him to see inside people’s hearts and brains. It could be that he shoots off at the mouth, and gets it right because his guardian angel works overtime. I don’t know. What I do know for sure is that I can’t do that. I can’t pull off that trick. I have to make myself remember that different people have similar-looking problems for entirely different reasons, and that, because of that, what looks like an obvious solution to me may be an insurmountable obstacle to them, and that rubbing that in their faces is not helpful.

PSA: Whistleblowing

So, an organisation or group you’re invested in is getting hit by allegations, and you don’t know what to make of it. You weren’t there, there are people you admire in both camps, and you just don’t see yourself ever knowing what’s true and what isn’t. How the hell are you supposed to take sides, let alone take action, in a situation like this?

Lemme tell you one thing you can be 100% sure of:

The way in which the group is treating this whistleblower is the way in which the group treats whistleblowers.

This may sound like a truism, but people apparently find it very hard to grok the concept, so let me elaborate.

People and organisations often have statements about how they would deal with certain events. These can range from formal, overt policies (e.g. tourney rules, child protection policies, whistleblowing procedures, etc.) to informal statements (e.g. “if anyone ever hurts one of my kids, I’ll kneecap that fucker”).

Thing is, these statements are only worth anything if the people responsible are actually willing to implement them. They are nothing but promises, and often, when the shit hits the fan, they are found to be empty promises.

What you are seeing right now is how the group and individuals in question actually, for real and no shit, respond to this type of event. If the manner of their response is grossly dissimilar to their prior statements on the subject, you can be pretty damn confident that those statements aren’t worth a good goddamn.

As far as I’m concerned, this is pretty bad already, but worry not: you can trust me to make it worse. This epiphanot comes with three main corollaries:

  1. The way in which the group and various individuals are responding to these allegations is most likely also the way in which they’ve responded to concerns in the past.

If someone reporting an actual issue that actually happened to actual people and has caused actual damage results in the people responsible trying to bury the whole thing, and the affected people with it, do you really think they would have responded any better to the same people voicing mere theoretical concerns about the subject? This attitude not only doesn’t help clean up the mess after a tragedy has taken place, but it actively allows tragedies to take place, time and time again.

  1. The way in which the group and various individuals are responding to these allegations is most likely also the way in which they’ve responded to past allegations.

Some people whistleblow loudly, clearly, and publicly, but not everyone does. Many if not most people test the waters by taking their issue to the persons immediately around them or above them, the persons in charge of a particular issue, or a person they trust. If the response is underwhelming, some may react by blowing their whistle in public, but many won’t – and if you blame them for that, then you don’t understand the issue. It so happens that people who have been hurt generally need to focus on getting themselves back together. Banging their head into a wall may not be very high on their priorities.

If the response to these allegations looks to you like a giant clusterfuck, or a meat grinder, there is a very real possibility that other, less public allegations were addressed equally badly, and you never got to hear about them.

  1. The way in which the group and various individuals are responding to these allegations is most likely also the way in which they would respond to allegations made by you or your loved ones.

Put yourself in the victim’s shoes, because, in a very real sense, one day you could be. One day you, or someone you love, could be the person trying to get heard because something bad has happened and you don’t want it to happen again. How do you think it would feel, to be trying to deal with your damage while fielding personal attacks from the community you once trusted?

If you’re absolutely sure that that could never be the case, because people like you aren’t treated like that, congratulations: you are aware of the fact that you are in a privileged position within your group. Now, can you be sure that people bent on evil aren’t enjoying the same privileges? Can you, really?


Oh, I’d almost forgotten: all of this also applies to you. You might have some wonderful, lofty ideals about what-you-would-do-if. Well, that “if” is happening right here and now. How are you looking?

Neurodivergent #2

Once upon a time, I went to a very bad Krav class. No, I’m not saying that all Krav is bad; but that class was. One of the drills ended with a finishing move: a “knee bomb” to the chest.

I dropped that move out of my practice. It wasn’t because I don’t want to go to jail (though I’d rather not, thank you). It wasn’t because I’m aware that with my scant mass my chances of that move working well against the types of opponent I’m most likely to face are limited, and that if I’ve got them where I can knee bomb them, my best option is to run the fuck away. I try to be a good sport when attending classes, even when I don’t agree with the content, but I absolutely do not engage in behaviours that can harm me, and knee stomps firmly fit in that category.

I have luxating patellas. I’ve had them for as long as I can remember. They are not a construct of my imagination: they are a physiological issue that I live with. They are also something that, when I bang my knee in certain positions, often results in me ending up in a heap of pain and profanities, clutching at my leg. In a nutshell: knee bombs for me = no bueno. I may or may not injure my opponent, and I would almost definitely injure myself.

I explained this to the teacher when he came by to tell me that I was doing the drill wrong. Then I explained it to him again. And again. And again. About the sixth time I was telling him the same damn thing just to have him patiently explain to me what the drill was supposed to be like, I grabbed his hand, put it against my knee, and made my knee pop so he could feel what I was talking about.

He literally screeched and recoiled. As it emerged, he didn’t know what “luxating” meant – or, in fact, what a “patella” was. And it wasn’t just a matter of terminology. Telling him that I had dislocating kneecaps wouldn’t have helped, because he quite simply had no idea of what a human knee is actually like. He was telling  students to use knees as weapons, but he didn’t know how knees worked.

That’s not what I want to talk to you about. I want to talk about brains.

If you’ve been a human person for any length of time, you might have discovered that not all brains are the same. It’s not just that different people have different ideas about the same things; they can also respond in different ways to the same stimuli. Here is a fun fact: sometimes those differences are caused by software, kinda thang. Sometimes, though, they are caused by the hardware, or by the operating system.

Two people with similar brains can be fed different data, and come to different conclusions – no surprises there. They can be taught different ways to look at the same data, and still come to different conclusions – again, this is pretty easy to graps. In those eventualities, providing both people with the same data and/or the same ways to analyse data can result in them coming to the same conclusions. Yes, stuff like beliefs and feelings and ego etc. often get in the way of that, but it is eminently possible to make those brains synchronise. That isn’t necessarily the case for brains that are fundamentally different because of how they’re wired.

Some people perceive the world in different ways because their brains are different. For instance, I have dyslexia, which fundamentally alters the way in which my brain handles shapes and directions. If you tell me to turn right, their is absolutely no guarantee that I’ll be able to follow that instruction in a timely and accurate manner. Screaming at me to GO LEFT NOT RIGHT is not going to improve matters, because I didn’t ignore the instruction out of inattention or carelessness: it is an instruction my brain cannot parse, particularly under pressure.

So what? Well, there is a pedagogic gap in self-defence teaching. It isn’t peculiar to that field: it shows in any field that allows enthusiasts to raise to teaching positions by being good at doing the thing rather than at teaching the thing. A lot of self-defence teachers get into teaching because they are passionate about the subject, which is great, but they do so without ever acquiring a background in teaching. That can cause no issues if the people they are teaching are wired like them and can learn like them, but it can cause giant trainwrecks when that is not the case. Teachers who do not understand specific learning needs can fail to recognise them when they show up in class. This can mean that those needs may not be addressed, or even be misconstrued as misbehaviours and punished (fistbump to all the kinetic learners and ADHD folks). This is about as much fun as a dose of the ‘flu, but it’s not the worst thing that can happen.

Worse issue (for me, anyway) arise when teachers can’t tell between a student’s “symptoms” and wiring. Personal characteristics that are intrinsic to a person can end up being misdiagnosed as symptoms that should be treated by doing whatever would work for the teacher. So, for instance, the teen with paralysing social anxiety is told that they just need to buff up and learn to throw down, and – hey, presto – they’ll magically become self-confident. That worked for the teacher, after all, and for a whole bunch of students they’ve taught!

But maybe that teen’s social anxiety has naff-all to do with their physique and ninja skills. Maybe it’s a direct result of how their brain was wired or programmed, and it needs a totally different approach in order to be resolved. Maybe it will never go away, and all a student can do is learn to manage it. And when that isn’t recognised – when a student trusts a teacher who is simply misinformed, and when neither of them can recognise the reason for the student’s “failure” to improve – things can get really bad really quickly.