ADD coaching at ADDCA vs. life coaching with rich white women

Well Ok, ADDCA seems pretty white, too. (It’s just that Martha Beck said her coaching program may look like an expensive “white womens’ thing”.)

I’m talking about the ADD Coach Academy, the first one ever founded to explicit focus on ADD, and that I got lured into because of having gotten a friendly chat with their director of training (Barbara Luther). Whom I contacted because she said she gets somatic replays of TV scenes, in some video (by totallyadd). I get this too, so I looked up her contact and hounded her down. I didn’t think I had ADD – I do my taxes, I’m punctual, and I focus away in highly efficient multi-hour-blocks on most tasks.

Still, I thought if she can tell me something about the TV thing – because I so rarely meet people who seem to have that type of fairly intrusive eidetic-kinesthetic memory. I see characters on TV – not only does my body simulate what they’re feeling in real-time, but if it’s intense, it gets replayed over and over during the next few days.

#content warning: non-detailed mention of sexual abuse on TV in next 2 paragraphs; not essential for getting the point of the article.

And if it was a cruel scene – it took me years to figure out that no, I was never abused physically or sexually, but seeing all that violence, rape and harassment on TV (before I switched it off forever, at 19 when I moved out from my parents and never acquired such a devilish device – by God, seriously why would you?! I’d maybe watch it if you paid me EUR 5000 per hour (+/-), so I can pay down the therapist to fix the damage and still get my villa en Provençe … Ok, this is a weird fantasy, but you get what I want to say? That I really dislike it) … anyways, my point was to say that I managed to get PTSD-like flashbacks from watching casual violence on TV.

And I mean years later. Sometimes 10-20 years after seeing that war movie with the gory rape scenes, etc. It took understanding that I’m on the autism spectrum and genuinely have a perceptual apparatus that’s far more sensitive and has some extra features to accept that yes – there’s no point looking for hidden traumas in my life, it was literally “just” the TV.

#end of disturbing content

Watching myself write in the last few days, I wonder how I could have thought I don’t have ADD – I do get at least 5 thoughts at once, and of course I try to write them up in a single sentence: if only language were non-linear and could have a recursive fractal branching structure.

Still, let me try to track and chase down that point … so, I signed up for an intro course at ADDCA just cause I wanted to listen to the director of training (and the course is short and not outrageously expensive). After the first 3-4 classes I see that, yeah Ok, if they want to call everything that is not-so-boring, maverickish and adventurous about my personality (and just a tad irresponsible and irritating, but I got away with it probably because of the former …) … Ok, if they want to call that ADD, so be it. But do I really have to go through the whole “is it a pathology, tragic disorder, or is it just a personality / constitution” discussion and dilemma again that I slogged through for autism? By God, why don’t we call these things by normal (non-stigmatising, neutral, and more descriptive) names that spare people these dilemmas and mental-emotional gymnastics?

#Another paragraph of digression below

I’m referring to the gymnastics of choosing between seeing yourself as “normal” vs. “disabled” vs. “different”, having to accept the “disabled” (and attached stigma) just to be able to acknowledge your (unusual) weaknesses, just to then read people (scientists, shrinks) write about them in elaborate slurs (it’s worse if like me, you know Latin – and neuroscience, so you know what the jargon means literally, and yes, that it could easily be rephrased if someone just reflected for a sec on the fact that potentially already depressed humans are gonna read and internalise this!) … then bump into the autistic and ADD communities, learn deep and needed stuff from them, realise the term “disabled” needs to be de-stigmatised and normalised, but still – don’t see yourself as disabled, but when you say this people think you don’t acknowledge that it’s hard to not fit and it can e.g. physically disable you … etc. I mean who has IQ to waste on that mess? Why not describe (even rare) struggles and weaknesses in humane language and normalise them from the start? I think I should write a separate article on this …

Ok, this digression actually brought me closer to the point. Because that’s my problem with ADDCA. They’re not “radical enough” I guess, for someone who has lived outside most conventional social bubbles for decades and is probably incredibly lucky to have been able to do so. They’re brilliant in terms of practical experience, strategies, and kindness. They’re far better than most – but as someone who pays attention both to language and science, using pathologising terminology in the same breath as convincing people there’s “nothing wrong with them” is … yeah, I need some mental energy to filter this out and not get too annoyed by it. I’d say most of the stuff differently, including the neuroscience stuff (especially since I know what neuroscience results look like in practice – often ambiguous, tentative, evolving, sensitive to how you phrase the questions, and seriously hard to “translate back” to human experience – on the upside, that gives space for positive interpretations, cause you’re going to have to interpret either way).

So yeah, no offence here, respect – and still, having additional background knowledge on some topics and being an ex-academic rigorously pedantic about some stuff can hurt your brain and life-joy (as I’m not going to argue with every instance where I’d do it differently, but it takes mental energy to gloss over it).

So, here comes the point !

At the point where I’m exhausted by all the digressions.

So, last time I wrote an article picking apart US-American self-helpy salesy life coach Martha Beck. Yes, it’s official – I’m gonna criticise everyone, while also really respecting their work (let’s say that’s on account of being an autistic ex-academic, socialised to collectively complain and criticise as a form of small-talk (Polish), please leave me this one pleasure in life!). And perhaps I only bother to pick on people whose work I really respect?

In any case, I’ve been reluctantly following her work for years, actually. Cause there was something “in it”, for me, despite the annoying bits (in this case mostly the self-helpy “American optimism”, as we call it, that pretends there are no socioeconomic factors in life beyond your control). It helped me. It helped me be honest and deal with stuff I suck at, without having to see myself as disordered – cause it *is* actually based on deeply understanding your own “organic” (body, emotions) individuality (doesn’t just claim that, as every other self-helpy thing).

And you know what … the more of her stuff I read, the more I saw she had some of the same issues as me. Food preparation – hell. Housework – undoable. Boring organisational stuff – ouch. Marketing – avoid at all costs. Spend 8 0r 10 hours hyper-focusing on realistic drawing or another passion project, without peeing or eating – yesss!!! Random near-prodigy abilities in some really weird areas. Premonitions and extremely sharp senses. What doest that remind us of? She also developed fibromyalgia, and the anecdotes of family members doing adorably “autistic” things (also stuff I have personally done, yes). Honestly, the more I learnt about autism and neurodivergence, the less I could abstain from hobby-diagnosing her (well, along with everyone else I know or follow).

Point being, not to delve too much into the privacy of that woman – just quoting things that are public and in her books and recordings, anyways. And then last week I finally had “proof” – in a public recording she mentioned she actually got an ADD diagnosis (now I’ll be excited to see if she ever mentions / gets the autistic one too, or if I’m wrong on that).

At that point it clicked for me, that the woman has basically built a complete, deep, practical, and profoundly counter-cultural sorting-life-out system that’s centred on disabled or chronically ill neurodivergents. Without ever saying so. Passing it off as a just life coaching in general. Calling it other names. But when you think about the fact that her whole system is based on doing literally – only and exactly what honestly (as testified by your bodily responses) interests you, gradually peeling yourself out of cultural conditioning (until naked and weird, sort of), and coping with how that will freak others out and may trigger a massive series of losses but promising it’s deeply wroth it – does that somehow ring bells?

I do think her thing is to some degree universal, but I think it’s also a system that’s laser-focussed for masking, semi-disabled NDs, because not doing what she sells (in some form) will break us down … so much faster, and harder.

So yeah, that was my point. That I accidentally bumped into two “life coaching” systems that might be two roads that lead to Rome (though I’d prefer Tabriz or Samarkand, if we have to arrive at ancient cities …). But the Martha Beck thing seems to pull it off with literally zero pathologising language; to the contrary, she uses supposedly bizarre (to amuse) examples from her own life – kind of normal ND stuff, usually 🙂 or dilemmas related to her complex cultural outsider status (yes, we like this!) – to make you feel like you’re that much more normal, so you can for sure do it. Except for me I thought, yeah – cool, indeed, maybe slightly stranger than me. Yay! And she can’t run a household in any remotely normal way either, cool.

And she says that’s Ok, some people suck at this, others at that – accept and improvise the weirdest individual solutions. In other words, she says – get accommodations, and gives practical steps on how to figure out which (without using the terminology, and associated valuation of needing “special” weird stuff, at all).

Side note, she also has a son with Down’s syndrome (public info, she wrote a book about it), so I wonder if she’s on purpose (for special reasons) not using social justice-type disability language (despite knowing all this). I’ll probably never know.

But for me, there’s somehow massive philosophical interest in comparing these two life coaching systems, designed by and for ADDers, whether explicitly or – implicitly, without ever mentioning (or maybe realising) … but still … yes.

I think for me Beck proves the point that you can pull it off without pathology, and also without splitting people (at least in language) between normals and those who are less than normal cause yeah, some “broken” neurotransmitter thing or sth. (which btw. is a weird way to interpret the science in most cases).

How does she do that? Essentially, by … let’s call it, slaughtering the holy cow of “culture”. Yes, you need to deal with it and it can kill you (which trans or autistic or probably black person doesn’t know that?), so here are some tools to make sure it doesn’t. But yeah, don’t believe it too much, and don’t overly respect it, either. It’s just one of so many, and we need to change it anyways if we don’t want to be part (rather than just cause) of the current mass extinction. That’s how I’d paraphrase her message, and – for me it’s a breath of fresh air.

At least it feels fresher than – respect, but just saying how I feel about it personally – ADDCA’s approach that still smacks mildly – but for me recognisably – of “the culture is right, you’re broken, and here’s how to violate yourself into meeting its (absurd? who cares, never mention that) requirements with lots of effective tricks”.

And yes, it might be that that’s just the beginning and they just don’t want to scare off all the new people by marketing, say, an eco-anarcho-feminist revolution straight in your face right at the doorstep. Dunno.

Also, maybe most of the people who come to them have already been injured by the stigma and the mellow “good boy” way they do it, teaching the same pathologising language while literally saying “nothing wrong with you” in the same breath, is more palatable for those among us who could remain believers in the benevolence of the Machine. Yes, it’s not your fault you failed the system (whatever the system did to you, not mentioned) – it’s just your brain.

That would really not make me feel better (and I don’t even find it fully logically coherent – how do you distinguish yourself from your brain?), but if it’s liberating for some – great! I guess there are many perspectives in here, it’s more a question of social utility / healing potential than truth.

Another reflection, funny thing is I feel the autistic community possibly does this less. More easily smacks it out frontally – that school is stupid, capitalism is wrong, and the other typical opinions of decent parts of this crowd (pun intended).

Ok, this article is not going to end . But perhaps I’ve made part of the points.

Last point, I also think my perspective is probably privileged in at least two ways – I’ve lived in countries with free education, so I could indulge in neuroscience and philosophy of mind and anthropology (and not worry about how I’ll have to enslave myself to labor later to pay it back) … yeah, and then I found ways to live cheap and just keep reading books and discussing with people forever. And yeah, I naturally like and absorb that academic stuff like a sponge (though not sure that’s a privilege if you’re autistic – hey, you might not make money anyways, depress yourself with your knowledge, and further alienate “normals”!). I basically said “goodbye, system” after school or uni. I freelance from home and various people have bailed me out of nonsense many times – I don’t have to fit most social expectations just to live. I don’t have kids – and part of the reason is that they’d force me to touch the slimy tentacles of systems (e.g., school). That’s why I think I have points here, but not universal points.

Honestly, if anyone actually read to this point – I’ll probably want to hear from you, and your perspective and thoughts. On this octopus of a topic.

7 thoughts on “ADD coaching at ADDCA vs. life coaching with rich white women

  1. Once again S I am totally with you on this. Firstly very excited to hear someone talk about the wounds that tv & any other kinds of visual or powerful verbal storytelling gouge into my body & the scars that remain from them even decades later. I know this as a hyper-empathic autie thing but have never before heard someone talk about both the immediate physical response & the scars it leaves on the body. Thank you. When our lifelong special interest & primary coping strategy since earliest childhood is trying to figure out wtf is going on here we drink in so much information, see so many patterns & join so many dots sooner than others do, we see so much to hurt is it’s hard to find strategies to protect our tender body & psyche from seizing into a knot of new & calcified scars. I’ve had no tv for 30+years. It gives me so much grief that sexualised cruelty & cruelty as entertainment is normalised as part of everyday popular culture. (My neurodivergent 30+yo daughter is my media taster, who recommends for me sensorily gentle & morally innocuous media I can view for fun.)

    Your finding these two self help marketers to have developed sets of strategies for living as a nd person is interesting! So many of us have lived as nd without having useful conceptual frameworks to make sense of ourselves, it’s unsurprising I guess that people have created many different maps to make sense of the same thing. Like you I investigated a whole series of #ToolsToThinkWith to try to make sense of different aspects of my unshared experience, separately (incl careers in psychology, social policy, sociology & mental health research) until encountering the autistic/neurodiversity framework with its toolkit of concepts that for the first time tied all those disparate aspects together quite well, & continues to evolve. And like you I find it heavy work translating away from the pathologising language that’s used still by so many people trying to make sense of experiences like ours.

    For most of us, using pathologising language is the only way to make ourselves be seen & our voices heard. Especially if we’re working for pay. I wrote a paper years ago called ‘Bricolage, strategy & the therapeutic myth’ that never was published, for reasons. From review of academic & popular literature & interviews with people who’d spent decades in psych hospitals I showed how using the language of sickness & therapy was the necessary precondition to being heard. It was so sad! I had such admiration for those mad folk who asserted their own interpretations of their experience, & appreciated the strategic skill with which they slipped into the therapeutic framing as & when it was required. Social media has been wonderful in making it possible for those of us who will not pathologise ourselves to find & learn from each other, but in the worlds of professional silos & funding sources uncritical use of pathologising language is still a condition of entry.

    Which makes me all the more happy to read your work 😎🙏🏻P

  2. Hi Meg,

    thanks – I’m keep being positively surprised whenever I get out well thought-out responses to these extremely long pieces that don’t have a simple point. 🙂

    “For most of us, using pathologising language is the only way to make ourselves be seen & our voices heard.” – Yeah, and actually it took me quite long to “get” this initially. I studied both philosophy and neuroscience up to PhD level (then didn’t finish stuff) and since I saw how amenable to ambiguities and interpretations the latter really is, and how much vocabulary for human experience there is in the former (tho you don’t need a degree in philosophy for precise descriptions of experience, but still) … and also how the two don’t talk and are hard to translate into each other … I would initially be puzzled why people would insist on the former (and often used in pop-sci ways that don’t even make sense if you know basic principles).

    For myself personally, even if I found a psych label that described something (like autism, others before), I would still prefer to “rewrite” it in common, empathic everyday language. I still do that. I don’t like to impose “cold”, negative concepts on my experience that often aren’t even particularly coherent (e.g. old ideas about he limbic system), or have been refuted long ago (the whole “lizard brain” talk, etc.) – but even for ones that make some sense, I find it odd to e.g. describe my emotional experience using names of brain anatomy (using vague correlations that aren’t correct or are really gross oversimplifications for the most part anyways) … now as I write this, I actually wonder if it’s also because emotional literacy and how to talk about abstract experiences is really not widespread … ?

    Ok sorry, this paragraph got long. I actually just wanted to say, yeah it took me some time to understand that people do it to get taken seriously in pretty un-empathic and emotion-hostile environments. I didn’t bother – I also got into midlife without “professional” help (just with little bits of professional harm here and there when I tried) so thanks higher powers or luckily I never had to beg anyone for anything by translating my human weaknesses, and sometimes just human circumstances into brain damage or “victim of your brain” language. I’m just really internally averse to it. Old school. I guess I’m quite in the clouds to realise quite late that most people don’t see that third option and are so attached to the pathology tools cause they have to fight a fight with them. Still, how wrong is a situation where understanding and protection from being ground down by daily violences to your system isn’t granted unless you basically first “other” yourself (and honestly even then)?

    “Social media has been wonderful in making it possible for those of us who will not pathologise ourselves to find & learn from each other, but in the worlds of professional silos & funding sources uncritical use of pathologising language is still a condition of entry.” – Ye :-/

    Also, I’d be very interested to see your paper, the research sounds extremely interesting. Probably illuminating for a naive person escaping systems 🙂 unless it’s too depressing. But even then I’d be curious to skim (would be happy to get a link or be contacted with a copy).

    Didn’t know the particular hashtag #ToolsToThinkWith. Looks promising so shall check …

    “When our lifelong special interest & primary coping strategy since earliest childhood is trying to figure out wtf is going on here we drink in so much information, see so many patterns & join so many dots sooner than others do, we see so much to hurt is it’s hard to find strategies to protect our tender body & psyche from seizing into a knot of new & calcified scars.” – good clear way you put it. I’ve heard this theory here and there – that this kind of kinetic hyper-empathy (and other near-psychic skills) are basically adaptation strategies developed to read people and situations if you’re naturally tuned to another music 🙂 I never really made a decision of whether I take this as a truth that applies for me, or not. The way you phrase it makes it sound plausible.

    Re the “TV syndrome”, I’d still like to develop a good (private) theory of it. From talking to a range of people, incl. some that both seem to understand the thing personally and follow research, I’m a bit confused. I’ve observed that yes, I usually detect people’s emotions in a process where my body seems to subtly mimic theirs (involuntarily; I actually have to work very hard to mellow this down), and my emotions mimic theirs (where I’m not sure if the latter is a separate process or an effect of the former), and I then just “read out” how I feel and then get plenty of info on them (frankly, often more than I want to know, and often quite correct). Based on both research and talking to others, I’m still confused as to whether everybody does this (just doesn’t obsess about observing it cause the intensity doesn’t drive them nuts), or if most people really do it in a purely visual fashion, without pulling the body and felt sense into the loop in that way (or if it’s just a difference of intensity). If you’ve thought about it or know anything specific, would be curious to hear. Mostly cause I’m still “hacking” the thing to live with it better.

    I’m sorry somehow I have a phase where I ramble … more than normal? Maybe doing the course on ADHD provokes it (like you know when you read about some exotic disease and then get the symptoms :D)

  3. Thank you Sylvester for thoughtful reply!

    You said ‘I’m still confused as to whether everybody does this (just doesn’t obsess about observing it cause the intensity doesn’t drive them nuts), or if most people really do it in a purely visual fashion, without pulling the body and felt sense into the loop in that way (or if it’s just a difference of intensity)’. Me too & big time. I hope you will write more about this because I really want to know.

    Over the past 18 months with the advent & escalation of covid & the political nonsense that goes with it the inscription of fear & distress in my body has become paralysing & made me physically sick. I’m sure the distress I feel is not only my own but I’m at my wits end with how to manage it. I’ve been using every strategy I know to build myself some safety but the onslaught is relentless. It’s probably a good time to go back to your earlier writing about hyper empathy & strategies. I’ll do that. I do hope you’ll write more on this topic.

    #ToolsToThinkWith is not a # except as invented by me. It’s a quote from Canadian Sociologist Dorothy Smith, who in her 1999 book ‘Writing the Social’ described concepts & theories as tools that are ‘good to think with, until we find something better’. I used Smith’s work to anchor my own to the academic discipline of sociology, making what J R Saul calls the ‘ritual nods’ that are required to legitimise our work & make it visible. Smith gave me the beautiful concept of the #SituatedActor: the bleeding obvious but usually ignored idea that we are all embodied & situated in time, place, material setting & culture & that being situated shapes everything we see, do, create & think (& so it follows that each of these things is critically important especially the senses with which we perceive & the cultural scripts or theoretical frameworks with which we make sense of those perceptions). She exposed with scorn #TheMythOfTheDisembodiedKnower: the assumption implicit in most bullshit ‘scientific’ writing that the author sees objectively from a perspective that is unsullied by their own situation or interests (#YeahRight) & that the things they see are ‘facts’. She wrote with a clarity that is everything that wooly postmodernist wankery is not, being clear that agency is a property not of text, but of people. She knew that the map is not the territory & that anything we see or explain is always partial. I love her work & think it’s sadly underrated. All the theoretical work I did as a baby academic & later trying to translate my own experience into language visible to others rests on these few beautiful & endlessly useful concepts. To see them reflected so clearly in your writing, as I have over the years, is a great pleasure. (I think you’d enjoy the methods chapter of my PhD. I just revisited to find that D.Smith reference & still love it.)

    I have hunted out the Bricolage paper – it’s been memory lane today, I’ve barely looked at my academic work since escaping prostrated by burnout 8 years ago – have it as pdf only, can send privately if you like.

    End of infodump. Thank you.

    1. Hey – hm, I think my earlier stuff on hyper-empathy was a beginning, but didn’t help me make significant jumps on this. When people ask me, I send them to Karla McLaren as well as some selected New Age shaman that figured out good somatic techniques, I think. Can pass references if interested. Since I feel like I have been getting more of a grip on this specifically in the last months, I should perhaps write a new resource document / articles to redirect people to. What I’ve figured that people seem to have really different starting points with this … though I still haven’t met anyone who’s been significantly more extreme than me 🙂

      Frankly I think my main Covid management mechanism is to block really a lot of content out physically, and focus on what I want to focus on in a really disciplined way (and make sure that makes me more energised / secure … hard enough to find such content and interaction!!). E.g. I literally only get news via friends (who tell me stuff that’s relevant enough), or checking selected sources very rarely. This is really stringent (and yeah, lot of people would judge it) but works surprisingly well – I end up with far more energy and focus for productive engagement in that way.

      The content that comes to me via direct human sources (as opposed to mass / anonymous ones), meaning the lives of people I know directly – I can usually cope with (also it feels different, maybe cause it’s somehow more contextualised). But here also I really do block / select the input and luckily I can most of the time.

      Maybe that’s obvious … just saying, I kind of dropped the guilt about using external filters as much as I need to. Gave / gives me space to process some thing internally (and this component is harder to describe).

      I hope it’s not somehow disturbing to dig out your academic stuff. I don’t have a way to track you down so if you send me an e-mail via this site (I updated it so I hope it works) that should work.

      I don’t know Dorothy Smith, and I’m mostly just a hobby sociologist / anthropologist. Within philosophy though, I did bump into (feminist) standpoint theory (Sandra Harding, and then I went looking specifically for black and other not-totally-white authors, cause for some reason their philosophy seemed actually relevant to something), and that sounds similar to what you describe – or at least some familiar ring here. … could comment / ask more, but maybe will stop here …

  4. Thx I will check out Karla M. Also for personal strategies. Ruthless curating of daily input really seems to be essential.

    Dorothy is the mother of feminist standpoint theory, starting with a conference paper in 1978(?) & shifting over time from ‘sociology for women’ to ‘sociology for people’. Animated by the view that power is always seen more clearly from below. I like her bc she avoids the wooly language & conceptual confusion of postmodernism.

    Thx & keep writing!

  5. “yeah, and then I found ways to live cheap and just keep reading books and discussing with people forever.” HOW?! TEACH ME YOUR WAYS SEMPAI! XD (I’ve emailed you the rest of my reply under the name Sara B.)

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