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.