Cultivating a Metaphor Practice with ADHD

Episode 119

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Continuing with the theme of cultivating a practice, Shelly and Cam discuss the practice of working with metaphors. Some of us, like Shelly, make meaning through language. Others, like Cam, make meaning through imagery, metaphor and analogy. Shelly and Cam explore the power of metaphor by looking at Cam’s own progression of metaphor use – as a daydream escape in his early years, to weaponizing imagery to reinforce his own imposter syndrome to finally turn it into a constructive coaching tool.

Cam relays the story of how he used imagery to articulate his own ADHD experience, namely the difficulty of finishing any project. He shares metaphors of snow plows with ever-expanding blades to a version of the Odyssey where Odysseus fights the Cyclops a hundred times. In putting imagery to his ADHD experience, Cam was able to start to understand his specific challenges and start to create the change he wanted to have happen. Both Cam and Shelly discuss how coaches use metaphor with clients to create understanding and an opening for change.

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Episode Transcript:

Shelly: Hi, I’m Shelly. 

Cam: And I’m Cam. 

Shelly: And this is Translating ADHD. Quick note, we are still accepting applications for our project X group coaching, which begins Wednesday, April 13th at 8:30 PM Eastern. We’re down to our last couple of slots here. So if you are interested in this class, get that application in as soon as possible.

We have another offering as far as group coaching goes, beginning at a different time slot. Resilience begins Thursday, May 12th. And that will meet at 10 o’clock AM Eastern time. To learn more about both classes, to see the applications and for pricing information, visit the website, translating adhd.com. Click on group coaching. Last week, we talked about articulating your ADHD experience. And the central point that we were making last week is that we find that this is a universal practice that can work for anyone with some practice. However, that doesn’t mean articulation is easy. So in our next couple of episodes, we’re going to describe some different ways that we see that clients show up and articulate that work well for them and their unique brain wiring.This week, we’re going to dive into metaphor. I don’t know if you all have noticed, but Cam, every once in a while, not too often, just a little. Tends to articulate his ADHD experience and the ways that he’s made sense of that experience with heavy metaphor, that is how his brain works and how his brain makes sense of his experience in a way that he can then put words to that experience.

So we thought it would be fun to go back in history a little bit and look at how metaphor helped Kim. Understand his own ADHD experience. So for those of you who find that Cam’s metaphors really strongly resonate metaphor may be a useful tool for you in terms of making sense of your own experience. And as far as the metaphors here on the show, don’t think of them as something you have to take or leave.

Take them and make them your own, take the ones that work, modify them. However, you need to make sense for you and leave behind what doesn’t work. Because the powerful thing about metaphor is it’s a translation tool. So when you take it and make it your own, that helps you and anyone that you’re articulating to better understand what’s happening for you.

So cam you said you had a couple of thoughts about metaphors that we could visit today. Where do you want to start?

Cam: Actually, where I’m going to start is with an old ad from the postal service, when we thought the postal service was off. And so we thought the postal service is awesome and it was like this. So, you know, the, post person coming through right in rain or sleet or snow, I’m just remembering this from a long time ago, right. is that we’re going to deliver the goods and it almost didn’t happen today. People, the podcast almost didn’t happen this week because I asked for a day off on Monday to go spend some time with my kids. We went to a rock climbing gym and I was acting like a teenager and I twisted my. And so here we are, we’re making this happen because I went to get an x-ray. I think it’s all good, but we are the postal service when it was awesome. this I’m just, a little metaphor warmup, Shelly, a little metaphor warmup. 

Shelly: You know though, I appreciate that. And I feel like we should give ourselves a little pat on the back, take a moment to celebrate that because the only time we’ve missed a release state was when we took that planned break last summer. Yeah.

Cam: Yeah.

Shelly: And we have definitely had some interesting circumstances to navigate in terms of getting an episode down some weeks between here and there.

Cam: We found, We found the one half hour that worked for both of us here and it was the last half hour in our week. So this is awesome. Yeah, last week we talked about articulating your ADHD experience. And around languaging, and this is the whole translating the understand own translate model and how important it is to start to give language to our experience.

We’ve talked at length about that. And last week we really did a deep dive there had me thinking and jelly thinking about my own experience and some of us, we don’t have words like others. We’re not wordsmiths. And so I think I said last week, that when I was younger, I didn’t have language. It just wasn’t there.

And so when people would ask me to articulate what’s going on, why don’t you have your homework? I didn’t know. And I didn’t have the words to describe my frustration. And so everyone was frustrated. What I learned over the years was that my imagination was an untapped tool and that’s how I really started to articulate my own experience.

And I found it as a wonderful tool to use with clients in being able to, Put imagery to their add experience and you can do some amazing metaphor. Excuse me, perspective, work there too. And we’ll talk about that as we get in today.

Shelly: Cam, I don’t want to step over a year giving imagery to. Uh, Client’s language because we use one such metaphor on the show often, and that is the metaphor of hall. That wasn’t my metaphor. It was yours, right? But it came from what I was experiencing at that time. And it was so incredibly helpful. So for those of you that like me, don’t use metaphor as a primary way to translate your experience.

Examining your experience in the context of a metaphor can be a great way to deepen understanding as well. So as we talk through these different ways that clients articulate or make meaning out of their experiences, even if that’s not your primary way, it is an opportunity to, again, sort of listen to take what works because that was.

Really, Really powerful language for me at the time and remains powerful language today, every once in a while, cam and I will still have a conversation about Hoth when I’m there and that shared understanding and that imagery of those big metal doors closing that evokes what I’m feeling. And that’s always been a powerful thing between us.

Cam: I sort of, I want to start at a high level and, and, um, I’ve been playing around with a couple other concepts and one is that sometimes our greatest strength can be our greatest sensitivity. And um, we’ve talked about this with dens, low Browns processing modalities and how we look at where you can have a strength, but also have a sensitivity in that strength.

We’ve talked about that at length. And imagery or metaphor has not always been a resource for me. And in my early years, I used it as an escape mechanism that my imagination was so vivid. I would just check out and with again, a disinhibition, the inability to inhibit and just follow that big signal.

I would just follow a signal, a thread, someone would say something and it would trigger. And I would go on a tangent into an amazing world of imagery. I was a big daydreamer. And so in a way, I think it protected me a lot. It sort of insulated me from the harshest of harsh criticisms. But it also served as a way to, you know, again, have me not attend to details, to paying attention to certain things that I may have missed. So that was my first experience with. Imagery was using it as a tool to step away. Next it turned into something where it was weaponized in that when I had my imposter syndrome period, that I use that imagery to really build a case against Cam.

Right. But, when are they going to find. 

Shelly: I’m going to jump in here and ask, can you give an example of what that looked like?

Cam: So it was. You know, And again, this is where environment comes into play. And this is when I was working at a school where there was very little external structure, right. it was, and I’ve, I’ve thought a lot about this because I’m still in touch with people at the school and they’re amazing people. And so it was a school where freedom, right?

There’s a Quaker school. So a sense of community. A sense of independence self-reliance and freedom of expression. And I think that if I was in a different place, I would have thrived there. And in ways I did a people, a lot of people would look back and say, what do you mean you seem to do fine? And I did, but that sort of open-ended you know, licensed to create an, any.

All it was, it was amazing people. These Renaissance people who were very creative for me, it felt like the guardrails were just too wide. I just had too much room and I didn’t have a lot of clear models or examples of how to be successful there. And I was absolutely overwhelmed with the amount of work.

And with that. Again, frustration around my inability to get these key completions done and be teaching all the time. Right? Number one was a lesson plan every day. It was those secondary things of grading papers and then writing these reports and doing the you know, second priority things that weren’t urgent today, where I started to ask questions of why am are they successful?

And I’m. And so this doubt creeped in Shelly and with that doubt, the inner critic kind of awoken and started to really feed on that doubt and uncertainty. and just again like, well, you’re really messing this up. You’re really screwing this up. And I would, again, concoct. In my imagination, these outcomes that we’re really anxiety provoking in a way, it kind of keep me vigilant to get things done, but it certainly didn’t help my level of stress. So there was the second year.

Shelly: Just want to jump in and say that concocting of stories. That’s something I think is pretty universal for those of us with ADHD, but the way in which that happens is very different. So cams, concocted stories. The outcomes he was creating for himself imagery, metaphor. That’s the place in which they lived.

Whereas mine are in language, very strong in the verbal modality when my mind wanders or I’m daydreaming or I’m concocting stories in that value place. It’s with language. Whereas cams is with imagery that then needs to be translated. So language. So this isn’t just about how to articulate. This is also about thinking about how you think, thinking about how your brain processes and make sense of the world, both in the ways that. All of us have with ADHD, things like contextual processing, things that are fairly universal and the ways in which we’re very different cam and I are very different in that regard and something you all don’t see is the number of times that we’ve had to sit down and have a conversation to translate for each other.

I’m coming with my language or cam is coming with his metaphor. We have to sit down and bridge that gap so that the other person is understanding what we really mean or the point that we’re trying to convey. So it didn’t want to step over that cam, but let’s go to the next phase. So this has always been on board, heavy imagery, heavy imagination, heavy metaphor, and you’ve articulated the ways in which it wasn’t working for you.

Cam: Yeah. And I’ll say also I really. Stepping in there and sharing that because I really think that’s part of our success is that, just how we work with each other and that we share on really multiple channels. Right. And so we have those verbal individuals who really get the verbal piece and then the, a metaphor people will get the metaphor piece and back to. how our relationship of you interpreting right as we started out. So I think it’s fascinating.

Shelly: And I’ll add to that, that I also think that’s why the sum is greater than its parts. You and I are learning in this process too. And I think it is that process of sitting down together and crap culling through things where we’re trying to even make sense of. Do we have the same understanding here through our different brain filters?

Cam: Yeah. And I’m learning that I’m doing something on my own right now. It is so hard and I’m like, why, why are you tormenting yourself? Why are you doing this? But it’s like, you know, just a little, just a little experiment. It keeps me off the rock walls where I don’t twist my ankle. So, All right. So the Seminole moment, that moment where everyone who’s been a long time, listener knows again, back where my wife walked into my office and said, what are you doing?

What do you, What do you mean? What am I doing? Right. You’re not working and there’s no money in the bank. And so I had to come to terms with her. I am working really hard and not having really much to show for it yet. I wasn’t converting all of this work into clients and pain clients. And I just, again, remember there’s $400 in the bank account camp. So it had me have to really kind of consider, okay what is going on. And that was when that I had that awareness that I didn’t complete in a meaningful. And as I did that I had to really look at it in a way that I could make sense of it. And the way that I made sense of the world was through imagery and metaphor.

And Shelly, there’s a couple images or analogies that come to mind. And one was that my mom was a big fan of Joseph Campbell. And so Joseph Campbell was um, he’s like the original podcaster. He talked about uh, mythology and this thing called the monomyth and the hero’s journey. All right.

So all these in Greek mythology, how the hero or Hercules would go out and go through their struggle. And I noticed that you know, these heroes would go through and have their challenge and then come through, be tested and, you know, have resolution and move. And I realized that I kind of felt like I was, you know, kept having the same experience, right?

The same experience with the same Cyclops or the sirens on the rocks and not able to move past that. So that was one is sort of this stuckness and there was an imagery there of continuing to keep bumping into these same challenges, these same tests. The other thing was. Again, I didn’t understand why I didn’t complete.

So an image came to me one time of actually used this with my clients now is a snowplow pushing snow, which is a snowplow is one lane wide. And the fascinating thing that happened for me, and this was a lunch counter moment for me. This is again, that lunch counter in the sense of how my add was informing my expense. That’s Mount Rainier, that’s episode 60 to 63. And there’s a lot of imagery there that as I started on something, I would go and I’d be pushing my snow. But as I went along, my blade would start to why. And why and why, what does that mean? Means that I would just start to pick up, oh, I could add this.

I could add this. I could add this and I’m widening, widening. So I have a snowplow. That’s basically going down the highway. That’s seven lanes wide. What’s wrong with that picture, right? There’s a physics problem. The truck doesn’t have enough power to push all that stuff. So that was a real like that. I didn’t know that I didn’t have that awareness.

So it was orienting to this dilemma is as I started projects, I would just start to pick up and accessorize and add, right? That big idea generator. slap it on, slap it on, slap it on, realizing that, oh my truck, as I’m going to 60, 70, 80% of it would grind to a. And that uh, you just, it’s not efficient. So I had to, first of all, be curious about what made the blade get wider. What was that? There’s an ADHD element there. So I had to bring some curiosity, but it started with that imagery first. And that’s a great place for our listeners to start with the. That dilemma. We’ll talk more about that as we finish up today.

Shelly: How, so just want to take a moment to just describe how you use these metaphors to make sense of your experience, to orient to where you were, and then to get curious about change. So the first one, the hero’s journey there was. And awareness, they’re fighting the same Cyclops over and over again that wasn’t there before.

And you’ve got this great language. It’s one thing to say, oh, here’s this pattern again, but for your brain, that is so attached to imagery to say, oh, we’re fighting the same Cyclops again, that lands differently. That’s an opportunity to pause and be aware in a new way. The next time you catch yourself fighting the same Cyclops again, and then the snowplow.

And I love how you said that this isn’t even the only thing you got out of this metaphor. It was just the first one. What causes. Blade to widen. So there’s first again, a beautiful articulation and awareness that makes sense to your brain in a way that it hasn’t before about why you’re not doing what you know, you ought to do.

My snowplow blade keeps widening and that introduces a Phasix problem. What is causing that blade to widen? And that question that cam was asking himself is precisely the type of question that we would ask a client who brought a metaphor like this to articulate their experiences. So it’s an opportunity to.

Orient to where you are in a new way to understand your experience more deeply than you did before. And then to look at how can I work with this metaphor in order to create change the example I give when I’m talking to other coaches or professional organizers about working with ADHD, people in particular.

In working with metaphor and how that can be powerful is I had a client who said my mind is like a paper shredder. It’s everything just goes in and I can’t make sense of it. And the question I asked back was what would it look like to pull a few teeth out of that shredder notice? I didn’t start with, what would it look like to pull all the teeth out of the shredder?

Just what would it look like to pull a few out? Why is my blade Wyden? What’s happening there until I cultivate some understanding there. I can’t stop the pattern from repeating until I understand what it means to pull a few teeth out of that paper shredder. I can’t make sense of what’s going on in my brain.

Cam: And I so appreciate you bringing that up, Shelly, you know, and part of it is that bringing that curiosity, you first have to suspend the judgment, right? Because I couldn’t be curious about the widening blade until I. Put that inner critic on notice. I just sort of notice him speaking and like, okay, I hear you.

I hear what you’re saying. And to sort set that aside and make space for curiosity, you have to make space with curiosity first.

Shelly: For those of you that like me don’t think primarily in metaphor, wouldn’t primarily articulate your experience this way. I also find that metaphor can be a great tool for us to do just that. Because you put our very real experience in the context of a silly or fun metaphor. It’s very disarming, right. cam asking me you’ve seen star wars, right. And then talking about the doors, closing on Hoff, complete with sound effects that I couldn’t replicate. If my life depended on it uh, oh, they cam can do that. Was disarming. Lighter it was funnier and it was new context. It gave me a different way to look at and talk about and examine my experience that just sort of shut the inner critic down. And that’s a little trick that we’ll use as coaches is yes, we rely on our client’s strengths in terms of how they’re able to best articulate their experience what their modality preferences are. Sometimes it’s fun to throw a wrench in there and to try and examine the experience in a way they normally wouldn’t because that can just, again, bring curiosity to the forefront and bypass that inner critic.

Cam: Yeah. I like to say a dustiest had it easy, right? He had 10 years, but each of his trials he faced, right. he faced the Cyclops once, you know, the sirens once. So he had a series of tests. But imagine if you’re facing the Cyclops 150 times, each of those, and that’s our experience. So there’s that lightness about it, the, again, just the powerful imagery of our own experience and really coming to terms that this is real.

And that’s another thing that my clients have to grapple with is that they come and they, they really don’t see that the add. The impact of the ADHD. And we would develop that awareness of like, wow, this really is making it tough. Then we can, we can turn and start to create some change there. The other one, I’ll just say briefly another one that was very powerful for me.

Shelly was. The staircase. I imagining the staircase in a 10 story building. And this one I love to use with my clients because this, in a way is educating about the ADHD experience is that you come and you look up a staircase, a typical staircase would have a feature called a landing. And for those of us with ADHD, we don’t really see those landings because we don’t construct them easily.

And. We don’t see them easily. We pick up our project and we run it to the top, not really thinking about putting it down midway. And so that whole concept of that a completion was this intermediate step. And that I had to really think about building out landings to put things down and come back to them later.

It was another big learning for me. That again, taking this strength area of imagery and metaphor and really using it to my advantage. It also certainly helped that I had years of coach training and coaching, right with coaches, adept and skillful in metaphor. As you said, meeting clients where they are.

Using metaphor and then as a vehicle for perspective shift. So I love what you said there about the shredder and it’s this is what it feels like. And so it’s like just tinkering with that plane, with that, to see. Can we modify that picture? Another one is, you know, my brain, like my brain feels like it’s going a thousand miles an hour. Right. There’s colorful language right there. So tell me about your brain going a thousand miles. What’s hard about that. And when we can look at it with curiosity and start to tinker just play with that a little bit. Then we can see ways to move forward to maybe slow that brain down or channel that energy, build out those landings or a way to stop that snowplow blade from expanding. And I became a real student of completion. That’s was like, okay, here’s my work. .

Shelly: So listeners, if, how you think about how you think and how you experience the world is primarily imagery. Start to try to put some language to that imagery. What’s the setting who are the characters, what’s this evoking for you and for people like you. It’s so fascinating that if we can find that one starting place.

The snowplow, how a metaphor we’ll just build from that. That’s precisely what happened with Cam’s Mount Rainier model. And the episodes you mentioned earlier is we started with one thing and his language and the metaphor grew organically out of that. Give it a shot, see what you come up with. And for those of you that like me, don’t primarily think in imagery.

Is there something you’re stuck on? What if you tried to put a metaphor to it? What would that metaphor be again? Is it a character? Is it a thing? Where are you? What’s the setting. What does it feel like sometimes for my non metaphor, heavy clients asking how something feels. I think that shredder metaphor actually came from that kind of question.

We’ll pull out a metaphor for, what does it look like? And if you have an interesting experience to share here, we always love hearing from our listeners, but particularly would love to hear some feedback about this one. For those of you experimented with metaphor, either because it is a primary strength of yours or because it’s not, and it’s a way to shake it up and add different context. So if you like what we’re doing here on this. Three big ways you can help us out. The first is don’t keep us a secret, share us on social, share us at work. If you have a neurodivergent support group, share us with the other neuro divergence in your life. Number two, leave a rating or review wherever you listen.

This helps other people find the show and lets people know why we stand apart among other ADHD podcasts. And finally, you can financially support the show by becoming a patron. For five bucks a month, not only are you helping cam and I cover all of the administrative costs of running the show and to able to get an engage, the support that we need there, you also gain access to our discord community, where our listeners are working together to do their own understand own end translate work.

So until next week, I’m Shelly, and this was the Translating ADHD podcast. Thanks for listening.

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Episode 119