Physiological ADHD Needs: Distinguishing Brain Awareness

Episode 149

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Most models, tools and processes, especially those focused on productivity, are not designed with the neurodivergent brain in mind. Often those of us with ADHD have to improvise to successfully implement a concept or a principle – think GTD or Omnifocus. Malsow’s Hierarchy of Needs model is no different in its highly rigid and linear qualities. Yet, it still is an excellent source to prompt thought and exploration around the concept of basic needs. With ADHD, needs often go unnoticed (because of a lack of ‘big signal’) until they become undeniable stressors.

Ash and Cam turn their attention to distinguishing ADHD needs for each of the levels identified in the dated model. This week they start with the base level of physiological ADHD needs. To address physiological needs many automatically think about’ effective brain management’ through self care and medication. Ash and Cam argue that good management begins with good brain awareness. When we bring curiosity to our ADHD experience, we can build new awareness and learning. Awareness is so key to understanding one’s own basic physiological needs.

Ash brings his Ice Planet Hoth metaphor, describing his own valley experience and being in a state of frozen overwhelm at the beginning of coaching with Cam. The hosts discuss how the coaching process of ‘holding the space’ for someone else can address connection and belongingness needs and open a door to better self care practices. The hosts also discuss how ADHD can impact other comorbidities like anxiety and depression. Ash and Cam reference the emotional pool model from episode 92.

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Episode Transcript:

[00:00:00] Ash: Hi, I’m Ash,

[00:00:01] Cam: And I’m Cam.

[00:00:01] Ash: and this is Translating ADHD. Quick Group Coaching Notes. Agency begins Tuesday, January 17th and meets at 8:30 PM Eastern. Purpose, which is a course that is just with me, begins Monday, January 30th and meets at 8:30 PM on Mondays.

Now, apologies for not having the purpose registration up, as I said I would after last week’s podcast episode. I overestimated my own capabilities last week, so that registration, by the time this episode comes out, will be up. So Cam, continuing this conversation on this hierarchy of needs model that you developed specifically for ADHD. Tell our listeners what we’re gonna do with that today.

[00:00:50] Cam: Yeah. I was thinking about this and it’s, uh, very much based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. But if you look into the details of it, it really spells out what those of us with ADHD wanna pay attention to. That’s that so many different things that are, are out there are not built for us. Maslow’s is not built for.

All these programs, apps, tools and models, especially these productivity tools, they’re not built for us. And what I mean by that is we talk about being wired for context. We’re wired for context. This, that neuro divergence in the sense of we have divergent ways of thinking. So to consider. You try to put in place something like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and you stumble and stutter because it’s not built for us.

So what we’re gonna do over the next five weeks is actually look at each of these levels and dig into these ADHD distinctions that physiological needs are hard. They’re difficult just to start because they’re not the big signal, as you said before, getting on the air here, Ash, is that they’re often the first thing to go. The real lesson here today around physiological ADHD needs is if you wanna have better brain management, you have to start with better brain awareness. And we’ve been talking about this. About, again, this is what the premise of this whole podcast is, to understand, own and translate.

We also talked about that first barrier to ADHD. That first barrier is awareness. It is the reason why that more than 70% of the people out there who have ADHD actually don’t know they have. It is a real effort to get to the place of understanding and then the acceptance, Ash. I have so many people come to me, it’s like, can you do your magic, Cam? Just wave your magic wand. You must do something magical over there and just sort of make it right. Right. This is that destination thinking versus journey thinking. It’s like I have to educate them about the coaching process. It’s not magical. I don’t have a tool and it’s really this process of starting to understand and embrace your wiring. And part of that is seeing how your own ADHD manifests.

[00:03:29] Ash: Cam, first of all, I want to give a lot of kudos to our podcast listeners because they don’t show up in that place. When I’m working with a client who’s a podcast listener, they have a much deeper understanding of what the coaching process is, and they show up so much more ready to hit the ground running with this process of coaching, and it’s so interesting. That’s something you and I have both noticed because we see it in the group coaching together all the time.

But even with that on board, clients show up, and they lead with what’s not working at work at home – I need to be more organized, I need to manage my time better, I need to attend to what I’m not attending to, I need to show up differently – and these are all really great fodder for coaching. However, if those baseline physiological needs – sleep, exercise, nutrition, mindfulness, renewal – if those things are not in place, then we’re coaching, trying to draw from an empty well, and this is precisely what our self care class is about.

It’s about putting yourself in the picture in a way that gives you what you need to embark on this journey of change. Not every coaching relationship starts here with self care. I certainly have clients arrive that have that pretty well nailed down, but many necessarily have to start there. And even for my clients that do have some good practices in place, it is always something that comes back around and into the picture and into the coaching sometimes when we least expect it.

Cam, I’m thinking about that client I talked about quite a while back on the podcast that came to a coaching session after she picked up six months before during the pandemic and moved across the country temporarily to support her adult daughter who had been injured. She said, I just, I need some help wrapping my head around this to-do list. And when she was articulating what she needed, she said, I feel like my brain is not accessible to me in a useful way. And as a coach, I picked up on that powerful language. What does it mean for your brain to be accessible to you in a useful way?

And the result of that coaching conversation took us to nature, meditation, praying, hiking, getting those things back into her routine so that her brain could be accessible in a useful way. We didn’t talk anymore once I asked that question about her task list, because that’s not what she needed. She needed some restoration and renewal so that she had the executive function, the bandwidth, the energy to attend to this temporarily overwhelming period of time.

[00:06:41] Cam: I really love that story, Ash. And it just, again, getting to where the need is is part of the challenge that how our ADHD shows up is it’s difficult to see our blind spots, and especially if you bring in the theme that we’ve been focused on, your context matters. Your lived experience matters.

Last week we talked about your unique lived experience dictates your needs more so than just a general thing like this model. This model is again, just a starting place. Don’t try to incorporate it fully, hook, line and sinker. Someone..I was talking to someone about this and they were like, okay, so you start here and then you move very literally and systematically. And I’m like, no, let it inspire. Let it prompt. Let it inform.

And so also considering your own unique flavor of ADHD, right? If you have ADHD, it’s likely that you have some other comorbid condition going on, like anxiety and depression. And so when you think about anxiety in how those two integrate with each other, my clients who have anxiety and ADHD are doing more than just self care practices. They are working with a team often, whether it’s a psychiatrist and a psychologist or therapist. But really how ADHD comes into play there is, it sort of elevates that anxiety.

We really have to work at soothing our agitated nervous systems. So doing everything you can to first of all bring those down and that goes into other needs areas like safety and security. When we’ll talk about next week with depression and ADHD, it’s like when we go to a, a low spot. ADHD opens a trap door into a sub-basement and we go deeper. is why so often there’s misdiagnosis of ADHD and bipolar because the depths of that low, is so low. Our inner critics. Just get empowered there to really bring the hammer. So starting with this awareness, and if you don’t feel that you are equipped to do it by yourself, to do it with someone else.

[00:09:30] Ash: Cam, I just thought of this, but this is actually where our coaching relationship did begin, was in this area of physiological needs, because I was in that place that you just described. We talked about this in depth in early days of the podcast, that Hoth place. I was on the couch, my inner critic was out of control and the only reason I was able to reach out and access support from that place is because I already knew you. I already knew you, and I already had some familiarity with coaching and how powerful it could be because I was in the early days of coach training myself.

That’s kind of the rub, isn’t it? Is for most people, when you’re at that baseline, your physiological needs are not being met to a point that you’re where I was, you’re on the couch and your inner critic is the entirety of your internal narrative and storytelling, almost impossible to reach out for help.

[00:10:50] Cam: I so appreciate, Asher, you bringing this story back in of, of how we got started, because part of that on the sofa thing was the overwhelm. This is the ADHD that happens in that situation. And, And when Asher’s talking about haw, that’s that again, it was a metaphor we used for the rebel base on haw from Star Wars where the, the doors close, right? And gets locked in. And so one thing is, number one, you are not thinking about self care at that. You’re thinking, what the hell is wrong with me and which way is up? And how do I get started? So we’re not thinking about these physiological needs, A and B. Our ADHD is taking our executive functioning offline, we are in a state of overwhelm and avoidance and unable to take, or even to visualize that concept of that first step. You bring up the river rocks, your river rocks are all scattered about. So it’s that reaching out and starting with curiosity.

[00:12:01] Ash: Cam, I didn’t mean to laugh over you for such a serious. But I love that you did the sound effect for the doors again, because you did that during our coaching session it made me laugh then too, probably for the first time in quite a while. And you say, you know, it’s about getting curious. I was not in a curious place.

Let’s be really clear. I reached out to you as a lifeline. I did not know what else to do. I did not know which way was up. I didn’t even have a lot of faith that coaching would help. I really didn’t because of how low that low was. I honestly expected you to read my email because I was very honest about where I was and say, I can’t help you. Or maybe therapy would be a good place for you to start, or, and here’s the inner critic and the imposter syndrome coming in looking at the types of clients that you like to work with, I’m sorry I’m not the right fit for you.

I was honestly shocked when you reached back out and said, yes, I’d love to work with you. Let’s figure this out, and that work, our first several sessions was just about getting me to a place where I could be curious. It really was, you know, as coaches, that is such a big part of our job when our clients show up in that limbic system place. The first order of business is getting to curiosity. Let’s get out of that limbic and get to a place where we can get up above this and get curious about it. And because I was where I was at, it took several sessions for us to get curious.

[00:13:59] Cam: Right. So a couple things there. One was I knew you. I knew your capacity as a human, your capability as a coach. and again, there was that context or that background of that knowing of that potential. I was just at the ADHD conference, and I was speaking to a couple of my mentees there, and I just was realizing in talking with them and talking with others, one of my things that I can do pretty damn good is identify.

And I already knew what it was like, this is a great coach who’s struggling, and so that was sort of a really valuable information that I already had on board. There’s a couple other things here too. Is that, again, your honesty, right? Just like two weeks ago when you shared about coming out, I was sitting over here. In the midst of your courage, right, of your discomfort to put this out to the world, not knowing, and that’s what you did here, or years ago when you reached out to me, you put that out, not knowing, and that is a first step for getting help, whether you reach out to a therapist, to a coach, to a resource is to this is a term I want to introduce Ash, and that is to step into the tempest.

Brain Imagery shows that there’s less activity in an ADHD brain, so the imagery, that’s the data that they have. I would say my experience and my experience with my clients is there’s much more activity. It’s a tempest. It is a tempest of thoughts and feelings of this. You talk about the undifferentiated mass and we are sorting and sifting and trying to make sense of this, and it becomes this tempest of thought and feeling, this tempest of action and. And then we, we just wanna shut it down. We wanna build some wall between us and that tempest. And it’s like going ahead and starting to step into it a bit. Not fully throwing yourself into it, but to sample the tempest. There’s data in there if you go in with a knowledgeable resource to go look at it objectively with the keen observer, you can start to make sense of your ADHD. And with that, this reminds me of knowing your pool episode, Ash. And we’ll put that in the program notes, right? The pool was about getting awareness. This is about managing your ADHD, your emotional brain, starting in with awareness and moving to this place of safety.

That’s what we did. You know what we did? We actually, I remember, it’s like if you’re gonna be in Hoth, can we decorate it? Can we put some window treatments?

[00:17:06] Ash: Cam, I just briefly wanna go back to your statement of recognizing talent or what I tell people about you. You see excellent coaches before they’re excellent coaches because part of becoming an excellent coach, the biggest part, is lots and lots of practice and lived experience, but you know when the right pieces are there. So much so that I talk to a lot of your mentees too for a variety of reasons. And whenever they question that to me, I just tell them, trust me. Just trust it. I’ve been where you are , where Cam sees it and you don’t lean into it, trust it. He knows what he’s doing.

Which kind of brings me to the bigger thing I wanted to say because this is something we have never talked about on this show because it’s something that Cam and I can’t do for you, listener, in this format, but that is so powerful in a coaching relationship, and that is if you rewind and just listen to Cam talking about how I was showing up then and how I was showing up two weeks ago when we recorded my coming out episode, that is Cam seeing the powerful person before him, whether or not I can see it, and that is such a beautiful component of coaching. We had a lot of moments of that in our last self care class where one of us, or sometimes another participant, because listeners, it doesn’t take a coach to do this, would just articulate the person that they’re seeing in front of them. As coaches, we call this acknowledging, but you don’t necessarily need a coach to do this for you. So this is not a pitch for coaching, but it is an invitation to find community somewhere or to find support and find the type of support where someone can see what might be hidden from you. Someone can see and articulate your strengths or how you’re shifting or growing or changing.

Because sometimes it really helps to have someone else articulate that for you, particularly if you’re at the bottom of the pyramid. If you’re like me all those years ago, you’re on the couch, you’re in hoth, you’re frozen, and it feels like a spiral of negative thoughts. Having someone else see and articulate your strengths and your value can help get you to curiosity. Wow. If you see that, do I have that? What is that? 

[00:19:55] Cam: We cannot overstate the significance of curiosity because we’ve said this before, you cannot be in that negative place and be curious at the same time, they are two different systems in the brain. You can be in that place in the sense of be there objectively with curiosity to be in hoth. Sort of see what has me, what is holding me here?

What is the mechanism for those giant doors that I can’t seem to open, and to bring that curiosity. It’s really interesting, Ash, as you are saying that. That acknowledging or, and also championing right to, to see that future self, that future capability of that person. There’s almost this ascension in ascending the hierarchy because we couldn’t really do any work until we first of all had safety and trust in our relationship and that we really couldn’t. Start working together until we developed some sense of connection and belongingness and through that. Then again, esteem and self-actualization. Just that there’s greatness here to be uncovered and to hold that for someone else. be so powerful.

So listeners, you’ve got two things to be thinking about as if you’re in need to find someone that can witness with you to hold that for you or to hold it for someone else. That’s powerful work and you don’t have to have some coaching certification to do that. Holding the space for someone else and their magnificence.

[00:21:46] Ash: I’m really glad that you brought safety, trust, and belongingness into this conversation because it wasn’t just about your acknowledging where I was and the powerful person you saw or championing that future person and what you saw that I might be capable of. It was also about making me feel safe. And you did that by sharing some of your own stuff, and that’s a unique feature of ADHD coaching. As coaches, our stuff is not in the room, and even as ADHD coaches, our stuff is not in the room. But there’s something really powerful about knowing that the person in the room gets it and has been there, has had those struggles, understands that success and struggle go hand in hand. This is why Cam and I are so open about our own journeys and the struggles within here on this show and with our clients when our, when it’s relevant, not because it’s about us in any way, but. It normalizes an experience that feels so isolating.

Most clients with ADHD have a pretty similar story, diagnosed or not diagnosed early, diagnosed late. It doesn’t matter when they come through the door of coaching or when they come to our podcast for the first time. They are hearing experiences that have often felt like they were the only one, because the way that ADHD is classically talked about and described by way of symptom, time management, procrastination, et cetera, does not at all speak to the busy internal world and all that happens there, and that’s why we do this show. That is 100% why we do this show.

So yes, as Cam said, hold space and witness for others, but let your mess be in the room too. That safety and trust is a two-way street of being open and willing to share and practicing that, cuz that’s another thing our clients have to practice is vulnerability. We’ve had a couple in the group coaching that we see them come along. It’s hard to talk about yourself and your ADHD in a room with 11 other people, even if it’s being modeled for you. If you haven’t had an experience yet of being vulnerable, it’s hard to drop those masks and those behaviors that you’ve developed to exist in the greater world, and it’s such a beautiful thing to watch people step into their vulnerability.

[00:24:44] Cam: So well said, Ash, so well.

[00:24:47] Ash: Thank you. So I think that’s a nice place for us to wrap it up for today. Cam, I’m gonna be honest, I’m really tired of doing the long spiel after the shows. So let’s maybe just do one at a time. We’ll rotate through ’em. So this week the ask is leave a review if you haven’t, we’d really appreciate that.

And until next week, I’m Ash,

[00:25:08] Cam: And I’m Cam.

[00:25:09] Ash: and this was a Translating ADHD podcast. Thanks for listening.

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