ADHD, Context and Storytelling

Episode 206

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In this episode of Translating ADHD, hosts Ash and Cam dive into the world of storytelling and its significance for individuals with ADHD. Ash returns to the booth after a rough bout with the flu, which sparks a brief discussion on how illness can affect executive functioning. The conversation then shifts to the main topic of storytelling, where Cam delves into the importance of context as a superpower.

The hosts explore how those with ADHD are naturally wired for context due to their divergent thinking abilities, constantly seeking the narrative thread, theme, and personal impact of stories. The episode promises to shed light on why storytelling resonates deeply with individuals with ADHD, often seen in children’s persistent why questions, which stem from genuine curiosity rather than obstinance. Join Ash and Cam for an insightful discussion on the intricate connections between storytelling, context, and ADHD.

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Episode Transcript:

[00:00:00] Ash: Hi, I am Ash. 

[00:00:02] Cam: And I’m Cam. 

[00:00:04] Ash: And this is Translating ADHD. Apologies in advance, listeners, if I sound a little rough today. I spent all week last week from the time that we finished recording the podcast until Sunday afternoon in bed with the flu, lost a whole week. 

[00:00:27] Cam: Who gets that? The flu? What is that?

[00:00:33] Ash: It’s still out there. It’s still out there, man. I haven’t been sick like that, even when I got COVID, I have not been sick like that in so many, so many years. Like, literally spent a week in bed. 

[00:00:47] Cam: You know what, Ash? Well, I’m glad you’re here and I’m glad we’re in the booth with each other. And I would say this is an episode to talk about how being sick just takes the wind out of our sails and how it impacts our executive functioning. So there’s an episode right there. Look, look for that in the future, people. 

[00:01:08] Ash: There’s an episode there, but maybe, maybe not yet today. I think I’m a little too close to it, although there might be. There might be some stuff in there about what we are going to talk about today, which is storytelling. Cam, you want to say a little bit more about what has your attention when it comes to storytelling? 

[00:01:23] Cam: Yeah. We’ve been talking about context and, um, we talked about two weeks ago, context is a superpower. You’ll hear Ash and I talk about how we are wired for context. This is in reference to our divergent thinking, uh, the way we process information.

[00:01:44] Cam: And we are always intrigued by story. We’re always thinking about the story, the story. What is, what’s the thread? What’s the theme? How does this impact me? This is why children with ADHD will often ask the why question, not to be a pain in the ass, but to, again, how does this relate to me? How do things relate with each other?

Many of my clients are in positions where they’re not in a specific silo or narrow area there, they like to have that ability to move across silos and different areas. And then a lot of business owners that I work with are CEOs, leaders. They can go in and have a conversation with accounting. They can go in and have a conversation with research and development. They can go in and have accounting with sales. One guy I know is out in the field. He called me one time and he’s like, yeah, I can’t make it today. I’m, I’m, uh, harnessed up, uh, you know, on the side of the building right now, you know, but doing an install of a giant banner.

[00:02:48] Cam: So it’s sort of like we enjoy really being able to move about, and it’s this broad brushstroke wired for context and the big thinking in the big thinker. So fast brains, big brains – that ability to kind of see how things are related – is unique to ADHD and the ADHD experience. A couple weeks ago we talked about how context can be a not so great thing of like how we can be a slave to context switching and reacting to the latest and loudest, and we’re just kind of switching all the time.

[00:03:25] Cam: And that context switching it can be stimulating, the novelty, but it also can be exhausting. There could be a real cost to that. We talked about how we can use context as a foil to protect our bandwidth of kind of the lawyer in the courtroom. And I’m like, well, you know, can we talk about this a little bit more? And, um, what’s your rationale behind your argument of the color of the siding that we’re about to choose, you know, on the house, dear. Not to bring anything from home.

[00:03:55] Cam: And then, finally, context as a talk about the superpower where we’re utilizing context and themes or frame of references in order to integrate. To pull things together to consider, you know, how we might be looking at things. So I use identity a lot, like which Cam is the best Cam to show up here in this moment?

[00:04:17] Cam: I learned that, you know, Coach Cam is, it’s not good to bring Coach Cam necessarily out of the office and into the house because Coach Cam is not the guy who’s called for, right? Of like the, hey, how can I help you solve this dilemma? Ash, people are not really excited about that. 

[00:04:37] Ash: Oh, especially children, teenagers.

[00:04:40] Cam: Teenagers or a spouse at six o’clock whose day has gone sideways. And, you know, it was just sort of like, look at it. Like, I really don’t want that right now. I don’t need that right now. It had me thinking about something we didn’t really talk about, and it’s a huge one. It’s huge. And this is that big C coaching piece of when we coach people, we’re going to help them with their dilemma around time management or task management, but part of it is mind management.

[00:05:08] Cam: ADHD is as much mind management as it is about all those other things. The dilemma, the challenge shows up in being late or being overwhelmed or struggling with time. But there’s a whole thing going on in there around how we make meaning. We’re constantly, constantly making meaning or seeking to make meaning.

[00:05:29] Cam: And the way we do that is through seeking out the story or storytelling. So this is about mindset, this is about perspective, how we are looking at a situation. And in coaching, we use this in order to create a pause moment – that pause, disrupt, pivot. In order to pivot, we have to disrupt the thing. What is that disruption?

[00:05:52] Cam: It could be a behavior. It could be the way we’re showing up. It’s also thinking that’s not helping. And so when we are storytelling, it’s often like creating a situation where we’re playing out the scene. I just got a phone call with a client where he was not taking action because he was playing out the scene of the person he was going to talk to, and the conversations he might be having with people he knew. And we can do this in amazing stereo sound Technicolor rich vibrant textures like it’s happened for sure. And it’s like that’s our experience.

[00:06:35] Cam: That’s what I was talking about last week with context, is like the water for the fish. It’s just, it is what it is. It’s back to Mount Rainier and our rich experience of being in effect, having our experience. And it’s that storytelling can assist getting to causation, but it can also hinder. So today we’re going to talk about storytelling, how to notice it.

[00:06:56] Cam: Number one, it’s a very natural occurrence for us. And back to your language, Ash, about destination thinking, journey thinking, right. We create stories. I create stories all the time. The problem that I had with creating stories was then I would form some kind of attachment to that story or that outcome. And then, then we have an emotional response to that scenario.

[00:07:17] Cam: And then we have emotional dysregulation that goes with that. So if we can start to identify storytelling and see that early on, that whole sequela or that playing out rejection, sensitivity, imposter syndrome, it starts back with what’s actually going on. What is our perception of what is going on and what’s the meaning that we’re making?

[00:07:42] Cam: I have a good example, I think, to start with from a client of an old story, old, a devastating story of this self concept, self worth, and I’m broken. I’m broken, I’m deficient in some way. 

[00:07:55] Ash: That’s A, a heavy one, and B, one that a lot of our clients come to us with in some way, shape, or form. Yes. In other language, you and I would call this one down. That belief that we are less than or that we constantly have to be making up for, right?

[00:08:17] Cam: Because in part a lifetime of living without knowing about this ADHD, it’s very human to fill in the blank. So when you have those messages that we know about that, how kids with ADHD get all those messages, the negative messages. The thing with kids getting the negative message, that’s half of it. The other half is they don’t have a viable or a decent response. They don’t have a good counter to that.

[00:08:41] Cam: So then they either act out or withdraw, right? And so that, that concept of self, because we don’t have this understanding of what’s going on, and the parents get frustrated. The teachers get frustrated. The friends get frustrated.

[00:09:01] Cam: I had that very similar thing, so I can totally relate with my clients’ thinking of this, this mindset, this perspective of I’m not worthy. So then it gets played out into I’m not worthy or when are they going to find me out? That was my experience. My experience, and under certain conditions where it was actually a very favorable workplace with awesome people. It wasn’t a bad place. It was great. It was one of my teaching gigs. But because it was so hard, I didn’t, I saw what had to happen. This is back to that universal question, Ash, of I knew what had to happen. I knew what I ought to do. Why couldn’t I do it? Well, then there, therefore there must be something wrong with me because everyone else around me is fine, and they want to support me, and they want to help me. There must be something wrong with me.

[00:09:49] Cam: And then the natural human thing to do is to, we have to create a story to support that narrative and look for evidence. And so this is that confirmation bias that everybody does. We seek evidence to support our argument. And then we look and we, again, remember listeners, those of us with ADHD, we are wired for what’s interesting, we’re wired for the biggest signal in our head three times more. The negative signals and negative emotions are three times to five times stronger than a positive signal. So when Ash and I did that thing back in Baltimore at the conference, we talked about curiosity, nuance and distinction. It’s really looking for those subtle signals.

[00:10:32] Cam: So you’re making stories up right now that are informing you and what you’re going to do and what you’re not going to do. 

[00:10:41] Ash: Yeah. I was actually thinking about this very thing a couple of weeks ago in my kitchen. I don’t remember what I was doing. I might’ve been making my kid dinner. And dinner is a historically challenging topic in my household for a couple of reasons.

[00:10:55] Ash: Number one, my kid is a picky eater, and they come by that honestly. I, too, am a picky eater. My mother is a picky eater. But if you’ve never had a kid who is truly a picky eater, it’s something that people moralize. Oh, I wouldn’t make two dinners. I would make my kid eat what everyone else eats or they can go hungry.

[00:11:21] Ash: And Cam, I assure you, when my kid was little, I bought every book on picky eating. And even prior to that, I made my kid’s baby food. I was that parent. For the first year of their life, I handmade everything like curing up chicken breasts and stuff. Like I was, I really went all the way there, right? And yet this challenge of picky eating is there, and it’s real.

[00:11:45] Ash: Coupled with the fact that I don’t particularly like to cook. I never have. Food is functional for me. If it’s nutritious enough, and it’s easy enough, that’s good enough. And when I’m in a good headspace, that’s exactly how I feel.

[00:12:07] Ash: But for whatever day, but for whatever reason, this day in my kitchen, I was just noticing all of this storytelling. Storytelling around what dinner is supposed to look like. I think we all have this Norman Rockwell type vision of a family dinner. And in my household, I’m gonna be honest with you, my kid and I rarely sit down and eat together. They like to eat earlier. I like to eat later. We’re usually having a different meal.

[00:12:29] Ash: And I feel guilty about that. Why? Because there’s a story there attached to a societal norm. Then it continued on from there. I was unpacking some stuff from Costco and really getting kind of down on myself about how much waste I’m creating with all this single serve stuff.

[00:12:51] Ash: There’s a societal story there too. And one that, by the way, is complete BS because corporations produce 80 percent or more of the pollution and the problems that we are dealing with. So even if you are doing things, I’m… 

[00:13:06] Cam: Sorry. I pushed my mute button, but it didn’t happen. Sorry, listeners, coughing into the mic.

[00:13:15] Ash: And if you could have seen my response to that, listeners, it was just to give Cam a blank look like, oh no, now I don’t know where I was.

[00:13:23] Cam: Well, again, you were, you were the justice warrior was coming out in the sense of, again, the whole corporate thing and capitalism and who are the big polluters. And this, this moral judgment around, you know, single use, right? I mean, just the storytelling that can happen around unpacking your bag from Costco.

[00:13:46] Ash: Yeah, exactly. And the storytelling just spiraled from there. Looking around, there’s a few dirty dishes on the counter. Why can’t I keep the kitchen perfectly clean? Because it’s a kitchen. It’s a functional part of a household. Again, there’s a societal thing there about – oh, and I, this one drives me crazy as a former professional organizer. Almost every client I had was looking for an unattainable outcome of, I want my house to look like a magazine cover. It’s not real. None of it’s real, right? But that’s what we see, that’s what’s marketed to us, and that’s what’s shown to us on social media. Nobody on social media is talking about the nights when dinner is tough and they phone it in.

[00:14:37] Ash: But everybody’s talking about the nights when they put together a beautiful homemade meal and sit down with their family. And so here, just in this one space, in my kitchen. And I was having a laugh at myself, by the way. This wasn’t even fraught. It was just noticing these thoughts as they came up and going, wow, wow.

[00:14:55] Ash: There is still today, even with this being what I do for a living and me being relatively at peace with myself about this, all of this story telling. And this was on the heels of a client session where the client was bringing some complicated stuff around food, and why can’t I be adult enough to cook myself a nourishing meal?

[00:15:22] Ash: And when I asked her what she does when she doesn’t feel like cooking, she said, well, I kind of snack. I’m like, oh, I do that too. Sometimes dinner for me is some nuts and some cheese and then some yogurt later and then some this over here and some that over there. And that there was something really powerful in our conversation about that normalizing for her. Like, oh, Ash doesn’t make a big dinner every night.

[00:15:41] Ash: So I think we can get this picture in our head of what everybody else is doing. That’s completely false. Everybody else is having success and struggle at the same time, neurodivergent or not. As an organizer, several of my clients were neurotypical, and yet here we were dealing with the intersection of success and struggle, strength and challenge.

[00:16:08] Ash: For some families, family dinner is an important tradition. For my family, not so much, and maybe, just maybe that’s okay.

[00:16:18] Cam: That’s a great example of where you can just be in your space. As you said, it’s like, you know, after all of these years and all this training, all this awareness, but I also love what you did there is that it wasn’t fraught. You weren’t getting hijacked by it.

[00:16:30] Cam: And that’s the big difference. The objective here, listeners, is not to not storytell. You can’t do that. And I think that people will try to sit on their thinking or and there’s, uh, what is it called? Stoicism, right? Stoicism is sort of like this sort of be disciplined, you know, think in a certain way.

[00:16:53] Cam: You can’t slow this down. This is an artisan. There’s an artesian well that has got too much pressure behind it. And notice what Ash did was, um, noticing, wow, look at me doing this. I’m storytelling about this. And there’s a couple of things to pay attention here, to recognize. First of all, how ADHD comes into play. And how ADHD comes into play is that the question that we ask back to, you know, what I’m not good at, where I’m one down and your question was, why can’t I?

[00:17:26] Cam: So if you have these questions like, you know, why can’t I dot, dot, dot, fill in the blank. So it’s eliciting a fear response. It’s eliciting a large emotional signal, which then gets our attention. It is a convenient and familiar place to be. It’s not enjoyable, but we know it.

The other thing is last week I was talking about binary, and the binary thinking. And if we go to the absolute, right, if we have that sort of that polar response to the extreme, people will say perfect, perfection or the perfect picture. It was more idyllic, right? That idyllic or, and I think it’s more about exactness. We have this sense of there’s a picture of what dinner looks like, and it gets locked in. And then we build a story around that picture of success.

[00:18:20] Cam: And as you said, it’s the, all these reinforcements in media, in society that say, hey, go in this direction, go in this direction. This is success. This is success. And so it’s our opportunity to really see where the storytelling is happening. Is it helping? What is my preference? What works for me? And it comes back to our conversation, Ash, about identifying basic needs. You just said, I don’t need to do Martha Stewart every night, and that experience of having a picky eater and that eating is about functionality. It’s pragmatic. It is, okay, I need to get some calories in and be healthy. That’s what I need to do. 

[00:18:52] Ash: Yeah. I’m still waiting for the Jetsons futuristic put my meal in a pill. And don’t get me wrong – and this is actually something that’s been a helpful realization for me pretty recently – I enjoy food for pleasure, but I’ve also learned to distinguish the two on a day-to-day basis.

[00:19:13] Ash: Food is about function. It’s about getting nutritious enough energy into my body and into my kid’s body every day. That has to happen every single day for both of us. And then there’s this separate thing where food can be communal or social or a way to show love or care. And I do those things too. Not by way of Sunday family dinners like my mom did, but by way of making popcorn when we watch a movie because my kid really loves the popcorn that I make. That’s a tradition that we have.

[00:19:50] Ash: By way of twice a month my coparent and I go out to dinner with my kid, and we sit down and we have a nice family dinner together. And that’s food for pleasure for all of us and social time by way of occasionally, yes, hosting friends and cooking for them because there are a few things that I make and make quite well. But that’s a different function than day-to-day I need to get energy into my body and into my kid’s body that is nutritious enough.

[00:20:18] Ash: And separating those two things out really helps with that storytelling. Not every dinner has to be a moment to connect with my kid. And you have a teenager, too. Your younger kid and my kid are about the same age. Yeah.

[00:20:40] Ash: Tough age, tough age. Yeah. Tough age to find your windows to connect. So even if I forced, thinking back, I didn’t love family dinner at that age. I kind of hated it. I resented it. It was time that I had to sit down and eat, and I was asked questions I didn’t want to answer. Yep. And I was probed in ways that I didn’t want to be probed, and I couldn’t wait for it to be over.

[00:21:03] Ash: And so what am I even striving for there? Connection with my kid, which I find In other ways, I don’t have to attach that to dinner. Dinner’s just dinner. It’s just getting some healthy calories into both of our bodies today, and that’s it. 

[00:21:21] Cam: And so, listeners, are you hearing how Ash is applying context in a positive way, right? To identify the storytelling and then think about, well, how do I want it to be? What matters to me? This back to what is the objective here? It’s about connection. And I love what you said is like, I don’t have to connect. It doesn’t have to be special every time we have dinner. Connection and dinner don’t go hand in hand.

[00:21:45] Cam: I want to come back to my client and finish up with that as we come to the end of the session today. But I’m really enjoying this topic around storytelling. There might be more here, Ash. But that, so that client was, again, I’m one down, I’m deficient. And the story that sort of unfolds or just blossoms around that of I’m not doing well. They don’t think I’m doing well, my boss doesn’t think I’m doing well. And the big one was I’m slipping behind, I’m slipping behind.

[00:22:14] Cam: Were they slipping behind? Yeah, maybe, but it’s getting reinforced by that storytelling of all this selecting data to reinforce this story of I’m replaceable, and they’re looking to replace me. So in that situation, coming back to, you know, how do you pause, disrupt and pivot there?

[00:22:42] Cam: And that client did something very similar to you is to, again, first of all, recognize the storytelling that is happening. One of the things that, and the thing that I did with this client is, first of all, developing effective feedback loops. It’s so hard for us to get accurate data back. And so often storytelling can be exacerbated or elevated when we are in a one down place, when we are feeling deficient, when we are.

[00:23:15] Cam: So she recognized, I’m not really tethered to my people, right? And you notice the other thing with storytelling is it’s very isolating. She was isolating herself from her resources of what am I actually doing? Who can be supportive here? Who can I go and ask for assistance to identify what’s the next step? And when she started to do that, that whole story starts to melt away, and recognizing it’s story and it’s not true.

[00:23:41] Ash: Interestingly enough, Cam, I did the same thing with my kid. I took the opportunity to sit down with them and review our slate of dinner options, kind of check in. How’s that going? Can we add anything? Do you want to change anything? Is there anything missing? They reminded me of a couple of options that I had forgotten about.

[00:24:01] Ash: So put those back into rotation as it were. And even had a conversation about, do you want to sit down and have dinner together? And my kid just looks at me like I’ve got two heads, like, I don’t care. I think that was the response. Looks at me like I have two heads and like, I don’t care. Dad, why are you, what are you doing? Like, why are you, why are you so worried about this? It’s just dinner.

[00:24:26] Cam: Yeah. So I think it’s a great place to finish up here is this identifying, starting with this am I storytelling? How am I storytelling? What are the conditions that are exacerbating the storytelling, right?

[00:24:41] Cam: Is that there’s overwhelm because my client was in a state of overwhelm and not really clear on what was next. And so, you know, I love what you did there. That’s a great example of how to mitigate or. disrupt the storytelling. Let’s go get evidence. Who’s the invested party? Let’s go and have a conversation of what’s it for you. How do you want it to be? Can we find a way to address this dilemma just like what we talked about last week with my client around coming up with what do you want to do for dinner? What do you want to do for dinner? And how that created stress and strife for their family.

[00:25:23] Cam: And they identified a very specific area, and then it was like, how do we, how can we get a solve here that works for all of us? That there’s a respect element here, right? Your child and yourself is like the vested parties are the two of us. That’s it. Society, Costco, it doesn’t matter. 

[00:25:42] Ash: But you’re right. And that’s kind of the place you have to get to.

[00:25:45] Ash: And funnily enough, as you were saying that, I just remembered the most important outcome of all of this, which is that, and here’s another thing that I can beat myself up about as a parent, is teaching my kid how to be an adult. That’s a struggle. That’s a struggle. When I have ADHD, when my kid is neurodivergent, when we’re relearning how to live together, and then there’s this whole other thing that I feel like I’m not doing.

[00:26:13] Ash: Part of the result of our conversation is that my kid is very interested in learning how to cook. So guess where the quality time comes around dinner time now and not every night, but more nights than not, when I’m about to start dinner. I asked my kid if they’d like to come help. And if it’s something that we’ve done before, then they make the dinner, and I supervise. I make sure I’m there to tell them what they need to do next. And if they haven’t made it yet, I walk them through it and show them how to do it for the first time. And that has become the quality time, is the time spent preparing. 

[00:26:47] Cam: I think that’s a really nice place to stop, Ash. 

[00:26:50] Ash: I agree, Cam. So until next week, listeners, I’m Ash.

[00:26:52] Cam: And I’m Cam.

[00:26:53] Ash: And this was the Translating ADHD Podcast. Thanks for listening.

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