ADHD and the Power of Community

Episode 216

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In this episode of Translating ADHD,  hosts Ash and Cam explore the essential role of community for individuals with ADHD. They discuss how community provides a sense of belonging and acceptance, which is crucial for personal growth and mental well-being. Ash shares insights from coaching clients, emphasizing that despite different personal contexts, all clients express a need for community. They reflect on their own experiences, highlighting how community has evolved from a place of mere acceptance to one that fosters creativity and personal development. 

The conversation also touches on the importance of safe environments where individuals can be themselves and the significance of balancing support and challenge within a community. Ash and Cam conclude by encouraging listeners to explore their interests to find like-minded communities and to approach challenges with curiosity rather than judgment.

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Episode Transcript:

[00:00:00] Ash: Hi, I’m Ash,

[00:00:01] Cam: And I’m Cam.

[00:00:02] Ash: And this is Translating ADHD. Cam, I actually can’t believe we haven’t talked about this topic before today. You went back and looked and we haven’t.

And that’s so interesting to me because when I do Values and Needs with my new clients, each client is so different. Even, even clients who choose the same words express them differently. Except for when it comes to today’s topic of community.

Community is a need every one of my clients has expressed, whether it’s overtly or not, it’s there. It’s a real need for those of us with ADHD. And that’s what we’re going to talk about today

[00:00:48] Cam: Yeah. And we’ve talked about community in adjacent terms, right? When we did that, when we did we talked about values and needs, you bring up values and needs a lot. And when we did the, my Maslow’s interpretation or my interpretation, excuse me, of Maslow’s hierarchy, right? There’s sense of need for love and sense of belonging.

So it’s in there that sort of it is important for us to find people who accept us for who we are. And this is what the Translating ADHD community is all about, is that why people come to listen to us, why they come to our Patreon and Discord. And create community there is because it’s a safe place.

And I love what you said earlier. It’s that there’s sort of a place where you’re wanted, but you also get to be who you are, right? This place that is, you’re welcome. And yet you also just get to be who you are. And it’s, it’s really after last week when we were talking about challenges I had as a as a student in high school of that my environment was not conducive to learning.

And so that our environment and our, basically our community, it has to be, it has to be some certain things present there and not present in order to create that right head space or mental space in order to do the work we need to do with respect to our ADHD, that, that this is, you know, Ash and I were coaches and we are.

We, we really are thinking a lot about learning models, models for change. When you are diagnosed with ADHD, a lot of people will be like, okay, so give me the thing and I’m on my way. I saw a post, Ash, last week. Excuse me. I saw a post last week. It’s like, yeah, you know, is there a drink I can do to the, you know, what’s a drink or something I can ingest that’s going to make me productive. Bing, bing. It’s that I’m going to do this and it’s going to result in this.

And there’s that destination thinking, okay, versus this, what we’ve been talking about is it’s a journey, people. And navigating those three barriers of new awareness into new action and then integrating the learning aspect and that our headspace matters, and if we’ve got toxicity close by, it’s really hard to create change.

I’m teaching a class right now where it’s the partner with ADHD trying to save their marriage and boy, some of those relationships are pretty contentious right now because it’s years and years of not understanding what’s going on. So finally we have an answer. It’s like, okay, we got an answer. Now, boom, do your change. And that is not a great environment for the individual with ADHD to create change.

[00:03:56] Ash: Or to even exist, right? When the problem is you, and you’ve been told that your whole life. You’re out of school. This is back to the whole, if you could just, the way that those of us with ADHD are not understood by the people around us. And I think that that, for all of the different ways that community is expressed amongst my clients because of their own who, their own context, the core element is a place where you are just implicitly understood.

And that’s also why we seek that out so much as people with ADHD because we’re not implicitly understood anywhere except for where we are. The other element I would say that’s in play for myself, any of my clients, is creativity. Actually, Cam, this doing something or spending time for the enjoyment of it, having conversation with no agenda, no attachment to where it goes.

Some of my best creative ideas happen in my kickboxing gym while we’re weightlifting and just talking at my queer bar, in community, where, bing, something connects for me because I’m just being me. Being it’s such a healthy thing to allow that time and space. And yet it’s something that we deprive ourselves of as people with ADHD, right?

I can’t, I can’t go just be, I can’t be out into the bar, out at the bar until 3 am on a Sunday night. Like I definitely wasn’t last night because I’m, I’m an adult. I got to work. I got to do this. I got to do that. I haven’t done this chore or that task, so I’m not allowed.

And the other thing that gets in the way – certainly did for me – is not knowing or recognizing what community is and what its value is. And I know you had, we had different struggles there, but we both struggled with that when we were young. So why don’t you talk a little bit about your struggles and then I’ll share mine.

[00:06:06] Cam: I appreciate you saying that it’s like we’re not really thinking about community. We’re externally wired. We’re looking out for cues of how to be in the world. And we’re looking at other’s modeling.

And that was sort of my challenge in high school was here there is a college prep school, super achievers, really impressive kids. And they’re modeling behavior that, and I said last week, it’s, they had a set of rungs for their ladder that I, they were, mine were in the bushes somewhere. I mean, it was just like, I had no idea where those rungs were.

And then you go on to college, the next level. And it’s like, I found my community. I found a community that was going to accept me for who I was. But the interesting thing also was they didn’t challenge me as a group, right? Our focus, the context was to have fun. And I was, it was, I was like, great. I can go and don’t have to talk to anyone. I have to tell mom where I am or what I’m doing.

It was all about fun, but it came all about fun. And it was like more than three-quarters of this group never made it through that for you and that institution in four years. It took me almost six years. So there’s that community in play, and not realizing how much that’s coming into play.

So as you’re thinking about this, to start to think about context of what is this group about and do you feel safe in it? This is the psychological safety aspect. Can you be yourself in this space?

[00:07:51] Ash: And Cam being at choice, which you weren’t at that time. This is the group that accepted me. So this is my group. Even if the way that this group operates feels out of integrity for me. They accept me. So this is my group. And my experience was kind of like that, but also a little different because my whole thing and there’s definitely – happy pride month, by the way – there’s definitely trans stuff wrapped up in this, that I’m still doing my own awareness work on, but the ADHD was there too.

And my whole thing, because I came through high school and I was bullied. So now being a young adult and being out of that context, but being used to not fitting in was don’t perceive me. Don’t perceive me. Like if I was in a community, it’s because someone like opened a hangar door for me and shoved me through.

And even then don’t perceive me. Even then, always wearing the masks, always trying to figure out what the rules are here.

[00:08:57] Cam: What does that mean for you? Like that in that don’t perceive me. What does that mean for you specifically in that community or in that environment at that time?

[00:09:07] Ash: It means, or it meant,

[00:09:10] Cam: It meant, yeah.

[00:09:12] Ash: And this is a limiting belief I’m working on right now. This is real work I’m doing right now. I don’t want you to think about me. I don’t want you to have an opinion about me. I don’t want to be talked about when I’m not in the room, good, bad, or otherwise. Just I am a net neutral here. I don’t want to have any impact on anything in any way, good, bad, or otherwise. Just don’t perceive me. Don’t perceive me.

[00:09:35] Cam: Yeah, and and what did that get you?

[00:09:38] Ash: A whole lot of nothing. That’s not entirely fair. Community-wise, it got me a whole lot of nothing. But what it also got me is my chosen family, is the people who picked me despite my unwillingness to be picked. And Cam, you’re among those people, right? People who saw me and picked me. And those relationships are so strong and so core.

We did an episode a while back about ADHD and grief. Right? Grieving who you could have been. And the reason I wanted to correct myself and say well I didn’t get nothing is because I did get something, is I don’t know, there’s two sides to every coin.

And so, while I’m actively working on showing up differently now and being more comfortable with the idea of being perceived and talked about, I also wouldn’t be where I’m at or have what I have or be at this stepping stone If I wasn’t that way at that time. So two things could be true, right? I want to create change here, but it wasn’t all for nothing. I don’t know. All right, you can pick it up now.

[00:10:44] Cam: You know what I’m appreciating is that you’re in process right now with our listeners. Like you said, I’m working on this. I’m still working on it. And so I just appreciate you showing up, working on it.

[00:10:56] Ash: Yeah.

[00:10:57] Cam: Right? Grappling, grappling with the dilemma, and so here’s a safe space to grapple with this dilemma. Does it mean you have the answers right now? No.

I’ll go back and share. Around back to my college experience of this sort of going into this group, and they were accepting but not challenging. And I will say this, they were exactly what I needed, is that these guys would go to bat for me. And they accepted me for who I was at that time, right.

That’s exactly – I found a group. And again, I’m sort of having this realization right now, but also recognizing going from this sort of performance context of, you know, okay, we’re trying to get you ready to be successful at the next level and, and, high stakes and SATs and da, da, da, da, da.

And I got in that school because my sister got in school and she’s like, it’s like, uh, you know, the student, if you think about the student became a physician, very successful physician and et cetera, et cetera.

Coming in out of that sort of performance pressure cooker, this was exactly, I think, what I needed, and that I was able to stay there long enough to figure it out, that, yeah, my friends, they were struggling themselves, and washing out, and there were a few of us that made it through. And I’m still connected with those people that made it through, but in that time, I will say is that I could be myself.

Now, that’s the pendulum swinging the other way of there’s that performance piece back to acceptance and just being. But that kind of bringing it back to this happy medium of to be in a place, have community that’s accepting, but also supportive in my agenda of what I want to do and where I’m heading.

And so it’s this supportive and also challenging in a positive way. So interesting, as opposed to challenging in a negative way that makes it unsafe for the individual.

[00:13:14] Ash: Really well said, Cam. And here’s where I’d like to go. We’ve talked about what community was for us before we knew the importance of community. What is community for you now?

[00:13:26] Cam: That’s a good question. What you said earlier about like that there is no need to put on airs or to be someone I’m not. So community is this, I can show up and be as I am. Listeners, we’re not doing a video podcast today and you don’t see that, like, I’m scruffy.

[00:13:47] Ash: We are both scruffy.

[00:13:49] Cam: Got my hair standing straight up, you know? But just that being able to show up. I know that you’re accepting. So I’ve had four conversations today. So, they were mostly off air, right? There are mostly phone calls and not video. I have meetings through the week where I do need to pull it together, but I knew that I didn’t have to put that energy into my day, and I could really focus on some creative time myself, really thinking about what I’m interested in.

And I love what you said earlier about this. It’s what that space provides, right? Community for me is this sense of an environment where it’s safe. There’s that I can be my, who I am and be curious about why I am and what I’m interested in.

But that other piece of that creativity is that when you start to have some space in your lives, then you can start to kind of play around with some things and create.

That was a big, big change for me. So again, as that sort of responding and reacting, this is where ADHD and getting close to ARC – that Adrenaline Response Cycle – that we are pressed always, we are always pushing the limits, especially our clients who are then in academia or they’re in leadership and they are maxed out.

They’re, they are trying to operate with a brain on fire. And so we give a little bit of space. It can be a little bit scary. Oh, I got to fill, I got to optimize that space. I got to fill that space. To really kind of open it up and where there’s a community or environment that you can just be drop the mask, drop the efforting.

And there’s certain, again, hygiene was not efforted today. And Asher will attest to that. I’m wearing a synthetic running top. And my hair is whack, and I’ve got it was just a five day scruff. Now I’m going to clean up cause I have classes to do, and I’ll look presentable, but I got to like, just have be in my own community myself. And this sort of creation, that comfort with the space to explore, create and try new things.

And as I was saying last week, is really looking at my own mental state, right? Where is my nervous system? Am I up against a wall? Am I trying to do too much? Something I’ve learned a long time ago is I can’t just keep building my the brim of my coffee cup higher and higher, but really realizing how much can I put in that and bringing it down.

I was just having a conversation with a client earlier today, making space in the top of that metaphorical coffee cup where that space to create and allow for things to come in. Because what happens with us is we fill it to the top, and then we’re surprised when it just something drops in our lap and it pours all over the place. And we’re overextended, we’re overwhelmed, we’re over this, over that. So that’s what community is for me, is this sort of be and just show up and play in a light and creative way.

[00:17:20] Ash: And with no attachment to an outcome. It’s not about a destination or something you’re going to get out of this, and that is something I have realized. It’s so critical that I make space and give myself permission to have that even when the dishes aren’t done or the carpenter bees are still eating my deck.

[00:17:47] Cam: Mine too.

[00:17:49] Ash: Or whatever else on the never ending to do list is not done. I’m going to have a much better time getting there if I just give myself permission to go be. To go be. And so, listeners, if you’re getting curious about where do I find community, this kind of comes back to your who. And everyone’s different, right?

A lot of Cam’s community is centered in ADHD world because that’s something that you’re so infinitely interested in. That’s how this collaboration started, is the first time we actually met face to face and sat down and had breakfast. We had so much to say to each other that we skipped the whole conference day and we were just being.

I have a client like that, too. She just got her doctorate in French literature. And community for her is academic community around this area of interest that she loves so much.

I’m a bit of a dabbler. Community for me? I just love good conversation about anything. Community for me is where are there interesting people and a thing that I might enjoy doing. I don’t kickbox because I want to be good at kickboxing. I don’t even kickbox because I want to be in shape as a primary motivator anymore. I kickbox because there are interesting people and good models, people I can be inspired by at my kickboxing gym. That is why I kickbox.

[00:19:26] Cam: I’ll give you an update on that community. Cause it, it was ADHD. You know, it is ADHD. It is, it’s coaching. And it is sort of always, it’s moving beyond that to, I don’t know, I just, what what do I call it? Human potential. I keep, I am working with some people who are doing some amazing work, and I’m not quite sure what they’re doing. Like they’re going beyond ADHD.

So this is, we’re in a place of beyond ADHD where ADHD is the sort of the thing that forged. It’s a forging piece is that they all have ADHD. I work with people with ADHD. It’s true. It’s true. But what the fascinating thing is they’re kind of, they’re on the other side of this thing and creating communities of support and and creating change and having this big impact. And I’m just sort of like in awe and kind of just watching what they’re doing. And it’s sort of like, it’s like Joseph Campbell hero’s journey fulfillment stuff that’s like, I’m still like, whoa, this is, so it’s about, you know, people making a difference in the world.

That’s the stuff that’s like juicing me up right now, but it is, it’s sort of like now the ADHD is this focusing agent, just like coaching is a focusing agent. And it’s like, cause I could kind of be diffracted in all kinds of different directions here.

So it’s like finding these as you said, French literature is this, this sort of, you know, a framework in which to work with it. But it’s about education. It’s about this, this whole aspect of optimizing learning. This is why I’m so stoked about this topic of how community is so key to our mental state, which is so key to optimal learning environments.

[00:21:17] Ash: And Cam, what you just did is you brought it right back around to journey thinking, right? I didn’t join a kickboxing gym to find community, but I now know that is what is there for me. You weren’t necessarily looking for the community you’re finding, but you were pulling on a thread that led you there.

So listeners, if you don’t know where to start, just pull on a thread. What’s a thread you can pull on? What has your attention where there is the potential to meet like minded people? And in addition to that, do remember it’s practice and it’s work. Community does not happen overnight, right?

So when you do find that thing where you can keep showing up enough and attending enough, community will come. It will. It just will.

[00:22:08] Cam: And if you are someone who lives with or loves someone with ADHD, if you’re a parent or a spouse or a partner, coworker, you might have ADHD yourself, but if you have, people are in your community who have ADHD and who are struggling.

To be mindful of the most nuanced responses that a, a frown or a they did it again. It’s going to show on your face. It’s going to show in your body. It’s going to, it’s going to come into the room, and we are very perceptive. And so like, when you say stop perceiving me. It’s that we all got our feelers out and just…

[00:22:50] Ash: While I’m perceiving everyone else to such a neurotic degree so that I can behave in such a way to not be perceived.

[00:22:59] Cam: Yes, this, this rat, this oversampling, hyper sampling, sampling, sampling, sampling, sampling.

And so they are sampling, they are noticing, and it’s starting to, how do you create a community there where you can support, but also challenge? Or to challenge them to be a better version of themselves, to hold that space open, but also support.

And back to this idea of psychological safety, of making it a safe space and context. Why are we here? I know you got your hand up, but I’ll say one more thing, is that you parents, you coaches who are focused on performance and people are coming to improve their kids. Parents wanting to improve the performance of the child, or I’ve got a performance improvement plan. I need to improve my performance.

So that’s the dilemma. But there’s the performance piece. And then there’s that space around it in the sense of, as you said, space to just be. We are not circus animals. We need time to reflect and consider and connect to our who and connect to our why. And a community accepts us for who we are is important, but then how do we support that?

And around that, how do you move forward and create progress, whether it’s performance-based or sense of self and identity and values and needs and comfort in our own skin.

[00:24:43] Ash: I tell new clients that one of the things we’re looking to do in coaching is put strength and challenge on an equal playing field. So it’s not about flipping the script from ADHD is a curse to it’s a blessing. It’s about being able to see yourself as a whole person. And so often with ADHD, we only see the challenge, we only hear about the challenge.

This is what you were just speaking to and how others respond to us and how that can have an impact. So, community, particularly community that challenges you and helps you grow, isn’t about being appreciated for your strengths above all else. It’s about being a whole person in this space, in this grouping of people, and the safety that comes along with that, and the knowledge others see those strengths and appreciate our who. That’s what makes it safe to talk about challenge, to be called out in that way that is helpful, to be pushed or nudged.

And when you don’t have that, when you’re in a dynamic where all the other person sees or it feels like all the other person sees is challenge, that’s impossible to access. So that thing Cam was saying to those of you who are listening to this show because there’s someone else in your life who has ADHD, that’s the takeaway there. It’s not flipping the script, but see and appreciate the strengths that that person brings to the table. Make room for that to make room for the whole person to exist. Because that makes it okay to look at challenge in an honest and curious way.

[00:26:33] Ash: And when we can look at challenge with curiosity – I mean, that’s kind of our whole deal in a sentence – isn’t it for ourselves? And in our work, when you can look at challenge with curiosity and when you can find others who can foster that in you, it’s incredibly powerful. And it creates that positive motivation for change because you’re not changing to please someone else, to avoid negative consequences, to not be perceived. You’re doing it because you see an opportunity there, or someone else who you trust like that sees an opportunity for you first.

[00:27:10] Cam: I think that’s a great place to finish up today, Ash.

[00:27:13] Ash: I agree. So listeners, until next week, I’m Ash.

[00:27:17] Cam: And I’m Cam.

[00:27:17] Ash: And this was the Translating ADHD podcast. Thanks for listening.

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