ADHD, Community and Making Room for Mistakes

Episode 217

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In this episode of Translating ADHD, Ash and Cam discuss the importance of community for individuals with ADHD. They emphasize how community provides essential support for personal growth, learning, and navigating challenges. The hosts stress the need for room to work out our challenges and how ADHD can make it difficult to see anything but perfection as a goal and rejection as the obstacle on the path to change. Ash shares a personal experience from a Pride camping trip, highlighting the significance of self-acceptance and the role of safe, trusting environments.

They discuss the concept of “chosen family,” where mutual trust and safety allow for genuine self-expression and learning from mistakes. The episode concludes by stressing the value of showing up and engaging in communities that align with personal interests, as these spaces can offer crucial support and opportunities for growth.

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Episode Transcript:

[00:00:00] Ash: Hi, I’m Ash. And this is Translating ADHD.

[00:00:08] Cam: So before we get going, I’m going to announce a class that I’m teaching in the fall. This is called Equanimity. This is sort of one of our next level classes. And so if you’re interested in leadership, emotions and how emotions can be a resource, this might be the class for you. The class starts September 3rd. It’s Tuesdays at 8 p.m. If you’d like to submit an application, go to my website,, and on the homepage you’ll find my Next Steps page. And there you’ll see the class, which is Equanimity. Put in an application, and there we go.

So, Ash and I have been having a fascinating conversation about the topic today. And we’re building off of this idea of community. Last week we talked about the power of community and having community is so necessary for any kind of change. And the week before, Ash, we were talking about how community and context and an emotional state is so key to learning.

So this week, Ash and I were just thinking about how people with ADHD don’t often give themselves a lot of space to work on stuff. And listeners, does this resonate with you? Sort of. We can walk a very narrow path when we are struggling with some stuff. And that narrow path has like, you got to be perfect and don’t want to be perceived as others or be rejected. And so there’s very little room for maneuverability there, or as Ash said, room to work stuff out.

[00:01:55] Ash: And why is that true for those of us with ADHD? This is that one down thing we talk about all the time, when your lived experience for most of your life is other people misunderstanding you while you yourself don’t understand yourself. So when that question of why can’t you just comes out. And you don’t have an answer because you don’t know either.

We learn instead to just avoid those situations. I gotta be on it. I gotta be perfect. Because we haven’t found another way to work through things.

[00:02:34] Cam: Really. Yeah. So Asher and I were talking about just having places where we don’t have to necessarily be perfect or mask and walk this fine line of spaces where, and you said it, it was, there’s an element of safety, there’s an element of trust. But there’s also this element of ownership of owning your stuff. And this goes back to our thing of understand, own, translate.

[00:03:05] Ash: Cam, I want to give our listeners a little insight into the conversation that we were having that led to what you just said. Last weekend, I went camping for Pride, and it was my first experience in an environment like this that is by and for gay men. And I was walking in, remembering our conversation last week around don’t perceive me. And that realization I was having of don’t perceive me as a transgender person in an environment that’s by and for men only, that I am welcomed in and wanted at, coupled with that don’t perceive me.

There’s another universe where I go on this camping trip, and I stay in the room and read a book most of the weekend, maybe lounge by the pool a little bit. Don’t fully engage because I’m afraid of others perceiving me. I’m afraid of making a mistake. I don’t know what to expect walking into this environment. And I already, in my own mind, stand out a little bit more than anyone else. And going in, I had a little pep talk with myself. You are allowed to be perceived. You are allowed to take up space, and you’re allowed to make mistakes. 

[00:04:24] Cam: So I just want to comment, Asher, that you walking in, catching yourself, right? You’re coming into this situation, into this environment and remembering our conversation around don’t perceive me and sort of feeling that as you’re going in and you pause and have that pep talk, just like, wait a sec, I have the right to take up space.

And, listeners, it’s that, you give yourself that leeway. You go through the world and saying, I have the right to take up space. Because I think a lot of us don’t, and I was just going to say is that your practices of as an adult with ADHD and your coach training, it really sets you up for success to be resourceful in that moment. To have that knowledge, that old history of don’t perceive me to, you know what, I can come in and take up space and people may perceive me, but that’s them. And that’s not me.

[00:05:31] Ash: And speaking of being resourceful, Cam, the other big element that was there was safety and trust. The friends that I went with are people I really trust and value. And people who know me like that. And when I say know me like that, what I mean is there’s room for error. There’s room for error and trust.

They will tell me like it is. They won’t tell me what I want to hear. They’ll be honest with me. And that’s something I had to remind myself of too, is you trust these people. That’s why you decided to go. They think you’re going to have a good time. Why am I going to try and prove them wrong?

[00:06:18] Cam: Yeah. And so there’s this, there’s two elements there that you’re bringing up that I think are really important here. One is this, you know, we can get so focused on it’s got to be perfect, and in our world, it’s around this idea of perfection. We focus on perfection because of that black and white thinking that we just see the 100%.

It’s hard for us to see anything but 100%. But there’s also that kind of navigating and not wanting to be perceived, not wanting to be rejected. So there’s that rejection sensitivity that can occur. And so we are walking a narrower and narrower line. I think that what Ash and I are, you know, the bigger context here is living.

And you learn, you have your ADHD or you understand you have your ADHD and it’s like, that’s not enough. You’ve got to do some work and take ownership and do your emotional work and learn how your ADHD is coming into play. And how do I get through the day? And this is about trying different things, different practices to have space to try new things. Well, that means got to have a place where you can make a mistake.

So there’s that internal element of how are we treating ourselves? Are we giving ourselves grace? Are we noticing the one down that we give ourselves and to say, you know what? I belong here. As you said, as you went into the community, but the flip side of that is it’s very difficult to try to create change in an environment that is not safe or trusting. And it’s almost near impossible to do any kind of proactive change in a hostile environment where when people are judging, and there’s no room if you’re on a performance improvement plan. There’s really, again, unless there’s some interesting, progressive way in which they do improvement, but often it’s like looking for an excuse to fire you.

And so this looking for, and Asher and I feel this so strongly, is that there is a community. It can be very difficult to find communities of support that are safe and trusting, where you can be yourself and own your stuff and work on your stuff. It can be very difficult to find that. I was just sharing that myself of like, it can be really difficult to sort of find these pockets of community, but they’re out there. They’re out there and to continue looking for them, exploring, investigating, to find some space where you can be yourself and have a sense of belonging.

[00:09:11] Ash: What we’re talking about today really has me thinking about the term chosen family, which is a term that queer people use often. But I’ve come to appreciate that term is it doesn’t have to mean you don’t have family or you don’t have that support system in place from your blood family.

All it really means is there is safety and trust with you. Like I can let my guard down around you. I can be an imperfect human around you and I trust you to have my back. And just like any good family, sometimes having my back means telling me when I’m making a mistake, not to hurt my feelings or make me feel bad or reject me, but to help me see the opportunity that might be there because you are leading love for me.

That’s what community has come to mean to me. And it’s just really powerful. To have spaces. And by the way, not all my spaces are queer spaces. I would say this about my kickboxing gym too, to have spaces where you can just be yourself and show up as you are, but also be challenged to see the opportunity and do better when you do stumble.

[00:10:26] Cam: I like that term. And the word that’s actually getting my attention there with chosen family is the choice part. And that choice can be really hard for us with ADHD, right? When we are operating in this one down and very reactive responsive, cause there’s, I know ADHD communities where it’s everyone is rescuing everyone else, right?

It’s like coming to the rescue to, to help someone in need. And so that is not necessarily chosen family. That is a byproduct of living with ADHD and living from crisis to crisis and chasing the big signal versus this idea of exploring with curiosity and learning. Yeah, and it’s like you walking into that space and sort of noticing, Oh, I don’t want to be perceived and giving myself a pep talk here is to, as you seek out community, you have to move away from that ARC cycle. You can’t do this in the midst of the Adrenaline Response Cycle or hyper-focus.

It is not urgent. It’s important. It’s relevant. And it does not, it’s not swayed by any timeline. Those are the things that we like – a timeline. We like a deadline. We like, we can hit the latest and loudest. We can do the urgent things. This is not urgent. This is something where we have to consider and weigh and initiate, right? Of considering that invitation from your friends. Weighing that as a choice, going. And I love these topics that were for these terms that we’re using today because like there’s safety and then trust and it’s like, you went into this because of this relationship you have with your friends.

It’s like, I trust these guys. I have trust here. Where’d that trust come from? That was not born out of some urgent crisis that was out of in moving out of this reactive, careful, carefully curated, perfect, gotta walk a narrow line and don’t make a mistake to a little bit of a exhale. Maybe exhale and breathing, and ask you coming back to what do I need in my life right now?

What I need in my life right now is I need a strong, supportive community that’s going to accept me for who I am and who I am discovering myself to be as I move forward through life, as I move through this transition. Wow. That’s some powerful stuff right there.

[00:13:11] Ash: That was really nice, by the way, like nicely said. And like, nice all the way around. It didn’t happen overnight. And I just want to add one more thing is that it happened by showing up and showing up again and showing up again over time in these spaces with these people.

So listeners, if you’re wondering, how do I find community? Especially your ADHD wants an answer right now to everything, right? So just tell me where to go. It’s like, am I supposed to take up kickboxing? Am I supposed to go camping with a bunch of other dudes who happen to be gay? What am I supposed to get into – Phish? What am I supposed to do?

Like, don’t, just like everything else on this show, don’t hear my communities as prescriptive. These communities happened first over mutual interest. And then I found more to like there, and friendships began to form. So, what’s a space that you could pull on that thread? There’s no guarantee you’re gonna find what you’re looking for. But, until you show up, how can you know? So, what’s a space you can explore? An area of interest that has community around it that you can engage with? Start there.

And be at choice, by the way. I’ve talked a lot about how much I love my kickboxing gym on the show. Not everybody, not every kickboxing gym is the environment that my kickboxing gym is. So by being at choice, it means if you’re not finding what you’re looking for, if you’re not finding those connections or those people that you’re looking for, that’s okay.

It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you, it just means that may not be the right thread to pull on. But you’ll never know until you show up. And just showing up into a new space, being the new person in a space as a person with ADHD, it’s tough. That alone is a good bit of practice, just to show up. To be willing to show up and try, even if it ends up not being your thing.

[00:15:20] Cam: That’s nicely said, Ash. The other thing I’ll say here, I think that we said this before we pushed record. Again, when we are faced with challenge, we tend to narrow our focus and kind of get into this sort of self-reliance mode, you know. Here’s this dilemma, and I need to resolve this.

So we’re kind of trying to rely on ourselves. And what we’re talking about here today is having a community that reinforces these things that we’re trying to do inside of ourselves. And so understand, own, translate is if you can find a community that reinforces that.

You know, you said, I think you said this before we pushed record of this idea of that a community where acceptance is modeled. It’s well, how do I know I’m finding a community that is, you know, safe and trusting?

Number one is that, first of all, acceptance is being modeled by those around you. And so we need those external cues. To remind us of these things that we want to do ourselves because we forget – sort of like we give ourselves a hard time for screwing up – and it’s that acceptance, that forgiveness, that grace, self-compassion. So is that is there space for you to be yourself or is there kind of quick judgment and the quick takedown or sweep the leg right so so being mindful of that.

[00:16:52] Ash: And to give an example of what we mean here, Cam, the very first time I went to a kickboxing class, I was out of gas before the warmup was over. I was leaning against the wall about to throw up. If I’m being honest, rapid, shallow breaths, wondering what in the hell looking around the room at everyone else who seemed to know exactly what they were doing. And they’re all so in shape. There are a lot of really beautiful people at my kickboxing gym. Everybody’s so in shape. And what am I doing here?

I was having that moment, and someone who I’d never met hopped out of the warmup and said, first of all, you need to breathe, not shallow breaths, deep breaths. You need to breathe, breathe. Okay. Now that you’re doing that, if you can’t continue the warmup, don’t stop. Don’t stop all the way. Do a wall sit. And he demonstrated that for me. Then for the rest of the warmup, I sat on the wall doing a wall sit. 

And then I was paired with somebody who’s really experienced. And he said, okay, so that thing that just happened in the warmup, have you ever seen a fight? And I said, I actually haven’t seen one yet. He’s like, okay, well it’s like three minute rounds, right? And these guys are exhausted at the end of that three minutes. You want to be the guy that still has gas in the tank. So when you come back next time, do what you can do in the warmup and adjust your tempo so that you’re not out of gas at the start of class like you are right now.

So it was this, you know, this generous sharing of knowledge. Coupled with meeting me where I’m at and accepting me where I’m at. And that radiates out of that place. It radiates out of all of the communities that I consider to be important and core to my existence and sanity and fun in life.

[00:18:37] Cam: Well, and you said, I’ll just end on that with a sense of fun. And we talked about this sort of lightness and levity, right? In a space that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Like that, what are they trying to do? Is it about to make the best kickboxers in the world? No, it’s about creating community, that it’s not lost on them. Oh, we’re here to be in connection and community of others.

So, so there’s that value around the social connection piece. It’s not just performance-based, which so many people in ADHD land keep hammering around this inconsistent performance, and you’re not doing enough of this, enough of that. It is so much more than just performance. Life is not just about achievement. It’s about being able to show up and take up space without performing, without to do something. 

[00:19:38] Ash: As you were talking about levity in combination with fun, it just set up a little light bulb in my head. So I’m going to, I’m going to take us out on this note, is back to widening the path, allowing yourself to be perceived, allowing yourself to make mistakes in the context of safety and trust. There is something really powerful and almost healing about being able to laugh at yourself when you make an explosive mistake in the context of safety and trust, where others see you and know you.

And I’m actually not thinking about myself here. I’m thinking about a buddy that had a little too much on Friday night and Saturday. By the end of Saturday, we’re belly laughing about it because it was really funny and everything turned out just fine. So why make him feel bad when we can all just be entertained? When we can appreciate that added some comedy and some memories to our weekend. 

[00:20:39] Cam: It was his willingness to look at his stuff, right, right, recognizing that the lightness and levity came after the fact of, hey, you called him out on it and that let’s look at this and this willingness to trust others that they got, you know, it’s not about challenging him and taking him down. It’s challenging him to be a better version of himself going forward. Right? Yeah. So that’s that agreement that you have in the first place, got to have that agreement that is so important. 

[00:21:12] Ash: And for him, it’s about ownership, right? This comes back to ownership and, you know, being willing to grow and stretch and learn. Judgment has no place in communities. I don’t think you can build a good community centered on judgment.

And listeners, this is not to say that means communities should allow you to be whoever you want to be all the time. If my buddy was who he was on Friday night every time we spent time together, we probably would not spend a lot of time together. But he’s allowed to have his moments. And so am I, and we learn and grow from them together. And that’s really a beautiful and powerful thing.

[00:21:57] Cam: So I think it’s a good place to finish up.

[00:21:58] Ash: I agree, Cam. So listeners until next week, I’m Ash.

[00:22:01] Cam: And I’m Cam.

[00:22:02] Ash: And this was the Translating ADHD podcast. Thanks for listening.

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