Mr Maté

Gabor Maté gives me trouble. Not the man, maybe, but the ideas. 

Or maybe what he has to be, to say what he says and help who he helps.

Before we continue, here's the full glossary - I've also linked each term as I've used them. 

Back to Mr Maté. He’s more politically savvy than I. He’s affecting change to the conventions of psychology from the inside. I’m just throwing stones from the outside, except not. I’m in the experience he wants to “heal.” I am testimony to neurological plasticity and, critically, to degeneracy – I have rebuilt the poor constructions of my neurodevelopmental experience. I should say “we”. I am biopsychosocially formed, just like Maté says I am. As with my own father, across generations of experience Maté and I agree on a lot of things. I can’t but read Maté as a Father. Part of my trouble. 

I first met Maté in 2017 whilst exploring theories of addiction. He gave me much to learn, and I loved his manner. A betrayal story begins to emerge here. In 2019 my therapist became the one that didn’t tell me it was ADHD. Not that I asked them to. I’d dodged PTSD, and CPTSD and kept my mouth shut enough to avoid a personality “disorder.” But in 2019 my companion in life asked for a different framing. His demeanour, his work, his gender, his articulation and inarticulation, his style and grace would ensure he was given the sexy neurodevelopmental disorder. The one with a short and easy diagnosing process and a solution.

I refused to be part of his diagnosing “team,” saying that I couldn’t contribute to defining him in such narrow terms. I am sorry I couldn’t manage this abandonment with more grace. And, we were diverging from one another as we must do -  the beginnings being already maybe four years back. I was denied the relief of the psychologist telling me what was “wrong with me”. My friend pops up in my mind to remind me that I denied myself that. Which of course isn’t true if we take a biopsychosocial view like Maté and I want to.

Biologically (bio-) I have an autistic mind with attention differences. I am very monotropic. More monotropic than most autistics. I’m showing off. Monotropic means I can focus, I have tenacity. I am dedicated to the truth. I can spend years happily pursing a knowledge or insight. Socially (-social), this can be framed as bloody-mindedness, stubbornness, or cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. In the wrong environment, it harms others. Psychologically (-psycho-), and I’d say spiritually, the mix of the trait and the context can cause me to enter a sort of autistic vortex, an excessive state. A subtle and meaning-rich perceptive experience reduced to the definition “hypomania” by the conventions of psychology/psychiatry -  in their role as gatekeepers of normal, returning the useless to usefulness as consumers/employees etc.

Is this a tangent? Evidence that “Inattentiveness is rarely total… the ADD mind can muster enough focus to complete tasks if that task is interesting.” At my best, I can understand the conventions - the gatekeeping Maté is seeking to affect. The delicate art of using the institution’s language enough to bring everyone along. But what about me.

“Hyper-attentiveness is a feature of poor attention regulation.” In between explaining the biopsychosocial context, Maté continues the convention of placing the problem in the person, labeling me as having a “mental disorder.” His claim to be a sort of counter-cultural voice is not a fair claim from my perspective. He prizes the door open so very little. Maybe that‘s wise, and for sure, that makes him accessible to the many people who want a disorder. Want the reassurance of “this is why,” the relief of “it’s not my fault.” But….and I have to say it. Where’s my Father? My salvation, my careful rationalism to rest in.

“She’s so dramatic” etc. etc. But can you hear the lament? I first wailed it at the Father in the sky. I was 8 or 9. It became clear even then that I would forever know alienation and demand inclusivity in awkward and occasionally brilliant ways. It turns out that this is common to the autistic experience, to those of us with attention differences and phonological blindness, high levels of monotropism, and a capacity for meaning-making that can drown the I dangerously and blissfully.

“Adults with ADD are often impulse buyers…” I am. And. Could we say something about a culture that defines me only as a consumer? Could we decode my behavior after the necessary structures of budgeting; social accountability; and philosophical commitments to value, and discernment are in place? I think Maté would agree about this. Maybe. But he doesn’t speak to my experience as the “adult”. He doesn’t center the experience of humans who have to live with the shame of spending. He’s the benevolent patriarch elder, telling the next generation of parents what’s gone wrong.

He is generous in understanding the intricacies of gendered expectations: “Many girls with ADD frequently go undiagnosed; they sit still and pay attention to what the teacher is saying.” Then, blind to the horrific harms psychiatry and psychology metered out to mothers and women, he explains… “Attunement is what happens when a mother picks up a crying baby and scrunches her face into a mask of sadness. Her facial expression doesn't just acknowledge the baby's sadness, it communicates that she shares that sadness. For an infant, attunement is an ecstatic experience of safety and sharing the world with another person.” He goes on to describe what happens when this isn’t occurring. Baby is stressed, “All she can do is fall back on the nature-given defense mechanism, which prevents stress from becoming overwhelming and life-threatening. She stops processing stressful environmental stimuli, her brain slows down, she tunes out”.


I want to leave now. This one point does too much damage. 

And he is not ignorant of the histories I speak of. He has not fulfilled his responsibilities. His form of masculinity has created these problems. His experience of being a man and being listened to. “You”, “we” created this problem. 

Just like me, my mother and my father do not communicate empathy as he describes it. Just like me, we all experience an attunement with the entire world. We seek to understand all the sensory input we sense – through every part of our bodybrain. We stopped processing stressful environmental stimuli the moment the sounds in our mother’s wombs were too loud, the moment our fathers made our nappies. Not because they folded them wrong, being men and all, but because we feel everything and nappies are bound to be uncomfortable. It’s a function of our brains to sense all.

We are part of the natural divergence of humans that occurs in nature. We have the bodybrains (a maddening expression I’m required to use since the Western Philosophical tradition cast them apart) that perceive much. In the right environment, just as Maté proposes, we thrive.

To be fair, I’m not sure we can make “the right” environment. The variation of sensory needs that occur amongst my kind make parenting a long process of experimenting. We are often forced to harm our own. Declaring, “It’s not a fashion show” or “It doesn’t hurt” as our elders had done to us. Determined not to say either of these EVER, I luxuriate in the single child context I had the means to defend. I underemployed myself to leave space to regulate and simplify the demands on me. I pay for therapy instead of a pension. I cut myself out of a marriage where too much got intertwined, and the thirst for disentanglement, for some kind of inner space, drove me out of companionship with the one who was The One for so long.

All this so I can control the environment that holds my child – the biological inheritor of neuro-divergence. Tenacious in my quest for him to have a little less of the trauma that accompanied my difference. His father’s difference. His grandparents’. Great Grandparents’. Just a tiny little -less. My friend and I used to cry with each other, reassuring ourselves we would never claim the poison chalice “good mother”, but we had pulled off the task of not passing on the beatings. Thank God.

And Maté would be here for all this , maybe. He would be gracious. But I will not forgive him for placing mothers at the centre of his examples and saying nothing of the cold mother narratives he doesn’t intend to, but none less necessarily implies. And he knows. He comes out of the European psychology tradition; he knows he knows what Freud did. What Asperges did. I am cross with you Maté. And I know it’s unfair. As usual, I expect too much from my Patriarchs.


Let’s make peace around this point….“The gene-centric account of the disorder obscures as much as it reveals” so that I might be able to stomach this point around impulse control being developed whilst – “holding the loving gaze of a mother.”

Fuck you Maté. You are not doing enough to take care of that mother. Or this one. Do you have Mother issues, Maté? I’ve resorted to insult. I’m tired and stiff. “Hyperfocus” is bad for me like he says. Fuck you. My beautiful life-saving monotropism is holding my attention until I reach my point, which is of course about my mother. No justice for her. She wasn’t allowed to hold a loving gaze. Well, that’s how the story goes. Who knows. I imagine we had some. And my father was bonded to me through our shared meals, side by side, I imagine, as we prefer no eye contact. She fucking loved me with a terrible, wailing depth. Too much meaning to be made. She fell into a hole. Nobody helped her out. Etc

I teetered on that hole’s edge. She was a teenager, ill-prepared, in hospital alone. I was 36, monotropiclly prepared to depths few could make sense of. I was at home for most of it. I was ecstatic. As Donne had described it to me aged 14 (read the poem here). Sex/birth/life/death got really muddled. And when I came back there was no container or translator for all this significance. I set off again into normal life, a little like after the death of Our Father in Heaven aged 9, I felt relieved and bewildered. I felt a vast expanse of experience with no communality in it. Whilst knowing other humans had been where I’d been.

I sought meaning, company, biography, art. I found some. I edged around the hole my mother was pushed into. My depths of despair came years later. Deepening cycles of burnout until I was quite lost. Is this the depression, the OCD, the addiction Maté tells you about? Sure, we’ve got that all over the family. If you want to be that simplistic. And I know, I know that you don’t, and I know that we all need to start somewhere. Cause you didn’t all come with me on my route here, did you? Alienation stings.

I am ready to end this reckoning. I had ten other points to make. But no.

Let’s rest.

Let’s get practical. Here’s a neurodivergent affirming translation of what I heard Maté say. He has his audience, I have mine. We needn’t fight.



Attention differences is my current term. These folks have a delightful conversation about other ways to frame our experiences of having such clear, astute and variable attention: Depathologising the language of ADHD : Niki, Katie, Sam and Raven educate Aucademy

My good friend asks, “What are you attending to?.” Being from the biologically marked gang like I, raising biologically inclined children like I, she asserts that there’s no such thing as a distraction – you are just attending to what gives you interest.

She also shared some very smart stuff about the varied forms of dopamine systems, some having shorter and some longer-term rewards and urges.  We hypothesize that gendered socialization causes a variance in the development of dopamine systems in men raised within certain masculinities. Men in some sub-cultures of masculinity are trained to seek quicker rewards and aren’t allowed to develop the longer reward loop. Simplistically: earn more, be a man, come with you cock never mind the rest of you etc.




Regulating one’s self through movement. Dealing with overstimulation. Have you been in school - I wouldn’t be able to focus with all that going on. Have you been in an office? The lighting alone makes it impossible for me. This conversation frames the diagnosis ADHD in its social and economic functions: Bruce Cohen - The Failings of “Mental Health”: How a Seemingly Benign Concept Might be Dangerous

I believe the experience of people with attention differences, disabled people like me. I don’t accept the diagnosis ADHD as a useful, functional or credible framework for self-knowledge or support.



Hannah Gadsby explains this one in her show Nanette; she renegotiates the “normal” total lack of sensitivity that’s being passed off as what we should all aspire to. She led me to my home in the community of autistic experience.

Safe to say, I don’t accept the use of hyper/hypo for any human experience because I’m not interested in pursuing normal as the goal. It’s very normal for nature to offer a varying degree of a trait in any given population of humans. That means it’s normal to have some people who perceive and process a lot more sensory data than others. And some who perceive and process a lot less.



In conclusion….it’s time to eat lunch.

Like Maté, I perceive a culture that got too narrow and too pressured. A shit environment for anyone who feels. Like he says, “Despite best intentions…” my child will have trauma to make sense of. But/And they will learn how to account for their sensory needs. They will narrate their own understanding of what happened to them. 

They will not experience my intentions because the narratives that surround them will obscure and emphasize their idea of me in to a grotesque form. Like the women before me, I will be made mad, cruel, nonsensical, controlling, weird, narcissistic. Or not. That last term will be worn out in another year, and the next trend in insight will emerge.

My cynicism is my hunger speaking. And an odd sort of prayer of protection. I have no idea what my child will know of me, see in me. But I do take very seriously the role Maté and I have in making certain narratives about human experience available to the people around us. My child will go way beyond and behind and around anything I can conceive of because our minds are scattered like seeds on the fertile ground of our body’s experience. And his experience is different to mine. And I might come to accept the alienation of this experience in this bodybrain and stop blaming Maté for it. And I might not.


Many consversations with four very brilliant friends 2018 to now.

Gabor Maté addiction lecture Vancouver 2012

Scattered Minds by Gabor Maté in Blinkest form ( I don't have enough attention or emotional processing power to spare on a whole audiobook.)

Various small videos and interviews in recent months, including this one.   

Loads of other stuff, too much to mention.