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.
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.
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 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.