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In Conversation with Stuart McPherson

Stuart and I were both diagnosed with ADHD this year, only weeks apart, both in our mid-40s. Although we'd only briefly met, we found having someone, perhaps in particular a fellow writer, to chat to about the experience immensely helpful. It was only natural then, that I wanted to interview Stuart for Dx: Diagnosis and Writing. We reflect on past writing through the diagnosis, compare how our sometimes different symptoms of ADHD affect our writing practice, talk about our experiences with medication, and how we deal with emotions dysphoria, rejection and hyperfixation as neurodivergent writers.

You can listen to the podcast or read an edited transcript below.

Chapters (available on Spotify)

(00:00) Getting Diagnosed

(05:09) Experiences with Medication

(11:26) Reflecting on Past Writing

(18:16) Present Writing, Meds and Writing and Working

(29:30) Writing in Different Forms, Hyperfixation  

(40:59) Emotional Dysregulation and Rejection 

(46:11) Neurodivergence and the Media, and Skateboarding

Currently there are issues with Spotify embed - you can follow this link if podcast does not appear below. Also available on other podcast providers: RSS.  

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00:00 1. Getting Diagnosed

Eva Well, I'm just going to say hi. Hi, Stuart. This is going to be difficult because we're going to have many conversations at the same time.

Stu Hi. Hi, hello.

Eva So, tell me if I'm wrong, but I think became aware of your work online, and then I went and saw you read, and then we got on, not knowing we had so much in common, and then I tweeted something about being assessed with ADHD and I got the weirdest text from you.

Stu That's it. That's exactly how it started. I always think it's strange that neurodivergent people, whether they don't know xor they have a diagnosis, have a way of finding each other, because either consciously or unconsciously, there is a connection and a mutual understanding. And it's amazing, most of my friends either are neurodivergent or have had a diagnosis and it's interesting, that just seems that seems to be a constant.

Eva Yeah, I also think we find each other, but it’s also self-selecting. We also scare away the ones that think we’re absolutely weird, they just sort of disappear, right? That's the harsh way of looking at it, I think.

Stu These are recent conversations that I've been having with people. There are two sides to having ADHD, there’s the side that is kind of quirky and funny and people say, oh yeah, you're a bit out there and you look at things slightly differently and you’re bit weird, but the other side to that is the feeling of sitting on the outside of things, that is incredibly difficult. Feeling like an outsider, generally in life, whether that be at school and your friendship groups, even in your closest relationships, the feelings of maybe shame or guilt that go along with that. So, there’s two sides to it, I think. There are benefits to it, there are definitely strengths to it, but it equally it really sucks as well… because it's hard.

Eva I think we need to hold on to the strengths, and I don't think it's wrong to say that a lot of creative people a neurodivergent, especially in terms of ADHD. I've realized that I make those connections that other people don't because my brain doesn't have any freaking barriers. So that's a good thing, but obviously you've got the outsidership. I guess I tried to fool myself that that was normal, and I'm still not convinced I’m not. I have massive imposter syndrome – even when diagnosed with things. I think, no, surely this is just what everyone thinks. But then I had it on, not exactly black and white, when I got assessed for Autism and ADHD. I think my diagnosing psychiatrist was trying to let me down gently, and she said we can't diagnose you with autism, but you've got ADHD, and you're definitelyneurodivergent because you definitely approach life differently to other people. What she was saying was, trust me, you’re definitely weird, I’m a professional.

Stu I don't know about you, but there was an there was an incredible amount of relief getting a diagnosis, but equally I'm kind of thinking about what you just said and that you don't really want any ambiguity. You want something concrete to go, right, now this all makes sense. But can it be concrete? There are so many different variations and different spectrums and different extremes.

Eva I've said this before, but I think having monolithic diagnoses – you're either ADHD or Autistic –  isn’t that useful. We’re very different you and I, and we have symptoms that are very similar that overlap for us, but then you've got traits that I don't have that are very ADHD. And I'm sure I've got other traits. So, it's a bit weird as well to be lumped into this diagnosis. But some of it is really helpful. And the first thing is relief, right? It's like, oh, thank God. There are so many things that I felt bad and guilty about that are fine. At the same time, one of my first thoughts were: I thought I was gifted, but it's actually disorder.

Stu Yes, absolutely. It just highlights the difficulties with a diagnosis because, it’s so fluid, and yet there is a need for – for somebody who is so not black and white and for who things are blurry – there is also a need for things to be black and white to make things easier because it's incredibly difficult.

Eva And we also want a fix, right? I've done this all my life, searching for the thing that is going to make life easier. Every time, thinking, this time everything is going to change. To be fair though, my diagnosis has actually changed things a lot more than a lot of other things in my life. 

 

05:09 2. Experiences with Medication

Eva I was going to talk to you about the medication, I think we have had some interesting experiences with meds. We could in particular talk about meds and writing, but to start off with, tell me a bit about your experience with meds.

Stu Getting diagnosed with ADHD obviously gave me the option of trying medication and it's something that I wanted to do because I was curious to see if actually it did make a difference. Probably more so for the validation rather than for the day-to-day functioning of things. And the effects were immediate, within an hour.

Eva Yeah, I remember getting a text from you. 

Stu Yeah, I just broke down in tears because it was such a feeling of peace and calm in my head. It was just so strange and from there, although it took a while for the side effects to wear off, when it became a day-to-day routine and there were no side effects, it just enabled me to focus. It enabled me to have a regular structure and made the day-to-day functional things easier. Getting up, going to work, concentrating at work and getting stuff done that I needed to get done, which is that all the things that I've really, really struggled with badly. The meds just made that so much easier.

Eva That was my major, major benefit with meds, basic adulting things that used to be so difficult were so much easier. And then you realize, oh shit, it really was difficult. That’s why I was so bad at them. So, I got that validation as well.

Stu What’s interesting is as well, so there's a shortage of medication right now across the country, and I was curious to see what happened when I stopped taking the medication. And again it confirmed everything that I thought. It’s odd because, I don't know about you, but even now I’m really wondering, is this really what ADHD is like, seriously? And, yeah, without the medication it 100% is.

Eva I tried the first line meds that they give everyone, Eyvance, and it was awful. It just it made me super depressed, and it was so obvious that it was just those hours when it was in my system, so I quit that pretty quickly and tried something else which works much better. But at that point when the medication wasn't working, I thought, I guess I don't have ADHD then because I don't have the same experience as Stu or a couple of other people that I know. But then I had a similar experience [as you] with the second line that I've tried, methylphenidate, so Concerta, although I don't feel like the effects have been as drastic for me as it has for you. But when I stopped because I was really ill and then, oh my God, you I remembered how it was without meds, and realized OK, this is why I’m just standing in a supermarket, going, I don't know what I'm doing here, I'm getting palpitations because I need to get lunch, but I'm actually unable to choose anything.

Stu Yeah, like when I messaged you: I'm walking around the shopping centre, I'm just trying to find somewhere to have a coffee and it's taking me an hour... It's those things that like really bring it home. So, it's kind of like validating it from both ends. Does the medication make a difference? Oh well, yes, it does. OK, right. What if I stopped taking it? That equally validates things. Although not having the medication has been very difficult in terms of my family, the same old things are creeping back in: being distant, zoning out or just being focused on things and not seeing anything else than the things that I'm interested in. It's all continuing to make sense.

Eva I get that with the meds and I've actually just had conversation with my psychiatrist saying we probably need to try something else. I had some genetic testing done that confirmed what my psychiatrist thought, which was that I’m weird also the way I respond to the meds.

Stu Just your genetic makeup is weird.

Eva Yeah, I’m really sensitive to psychiatric meds of many kinds. I've had side effects where my psychiatrist said, yeah, we really would not have expected that. So now she's super cautious and starting me on very low doses, but fair enough, at least we've figured it out. So, for me the journey is continuing. I don't feel like I've reached the end, although if this is it, if this is the only improvement I can see, then it's still a massive thing.

Stu I think it's an exploration more than anything after spending so many years of, from my point of view, thinking it is all related to trauma. But I’ve done so much work on that trauma and I'm comfortable with that now. Of course, it's had an impact, but this stuff [symptoms] is now continuing, so what is it? It's a constant exploration. After spending years and years finding a way through life, now you're just exploring the boundaries of what ADHD means for us, for us both. What it means in terms of our relationships, in terms of socially, in terms of day-to-day functioning, the impact on writing, for example, and in terms of creative outputs. We’re just trying to explore and understand our own boundaries of what it means.

 

11:26 3. Reflecting on Past Writing

Eva Since we're down that route, first thing I wanted to do is reflect on your past writing, because I've done a bit of that. Partly since I haven't been doing a lot of very new writing, because I’m in the middle of reworking a big project. I’m looking at things I wrote before I even thought about the possibility of having ADHD and now I’m thinking it’s obvious – both in terms of the fact that the characters were based on me and therefore I could kind of see it, but also in terms of modes of writing. What about you? Have you reflected on stuff you’ve written in the past?

Stu I look back on the first real thing, I say real things - everything's a real piece of writing, but I guess my first couple of books and what they were based on. I felt like in my first pamphlet, called Waterbearer, it was about exploring past trauma and what that meant. And when I look at that now, yes, it is about that, but it's also about relationships and it's about me the centre of things and not just the trauma. I was starting to figure out that there was a deeper impact and I guess as my writing’s progressed. Waterbearer was very much focused on the trauma side of things, and the next book, called Obligate Carnivore, started to look wider. I was thinking about masculinity, and what it means to be a man. And in doing so, I think what I was saying is, what does it mean to be me, without realizing it. I thought I was going to write about masculinity, but subconsciously I was starting to explore what it really meant to be me and starting to get to grips with these feelings that I was having about identity and my experiences in my life. The book that just came out in August, which is called End Ceremonies, it's about the duality of identity and there's masculinity caught up in this as well. But actually, when I started writing it, I kind of didn't really know what it was and but now I realize that it was about me coming to terms with finding a new identity and that’s why it is called End Ceremonies.

Eva I’m not sure, because I don't know what the timeline is: were you writing End Ceremonies when you got the diagnosis or was this done?

Stu I was halfway through getting a diagnosis. So, it's in kind of a sweet spot on getting that diagnosis.

Eva When I read Obligate Carnivore, obviously neither of us knew these things. But then when I read End Ceremonies, we talked about getting diagnosed. I didn't know whether I was putting things in, but it kind of makes sense, although it doesn't matter whether you had a diagnosis or not, if you were exploring those things. There were things in the collection that that really chimed with me. Especially the poem “Daytime Anxiety Practice”... “Everyday hypochondria has unregulated medical practice.”

Stu I think writing is really weird because, I don't know about you, but I can never remember what I've written. I can't really. When I pick that book up now, I can't remember writing that. And then I read it and I realise, Ohh that's what it means. The understanding is almost retrospective.

Eva Maybe we can only reflect on how diagnosis affects our writing in retrospect?

Stu Maybe, maybe.

Eva That's an interesting thought.

Stu Maybe because you write there's a conscious element to it, and there's always an unconscious element. And I do think that it's not until you look back in retrospect that that unconscious element starts to reveal itself. In retrospect might mean the day after you've written something, it might mean six months after written something. You look at it and realise, that's what I was getting at. The retrospective element is you analyzing and looking at it and that is where that understanding starts to really sink in maybe.

Eva Unless you set out to write about diagnosis. I have written a piece about going in and doing the weirdest thing ever, the ADOS-2, which is where they talk to you for 60 minutes and decide whether you're autistic or not. I wrote about it, but even reading that later, I kind of understand new ways of how I process that experience, I guess. You're always rewriting. My really big work in progress I'm doing now, Stockholm, is really fragmented and I think if was going to try to narrativize this in terms of the diagnosis, I wrote my first book in a similar way, but then I put it all together in the form of a novel because I felt that was I what I should do, what a prose book should look like. Whereas now, I don't care, I'm going to write it the way I want to. The first iteration was pretty obscure and now I'm trying to make it slightly more readable for the “normal” mind...

Stu And that's OK, right? That's still an authentic piece of writing because you've written something and you're still synthesizing it and rewriting. The point you just made about that we are constantly rewriting, not just in terms of writing, but in terms of how we see our lives, maybe understanding is rewriting? Yeah, and that's completely fine.

Eva I don't have an issue with the authenticity. It’s more just trying to figure out the way my brain works and how that looks on the page, and is that something that I have to do, or is it something that allow to happen, is it something I encourage? I guess that depends on the project, the project I'm writing now, which is all about migration and identity and belonging to different nations, it's necessarily fragmented, the fragmentation is part of the central idea of the migrant experience, therefore that works. I don't feel that I am forcing that and certainly the idea for the book came way before thinking about ADHD. What about the stuff you're writing now?

18:16 4. Present Writing, Meds and Writing and Meds and Working

Stu I feel like End Ceremonies has kind of drawn a bit of a line underneath that chapter of self-discovery. Now, as cliche as it sounds, I'm interested in more political writing and protest writing…

Eva Kind of feels like time for it.

Stu It's nice to focus on something different, but I still feel very strongly about it. There are still things about myself that creep into that writing, because I think it's very difficult to separate the self out. The stuff that I'm writing now is still about being an outsider. It's about being on the fringes. It is looking at the world from an outside point of view, looking at inequality and people who were pushed out of society and why they're pushed out of society and politically, how institutions and structures work, and the impact that they have on people, economically, socially, financially. Things that I have experience of, growing up in a council house with a divorced parents and numerous different people and financial hardship and all that. The political side of things has always been present, so I'm still writing about things that I feel very strongly about and know about and have experienced. It’s just looking at it from a slightly different point of view.

Eva There is a whole politics of neurodivergence as well. I haven't really got there yet, but that is something really interesting and but I guess we have to explore the personal first. I do before I can go on to do [political writing].

Stu It’s interesting you say that because a lot of the current poems are very angry, I guess, venomous poems. You can draw some comparisons with how neurodivergent people can feel as the outsider and a lot of that anger and rage and those really powerful emotions that get turned inward. We turn them on ourselves. So there are still those kind of elements creeping into it. It has just occurred to me as we talk about it.

Eva It will be interesting to see what comes out of that. Thinking not so much in terms of content or way of writing, but in the practice of writing, do you think the meds have, for example, changed the way you approach writing? The medication has certainly made it easier for me to sit down and write. In that way it's been quite a game changer. I've realized that the reason I wasn't doing what I really wanted to do, which was to write, wasn't because there's something wrong with me… Well, no there was something wrong with me because I didn't fit into the mold, but it feels like a release that I now know why. I had this weird experience with a bad therapist who tried to suggest to me that if I found my vocation in life, things would feel easy. I almost, thought well, writing is so damn hard, maybe it's just not what I should be doing and I shudder to think that she might have persuaded me not to write.

Stu My output is very prolific. I’m writing all the time, and prior to understanding about ADHD, it took a lot out of me in terms of energy. I felt compelled to do it. It was the only way that I could express myself, but I found it took a lot of energy. I'm just trying to think through why that might be and maybe it’s because of the focus and the need to express yourself properly. Personally, for me, getting caught up in being so overly focused on something that it becomes all-consuming. That can have its benefits, but it's also incredibly tiring. Whereas now, some of the writing that I have done just recently has been some of the most fun and enjoyable stuff that I've written. I was worried to start with, that medication would take away any kind of creativity. It hasn't at all. It's not impacted on that at all. The medication is not just a magic bullet that instantly makes you function normally and think about things the “right” way. It just doesn't work like that. But it enables day-to-day functionality, and in some respects it can make writing easier, I think, because you can go about it in a lighter way, if that makes any sense?

Eva Yes, I think it takes away some of the effort. For me, it was such an incredible effort to actually get going. I think that we are different in this. One of my major issues I've had all my life is executive dysfunction. If there are too many things I want to do or if I put too much pressure on myself, like with writing, I'm just like a rabbit in the headlights, I totally freeze up and I don't do anything. I just get paralyzed, and there the meds have 100% helped and that's why they're life-changing. Even just focusing, you were talking about how tiring it was writing. If you’re constantly having to bring your mind back into the fold that's so much more tiring, and if it quietens down a bit it it's just easier.

Stu There’s an anxiety that comes with it as well. Now I understand it’s a result of the neurodivergence, and this might be specific to me, you might be different in this, but it comes with writing a piece and then wanting it to be right. Keeping going back to it, feeling it's not right. It's not perfect. It's not how I want it. The writing bit it's still really fun, but then there’s the editing and the shaping of it. I never seem to reach a place where I'm absolutely happy with it. It's always not quite good enough.

Eva Yes, I don’t think you ever do, but you can manage that anxiety. I actually derive quite a lot of pleasure from trying to make something really perfect at the same time as I also burn myself out trying to.

Stu I feel differently about it now. Just knowing makes that easier cause you can go right, hold on a second, let's just take a moment and take a look at what we're doing and not necessarily getting so wound up about it.

Eva I also I've also been able understand that is what is happening. I'm getting wound up. I need to step away. I need to go and do something else because it's getting ridiculous, and I'm not going to achieve anything in the next few hours if I just carry on. I learned that and I think that's just the insight [into the diagnosis] even without the meds. It's that knowing what's going on. I still have the suspicion that with the meds we’re just trying to fit ourselves into the models of what an adult should do nine to five. I’m suspicious that’s what the meds are allowing me to do. At the same time, they're allowing me to achieve stuff that I'm happy with, whether that's society telling me to achieve it or not.

Stu That is a really interesting point of wanting to be medicated to be able to function as an, in inverted commas, normal person. I now have more self-acceptance. I don't ever want that. I'm happy with myself. I do think that there is a danger that you take the medication and now you can work more and you can do your job better. I only want to be able to do that so I don't get fired, so that I can continue to have an income. I don't want to do it so that people go ohh like look at this nice, normal, happy worker.

Eva Absolutely. For me, the diagnosis has explained why I haven't actually had a normal job in the last [decades]. I've been lucky enough not to have to support myself fully, so therefore I didn't – I couldn't and I felt so, so bad about it. I felt absolutely lacking, because I just didn't seem to be able to hold down a job. God knows what would happen if I actually had to feed myself. Now I don't feel so bad about it, so that's good. At the same time, I have started another job and I'm really torn about it because I know the meds are allowing me to function better in that job, but I don't know whether that is the right thing for me.

Stu You’ve just made me realise, that the biggest source of discomfort and anxiety in my life has been trying to fit into a regular way of living or the expected way of living, like in the jobs that I've had. I've been in my job for many, many years, but I've been incredibly good at pretending to be somebody else. Now I realize the amount of energy it takes to do that. I shudder to think the damage that I've done to myself just trying to maintain a certain way of being, a certain level of existence. I've had to employ this level of anxiety to function. I'm starting to lose that now and be less concerned about it. That’s one of those occasions where I think, I wish I'd have known.

Eva Same. There is always that regret that if you get diagnosed later in life, thinking about what could I have achieved or how much better could I have felt, but there's only so much you can do. We can't really say. There’s also something that comes with age where you give less fucks, and you're also more stable and you have a network and then therefore you can accept yourself. I wonder how it had been if we’d been diagnosed at twenty.

Stu Of course. 

 

29:30 5. Writing in Different Forms, Hyperfixation and Writing 

Eva Bringing you back to writing, and we talked a little bit about this before, about writing being a way of expressing ourselves. I find it difficult in spoken [communication] because I try to put everything right in my head and then I need to start at this end, and I go way back, and by the time I even get anywhere close to what we’re talking about, people have lost interest. At that point I have no idea what I'm saying because I also think, ohh I need to tell you that thing before I forget about it, and everything becomes an absolute jumble. I've talked about this to other people on the Dx Diagnosis and Writing website and hopefully more people will contribute. For me, writing has been a way of being able to sit down and organize my thoughts and express them in a way that feels I can communicate with people better. For me that's a relief but I know not everyone feels like that and some people feel like they have to fit their writing into a certain mold in order to for it to work - more or less. I also wonder whether the reason I started off by being an academic and writing academically was that it really forced me to organize my thoughts. I've become like, an absolute stickler for logic and progression in writing which I can sort of move away from when I do creative writing, but I think it was a really good exercise for me, and I wonder if that was why I was drawing to academic writing. What do you think about the form you've chosen to write in and the fact that you said that you kind of you felt compelled to write? Can you say more about that.

Stu I've always had a need for a creative outlet, whether that was music or whether it's writing. When I was 12/13 I was touring in the country in the back of a van in punk bands and stuff, because that was my outlet. It was music. It also got me away from the family home as well. I feel like writing is a way for me of just emptying my head. The only way I can describe it is noise and sitting down and writing is like pouring it out. It's like opening your head and pouring it out onto a page and then sifting through it and putting it into some kind of shape.

Eva Yeah, and that is a massive relief to someone who has heads like ours, right?

Stu Poetry is perfect because it's shorter bursts of writing that contains a lot of punch in terms of emotion, and that's what I wanted to achieve, and I have the attention for is these shorter bursts of stuff. I've tried to write longer pieces. I've tried to write pieces of fiction and they just tail off. I tail off.

Eva I wonder whether I really sabotaged myself because I always thought I should write a novel that looked exactly like the novels I studied in my English Lit degree, which I know it's nonsense, but that's how you think. Now I realise that the way I write is very much bursts of short intense moments, even though they then get put it into a longer piece. That's how it works. I recognize that. But it is interesting that we've chosen different forms.

Stu Poetry is perfect for me personally because, I can just pick up a book and read some short bursts of words that I really love, and then I can put it away and it's done for now. It's not like I have to read a book from start to finish.

Eva I'm have a PhD in English Lit and you'd think I'd be good at reading but I find paying attention to a book incredibly difficult and I don't know why I do it to myself - at the same time as I love it. But if it really resonates with me, I do get there, which brings me back to hyper fixation. I was laughing about this with you earlier, that you've got a new hyper fixation and therefore I wasn't sure whether I would ever get this interview. I know how that is. I want to ask you about managing that. It sounds like you're more able to channel that into writing, because for me it's been difficult to make sure that I hyper fixate on the writing I want to be doing. The side quests are always more exciting, whether that is doing something else than writing procrastinating not to write, or whether it's writing something else. I think, I'm just going to write this short story, not the novel that I've got going. How do you manage that?

Stu Yeah, it's difficult because I'll go through bursts. When I've started a project, it becomes all consuming until it's done. There are pros and cons to this. The pros being that you're in a in a flow of writing, you're constantly in touch with the work. It's all very joined up and you can get a lot done. The output can be quite prolific. The downside is that everything else takes a back seat in day-to-day life and you don't sleep much and you wake up thinking about it. This is my experience, I have to work on it until it's done, but even then it's not really done until all the editing's done, and it's not until it's actually published that it’s done. But then as soon as it's done, I've forgotten about it.

Eva I've decided the last couple of years that I just cannot do several things – I can multitask, but in a very chaotic way –I can't just write for three hours and then I'm go on to do something else, that doesn't usually work. If I have to clean the house, then I'll clean the house, but then I can't write, so I've decided that I the house is just going to go uncleaned because I need to prioritize something and I want to prioritize my writing. There's stuff that I've just stopped caring about, and I'm so relieved. I just can't be doing all of it. Some people can. I can't.

Stu I totally get that. In day-to-day relationships, my partner will find it really difficult. She asks, why can't you just do an hour of writing and then do some housework? I can sit and write. I could sit and write when I'm in it, put in six, seven, eight hours and not realise, until somebody comes and says, are you going to have a shower or something? Oh, yes! And then I ignore that and continue writing.

Eva I think one of the reasons I had paralysis was because I was constantly thinking I do need to have a shower and I do have to do X, Y and Z but that just led to me doing nothing. I just couldn’t fit that into my head.

Stu I don't necessarily get caught in that, I get more caught in the compulsion to do the thing that I wanna do takes over. 

Eva I think that's where we’re different.

Stu I've done this with everything, not just writing. For a period of time I got into running and started off, I'll do 5K and then it was, I’ll do 10K, and then I'll do a half marathon and then I did a marathon and then I ran 40 miles. I thought, oh, this is great this is healthy and good and I have this nice hobby, but then my family sat down and asked, are you ever gonna talk to us? Are you gonna spend some time with us? That’s the point when I realized, oh shit, everything has taken a back seat, everything has taken a back seat. This is all I've been about. Balance is so hard to achieve for me.

Eva It's really hard. That’s where I've now thought, if I am going to hyper focus on one thing, it's going to be the writing. I try to steer myself towards that because Iotherwise I will be running or doing papier maché for six months. And then I’ll think, oh, wait, what happened? I will have learned everything [about something] and then I'll finish it and go, OK, I'm done. I've wasted so much time like that. For me the meds are helping me to force myself to do the stuff I need to do, to overcome certain barriers.

Stu I think they help me to be more present. In that I can just take a moment and think. I can feel myself sitting down and getting into something, then think alright, hold on, there are actually the people that I need to think about.

Eva OK. No. The medication makes me less present I think, but it makes me do more. That is where our symptoms are different. I had this conversation with psychiatrist where she told me when you see these meds working, you're going to get more organized, but I told her this is not happening. I am not getting more organized. That’s the thing, you can’t draw conclusions from one person's experience.

Stu No, the medication is not a one size fits all.

Eva We're clearly different, but as I said before, at the same time it's so comforting having you around because there are certain things that I know you will understand and we can laugh about. Maybe because we didn't know each other that well. I thought oh, there's this guy who I don't really know, but he's going through the same thing and he's got a really good sense of humor. I just felt so nice to be able to text you, look at this photo of my key in my door – again! – and it's open.

Stu This is why I think that people that we find each other, because you need somebody that you can just send a message to and say, look, just to let you know, I've spent two hours in the Yankee Candle shop trying to find the optimum Christmas candle, and then the other person will say, oh yeah, I did that last weekend. It's that mutual reassurance that you're not on your own. If you think back in our lives, there are moments of incredible loneliness. I've always felt incredibly lonely. That’s not because I've not had friendships or relationships, they have always existed. It’s an internal loneliness because you just feel like you are so separate and having somebody to talk to about it, whether that's about just general day-to-day things or writing or projects or creativity, and the different ways of approaching it, it’s incredibly wholesome and reassuring. It makes you realize that you're not on your own. You're not on your own with it.

 

40:59 6. Emotional Dysregulation and Dealing with Rejection 

Eva You both get reassurance and recognition, but also other ideas and other perspectives, that is very wholesome. Another thing I understood about with the diagnosis is what they call emotional dysregulation, and I'm having continual talks about with my lovely therapist who also has ADHD, about what is this DYS? What are regulatedemotions? Choosing to be a writer, it seems to me writing is obviously an outlet for the emotions, etc. but holy shit, but trying to get published is the worst thing in terms of rejection. You end up going between feeling like you're the king of the world because somebody said something nice about your writing to, oh my God, I'm never going publish again. Everyone hates me. I may just as well quit now.

Stu I still don't deal with this very well. I've got better. Generally day-to-day, everybody struggles with rejection. But I've experienced rejection in writing throughout my, say, career – I don't like to use the word career. When I started submitting and getting rejections I found it incredibly difficult. To the point of having some very dramatic emotional responses to it, dissociation, anger, depression. And whilst that still exists to a degree now, it's happened so many times I’ve, through exposure, got to more of a philosophical position where I think, actually none of this really matters that much. Who am I writing for? I'm writing for me. If something doesn't get accepted, it doesn't get accepted. The fact that I've written it and enjoyed writing it is the most important thing, and I know you say well, that's a bit of a cop out because you're getting rejected, but I feel this genuinely.

Eva That is true but at the same time, we are also social creatures, and we need validation and I'm struggling with that question at the moment. How much validation do I need? How much validation do I want to need? How much do I push myself not to need it in order to get to that point you’re talking about? One of the reasons I was not writing creatively for a long time is that I’ve been so scared of the rejection, but I've realized if you don't submit anything, you'll definitely not get published. I do get those visceral reactions to an e-mail saying, thank you, but no, thank you. I realize that I will have a horrible emotional reaction that most people would probably term dysregulated, but I just let it happen. If I let it happen, it will blow over. So, if I need to cry or go punch something, then I do that and I just sit with it. I know that within a few hours, I will feel better. It's that quick. If I start brooding on it or try stopping it, then it will go on for longer. That’s how I'm dealing with it.

Stu I think it’s very healthy to allow all that to happen and not try and fight against it. That’s part of where I've struggled. I think, no, everybody gets rejections, I shouldn't have this reaction. I think if you do accept that this has made you feel really shitty, and also understand that you’re feeling shitty because genuinely you care about it and you want to do well and you want people to like what you've written. Yeah, writing sucks.

Eva The thing is we use writing in order to regulate our brain. So, it's obviously very personal and we are pouring our emotions into it which is making th rejections even more emotional.But I’ve also recently tried recently to channel some of the resentment and anger that I feel at being rejected into more writing. I think, fuck you, I am going to just write some more, I don't care what you say. It works quite well as I inevitably I feel better because at least I've written another couple of paragraphs.

Stu I have always struggled generally with rejection. I've always been worried about what people have thought about me personally, and then you put yourself out there as a writer and you think, oh, I've just put like the most personal things out there to complete strangers to read. Why? Why am I doing that to myself? It's strange, isn't it? 

Eva Really odd choice, but then there’s that creative compulsion and that if we didn't do the creative stuff, we'd really be in trouble.

Stu Definitely without out a doubt it would be… yeah. No, that's not... I shudder to think.  That's not a good place. Not at all.

46:11 7. Neurodivergence and the media, and skateboarding

Eva I think I've gone through most of list of questions. Do you have anything else to add in terms of diagnosis and writing and poetry?

Stu One thing that I would like to say is that I feel that particularly in the media at the minute there is a trivialization of neurodiversity and ADHD in particular as being something that is very fashionable and trendy.

Eva Yeah, that's an interesting point.

Stu Honestly, having ADHD is incredibly difficult. We talk about the superpowers that come with it, but they can come at a cost. I just think it's important to point out that it's very difficult, not just for you as an individual, but the people that you live with and the relationships that you have. Sometimes mine can get lost a little bit, the impact on them is severe, and I know that personally. I don't think social media necessarily helps, there’s a lot of social media content that trivializes and makes neurodiversity out to be something that's a bit quirky and funny.

Eva The annoying thing to me is that it's neurodivergent people themselves who are glamorizing these things, putting up a nice a Instagram, or TikTok post.

Stu But I relate to all of those things! I think it's misunderstood, maybe by some of the mainstream media you look at that and say, oh it’s just influencers and people looking for attention.

Eva Although damn it, we really do like attention.

Stu Who doesn't!?

Eva I’d like to add two things. Obviously, social media is still a young people's game to certain extent, and I feel like it would be nice to hear slightly more serious stuff from mature people that have more experiences to talk about. That’s really ageist! Also from young people who would talk about different experiences. And this is my second point. I don’t think the relationship impact is talked about. We laugh about that as well, this happened to me, look, I'm so quirky! and it's very much a personal experience. Actually, that's really impacting people around us and impacting relationships.

Stu From my point of view, maybe it's because the time when I've had a diagnosis and understood it, it's also the time where people are saying that it's trivial and I guess I'm fighting against that as well as coming to terms with the serious side of it so. Maybe I just need to chill out?

Eva No. Everyone else might have to chill out. I think about being diagnosed in middle-age, which is fucking difficult as it is. It’s both a boon and a curse to be diagnosed in middle-aged because partly you've got more experience and you can rationalize some of the stuff that you're going through, but as we’ve said, we've got so many regrets and it's also throwing another spanner in the works when you're aging and also feeling like life choices are drastically cut down because you’ve only got so many years to live and all that stuff.

Stu That's a very important point. I do think that whether it's just naturally a part of getting older and giving less fucks, so to speak, and thinking let’s not about things too much and just and do the things that we want to do. If that means focusing on the things that we want to focus on and hyper fixate on, so be it, but do the things that bring you happiness and joy during those times because otherwise it's more wasted time. It's more time that's lost. That’s something I’ve reflected on a lot. Just don’t worry, do the things that you want to do. Do. It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks or says or does. I have thought about skateboarding again, but you know at 45 that's probably not a good idea.

Eva I went through a phase of skateboarding quite recently, and what you don’t know is that part of my ADHD is severe dyspraxia, I do not have any kind of body-mind coordination at all...

Stu I'm terrible, terrible, actually.

Eva ...but I do have a skateboard behind the door. It's a really nice one actually. I used to put on my ski helmet, and obviously pad because I was petrified that I was going to kill myself, but I didn't. But then that phase passed, so it’s fine.

Stu I came close to killing myself a few times. I've broken several bones from skateboarding, so it's probably not a good idea that I take that up now.

Eva Now I'm all for skateboarding.

Stu I'm going to do it now, you've said that, that's it.

Eva Fine. Let's go skateboarding. 

About Stuart McPherson 

About Stuart

Stuart McPherson is a prize-winning poet from the UK. His poems have appeared in Butcher’s Dog Magazine, Bath Magg, Poetry Wales, Anthropocene, Blackbox Manifold, Finished Creatures, and The87press. In October 2022, Stuart was the winner of the Ambit Annual Poetry Competition. His second collection End Ceremonies was published via Broken Sleep Books on August 31st 2023.

Stuarts latest project is tried/failed (-Ed.)

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