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  • Helen Dempsey-Henofer

#14: Humanity in Context

the neurodivergent mind and a world on fire

CW: If reading a blog post by a psychotherapist that speaks to the link between wellbeing and politics makes your blood boil, you can make the choice not to read on. This writer views mental health and the context we live in as inextricably linked. It's also 100% okay not to read to be gentle with yourself and give yourself a break.

 

Across the United States there have been alarming recent political shifts threatening human rights: from the Dobbs decision in June, overturning Roe v Wade, to widespread anti-transgender legislation, largely removing protections for transgender children.


Many have embodied the values of resistance and liberation by taking massive action: coordinated efforts to preserve access to services aligned with bodily autonomy and personal dignity. Here's a local news story about kids in my community doing just this. While grateful to my bones to those taking action, I also think of factors that make action enormously challenging.


Namely, neurodivergence (ND).


Most often, living in the TikTok era, the word neurodivergence is commonly associated ADHD and autism. The word is also used to include all variances in brains outside of what might be considered neurotypical (NT).


Attacks on queer human rights become especially relevant at the ND intersection: neurodivergence and queerness have a significant overlap. It's estimated that over 70% of autistic people are also LGBTQIA+ and research indicates possible correlations between ADHD and greater fluidity in sexuality.


While many ND people's human rights are under attack, the experience of neurodivergence can make taking resistance and liberation aligned actions really f*cking challenging. There are inherent challenges in navigating systems designed for and by neurotypical minds. Add to this the reality that ND often coexists with anxiety and depression. Autistic folks experience depression at four times the rate of their NT peers and anxiety disorders are prevalent in people with ADHD. When getting off the couch or having a conversation feels like an insurmountable task, going to a protest is that plus many additional steps.

If this is you, you're a neurodivergent person experiencing attacks on your human rights, it can be enormously difficult to advocate for yourself. Here's what I invite you to do:


Imagine having a friend in this situation. They feel like they should be doing more: protesting, organizing, calling politicians, writing letters. At the same time, you can see that they are struggling with the energetic toll of existing in a world that can be unsupportive of diversity. They're exhausted! Notice how you respond to them. Try treating yourself with the same sort of compassion. If that's unclear, try this in letter form. Write a letter to a character (make up a name) who is experiencing your struggles. Once you're done writing, cross out their name and write in your own. The reason to start with imagining how you'd treat someone else is because it's often much easier to give kindness to others than it is to ourselves.


&


Take an inventory of your spoons. Spoon theory was developed to describe, and support people living with chronic illness, the reality of and need to budget for limited energy. Imagine you start the day with certain number of spoons (units of energy) and each task uses up a spoon. Once your spoons are gone, it become untenable to keep going. When choosing how to use your spoons, it makes sense to prioritize what matters, say no to what doesn't and be gentle with yourself when you've run out of spoons.



Reading an article isn't therapy. If you're in Virginia and looking for a therapist, visit the website to schedule a free consultation. While not a substitution for the individual care of mental health treatment, this blog is intended to put therapy concepts into writing so that they can be accessed more widely. If you know someone who'd benefit, forward this on to them. There are two ways to sign up, a consent checkbox for new clients in intake, or easy-peasy from the website... available for anyone.

 

It may have taken a spoon or two to read this. If so, I hope that you found this post was helpful to you. If part of you is annoyed at being given permission to rest when needed, notice that. We live in a world that is fraught with not-so-helpful ableist messages about productivity. Prioritize what matters to you, being mindful of your own capacity.


If you're someone who isn't ND and/or hasn't experienced threats to your human rights in the past year, I'm also glad that you're here. I consistently find increasing understanding of others' experiences can bring awareness to our own, that privilege equates with existing in contexts taken for granted: if you're neurotypical, you exist in a world that favors NT people but likely don't notice it because it doesn't create friction for you. This same thing is true of all sorts of privilege and reading/learning from others experiences can help you be more aware of the context and relationships you're in.


When I began writing this, I started with a title of "Well, F*ck" as I've sometimes feel overwhelmingly discouraged by the context we're in and those are the first words that come up. Edits made for sharing purposes/community standards.


No matter how you experience your identity, I invite you to embrace (and when you've got the spoons, to fight for) diversity within us and among us. You being you makes a difference. Or, in the words of Audre Lorde, "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare."


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