When Sachin, my platonic nesting partner, said they would be a fly on the wall as I sat down to write this piece, they had no clue that there were literally hundreds of flies on the wall a while ago. These were stubborn flies – they had built a kind of a nest for themselves in a secret cupboard and were feeding off sambar powder and chaat masala. I have infinite such chambers of horrors at my place, and these aren’t the cabinets of curiosities I have built with care as I do at our museum for a living. As I languished, unable to find the inspiration and dopamine to design hands-on cabinets around gender and science for a learning space, here I was sitting and working with a cabinet full of stubborn flies.
Our domestic workers Geeta and Manjula were done with it . Geeta aunty said, “You promise to do it but never come about doing it. Don’t claim to be good at something when you aren’t”. As she asked me to clear the chaat masala boxes, I swatted the flies with a mosquito bat. I had begun to like them. I had known them for generations. I could shoo them away from my pizza but even leave a bit at the end for them to relish. This is also the reason I never wanted to hire domestic workers. I did not want them to be subjected to my ADHD (Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder) mess. And this was covid + grief + anxiety + depression + heartbreak mess. Quite intersectional, you know!
She asked me to order good food and chai so that we could sit and eat along with some festive food she had got for me in return, to cool off from the acrobatics of cleaning flies. While eating she told me how I behave similarly to a close relative of hers—how he struggles to get up daily, and always makes a mess of everything. One day, he gets the “mood” and cleans it up only for the world to fall apart again. He was someone whose bill I had footed when he was admitted to the hospital last time. All this meant lesser income for the household. She calls me a “Kumbhakarna”, one who sleeps forever and hardly opens the door. But it works out for both of us – there are weeks she does not work when she’s busy with other things, and there are days like this when both of us are free and work with immense focus. I thought this was feminist solidarity of some kind, while being careful to always pitch in and clean with them if things are out of hand and pay more than market rates in a market that’s abusive of the caste-class oppression of domestic labour. But there was more – we both understood our crip needs (disability needs). I helped Manjula aunty figure out her disability quota, while she heard my ADHD woes and had a hearty laugh.
Being queer often implies a loss of family and being told I was like Geeta aunty’s grandson along with her husky laughs reminded me of my granny. Without neurotypical people who “prop” you up life becomes harder than it already is. But could her loved one afford this very luxury?
(This anecdote was shared with their informed consent and royalty.)
A few minutes after the fly episode, I made my way through the slick Bengaluru roads to a neuro-queer lesbian play ‘Neela Bhoomi’, directed by Prarthana Chettri, Tamilarasi R. and Aditi Gautam. I stopped at a chaat shop and arrived a good half an hour late. Unlike Ranga Shankara where I’ve missed countless plays (ironically about mental health and disability) while being on queer dates. BIC allowed me in, even without an RSVP. As I snuck in, thinking I would be a total mess and disturb everyone, they asked me not to sit on the very seat I was inching towards. I had to “disturb” the folks to sit in the middle of a filled row. I lost my water bottle in the middle of all of this. At that very moment, I began to feel thirsty.
But why was half the seating kept empty? Why was the audience sitting on stage? The protagonist Bhoomi’s house was a mess. A total mess like mine. She could not play music on her phone. She tried a couple of times before throwing it away in frustration (just like once I’d done to my fancy Samsung Fold that could never be unfolded again). Suddenly, the phone started blaring loud music. Seeing this, she started dancing without worrying about her phone at all. She kept getting calls from work but she put it on her quilt and dozed off. Post nap, while walking, broke a mug and pierced her leg (just like how I forgot my towel and slipped while coming out from shower to shower to make it to this very play). Was my life playing out on stage? When was the last time my home was on stage and even worthy of a stage? In reality, I don’t even feel my home is a home – it feels so broken and dysfunctional.
When finally her partner Neela comes home, Bhoomi isn’t able to show her face. Bhoomi is drowned in guilt. The light is focussed on all of us instead of the stage. What’s happening? That’s when I realised why half the hall was intentionally kept empty. The strict rules of what is a stage and how we treat it, right from the rules of Natyasastra, were upended. We were all on stage. It was my home too. I had also occupied the theatre, however queer, and however late. Right next to me, was Bhoomi, crying out loud with the guilt of breaking Neela’s beautiful mug. Neela consoled her with a hug and said, “It’s ok, we will fix it”. Just like Sachin says every single time I break something. When Bhoomi asks Neela why she’s so stubborn she replies, “I wouldn’t be here with you if I weren’t stubborn.” She massages Bhoomi’s back, just like Sachin does when my mind or body is broken. She tickles, touches and literally mimics pulling out the knot of anxiety in her chest, and lets it all fly away with a cuddle.
As I sit teary eyed, grateful to have Sachin in my life, never acknowledging their care labour from building a messy home with me all the way until giving a title to this piece and painstakingly editing it my mind drifts to an art exhibition I visited in Delhi titled “Resting museum”, curated by a friend Shreyasi Pathak and Priyanka D’Souza. As I struggled my way through Delhi’s hot, forested, intimidating Defence Colony, I couldn’t find the gallery. After an hour-long search, I entered the exhibition in what looked like a posh underground bunker. I made my way down the familiar quiet space that white cube museums are like, perfect for my overstimulated but dopamine-drained ADHD brain.
While I found it hard to read the curatorial note, there were highlighted handwritten sections around the main text which explained what the high-sounding words meant – how neat! You see, folks with ADHD often need such accessibility – special fonts (focus sans/bionic font), repeated content to bring focus back, activities to give a dopamine rush (as that is what their brain chemically lacks), a quiet space to relax when over-stimulated (sensory overload), someone to sit with and help finish a task (body-doubling), an inherent understanding that ADHD is considered a disability with symptoms that could make daily life very hard. Clumsiness, impulsivity, “dirtiness”, hygiene issues, loss of focus doing “boring things”, hyperfocus on certain “interesting” things, issues with rage/anxiety/finance/emotional management, issues with time management (“chronic” lateness) and sustained effort, pretending to be neurotypical (masking), struggle with work-life balance, being misunderstood and thus becoming a people pleaser, issues with planning even daily tasks (executive dysfunction) – these are all too real to be dubbed being “lazy” or “careless”. These are issues most people have, but folks with clinical ADHD have them acutely, interrupting daily well-being to the extent of job losses, mental health disorders, self-esteem erosion, years of inactivity, etc. Folks with ADHD know that they have issues with most of these things and spend a lifetime killing themselves over not being “normal”, and feeling guilty that they are wasting others’ time, never feeling able enough, or constantly battling regrets in life. They are not lazing around and being arrogant when they make it late to an event. They have been trying – by keeping multiple alarms, stressing, finally waking up, falling due to spilt water, forgetting the keys, forgetting tasks due to distraction, and eventually making it ten minutes later – only to be told they weren’t serious enough by a person who feels morally superior because they could wake up to the alarm, shower to good music, for whom doing laundry is “therapy”, who had to brave through some traffic but still manage to be on time.
So who defines what is “normal”? Who is considered as being neuro-“typical” (ones with “typical”/”normative” brains) and neuro-“divergent” (ones with ADHD, autism etc.)? How dissimilar is it compared to being “straight” versus being “queer”? What are the accepted societal gender/neuro norms? I once heard someone ask – if not being able to calculate numbers is dyscalculia, and struggling to spell is dyslexia, what is the struggle of not being able to sing or paint called? Why are the latter not learning disabilities? Why are careers based around the capitalist technology-centred world used to define what a learning disability is, while the lack of other skills is just considered traits? Does a person feel less disabled when the whole neighbourhood/school uses sign language? How would a city full of ramps make my wheelchair-bound grandmother feel?
It is this argument that urged folks to look at ADHD or autism as neurodiversity, and not as neuro-divergence – that the brain is on a spectrum of diversity, just like gender, sex and sexuality. Similar to sexuality, one can often feel they could be neurodivergent, and once affirmed by a therapist/psychologist, the label can mean a world of affirmation in an otherwise confusing world. With more acceptance and access to resources and accessibility, one could simply be themselves without prejudice. I remember seeing this in action in a democratic school (with its own set of challenges) in Berlin, where neurodiverse kids were allowed to be themselves, with access to design their own curriculum, learning hours, learning methods and even run a court for themselves to resolve disputes. At one such school court hearing, the “witness” children weren’t even facing each other. One was “stimming” (stimulating their brain for dopamine) with a toy facing the wall while the other kid was painting on the opposite wall, while they gave testimony. Some of the best conversations around humanities I had were with these kids, who had more knowledge than most of their “normal” peers. I met a queer ADHD couple in Bristol, whose kids called them both as moms. When I asked them how their kids got used to calling them both moms, they replied that a neurodiverse queer world was their normal – anything else would be abnormal. Of all the places I stayed at in Europe, it was their shabby, clumsy, loving home that felt like an actual home away from home for me. It all boils down to conditioning and accessibility.
It is this challenge to the norms – ‘normal’ and fixed identities – that is at the heart of queer and crip theory. As Foucault argues, the need for so much theory around being queer is because it is not considered “natural” to be queer and so much needs to be done to prove this view wrong. It is unnatural to deem being queer unnatural, when in fact it’s all over the place in nature, in most species. Also, what even is ‘natural’? As is evident in above examples, whenever it was normalised to be queer and crip, there was no need to struggle to “fit in”.
However, we need to be wary of “we are all the same” narratives that can accompany the concept of neurodiversity. On their basis, one can harmfully argue against much-needed “accommodations” provided. Such narratives indulge in “spiritual bypassing” (using phrases like “we are all one” on one end, and “specially abled” on the other to divert focus away from equity-based options (not “accommodations” as that signifies that it’s an act of accommodating, vis a vis an equal rights based approach), like enabling oral homework submissions rather than written ones for dyslexic students. But like my friend Shruthi argues, we get these rightful options not because something is wrong with us (we are beautifully diverse), but because something is wrong with the world- it works only for kind of people, because it is ableist.
Queer-crip theory challenges the binary of diversity vs. disability without spiritual bypassing. Here being neuro-queer is both a part of diversity and disability, breaking the binary of having to choose between one or the other. The discourse itself becomes non-binary. Just like the word “queer” which was used pejoratively for someone “different” or “weird” was re-appropriated by the LGBTQIAP+ community, the word “crip” coming from the word crippled has been reappropriated by the disabled community.
While ableism is understood as discrimination against the disabled, critical disability theory questions the very definition of disability. Crip theory, according to McRuer is rooted in calling out ‘compulsory able-bodiedness’ – A cultural understanding which posits disability in terms of lack or imperfection. On the other hand, able-bodiedness is seen as robustness and normalcy. However, many deaf people have reported being more than happy to be just the way they are when people around them know sign language. They describe a beautiful lived experience that people who can “only” speak miss out on. Most gay men would not trade what they feel for other men, and in fact describe what their heterosexual counterparts are in fact missing out on. It is the systemic and societal discrimination that is the problem, not the inherent “disability” or “queerness” in many cases.
Also, compulsory able-bodiedness is linked to compulsory heterosexuality. That one is normal and happy when one is able-bodied and heterosexual is the root of so much trauma for someone who is queer-crip. In critical disability theory, the body-mind is looked at as a singular inseparable unit, which makes disability and queerness inherently intersect. It explains why both are on a spectrum and how neither is liberated or understood without the other. Also, disability is looked at as being in a continuous state of flux rather than a fixed identity – any of us could be disabled one day or at regular intervals (by a road accident or with back pain when temporarily disabled unable to walk). Further, McRuer uses the example of the film ‘As Good As It Gets’ to show us how society tries to fix the disability of the lead character by getting him married to a woman. Often marriage of a disabled/queer/feminist person is considered a ‘fix’.
As someone asked, who declared it “normal” to go to work in the mornings? Why is it the “norm” to be “marrying”, an institution which no other species has adopted? Which and whose rituals are “normal” and whose aren’t? Why is writing considered more “professional” than speaking? Who decides what etiquette and table manners are? Who is a “good” student?
Turns out most rules of the neurotypical world are arbitrary too. Therefore, any “needs” of the neurodivergent should be read as equally valid expressions of life. Like someone said, “For long we have lived by the arbitrary rules of the neurotypicals. Let’s break some rules, and make some new ones”.
This further extends to neoliberal capitalism that feeds into cis-able-heteronormative marriage as a social construct to sustain itself— insurance, housing, and dreamy movies all are designed to strengthen heterosexual marriages and to raise future generations with the same social conditioning. Capitalism and heterosexual-ableism need each other to survive because the feminist crip theory believes in rest as a radical force. Individualism is countered with interdependence for learning and sharing resources. To not work all day long is considered not just a right, but an act of radical care and resistance. Collective ownership of resources (commons) and mutual aid (versus charity based on the accumulated wealth of a few) are encouraged. Radical kindness, radical joy, and the personal being political are thought of as vital in feminist queer-crip theory. Hustle culture, productivity culture, diet culture, fitness culture, and carceral culture get challenged. “There is no liberation of one until there is liberation for all” is a foundational belief. These collectivist ideals are thus a direct challenge to capitalism and casteism. It is because workers’ rights movements happened, because women’s rights were fought for, because sex-worker transgender folks fought on the streets to exist in peace, because anti-caste and anti-racism discourse pushed for human rights, that there is a sliver of acceptance for queer rights. Rights do not evolve in isolation.
However, most privileged gay men co-opt into rainbow capitalism during the pride month or live cis-het-able passing lives while either not caring for queer-crip folks, or actively enabling ableism and transphobia. Most of the crowd that shows up for pride parties does not show up for the trans-remembrance day. Feminist queer-crip theory challenges these very sociocultural and political stances.
The curatorial note of the Resting Museum began with-
It is the precarity of the hour just before daybreak in which an aubade /ǝu ba:d/ is composed. Originating in French literature, this piece of music or poetry traditionally mourns the end of the night, welcomes the light, or both. The preciousness that is bestowed upon this hour comes precisely because of its absolute inability to stay fixed against the rapid movement of time, heralded by the sunlight.
In a similar state of अस्थिरता – flux or instability do those of disabled body-minds often find themselves although the volatile hours are much less romantic. Crip time is time thrown asunder – अस्त व्यस्त – messy, with no clear demarcations…”
Oh, how beautiful! I felt like these words had validated my entire existence. The fact that my messy struggle with time and queerness could have these words, depth, and poetry meant the world to me.
Crip time could be non-linear, just like the pictures of park benches of Ahmedabad in the exhibition – some slanted, some squeezed in, some hazy, some discoloured, some torn, some hurried. In the words of Ellen Samuels, “For crip time is broken time. It requires us to break in our bodies and minds to new rhythms, new patterns of thinking and feeling and moving through the world. It forces us to take breaks, even when we don’t want to, even when we want to keep going, to move ahead.” Here time itself is queer – there are rest days, sad days, hyperproductive days, years that go in “waste”, days that feel like years, nights that becomes days… and living like this is “normal” too and I was not a “freak” (a derogatory word for the disabled from the past). In Samuels’ essay, I had found words to describe my experience of crip time – “beautiful and forgiving”.
The curatorial note goes on – “In its ever-changing unique ways, crip time stands outside of and often battles with the chrono-normative (chronological-“normal”) arc of linear progress. It is a tired and disfigured time hobbling along in a jerky rhythm – a “time out of joint” when the joints are swollen and aching. It is a stretched and collapsed time, looping on itself – repeating, mad and forgetful, in various states of disarray. It is hence a queering of hetero-normative time and resists milestones of life stages, and the fantasy of a bright, productive, forward-oriented future.”
This literally meant being free from years of suffering – suffering about not hitting the right personal milestones while turning 30—not being in Forbes 30 under 30, not doing things my friends relished, not having saved every penny to be a millionaire, not having a big fat Indian wedding, a sophisticated house, kicking myself about planning a pet project instead of cracking IIT-JEE, not having the perfect six pack body. How deeply liberating! The thing about liberation theories of race, caste, queer, crip etc. is that more than society, it first nourishes the practitioner themselves.
Further into the exhibition, the exhibit of a skeletal spine, inspired from Shakespeare’s Hamlet quote “Time out of joint” talked about bodies that are left out of the arc of progress. To just see so many bones, some bent due to being crip,—like the acute sciatic pain of my idle back—kept in their fragile nakedness, reminded me of an amazingly skilled queer-crip friend who once asked me, “What’s the value of my life?” The value of her care and love in baking for me, and for her cats, was reclaimed when I saw this piece. Her very existence was far more valuable than the mediocre achievements of “successful” neurotypical folks. My friend was like the giant tree of the Natural History Museum whose trunk’s age lines were depicted at the exhibition. She had lived as “naturally” as this magnificent tree, without any external trumpets and frills.
Furthermore, crochet art’s back-and-forth nature symbolised the similar nature of crip time. Though beautiful, the pricks of the needle reminded one of the inherent painful nature of it. To be able to take mundane photos like Rohit does, or just sit and crochet, or do art, like my friend Nidhra does on Instagram live sessions of theirs during my “work hours” is a symbol of art being not just therapeutic but the default normal for humans, and thus, an act of both rest and resistance. What is “work” and “life” and “work-life” balance when the very act of living is work of care, sustenance, and resistance?
Romanticisation is a huge pitfall of neurodivergence. Could Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang theory be autistic? Surely Einstein and Newton probably were? The imagination of the “savant genius” which wrongly expects anybody who is neurodivergent to be a creative genius is plain wrong. Tisoncik speaks of “autistic superiority” in a way where autistic people feel they could be superior to neurotypical folks. Russel in his essay “Critiques of the Neurodiversity Movement” argues that this runs the risk of identity politics, similar to any statement that goes “all men are —” being transman-phobic. Thus any attribution of “special ability” can potentially lead to such pitfalls causing disabled folks to feel they aren’t disabled enough. (Also to those who feel irked with the use of the word disabled, Vandita asks of oneself- Why?)
However, creativity, hyperfocus in last-minute projects, crisis management, lateral thinking, etc. are commonly observed in folks with ADHD. This is because neurological development and habits picked up over time yield these traits. The last-minute rush gives sufficient dopamine, in contrast to when there is enough time, making ADHDers efficient last-minute workers (and thus the need for artificial deadlines for ADHDers to get things done on time). This also means that a task that could take ten minutes could be postponed for months in anxiety on the one hand, and on the other hand, a ten-hour task could be completed in an hour when under a dopamine rush. (This is also true right now as I’m rushing to write this long piece in a short time under an imminent deadline.)
This often makes ADHDers excellent crisis managers. The fact that tasks have to be done differently in crises, and queer-crip-specific problems need creative vents of poetry or art, makes ADHDers good at creative professions and coming up with novel ideas. Sure, they can take their own time, work in different crip time blocks, communicate and plan in radically different ways, and have gestation periods of what seems like no having made no progress while there is a creative churn, it is because of these radically different conceptions that creativity arises. Because of this hyper focus, some of the best research, or depthful work could also be done. While most industries and organisations take advantage of this aspect of crip-time – short bursts of intense focus or energy – ADHDers are still expected to adhere to deadlines, project reports etc. And when they fail, they get fired, and are underpaid and unacknowledged, leading to an actual global loss of GDP and human creativity. Also, organisations and individuals, even “progressive” ones discriminate against neurodivergent folks on disclosure of their disability, while in reality, accommodating policies are in the interest of everyone, including neurological folks. This forces one to be in the closet, just like one hides their queerness. What is often not realised is that diversity in hiring makes organisations more productive. A blind designer in a software company can organically help with accessibility in design that can increase the customer base and bring in diverse voices. A study by Dr M V Lee Badgett shows that India alone loses up to 1.7 per cent of its GDP to homophobia.
Trigger warning: suicide
A good example of this is the life of Vincent van Gogh, who was probably both neurodivergent and had mental health challenges. Underappreciated all his life, he survived with the kindness of his brother and a doctor who propped him up and asked to paint as a coping mechanism – and so he did, prolifically. But constant rejection from the capitalistic art market, fellow artists, people he was interested in, society and the horrendous mental asylum he was admitted to made him brand himself a failure. He first cut his own ear and then shot himself to death. More than a century later, not much has changed. He became popular and people visit his shows all around the world (including many neurotypical art “dude-bros” or cis-het folks), oblivious to the van Goghs of the present world. Finding themselves in this seemingly distant, caricatured, tormented artsy man, they ignore the queer-crip artists all around them, who are alive and still aren’t paid enough, commissioned or recognized. It is pertinent to remember that there is research to show that unmanaged adult ADHD can reduce one’s lifespan by up to 13 years on average, with causes ranging from accidents to self-harm.
In the poignant play “Fernando and His Grandmother”, his grandmother Dionisia asks the fabled author Fernando Pessoa, “Why is my mental disease looked at as a disease, and yours as genius?” While the grandmother is admitted to the asylum for having Alzheimer’s and for ‘seeing things’, Fernando invents a new heteronym and writes a new story for every character he ‘sees’ and goes on to be the greatest of Portuguese authors. He writes of being a woman in a story, of his grandmother discovering him having a boyfriend in another, and in yet another story tells him not to fear her death as she revisits him post-death too in his visions. Fernando writes that it was only her who got him, a fellow ‘mad’ person. In one story, during the Portuguese struggle under an authoritarian regime, she asks him to continue to write even though he cannot publish his queer liberatory texts in the hope that it can renew hope in the future when it does get eventually published, which it went on to do, fulfilling her prophecy.
Be it van Gogh or Pessoa, or Neela Bhoomi, or the Resting Museum, these are timeless pieces of queer-crip creations that speak to people beyond borders, languages, and contexts, true to the nature of crip time being bent and going back and forth. As I finish the museum and walk out, Kinshuk, while commissioning this piece, tells me he had read an earlier piece of mine on alternative forms of relationships. He said that although the piece did not adhere to standard rules of writing, it felt like someone on the other side of the page was extending their honest hands for a warm hug, and telling the reader that it was all okay. I guess that is all that ever mattered, of all creative crip processes.
However, the question of who gets access to all of this healing content remains. The TV series Sarabhai vs. Sarabhai has an episode where a domestic worker, called Apsara is mocked for having a name that means an angel when she is dark-skinned. When questioned about why she was crying and not interested in doing domestic work, she says she always wanted to be an actor, causing the privileged Maya Sarabhai to burst out laughing. While her daughter-in-law, Monisha, could get away with having a very messy household, and hardly doing “productive” labour with just an occasional class-based taunt, Apsara would be afforded no such luxury. Her caste-class location would deny her access to resources to manage her neurodivergence/career ambitions/agency the way Monisha could. While Maya wants a play written about the plight of domestic workers, her husband, Indravadan asks her to look at the plight of workers at their own home. This is a sober reminder of how almost all of the crip discourse is still within the domain of the privileged.
While I get to attend shows on crip time, my disabled domestic worker is struggling to get a disability pension card. While I sit with her to help with it, I can’t help but wonder about how garbage segregation, which an ADHDer can legitimately fail at, could affect a domestic worker. How much reparation do I owe? I have seen a recluse student at a public school who showed up only for our maker workshop to be scolded by the Principal for embarrassing him only to later praise the student for building the best prototype. Radical workplace shifts and accommodations are needed across all verticals, and not just for a privileged few.
As my mind zapped in and out of all these stories, the play Neela Bhoomi was drawing to a close. I was anxious that I had missed significant pieces of it, but because the play’s premise was to bring the queer-crip mundane life onstage, it was just the rat going crazy and ruining their date night. Lost in each other’s arms, making the fairy lights fall, the dreamy curtains fall, and the rat was on fire, like the rat “Rowdy” that my mom Shylaja had as an unintended pet. Both Bhoomi and my mom got used to the messiness of the rat and started living with it. When my domestic worker asked if my mom scolded me for my messiness, she had a hearty laugh when I said she had a pet rat and that ADHD was often intergenerational.
As Neela accepts the neurodivergence of Bhoomi, she lets the dying music device die out of charge, while they hug under the blankets. But it’s not easy to be supportive all the time. Things hit the roof when Neela fails to manage the home all by herself, and thus breaks down. It is then that Bhoomi sees the value of Neela, and how her needs were never seen by Bhoomi. How she makes up for it is the rest of the story.
As I come back from the play, I hug Sachin in gratitude. Sachin also tells me not to feel guilty about the ‘failures’, thanks to missed deadlines and lost opportunities. Instead, he says, “If you are around, we have won the world.” It is then that it hits me that all the failures and flaws were never real, as it was the neurotypical expectations that were unreal. In a queer-crip world, none of us is a failure and we have our own sweet time and place to do or not do anything we want, provided it’s done with care for others and taking into account their queer-crip needs (including Sachin’s autistic needs that are at loggerheads with mine). I felt good that both as a home and as an organisation with fellow ADHDers like Rohit, we were trying to be queer-crip friendly. That my self-esteem need not depend on my productivity, that I could take as much or as little time as I need to for a project, and to have my queer-crip needs be met was reassuring. If folks were not okay with this, it was on them, like my friend Nidhra wrote, “It’s not you rejecting us, but we rejecting you.” As @toimarie writes on Instagram, we need a “Pause”. A pause from focusing on productivity over rest, profit over people, transaction over relationship, accumulation over enough, class ascension over class solidarity, growth over depth etc. As @rainierwylde writes, “To slow down is an act of courage”. “You can sleep in, and not miss the magic, you can take a day off and still make the most of living”. “Choosing not to move at the rapacious rhythm of the man-made world is an act of sovereign will. It requires faith to let the field go fallow”.
Like another friend KC Vlaine wrote, sure we ADHDers can’t think of project plans and six-month charts but by empathetically living in the moment we are fostering a more fundamental human value system than utilitarian neurotypical anthropocene value creation. And we have thus probably figured life out better. Because of this, we can perhaps solve larger human issues while creating art, theories and writing that evokes long-term hope and kindness.
While having an ADHD meltdown that I was only doing “fun” stuff or relaxation, and work has taken a back seat, Shruthi asked me if I was accepting a reframation. When I affirmed, they said “ I’m wondering if framing certain types of activities as “real work”, while terming pleasure, joy, rest as avoidance is really serving you? The very point of life is joy, contentment, satisfaction, and we do other things (like work) to enable the former. I encourage you to think of how your ADHD nurtures you and protects you. For example, a meltdown or a zero executive function day helps by compelling you to heed a call to rest? Does (emotional) dysregulation help you notice your body’s signals better? We live in a world where ADHD is a thing to be fixed, managed, worked through, and overcome.” Nowadays I sit and practice grounding and healing community exercises drawing from the indigenous non capitalistic traditions of Kenya as taught to me by my friend Wangui, over the capitalistic practices I had earlier learnt.
In their piece, “Being socially motivated is not a disorder”, @drdevonprice argues against pathologizing ADHD. Like they argue in their piece “Laziness does not exist”, it’s structural barriers that actually exist. Systemic issues have been turned into individual diagnostics. An ADHDer once shared a “win” at work where they lost a contract due to chronic lateness, and apologised for the inconvenience caused. But what they did not do was suffer from guilt as it was not their flaw. To blame structural inequities, and escape carcerality and guilt needs radical reframing. Price turns the capitalistic world on its head when they write the piece “Work is a chronic illness”. This lens changes the gaze completely. In an individualist society that capitalism builds, where we work against each other, the need for “body doubling”, a basic social need to be motivated, becomes an accommodation. Rather than providing it, it is pathologized as to not be able to “function” without another human sitting next to you to even fold clothes. Shruthi questions the very need for function- people don’t need to “contribute” to deserve dignified full lives, and be deemed valuable or worthy.
While in a neuro-queer installation aptly called “Ever met an ugly flower?”, artist Jake Elwes asks me to stop pathologizing myself, enjoy our date and embrace our “madness”.
Srinidhi Prahlad co-founded Beneath-a-tree, an inclusive education and technology consultancy, and has worked to curate an interactive museum and archive at the intersection of STEM, gender and the arts. Srinidhi has written on queerness, neuro divergence, history and science. They enjoy spoken word poetry, conversations and solo travel.