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Executive Function Life Hacks and Spirituality for Neurodivergent Folks

catharine clarenbach neurodivergent religious spiritual
Catharine Clarenbach
Rev. Catharine Clarenbach

I’m honored to be joined on this week’s episode by Reverend Catharine Clarenbach. Catharine is a white, fat, cis woman, a sovereign queer femme with ADHD, bipolar disorder, well-managed mental illness, and trauma from sexual assault.

She is also an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister and an Initiate in the Tradition of Stone Circle Wicca (USA). She spent four years in discernment with an order of Roman Catholic religious sisters, and is trained and credentialed as a spiritual director.

In this interview, we’re talking about creating safe spiritual and religious spaces for autistic, ADHD, and other neurodivergent folks; our favorite house cleaning hacks for folks with executive dysfunction like us; and, how to keep a fruitful, fulfilling relationship with a partner who is a different neurotype than you.

Rather listen than read this post? This interview with Rev. Catharine Clarenbach is based off of Episode 19 of the Neurodiverging Podcast! Listen on Apple Podcasts Google Podcasts | Spotify

I am deeply grateful to Teresa, David, and Zach for supporting Neurodiverging through Patreon. If you find this podcast helpful, please consider supporting Neurodiverging on Patreon.

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Transcript for Ep 19: Executive Function Life Hacks and Spirituality for Neurodivergent Folks with Rev. Catharine Clarenbach

Introduction to Rev. Catharine Clarenbach

Danielle: Can we start off by just having you tell me a little bit about yourself and your work?

Catharine: Absolutely. As you know, I’m Catharine Clarenbach. Sometimes I’m Reverend Catharine Clarenbach in the Unitarian Universalist tradition, and I’m also an initiate of Stone Circle Wicca, which is an organization of which I’ve been a part for the last 20 years.

My work, my main work is for people who are uncomfortable or ambivalent or alienated in religious spaces, but who want to deepen their spirituality.

So for example, in terms of neurodivergence, I have had a spiritual deepening group. It was five folks who were autistic, and we worked together for some time, just to develop a learning community, honestly, for each other, so that I could learn from them, they could learn from me, and we could all learn from each other.

You know, one person sits quietly and doesn’t have a lot to say, and but really wants to be there and listen. Another person drew beautiful pictures while we talked. Another person had a cordless headset, so she could walk around while we were on the call.

So working with folks who are autistic particularly, really helped me broaden how I talk about my small groups, that people who are in groups with me need to know that they’re an empowerment-based group. You know, like, if people need to get up and walk around, get up and walk around!

Danielle: Simple things can make a really, really big difference. Yeah.

Catharine: Yeah. I mean, I think in terms of making a space feel comfy, safe, if somebody needs to be stimming somehow, that’s fine. I have a friend who carries a piece of velvet, because, it’s so nice, right? Don’t you love it?

Danielle: I do! I’m not a super tactile person, but that’s one of those things, yeah!

Catharine: I should do it. I could do it. I’m not autistic myself, I should say, for your listeners’ benefit. I do have ADHD, and my wife would say that I have a roaring case of ADHD…

Danielle: That’s adorable.

Catharine: …but I don’t know if that’s really true.

Danielle: That’s really cute! I’m trying to think if that applies to my daughter. I feel like it depends on your definition of “roaring”, which is definitely a very busy, big, active, high-feeling sort of personality. That might fit.

Catharine: I think one of the things that I’ve learned from a very close, autistic friend, is that I tend to lead with my feelings and impressions.

And she was like, “Yeah, that’s weird.” Right? “Don’t do that to me. Don’t assume that you know how I’m feeling based on what you see on the outside.”

Danielle: Yeah, I know every individual is an individual, but I’ve definitely had that experience sort of on the opposite side with my partner with ADHD. He leads with his feelings very strongly. And I tend to leave with the logic/rationality side. And so we come together, and one of us is having a big feeling.

And I’m sitting here going like, “Well, what do you want to do about the feeling? What are the next three steps we can take to figure out this problem, or whatever that’s causing this feeling?”

And he’s like, “No, I need to deal with the feeling first, and then I can figure out the problem.” So it has taken us a very long time to find a way that we can both be getting what we need, which are completely different approaches.

Catharine: Yeah, and that’s just it, you know, finding a way that we can get what we need, with different approaches. Assuming that we want to get our needs met, and that we want to get each other’s needs met, and that we’re on a team together is the sort of first step, right? It’s the first assumption that is necessary, I think, and that a lot of couples are missing.

Danielle: I feel very strongly, in kind of all of my relational efforts, I guess, I don’t know a good word for that… but when I am trying to connect with my children, when I’m trying to connect with my partners, when I’m trying to connect with friends, that the first step has to be: you assume you’re on a team, and that the other person is also trying to be at a team. And then from there, how can we take a step forward out of whatever problem we’re having? Yeah, that’s really important.

Catharine: Yeah. And my wife is not autistic, but her father probably is, and her one uncle definitely is, and our nephew. It’s so annoying, if he [my nephew]  had been tested a year before he was tested, he would have been considered to have Asperger’s, or whatever you want to [call it]….

Danielle: Yeah, what used to be called Asperger’s…

Catharine: …what used to be called. But the year that he was tested, they had changed the scale of behaviors. So he wasn’t able to receive services to help him because of the way they came to the scale.

Danielle: That’s so frustrating.

Catharine: Yeah, and even the word “scale” is screwed up, I realized, but, um, but anyway, I say this to say that autism and autistic superpowers definitely run in her family

Danielle: There are some good things.

Catharine: Yeah, and I mean, super powers, like, super powers. You know. And one thing that I think that a lot of a allistics don’t know, is that people who are autistic are like, the best problem solvers on the planet, right?

Danielle:  Sometimes we solve problems too well. Like I was saying with my partner, like, sometimes your job isn’t to solve problems. But as an autistic person, that is what I’m good at. And that’s what I want to be pointed towards is something I can [solve]. It can be very helpful.

Catharine: It can be helpful unless people are needing to just take a breath.

Danielle: It is definitely one of those things I had to learn as an adult in adult relationships is to let people have their feelings, because I’m a slow feelings processor. So obviously, I have feelings. But my my initial reaction is always, “Solve this problem. After the problem is solved, then have feelings about the problem,” in a space where I can kind of calm down.

This is not the way like my autistic son or other autists that I know do things, but it’s the way my brain works. But it’s sort of the reverse of how many other people… how they process the world, how they, come at the world.

On the Value of Diagnosis, and Housecleaning Hacks

But, can we back up a little bit? And just, we talked a little bit about how your work intersects with the neurodivergence/ neurodiversity community. But what about your own neurodivergence?

Catharine: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the interesting thing with me is that I have both mental illness and neurodivergence, and identifying how they’re different, and where they overlap has been a real challenge in my life, and continues to be. Especially because I have bipolar type one, which …are we allowed to swear in your podcast?

Danielle: It’s fine. I put a little thing. If people swear, then I put a little thing [in the beginning] so it’s totally up to you.

Catharine: Okay, this is really rude language that I would never encourage anyone to use. about another person.

Danielle: Check

Catharine: Um, but I had a dear friend who has the same lengthy diagnosis that I do that I won’t go into in detail. But he said it basically boils down to batshit crazy.

Danielle: and you’re allowed to call yourself that, right.

Catharine: That’s what I’m saying. I’d never encourage anyone to say that about another person ever, to be crystal clear. Just don’t edit it down to my saying [just that].

Danielle: Oh my gosh, no! I promise.

Catharine: But learning that I had ADHD… well, I wasn’t diagnosed with bipolar until I was 31, even though I had said in my late teens, to mental health professionals, “I think I have manic depression,” nobody listened to me. I was a victim of medical psychiatric malpractice, in fact, it was really bad.

And then finally, many years later, I was diagnosed with various salad elements of mental illness. But it wasn’t until after that, that I was finally diagnosed with ADHD. And so many things made sense!.

Danielle: The click you get with a diagnosis, yes.

Catharine: Finally! Well, and that’s the thing that folks need to understand. Like, we don’t necessarily need a doctor to tell us our experience.

Danielle: No.

Catharine: But it can be helpful to have a tool. Right? That’s all it is, is a tool. And for me, it was a very useful tool. Because it’s a hammer, right, and it nailed down some of the most persistent patterns in my life.

Do not make me do housework. I mean, some housework just has to be done. It just must be done. But I have a really hard time parsing complex visual fields. I also have a hard time, interestingly, parsing stuff that’s not colorful, like files, for example, in a filing cabinet. If they are not color coded. I can’t find things.

And before I was diagnosed with either side of things, I had a job working for an AIDS service organization in West Virginia. And I had this huge stack of things I had to file. And I opened the filing cabinet drawer and I put the pile of files down and I just started to cry. Like literally, the sight of these files needing to be organized brought me to tears.

Yeah, you know, I just could not handle it. I could not handle it. It was really awful.

Now since then, there’s tons of books written about ADHD. And more of them, I think are helpful to men, people who identify on the masculine side, because many, many people who are identified as boys get assigned as having ADHD, because they show physical, what is called hyperactivity.

Whereas with girls, often our minds are doing the hyperactivity, but we may not be showing it in the same way physically, and so we slip between that cracks right there and we don’t get help, that would be helpful.

Danielle: Very similar for autistic women.

Catharine: But I do want to plug a book if that’s okay. I did not write it. It’s not even new. It’s called ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life (Bookshop | Amazon).

Danielle: I’ve read that book! Isn’t that funny? It’s Kolberg right? Judith Kolberg.

Catharine: I love that book. I think so. Yeah.

Danielle: Yeah, that is a good book. I read that trying to figure out a housework system with my partner. We both have trouble with housework, We do that approach it the same way. And I did. I did find it really helpful. So funny.

Catharine: Well, learning that things that I thought, that I knew, would help me but that I felt ashamed about, like body doubles…

Danielle: Just having someone in the room with you, staring at you, until you do the thing. I need that. I have friends whose job it is to come over and stare at me until I do the thing, and that really works.

Catharine: It works. Why does it work? I don’t know.

Danielle: I have no idea. I have no idea.

Catharine: Having a body double: Julie will, like, say I’m trying to tidy my office. Right now, it’s beyond help right now, I think. But I’m trying to tidy my office, she’ll say, “Okay, pick up one thing,” and I’ll be like, “I don’t know what thing to pick up!” And she’ll say, “It doesn’t matter.”

Danielle: Close your eyes stretch out your arms, first thing you touch.

Catharine: “Just pick the thing up. And where does it go?” And I’ll put it in a place. And then she’ll say, “Okay, pick up another thing.” And then she’ll go away, and she’ll start working on her housework. Until I’m to the point where I’m like, “Ah, honey, I need help again. I don’t know what I need to do next.” I don’t know what to pick up because everything that’s left is a boxy charm makeup box.

Danielle: Or something that doesn’t have a home yet.

Catharine:Yeah, it doesn’t have a home. Exactly.

Danielle: I never learned that [about homes]. The house I grew up in, my parents worked full time. So we didn’t have homes for stuff. And we didn’t have as much stuff as we do in my household now.

And I didn’t realize there should be homes for things until I was maybe 30. And it was way too late, like I had already established, you know, not helpful patterns in terms of keeping house. And then when I had kids, it was like, boom, because everything exploded. I’m still learning like, “Okay, if I want to keep this thing has to have a home, where does it go?”

Catharine: It has to have a home.

Danielle: It’s so hard to do. Like, it’s helpful, and I recommend people try it out. But is it easy to do, and just like put it into your routine?  No! No, it’s hard!

Catharine: But the other thing, the other thing we do, and some people will be like totally rolling their eyes at me, we do 15-45s. So I say that and people think I mean, we clean for 45 minutes, and then we have a break for 15 minutes. That is not what I mean.

Danielle: You got to do it the other way. That’s what we do for schoolwork.

Catharine:  I mean, we clean for 15 minutes, and then we have 45 minutes off. And we can play on Facebook. We can watch a whole episode of some shows, if we want to do, they’re often 43 minutes long. And then we get up and clean again.

It is amazing what you can accomplish in 15 minutes, if you know you only have to do it for 15. Because the problem for people with ADHD, at least the problem for this person with ADHD, is that cleaning looks like it’s going to take forever. Like it’s this endless…

Danielle: Because it is endless! You have to do it every single day!

Catharine: I can’t think about it that way.

Danielle: Yeah, you have to segment it.

Catharine: But if I think about it, 15 minutes, and then I’m like, “Wow, we did a lot in 15 minutes. Okay, let’s just mess around for a little while. Now I’m ready for another 15 minutes.”

Because one of the things that stops people with ADHD, or that sucks us in, so that we can’t get out is, “I’m just gonna finish this one task. Right, I’m just gonna do this one thing, I’m just gonna do this one thing, I’m just gonna do this one thing…” and now half an hour late to whatever it is I was gonna go to.

Danielle: Yes, and maybe exhausted by doing one task for that long.

Catharine: Right. And so, Time, not Task is very important as well. Time, not Task.

And I think in that in the book, ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life, she also talks about Now and Not Now,  how we have Now and somewhere in the future, which basically means never.

I have this book, I’m going to put it away Not Now. And it has now vanished from my sight. It is invisible to me.

And one of the things that’s been really important for my partner, is that she has had to ask herself, does this this thing really matter? Like, does it actually matter to her that I leave my clothes in my clothes basket and don’t fold them? Like, does that actually have any impact on her life at all?

Danielle: I’ve had to do that too, with an ADHD partner and ADHD children.

Catharine: Yeah, she’s like, “Oh, no, it doesn’t!” Yeah, so it’s, it’s very freeing.

Danielle: There are some ways that our kinds of brains can get stuck in a pattern of just assuming a thing has to be the way it is, and then when somebody else points out to us, or at least to me, you know, “Do you really need it like this? Or are you just used to it this way?”

And I’m like, “I’m just used to it, I can change it, it’s fine.” But until somebody else comes in and says, “Hey, have you considered doing this differently,” or “Have you considered that you don’t need to put so much energy into wishing it were this other way?” Sometimes I just won’t consider that on my own.

My brain likes it’s little routine… I can’t think of the word. Routine or little spots, like I just get stuck in little spots. And then if somebody pushes me a little bit I get out of the spot. It’s fine. I’ll find a new spot.

Yeah, we’re making physical gestures that won’t translate in the podcast. I’ll draw a graph in my podcast notes for this where…

stick figure drawing of hills and valleys with a person being pushed from one valley, over a hill, to another valley

Catharine: They were like little ridges and valleys that we were hopping out of.

Danielle: So you’re in the valley, but then when somebody else pushes you, I guess up the hill, you just find another valley. And it’s fine. It’s not a big deal. But it feels like a big deal, initially being pushed out of the valley. I don’t know.

Catharine: Yeah, totally. And I need to do things that feel challenging, you know. And if I have a body double, I can almost always do them. But for me, that is huge. But unfortunately, Julie doesn’t actually like being a body double. But she’s fine with working nearby, doing our own thing. So that works. That’s close enough.

Danielle: I had a friend, who has since moved, which is unfortunate, but she she doesn’t have a diagnosis. But I would say she’s neurodivergent, I think she would agree. And we used to just take turns.

So if she felt stuck on a task, I would go over there and stand there with her while she did it. And if I felt stuck on a task, she would come over and stand with me while I did it. And that was extremely [helpful]. It’s very hard to find. I have not found anyone to replace her. But it was very helpful.

So, if you’re listening, and you think that might be helpful to you, ask your friends, they will, some of them will be so thrilled that you asked. Some of them will be so thrilled to have somebody else to help them to stand there. So don’t be afraid.

Catharine: Yes. Yes. And also, people are willing to do things for their friends.

Danielle: Absolutely. They can just come read or…

Catharine: Right! Even if they don’t need need it themselves. If you said, “Can you come over and sit on my couch? I will make you a drink. Have a lounge while I break down these Amazon big evil boxes of presents that have been delivered in December.” Like right now I’m looking at a pile of boxes.

Danielle: Yeah, that’s a hard one, because you don’t even know what’s in them. You don’t know what you’re gonna have to do with them once they’re unpacked.

Catharine: I know, it’s terrible!

Danielle: There’s so many mini choices.

I remember having a friend come over and sit on my couch and watch Netflix while I organized my bookshelves, because they were making me upset. They were in in such a way that I couldn’t find the books I wanted. And I’m a reading junkie, I need my books. But I couldn’t find anything I wanted.

But I also spent six months avoiding organizing the bookshelf and getting upset at myself. So I was like, “Come sit on my couch and watch Netflix while I do this.” And then it was done. And it was wonderful. And they didn’t care. They got to sit and watch TV. Like you know, yeah, it was really good.

On Executive Dysfunction, Social Differences, and Shame

Catharine: Yeah, exactly. The body double is a powerful one. Yeah, I think breaking things down into the sometimes the smallest possible increment is really helpful. Really, really, really helpful. And sometimes that increment seems ridiculous, but it still counts.

People with ADHD have so much shame. Neurodivergent people of various kinds have been taught to be ashamed of ourselves for living the way that we do and feeling the way that we do and thinking the way that we do and presenting the way that we do. I know that I learned really young that unless I did a whole task (or whatever), it didn’t matter. It didn’t count.

And so, it’s really been liberating to give myself a little pat on the back, get myself some sparkle points for just breaking down three boxes and putting them where they go. It counts. Right. It counts.

Danielle: I get a lot of looks from neurotypical parents in public spaces, when we’re not in COVID. But in the past, I have, for what probably looks like overpraising my children for small things. But the fact is that they are working so hard on things that seem small to neurotypical people.

Like, just saying hello to people. Like my autistic kid doesn’t want to say hello; I, to be honest, I don’t want to say [Hello]… small talk is boring. The pleasantries are boring. It takes a lot of energy and time and we could be talking about something interesting!

Why am I just saying, “Hello” to you? And I understand this important. Obviously, I’ve had more experience than my son has in how you need to sometimes compromise to have a relationship with other kinds of people and other kinds of brains.

But just because a neurotypical kid can walk up to somebody and say, “Hello,” maybe they deserve praise, maybe they don’t. But my kid, if he, if he walks up to somebody and says, “Hello, how are you? My name is..,” that’s huge, and that requires, or that deserves so much praise from me and his dad.

I feel like, part of that is just not wanting the expectations for my kids to be neurotypical expectations, because they’re not neurotypical, and also just wanting to show them that you can do a small thing. Even if you don’t say, “Hello, my name is …, what’s your name,” the whole thing, if you just say, “Hello,” say, “Hi,” if you look at somebody and wave, you know, even making eye contact some days is obviously very difficult for a lot of us. That’s huge, you know, in terms of establishing a relationship with somebody new.

And I want them to know that I’m proud of them for making that effort, because it is just as hard for them as it is for a neurotypical person to do something… I’m trying to think of an autistic or ADHD example of something that’s not hard for, for us, but, you know…

Catharine: Seeing patterns, pattern recognition.

Danielle: Yes. Pattern recognition. That’s a really good example. Yeah, my kid doesn’t get so much praise for pattern recognition, because he sees them all the time. And it’s great that he can do it. But you know, am I gonna praise him every single time? No, it’s great.

But it’s like, I know that you know how to multiply 4s in your head. It’s just the thing he’s done since he was little. It’s awesome. But it’s not like every single time I’m gonna say great job, you know?

Catharine: Yeah. Well, and pattern recognition, some context: this is why I think, when I was talking about my in-laws, pattern recognition. They all are like the kings and queens and other sovereigns of pattern recognition. And I am a clueless. You know, I’ll say to Julie, “How did you know that was going to happen?”

Danielle: [Because] it happens every six months!

Catharine: Are you psychic?

Danielle: I have this conversation with my partner a lot too, like, “Yeah, every six months, we have this problem. And it’s been about six months. So we’re about to have this problem.”

It’s just part of the routine of, you know, being in a partnership, but it is really interesting. Yeah.

Creating Safe Worship Spaces for Neurodivergent Practitioners

Catharine: It is. You mentioned expectations. And I was, of course, I always am thinking of things in a religious or spiritual context. And one of the things that I have noticed is that religious contexts are set up most often so that you are expected to look people in the eye, say, “Hello,” tell them your name, and touch them and maybe even hug them. And that is the expectation.

Danielle: So it can be really alienating for a lot of different types of neurodivergent brains to come into sort of, especially like the kind of traditional Protestant, non-Catholic Christian, sort of space. And I was raised a Unitarian Universalist.

Catharine: The tradition in which I am a minister. The hugging…

Danielle: Yes, exactly. And the holding hands and the, you know, when you when you turn and say “Hello” to your neighbor, you’re supposed to… it’s somebody you’ve never met, you have like a minute, and you’re supposed to make eye contact and be like, “Hi, I’m so and so.”

I am now wasting my entire days’ energy trying to… like, I care about that person in the sense of I care about lots of people, but I would rather have an actual conversation with them, you know, at coffee hour or something about something real, than be like, “Hello. I’m now spending all of my mental energy trying to look like a neurotypical person for you for 30 seconds.”

Catharine: For 30 seconds, yeah, and to do masking work. And it’s really exhausting. And yeah, neurotypical people have no idea that it’s exhausting.

Danielle: Yeah. And you’re also meant to sit in the place, and only stand up when you’re supposed to stand up, sit down when you’re supposed to sit down. And, you know, not try to disrupt the congregation too much by moving in and out of the room.

I used to bring my children to the like nursing room, not because we were nursing, but just because it was a space where we could still hear and see the service. But we were not bothering anybody when they were talking or yelling, or my son does vocal stims, which I’m used to, but other people find rude because they don’t understand what he’s trying to accomplish. And that’s really difficult in a lot of different religious contexts or spiritual contexts.

Catharine: I remember reading, it was a Unitarian Universalist congregation. And they specifically said, on their homepage, on their accessibility section of their homepage, which… First of all, hello, accessibility section of their homepage, they’re already doing better than everybody else.

They said, “If you prefer, or if you need to move around, or talk, or in any other way feel more comfortable, please feel free to go to this room next door, that will have the ceremony, the service, projected on a screen, but you can be in there and feel more comfortable. Go right ahead. No questions asked.”

And I just thought, you know, it wasn’t like, if you have small children, you can do this. It wasn’t an expectation that only small children or only nursing moms or only little kids, you know.

I absolutely used my small children as an excuse to go to the room. Because I mean, to be fair, they were loud. And they, you know, they were nursing, and sometimes they had changed a diaper. And it was nice to have that room. And I’m glad it existed for parents.

But also, you know, there are plenty of people who aren’t parents who would just like to be in a smaller space or a more enclosed space. But I also still felt frustrated, because even if the minister would have understood if I were walking around during service, or maybe making vocal stims or flapping my hands or whatever, I felt like the congregants would not necessarily understand. There was a gap in expectation or assumption between the worship leads and the congregation. And that’s hard to bridge.

Catharine: Sometimes it is hard to bridge, but I think it’s important to try to bridge.

Danielle: It is, I agree. Yes.

Catharine: And I think part of how you do that is you put it on front and center on your homepage of your website. And part of how you do it is you preach about it. Let folks know that it’s a thing. Neurodivergence exists, and that most presentations of autistic people in our culture are really limited and limiting.

Self-Identity as a Neurodivergent Person

And, and also, you know, I have learned, I talked about this before, about superpowers. In the last five years, I have learned so much to respect and admire and honor about autistic people. And one of the things that interests me, is the fact that, “people with autism” prefer to be called “autistic people” often.

And tell me if I’m wrong, my understanding is that it’s so central, it’s like so embedded in personality and understanding and ways of thinking that it doesn’t feel like it’s a separate thing that you carry around with you. If it’s, you’re an autistic person.

Danielle: Yeah, that’s my experience, and I think reflects the experience of a lot of [us]. Obviously, there are people who prefer person with autism, and I think people should self identify how they want. But my experience of my autism is that it is it’s the way I think.

I can’t separate the way I process the world from who I am as a person, they’re the same thing for me. The way I process is very, very deeply affected by the fact that I’m an autistic person. I process and integrate things into my personality differently than I understand neurotypical people do, having not had the experience of being a neurotypical person.

Whenever I talk to somebody, and a lot of my friends are neurodivergent, at this point. I feel like you sort of accidentally select towards people who understand your point of view or the way that you think. But when I talk to neurotypical people, allistic people, a lot of time the way they think feels very alien, almost. I can’t really figure out how they got from point A to point B…

Catharine: Or why they didn’t get to point A or B!

Danielle: Or that! Or, like, the patterns again, is a good example of this. Having this conversation with my partner every six months of like, “Every six months, we have, you get upset about this one thing,” and it’s okay, but that’s just like, it just happens, you know? And him not being able to recognize that.

And it’s like, well, there’s fantastic things about my partner, he’s good at so many things that I am terrible at. And he has a lot of ADHD superpowers that I absolutely absolutely do not have. But our brains are really, really different. And I can’t think of him without his ADHD. I can’t think of myself without being autistic. I think we would be different people. I don’t know how ADHD people feel about the whole about, you know, it’s a little different than [autism].

Catharine: Yeah, I kind of don’t care.

Danielle: That’s also very fair. Yeah.

Catharine: I just, sometimes people talk about ADHD-ers.

Danielle: Yeah, I’ve heard people say that.

Catharine: I think we haven’t developed really good language. I mean, it’s true, I absolutely would not be the person people understand to be Catherine Clarenbach if I didn’t have ADHD. I absolutely would not. It would make sense for me to have similar language, but I don’t really think that we have it yet.

Danielle: I sometimes think that’s a problem with autism, too, is that we have good evidence at this point that there’s lots of different kinds of autism, they just tend to get grouped under the same thing. And I believe I’m not a neurologist, I believe that’s the same for ADHD, that we have [multiple ADHDs].

I know that there’s like three types: there’s inattentive and hyperactive and combined. But I think, realistically, there’s a lot more types than that. And it’s just, we’re not there yet scientifically or medically. I feel like maybe once we get some more clarity there, it will be a little easier to have language for it.

But now it’s just this kind of cloud of traits. And it’s like, how do you have language about an ever-shifting ever-moving sort of amorphous blob of character traits floating around? I don’t know.

How Is My Body?

Catharine: Somebody said one time, “I don’t have attention deficit. I have attention too much.” I’m thinking too many things at one time. And I sometimes say that I feel like I need more than one mouth to answer a question. And it’s really hard, because to get out the words, to think through. Especially because I’m an extrovert, and an external processor, sometimes I have to talk my way to the answer. But if I already have three ideas, it’s really hard to talk my way to the answer.

And the thing that I think is really important to say, is that the partners of people with ADHD get a really bad rap. You know,”Oh, they’re just, so-and-so is just being controlling and rigid, and you should be able to fly and be free.”  It really bugs me, especially because one of the things I have learned is that – you know how in like bicycle racing, You can draft someone…

Danielle: I don’t know that much about bicycle racing.

Catharine: It’s when you ride right behind someone. And you get some of their speed because of the way the air flows around them, and it’s called drafting. I can draft on my wife’s sense of routine. She knows that she needs structure and routine. And I do so much better when I have routine. But my entire being is like, “Ahhh! I don’t want routine! No, ahh!”

But because Julie knows that structure and routine are helpful. Like, if it’s a weekday and it’s not vacation, we have breakfast at quarter after six. We have lunch at 11.

Danielle: You have the schedule.

Catharine: Yeah, I have a schedule. I actually take a siesta and it’s in my schedule and in my calendar, and I calendar around it. I schedule around it.

Routine is like magic. It’s so amazing. and it makes me understand why it’s so important for kids in terms of their development. Julie says, “If we all treated ourselves like cherished toddlers, we’d be much better off.” Oh, am I hungry? Do I need to go to the bathroom? Do I need a drink? Should I go have a lie down?

Danielle: You literally just quoted the list I tell my children whenever anybody has a problem, or a problem that seems to big for whatever precipitated the feeling – obviously, you’re allowed to have feelings, but as neurodiverse people, I’m always like, “Did you pee? Did you eat?Did you sleep ?” Those are the go-tos. Go down the list of what physically you might not be noticing about your body.

Catharine: And that is definitely something – I can’t believe I’m going to say this on a podcast –  that people with ADHD run the risk of doing the pee pee dance

Danielle: That is my experience as well with my ADHD friends, because they’re just so [focused on other things] all the time.

Catharine: Because we’re like, I’m just gonna do this one more thing, it’ll be fine, and then you’re like, “Oh my god!”

Danielle: It wasn’t fine! Yeah. I think that developing that learning, and as an autistic person too, we have that hyperfocus…

Catharine: that we share…

Danielle: Yeah, and having that list or pattern of checking in with my physical stuff is so important. because i won’t eat, I won’t remember to drink water. I maybe won’t pee for most of the day if I don’t explicitly make it a point to check, “Have I done these things I’m supposed to do?”

Catharine: How is my body?

Danielle: Yeah. It’s really tricky.

Where Can You Find Catharine?

I know we’re getting close to your time. I thought we could maybe do some of the takeaway stuff.

Catharine: Sure.

Danielle: Because I want to make sure that we have a chance especially to share where people can find you.

Catharine: Yes! My fabulous beautiful new baby,! I’ve had the URL forever and I’ve had websites there forever, but I just got a new website done on it, and it’s so pretty, oh my god!

Danielle: So everyone needs to go there and see how pretty it is!

Catharine: Everyone needs to go there and see how beautiful it is. If you have any kind of color appreciation or enjoyment, I, for the first week I had it, would go to it just to look at it.

Danielle: That’s really, really excellent!

Catharine: Like, not to get information, just to look at the pretty. So is my homepage, my home site. I’m doing a retreat on December 19th, called Going Into the Dark, and if you go to the homepage, there’s a link to that at the very tippy top of the page.

So I also have a Facebook community, which is The Way of the River Commmunity. We have about 475 people and we are pretty active. On Mondays, we do Beloved Selfies, which is an interesting challenge for some of us who are neurodivergent in particular, just to remind ourselves that no matter how we’re looking  that day or that morning, no matter how we’re feeling or not feeling at that moment, that we are beloved and worthy of being loved.

So, we take selfies and post them in the thread. People sometimes remark on how they’re doing or whatever, and I respond to every single one of them. Not all 400 people reply, but it’s usually more like 20-25.

Danielle: But a very good opportunity though, to check in with the group.

Catharine: It is! It’s like a little check in, and so I invite people to check that out if you do Facebook. And if you don’t do Facebook, more power to you! I fully support people not doing Facebook even though I do a lot my work there.

Danielle: Yes, I understand that dilemma. I am always struggling with that too. Not wanting to be here, still here.

Catharine: The last thing I wanted to mention is that in the spiring, I teach a class. I teach it once in the spring and once in the summer/early fall, called Making Hard Choices. It is about discernment, and it’s a really helpful set of tools, learning tools, for how to make difficult decisions. It can be really helpful for a lot of folks. So if you go to the website, or if you sign up for my love letters that go out on Mondays, by the pretty flower at the bottom of the [home]page…

Danielle: Good landmark!

Catharine: Yeah, landmark, purple flower! You can get a little bit of a window into how I see the world every Monday in your inbox.

Danielle: That sounds excellent. I have to sign up for those. I don’t think I am.

Catharine: You do!

Danielle: I saw it, and I thought, “I should do that.” And then I did the thing, which is… later.

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