Narratives and Motivation

(Content warning – a whole lot of up myself naval gazing but then this is what you’ve had for weeks isn’t it? Mentions ASD and ADHD)

There is a confidence that comes with diagnosis and talking to a professional who can explain what’s going on in your head. It matters what you tell yourself, and when you’re a kid it matters what people tell you.

Thé particularly cruel thing that I have been told and that I have believed is that emotional significance is attached to forgetting. As in it I forget an appointment, miss a line in a book, then on some level I have done this deliberately and there is an emotional narrative to my action.

I think my parents were taught Behaviourism when they were doing their teacher training. I mean the basics of behavioural learning I get – reward or punishment gets you the behaviour you want. Fine. I have assumed forever that it was the ASD that meant I largely bounced off of this. With ASD my sense of what’s fair and whether something made sense to me largely meant I’d do my own thing and often that was what the adults wanted me to do. Sometimes it wasn’t and then I’d stick to my guns no matter the punishment. I’ve always liked my determination when it came to things like this. It’s apparently not as I had assumed, a character trait, but rather a neural pathway that’s not typically formed but I think I still like it. I wish I were smarter though and that my sense of justice wasn’t just an instinct but a well thought through decision.

In anycase the thing about behaviourism that I really dislike is the stories that people create to explain your behaviour. “You’re breathing really loudly because you’re angry and being passive aggressive” – no, I have asthma. I admit I’ve used it myself – if the non-verbal guy is being aggressive then is it possible he’s injured? But people seem to want to tell psychological stories rather than look for Occam’s razor. The non-verbal guy is being aggressive because he hates certain people.

I have questioned and questioned myself over the years for this. Did I subconsciously dislike someone I consciously thought I liked? Well everyone is telling me this is the case so I guess it must be true, but why? Why don’t I know why? How terrible a person must I be to lie to myself about who I did or did not like?

It took me a long time to believe in myself and believe I knew I liked who I liked and to try absolutely my hardest to do all the things that I’d been told had implicit meanings. But I still couldn’t guarantee my memory. I still think that I’m going to remember emotionally significant things, and then I don’t. A lot of the things I use to manage my memory are the 101 of how to manage ADHD.

I like to keep things simple, no complex games, no weird stories behind using toothpaste in exact ways or aiming mug handles in the ‘wrong’ direction in the cupboard. Just doing what I do, saying what I say and – and this is key – assuming that’s what other people do too. I can’t work out motivations accurately – but nor can anyone else and honestly my reaction to somebody telling me what my motivations are has way too often been to get into a cycle of questioning myself if I wasn’t really causing problems deliberately.

What it more likely is is a combination of impulsive behaviour, which I do need to manage more effectively – but then at least I’ve got the awareness now that that definitely gets worse in altered states; the horrific ADHD combination of forgetfulness and confidence that this time I won’t forget. Apparently that confidence is actually part of the neurological difference and isn’t solely down to being consistently told “if this is important to you you won’t forget it”. I hate that I still believe that on some level, despite the fact that it’s not true, I hate that some people are going to see my need to externalise my memory by writing things down as me telling them that this information isn’t important enough for my memory. It’s not that it isn’t it’s just my memory is really very bad.

There are stories that we tell ourselves of course, narratives that establish us as heroes who are attacked on every side by terrible people and because we’re the Hero nothing is our fault at all. I’m always worried that this is what I’m doing, seeking to absolve myself of fault by saying that it was down to my illness or something. But the thing is, the stories I tell, the art I like, it’s when things just happen. It’s when paper bags just happen to dance in the wind and Rauschenberg shoves a whole load of stuff together under varnish.

The hilarious stories I tell of when things go astoundingly wrong or astoundingly just right are all part of the same thing. Sometimes things go exactly wrong and I can’t get a funny story out of it because it’s just not funny, nuts it’s all part of the same mechanism. The mechanism being that I’m very good at being in exactly the Wrong/Right place at the Wrong/Right time and doing exactly the Wrong/Right thing. There’s no middle sensible course with me in some ways.

In some ways motivation doesn’t matter, I’ve still caused the hurt, whether intentional or not, but at least if I understand what’s actually happened then I can try to prevent it in future. And it’s not because I have some subconscious motives that are obvious to other people but that I’m completely oblivious to.

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