The final piece in Giverny Masso's series on neurodiversity in the arts comes from TV and theatre writer Nicole Latchana. Nicole outlines her personal journey from struggling to fit into ableist systems to building a career in the arts that fits around her ADHD.
Giverny Masso is an arts journalist and the senior reporter at theatre newspaper The Stage. She is also a theatre maker, with her most recent project being a devised show as part of the Arcola Theatre’s Mental Health Company.
You can read the first blog post from this series here as well as a readers' reponse here, followed by Adam Welsh on his neurodivergent talent agency here and Ali Wilson on ways organisations can become more neurodivergent friendly here.
One morning last week I carved out two precious hours to re-draft my play. But after 30 minutes of staring at the document, I instead found myself darting up the hill to my favourite park in my socks and sliders with messy hair, voice noting myself something completely random. A thought hit me as I swung from the monkey bars – I’m exactly where I need to be right now. A few years ago, I would have beaten myself up for taking a mid-morning break to let myself do what my body needed and felt self-conscious about my hair and forgetting to change my shoes. And most notably, I would have been in a job where I had to wait till lunch to expend my excess energy.
I’ve spent most of my life trying to change myself to fit into ableist systems, floundering through countless jobs (being fired from all but one), courses, hobbies, relationships and self-help philosophies. I was confused as to why I wasn’t able to get my work done or remember to eat or make appointments. I forced myself to sit still and try to concentrate. I’d tell myself I needed to be like everyone else and just get on with it. Hours staring at my computer screen only left me with headaches, frustration and panic attacks.
I have been learning about how my ADHD affects my ability to do things. But mostly I’ve been learning all the ways that I’ve been masking and denying myself my needs. Now I’ve admitted to myself what I’ve always known but tried to deny. I have two hours of executive function per day, which I can waste if I don’t plan carefully – the irony of this is not lost on me! I can’t sit for longer than 20 minutes without discomfort. I can’t concentrate on admin unless I have something in the background to keep me engaged. Meetings that are information heavy are impossible for me to get anything out of after 30 minutes. Most of the time, I need to fidget to concentrate – I remember someone at a café telling me that I’d been shaking my leg since I sat down, and it was making their table shake too! I need to do regular cardio otherwise I can’t sleep.
In 2021 I was lucky enough to be a part of Wellspring, a development programme for disabled, d/Deaf and neurodivergent playwrights and script writers run by Vital Xposure. During this time, I was introduced to the social model of disability which suggests that disability is caused by society placing barriers on the individual rather than the individual being at fault. Once I realised that there was nothing ‘wrong’ with me, I started to realise that it’s okay to ask for what you need and to change your environment to support you to do your best work.
I’ve worked very hard to create a life to support my ADHD. I started to collate different jobs, meaning I rarely get bored: I run drama sessions, I’m a digital content producer, theatre production assistant and manage social media channels, and of course, my main passion is writing. I no longer beat myself up if I lose concentration, I sit with the feeling for a short while and if it doesn’t go away then I’ll switch task or do something else on my to do list that engages my body, like unpacking the dishwasher or go on a short run. In a single day I switch between three or four different projects in pockets of 20-minute intervals scattered between chores, walks and rest. My ADHD means I’m always on the go, and if I’m always on the go then I figured I should write on the go! I’ve done some of my best work on my phone sitting on a train, at the climbing wall or on walks via voice notes.
It's taken a while to trust that if I give myself enough time to work in my ‘non-traditional’, scattered way that allows for distractions, movement and random ideas, that I will meet my deadlines. It hasn’t failed me yet. I have changed the environment around me, and not myself. There’s still a long way to go and I realise how lucky I am to have been able to work to create a life that works for me instead of having to change myself to fit in.
This morning I skimmed through my voice notes and came across the one I referred to at the start of this article. That voice note held the key to what I’d been stuck on in my next draft of my play. It was a moment of serendipity so unbelievably neat that if I wrote it in a script, I would redraft it.
Are you part of your company's policy to make to access for neurodivergent colleagues easier, what kind of things have you implemented to help? Have you experienced and benefited from these measures first hand or have you been subject to 'one size fits all' support that has hindered your working style? We'd be really interested to hear your experiences so please do get in touch.
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