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The Divergent Conversations Podcast is hosted by Patrick Casale and Dr. Megan Anna Neff, two AuDHD mental health professionals and entrepreneurs, as well as features other well-known leaders in the mental health, neurodivergent, and neurodivergent-affirming community. Listeners know, like, and trust the content and professionals on this podcast, so when they hear a recommendation on the podcast, they take action.

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Episode 30: Rewriting Neurodivergent Narratives: Navigating Labels, Trust, and Healing through Somatic Work [featuring Sandra Coral]

Dec 25, 2023
Divergent Conversations Podcast

Show Notes

Labels can have a profound impact in the way neurodivergent individuals are perceived by others and themselves. Labels both originate from and shape narratives that can shift the trajectory of how life is experienced.

In this episode, Patrick Casale and Dr. Megan Anna Neff, two AuDHD mental health professionals, talk with Sandra Coral, somatic therapist, founder of Neurodivergent Narratives, author, and podcast host, about the impact and source of labels, the use of somatic therapy, and the treatment of individuals from children to adults who have and don’t have the label of ADHD in relation to race, gender, sexuality, etc.

Top 3 reasons to listen to the entire episode:

  1. Understand the need to acknowledge and embrace the complexity of individuals' experiences, challenging narrow storylines that do not reflect their true experiences and promoting empowerment through personal narrative exploration.
  2. Learn about the significance of somatic work for understanding and meeting the needs of neurodivergent individuals including establishing safety and trust, and co-creating a language for accessing the body in therapeutic processes.
  3. Identify the impact of societal markers and the teacher's own background on how children's behaviors are interpreted in educational settings for the most marginalized within the neurodivergent community.

The stories we tell ourselves shape our experiences with the world, so pay attention to your stories and ask yourself where they come from—did they come from you or someone else—then trust yourself to be the expert in your own life.

Sandra's Information and Resources:

Sandra (she/they) is the education consultant, narrative therapy practitioner, and somatic attachment coach behind Neurodivergent Narratives, a space for supporting neurodivergent people through therapeutic support, educational consulting, and online advocacy. 

They are a Black, trans-racial adoptee, parent, queer, femme with late-in-life neurodivergent diagnoses, who share their experiences navigating this society. Their first book aimed at those supporting neurodivergent children called, "It's Never Just ADHD, Finding the Child Behind the Label" is to be published in early 2024 by Sage Publishing House.

Order links are available here:

More Resources from Sandra:

 


A Thanks to Our Sponsor, Tula Consulting!

✨ Tula Consulting:

We would love to thank Tula Consulting for sponsoring this episode.

Workplace communication can be messy. Considering the lens of neurodiversity can be helpful for understanding this. Maybe you found yourself frustratedly typing "per my last email" in an office communication, perplexed about how a colleague or client doesn't seem to understand your very clearly written email.

Consider this. Visual information processing isn't everyone's strength. Perhaps a quick call could make a world of difference. Or how about including a video or voice message with your email? And this technology exists! Simple steps like these can make your work environment more accessible and bring out the best in everyone.

Tula Consulting is on a mission to help organizations build more neuro-inclusive products and work environments. Tula does this by bringing curious minds to solve curious problems. Find out more by visiting tulaneurodiversity.org.

 


Transcript

MEGAN NEFF: Okay, well before we started hitting, oh my goodness, words are going to be a struggle for me today, I can already tell, just putting that out there to the universe. 

Before we hit record, I was telling Sandra and Patrick that I'm over here, like, kind of just a giddy version of myself, because this is the first time I get to meet Sandra. We've messaged on Instagram and email. And every time we've had an interaction I walk away kind of with a deep sigh, A, feeling more embodied, feeling like there's ideas I'm kind of marinating on. You just have a way of being in the world that I think takes people deeper into their experience and brings in and ushers in conversations of complexity in a way that doesn't automatically invoke psychological defenses. And I don't come across a lot of thinkers like that. And so, I've admired your work for the last couple of years. 

So, I first knew you as nd.narratives on Instagram. I have since followed your work other places. Like, I love your Substack. And I think you do kind of deeper writing there, and you've just published a book, It's Never Just ADHD: Finding The Child Behind The label, or it's in the process of being published. It'll probably be published-

SANDRA CORAL: Yeah [CROSSTALK 00:01:26]-

MEGAN NEFF: …soon after we release this. Yay okay. So, in my, like, fan girl excitement, what did I miss about who you are? How would you like to introduce yourself to our audience?

SANDRA CORAL: Oh, my goodness. Well, first off, thank you so much. I don't think I've ever had such a welcome before. And just, yeah, really a lot of gratitude. And just I have so much respect for your work. Oh, my goodness. You're actually quoted in my book, [CROSSTALK 00:01:53]-

MEGAN NEFF: Oh, no way.

SANDRA CORAL: Yeah, definitely. I love, yeah, I will get all into that. I should answer your question, actually. Yeah, my name is Sandra. I am, yeah, the new author, writer, content creator, podcaster behind Neurodivergent Narratives and @nd.narratives. [INDISCERNIBLE 00:02:19] my platforms. 

But, yeah, I'm queer black person who has neurodivergence, autistic, ADHD, OCD, you know, goes on like that. And yeah, I write a lot about the intersection of race, gender, neurodivergence, and somatic work, trauma. And, yeah, I write a lot about, you know, just connection and I do some advocacy, but I don't like an us versus them sort of thing, you know? Like, I try to write in a way that helps us all see, like, our own humanity, and the humanity in each other as well. So, that's…

MEGAN NEFF: I think that's what strikes me about your work is, like, you embody and you do what you advocate for, right? So, like, you talk a lot about disconnection and moving toward integration. And you do that in the way you communicate. And yeah, that's what I find kind of so distinctive about your work. And so I would say grounding, it feels really like grounded advocacy. Like it's integrative. 

SANDRA CORAL: Wow. Oh, wow.

MEGAN NEFF: I don't know how you are with compliments. I'm really hard with compliments, so I’ll, like, ease off the gas right here.

SANDRA CORAL: [CROSSTALK 00:03:55], you know?

MEGAN NEFF: I’m so sorry. I’ve, like, welcomed you onto my podcast and just, you know-

SANDRA CORAL: No, I appreciate it.

MEGAN NEFF: Flooded you with compliments. So, I'll, yeah. Yeah, we forgot to mention that you’re a somatic coach, that's part of it. And I think that that's part of the groundedness of what you bring is you do often bring it back to this aspect of embodiment.

SANDRA CORAL: Yeah, I like to. That and I do a lot of narrative therapy as well, like, because I just inherently think that therapy is quite, yeah, violent. Like, it's very subscriptive. And we really need to, yeah, like, take the problems out of the people, like, and put, you know… because when we can do that we can start to see, like, other solutions. Like, if the problem is inside you then like, basically, the only thing you can do is blame everyone else or destroy yourself. Like, so, yeah, that's what I love about narrative therapy, too. 

So, I try to I bring that a lot into what I do as well, because I think for a lot of neurodivergents, like people who have neurodivergence, I'm trying to figure out like what else to say with that, by the way, because like, and I do, like my thing is neurodivergent narratives, but like, I'm like, kind of feels like an us and them sort of separate thing. And I'm really about connection. And I'm just kind of like, is that like neurodiversity? You know? Just like a whole, like, you know what I mean? How that is.

But anyways, yeah, the whole thought about people do have solutions or ideas, like, inside them. Like, and they have different stories that they've been told or have grown up, like, learning and believing about themselves. And they might not be true to how they actually saw the incidences and stuff for themselves. So, when we can pull some of those out, and then they connect somatically with those other stories, the ones that are more empowering, the ones that are more aligned with their truth, yeah, then other solutions become apparent, if that makes sense, yeah.

MEGAN NEFF: It does and it makes me curious. I love the subheading of your book, The Child Behind The Label. Is that kind of what you're getting at in the book? Is that the narratives behind… Well, I won't make assumptions, I'll just ask, because I loved that subtitle of like, getting behind the label. Is that part of it, of get into the more embodied narratives? 

SANDRA CORAL: Yeah, well, Finding The Child Behind The Label is, yeah, what I was hoping for like, because the story, like the book is split up into like nine chapters plus the introduction. And each chapter is a story about a different child in school with me as their teacher, and through that, you know, the one thing they all have in common, that they all have ADHD, even though it looks, you know, quite different. 

And what I'm trying to say in the book is that like, you know, depending on, you know, the intersecting identities, like the social markers of child to turning on the social markers of the teacher, how we interpret the presentations, the ADHD, you know, they are different. And because of that, that impacts the kind of support that they're going to receive in school, whether they receive support or not. 

And, like, it seems really, like straightforward and very, you know… Like, that just seems like common sense to me, because of the way that the society is, but I guess it's not. Like, yeah, I guess it's not. 

So, each chapter looks at, like, as I said, like, a differentiated child with each different identities, and just how they're interpreted, and what kinds of things are barriers to their learning, and how we can reduce some of those barriers, and it really does come down to a lot of somatic work too, like, for the teacher, because, you know, I think a lot of neurodivergence is like, you know, rooted in a lot of disconnection, and a lot of dysregulation, you know? So, that's necessary to be able to meet kid’s needs, and, you know, a dysregulated body is one that feels unsafe. Like, inherently that's what it is. 

So, if you're seeing, “behaviors or presentations” that aren't aligned with what you think should be in a classroom, and what you learned was in the classroom, and what you learned about what teachers should be, and what students should be, you're going to treat these children differently, you're going to see those presentations differently, you're going to act accordingly. 

And a lot of the times, if you're looking at, say, a black kid, you know, a white teacher, like that's being very, like, surface level, but how regulated are you going to be whenever you see their presentations? Are you going to interpret them as ADHD or not? And so, that's what it is. And it's like, if you can look beyond, like, the label of ADHD, because we all have a definition of what it is. And if we have that definition, if we're staying with that definition, well, then we can't see, like, that child. And if we can't really see and find that child then how can we connect with them? And to do that, we've got to look at what we're bringing into our classrooms as well, in schools or wherever, as well.

PATRICK CASALE: It's so true. And I'm just thinking while you're talking about how like the teacher’s perception or understanding of what's going on, and how they define and label it can have major implications in terms of that child's development, their educational trajectory, and track, the support that they receive or do not receive, and the way that they are looked at. And that's such a fascinating take on it from that perspective to break it down into those nine different presentations, and then offer support for the educator as well. 

SANDRA CORAL: Yeah, I think it's why it took me a while to write. You know, I think it's really important to, like, note that, like, all kids, every one of us is impacted by, like, the culture, like the patriarchal white supremacy culture. Like, we are all impacted in it. So, even in this book, like, it's not just, you know, even though we look at, I look at with race, gender, socioeconomic class, and whatnot, I also include, like, you know, talking a little bit about whiteness, and like, how white boys are impacted, you know? How white, you know, I mean, boys, girls, and, you know, specifically, on purpose in that chapter because of the gender binary, and how that actually adds another layer of harm within their culture, and who gets missed? And what it means for even white children. Like, this culture harms their own, you know? Whiteness harms their own children. It's not necessarily, you know, we talk about it as being like a privilege to get a diagnosis. And yeah, in some ways, you know, it is depending on who you are. 

And what that means, you know, there's a reason why, you know, black communities weren't going to get their kids diagnosed for anything. It's like, do I need another label? Do I need another label? Is that going to benefit my kid? Yeah, so, like, we have to see it through like, this, like our brains. We know what? They do label everything. And we have a culture that does label everything. And we have to go beyond those, including the label of ADHD, because, you know, for black kids it doesn't look like ADHD depending on who is looking. And it does, like Patrick said, has consequences, it has high consequences. So, yeah.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, I love that way of getting the beyond the label, and even the ADHD label. Because you're right, the ADHD label itself still, like, especially, in education studying, it still influences how a teacher sees ADHD. We've had that conversation, me and my spouse have had that conversation of do we want this medically validated in our child? Do we want the education system to know kind of… And my spouse is in the education system. So, knowing what happens when a teacher sees that label, and then it gets so complex, too, because I don't want another label. 

And then the other piece I often think about is when the ADHD label gets missed what label gets put in place? So, either, like, we know for black children, particularly, in the US, conduct disorders, ODD, oppositional defiant disorders, conduct disorders. So, an ADHD black child is more likely to get those diagnoses than a white child. 

But also the internalized labels, right? I'm lazy, I'm incompetent, I'm too much. And so like, yeah, this conversation of labels, both internal and external is just really interesting to me. And I think I'm one of those people that kind of defaults to the ADHD or the autism label saves the day. But it doesn't. It's helpful, I think, to have an accurate narrative, but it also creates other problems in the society we live in.

SANDRA CORAL: Yeah. You know, like, that's the thing. Because oftentimes, like, parents would ask me, like, do I disclose this or not? And it's like, “Well, kids going to get a label anyways. And like, how do you want that label defined for your kids?” Like, that's where advocacy comes in a lot, because we do need to be able to, like, help, you know, have our kids be able to be who they're willing to be, you know, and what that means.

But then on the other side of this too, is like, when we're looking at a label, like you know, any neurodivergence, that it has different consequences depending on what some looks like, and who's looking at them, and how they've defined it. 

And so, like, even things like, you know, in the book, I've written something about, you know, ADHD is a superpower, or ADHD is a gift, which is a lot of things but, you know, ADHD is like the strength lists of like, or more creative, we do this, we do that, you know, whatever they are, I don't even have a list of them, sort of thing to try to, like, I don't know, like to combat that. But when you look at it through the lens of like, white supremacy culture, which, you know, then we have to ask ourselves, like, why do we got to be a superpower? Why does being different only become acceptable when it's beyond human? But what are we saying about, like, difference in the society? 

And particularly, this isn't like, you know, I do know that black and brown, you know, people might, like, pick up which is a superpower label, but where do you think that stuff started? Like, I'm going to put a guess on where it started and I'm going to say why. It's like, in this, I think, there’s no thing as whiteness, as well as, is like, you know, when you're different, you know, when you're farther from the center of privilege, you need to find a way to belong or fit in. And if you're already expected to be perfect, because perfectionism is, you know, a white supremacy, then, you know, what are you going to do when you're different and you're being excluded. Okay, well, I got to be beyond perfect. So, you know, what better? I have a superpower. 

So, okay, so we're going to go and dehumanize our kids and each other. Like, that's the further dehumanize. We're already dehumanized because of the pressures in each of us in different ways to be perfect, where you have like, you know, white men, like, you know, the highest, you know, rates of suicide over the age of 50. Guess, anyone? White cis males, men. Like, can we all sit with why that would be? Like, you know? That's like everyone is dehumanized under this culture. And then you put a label, like, you know, any neurodivergent. So I said, you know, and blaring lights, like, I'm to different. If you have it, like, feed it already, you know? And like, how do we fit? How do we find a way to fit by like, oh, let's make it better than that, let's look at strengths and stuff like this, and say, yeah, there's so much I could say about that, because like, anyone knows anything about ADHD? You know, it's so consistently inconsistent. What do you do whenever that strength isn't showing up? Is that superpower still? Like, I can go on about that.

MEGAN NEFF: So, I've been, like, sitting with something in my own head that I wasn't sure if I was going to bring it into the podcast, but I think this conversation feels like the right time. I saw a post or a comment on a post maybe six months ago and it grabbed me. And it's something about like, when the kind of neurodiversity movement, like when has it entered into toxic positivity? And I sat with that of like, because something that I talk about a lot here is the importance of holding the both, and the liberation, and the grief that comes with a later in life diagnosis and discovery. 

And it's not just in the neurodiversity affirming movement, I think the superpower narrative a lot of it comes outside of that movement. But just thinking through, like, what can look like a strength-based view on ADHD or autism can actually be quite harmful if it's not done with a lot of nuance and complexity, if it's excusing difference, right? Of like, well, you're different but you're acceptable because, right? All of these superpowers or if the narratives around it dismiss a person's experience of what's hard about moving through the world as a neurodivergent human. And I think, again, this is why I wanted to have you on as you dive into the complexity. Rigid narratives don't hold up well here. They can do more harm than help.

SANDRA CORAL: Yeah, like, I think that for me, like, I love hearing people's stories, I love learning about people's stories. So, like, when I'm working with people, because I do a lot of one-to-one work, particularly, with black and brown peoples. But when I'm doing work with them, like, the one thing that I, you know, hear through their stories is like, obviously, how complex they are and how they see what they've gone through. And through that, I just feel like, I don't know, people, we can get so trapped in very narrow storylines of ourselves. And I think it can go to the extreme like either way, you know? And it can have an impact. And we don't often bring in, like, the other things in our environment or the world around us that have had an influence on how we behave or how we've had to, you know, resist treatment, or the things that we've had to do to survive. And that's for everyone. 

And the thing is, is like, for me, it's like nobody's free if we're, like, not able to be who we are in our complexity. Like, if we're still having to make up stories that we’re not even like in or that we don't see ourselves in, or if we're only seeing stories that don't include us, if we're only, you know, not allowed to speak about, like, here are the difficult… like, this, and that, you know, all of that, then like, yeah, we're not going to have liberation, we're not going to be able to, I don't know, create a world that maybe our kids can… it's okay. Like, they don't have to have a label, they could just be, you know, like, it's Otis and, you know, here are the things that he needs to, you know, be at his best, and he knows them. And here are some of the things that he might have struggles with, like that's just humaneness, that's humaneness. We all have that, you know?

But I think there's a lot of like, obviously, it's like productivity and capitalism plays a lot in that. Like, how can you produce for, you know, the culture, like for Western culture, which is, you know, big on my quantity over quality in all of this stuff, and being productive, and linear time. Like, a lot is constructs, you know? I hope I’ve answered your question, I just kind of went off on one there.

MEGAN NEFF: I mean, it's called Divergent Conversations for a reason, we diverge all over the place. 

SANDRA CORAL: Oh, well, take what resonates everybody and just leave the rest. That's okay. I won't mind. 

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah.

SANDRA CORAL: I can say a lot, though, about the book, but I don't know, like, you know, what else I could. You know, I'm sure there's lots I could say, I haven't talked about the book yet. But now that brings into it. But yeah, I think there's one thing about this, actually, I can add to it, is like there's something about like when we're kids, right? In which we're in school, and we're trying to find a way to fit in, and we're trying to like, you know, do what the teacher says, and things like that. And I think that, you know, we do end up changing a lot of who we are, and, you know, stepping down, or trying to find ways to cope in order to become who, you know, we're expected to be as the student. 

And I think about, like, even my own experience of how I had to grow up, and just like, how the, you know, like I said, like the problem, if you're the problem, if the problem is inside of us, then literally, like, the solution becomes one that we have to create for ourselves. And as a kid, that becomes like, you know, blamed, shamed, guilted, you know? And so that they can change, you know? Try harder, you're being lazy, and no idea of how to do that, because we don't know what try harder means. Do you know what it means? Like, I still haven't been able to figure it out. Like, especially, when I show up every day I'm doing the best I can. Like, whatever that looks like. Like, that's the best I could do for today. Like, that's it. But to try harder, we don't know. 

And I think that it ends up being a lot of disconnection. And I don't think it's a surprise that ADHD overlaps with trauma, you know? To be able to disconnect, to have to disconnect from yourself, because in order to fit in or to do what you're told, you've got to self betray. Like, you have got to, you know, ignore what's coming up in your body, the sensations that are coming up in your body, the language of your own body. You cannot ignore it, you cannot deny it, you've got to make it and mean another thing, so that you can do what you have to do to survive. So on and so forth, absolutely.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, oh, sorry.

SANDRA CORAL: No, I'm done.

MEGAN NEFF: I love that you went there. I talk about that a lot, especially, with masking, which I mean, we know masking is a survival instinct. It's not some conscious choice, but part of the harm, I mean, there's so much harm that happens to… I’m talking about fragmentation, right? There's a lot of fragmentation that happens when we mask. But one thing I talk a lot about is how we learn not to trust our bodies, because we learn to betray our bodies at such a young age. And that makes us incredibly vulnerable, because we've learned to override our instincts, our self trust. And so a lot of the healing from that fragmentation is, oh, my goodness, how do I learn a process of, of self trust? Again, how do I learn to trust my body to stop overriding the instincts? This imagery of integration, and disintegration, and fragmentation, I'm really liking the imagery that you're playing with as you consider the people in front of you, and even in your writing, because that feels so key.

SANDRA CORAL: Thank you. When I finished writing the book, actually, when I was doing the final edits, I realized, oh my God, like this is about going from disconnection to connection. Like, this book is about connection, because like playing what you said, like, and I said this earlier, like a dysregulated body is one that feels unsafe and dysregulated. And what I mean by that, is like, if you're not ready, like, you know, calm, or content, and just at ease, you know, you're not regulated, so you're not feeling safe for whatever reason that is. Even like zoning out or like daydreaming, like that is a way to like, regulate, like, what my body feels is unsafe, you know? 

And a key point here is that a dysregulated body does not learn effectively. Like, period, you know?

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, no so system’s regulated, like, when the sensory system and the nervous system is regulated, none of the higher level systems are regulated. Like, nothing helpful is going to be happening there, yeah.

SANDRA CORAL: Exactly, exactly. You know, my kid when it was during, like, COVID, and they were having him try to do video, and he was not doing video. Like, he was, like, really unhappy he could not do it. But you know, so he didn't do really much in his school, to be fair, during that time, but it was like two weeks left before school was they were going to go back, and the three months that he was off, like, I taught him everything he needed to learn in like three hours a day for like two weeks, you know? 

And I'm bringing that point up to be like, it isn't about, like, in schools, like, we can spend the time that we need to spend on making sure that kids feel good being in those classrooms, the classroom culture, the way that the teacher can feel regulated, the support that the teacher has, the community that they have around them as well, like all of these things play a part in, like, making sure that the culture that you create is one that has belonging, not just fitting in, not just like, “Oh, hey, everybody's different and that's okay.” But actual belonging where the child feels like, “Yes, like I can be here as I am.” And the more that I can do that, and the more regulated I feel like as a teacher, the more then that I can help create that culture without that. 

Yeah, so there's so much disconnection. And I feel like we miss the body in a lot of neurodivergent, like, conversations. And it's doing us so much disservice, because there's so much that, like, I've been able to do with people once we get comfortable inside our bodies, because the thing is, too, is that, like, people are so… you think that you would go in and be like, “Okay, we're going to talk about like… we're going to do some somatic work.” And it's like, we cannot do it right away, people do not want to be inside their bodies. They've learned that their body-

MEGAN NEFF: Oh, goodness, yeah.

SANDRA CORAL: …is unsafe. 

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah. I was so dissociated from my body by the time I was diagnosed, and like, I would joke with my therapist of like, don't you dare ask, like, where in my body is that located? Because like, that was such an intrusive question. And so, like, became a working joke. So, if you ever asked it, it was legit just a joke, because he knew how much I hated that question. Either it's really unsafe to tap into a dysregulated body, yeah.

SANDRA CORAL: And think about the stories that we learn to tell ourselves in order to take it, or in order to mask, or in order to kind of fit in. Essentially, when I'm starting to work with people, like we just kind of get to know each other in this space. Like, I spent a lot of time validating their existence and helping them see other threads, other stories that are more empowering in their narrative, you know? So that they start to trust me and trust, you know, our space. And then whenever we start to do any kind of somatic work, it's very airy. Like, you know, because neurodivergents like a lot of us need, like, to know exactly what's going to happen, and exactly what we're going to do, and exactly how it's going to be, which maybe a lot of somatic practitioners wouldn't know that. 

And also, like, not everybody can describe or feel like what's happening in their body. So, it's very, very short, our first session. We're looking for safety, like what safety can feel like, which is like pockets of like, “Oh, that actually feels comfortable. I could hang out there if I had to.” Like in that sensation, you know? But we learn that discomfort in our bodies means that we are bad. Like, that's the thing. It's like, “Oh, I feel uncomfortable about something. I have discomfort. I must be bad. I must have did something bad. I'm bad.”

And nobody wants to be hanging out tracing, tracking feelings of like, “Oh, I'm really bad. Oh, this means I must be really…” You know? Like, it's like, no way. So, we've got to learn to like trust that some of the stories that they were told were different than how they actually interpreted it. So, we have to pull some of those stories out so they can go, “Oh, okay, you know what? I felt that before too. Like this thing that happened and you know, they said that I was being aggressive, but really what I was doing, I wasn't going to do any more of that schoolwork, because I'd already done it before and they kept saying that.” “Oh, okay, yeah, like, can you tell me another time where that happened? And like you were misunderstood like that? You felt that way?” “Oh, yeah.”

And then they met another time and another time. And it's like, all of a sudden, they've got this whole story. And they can feel it in their bodies then of like, “Wait a minute, this is true. Like, I have tried to stand up for myself in the past and then I was told that I was, like, being aggressive or rude. But actually, they didn't see it like that. But this is actually how it's happened. It's happened before.” 

And then we got, “Oh, then we can get somewhere.” You know, then we can kind of dip in, but it's still very, like, slow, slow, slow process. And it always starts with finding safety. I would never have anybody like go, “Oh, you're feeling anxious. Let's just track that for a minute.” And like, what doesn't feel like that right now? You know?

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, so locate a part in yourself that doesn't feel anxious and anchored in that  to kind of… yeah. 

SANDRA CORAL: Yeah, yeah, for sure, I’m very sure. And another thing that I recognize too, is realize is that we have introspection issues, you know? You know what the heck we're feeling like half the time? Half of the thing is like reassuring people. No, we don't have to have a word for it. Like, you don't have to label it anxiety. Because like, what is anxiety like? It could be anxiety riddled with shame, guilt, anger, frustration. Like, and it all feels just a little tiny bit different, right? So, you don't have to label that. You can just tell me where it is in your body, you know? 

And some people they can't... Like, I've worked with people where like, they just can't find the words. So, we were like, “Okay, well, like let's make a scale. How about you show me your, you know, we'll sit in a place, put the camera where I can see you, and all you have to do is just point to the part.” And then on a scale that we made, one meaning, you know, nothing, five meaning, whoa, this is like big, just tell me the number, you know? And let's go from there. Instead of trying to go, “Oh, I can't think of the…. oh, I don't know the part, or I don't know where it is, or I can't describe it.” And then all of a sudden you get anxiety because you can't find the right word of what you're trying to describe, you know? I've had people who were like, “I can only see it in colors.” Like, that's fine, because you know what that color means. 

We got to help people learn the language of their bodies with the sensations and have them learn that they are the people that know that language best. So, all people go like, “Does that sound okay? Does that sound all right?” And it's like, hey, nobody's going to be like, “Last time you said it was, you know, orange when it was there and now you're saying it's blue?” Is that right or wrong?” You know, like, sort of thing. Like, I'm not your expert on your body, you are. And it's pretty natural, very natural, that you're not going to know, or you could be right away, or even have a word for it at all. And it's okay if it's just uncomfortable. I don't want to be sitting there anymore. Like, I don't want to be feeling this right now, you know? 

And it's okay if last time it was this, you know, X, and this time it's Y, and I don't know if I got it right last time or not. So, people would tell me like whole scenes of what was happening in their body, “Oh, there's this person, he’s talking like this, and [INDISCERNIBLE 00:37:01], and it's like a person who has a hammer.” It's great, you know? Can we say hello to that person? Is that all right? Do they want us to say hello to them? 

No. Okay, so you just want to ask it a bit, if you could just sit by it and just stay with it over here for a while, you know? Like, so much stuff gets done. And it helps a lot of people. Like, it just shifts so much. I can't say enough about somatics. Like, however we get it through, however we figure it out. Like, we work together to just find a way that works for them. 

MEGAN NEFF: Part of what you do, it sounds like, is you co-create a language with the person for them to be able to talk about their body versus using this prescribed language that we've perhaps been given. You're co-creating it in these one-on-one work where you're dealing with people and you're helping them create the language for accessing their body.

SANDRA CORAL: Yeah, I never thought of that. I do like intro, like, things. So, it's like somatic focusing is where I base it on. And it works really well for me, because it's all about reconnecting the mind and body. So, if you have been someone who's just like, “I'm so disconnected from that.” Well, then it's going to be a small like, little process of like, you know, we integrate it into our sessions. So, like, they'll be talking about something and I’ll just be like, hey, so how does that feel in your body? You know that's kind of a huge thing you've just said, is that feeling like anything in your body?” And be like, “Oh, actually. Oh, I feel it, you know, in my chest or I feel tightness.” “Oh, so you feel comfortable, uncomfortable, or?” “Oh, gosh, that's so good.” “Okay, does feel good or… “I'm not sure.” Hey, like, if it's an I'm not sure, chances are you probably don't want to hang out there. Let's find somewhere else that might be in your body that you'd be like, “Yeah, I could hang out here for a moment.”

So, I guess we do kind of co-create a language. One of the things that they do is like, you know, in focusing we do repeat some of the things that they come up with and say or what they've, like, discovered. They can hear it back to themselves. And kind of be like, “Oh, yeah, it's like that.” Or, “Oh, no, it's not like that. It's very much… it's very, very…” Like, I even tell them, “I'm your companion. I'm just there, you're not doing this alone. Like, I'm just there, you are the lead. You tell me how long, I'll time it. You know, would you like this lead in? You have 30 seconds left. You know, do you want to continue for another 30 seconds or would you like to stop here?”

So, I think it's very empowering. And then we talk about, like, what came up for them. Like, you know, we try to make sense of it. It's very empowering. And it's can be difficult for people, because, you know, one of the things, you know, it's like over explaining, you know? And it's just like trying to, you know [INDISCERNIBLE 00:40:14]. And I'm like, with people I know really well, who I’ve worked with for a while, I know really well, it can be like, “Okay, I'm doing that again.” 

But you know, it’s all in a loving, you know, way, because for some people you can't, like, for some people I've worked with, and I know, it's like, “Stop there. We're done.” Like, okay, let's bring it out to something else now. Because for me, then, I know that they're done. Like, they're starting to be dysregulated as well, you know? So, that's also a sign like, you know, I've zoned out or it's become too much for my body if I'm trying to over explain things, if I'm trying to create a conversation with you. Does that make sense? That's usually my cue of like, “Okay, [INDISCERNIBLE 00:41:02] the room for a minute, let's just chat about something else.”

MEGAN NEFF: So, Patrick actually calls me out on this podcast, I've said in this podcast before, when I get really analytical sometimes that's a sign I'm kind of low grade, dissociated out of my body. And so, Patrick will at times call me out on the podcast of like, “Where are you at Megan? Because that was a pretty like heavy thing you just said.” So, yeah, so totally tracks.

SANDRA CORAL: Yeah, I do love doing that work, and then just being able to like… because a lot of people I've worked with have been like somatic. Like, oh my God, like, because they just think that they're going to be sitting like for an hour, like with their eyes closed, and like having to describe stuff that they don't… like, no, doubt been there. It's like, no, no, no, one minute. We might make it to one minute the first time. So, it's kind of like that. 

But it's fine. Like you get to see like, yeah, it's so many stories, so many, yeah, that's the thing about our narratives. Like, that’s what I love. Like, I love narrative therapy. I love the idea that there are so many threads to our stories, that we often get stuck on one that's, you know, very disempowering, very disconnected from who we are. And I love the idea of being able to, yeah, how people connect through what I discover, you know, through some of my own stories, or some of my own thoughts, like some of that stuff. I think of it just like, hey, this is what I'm discovering, what do you all think about this? Sort of thing. No, no.

PATRICK CASALE: I love that you said, you know, just the way that you approach this from different perspectives of like, what language do you want to use? Or what images do you want to use instead of this black and white thinking about this is how we talk about what's happening for us, because for me, I'm one of those people when I can't find access to the words to describe how I'm experiencing something I shut down, I get really shameful. Like, with my own therapist, if she's the person who's like, “So, where's that showing up for you.” And I'm like, immediately shut down. 

But if we use different types of language, if we use parts work, if we use imagery, then all of a sudden it becomes much more accessible, opposed to saying, like, I just cannot figure out the language to put into place right now. And that feels really frustrating. So, I really like that approach a lot.

SANDRA CORAL: Thank you. And I appreciate that. One thing that I love about narrative therapy and even somatic work that I do is that like I do trust the people that come to me to be the experts in their lives. Like, you know, even as young as like my own kid is nine, but I trust that he is that expert. Like, yeah, okay, it's counselling so he does need some, like, you know, support, you know, guidance and stuff like that. But to put words in his mouth, like, no. And it's the same for other people that I work with, as well. It's like, it helps, you know, because I don't have to be the one to have to be the savior, to be the solution. You know, what are they going to do when I'm not there? How are they going to ever, you know, believe that they are capable if they think that the only reason that they've been able to do this is because of, you know, working with me? 

I want them to see that, you know, okay, this has been a teamwork, you know? And I could have have done it without what they know. And I think that's why it's been so important to look at intersectionality, and to look at the complexities of… and to use that tool, and to actually confront my own stories about what I've learned about whiteness, what I've learned about [INDISCERNIBLE 00:45:00], and what I've learned about gender, and where that’s showing up in my own work, you know? Because I'm human, too, I make mistakes. And I've had to go through my own, you know, processes of like accountability. 

And I have a community of people that help me be accountable, not online. You know, I mean, it's not an online thing, you know? I know more about community and being held accountable because of the advocates I work closest with, you know? Like, yeah, that's where I learn to try to do better and try to see people in their wholeness, because they see me and mine, a community that I have. We all need that.

MEGAN NEFF: I just-

PATRICK CASALE: [CROSSTALK 00:46:04]. 

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah. Oh, go ahead, Patrick. 

PATRICK CASALE: No, I was just saying that's well said, it's important to have that community in place to create accountability, and to have people who can support you in a empathetic, caring, compassionate way when you sometimes falter or make mistakes, too. 

SANDRA CORAL: Yeah. I think it allows us to be human, right?

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah. It strikes me how you say like it's not online. And I just think about how important it is to have that embodied connection when we are being held accountable, or when there's those hard conversations of accountability and online spaces can have that kind of fragmented feel, because you don't have that connection. And so that connection is such a important part of the accountability process. 

SANDRA CORAL: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Like, that's everything, you know? I don't know how you can be. No, you can't. Like, you need people. Like your identity is created in being around others too, you know? How are you going to do better when you have no one around you to help you, like, know what you need to do better? You know, because of the nature of some of the work that we write, and some of the things that we do? Like, I've had been questioned about things, which, you know, my hyper focus posts and things like this, some of my stuff has been like question, you know? Yeah, that's for another conversation, I got other thoughts on that but for another day.

But you know, I've had to go to my people and be like, okay, like, what do I need to learn here? And what do you think? Like, I have a really good friend of mine that got called out for something, and you know, she automatically apologized for it. And she brought it to us, like, as a part of her community. And went. “What happened here?” And we thought a lot about it, and we talked about it went back and forth about it. And we were like, “Hey, you apologize quick. And this wasn't something to apologize, like, in this way for.” 

So, it works both ways, too. So, it was after that a being like, “Hey, before you jump out and do like, okay, I've got to do an apology post or what not, I need to put myself accountable, especially, as black women and femme, we have to bring it to our communities really quick to be like, all right, what's happening here? And where is my accountability? Like, how am I supposed to be accountable here or am I? Sort of thing, if that makes sense, you know?

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, the imagery that's coming to my mind is like, if you're moving from a place of belonging, like so that connection with your community of, like, being able to kind of workshop those ideas, and if there's an apology to be had, it's coming from a place of belonging versus coming from a fear of disbelonging, right? Like, I am so afraid that I won't belong, and so I'm going to quick apologize before I've thought through, like, what does that play here? I feel like the energy of that would be so different if it's coming from a place of belonging versus a fear of disbelonging.

SANDRA CORAL: Yeah, yeah, exactly. And I think that's a really key point is like, I never thought about that, but it does make sense. Because a lot of the accountability is a fear phase, you know? And just like, I don't want to be like, rejected, or actually the worst is like kicked out, you know, from the group. 

And like, you see this too a lot. There's this other side of that too, where it's like, “Oh, I don't want to be connected with this bad thing that's happened.” Which is where all the violence I think, comes out on like, you know, “I'm calling you out.” You know, sort of thing, so that I can be as far away from that as possible. 

And like that was never about accountability, that was never for accountability. It's about how can like helping each other be at our best, like do better. Because what are you going to do with all the people that you call out and decide that they're not allowed back in? Like, what are going to do with them all? Like, it’s like, yeah, [CROSSTALK 00:50:31]. Like, it doesn't make sense. Like, you've got to help them do better, you know, whatever is within your capacity. You might not be the person that has the capacity to deal with that, you know? Which is why you have a community, you know?

MEGAN NEFF: And when you have a culture like that, where there's that fear, like that fear of if I'm connected to this idea or this, I'm going to be kicked out, it collapses space for complexity. There's something you said, I'm sure I'm going to misquote you, so I'd correct my memory of it. But you did a live with Tiffy and Naya…

SANDRA CORAL: TJ.

MEGAN NEFF: EJ, okay.

SANDRA CORAL: TJ, yeah.

MEGAN NEFF: TJ, okay. And on ABA and intersectionality, and first of all, thank you for doing that. But in that talk, one thing I heard you say was, I think that is something like conversations that don't hold space for complexity are not anti-racist conversations and might be simplified. But there's something about holding space for complexity, like to be truly anti-racist, you've got to have space for complex conversations. Like, we won't get into the ABA conversation today, because that would be a whole other podcast.

SANDRA CORAL: That’s like a whole other podcast.

MEGAN NEFF: But, like, that's a great example of like, if you're not thinking about this with lots of different threads and thinking, you're going to have a pretty kind of narrow, thin narrative around it that's going to be harmful. So, this idea of the culture we build, creating cultures that doesn't collapse space for complexity, I think, is so important.

SANDRA CORAL: Yeah, absolutely. And you know, I think the whole other thing about like, the autistic community and culture there, you know, because so many of our most marginalized are like, buried, like decentered in a conversation. And, you know, I think, I know a lot of that happens whenever, you know, the most marginalized in a space are not leading advocacy, you know?

When you're closer to the center of privilege, you don't see much unless you're always turning around. Like, continually, always turning around, always looking back and seeing who's behind you. When you were so close to the center, you know, problems like I'm autistic versus I have autism become a focus of like [INDISCERNIBLE 00:53:14]. Meanwhile, if you turn around, you realize what's happening to black and brown people, what's happening to non-speakers, and all the other complex identities that are within that space that actually need to be. There is a privilege in being able to mask for however long that we did before we would diagnose them. We have to realize that. And we also know that there is, like we hold both, we hold privilege and oppression. Okay, but it's not at the same weights, let's say, it’s not at the same…. And that's the truth, you know?

MEGAN NEFF: It's not the same weights. And it's not that the stakes are different. Like, the safety stakes are different. I was just recently having this conversation with someone, one thing I'm seeing, and like, I will own my experience of this as a white person of, so there's discomfort with having privilege and having power. And there's a lot of move to try and distance from that. 

SANDRA CORAL: Yeah, I think. 

MEGAN NEFF: And I as a white person, when I got my autism diagnosis and my ADHD diagnosis, I will say there was some, like, relief of I don't have all the privileged identities, and I have my feelings around that of like, but it was a really important moment for me to realize like there will be some temptation to try and like…. what's the word I'm looking for? Give myself an out for my white privilege by like over identifying with my neuro minority, but like I can't do that, I can't erase my white privilege, because I have one marginalized identities, but I saw the temptation there. And I saw the fact that there was some relief of I'm not all of the privilege things. And that was hard for me to see. But I also feel like it's important, because it because I'm seeing. I'm seeing a lot of people trying to distance from their privileged identities.

SANDRA CORAL: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. You know, and I think there's something about like, first off, and in doing that, we do nothing with it besides, like, try to like, keep hold of it, you know what I mean? Like, that also happens. And it's like, well, I have it, and I'm using it for my own thing, but I'm not [INDISCERNIBLE 00:55:47] because I feel so guilty. It's like, no, well, like you have it to use, because it's not helping, and it's not helping either of us, though, because if I'm not getting everything that I need, you know, if the most marginalized us isn't getting what they need, then, you know, really none of us are. But when we all do, like, when they have everything they need, then the possibilities for us, that means we are getting everything we need to. 

And to me, that is such a simple thing, like, to, like, understand that. Like, I can see that the visual of like, hey, look, if they had all of these things, and you only need this one thing, look at like, it could be easier, you know? If we were going for like all of the things that this most marginalized need, and look at what we could all be living with. Like, and I do understand that. There was a comment that I read, and I'm just loving it, you know? And it kind of talks about like whiteness, like whiteness math. And it says like white plus, and in this case it was queer equals BIPOC. And that really hit me because, like, what was kind of what you're saying that temptation of like, “Oh, gosh, I've got this identity, so I can be most marginalized?”

Like, remember the culture is about supremacy. So, it's the most, it's the worst, it's the best. So you can't just be marginalized, you've got to be like, “Oh, it's like the worst for me.” You know? Because that's what the culture is about. So, that totally tracks that it would be like, okay, like I could be more. 

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah. Well, and I want to distance from the discomfort of acknowledging my privilege and acknowledging how I participate in these systems. And yeah, absolutely. I see that, I see, yeah.

SANDRA CORAL: I also say too, like, I grew up, like I was a transracial adoptee. I was adopted by white people, I grew up around white people, I didn't see any black people. The amount of years it's taken me and I still have to work through my own anti-blackness, like we all have that in us even black people, you know? Like, this has taken so much from like, to my proximity to whiteness on the idea that at 40 I could be like, “Oh, maybe it's ADHD, because my little brother was diagnosed when he was eight.” And only because my parents were white, and were like, “Heck's going on with this kid? He's not behaving like other kids that we had, that were white, or some of our own.” 

And I knew that because of my proximity to whiteness, and that's something that I've had to like grapple with, you know? Even like, just being black, I've had to grapple that, and I still grapple with that, and I still do. 

So, there's so many complex layers of that in so many ways that for all of our stories, and how they could be interpreted. And that's why, you know, I'm very big on like, you know, people being experts of their own lives and people learning to reconnect with their bodies. This is where our truths are. Like 80% of our knowledge is in our bodies. The memories and things of what we know is in our bodies, that's where that truth is. And there's a reason why we learn to keep disconnected from it. There's a reason why that we learn that, “Oh, that's bad, we're bad, that's wrong. What could we do and accomplish and be?” And we all reconnected to who we are, who we truly are. And what would we be saying like, “No, this is ridiculous. I'm not doing that anymore? No, I'm not working 40 hours a week.” 

Like, what would happen when teachers went like, “You know what? We're not doing this. What is this nonsense?” You know? And if you know what I mean and how that impacts, like how we everything, how we see ourselves, how we decide we need to show up, you know?

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah. Patrick, you look like you have a thought but I can't… Sandra sometimes with a three-way interview there's always the like, time to say, “Who has a question to ask?” So, that's part of the awkwardness you get to experience today. But yes, Patrick, you look like you had a thought there.

PATRICK CASALE: No, I'm just thinking about the complexity and the nuance here. And just thinking, just thinking.

MEGAN NEFF: Okay, yeah. 

PATRICK CASALE: I’m just thinking about my own identity. It's obviously very apparent when I walk into a room that I am a white man. So, for the most part, are male identifying, so married to a black woman, so just thinking of all the complexities here that are interwoven, and how important it is, like you're saying Sandra, to talk about the narratives, and to connect with the body, and to do the work, and to do the healing, because I think that makes a major, major difference going forward, too. 

SANDRA CORAL: And I think for like, you know, when I'm thinking about whiteness and white man's, you know, there's so much about like, toxic masculinity and whatnot, and a lot of that gets, like, placed right inside like the guy. “Oh, he’s so toxic, toxic masculinity.” And it's like, no. Yeah, we can't do that. Like, that's not going to work, because then what ends up happening? We end up having like, you know, substance addictions, you know, in all of the ways that, you know, trying to manage the discomfort without being able to, you know, go to therapy, acknowledge that there's more feelings besides anger, acknowledge that, oh, hey, I had inattentive ADHD, but I was never seen as having ADHD. So, I still had to be perfect. And I still had the expectation to, you know, lead society, make all the money, blah, blah, blah when really, I just wanted to be an artist and like, hang out in my parent’s basement, you know? Like, do you know what I mean? Like, I couldn't be that. And then I'm told I'm lazy. 

You think that the idea of like, an ADHD diagnosis, for example, is like, you know, that privilege, but in a way, like what I write about this in the book is like, I think it just went, “Oh okay, here's a way that we can mold these kids who are not fitting the Eurocentric, you know, school expectation, these boys have, because we made it for them, they're still not fitting it. So, let's just get them a diagnosis of ADHD. Not only does it differentiate them from the black kids that are behaving the same, but now we can, like, even something that can maybe mold them better into who they're supposed to be as, you know, male people, like male identifying people. And like, how is that, and like, that looks like a privilege maybe if you're, you know, inattentive, ADHDer who is not getting diagnosed, and you’re a white male, you know? 

Or if you're a white woman, identifying female presenting person, and you're expected to be the emotional hub of your home and the executive functioning head. And you can't do that, because you're not supposed to be able to do anything really in school back then. So, do you know what I mean? Like, so yeah, maybe it does look like a privilege in that eyes, in that context if you can better live up to the expectations of white supremacy, culture, right? It really harms all of us.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, yeah. I really like how much you tap back into like, the collective. We need to collectively return to our humanity, right? We could talk about like individual narratives, and then kind of more collective narratives, right? We need to heal our collective narratives around what it means to be human. I want to be respectful of your time.

SANDRA CORAL: Oh, yeah, thank you.

MEGAN NEFF: We've taken so… You've been very generous with it. And I always like jotting down notes throughout as you're talking, which, to me, that's a signal that my mind has been very engaged and I've had lots of imagery [INDISCERNIBLE 01:04:34] through my mind. So, first, I just want to thank you for the generative conversation, and for talking about your book, and talking about the work you do, and the somatic piece, particularly. I hear that term used a lot. Like, somatic therapy, and I really appreciate you unpacking what it actually looks like, because I think people hear that terminology and they’re like, “Well, what's that actually mean?” So, yeah, thank you so much for being here. Where can people connect with you? Find you? Find your book? Yes.

SANDRA CORAL: Yeah. I would say the best place… Like, you can see some of my stuff on IG and @nd.narratives. But my substack, I think, is where I'm going to go to now that the book stuff is done and good. I'm on Facebook, kind of the same name. And now I can actually do another season of my podcast, which I'm really excited about too, because I want to dive in a little bit more into like creativity, and just really like, just living. Like, what's it like for living as neurodivergent as our like, fullest expression of humanity? Like, how can we, like, reconnect to that? And yeah, so I'm really looking forward to kind of exploring those topics a lot more as well.

So, you can find me in my podcast, Neurodivergent Narratives Podcast. Anyway, listen to podcasts, too. And you can brush up on my work in writing as I get started to like, recreate, I'm so excited to come back into writing again [INDISCERNIBLE 01:06:12].

MEGAN NEFF: I was excited when I saw your Substack newsletter that your book was done, because I think I subscribed, right? Like, I got a few of yours, and then I think you went deep into writing book mode. And so, then, I was like, “Oh, yeah.”

SANDRA CORAL: [CROSSTALK 01:06:30].

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah.

SANDRA CORAL: I'm excited about that. Yeah, and the book, there'll be a preorder link coming in the next day or two. It's going to be in my bio. Well, by the time this is aired, it will be in my bios, like across social media, and on my Substack.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, perfect, yeah. Yeah, we'll include those links in the show notes, as well as preorder link to your book.

SANDRA CORAL: Right. Thanks, appreciate it. And I appreciate the conversation. It's so good to be able to chat. It's so good people to meet and I'm really excited that we've got a chance to meet and chat. And Patrick it’s so nice to meet you, too. 

PATRICK CASALE: Thank you.

SANDRA CORAL: Thank you for having me. I really [CROSSTALK 01:07:12].

PATRICK CASALE: Yeah, thanks for being here. A really good conversation. And we'll have all of Sandra's information in the show notes so that you have easy access to find that, to order the book, to follow, and to support. 

So, thank you so much for coming on and new episodes of... can't talk, new episodes of the Divergent Conversations Podcast every Friday on all major platforms and YouTube. Like, download, subscribe, and share. And goodbye.

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