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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.


Episode 61: ADHD & Romanticism: Reconciling Fantasies with Reality

Jul 04, 2024
Divergent Conversations Podcast

Show Notes

For ADHDers, romanticism is a common struggle where you find yourself constantly daydreaming about an ideal future and struggling with the reality of the present.

In this episode, Patrick Casale and Dr. Megan Anna Neff, two AuDHD mental health professionals, discuss the intricacies of romanticizing experiences and the repercussions that come with it. As neurodivergent mental health professionals, they offer a unique perspective on how projecting ideal futures can create a disconnect with the present, leading to disappointment and restlessness.

Top 3 reasons to listen to the entire episode:

  1. Discover the impact of romanticizing future outcomes on mental health, particularly for those with ADHD and other neurodivergent traits, and how it can disrupt your ability to enjoy the present moment.
  2. Hear Dr. Neff and Patrick's personal stories about their struggles with restlessness and the unending need for new experiences, and learn how this affects their daily lives.
  3. Explore strategies to reconcile your idealized visions of the future with the messy reality of the present, and find out how to cultivate a sense of settled contentment.

Take some time to reflect on your own tendencies to romanticize the future. Consider how this impacts your well-being and what steps you can take to stay grounded in the present and find balance one moment at a time.


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PATRICK CASALE: Hey, everyone. You are listening to the Divergent Conversations podcast. We are two neurodivergent mental health professionals in a neurotypical world. I'm Patrick Casale.

MEGAN NEFF: And I'm Dr. Neff.

PATRICK CASALE: And during these episodes, we do talk about sensitive subjects, mental health, and there are some conversations that can certainly feel a bit overwhelming. So, we do just want to use that disclosure and disclaimer before jumping in. And thanks for listening.

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PATRICK CASALE: Hey, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of Divergent Conversations. Today, Megan and I are going to talk about romanticizing. And we still don't know if this is a word, romantification, that comes up as ADHDers when we are romanticizing about experiences, and new things that are stimulating and exciting, and how that can really be impactful on your day-to-day and your livelihood.

MEGAN NEFF: I think we need to make it a word if it's not a word. So, we'll just keep using romantification until it becomes a thing.


MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, yeah. I was thinking about this because I feel like we kind of touched on this when we did the attachment episode on, I think, we talked about neurodivergent attachment, and as we do, we focused more on the autistic experience. And so, we did talk about it a little bit about how tempting it is to live in fantasy.

But I think this is kind of different. I know for me, it feels different. It's more about I project to my future self that, like, they're going to be a certain way. And then, I'm always disappointed when it turns out that my future self is still struggling with executive functioning, and still struggling with making healthy decisions. And that does feel a little bit different than the way we've talked about autistic fantasy, and escape, and kind of living in fantasy.

What about for you? Does it feel similar? Does it feel different?

PATRICK CASALE: Yeah, I think that's a good way to portray that and define that because I think you're right. It's like this romanticized idea or this romantification of… Can't wait for people in our DMs to be like, "That's not a word." To project this desired outcome based on if all of these things happen, or if I do these things then future me is going to really flourish, it's going to really thrive, it's really going to have an easier go at life. It never seems to add up, however.

MEGAN NEFF: So, who is the romantified Patrick? Like, when you look forward to your future and it's like there's an idealized Patrick out there, who is he?

PATRICK CASALE: Okay, this is the romantified version, especially, when it comes to ADHD because we talked about restlessness over the last couple episodes. The romantified version of Patrick in future self is settled, is like content, but content with present circumstances, is not constantly thinking about the next thing or anxious about the next thing. Both of those things exist pretty simultaneous for me. I think that there's also the ability to just appreciate existence, which is not something I often am able to do because I'm so focused on the future, everything that can go wrong, all the different ideas, all the flurry of, like, things that are happening to me and day-to-day projects, ideas, creativities. I think settled. Like, settled content present, those would be romanticized ideas that I have never been able to obtain.

MEGAN NEFF: Like, I've felt that in my chest when you were talking. That word contentment, that was something in my community, that thread was picked up a lot by folks in the episode that just aired, and the sadness of that.

And when I was reading other people's thoughts reflected back to me, I was like, "Oh yeah, I do feel a lot of sadness around that, around the difficulty to be content, to be present."

I think my future self is also very similar in that, yeah, they're able to be content, and be present with what is… the itch isn't there.

PATRICK CASALE: Yeah, that's a good way to put it, the itch isn't there. Because I do feel that way. You know, it feels there's almost like this crawl out of my skin sensation that I feel on a moment-by-moment basis. And it's hard to often, like, pinpoint what's causing it in the moment because it could be so many different things.

But I noticed it yesterday, like my dad was in town visiting for a couple days. He came to watch the dogs for us so we could go to my mother-in-law's 60th birthday party. And he's been here for four days. Yesterday, I noticed, like, this crowd of my skin, "I need to be doing something. I'm so restless, I'm so bored sitting on my couch."

So, then, I almost start to think about, like, "Okay, what can I do to get him not to no longer be bored? What if he's having a bad time? I'm really under-stimulated right now. I feel really anxious. I need to get out of here."

And it's like one o'clock in the middle of the day, there's nothing going on. But that's been, basically, my existence my entire life, is that feeling of like I am so uncomfortable in this present moment that I need to change my situation and my circumstances immediately.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, yeah. I relate to that a lot. I think I've shared this anecdote on this podcast, but I think it was in one of our first 10 so maybe I can reshare and recontextualize. But this was about 10, oh no, it was like 13, 14, years ago, is when Luke and I were first married. And we were sitting at a Starbucks, and he was like, "Here, play this game."

And it was like, this game on a computer, very, very low tech. And it's just like a little line person, and there's a line. And then, there's a maze beneath and a maze above. And I was like, "What are the instructions?" And he's like, "No instructions, just play."

So, I just start running with my little finger, like, just on the line. And I'm trying to get to the end. And then, at five minutes the game ends. And I was like, "That was pointless. What was that?" And Luke was like, "Well, it's a game that, basically, it's kind of a microcosm of however you play it is how you navigate life."

And I was like, "Oh, so cool. What did you do?" He was like, "I went and explored. Like, I explored the mazes down below." And it was a really powerful moment for me of that is how I live my life, of like, what's next? What's next? What's next? Let me get to the end. And I'm like, what? Till I die? Like, let me just get to the end till I die?

And that is how I live. And I work really hard to live differently, but it always feels like I'm fighting against my natural grain to try to slow down, be present, to not just be rushing from what's next? What's next? What's next?

PATRICK CASALE: I don't think you've shared that before, but that really hits home because I feel the same way, where I'm just like, feeling like I'm rushing to the next thing, or through things, and not able to absorb what's happening around me.

And we've talked about this before, there's a lot of fixation on, like, end-of-life stuff, not the desire to not be here, but there is a lot of processing around, like, life inevitably comes to an end eventually, and it feels like I'm running out of time constantly. But it also feels like I'm moving so fast through everything that I often think about the fact that I'm 37 about to be 38, and I just know that in 10 years it's going to be like that felt like the blink of an eye. And did I really even stop to pay attention to what was important around me, or was I constantly in that headspace of, like, what's next? What do I have to cross off the list? What I have to do? What do I have to create? What's the next exciting thing? And it really does take away from day-to-day, present existence.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, it's this weird, like, I'm curious if this will relate based on what you just said. For me, it feels like this double-sided experience of, on one hand, like you, I'm very existential. I'm thinking a lot about death, but the other time, the other side, I feel like I'm not thinking about that enough, in the sense that, like, I adore both my parents and we used to live closer to them. But they live, you know, 40 minutes from me.

And sometimes I'll think about the fact that they will die, right? And I'm like, "Oh my goodness, I'm going to feel so sad that I like, didn't take that day and drive out and go on a walk, or go spend time with them."

And I know that in my head, but then, pulling away, and primarily pulling away from work, taking a day to do that is so hard for me. I don't do it. And so, there's a sense of, I think about end of life and death all the time. I'm also aware I'm if I keep living the way I am, I'm going to have a lot of regrets when I get to end of life.

And so, there's a, what's the word? Cognitive disconnect? There's a fancy word for it. It's not in my head right now, but there's a dissonance. There's a dissonance there that I'm very aware of, but the awareness of death is not solving the issue. I'm still just sprinting on that line.

PATRICK CASALE: That makes it so complicated, doesn't it, though? When you're so hyper-aware of something, but it still feels like there's this inability to, like, come up for air, or to step away, or zoom out.

Sometimes, for me, if it does feel that way very often. And that's not just with death. Like, that's with a lot of things. I'm like, "Oh, I tore my calf muscle playing soccer. I want to get back to it. Here are all the exercises I should be doing for physical therapy." Am I doing any of those? No, because I get so caught up in whatever else is happening around me so often that I lose sight over, like, the granular details, and all of the stuff that actually matters.

And then, I think I've reached this point, call it burnout, call it whatever you need to call it, but where I just default into like, almost, like, shutting down, and being still, and just doing nothing. And that feels like my existence a lot of the time is like, "Go, go, go, go, go, shut down into nothingness and like, try as hard as you can to recharge as slowly as possible." But then, I miss out on everything that is probably much more important.

MEGAN NEFF: I relate to that a lot. I did a stint with PT back when I had… So, I had chronic pain for about 10 years. And thankfully, I thought I was going to live with it forever. Thankfully, actually, I found what was wrong and it's no longer active.

But when I was going to PT, it was so hard to do the exercises. And I was like, "I know that I'll be in less pain if I do these exercises." And it's the same thing right now with long COVID. I'm like, and with POTS. Like, I know if I get out and walk like, walking is one of the things that helps with the POT cycle. But getting myself to actually do the things that I know will make me feel better in the long term.

And I mean, that's part of the interest-based nervous system, which we talked about, and that's part of the, like, time that exists is now, and not now for the ADHD brain. And so, it's like, okay, if I get up and walk every day, or even, like, four times a week in two months or in one month I'll feel better. Like, that time, it exists, conceptually, but it doesn't exist. It doesn't create the same urgency or importance to get us to do the things that would actually make us feel better.

And as like someone who worked in health psychology, this is so infuriating to be like, right? I have all the interventions, I have all the advice I've given to people, like, break it down, do it small, small goals, pair it with something pleasurable. Like, I know these things.

PATRICK CASALE: Yeah, I'm just smiling because I'm like, so relate to that. And it is that exact thing, right? Where in the moment does that yield the best return on my investment for whatever short-term dopamine purse that I need to get through my day, or to create the thing, or to accomplish something? I know if I put in the work for PT for the next three months, I can get back to playing soccer, which inevitably yields the biggest result, mental health-wise, physical health-wise, socially, all the things, the day-to-day feels like impossibility. And even if the exercises are like 20 to 30 minutes, I'm like, "But that doesn't feel that important right now, that doesn't feel that urgent." And it is that reality, though, that like the build-up and the sustained build-up would definitely have the more positive impact in the long run.

MEGAN NEFF: 20 to 30 minutes, actually, is a long time when people are struggling with PT exercises. I think it's often recommended like, start. Like, because five minutes is better than zero minutes. So, it's like, the 20 to 30, actually, that's a big chunk of time for us.

PATRICK CASALE: Before we got on here I did like one set of the five different exercises, and it was the first time in three weeks that I've done that. And I was just like, "Okay, maybe I'll revisit those in a week. I don't know what's going to happen next."

So, it does feel like this constant internal cost-benefit analysis, though, like moment by moment of what feels like the best usage of my energy, and focus, and my time, and what feels the most interesting and engaging is typically going to win out over the things that are probably more important in the long run.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, yeah, no, absolutely. So, like, part of what I hear in both of our future selves that we idealize is the ability to prioritize based on our values. And that's interesting. I hadn't had that thought till those words just came out. This is part of my ADHD experience that causes a lot of pain is the inability to prioritize my life in a way that is consistent with my values. That's really hard for me and yeah, that is the thing that causes a lot of pain.

PATRICK CASALE: Yeah, I think you're 100% right, because I know you've mentioned on here before, like, "You know what? I love to be more intentionally focused on family stuff, health stuff, sure. Where do I end up spending my time? In work, in creation." In these things that I spend a lot of my time doing as well. And it doesn't always feel like they add up, or there's a congruency there in terms of values versus action.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, yeah. Well, because lots of values are kind of long game. It is that slower burn of like, it's getting up, it's doing the 20, 30 minutes of PT, it's going on the walk, it's doing the important thing because it's important to us, but not necessarily exciting. And it's doing that consistently. These are things that are hard for our brains.

PATRICK CASALE: Consistency with any task is so hard for me. That's been like, go to the gym, work out, do something that's, like you said, five minutes is better than no minutes, getting into any sort of routine where I'm doing anything in any consistent manner, given all the extenuating circumstances, like, how did I sleep last night? What's my pain level today? What's my sensory system feel like? You know, like, where am I at in terms of my social capacities? There's so many factors that play into, like, the consistency rhythm of life. And they often fall by the wayside because I'm often just feeling so exhausted, or so run down, or so overwhelmed.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, yeah. Same, same. I think the added layer of fatigue, for me. Like, yeah, the combination of executive functioning challenges, and then, fatigue, that's where, like, that consistency, it just…



PATRICK CASALE: [INDISCERNIBLE 00:18:15] conversation today.

MEGAN NEFF: I know. I just think about this. And it's been interesting, Patrick. I've noticed a poll, like, some of the things we've been talking about I'm like, ooh, like, I just did a deep dive on habits, and I actually have some thoughts about things that are helpful, but I don't want to, like, there's a temptation, right? There's a temptation when we hit the heavy, when we hit the hard, when we hit the pain to move into fix-it mode.


MEGAN NEFF: And so, actually, I've been kind of having an eye on the conversation of, like, I don't want it to feel like a hopeless conversation, but I also don't want to scurry away to minimize, and to go into fix-it mode, because as ADHDers, a lot of people around us and ourselves, like, jump into fix-it mode.


MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, this is a heavy conversation.

PATRICK CASALE: I'm glad you named that because that's definitely what it feels like. But I think when we talk about the stuff that feels really heavy and painful, it's often times the most relatable stuff to people who are out there searching for ways to put words to the experiences that they're having.

And you're right about the fix-it mode thing. I mean, hell, just thinking about what I said about my dad and him being here yesterday, that's where my brain was like, fix it mode. Okay, this is boring. We're sitting in the house. How do I fix his experience of today? Versus, like, what does my body need and what does my nervous system need today? And it was probably, like, just to lay on the couch, and rest, and watch Naked and Afraid reruns, which is what I was doing at the time when all of these ideas started coming into my mind.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, yeah. It might sound subtle, but probably, I think, significant, shifting from fix it to okay, what do I need in this moment?



PATRICK CASALE: Yeah. And definitely trying to do that more often of like, experience the discomfort, right? Because I think so many of us are experiencing discomfort so often, try really hard to identify, like, what do I need? Because it's not always helpful trying to identify where is this coming from because that turns into this whole litany and laundry list of things. So, like, the what do I need right now in order to soothe my system a little bit, is a really helpful question that I am trying to revisit more and more and more throughout my day.

MEGAN NEFF: That's so interesting. For me. I, like, need to know where it's coming from. That's what contains it, is like, if I can pinpoint, okay, I'm feeling this, like, routine disruption, right? We're transitioning to summer right now, the last week of school for kids. So, there's free-floating angst around routine disruption. Once I can name that, it provides a little bit of a containment around the experience.

So, the first place I go when I'm experiencing anything uncomfortable is my head to be like, okay, what's the cause?

And I think people are going to be different. Like, so I love that you're like, for you that can send you spiraling. For me, if I can't identify the cause it's going to grow bigger and bigger until I can put words around it that identify the cause?

PATRICK CASALE: Yeah, yeah. And I can definitely relate to that because I get into that mindset very often where, like, I go into the cognitive place and I have to figure out the solution and the precursor to something. I just have become increasingly more aware that there's, like, multiple somethings most of the time, so it's never, for me, in a lot of situations, just one thing that's causing discomfort.

So, for me, personally, that can feel really self-defeating, if I'm like, searching for the answer, and then it's like, "Well, it could be this. It's probably this. This is also happening." So…

MEGAN NEFF: I can see how that could, yeah, for sure, for sure. Like, yeah.

PATRICK CASALE: I get into, like, information overload, analysis paralysis, then situations, because then I'm like, "How do I fix all of this stuff at once?"

MEGAN NEFF: Oh, so maybe that's part of what's different. When I'm doing it, I'm not trying to fix it, I'm trying to just name it. I think if I was like, okay, so it's routine disruption, I'm having a big fatigue week, I have this deadline. If I was, like, naming all those, and as like, problems to be fixed, that would increase my stress.

But it's really, like, a tagging of, like, okay, I see you. You're contributing to my sympathetic arousal right now, so are you, so are you, so are you. Okay. So, it took-

PATRICK CASALE: That makes a lot of sense.

MEGAN NEFF: …naming all the guests at the party.

PATRICK CASALE: Right. Yeah, that's a good perspective. I'll give the opposite perspective of what just happened to me. I was texting you about restless leg syndrome, which is a fun thing that I've just experiencing, but then this is what happens. Identify restless leg syndrome, okay, check that off the list. I understand why I'm in so much pain, why I can't sleep.

The next problem is that I then deep dive all of the ways I can support myself. So, it's like, "Okay, take this supplement, take this thing, do this exercise." Then I start looking at the supplements, "Okay, take magnesium and vitamin B6. I then research all the reviews on said supplements. Then I start figuring out what makes the most sense to order right now. How do I do this? It just becomes chaos.

MEGAN NEFF: Okay, I do relate to that. I do relate. That's actually been my experience with some of the long COVID, POTS stuff of like, I start researching it, I get overwhelmed, and then, I have, like, 10 things of supplements in my cupboards. You know, my cupboards filled with good intentions that then expire.

PATRICK CASALE: Yep, which is kind of what we talked about last week [CROSSTALK 00:26:42]-

MEGAN NEFF: Which I should be taking these.


MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. So, I do relate to that, and that creates a lot of paralysis, especially, when there's… And I think that's where some of this health stuff gets so tricky is a lot of us do end up going to the internet, especially, if we have more obscure health conditions. And then, it is information overload and paralysis and, like, which one's the best? And yeah.

PATRICK CASALE: Yeah. And then, I'll end up trying it for a day or two and then decide it didn't work. And then, that just goes. Like…

MEGAN NEFF: Because you wouldn't know after two days.

PATRICK CASALE: Of course, "Try this for 30 days." I'm like, "No, I need instantaneous relief. Like, this is not helpful."

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, no, hard to relate, hard to relate. I get that, yeah.

PATRICK CASALE: My [PH 00:27:28] GP at this point in time just probably looks at messages in the portal and just like, "Okay, yeah, let's try this thing. Like, okay, you now are experiencing this? Let's do these tests. It's fine."

But I prefer that approach over like, "There's no issue here, like this is probably nothing." So, I do feel like that's more important for me right now.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, yeah. So, yes, that is a different energy. Like, the fix it, and then, this decision paralysis around how to fix it.


MEGAN NEFF: Yeah. I mean, we live in information overload. Like, it's so weird, the internet's so great, and it's like so overwhelming.

PATRICK CASALE: It's so terrible in so many ways, right?

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, yeah.

PATRICK CASALE: Yeah, yeah. Again, going back into romantification, right? And this is probably more autistic romanticism, but the romanticized idea of disappearing to a cabin in the woods, in the mountains for a month, and just getting away from everything is a frequent visitor in all of my thoughts. Like, right before we were on here, I was looking up pet-friendly mountain rentals, so…

MEGAN NEFF: That's cool. Yeah. I have a similar, like, I think this feels kind of ADHD. It's like a merge of my ADHD and autism. Like, I think my fantasy. Well, okay, part of my fantasy, my future self is not messy. I'm very messy, and I don't love that. And for all the, like, ADHD hacks in the world, I can't fix it. Every time my bathroom keeps getting cluttery, my desktop keeps getting cluttery, no matter what like system I try. So, that's just an aside. My future self is not messy, but that was divergent.

Okay, back to, okay, my, like 10-year future self-dream has maybe sold Neurodivergent Insights. Although, that feels weird because I'm so connected to it, so I don't really know how that would work. But I am, like, retired and traveling with my spouse and I. And so, I'm not bored, and I have no obligations. Like, I have no, like, work obligations.

And, you know, whenever I share that fantasy with my spouse, you know, he's like, "Well, that is a nice fantasy, but that's not how you work. You're always going to be working." But part of my fantasy is, like, no responsibilities.

And that, you know, I said it a few episodes ago, like, my child's fantasy of, I can rest when I'm retired. I think it is that of like, once I get all the obligations done with I can finally be present to my life. And-

PATRICK CASALE: Oh, that feels like fun.


PATRICK CASALE: Yeah, I would [INDISCERNIBLE 00:30:25] on that fantasy. I have the same one where it's just getting to the end. I think that's the fantasy for me, getting to the end of obligation, getting to the end of being responsive, having to take extra steps to do certain things in my life, to get certain things done with, or completed, or I think it's just that fantasy of disconnecting from it all and having it no longer exist. But then, my wife would say the same thing, like, "That's not how you work. You're never going to get to a place where you can just do 'nothing.'" Which [CROSSTALK 00:31:03]-

MEGAN NEFF: Our spouses are good, like, reality checks for us.

PATRICK CASALE: I'm like, "I can't wait until this happens." She's like, "Yeah, but then, you're just going to find something else to consume all your energy and time with." Yeah, but that's so true.

MEGAN NEFF: So, literally, I was talking with Luke this weekend, and because like, it was a relaxing weekend, and I wanted to relax, but all I could do was work. So, I did relaxing work. I did, like, redesigns, and I was working on my, like, Notion system. But I was like, "I need a hobby." And he was like, "Yeah, you do."

And so, like, I was having a conversation with ChatGPT. I was like, "Okay, here are some of my limits. Like, here's who I am. Give me some hobbies. And it was like, "No, no, no." Like, oh, I suck at having hobbies.

PATRICK CASALE: [INDISCERNIBLE 00:31:55] ChatGPT suggested for you as a hobby?

MEGAN NEFF: I should pull it up. I think, well, like some of them were decent, gardening and puzzles, which I do like puzzles, especially, if I pair it with a stimulating like podcast or audiobook. The two I remember were the ones that I was like, "Okay, I could kind of see that."

But yeah, a lot of the hobbies are just like or like crafting. Like, if it doesn't feel productive, then the restlessness, like, this is a waste of my time. And this is where my, like, I don't know if this is internalized capitalism, I think it might be. But like, if I can't see how it could make me money, it doesn't feel productive.

But I do want to unpack that, because it's not just about money. In my mind, it's if this can make me money, and someday I cannot have obligations because someday I can, like, save up enough that I can be done with everything. So, it is about the money, but it's also about, like, this fantasy of a future self who has no work obligations and is finally able to be present to my life.

PATRICK CASALE: Yeah, I get that completely. I mean, I think that's been a fantasy of mine since I was like 14 years old is to retire. Who the hell thinks about that when they're 14 years old? I just remember thinking like, "I can't wait to not do this anymore."

So, I totally, totally relate to that because it is that fantasy, that romantification of once the obligations are done, once the tasks no longer need to be completed, once I don't have to be the one responsible for whatever, wow, life is going to feel so easy.

And I know that's a lie because I know I'm never going to that place. I mean, my best hope is that I can find the balance because I don't foresee a life where that just becomes 24/7 reality for me.

MEGAN NEFF: What would the balance look like?

PATRICK CASALE: I think, significantly, more time away from things like so, stepping away from technology, stepping away from work obligations. Like, really figuring out a way where I don't feel like I have to be creating, or grinding, or present for things to work in my career, or at least, financially, so that, like, I feel like there's a lot of pressure all the time for me to be creating, or present, or available. And I think the balance would be a complete shift on a 180 shift in that regard.

MEGAN NEFF: So, I'm going to throw this out there because I think you don't have this problem. I think we have inverse problems here.

For me, I actually, since closing my practice, I do feel like I could step away a bit more, or like I've got autoresponders up on email. I have someone who does customer support for me. So, I do feel like I can step away from work at this point. But then, I have nothing to do. Or like everything that I would do requires physical bodily energy, which I have very little of. Like, I have energy to sit and be on my computer. But my bodily energy is so low that it's like I just don't know what to do. So, it's more about not knowing how to fill my time.

For you, it sounds like there's still a sense of like urgency, of like, there's just too many demands on you. But I think you do a better job of filling your time when you do step away.

PATRICK CASALE: Yeah, but I, like you, would probably need to do something like you did with ChatGPT, which feels like the most neurodivergent thing of all time of here are these parameters, give me some hobbies. Because without soccer in my life, I don't have a hobby.

And I've realized that the more often I've gotten injured over time, as I've gotten older, of like, what do I do with my free time? I live in this beautiful place surrounded by endless nature. I'm never in it. I'm like, do I enjoy anything? What do I do that would, yeah, I don't know, that's-

MEGAN NEFF: Do I enjoy anything? So, that's it. Like, for me, there's very little I enjoy and that's sad.

PATRICK CASALE: Yep, yep. I look at my wife who, like, she's a member of, like, multiple book clubs at one time, and she is in different plays that she's either in rehearsal for or for actual showings for, or she's creating something in her craft room. And she's just got so many hobbies.

And then, I'm like, I don't even know if I have one. Like, it's such a struggle to find the, do I really enjoy anything? And I don't even know if I enjoy soccer. I just think I've known it since I was young. And it's an outlet in a lot of ways. So, yeah.

MEGAN NEFF: So, that's interesting because you've talked about your wife being an ADHDer, so maybe we have, yet again, hijacked our ADHD conversation, and made it about autism, because maybe it is more about, like, the energy limits and the sensory limits.

I know, for me, there's a lot of things I think I'll enjoy, and then, the reason I don't is because I don't enjoy the sensory aspect of the experience, or just the amount of energy it takes, for me. It's like, "Wow, that was a big investment for like a okay return."

So, that is interesting. Like, I actually suspect ADHDers without the sidekick of autism. Like, I think, they're actually kind of known for, like, having a lot of hobbies and jumping through them, and, like, finding a lot of zest in life, yeah.

PATRICK CASALE: I do think a lot of our conversation so often centers on this internal push-pull tug-of-war situation, autistic versus ADHD parts has on a moment-by-moment basis. That's where I think the struggle with finding the hobby that satisfies the ADHD side, versus finding the sensory supports for the autistic side, and trying to figure out the balance and not quite getting it right.

MEGAN NEFF: Yep, yep. I've been asking the universe, like, to gift me a new special interest for a long time. So, autism and then, neurodivergence, in general, became a special interest, I don't know, like three years ago. And I shouldn't say this, but, like, I should say whatever, I'm kind of getting tired of it. Like, I'm like, "Okay, I'm ready for a new special interest." But the universe is not gifting that to me. And I think that's part of it.

A lot of my hobbies have always, like, kind of fluttered around whatever my special interest is. So, for a long time, it was like philosophy, and kind of non-western theologies. And then, within that, I had a lot of hobbies that kept me really engaged and interested.

But right now, like, obviously, I'm still interested in neurodivergence, but it doesn't have the same kind of passion it had early on. And so, like that new special interest energy, I think that is partly what I'm craving right now, and no one's giving it to me. And you can't force these things.

PATRICK CASALE: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense to me, though. I mean, your special interest took off, become a figurehead in said special interest, it's also become your career. I imagine it gets more complicated to kind of sort through it sometimes when it feels like this is more career-centered than special interest-centered in a lot of areas.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, that's a good point. I used to talk about how helpful it is when you can make a career out of your special interests. But there is probably this shadow side to that of it's not as protective of the interest when you turn it into a career.


MEGAN NEFF: And I've heard people say that, of like, I feel too protective of my interest to turn it into a career, which, yeah, there's wisdom in that.

PATRICK CASALE: Listen, every time my wife creates a new creation in her art studio, and it sells, and it takes off, and I'm like, "Okay, let's monetize this. Like, let's make this a legitimate business." Because she could do it. Like, she's so creative and talented. And she's like, "Why? Then it wouldn't be fun." And I just have never been able to understand that.

MEGAN NEFF: Our brain doesn't get that either. Like, and that's that weird like, everything has to be productive in a capitalistic way. Like, I don't love that about me, but it's so strong.

PATRICK CASALE: Yeah, I agree, 100%. Like, the clay earring business she had going for a while was like a hobby. People loved it. And I know if she was able to really dedicate time to it, it could have really become a huge thing. But for her, she's like, "But then, it wouldn't be fun. I'm just creating these things, and people just happen to be buying them. Like, that's the fun part for me."

And I'm like, "Well, wait, what? That doesn't make any sense." So, yeah, [INDISCERNIBLE 00:41:49] issue for me as well.

MEGAN NEFF: Okay, so we should mark this as a future conversations, like our relationship to fun. And I do think this is more of an autism thing we're starting to describe. We started the conversation with ADHD, but…

PATRICK CASALE: Write it down?

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, relationship to fun. And I love to get people's insight before recording that because I'd be curious about other people's experience around that.

Yeah, and I do think that is part of my romanticified future, you know? They're organized, they're present, but also, like, they're able to have fun. And I think that is part of being present. Like, you can't really have fun if you aren't present.

PATRICK CASALE: No, exactly, yeah, exactly. I agree 100%. And there's some envy there sometimes, you know. Envy/resentment/jealousy, I don't know what emotion it is?

MEGAN NEFF: Envy, I feel that.


MEGAN NEFF: When I see people enjoying their lives there's envy.

PATRICK CASALE: Yeah. What's that all about? Like, weren't we going to record for a half an hour on this topic, we're at 45 minutes.

MEGAN NEFF: We're at 40, yeah.

PATRICK CASALE: Yeah. Okay, well.

MEGAN NEFF: Do you feel tempted to, like, leave our listeners with some, like, faux uplifting remarks? Is there like, pressure?

PATRICK CASALE: Don't call me out on that, yeah. I mean, of course. I think-

MEGAN NEFF: I feel it too, yeah.

PATRICK CASALE: Yeah, yeah. I think, like you said, sometimes these are the conversations that people really enjoy listening to despite it not being a blueprint.

MEGAN NEFF: I don't know if enjoy is the right word.

PATRICK CASALE: How about resonate with and relate to more often than not, so…

MEGAN NEFF: I think that's probably more accurate.

PATRICK CASALE: I'm not going to try to add any faux-like tips and strategies on how you can shift all of this romantification, romanticism, lack of fulfillment in life. So, I'm good with what we just put into the world.

MEGAN NEFF: Okay, okay. Well, I'm not either going to fall into the temptation to kind of tie all of this messy rawness into, like, a tight bow. I don't think I used the metaphor right? Tie a bow on it. What am I trying to say here, Patrick?

PATRICK CASALE: Yeah, tie a bow on it. We're not going to tie a nice little bow on this because I think this is just talking about the realities that a lot of us experience. So, if this does resonate, we [CROSSTALK 00:44:28]-


PATRICK CASALE: Sorry as well. Yes, that too. If you know how to have fun-

MEGAN NEFF: Tell us how.

PATRICK CASALE: or have hobbies that you really enjoy, especially, I want to know if you're autistic or autistic ADHD, are there things that you really enjoy doing? Are there things that are really, really fun that are sustainable for you? Because I'd like to hear these ideas without going to the ChatGPT route as well. I feel so strange right now.

MEGAN NEFF: I mean, yeah. I think, it feels it feels strange to… the lack of resolution feels strange. And I think it feels strange to end a conversation in it. But I also think it feels honest.

But I do think that's why, as a society, in general, we feel a pull to, like, we've opened something that's hard and painful to look at, let's neatly tie it up. But we've had some nice laughter here at the end. And laughter is a nice way not to tie it up, but to like, I think about it like scuba diving or scuba diving, or is that right? Like, coming back to the surface. Like, it's helpful to have some laughs to come back to the surface, but we don't need to put a resolution around it.

PATRICK CASALE: Agreed. I'll let you, that was good way to close that out. So, hope this episode was helpful, not necessarily uplifting*, but in reality, a nice reality check for both of us as well, and something that we'll probably continue to talk more about.

So, thanks for listening to the Divergent Conversations podcast. New episodes are out on Fridays on all major podcast platforms and YouTube. Like, download, subscribe, and share.

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