Maeve: Hi, I’m Maeve Marsden and you’re listening to Queerstories. If you can spare a few bucks each month to help me continue to produce this podcast, because you love it, or you love me, please check out Queerstories on Patreon and consider supporting the project. Also, follow Queerstories on Facebook for upcoming events, pics and other good shit.
This week, Thomas Parer is a creative producer, DJ, ex-lawyer and bon vivant living in Meanjin, probably best known for being the creator and producer of local queer dance party, Shandy. Thomas is passionate about creating safer spaces for people to connect and believes in the community building potential of parties, and that the dancefloor can serve as a means to imagine a better world and achieve collective liberation. Fuck yeah! He performed this piece at Brisbane Powerhouse in 2021.
Thomas: In 2016, pop culture prophet and Kardashian, Kylie Jenner, passed comment on what that year had meant to her in the breakaway solo show, ‘Life with Kylie’ (which is the only time I’ll refer to her mononymously as only Ms Minogue has a claim to just ‘Kylie’). She said:
“Like, I feel like every year has a new energy, and I feel like this year is really about, like, the year of just realizing stuff. And everyone around me, we’re all just, like, realizing things.”
While the Internet leapt on this moment of spiritual insight and prophesy to mock and ridicule her. Kylie Jenner has had the last laugh, because like many prophesies, the core of it was largely true, her timing was just a bit off.
Because as the events of 2020 and COVID-19 unfolded, I found myself and others increasingly referring to 2020 as ‘The Year of Realising Things’ – with my first realisation kicked off rather innocuously one Friday morning in February 2020.
At the time, I was working as an employment lawyer – and had been DJing and running a queer dance party, Shandy, in my spare time. I was probably trying my best to focus on my work for the day to varying degrees of success. Out of the blue, I received a photo from my friend, Brigid, from her desk in Melbourne. It was a photo taken of her computer screen. There was a heading on the page that said “Tricks Just for Living with Inattentive ADHD”. I zoomed in, and saw that one of the tips was “Put on high-energy music to rev yourself up before a long meeting, difficult chore, or anything else…” with the rest of the sentence out of frame. She’d captioned it “My Friday vibe.”
My interest was immediately piqued. For a little while, I’d been listening to DJ mixes to help me focus and finish my work, particularly of genres that had higher tempos and energy levels, like Donk and Jersey Club. If you want an idea of what I mean, one of my favourites is called ‘Booty Bounce’ by Thunderstone Labs on Soundcloud.
I thought, “Hmmm, that’s weird. I do that. What’s ‘Inattentive-ADHD’?” The first result on Google explained it was “a subtype of ADHD that often manifests as limited attention span, distractibility, forgetfulness, or procrastination.”
And so, we had realisation number one: I might have ADHD.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, the DSM describes ADHD it as ‘A persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development”. The manifestations broadly get categorized as either hyperactive or inattentive – but most people often have a lucky dip mix of both – to varying degrees. It seems to be a result of ADHD brains having lower levels of the neurotransmitters, dopamine and norepinephrine.
Realisation Number Two: The common view of ADHD as something just affecting misbehaving boys means most people don’t know what it looks like, and aren’t diagnosed.
I’d seen references about over-diagnosis of ADHD in kids, that episode of The Simpsons where Bart gets diagnosed with ADHD and becomes paranoid after taking the associated stimulant medication “Focusyn”, and of course ‘Desperate Housewives’, when – over the course of three episodes – Felicity Huffman’s character ‘Lynette’ rejects a diagnosis of her misbehaving boys, gets addicted to their stimulant meds, and eventually hits a sleep deprived breaking point.
But as I kept researching ADHD, I learned it encompassed a huge range of manifestations from absent mindedness, rumination, disordered eating, and emotional regulation. This means that if you’re able to mask these things well, or you’re forced to mask or compensate, it may never be diagnosed. This helps explain, alongside other factors like institutional sexism, why women have generally been so under-diagnosed with ADHD.
Realisation Number Three: Maybe I’m not just shit and lazy, and it’s actually my brain mis-behaving. Or as I like to think now, working differently to everyone else.
In the preceding year, I’d had various meetings with my boss around punctuality, distractibility, and not paying enough attention to detail – and while I’d try hard to improve, somehow, I’d end up slipping again. A fairly established part of my brand is doing a load of laundry at some point in the day, and then forgetting it or avoiding putting it out. If I was lucky, I would eventually put it out to dry around midnight or later. More commonly, it would stay in the machine for a varying number of days and further wash cycles to get rid of the smell of mildew before being put out to dry – and then staying out on the line until another housemate needed the drying space.
I’d spent my whole life blaming myself – and being told or telling myself that it was all because I was lazy, undisciplined, and just simply not trying hard enough. was the problem – and there aren’t any excuses – I just needed to be better.
While the possibility of my having ADHD made so much sense, I couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe I was just jumping onto it because it was an easy excuse to explain away all these problems. And as I mentioned it to people that self-doubt was fed by comments like “Oh everyone procrastinates, it doesn’t mean you have ADHD.” or “No one enjoys cleaning, but it’s just about being more disciplined.”
Realisation Number Four: Getting a diagnosis for ADHD is not very ADHD-friendly.
Ironically, the process of getting diagnosed with ADHD was not very ADHD-friendly. On paper, it’s as simple as seeing a GP, getting a referral to a psychiatrist, and then having them make the assessment. But for someone with ADHD, it’s a minefield of procrastination, long waiting times for psychiatrists, missed calls, being punctual, collecting supporting evidence, and having to advocate for yourself with potentially cynical doctors who think you’re ‘drug-seeking’. Which is funny because like, yes, of course I’m seeking drugs – I’ve come to the person who can prescribe them – because they can help me.
Realisation Number Five: My ADHD probably played a role in some of the more difficult, stressful, and sad moments in my life.
I remember crying as I told my friend, Emil about how ADHD seemed to explain things I’d done that had upset him or made him think I didn’t care about him, like getting overwhelmed by setting up a tent at dusk at a festival, or an evening where I turned up late, was distracted by my phone at dinner – and then forgot I had offered to shout him.
There was grief for what my life – and especially my uni grades – could have looked like had I known sooner. Regret for damaged relationships with old housemates as a result of my difficulties to keep up with my share of cleaning.
But, don’t worry there’s also realisation number six: my ADHD brain can be a strength.
Luckily, the ADHD community is good at making sure we all recognise some of the unique strengths and benefits that can come with ADHD. I’ve found that people with ADHD are often great talkers, creative problem solvers, and while known for distractibility – we can also hyper-focus – which actually is probably more neutral as while it can mean that I can devote myself to something to the point where you can even forget to drink water, if that hyper-focus gets targeted at scrolling social media I might be stuck there for hours.
We also have realisations seven and eight: ADHD only seems to get picked up and be diagnosed on the basis of it being a problem to others – but also it was so obvious I had ADHD as a child.
The criteria for diagnosis actually require the identified manifestations to cause problems in your life – with most of the areas being places where they would run aground of other people’s expectations or expectations of productive output. It’s part of why some people like to argue that ADHD is actually just a symptom of capitalism, but to those people, I would highlight the fact that I would actually like to live in a tidy room where I can find things.
When getting diagnosed, you are also often asked for evidence of what you were like as a kid, like report cards – because it’s generally meant to be a lifelong thing. I assumed my school report cards wouldn’t be much help, and would just affirm that I was a brilliant, albeit talkative, student. Instead the teacher’s comments basically described a textbook case of ADHD.
My favourite comments came from Mrs McMullen who euphemistically referred to my propensity to talk with the comment “knowledge imparted to class members at every opportunity”, before laying it all out and saying “at times his enthusiasm is overwhelming”.
Realisation nine: I’d been playing life on hard mode this whole time.
Unsurprisingly, I was diagnosed with ADHD and I started taking dexamphetamine, or dexies as the kids call them. Taking them felt a bit like when you change the difficulty level on a game. Suddenly, when I was getting ready to go somewhere it wouldn’t take upwards of 30 minutes, and when I wanted to start something – I would just do it.
But they’re not a magic wand. You have to take them every day – potentially multiple times a day – and the struggles that come with ADHD quickly creep back in once your meds wear off. I’ve even seen ADHD described on Twitter as ‘meth dependent diabetes’.
This takes us to realisation ten – which has ultimately informed many of the realisations that followed: I would have to find a way to manage and work with my ADHD for the rest of my life if I was ever going to be happy.
Funnily enough, my ADHD even played a part in being the catalyst for finally making a career jump at the end of 2020, when after a period of inconsistently trying to maintain my performance and punctuality at work – I came in late one Monday after attending my friend Nina’s birthday party. I had forgotten to turn on my earlier alarms and only woke upon hearing my regular alarm set for 8:30am – which is the time I am actually meant to be at work. I’m still not sure why I had that one… My boss sat me down, and gave me an ultimatum: I could either show cause as to why they should keep me on, or I could choose to leave.
I figured it was now or never – and I made the jump from being a lawyer into ~the Arts~ and a career where I would find more success and happiness. Also, I want to note that, while it was somewhat stressful, my boss was actually super supportive. We’ve actually even gone out to lunch since – where I thanked her for her role in me finally making the leap.
And so, after a year of realising things, I kicked off this next year – 2021 – by starting to act on the things that had been realised. And while I have certainly questioned the wisdom of launching a career in DJing and running dance parties with COVID outbreaks continuing to scuttle plans, I am grateful to the prophetic prowess of Kylie Jenner for helping to frame 2020 for me as “The Year of Realising Things”.
Maeve: Thanks for listening. Don’t forget to check out Queerstories on Patreon where you can support the project for as little as $1 per month. Follow Queerstories on Facebook for news and event updates, it’s been a weird couple of years what with the pandemic and me becoming a parent but I’m planning some big things in 2023 and I’d love you to be part of it.