October is always a very busy and eventful month here at Fat Feminist WItch HQ, but this year the biggest shock I got was a diagnosis of ADHD (inattentive type). I have never in my life ever thought I might have ADHD and to my knowledge, neither has anyone else. Which is wild because I was in the “learning support” (ie. special education for failing students) class for 3 years of elementary school and my first year of high school. It was an affluent town where many of the kids in my class had been diagnosed and put on ritalin, but they were all boys. I was even the only girl in that class, and still no one figured it out. In the last 2 weeks I have not stopped traveling into my own past and finding experiences and situations that I could never really explain before, but that now make perfect sense. Experiences that made me feel like an absolute alien, inhuman, unlike anyone else, the last of my type of person remaining on this planet after some long mythical war. Now those things are all, well, normal. Textbook normal – for a woman with ADHD that is.
There’s a reason the boys in my LST class were diagnosed and medicated and I wasn’t, and it’s literally that I was a girl. It’s only in the last 10ish years that medicine and science have realized that girls and women have ADHD at almost the same rate as boys and men, but it often presents a lot differently. Hyperactivity, though it can be an issue for everyone with the disorder, is not automatic and doesn’t always look the same. These days they know hyperactivity and inattentiveness are at opposite ends of the spectrum (not to confuse ADHD with autism, but it also exists on a spectrum!) and everyone falls somewhere in-between. Despite having fidgety legs and desperately needing to walk as hard and fast as possible when I’m stressed, I don’t think anyone would actually describe me as hyperactive. Many women with ADHD have problems focusing, paying attention, remembering details but also not focusing only on details, and absorbing information from conversations or lessons where they are not an active participant. We struggle with relationships and in social situations because we don’t think or act in ways that society expects of women.
One thing that was a huge issue for me was a tendency to hyperfocus on things I found interesting, which made people think I was capable and just not trying any other time. Ask anyone in my immediate family about me and one of the first things they’ll tell you is “you could never force Paige to do something she doesn’t want to, even as a kid” and they’re right. I mean, you could try, but it wouldn’t be done right or with any of my trademark creativity or enthusiasm to learn. BUt put something infront of me I find interesting or weird or pretty? You’d have to pry it from my cold dead hands. I read entire books in one go because I couldn’t bare the idea of putting it down, I binged songs, movies and tv shows before the days of Netflix (i ruined so many VHS tapes you guys), I painted and drew the same images over and over because I just hadn’t gotten enough out of it yet. This was always believed to just be a personality trait, and while I honestly pride myself on being someone who can’t be pushed into a box I don’t want to fit into, it also meant I couldn’t hold a job, make the money I needed to survive or even just convince the people around me that I was really trying. It meant I was plagued with shame and guilt, especially when I needed help, and that I would forever be stuck in a cycle of poverty and depression. My goals now are to unlearn all of these reasons that I have hated and berated myself for the last 20+ years, to stop working against my ADHD and the natural ways my brain functions, and to convince myself that the future I’ve always wanted for myself is totally possible.
Two years ago, I got interested in a goddess from Roman and Greek mythology – Voluptas (R) or Hedone (G) – the goddess of pleasure, or sensual pleasure to be more specific. At first I only had a name, but slowly I became obsessed, started seeing her name or bits and pieces of her mythology just everywhere. I felt inspired to flesh out her character, her look, and her story because in her mythology she was more of a deified ideal than a person. She was a feeling, a belief, a philosophy, an experience. Considering I was a secular or even atheistic practitioner for years, this was definitely kind of strange, but if any deity was going to feel real to me it WOULD be a fat goddess who exemplifies pleasure without shame, is Venus’s granddaughter, and favourite cousin to Dionysus the god of wine and whom many refer to as the patron of hedonism. (it’s OBVIOUSLY Hedone, y’all) I originally thought that my interest in this goddess was about reconnecting with my physical body and with my sexuality, but I’ve come to realize Voluptas was really trying to get me to look inside, into my brain specifically.
We may touch and taste and smell with our bodies, but it’s our brains that convert those experiences into pleasure. Sex is wonderful and pleasurable, but if your mind isn’t in it, it just may not feel that way. Same with eating. It’s not the action we take with our bodies that bring us sensual pleasure, it’s our minds and these sections of our brains unironically referred to as “hedonic hotspots”. The reward system of your brain releases chemicals and electrical impulses that make you react to things that feel good. In the immortal words of Elle Woods (a gemini) “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.” Endorphins are hormones we produce naturally in our pituitary gland that react with the same places in our brains as opioids, and can produce similar feelings of euphoria, but their main job is to tell our brains to release dopamine, the chemical that makes us feel pleasure. Though this does happen when we exercise or during events like sex and eating, the job of endorphins is actually to keep us from feeling pain or being afraid. (This is a very simplified explanation of the process.) The reward system and it’s hedonic hotspots is the true domain of Voluptas, and the place where I have found her the most.
Since beginning my journey with Voluptas I have learned more about brains, and my own brain in particular, than in all my previous years on this planet combined. I didn’t know why my focus continually returned to the brain, even though this was an earthy goddess of the body, and since my ADHD diagnosis it’s become so clear It’s blowing my mind. I began with getting myself a therapist to work out a lot of my thoughts and feelings, which lead me to Neurofeedback therapy where my brain waves were mapped and I could actually see how and where my brain processed certain emotions and reactions. The load of depression and anxiety I’ve been carrying my entire life is so much lighter now, and yet my brain wasn’t processing pleasure in a way that seemed to make sense. It was clear that my mental health is not the only barrier I had been stuck behind my whole life, there was something else in there I didn’t understand. When a teacher who listens to the show and has been a member of my membership group heard me describe some of my challenges and my excuses for being late and for forgetting and for getting lost in what I was saying, they reached out and suggested I talk to my doctor about ADHD. Though I’d never considered it before, I was immediately compelled to research the symptoms and how it affects different people including women and I couldn’t believe what I saw. The very first list I found was like the story of my life’s struggles all neatly laid out for me. I instantly recognized myself. I spoke to my doctor and after some long conversations about my life from childhood to now, I went into the office and completed some assessment tests and there was no question – I have ADHD and have since puberty. The very same year I was forced into the learning support class was no doubt when my ADHD first materialized.
So what does this have to do with Voluptas?
One of the things I saw over and over again about people with ADHD is that their brains process rewards and therefore pleasure differently. The hedonic hotspots aren’t just about dopamine and feeling good, they also regulate our motivation and drive to do things. They regulate what makes us feel accomplished or what we deem important. In brains with ADHD the reward system is underactive, and we just rarely produce the amount of dopamine necessary to feel pleasure over small things or external rewards. We tend to care less about normal things like making money or having a good reputation at work unless those are very very personally important to us. We need a higher level of stimulation to produce dopamine, and we also tend to burn through it a lot faster. This is why people with ADHD seem to be motivated by something totally unique to them and that the average person doesn’t find important. The only thing that matters is if something makes us, personally, feel good. Since humans are weird and confusing, some common stimulants also encourage our brains to produce more dopamine than the average person – including food, sex, exercise, and music. The 4 main things I originally identified as being under the domain of Voluptas. People with ADHD are more likely to develop binge eating disorder because eating food literally feels better to them than it does to the average person. This makes fatness very common in people with ADHD and they found women’s brains are more susceptible to this particular stimulant. Unfortunately this also means that drugs, alcohol, porn, compulsive shopping or gambling, and risky behaviour also produce such a significant dopamine high in people with ADHD that addiction to these dangerous behaviours is also a bigger problem. Boredom becomes a fear so intense that many of us obsessively seek novelty, and struggle to do anything for any length of time. (My inability to remain interested in any job or romantic relationship longer than a year suddenly makes sense.) In other words, we’re so deficient in the pleasure chemical, that the search for pleasure is much more important to us. Feeling good becomes an addiction which often leads to over-stimulation and total burn out. Our relationship with pleasure is both a blessing and a curse, but either way it is our strongest motivation.
After reading that people with ADHD like coffee and chocolate – which I consider 1 single food group and the most important food group at that – a lot more than the average person I had to step away from the computer and just process this all for hours, if not days. I sat in front of my Voluptas altar, which had unfortunately gotten dusty from lack of use, stared my goddess right in the face and in my mind I heard “you finally found me”. I cried white-hot tears of relief, happiness, and just a little sadness. (Imagine who I might have been if I’d been diagnosed earlier?)
After accepting that this was the reason I had struggled so much for so long, I started to wonder if this was also the reason for some of my absolute favourite things about me – my love of music and dancing, my heightened sensitivity to touch and sensual pleasure, my desire to constantly learn more, my excitement when confronted with new things and new people, my intense creativity and imagination, my ability to devote myself completely to something or someone I love, my generosity and desire to help others find happiness (or dopamine lol), and my tendency toward empathy and compassion. In all my years of struggle, these are things I’ve always held on to as proof that I am human and that I really do belong here. Though many of these things made me different, I wouldn’t trade them for the world. Those are the traits that lead me to magic and to witchcraft, those are the traits that encouraged me to be feminist, anti-racist, and to believe that everyone has the freedom to pursue what makes them happy. It’s the reason why I think happiness, fun, and pleasure are not a luxury, but totally and completely essential. There’s even a chance that ADHD and it’s positives and negatives are why I am fat and why I refuse to hate my body or to deny it pleasure. This neuro-divergence (which is really what ADHD is!) is why I am The Fat Feminist Witch and why I have been able to find success and happiness in my work after a lifetime of failures and misery.
I no longer feel this urge to be normal or to be capable of doing the things other people deem important. I no longer feel ashamed of being incapable of living a life others found rewarding, but that I found stifling and literally soul-crushing. (I am not just overly dramatic!!!)
I am different, and I will always be different because I am a child of Voluptas, born with a brain uniquely suited to find and feel pleasure where others cannot. I was made to feel more, love more, enjoy more, and appreciate the things in life that make us happy more. What motivates me has always been, and will always be, the pursuit of voluptas and after decades of searching
I finally found her.