I rage Google stuff all the time.
Questions like: WHY THE FUCK CAN’T I BE ON TIME FOR APPOINTMENTS, complete with swears and angry all caps. The results that came at me were mostly listicles about how not to be chronically late, why people who are late are basically the devil, or pop-psychology.
It didn’t answer my question; and I wasn’t really looking for a sensible answer. I was looking for someone to share my pain. To validate my frustration. To show me I wasn’t alone in my shame and guilt and disorganised kerfuffle.
So when I hear writers wail and gnash their teeth about how AI is going to ruin everything (and tech bros wax lyrical on how AI is the answer to everything) I want to give those writers a big virtual cuddle and reassure them that, despite all the buzz right now, AI ain’t ever gonna replace writers.
For example, you can throw the question “what’s it like having ADHD?” into an AI content generator and it’ll spit out 10 neat bullet balls.
Here they are:
- Difficulty with Attention: People with ADHD often struggle with sustaining focus on a single task, especially if it’s not particularly stimulating or interesting to them. They might find their mind wandering or get easily distracted.
- Hyperactivity and Impulsivity: While not everyone with ADHD is hyperactive, it’s a common symptom. This can manifest as fidgeting, restlessness, and a constant need to move. Impulsivity can lead to acting without thinking, which can sometimes result in hasty decisions or impulsive behaviors.
- Time Management Challenges: People with ADHD might find it hard to estimate how much time tasks will take, leading to difficulties in managing schedules and meeting deadlines.
- Organizational Difficulties: Staying organized, whether it’s keeping track of personal belongings, managing a schedule, or organizing thoughts, can be challenging for individuals with ADHD.
- Procrastination and Difficulty Initiating Tasks: Starting tasks, especially ones that require sustained effort, can be particularly difficult. This might lead to a tendency to procrastinate.
- Emotional Regulation: Some individuals with ADHD may have difficulty regulating their emotions. This can manifest as mood swings, impatience, or a tendency to become frustrated or overwhelmed easily.
- Difficulty with Memory: Short-term memory can be impacted, which may result in forgetfulness or losing track of details.
- Impaired Executive Functioning: This refers to higher-level cognitive skills like planning, organizing, initiating tasks, and prioritizing. These functions can be more challenging for individuals with ADHD.
- Creativity and Hyperfocus: While ADHD can bring challenges, it can also come with strengths. Some individuals with ADHD are incredibly creative and can engage in a state of intense focus (hyperfocus) on activities they find interesting.
- Sensory Sensitivity: Some individuals with ADHD may be more sensitive to sensory stimuli, which can make certain environments or situations overwhelming.
But that hasn’t answered your question
It gave you a list of symptoms, rehashed from the DSM-V and countless books and articles on ADHD and how to manage it. It listed, clinically, the challenges we face—placing them far enough away from you that you can look at them and think, “Oh, well that’s not so bad.”
And we do think that.
We look at people with ADHD and other hidden disabilities—people like me—and we think: huh. We all have that sometimes. I forget my keys. I get irritable. I procrastinate. I’m lazy. What are they making all this fuss about?
And those of living with it begin to think, am I lazy? Am I making excuses? Am I just after attention? Is everyone like this and I just need to get my shit together?
The AI, and most of the books out there on the subject of ADHD, haven’t answered your question.
They’ve told you what ADHD is—more or less—but not what it’s like to live with it.
Make me care
And that’s the connection that matters. Make me care. Tell your story and make me care. AI will never be able to do that.
AI will never be able to drag you forcibly into my shoes and make you feel what I’m feeling, even if it crawls every single thing I’ve ever written to create an answer to that question.
It cannot tell you what I’m feeling, right now, in this moment, today.
People’s stories cannot come from a third party because that’s how those stories lose their humanity and their impact. They have to come from the individual because every experience is different, from person to person, moment to moment.
Let me show you what I mean. This is an extract from a longer piece I’ve written about having ADHD:
There are bees in my brain
There’s this episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer* called “Earshot” in which Buffy is infected with the blood of a mouthless demon, and acquires its demonic power: the ability to hear the thoughts of those around it.
Sounds awesome, right? But it quickly becomes a curse because Buffy can’t shut it off, and the intrusive thoughts get louder and louder. Her own inner voice is drowned out by the cacophonous sound of everyone else’s, and she begins to lose her mind. There is no quiet. No peace. Nothing but the incessant chatter and buzz of thousands and thousands of thoughts, unceasingly.
That’s what it’s like inside my head: battered and beaten by the shrieking and chattering of a thousand voices. The only difference between me and Buffy is that Buffy heard other people’s thoughts and I hear my own. Oh, and Buffy’s a superhero who has saved the world on multiple occasions, but I reckon I could do that, given half a chance.
It’s not just my own churning thoughts and constant running commentary on my life, real and fictional, that infest my head, though. I also receive weird, unwanted, and inappropriate thoughts that come from god knows where. Like, why my parents know what anal beads are^. Or a whole narrative about why my friend hasn’t replied to my WhatsApp. Or helpful suggestions like, “Lick your friend’s bare leg, it’s right there.” Or, “Fling your MacBook out of this fourth-floor window.” Or, “Punch that tiny dog in the face.” It’s unrelenting. I can’t shut it off. I don’t understand where it comes from or why it happens.
Buffy’s plunge into madness, though? I understand that. It’s exhausting. Like TV static, or a radio tuned halfway between channels, so you hear lots of stations at once. It’s like having bees in your brain.
It is noisy, is what I’m saying.
Sometimes my bees make me want to scream. I consider screaming, turning over the idea carefully as others might weigh up whether to cook a curry or go out to eat. The danger is that if I start screaming, I might never stop—the bees will fill my mouth and roar out, and I’ll discover that actually there is no end to them; the bees are truly me. Wherever I go, there are my bees.
Sometimes I feel like my head and body will burst open like a grape that’s been left for too long on a sunny windowsill and has started to go brown and dribble its innards out in a sticky puddle. I feel like my skin can’t contain all of the me inside. I feel like the world can’t contain all of the me. That I’m too much.
It’s not painful, exactly; more like when you’ve eaten too much pasta salad and your stomach is distended and your trouser button will juuuuust about do up around your waist, but you know it could pop off at any moment, taking someone’s eye out.
What is it like for you?
This is not an answer you’d ever get from a medical textbook, or AI, because it’s not universal. It’s specific to me, and that’s why it matters. It’s why I seek out other people’s personal stories, because they show me I’m not alone, but neither is my experience exactly the same as theirs. They show me what the world is like for them, and ask, is it like this for you, too?
So next time you worry about AI, or templated content, or reach or engagement or anything else we’re told we should worry about, consider this: in the future, what will stand out is your humanity.
The spark that makes you you.
So please: keep writing. Write your fucking heart out.
Then share it, before you’re ready, because, my friend, we are never ready.