Rudraksha shares his view on how to make the world (and work) more inclusive and the benefits that come from embracing a less neurotypical view of the world.
Rudraksha Mitra is a 22 year old from New Delhi, India. A former international level tennis player, his bid to make sport more inclusive for ADHD brains led him to the world of advocacy and social impact. He aims to use his unique experience as a neurodivergent athlete and his passion for storytelling and design thinking to make the world a more inclusive place.
Rudraksha is a 22 year old from New Delhi, India. A former international level tennis player, his bid to make sport more inclusive for ADHD brains led him to the world of advocacy and social impact. He aims to use his unique experience as a neurodivergent athlete and his passion for storytelling and design thinking to make the world a more inclusive place.Emma:
Hi, Rudraksha. Thank you for joining me today. How are you doing?Rudraksha:
Hi Emma, it's nice to see you in a slightly different guise than usual. Yes, but I'm doing well and I'm very happy to be here.Emma:
Great. Thank you. Thank you for being here. Would you like to start by telling us a little bit about you?Rudraksha:
My name is Rudraksha Mitra. I'm from New Delhi, India, and my background is in sports. I used to be a competitive tennis player for about the last 10 years, and I've played, nationally internationally at the Asian level. And that's basically been my realm of operation for most of my life. And through sports is where I have found sort of my footing in life, and it's also been the vessel through which I've figured everything out and incidentally, just via sport that I found my way to the sustainable development spaces as well. My life is very much been synonymous with sport so far.Emma:
And how did you make that journey or that link between sport and professional tennis playing and sustainability?Rudraksha:
The path was very interesting. I mean, I come from a family of civil servants and social workers. My mother is a very prolific social worker back in India and my father was also, you know, in the administration, the Indian government's administration. So there was always a backdrop of, you know, more people focused things, but at the same time, it's not something that interested me in the least. I was very into my sporting career and sort of journey. And within that, obviously you get to interact with people from many different spaces. You get to live a very unique kind of life, especially when you play in you know, we don't have a sporting culture here in India. So it's not exactly as glamorous as you'd expect. There's a lot of stuff at the grassroads level, and there's a lot of people from so many different, walks of life. You know, there are people who are from so many different economical and social backgrounds. So you get exposed to a lot of people. So even if you're not actively cultivating it, you get an eye for these sorts of things. And then when something close to you eventually sparks your interest, in 2021, early in 2021, I got a diagnosis for ADHD, which is Attention Deficiency, Hyperactivity Disorder, it's a neuro developmental disorder. And I was undiagnosed for 10 years, which wrecked havoc upon my, you know, personal professional, academic life, everything had been affected by it. And so it was like starting a new inning so to say, and within that initially I took it really well. I thought, okay, now I know what my challenges are and where they lie. And I went back into the tennis court. And I started playing tournaments and in one of the tournaments, I had a panic attack. It was not a new situation for me to be overwhelmed, but it's the first time I attributed it. Not so much to my own nerves or to the situation as I did to, oh, this is the condition that I have. And then I went to look for, you know, resources for ADHD athletes, because I assumed that, you know, there would be more athletes out there with ADHD who would be facing similar challenges. And I felt like while my coaches and my fellow players were empathetic they couldn't fully relate or understand what I was talking about because it's not something that they understood, and then I found that there's actually absolutely nothing for athletes out there with ADHD. There's very little. And then initially I was like, oh, is it because people with, you know, neuro divergences are handling things better. It's just me. But upon, you know, perusing it a little further I got involved with a few sport plus social impact communities. I tried to interact with ADHD athletes and I tried to interact with mental health experts and I engaged that there's actually not much for us anyway, people aren't talking about it. And that's kind of where my journey into the social impacts sphere began, which was a very simple idea of. Hey, if I involve more neuro divergent athletes in the conversation, maybe someone will figure out how to deal with these challenges and that'll help me with more matches. So it came from a very selfish place I have to say, but then getting involved in these places exposed me to so much more and that's how my journey into sustainability began.Emma:
Thanks for sharing that, the journey that you've had through that, from tennis, do you think, thinking about the, the UN sustainable development goals, do you think ADHD or disability is factored into them enough or is there different ways that we can be talking about sustainability in a different way in maybe a less neurotypical lens?Rudraksha:
I think, I personally think the concept of neuro divergence isn't factored in enough in anything. We live a world with a very neurotypical lens and even if you look at diagnosis for something like ADHD, it is done entirely on neurotypical terms. The way that we evaluate it is done entirely on the basis of how it works for a neurotypical life and all the spaces around us, literally everything from school to workplace institutions like sport cater, exclusively to neurotypical ideas. That's the thing that I found, which is conventional performance training. When I was exploring my options in sport and the options that I had to train are the options that I had to cultivate my game or my mentality. There was nothing that catered to it. So it's all about you fitting into the box that's already put there. All the manifestations of ADHD are labeled you know, as deviant behaviors instead of, you know, people who just have a different way of experiencing the world at its core. I don't believe that neuro divergence is a crutch of any sorts. It's a crutch within the context of a very neurotypical world and therein lies the challenge. And then we don't share any thought let alone enough thought for these issues and, you know, how they factor in, like when we talk about the SDGs, for instance, we have, we obviously have diversity and inclusion and reduced inequalities. How often do these conversations or the efforts that are made around them involve inclusivity for neuro divergent folks and inclusivity doesn't mean bundling us into a box. It means creating the space for us. But the problem that presents itself here is that we are trying to fit people like me into a specific box. Instead of trying to make the world a little bigger so that it can accommodate our ways of being and the big detriment and the big drawback to this is we miss out on a lot of potential and we miss out on, you know, so many unique perspectives just because, you know, we are trying to get people to conform to this one way of being, we're not exploring all the other ways in which people can do things and operate and innovate. The one big thing that's always left out in conversations about ADHD is, you know, it's a big strength. That's kind of how it's put to us, that creativity is our big strength. We are more capable of creative thought because we can take patterns you know, that other people aren't seeing and we have a more ambiguous way of looking at things, but how often are we given the space to cultivate this innovation? My teachers in school. I would study in my own. I would understand the world in my own way. And the thing that I faced a lot was you're doing well because I would do well objectively. I was successful. I would do well. But the thing that I was always told is you're doing well. But if you did it the correct way, you would do even better now the correct way is the neurotypical way, when I tried to do it, the neurotypical way it didn't work. And I always felt like I was doing something wrong, which made it extremely hard to take, you know, any positives from anything I was doing. Cause it always felt like there was something I had forgone in the way that I'd done it or that I wasn't doing enough. That was a very important concept for me, you know, to realize that I had to sort of lean to what I had rather than abandon in. That's what I'd like to see more of in the world as a whole, which is people leaning more into the idea of neuro divergence. And instead of trying to fit them into, like, to look at the inclusivity instead of as, Hey, let's fit this, these people into the world instead to make the world a little bigger so to say, because, you know, what we need to do is just create space for different ways of being.Emma:
I love that, the way you say it about making the world a bit bigger. And from your perspective as well coming from tennis, but then working in sort of offices and, and other workplaces, is there ways that you think work should change in the future that would make it more inclusive in, in your point of view?Rudraksha:
I definitely think so. I think just everything could stand to be a little less rigid. ADHD is very ambiguous. It affects different people in different ways. There is no one way of having ADHD, you know, there are commonalities, yes, but it's not the same for everyone. It manifests so differently across disciplines. Like it'll look differently for me in sports and it'll look differently for someone who's working in a corporate landscape. It'll look differently for someone who's a student and someone who's a musician. So we need to make a little bit of space for an ambiguity because we are missing out on so much potential. Current notions of aptitude that are built are actually antithetical to neuro divergent folks flourishing and the one thing to really pay attention to when we're talking about something like ADHD is the better I fit into a neurotypical box, the worse I'll actually feel. So if I'm adapting into this box that you've given me, like if I am adapting to, you know, the more conventional work expectations of sitting at a desk for 8, 9, 10 hours, or, you know, just being dialed in every single day, all the time, what that's doing for me, even if I'm doing well at it, is that it's burning me out. And it's making me unhappier. And the one big issue for us is the more we do, you know, the more we make an effort to adjust the less yielding the world at large becomes to us because they feel like, oh, they're better now. Or they're fixed now, which is not the case. Actually, the more we're adjusting, the more support we need, but it's looked at the other way round. And that's something to change and I think, you know, it's very difficult to say exactly what will benefit neuro divergent folks. There are things to do. But the first thing to do is open up the conversation, which is what might help, you know, and to actually think like what might neuro divergent person in the workplace experience? What might someone with ADHD experience in the workplace? Because right now we don't even have space for the conversation to be open, you know? And in a lot of cases we talk about disability. In a lot of cases, some things that are expected out of us are actually impossible. And what I see a lot these days is employers or just people at large, why talk strictly about employers. People at large are becoming okay with labels like ADHD, but they're not okay with the manifestations of it. You know, when I talk about ADHD, when I talk about neuro divergency, people are very supportive. They're very facilitating. You know, they're very sympathetic. I get a lot of pats on the back. I get a lot of support, but then when I present those symptoms or when I talk about my challenges, you know, instead of putting it as, Hey, this is what ADHD does. When I talk about what challenges I face as a human being, people are not that open to it. You know, there's a lot of correcting, which is not what we need. What we need more is like more space creation, not correcting and where we miss out in this respect is that any ADHD person, we already have rejection sensitivity, which means we're already sensitive to rejection. And along with that on average, an ADHD person is likely to receive 10,000 more negative remarks as compared to a neurotypical person by the age of 10, you know, according to a study that was conducted and we're already facing a lot more negative connotations because the way, way that we function is being corrected at all times. So we automatically believe that our way of being is wrong. That's the biggest thing that I struggle with in my life, which is that, you know, the way I'm doing things isn't wrong. And I have to kind of accept the way I am and sort of, as I always say, being diagnosed, stripped me off my denial because for many years I felt like, you know, I was not at ease with myself and I was very unhappy, even though I was doing really well in things. And I felt like if I could just pretend to be quote unquote normal, you know, I would get that sort of peace that I wanted. And then as soon as I got diagnosed, I realized, Hey, there is no being normal. There's only this. And then I had to learn to lean into it, which is exceptionally difficult as a journey. You know, even trainers that I have worked with have been very one dimensional in the way that they have gone about things. It's very neurotypical focussed and within this, what we do is we eliminate a lot of the strengths that could present themselves. And we really put like a big, full stop to how much neuro divergent people think is possible for them. I feel like every single thing I do, I do it wrong because that's what I've been told that you're not doing it the right way. You're not doing it the right way. You're not doing it the right way. That's why for a lot of people who get freshly diagnosed, it's very emotional and it's extremely challenging. Because for the first time you feel like, Hey, I'm not broken. You know? And it explains everything but I feel like the focus needs to get away from trying to fix the way that they present itself and explore more ways of being. And I think that applies to inclusivity at large pertaining to anything which is instead of trying to help people fit into the existing system, why can't we expand the system to fit in more people? I think that applies to conversations around inclusivity at large, and it's especially important within the case of something like neuro divergence.Emma:
And do you have any resources? I know we've talked about some before for people that want to learn more about ADHD or maybe how to open up the conversations, between people and, and learn a bit more about it.Rudraksha:
The resource that I benefited from them the most was something called "How do ADHD?" It's a YouTube channel. One of the reasons that it works really well is because it caters to the ADHD case. The videos are very short and, you know, they're designed in a way that keeps sort of our brain stimulated because the people who look up ADHD, the thing that is most difficult for us is to like stay on task. And that doesn't mean that we can't focus. We need stimulation to focus. We have something called hyperfocus so if we find something interesting we're going to be extremely focussed. So "how do ADHD" is something I really enjoy, I do feel like there is a bit of a difference between most ADHD resources available on the internet or at large or most information available about ADHD and actual lived experience. I think that's improving. There are a lot more ADHD communities that are coming up so in my opinion, the best way to learn about ADHD is to actually go and speak to someone who has ADHD. I think that is the most important thing because the way that it's reported often does not do justice to the way that it's lived. So, you know, the best way to learn about this is to go through more relatable sort of sources and to talk to people who actually have it, and then supplement it with, you know, with the information that is available. We need to broaden our lens when it comes to it. And, you know, instead of sticking to, like, if you look up ADHD it will tell you people have difficulty focus. Nobody ever attributed it to me because they said, Hey, this guy's always focused on what he's doing. The key, there was, I was stimulated. What I was doing. I was on court. I was really into it. I could not focus on anything at all outside of it. And those are distinctions that get lost in the cracks. Unless you take a more holistic view of it, find someone with ADHD talk a little bit with them add to the conversation, if you can. Because we need right now, a lot more conversation.Emma:
Thank you so much Rudraksha for joining me and we'll share the links that Rudraksha mentioned for anyone wanting to look up more. Thank you so much.Rudraksha:
Thank you so much for having me. It was a pleasure.