“How Hardcore Feminist Punk Rock Unlocked My AuDHD Brain”

I have always had a strong connection and pull to music, gaining inspiration from trailblazing female artists like Stevie Nicks and Joni Mitchell. But my relationship with music reached another level when I – during a moral burnout episode – stumbled upon a different kind of sound that changed my understanding of my AuDHD brain.

In my field of work, I see injustices often. My hyper-empathy and strong sense of justice drew me to this field, an area that gave me just the right amount of dopamine to help me manage well enough for many years – until things became really difficult and the stress and sadness mounted. I knew that my neurodivergent brain was making everything feel much more intense, but I wasn’t sure how to pull it all back.

One afternoon at home, burnt out, I knew I absolutely needed to clean my home despite a distinct lack of energy. I thought music would help, but this time, rather than put on Stevie Nicks, I selected a playlist at random and tried to power on. After a short time, I found myself dancing to the post punk rhythms of Siouxsie and the Banshees. My energy levels were up, and I suddenly gained the ability to do all the mundane demands I hadn’t been able to tackle for weeks.

Stumbling Into Punk Rock: A New Special Interest

I fell down a rabbit hole searching for more music that I thought might have the same effect. Cue my discovery of Riot Grrrl, grunge bands created by women, and feminist hardcore punk. In an instant, my world (and ears) became full of early ’90s bands like Babes in Toyland and Bikini Kill to more recent groups like War on Women, Lambrini Girls, and others with names too explicit to share.

Bands made up of women who fight for their voices to be heard, stay true to themselves, and don’t seem to care if they’re disliked? I had entered in to special-interest territory. I became absorbed in learning about the music, the women, and the culture they were promoting. At a time when I felt isolated and insecure and like I was losing a big part of my identity through my troubles at work, this music brought me joy and validation. It filled me with energy that I hadn’t felt for a long time and listening to it became the best and most important part of my day.

[Read: 13 Productivity Playlists to Center and Focus ADHD Brains]

Aside from the physical release of endless dancing, I found that the louder the music and vocals, the happier and calmer I felt. Any stress I was feeling reduced, and overwhelming thoughts about my inability to do something turned into figuring out how I could.

I decided to experiment with listening to something much louder. Inspired by the death and thrash metal gigs I attended in my early 20s, I found myself – now more than 10 years later – on my way, alone, to see a few hardcore punk bands at a DIY venue 50 miles away. I’d never been to a gig by myself, let alone one like this, and it gave me a buzz that ADHD just loves to pull me toward.

The evening of the gig, as I stood in the middle of the crowd and listened to the thrashing music, I experienced something I’d never experienced before: a quiet mind with no thoughts in my head. Peace. My mind was blown. Literally.

The Soothing Sounds of Hardcore Punk

I spent the next few months tracking the effects of this music on my feelings and behaviors and was amazed by the results. I found that I didn’t need as much sleep and was able to be active late into the night. I wasn’t as drawn to sugar and carbs. Overstimulation after a long day in the office was easier to tolerate, and moments of excruciating under-stimulation were few and far between. My ability to tolerate perceived rejection and criticism grew significantly. This music, it was clear, was making everything so enjoyable.

[Read: Music Therapy – Sound Medicine for ADHD]

This was not a life I was used to. It was something I had only experienced in short bursts. But here was punk music, my new special interest, giving me all the dopamine I needed to thrive. It was helping me behave in ways that were right for me, rather than being influenced by my barriers and my fears.

How do I use my special interest now to get the results I need? When I need a quick surge of chemicals to get me moving after waking up, Babes in Toyland’s Bluebell works every time. When I need to sleep, I’ll blast my thoughts away with Petrol Girls. When I’m feeling anxious or fearful at work and need to be brave, Double Dare Ya by Bikini Kill transforms my attitude and reminds me of my values. For those moments when I desperately need inner calm, I find it – in a raging hardcore gig.

AuDHD and Music: Next Steps

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