“Riding Motorbikes and Contemplating Death with ADHD”

Death is terrifying, in part, because it’s impossible to imagine ‘nothing.’ Instinctually, our brains and bodies actively reject the unknown. I suspect this is why so many cultures and religions have formed beliefs and stories about the afterlife — to give death some boundaries, some purpose, and some meaning. Still, death is arguably the only thing in life you can’t reject, escape, or deny. You can only try and avoid it for now.

Still, I ride a motorbike every day, knowing that the only laws that I cannot defy are physics and fate. One mistake and I’m injured — or worse. It may be a dark and uneasy truth, but it’s also quite liberating.

So why is a machine that I know may maim or kill me one day such a vital part of my life?

I think it has something to do with my ADHD. Riding gives me pure peace of mind, total focus, and a rush of adrenaline. There’s a single task and purpose: To get from Point A to Point B alive. It’s urgent for the sake of everything and nothing, making every journey and movement matter with an energy that defies fatigue. There simply is no room for error and no safety net beyond my reactions and skills as a rider.

I can feel the danger in the air pushing back on me as I choose to accelerate, a quiet demonstration of the immense power beyond my daring. Nothing else matters. No distractions, just me, a little music in my ears, and the ribbon of asphalt and the obstacles on it before me as I grip an explosive rocket nestled snugly against me. It puts me right there, right on the edge of oblivion. Every. Single. Time. (It makes grocery shopping rather dramatic, too.)

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Love at First Bike

Something about me changed after I got on my first bike at age 14. I truly loved that feeling, the rollercoaster with no end. I needed it. I obsessed about bikes for seven years until I finally persuaded my parents to let me get one. They were beautiful and dangerous, like diving eagles. I’ve since ridden bikes through tropical storms and down hellish, tattered roads — never once wishing I’d bought a car.

When my last bike was stolen and destroyed, my heart shattered. I mourned her like a lost love. I felt naked somehow like the thieves had taken more than just a vehicle, but a part of me — a part that gives me license to feel really and truly free.

Risky Behaviors Help ADHD Brains Thrive

We live in a sensible society that can feel very restrictive for people with ADHD. Our society relies on rules and a degree of moderation to function. Everything is controlled, predictable, economically prosperous, safe, and in good order. I don’t have a big problem with rules; most make a lot of sense. However, this isn’t how our ADHD brains thrive. Rules discourage the risky behaviors that are like catnip for our dopamine-starved brains.

Every Sunday, I teach one-on-one swim lessons for children with autism and ADHD. In the two years I’ve been doing it, I’ve noticed that most of my neurodivergent students quickly outstrip their neurotypical peers once they’re allowed to skip ahead and face deep water directly. I’ve been tutoring a five-year-old girl with autism who now swims 25-meter lengths. She thrives because nothing I was trained to do in standard lessons worked, so I jumped in the water with her to keep her safe. With her mother’s consent, we bypassed the centre’s depth limit (The pool manager names his headaches after me!), and I gave her tasks to do while I followed her around the deep end. She instinctively adapts to mitigate the danger. She’s perfectly capable and happy, but if I teach her at the shallow end, it’s a completely different experience, and she won’t engage.

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Another time, I needed to teach a student with ADHD how to tread water to ensure he could survive out of his depth. After a few lessons together, I jumped into the deep end of the pool with a float and told him to fetch the rubber duck beside me. At first, he was a bit freaked out over the depth. Then he looked into the deep and said, “Give me a minute. I’ve not got Lord Duckington yet!” He got the duck, and he trod water for a full minute. Challenging him like that forced him to innovate, which he did successfully. He’s only eight years old, but what a man.

When the only real restrictions are the irrefutable, unforgiving, and yet totally fair and logical laws of nature, it puts everything else into perspective. The laws of nature are a beautiful thing for neurotypical minds. It’s literally sink or swim. Death, or the threat thereof, provides the ultimate boundary. In doing so, it simplifies things, making the often confusing (and sometimes trivial) reality of our broad social and economic structures so much easier to rationalize and understand.

Learn to ride a motorbike or swim (safely, with witnesses, please!) a little out of your depth (safely, or at least with witnesses, please!), and you’ll see what I mean.

Risky Behaviors and ADHD: Next Steps

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