About Mikel Rijsdijk

Black and white photo of a 30 something male with curly, shoulder length hair and a big toothy smile is looking offscreen to picture left. The right side of his face is in shadow. He is wearing a black sleeveless undershirt.

Mikel was a Brilliantly Diverse person if ever I knew one, and – when he was feeling up to it – a master at holding space for difficult, deep conversations and emotions. He was broadly interested in the sciences, arts, and the humanities. He loved speaking with various people about a wide range of subjects from fair working conditions, how fungi grow, and what made a great movie to how to live authentically. At the same time he loved his solitude, and having the space and time to create and make sense of things on his own.

Mikel (30 something male in black jeans and an open black jacket with a white undershirt and black rimmed sunglasses) walking on a bridge in Prague, looking off to the left side of the picture. Blurred people walking behind him in the background. Further back is the skyline of Prague.

He died of a brain tumor in 2018 after a few years of treatment. This was just as I was making up my mind to jump in at the deep end. To purposely expand my coaching practice to a neurodivergent client base, I wanted to go back to school so that I could offer the quality, and background knowledge, I felt this work needed. During his illness, he played a big part in me gathering up the courage to take that leap. I was terribly afraid of being more out about my own struggles and diagnosis. Yet at the same time, I felt I could not do this work properly without showing that vulnerability. Mikel disliked labels a lot and yet my label had helped me to find so much clarity for myself and a better way forward that really enabled me to create a big shift in my life. We had many animated – but deeply caring – conversations about all of this.

The loss of Mikel eventually showed me I had little time to waste being afraid of what others would think. If I wanted to pay it forward and make changes possible for others: the time was now.

And so I took the leap…

If you want more details about the grant and what it entails. Read more on the Grant page

Mikel (40-something male, with short, dark hair) wearing the sunglasses with rainbow colored reflection that inspired the logo of the coaching grant bearing his name.
Mikel (40-something male, with short, dark hair) wearing sunglasses with a rainbow-colored reflection that inspired the logo of the coaching grant bearing his name.

Understanding Grief and Emotional Dysregulation

Just before launching the 2023 edition of the coaching grant, I launched a Twitter thread that helped me to articulate why starting the grant was a really constructive way for me to deal with my seemingly bottomless grief about losing one of the best friends I’ll ever have.

Emotional dysregulation is a key feature of ADHD and grieving is one of those places where having an ADHD brain makes me feel really disabled: unable to cope with life challenges in any way resembling “normal”. Grief sticks with me for a LOOONG time and it comes up in waves that can leave me feeling like I’m drowning – even years after the actual loss. Seemingly innocuous triggers, like finding a picture, an object, or encountering a date or a smell that triggers a lovely memory, brought to the surface a deep pain that was inevitably highlighted. The kind of intrusive pain that would sweep in and NIX my capacity to cope with anything in an instant.

Over time, I am becoming gradually better at regaining my composure – without feeling like I am masking – after such incidents happens. But it is SUCH hard work. I feel like a surfer constantly encountering gnarly waves that test my stamina for getting back on the board after a “wipe-out” that takes me into a relentless “wash cycle” to use some surfing terms.

And I did not quite realize that is because it ALL comes rushing in at ONCE. The past – where there was so much joy, struggle, and connection together that I can vividly recall, the now – where I miss him and just encountered the trigger, and the future- where he will be forever missing, but also present in a way, as this Mikel-shaped hole in my expectations for what is to come…

This was the quote that sparked my train of thought on this matter:

“Our emotional experiences can be too much to bear because of a time condensing phenomenon where an event will activate our complete archive/timeline of related experiences. Others can partition here. We collapse and condense the timeline into one super condensed moment. #ADHD” – Cameron Gott / @CoachCamg

Here is the tweet thread I created in reply (and the original text can be seen below):

This (quoting the tweet from Cameron Gott) is a poetic and accurate way of shining a light on why emotional experiences can be a tough nut to crack for people with neurodivergent brains. I encounter this in many areas of life. But grief is a big one.

Waves of grief still hit me so hard! It’s one reason I started my coaching grant in honor of my late friend. It gave me something valuable to channel that energy into.

I can sit with my grief and then shift into doing something productive with it when I feel like I need to stop wallowing in it. It’s a different type of processing. Not avoidant, but based in action.

While I work on the grant I mull over so many memories and nuances that the grieving brings back into my mind in vivid detail. But they are painted in a light that is not just oriented towards the past, but also focused on bringing elements I valued about our friendship into the future. Connecting both “edges” (past <— |—> future) and then rooting them in the now (what will I DO) is vital for most of my personal emotional management strategies.

Thanks to@coachcamg for helping me to realize this…

I really loved this reply from one of my followers:

“I’m thinking of story quilts. How quilting can be used to process loss. Bring the past into the future, carry a story, a person, memories forward into future generations. How they’re transformative, quilting bees. I’ve never quilted, but it’s lovely that you’ve found this way.” Linda S/ @WritePaintDraw

In a metaphorical way, I feel like this is exactly what I am doing with the grant. I’m gathering my own experiences, the grief over my late ADHD diagnosis, the grief of losing Mikel, and the grief and experience of all of the people that I coach through the grant, and crafting those together into a new, hopefully beautiful, and soothing blanket of hope for the future.

It is something that people tell us all the time in the years Lana (Jelenjev, my co-founder in the Neurodiversity Education Academy) and I have been running the NeuroEmergence events (and the workshops that preceded them):

The space and time to meet with fellow neurodivergents, to share stories and experiences, to grieve together, learn together, connect over shared values, and to make future plans – all relatively unmasked – is the best part about these events.

Ready to start living up to your full potential?

Applications close on August 20, 2023 – So don’t hesitate!

Want more details before you sign up? Read more on the Grant page