Neurodivergence in The Day We Ate Grandad
I wasn’t deliberately writing Ricky and Wes (and Mercy in The Crows) with ADHD. It’s just that I gave them all the things that I struggle with, and all the traits that I wanted to examine in different situations, and it organically developed from there. I didn’t even know I had ADHD when I was writing them to start with. That’s why even they don’t know they have ADHD in-world.
But, based on what I’ve actually written for them, both Ricky and Wes have untreated, undiagnosed ADHD – Ricky is more inattentive with mental hyperactivity, while Wes is more the ‘classic’ example of a hyperactive type. Depression and trauma intersect with how their symptoms present, and Wes in particular struggles more with his symptoms after quitting stimulants.
Wes & ADHD
Wes associates a party atmosphere, increased libido, situational euphoria and dopamine highs with cocaine use, but in fact it gave him more focus and helped mitigate some of his symptoms. When you meet him in The Crows, before he’s been used as a guinea pig for various designer drugs, he’s a lot calmer, a lot more relaxed, and a lot less volatile.
In Thirteenth, where his substance use is really getting out of control (and taking less cocaine as he’s being forced to test a number of other things), he’s incoherent, his thoughts aren’t following logical patterns, he’s more unfocused and restless, and he’s struggling to keep himself together.
His physical hyperactivity is more obvious – he can’t stand still for very long, and people assume it’s the cocaine or other drug use, but this continues into The Day We Ate Grandad where it’s more obviously just something he does.
In The Day We Ate Grandad, he’s fully off cocaine and a number of other, unspecified things, and he’s also off the Silver Lining he was getting addicted to in the previous novel. He notes that he’s always been ‘scatter-brained’ (his mother’s term), and starts getting frustrated by his lack of impulse control, his lack of object permanence, his inability to concentrate, and so on. He shows signs of being time-blind later in the novel, and finds it hard to start tasks like packing his bags. He blames the withdrawals, but he’s not yet figured out that these are all symptoms of something else. Wes often forgets to eat and just doesn’t register he’s hungry, which exacerbates his issues with substances and alcohol.
The main scene this is most obvious in (there are a few) is much later in the book, Chapter 14.
Katy has to take control of situations because Wes just isn’t able to, in the way that Carrie needs to manage Ricky, which isn’t great. While Wes lives with Charlie and Hugo, a lot of that is taken care of for him, so it only becomes obvious that he’s not very good at coping later on when he’s forced to be by himself.
Let’s be clear though – ADHD is not the reason Wes is a selfish bastard. That’s just because he’s an arsehole.
Ricky & ADHD
Ricky’s symptoms are present constantly but hidden because he doesn’t have to worry about doing things to a schedule, or focusing on things he’s not interested in. He’s so under-socialised that he never engages with conversations that don’t interest him. He never went to school, so his autodidactic learning is completely selective. He’s only ever read books he likes, and he’s never been forced to concentrate on things he doesn’t like to do in a formal setting.
He doesn’t own a watch, so it’s not clear that he’s also time-blind. He doesn’t form habits, so everything he does is a conscious decision. When he stops being an ascetic, all of that lifestyle is just… gone. He then struggles to form a new routine, and Carrie has to try and manage him and stop him forgetting to go to bed, etc.
Ricky can sit still for hours and focus on things like the future, but he can’t get his brain to shut up. This comes up a lot – he has a lot of strategies for this, some involving substance abuse/alcohol abuse, but mainly involving some unspecified herbal tea he makes himself, introduced in The Crows and given to Carrie for her anxiety. In Thirteenth it’s referenced that long walks can help, but in The Day We Ate Grandad he’s not doing any physical activity and struggling with sobriety and depression in general. His sleep patterns are not great (for example, he goes for a walk at midnight at one point, and doesn’t come back). His hobbies are also not habits – things left unfinished is a reference to the line where he looks at his taxidermy needles and knife collection and realises he hasn’t done anything with them for a long time. Basically, if a habit is disrupted, it’s very hard/impossible to pick it back up again, and the search for novelty overtakes it. But since Ricky is depressed, and experiencing anhedonia to some degree, he’s not looking for new things to do.
Ricky only has one change of clothes in The Crows because it’s easier to manage. The cottage is kept very tidy (except Gerald’s cellar, arguably, where all his stuff is). His personal hygiene is poor because the multi-step processes of washing and bathing are hard, and he has to be prompted to do them. Moving in with Carrie means, later, that Ricky basically has someone else to help mitigate his difficulties with all of this, plus someone to make sure he eats properly.
His disordered eating is a combination of several things, but made worse by the fact that ADHD can also impact one’s relationship with food. Ricky comfort eats in The Crows and often binges on whatever he can get his hands on, whether that’s a whole packet of out-of-date mince beef, insects, or mice. In Thirteenth he swings the other way and doesn’t eat enough, and won’t unless Carrie makes him. In The Day We Ate Grandad, we’re back to depression binges, but this time combined with a lack of physical activity (including Changes), so he gains weight from January-April, where the novel begins.
Both Ricky and Wes show signs of depression and anxiety that overlap with ADHD symptoms and impact them both in different ways.
It would really benefit both of them to actually work this out and look at ways to work with their brains a bit better – and in Wes’s case, maybe try medication – but we’ll see.