Well, here we go…ADHD awareness month; yet the person with ADHD who has offered to share her experience slides in with the blog that she offered to do in order to raise awareness on ADHD…at the last minute!! There is an element of irony there for sure…
This is written from my own personal experience of being neurodivergent and does not mean this is a typical experience of all those on the spectrum. Even as I’m writing this I’m feeling really anxious about putting my diagnosis out there as I believe that it will disadvantage me somehow; however, I feel stronger about standing up to help normalise neurodiversity. I do feel naked on a bus though…
What is ADHD?
Neurodiversity refers to the different ways the brain can work and interpret information. It highlights that people naturally think about things differently. We have different interests and motivations, and are naturally better at some things and poorer at others.
ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It is not a mental illness, it is a neurotype; a different operating platform. Think IOS vs Android. Often people with ADHD experience mental illness as a result of being forced to operate ‘typically’, or having to ‘mask’, in order to go undetected and contort ourselves into a neurotypical world. (Neurotypical means that the brain functions and processes information in the way society expects.) This can be exhausting and make us feel like we are not living authentically or cannot even understand who we really are. Not fitting into a typical world can turn into self loathing, confusion, identity crisis and depression. It is estimated that around 1 in 7 people (more than 15% of people in the UK) are neurodivergent, meaning that the brain functions, learns and processes information differently.
Neurodivergence includes Attention Deficit Disorders, Autism, Dyslexia and Dyspraxia.
One hypothesis is that ADHD is the brain’s lack of ability to naturally produce dopamine, so ADHDers are always looking for their hit of dopamine. This can manifest in impulse control, reactiveness, distractibility, ability to operate at a very fast pace, risk taking behaviours, and deep analysis to name a few.
There are three types of ADHD; attentive, inattentive and combined type.
Diagram from www.atriumhealth.org
I was diagnosed with ADHD and Asperger’s as an adult. (Asperger’s often co-occurs with ADHD.) It was missed as a child as I was a high achiever at school and I was seen as just being scatty, dreamy and an easily distracted child. If I loved something, I would go at it a million miles an hour. Otherwise I’d lose interest in 5 seconds and be off onto something else. The people around me would call it my ‘5 minute wonders’. The issue with having my dual diagnosis is that I’m an utter perfectionist, without the ability to feel I’ve achieved anything. It can be exhausting and riveting all at the same time, for me, as well as those around me.
I was always acutely aware that I wasn’t ‘normal’! I was always the weird kid (now the weird adult!), a bit of a loner, I was the one who looked after the school animals; alone; in my lunch break… I wore my uniform exactly as required, I always got my homework done…last minute…but done none the less. I also experienced very big emotions which I now know were sensory meltdowns. I had trouble connecting with my peers, and was more comfortable with teachers and some adults in my life. I had a very strong sense of right and wrong and wasn’t frightened to stand up for people or situations where there was an injustice ensuing.
Without knowing, I quickly learnt to ‘mask’ in order to hide my difference as I desperately wanted to fit in, but inevitably this always results in me experiencing sensory overload and (what’s called) autistic burnout.
Living with ADHD
I deal in facts, with a strong sense of what’s right and wrong. In my world, things are either one way or the other, right or wrong, start and finish; there is very little middle ground in my mind. I am always brutally honest which is often mistaken as rude. I cannot do, or detect subtlety, and am very literal…I say what I mean, and mean what I say. This is why neurodivergents are often viewed as having limited social skills as we can be very blunt and can’t pick up on the unsaid. If someone asks me a question, my linear thinking assumes they want the truth as I see it. Therefore, if you ask me if you look nice when getting dressed for the night out, I will always give you the honest answer…It’s not born from a desire to be rude, but my mind deals in facts…needless to say, it’s not always appreciated! I can interrupt, not to be rude or think my opinion is better, but it’s like an impulsion to say it before I forget or I’ve become overly excitable and it just has to come out.
The positive side of this means that I’m very good at getting to the right outcome as generally I’m not frightened to ask the challenging and difficult questions. I believe in doing the right thing, not the easy thing. My strong sense of integrity and honesty is both a blessing and a curse. I love that I have the confidence to ask awkward and uncomfortable questions as I observe a lot of time being wasted beating around the bush, however this can be seen as me being pedantic or difficult. I will get to the bottom of things or to the truth which can be seen as argumentative. I love challenging debates and conversations, having my thinking challenged and offering a challenge also.
ADHD can be a world of extremes. I’m all or nothing, with a relentless ability to achieve the unachievable and operate at a much faster rate than any Duracell Bunny on the market. When I’m passionate about something I will hyperfocus. I may forget to eat, drink, go to the toilet whilst in that zone. For me, hyperfocus is a wonderful gift to have.
This also means that I thrive in a fast paced environment. Leadership roles, where I am accountable for the experiences of others stimulate my brain to operate at its optimum. Due to my Asperger’s, I am very particular about how I keep myself organised and create robust and logical systems to ensure I achieve the task in hand whatever that may be.
The flip side is I often don’t know when to stop, especially when problem solving or fixing things, not stopping until I burnout or I know exactly where my responsibility ends. I will try and fix everything. And when overwhelmed; I can become very introverted and closed, scatty and unclear. This is generally caused by the brain’s inability to process or box off a situation I feel is unjust or I can’t resolve logically. This is generally a sign of sensory burnout.
People on the spectrum have a natural flair for creativity and innovation. Again, this is something I enjoy a lot. But it can be interpreted as I’m a know it all!
I take personal responsibility to manage my ADHD. I have worked hard to be very self aware and understand my triggers, my boundaries, and what makes me tick. As an example, if I lose my keys, instead of wasting time looking for then, I have an alarm on them. Problem solved! I use technology to support me to overcome time blindness and my scattered mind.
Music is a massive stimulant for me, so if you see me going down the motorway dancing and singing in my car, you’ll understand why!
I have an ADHD coach and I also support others with understanding and adapting to their life with ADHD. I am very open about my diagnosis with colleagues and peers as it helps people understand when I’m going at a million miles an hour and I try to help them to have the confidence to share with me if I’m being too intense or whirlwindy. I’m also very aware of what support I need day to day, so I am clear on this as it’s essential to my wellbeing.
Sometimes I struggle to ‘people’ and it takes every bit of my being to engage with society. Time blindness, forgetfulness and self criticism are also things I have to keep in check.
Day to day I am grateful for the gifts my ADHD brings to my life. Being able to hyperfocus sparks creativity, knowledge and triangulation. It means I can create slick and linear operating structures that are meaningful and work. I love being able to manage vast amounts of information and activities enable me to be successful at operations management. Operational astuteness, creation of robust processes and problem solving are real strengths of mine.