It’s been an eye-opening start to the year.
At the end of January, I received an official diagnosis of ADHD.
In the build up to this, I had many questions and emotions.
If you have been through this process (or considering it), you will know that feeling of “should I be doing this?”, “maybe this is all in my head?”
And ironically, it is!
My partner’s journey to ADHD has been well described and she has shared much of what this all means for her. Read more here.
We share lots about this. We talk with others, and run events and workshops about neurodivergence and neuro-inclusivity.
The more I listened to guest speakers and participants, the more I digested, and there was so much that resonated with me.
Something that really stuck out to me was the all or nothing energy.
Get me excited about a new idea or ‘thing’ and I would be highly energised and put the time in. Starting a new language, musical instrument or a course, and I would be all over it.
But, in no time, keeping that consistency going, I would just get bored and eventually I would stop altogether. What a waste. What could I have achieved in my life if I had just kept going with each of those things?
So, I decided to book an assessment.
There’s a huge waiting list for assessments through the NHS. I take this as a positive that more people are connecting with others’ stories of ADHD and realising the benefits of seeking a diagnosis. Even if that means current resources are overwhelmed.
So, I decided that I would invest in myself and seek a private assessment.
It’s been quite amusing to see the different kinds of reactions I’ve been receiving.
Quite often the response I get is “what, really? Surely not you? I would never have guessed that!”
And in many ways, this makes sense.
The common perception people have for ADHD is the naughty little boy. Someone impulsive, perhaps loud and hyperactive. I see more and more this being stated as to why so many don’t get diagnosed and, particularly for women, this has been a huge challenge.
I don’t really fit that stereotype.
People often describe me as really calm, measured, logical, and tend to speak when I have something to say. I suppose like many people, I wear a mask - a professional mask perhaps.
I am quite a dreamer which means my brain races, making connections, plotting through what a new idea means and the implications and what to do next. It can be as active as a chimp’s tea party where the chimps are drinking vodka and Red Bull rather than tea!
When I’ve committed to a project, a job or a business, I go all in. Because I give my all and do not rest, what then can happen is a dramatic loss of interest over a sustained period of time. I’ve also had numerous periods of burnout in my life. Now I know that it’s been ADHD burnout.
ADHD burnout is the cycle of overcommitting and overextending that leads to exhaustion. You simply can’t go anymore. It involves taking on too many tasks and/or commitments and the wheels then fall off as your body says no.
There are 3 types of ADHD and I was diagnosed as having Inattentive type ADHD. This type of ADHD manifests as forgetfulness, disengagement, or distractibility.
I didn't get enough ticks in the ‘impulsivity’ or ‘hyperactivity’ boxes to get the combined-type ADHD.
I’m an excellent problem-solver and great in a crisis. Put me in early-stage idea generation, getting something moving then I am all in...but it can be tricky to keep that energy alive. I do pick things back up and carry them to the finish line – this is no doubt linked to the excitement of finishing or achieving something.
This doesn’t make me a perpetual job hopper who offers no value.
I’ve always done the best I can in my different jobs. However, if I don’t believe in something or have a passion for it, eventually the desire and commitment wane. Then it’s time to move on.
This is perhaps what has led me to keep trying new things. I don’t stay where my contribution isn't valued so I’ve looked for the next opportunity to make a difference.
If you’re a bit different, rock the boat, and see the way for creating a better team, way of working or organisation, it takes a particular culture and leaders to welcome such input with open arms, without bruising their egos, and to encourage and allow such suggestions and actions to take place.
But what a huge loss for organisations.
The stats seem to vary depending on who you quote but between 1 in 5 or 1 in 7 people are estimated to be neurodivergent.
These are the creatives, the ones who see things in a different light, the ones who will come up with better ways to do things; excellent problem-solvers. But these are also the ones who have been told to shut up, that they’ve not earned the right to make a contribution, that their thoughts are not welcome.
Not tapping into the strengths of neurodivergent people means that you lose those who could be the most engaged and enthusiastic in your organisation. The ones that can differentiate you from the competition.
Gallup surveys show globally that only around 15% of people feel engaged in their work...it’s clearly worth holding onto such folks!
As I look at my strengths through an ADHD lens, having become a Gallup certified strengths coach, I can see so many instances in my career where I was spotting patterns, showing the way to go, getting people enthused, and solving problems that would make the business better (however you measure that).
But, rather than this being encouraged, developed and used to best effect, I was shot down, criticised, and seen as a trouble maker. The result? Less energy, less passion for the cause, and eventually deciding it was pointless to remain in such an environment. So, I’d leave.
My belief is that leaders will need time to gain more awareness and understanding of ADHD and the strengths of those with it - and with some support to overcome individual areas of challenge.
And I see too much content that feels negative and focuses on the weaknesses of those who are/have ADHD. I’ll write more about that too in the weeks ahead.
But, in the meantime, what a joy it is to see more and more adults having that reassurance that what they perhaps always wondered about – about being or feeling different – now gives them clarity and a way to process their youth, career and relationships.
It might be called a disorder, but don’t underestimate what the ADHD-ers can and will do.
Seek to understand, ask questions, draw out our strengths and how we work best, put some support in place and you open the door to unleashing some awesome potential.
If sharing my story helps one more person to reflect and question if a diagnosis is worth exploring, then it is all worth it.