Tuesday 14th February 2023
By Janine Green, Anti-social behaviour specialist and WISH Midlands Co-chair
I’ve thought long and hard about writing this article. There are many stigmas regarding ADHD. The old ones about how those with the condition must be lazy, naughty and unable to sit still. The new ones about how it is the latest ‘fashion’ and heavily over diagnosed. As someone who owns their own business, and has to consider reputation and perception, there is a risk that people may view me through these stereotypical lenses. However, far greater than this fear is a wish to help to dispel these myths and promote the reasons why having ADHD gives me some wonderful superpowers that help me to succeed. This is the reason for this article.
Here’s some context: 2022 was A LOT. It saw my brave and wonderful father being diagnosed with a brain tumour. What followed was a roller coaster of being told it was treatable, then not, then given hope again and then being told he had 12-18 months. He died a few weeks after receiving this news. One minute he was a fit and (seemingly) healthy 67 year old, 9 months later he was gone.
Grief led me to seek additional support. At the end of the session with a medical professional I was advised to seek bereavement counselling. This was not a shock; the second suggestion that I undertake an ADHD assessment most certainly was.
A shock because I work in anti-social behaviour so, I am somewhat ashamed to say, my reference point has, until now, been naughty 12-year old boys. A shock because I had utterly no idea of the way it presents itself in adult women. A shock because I am good at my work and what I do; how could I possibly be neurodivergent?
Yet, after the shock (and the brief identity crisis), and following falling down a rabbit hole of podcast listening and article reading, I felt an overwhelming wave of relief and understanding. Like the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle was slotting into place. A reason for some of the quirky things I do and could never previously rationalise. A stripping of multiple ‘labels’ that I had previously given myself; labels that weighed heavy on my shoulders. The relief of simply now having a core reason, that everything else was merely a symptom of.
The biggest benefit so far has been improved recognition of the things I find difficult, not beating myself up about them and putting plans in place to reduce these challenges. Also, the awareness to focus more on the things that ADHD makes me amazing at.
There are a wide range of ADHD symptoms, but a significant percentage of people with the condition suffer from rejection sensitivity disorder. A fear of criticism, negative feedback and judgement. I can now understand why; it took me years to publish my textbook; I find it hard to follow up quotes for new work (in case the person says ‘no’); I HATE sending evaluation forms.
I now know that my tendency to procrastinate is likely linked to my dopamine levels. Those with ADHD have low levels of dopamine, this being the hormone that brings joy. This is often why we act impulsively, doing things such as eating too much delicious food, drinking all the wonderful wine and spending lots of money, all to try and bring that hit of pleasure. Putting things off and then creating a panic at the last minute, gives us that shot of adrenaline that we need. It is also likely that we procrastinate on the tasks that we find difficult, such as detailed work. Trying to do them and struggling make us feel like failures, so we put off subjecting ourselves to that. Perversely, putting these things off often means we then just call ourselves lazy instead.
People with ADHD are often incredibly creative and excellent problem solvers. We literally think outside the box. Wonderful, right? The frustration is that we often struggle putting ideas into plan and then those plans into action. I cannot tell you how many notebooks of amazing ideas are scattered around my desk (And on the floor. And in my car. And in various handbags.) I also cannot tell you the frustration of not being able to put these into action (often because I cannot find said notebook).
I have periods of attentiveness where I can complete tasks that would take over people days in several hours. I have other days where I simply cannot concentrate and the smallest task appears impossible.
To be clear (and to ensure that no client or potential client is reading this and worrying about my competency!), my need to meet the high standards I set for myself, coupled with that rejection sensitivity disorder, means I will always deliver quality work to the deadlines set. This is because I have learnt to work with my ADHD. I was doing this way before my diagnosis, I just didn’t realise why I needed to.
Here’s a snapshot of what works for me:
So here’s the thing: it’s believed that 1 in 20 adults have ADHD. If you work in a workforce of any size, you will have colleagues with the condition (whether they yet know it or not). You may recognise some of the things I describe in yourself.
These people are likely to be the gifts in your organisation that can problem solve, create new and innovative ideas and be capable of producing some high standard outcomes.
But, without awareness of ADHD, they are also likely to be the ones that are considered disorganised (I say this with a wry smile as I look around the utter chaos that is my dining room), easily lose important items, lazy, unable to meet deadlines, incapable of putting plans into action etc.
Chances are, you may be at risk of categorising a superstar as a weak link. It is the reason why there are a high number of people with ADHD who are self-employed.
It is time to think about how we can change this. How we can take some of the things that have worked for me – delegating tasks that are a struggle to others, getting a mentor in place, allowing more flexibility in terms of working days/times – and apply these in an organisational environment, allowing those hidden superstars to shine?
I have no doubt that this article will resonate with some people. You may feel fear, you may feel excitement that there could finally be an ‘answer’, you may simply be curious.
There are lots of places to get further help and advice. If you are wondering whether ADHD may apply to you, or simply wish to learn more, I highly recommend The ADHD Adults Podcast and ADHD in A-Z (a book by Leanne Maskell). These are accessible, lighthearted and easy to follow.
If you are thinking of seeking an assessment then I have to start by saying the system stinks. The waitlists are long. If you can afford to pay privately then I would suggest looking at Psychiatry UK. You may also be able to opt for “Right to Choose”, where rather than waiting for an NHS assessment you are referred to a private service like Psychiatry UK. Details can be found online.
Check out the “Access to Work” scheme run by the Government, where you can apply for a grant to assist you in paying for things to make employment easier, such as paying for an ADHD coach. Again, these details are accessible online.
Please consider attending our next WISH Midlands online webinar on neurodiversity, 16th March 12pm. Details coming soon on our webpage.
Above all else, I am always willing to chat – email@example.com
Let’s work together to break the stigma and create an environment of understanding and opportunity for all.
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