I recently had the pleasure of attending a session on neurodiversity with Daniel Brooke, thanks to our partners at Elevate. It made me realise the importance of sharing our experiences. So, here's my personal story with some information that I have found quite useful in understanding myself, which I wrote for our internal blog during Neurodiversity Week. I hope that by sharing our stories more openly we can demonstrate our commitment to fostering a culture of understanding and support for ALL individuals both in our industry and wider communities.
However, given the stresses and strains of both life and working in a trading company over COVID (and the last 17 years!), I began to realise that I needed to understand myself better and so embarked on a journey working with a very insightful doctor which led to my diagnosis. And to be honest, when we started discussing ADHD in detail I felt a sense of relief. Because ultimately, the first 40 years of my life were a constant fight against myself and the acceptance of my flaws, and just as importantly; the understanding of their corresponding strengths, allowed me to leverage my skills, reduce anxiety and other associated emotions linked to self-distrust.
So here are some things that I have learned to do (and not do) on this journey!
1. Don’t be ashamed. I had LOTS of shame. I was ashamed of not being able to concentrate, ashamed of not achieving great results in school and university, ashamed that I could not control my eating (there is a strong link between ADHD and weight gain), and a myriad of other things. Many adults with ADHD have something called Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria. This is linked to low self-esteem, emotional outbursts, imposter syndrome and anxiety. Shame was a huge part of who I was for 35 years and it was important as a first step to acknowledge this and then learn to quiet this negative narrative.
2. Don’t think of ADHD as a hyperactivity. There are multiple forms of ADHD but we can think about it in three ways:
• inattentive (day dreamy);
• hyperactive (the ‘always on’ type); and
• a mix of both. The majority of people with ADHD have both of these characteristics.
3. Don’t eat the frog. This is the idea that you should do the hardest task first before anything else. This technique does not tend to work for people with executive function challenges (ADHD can be described as a disorder of executive function i.e., it is hard for your brain to get going once stopped and hard for it to stop once going!). Instead start with a small task that is easy enough to complete and use that dopamine hit to daisy-chain your way to what you need to do.
4. Don’t worry about your kids. Research shows that parents and siblings of someone with ADHD are more likely to have ADHD themselves. I hope that we will live in a world that is fully-supportive of neurodiversity, and it is my job as a parent to do something about it and help my children find the right path for themselves.
5. Celebrate Neurodiversity. Every ‘weakness’ that we identify in ourselves has a corresponding strength whether you have been ‘diagnosed’ with Dyslexia, Autism or ADHD or not. It is important to value what makes you unique so that you can leverage that. Let us celebrate ourselves and support our own and others’ neurodiversity more. ADHD is linked to creativity and high achievement in sports. Some studies have found a statistically significant link in founders and entrepreneurs; Michael Phelps, Heston Blumenthal, Bill Gates and Walt Disney are all famous people with ADHD.
6. Embrace and accept the things that you find difficult. I cannot sit still in meetings so I get up and walk about. Forcing myself to concentrate in some circumstances is absolutely exhausting, so I have to make sure I’m resting well. I find it difficult to control my diet, so I have the same ‘boring’ salad every day for lunch (ADHD brains lack and crave dopamine, which sugar and carbs deliver in spades!). I battle constantly with what I call a ‘constant sense of dread’, which in my view translates to: “What have I lost? What have I forgotten? What am I missing?” Just being aware of this fact helps me manage it better.
7. Optimise for your strengths. I have written this article whilst booking flights for Italy, having multiple conversations, responding on email and on Slack. It is just the way I work best – I love multitasking and flourish in a world where I can jump from task to task and back again, moving everything forward bit by bit.
8. Exercise A LOT.
Finally, thank you for taking the time to read this. It is worth clarifying that I am not a licensed medical professional (!) and all of the above thoughts are simply about MY personal journey. If you feel like you might need help, please reach out to your GP and discuss any next steps or treatment with them.