As we are coming to the end of ADHD Awareness month and having seen all the great things that have been done to raise awareness, I wanted to share my own journey on how ADHD has impacted my life.
Being a 45-year-old with ADHD, I’ve had my fair share of trials and tribulations from a professional and personal perspective, so it’s great to see that Mental Health is becoming more understood in the workplace. Being diagnosed aged 41 has helped answer a lot of questions about certain traits, behaviours, feelings and emotions especially when I start to piece together certain aspects of my life.
As a kid growing up I was always the ‘hectic’ one, the kid that would want to make others laugh, the kid that would do ‘stupid’ things if it meant getting a laugh, the kid who couldn’t sit still for a second, always involved in some activity or other to avoid the incessant buzz of my brain. My mum took me to see our family doctor, Dr O’Donnell, as mum was convinced that I was more than just a hectic child, and was told “he’s a young boy, this is what boys do, it’s normal, he’ll grow out of it, perhaps cut back on the sugar intake!!”. These were heart-breaking words for any child to have to hear, “cut back on the sugar intake” may as well stab me in the heart with a red-hot poker.
After failing my GCSE’s, I attended college only to be asked to leave after three months as I seemed to have little interest in attending lessons. My parents were worried about my lack of focus and mood swings so arranged for me to see what would be the start of numerous counselling and psychiatric sessions over the next twenty odd years. That first session aged around 20 didn’t uncover anything at the time.
I spent the next five years drifting in and out of jobs with no real ambition, literally living for the weekend and drinking to excess. Knowing what I now know, I’m guessing my relationship with alcohol was to mask the thoughts that were buzzing around in my head. I always felt different to others, almost weird and not normal (define normal)!
In my early thirties I decided to try a career in recruitment and took to it like a fish to water. I’d settled into the new job well and was hitting targets more often than not, but I put a lot of pressure on myself as a result of the competitive environment, which was very much siloed with little opportunity for collaboration. The stress ultimately built up to a point where I was crying on my way to work because, with my self-esteem at an all-time low, I simply didn’t think I was ‘good’ enough, even though I was the third highest biller globally out of 120 consultants. Whatever I did, professionally or personally, just didn’t feel ‘good’ enough; I was never happy or satisfied. I had everything I thought I wanted – house, kids, partner – but I always felt as though it wasn’t enough, even though I tried so hard to be happy in the present.
I stayed at the same recruitment company, becoming miserable and isolated, for what felt like a lifetime but was in reality only four years. It was then that I realised I’d had enough, thought that the grass was greener, and moved on to pastures new. Terrible decision! Over the next three years, I had three different jobs. Though I didn’t know it at the time, two of these I left because of my behaviours, my approach, my lack of focus on the job, and also my employers lack of knowledge, understanding and adaptability in how to deal with me. At this time, my relationship with alcohol took a turn which only served to accentuate my anxiety. I used drinking as a way to escape the thoughts that I’d go to sleep and wake up with: a constant, overwhelming barrage in my head that I couldn’t seem to control.
Knowing that I had anxiety and depression wasn’t a surprise to me, it just took a while to finally admit it. There is a history of this in my family. My grandfather took his own life and those are urges that I have had to fight myself in my darkest days. I was still uncomfortable with the fact I didn’t know WHY I suffered from anxiety and depression. So many questions remained unanswered. Why couldn’t I hold down a job? Why did I feel so out of place? Why did I lack focus? Why was I burnt out all the time? Why did I feel at odds with the world? These feelings compounded my complete lack of confidence in my ability as a recruiter, which brought on the anxiety and depression again, which, in turn, led to drinking to wipe out the emotions and confusion in my head. It was a vicious circle. Something had to change, and it was purely by luck that I happened to see a programme one night that featured a young guy in his mid-twenties who had recently been diagnosed with ADHD.
He was going through his symptoms: Easily distracted – tick, impulsive – tick, hyperactive – tick, poor memory – tick, easily bored – tick, procrastination – tick, mood swings/quick temper/easily irritated – tick, tick, tick, inability to deal with stress – tick, extreme impatience – tick, speaking out of turn/offending others – tick, tick, restless – tick. It was like a defining moment for me. Cue endless google searches, online tests and the increasing conviction that I had to get this diagnosis confirmed. A trip to my GP revealed that it would be a long and slow process so I decided to spend my own money and found an ADHD specialist who diagnosed Major Depressive Disorder Co-morbid with ADHD of the combined type.
The relief of a diagnosis was palpable. Finally, I was starting to get some answers which could shed light on some of my past escapades, failed attempts to settle in a job, lack of focus, speaking out of turn, mood swings and quick temper, difficulties in my childhood, my relationship with alcohol etc. Being open and honest about the diagnosis has been vitally important. Knowing why I am the way I am has answered many questions and I’m still in the process of learning.
This whole journey has led me to want to understand what organisations are doing to assist employees with any neurodiverse characteristics, what knowledge do they have on how this effects the individual and how they can adapt the workplace to accommodate us accordingly? Yes, there are a lot of challenges that come with having ADHD, however we need to look at the positives by understanding how these energies can result in being impactful in a working environment. By gaining knowledge and understanding and making small adjustments to the working environment for those that have ADHD can make a huge difference to how the individual feels and therefore performs. I’m fortunate enough to be Chair for the amazing charity ADHD UK who are doing so much to raise awareness, support, advocacy and research to ensure those with ADHD have a platform to thrive and belong.
Being diagnosed has made my life much easier in many ways as it’s helped me and others around me reach a form of acceptance. I now understand why I struggle in certain areas of my mental health and the effect this has on both my personal and professional life. Understanding is easier to accept as you can work with it rather than against it and has given me a sense of belonging as opposed to simply ‘fitting in’.
By working collaboratively to embrace neurodiversity by raising awareness, knowledge and impact, we can surely only all win together and drive a more inclusive working environment?
At McLean Public, we are fortunate enough to have a team with a number of diverse characteristics and therefore have true lived experience of the barriers faced when hiring from a candidate and client perspective. We are dedicated to shifting the dial for diversity across the Public and Third Sectors, offering an inclusive experience that ensures the playing field is truly equal throughout the recruitment experience.
If you’re struggling to diversify your organisation’s workforce, please get in touch as this is something McLean Public can support you with.