The year before I started my business we found out one of our children had ADHD. We’d only asked for a ADHD assessment to rule it out before he took GCSEs. (My sister had regretted that her two children with ADHD were diagnosed later). So we were rather shocked when they told us immediately that it was very likely he would have an ADHD diagnosis. ADHD is highly inheritable, so it was starting to look as if it came from my side of the family…
While going though the ADHD diagnosis process with two of my children I recognised many of their challenges as being very familiar. I also had a pretty sketchy school history:
I remember my mind wandering off on an interesting tangent by something the teacher said. Teachers frequently reprimanded me for going off-topic with my random questions. And by the time I got to the Sixth Form it was clear to me that taking my favourite subject German to degree level would be a mistake. I just wasn’t interested enough in studying the literature…
We could perhaps describe ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) as Attention Modulation Hyperactivity Disorder. It’s not that we can’t pay attention, more that our attention is only maintained consistently when we have a strong interest in the topic. If we don’t, our attention wanders off down intriguing alleyways, only to realise everyone has moved onto a different topic. (That’s also what makes us – on a good day – great problem-solvers and ideas people!)
Moving into adulthood
I needed a change of tack so I trained as a physiotherapist. I liked working with people, and was interested in how the body worked. That was just the beginning of my journey of following my interests and working out my strengths. It was a challenge keeping on top of clinical notes. (My poor working memory meant I had to write them down immediately) but my day was active (tick!) ever-changing (tick!) and interesting to me (tick!). My final job before having children involved working with people with neurological conditions in their homes. Fortunately my boss recognised my passions and strengths and essentially created a new position for me. (Finding the right work environment is key to success with ADHD)
My dream job
When I discovered professional organising I knew it was my dream job- but I dithered for quite some time. I knew the benefits of decluttering in reducing my overwhelm: I knew that creating a more orderly space helped subdue the chaotic thinking in my head; and I’d learned loads about how to get things done; I loved working with people encouraging personal growth. But I could be messy and still dropped balls. Friends saw me as very organised, but at the same time a bit ‘dippy’.
Eventually I realised if I didn’t try, I would always regret it. During the first year I really struggled with imposter syndrome. I was intimidated by other organisers with more experience or with professional-looking websites. On top of that I left my beautifully packed suitcase at home on two separate holidays that summer! But I quickly discovered I wasn’t the only APDO professional organiser who was organised by necessity rather than by birth…
My ADHD business
Fast forward 6 years: I am now working predominantly with clients with an ADHD diagnosis. I ‘get them’ on a deep level and my approach was ADHD-friendly- all the coping strategies I’d used for years often helped them too. I was running a successful business (and loved my website!) but I frequently turned down opportunities to avoid overwhelm. In addition, my (at times wobbly) executive functions were definitely becoming more challenged post-menopause.In 2019 I decided I wanted an answer – did I actually have an ADHD diagnosis myself? I started attending the London AADD UK support group in 2019 and other people with ADHD often asked me:
“How can you be a Professional Organiser and have an ADHD diagnosis?”
Imposter syndrome struck again- did I really belong to this ADHD ‘tribe’ or was I coping too well? 2019 was a tough year for me. I was increasingly aware of how much effort I was putting in to managing my energy and motivation levels. (I’m often either in gear 1 or gear 5). I love being self-employed and there are definite benefits: I’m in charge of my diary so I can stay flexible, but making a successful business involves a lot of slog. Waiting for an assessment took its toll…
Did I get an ADHD diagnosis?
Finally my answer came during the lockdown. After countless questionnaires and two gruelling interviews, the psychiatrist confirmed I had an ADHD diagnosis. He also acknowledged that women often develop good coping/ masking strategies from an early age to fit in. This recognition was enormously helpful. I didn’t feel able to share my diagnosis widely among friends. Women commonly get their diagnosis later in life, and don’t fit the stereotype of ADHD (‘naughty boy syndrome’). There is a stigma in getting a late diagnosis (“attention-seeking?”) and family members are often so familiar with the symptoms that they don’t recognise the associated diagnosis.
What does that mean for me?
I’m obviously the same person I always was, but now I know there are neurological differences in the way my brain works. There are benefits of having an ADHD brain. When I’m hyper-focusing, I can achieve an enormous amount – and I’m never short of ideas. I am inextricably intertwined with my ADHD. My friends accept that package, even if our conversations can be a little meandering at times!
I’m fortunate to have learned to manage many of the challenges- and spent considerable time in my 20’s dealing with the self-esteem and perfectionist challenges which cripple many with ADHD. In our own family we now have three out of five with an ADHD diagnosis, so everyone is familiar with the challenges which crop up from time to time.
We have have been doing a few jigsaws during lockdown. Sometimes we’d be looking for a particular piece for ages. Getting an ADHD diagnosis was like finally realising that piece was actually always missing. So there was no need to keep searching for it. With my diagnosis confirmed I can now continue concentrating on the bigger picture of how to help my ADHD brain manage life!