Do you ever feel like you're just not "normal"?
Updated: Mar 30, 2021
I thought I was weird. Thought that there was something wrong with me. Why was I different from everyone else? Why could I see things plainly that others couldn’t?
Turns out I’m one of the estimated 20% of the population who is neurodiverse. I was diagnosed just before Christmas with ADHD (I also think I’m dyspraxic, but that’s not been confirmed yet).
I really struggled at school when I didn’t understand (or didn’t enjoy) things and when teachers could not think of a different way of explaining stuff. Physics was absolutely mind-boggling!! I literally didn’t get it!! So happy I managed to negotiate dropping it and doing two languages instead.
At work I was sooooo shit at admin, so despite being a Chartered Psychologist I struggled to do the admin (which made my managers think I was just rubbish!). I really struggled to focus in open-plan offices - I couldn’t concentrate. At all. There is too much activity going on. Too many distractions. I always took work home to do it in quiet - or booked a meeting room. This just made my days longer.
It wasn’t until I got to Balfour Beatty that I felt that I was in a place where I could use my strengths - seriously - give me a massive deadline for hiring a bunch of people and freedom to do it my way and I’ll show you. I flipping love solving problems - there’s no such thing as 'can't' - we just need to figure out how to do it. I developed an awesome network of people across the organisation who could get things done for my stakeholders (usually just outside the usual process). I could see then I wasn’t totally useless.
Over the years I’ve been back and forth to my GP with anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation and they offered me anti-depressants (which I refused - because I knew they would not get to the root of my problem - they would just mask the symptoms) and counselling - CBT just doesn’t work for me, because I have soooo many thoughts. I did do some ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy) which was super helpful. And the other thing that really helped was doing my Gallup Strengths - which helped me realise that I am flipping awesome at some things!
I thrive when I’m doing something I love (helping people fulfil their potential and solving problems in organisations!), under pressure, with a good structure and get to co-create things with fun and creative people, take some risks and try something new. I am super curious about why people do what they do. “Why” questions are my most favourite.
Seriously - I don’t think it should be called Attention Deficit - because when I’m passionate about something, I am all in. And can focus for so long!! Give me a super complicated leadership development programme to plan and manage, a new workshop to design and implement or an assessment centre to create and I can plan the experience for each person involved and account for every tiny detail or variable. When I’m doing this I lose track of time and enjoy it soooo much!!
But I don’t know when to stop - I tend to work until I physically can’t - I’ve been through numerous cycles of burnout. I get overwhelmed easily. However, people don’t know as I am so good at masking - I’m a good actress.
One of the not so fun side-effects of ADHD is what is called Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria - or an extreme sensitivity to criticism - I feel almost physical pain - which prevents me from doing so much. This has manifested in an extreme form of people-pleasing. Which I’m working on. I feel physical pain when I think I've upset someone, knowing I have upset someone is devastating.
I also struggle with boredom - I need to be entertained. One of the most painful days of my life was a one-day induction I had to attend when I started a job (not naming the organisation), it was soooo boring, it felt like it went on a week and it was totally irrelevant for what I was going to do. Death by PowerPoint. But at least I made a lovely friend on the day!
There’s a saying that I love, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn” (possibly from Benjamin Franklin). I sing “little less conversation, little more action, please” from Elvis (in my head) when I’m stuck in meetings that go on and on with people airing their opinions - without any agreement on DOING anything. It’s a daily struggle.
Now, very early on into my experimentation with meds… I have already noticed some interesting things.
I’m able to actually work through a list of things to do without picking the fun stuff to do first.
I no longer run around all day with a sense of foreboding doom and panic (which I didn’t know I had).
My brain actually knows when I’ve eaten enough food (never had that before - I just cleared my plate - like I was taught!).
The meds haven’t “cured” my ADHD, they’ve really helped me. And now I can ask for help to manage my wonderful brain (because I hate asking for help - due to the fear of rejection!). So I’m surrounding myself with awesome people who understand what it’s like to be a divergent thinker! And asking for what I need.
I’m so glad I met my wonderful friend Anna, who was so open with her diagnosis - within minutes of chatting to her I was like - crikey we are so alike. So that conversation set me off on this path to find out more.
I always thought ADHD meant that you couldn’t sit still and that you were a bit of a shit at school. But this is not always the case. Particularly for females. I was/am such a chatterbox, I frequently burst into song, my head is always buzzing with thoughts and the most amazing ideas (that I would forget 3 seconds later!)
When I told a couple of my former colleagues about my ADHD they laughed and said they were not surprised. It’s been such a relief getting my diagnosis in two ways:
Lots of self-compassion and forgiveness for the really stupid stuff I’ve done in my life.
When I’ve felt so different from people and like I didn’t belong - I thought it was me being deficient in some way, not that I have a neurological difference. There is lots of shame and fear around that.
So I’m learning more and more about my brain and cataloguing my superpowers.
I regularly struggle to organise my thoughts enough to get the words out of my mouth - I know what I want to say - but it comes out weird. People think I’m super confident and say I have no filter and I’m so open - but I’ve always struggled with a lack of confidence/belief in my abilities (being a good actress again).
Here’s a poem I wrote last summer before I had my diagnosis...
So, why am I sharing this? My Psychiatrist (who also has ADHD - he is so cool) told me that there are so many people struggling with this and sharing my story might help people who have (or expect they have) ADHD to not feel totally crap about it.
So here you are. You are awesome :0)
(This was originally posted on LinkedIn - if this stuff feels familiar to you - have a read of some of the comments - and you will know you're so not alone)
Me writing about resources - https://www.michelleminnikin.com/post/adhd-support-resources