In light of the recent Mental Health Awareness Week, and in typical ADHD fashion, I’m late to the party explaining my experience. I was also late to the ADHD party, being diagnosed at the age of 30 after a three year NHS waitlist.
Going all the way back to when I was 27 – feels like a distant memory now – I remember the responses when I first told friends and family my GP referred me to a specialist. “You’re not that hyper are you?” or “I’ve never seen that in you” or even “I don’t think so”. As if I were lying; as if I hadn’t taken every online test I could find that all said “overwhelmingly adhd”; as if I hadn’t spent hours completing an in depth form comparing me as an adult to me as a child; as if I hadn’t searched for ADHD to not be the answer; as if I hadn’t spent every day up until then thinking there must just be something wrong with me. Questioning the validity of someone’s mental health is one of the most hurtful things you can do.
First, it’s important to understand that ADHD is expressed differently for women and men, as it is for adults and children. There are now three classifications; Combination – where someone shows impulsive and hyperactive behaviours, as well as inattention and distractibility; Inattentive and distractible type – someone who only show inattention and distractibility behaviours; Impulsive/hyperactive type – when someone only shows impulsive and hyperactive behaviours. I lean more on the second although my impulse control is severely lacking.
For me, ADHD is never being able to read an article to the end, without reading another three at the same time.
ADHD is running out the house and forgetting something every. single. time. Work pass, house keys, bike lock keys, bike lock itself, trousers, shoes, purse…
ADHD is hearing a question but only listening to the first bit, or the last bit, but never all of it.
ADHD is interrupting people constantly because something has grabbed my attention and I have to blurt it out right there and then. But it’s also feeling guilty for the rest of the day, constantly recreating the conversations I interrupted that day, or the previous day, or the previous month.
ADHD is starting a hobby but getting bored after a month, so then starting another. Books I’ve still to read, piles of wool I’ve yet to knit, plants on windowsills I need to pot…
ADHD is not hearing someone the first, second, third, or even fourth time they say my name. Even if they’re right in front of me.
ADHD is stopping listening to people mid-conversation, which is obvious to them and completely oblivious to me.
ADHD is being clumsy; constantly finding bruises, constantly dropping my phone.
ADHD is impulsive; it’s getting on a train or tube without looking where it’s going, or booking a last minute holiday forgetting you already had plans
ADHD is impatience at people, myself and the world.
But, there are elements of ADHD that are totally complimentary to the world of PR. Perhaps, even, a superpower.
We’re manic multitaskers – we can write five articles at once while reviewing content, searching for stories and managing clients.
We’re creative thinkers – we think about a million things at the same time, all of the time, allowing us to make connections and creative mad ideas others couldn’t conceive.
We can hyperfocus for hours and the rest of the world disappears. After two years working on Soho Square I only heard the church bell ring every hour when it was pointed out by a colleague.
We are hyper productive – albeit not constant. I can complete forty hours of work in eight hours some days, but find motivation incredibly challenging on others. It’s why I like going into the office three days a week using the energy of others to motivate myself.
ADHD is creative and amazing and exhausting, all at once.
It is how and why I am, but it is not who I am. It is an explanation for how I behave and react, but it is not an excuse for poor performance or bad behaviour. Once you understand your triggers and symptoms, you need to identify tools and tactics that help manage your ADHD.
I write lists on paper and type lists online using apps like Todoist or Asana. I write extensive notes because my brain forgets as quickly as it excites. I forget calendar invites so I add several reminders including 1 minute before and automate recurring reminders so you don’t have to worry about them. I create false deadlines to create enough pressure for me to complete tasks my brain deems boring. And if that doesn’t work, I escalate – promising content to a colleague or client by a date. Often, last minute stress is the only way to action “boring jobs” – for me, that’s anything admin related.
I walk to work and try to go to the gym at lunch – exercise is proven to help calm and focus an ADHD mind. So is skipping caffeine, but that one’s a bit too hard for a coffee lover so minimal caffeine drunk only in the morning is my achievable solution. Having regular bedtime and morning routines are also important – even though routines are almost impossible to maintain.
And finally, I’m open with colleagues about my symptoms. If I haven’t responded, there are two scenarios. One, I’m busy but I am listening and will respond once I’ve finished the task I’m working on. Two, I’m hyper focused on something and have no idea you exist right now. If I’m not looking at you, I’m probably not listening. If I turn away mid conversation, it’s not personal or deliberate. Say my name until I hear – I do not mind. And make sure I’m looking at you.
ADHD gives you the ability to hear every conversation in a room or nothing at all. Being able to think about several different things at the same time gives me an advantage over most people who can only focus on one or two. It makes keeping abreast of different teams and clients easier for me than others, while being able to connect stories others wouldn’t. But it also makes work harder.
Often, neurotypicals cannot grapple the challenges we face, instead perceiving it as laziness. We’re not lazy, we’re just in a constant battle with our brain. But we can win with the right structure and coping mechanisms in place. And creative jobs like PR are the perfect place to stretch our ADHD muscles.