True to form, I’m writing this last minute. I know—it’s embarrassing and unprofessional for me to admit that. But that’s the reality of living with ADHD. For two months, this story has been sitting at the forefront of my mind, slowly piecing itself together. I’ve sat down countless times with the determination to get things done, only to stand back up again five minutes later, after several bizarre Google searches and a brief TikTok scrolling stint.
It’s not that I didn’t want to write this. It’s not that I’m lazy or a procrastinator. I just have ADHD. That’s the shift in thinking that’s been the most challenging in the last 18 months since my diagnosis. The shift from blaming myself to trying to understand myself. I’m not an idiot, I’m not lazy, and I'm not subconsciously wasting my potential—my brain just works differently.
It’s hard having ADHD. It’s not cute or quirky, and unfortunately it doesn’t make me a ‘manic pixie dream girl.’ It’s hard. My neurodivergence had gone unnoticed by everyone around me until I was 18 and living away from home for the first time, and the support system that had built up the walls of my life was suddenly half a country away. What should have been a fun and exciting time was shrouded by something I couldn’t put my finger on.
Moving cities to attend university meant that I was in a sea of unfamiliar faces. Suddenly, the things I said and did made me feel othered by these people who didn’t know me or understand my mannerisms in the way my family or close friends did. Social interactions could send my thoughts spiralling for days, completely unable to break away from a racing negative thought cycle. Without structure, direction and support from my family, things started to unravel. There were countless neglected assignments, missed tutorials and lectures, and unstudied-for tests.
I constantly overslept. I think this is what shocks people the most when I tell them I have ADHD. I am always tired. Filtering myself and concentrating takes so much of my energy that I can often feel debilitated in a very short amount of time. The thing is, when you hear the term—attention deficit hyperactivity disorder—the first thing most people think of is those disruptive little boys wreaking havoc in the classroom. The little boys that were diagnosed with ADHD the moment they stepped foot in school. You don’t think of the other little kids staring out the window at the back of the classroom. Them? No, they're just away with the fairies. ADHD is much more than being the ‘energetic, hyperactive kid,’ and I wish more people understood that.
As time wore on, my feelings towards university and my general mental health only got worse. It got to the point where I couldn’t set foot on campus without crying; I felt this crushing disappointment in myself. On top of my then-undiagnosed neurodiversity, and the social anxiety I had developed in high school, I began to experience generalised anxiety, which is a common comorbidity of ADHD. My grades and confidence hit an all-time low, but with the support of my family and friends, I trudged on.
During the first lockdown of 2020, I came across a video about a woman living with ADHD. When it finished, I immediately broke down into tears. She spoke about how her ADHD affected her life as a working professional, and her description of executive dysfunction resonated deeply with me. I knew I had ADHD. In the weeks that followed, I took countless online ADHD tests, wrote down jumbled lists of symptoms and read a whole lot of stories like the one I’m writing now. All of the unexplained traits and happenings in my day-to-day life were now huddling together under one umbrella; I felt like it all clicked into place.
When I started to tell people of my suspicions, the response I often got was, “But everyone feels like that!” It was one of the most frustrating things to hear. If everyone actually feels like this, then why do other people look put together? How do other people finish assignments more than 30 minutes before they are due? Why can’t I just do the everyday things that other people seem to find so easy? Is it supposed to be this hard?
A year later, after a whole lot of self-doubt, my mother finally pushed me to seek a professional opinion. I walked out of that psychologist session with a diagnosis, and a massive weight lifted off my chest.
My brain is different—unique. ADHD-Inattentive presenting. There’s a lot of work still to be done in understanding ADHD, and there’s a general consensus within the ADHD community that it’s in need of a renaming. You see, ‘attention deficit hyperactivity disorder’ doesn’t fully encapsulate all of the diversity that falls under the ADHD spectrum. There’s hyperactive presenting, inattentive presenting and combined, and so much diversity of presentation within those. It’s a relatively new area of research that will continue to grow over the next few years, and I’m super excited to see what fascinating things are discovered.
I want to make it clear that I don’t think that having ADHD is a bad thing. ADHD people have superpowers: we are creative, empathetic, resilient, spontaneous and have a high emotional intelligence. We can hyper-focus like nobody’s business—hypothetically speaking, I can finish two months worth of writing in an hour and a half. At the end of the day, my neurodiverse brain is actually my biggest asset, and I wouldn’t want to trade my neurodiversity for any semblance of ‘normal.’
The world needs brains like ours. My whole life, I’ve always been the person to jump on ideas and achieve them. There have been a bunch of failures, for sure—times I’ve gotten bored or discouraged—but the few successes have made it worth it. I’ve always been the person that questions how things are done, only to find creative and more efficient ways to solve problems. People with ADHD are changemakers, even in small ways. Personally, one of my favourite parts of ADHD is the way we connect with other neurodivergent individuals. The way we communicate to each other, bond, over-share and ricochet between neglecting and hyperfocusing on a friendship means that it’s easy for neurodivergent people to find each other and grow strong relationships quickly. A few of my long-time friends were also diagnosed with ADHD around the same time I was, and it’s been wonderful to be able to go through this journey together.
ADHD looks different for everyone. Being an overachiever doesn’t mean you don’t have it. Being quiet and sleepy doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek a diagnosis. Understanding how my brain works was the push I needed to get through the last year of my degree and into my first graduate role. I’m going to be completely honest and tell you that I haven’t been an active solution-seeker since getting my diagnosis. I hyperfocused for a few months and felt an overwhelming need to tell everyone I knew, but I’ve since calmed down.
One of the biggest things for me has been finding online communities of neurodiverse people. It’s incredibly validating to connect with people who understand the difficulties of living with ADHD and to learn about the ADHD ‘hacks’ others implement to make life easier—like using caffeine as a natural focusing stimulant or implementing low-dopamine mornings to keep you focused for the rest of the day. Some of my favourite content creators who have helped me understand how to manage my ADHD brain are TikToker Connor DeWolfe, the Instagram page @adhd_understood, and the Youtube channel How to ADHD. If you haven’t got anyone around you going through a similar journey, I highly encourage you to seek support in an online community.
It feels important to mention here that self-diagnosis is valid. Diagnosis is an expensive process, and I couldn't have gotten it without my parents’ financial support. If you think you have ADHD but aren’t able to take the steps toward an official diagnosis, your own experience is valid, and you are still an important part of the neurodiverse community.
Since coming to understand ADHD, I’ve been far more lenient with myself over mistakes, and I’ve learned how to facilitate environments where I’m more likely to succeed; there are fewer triggers and distractions, and I am free to let my creativity flow. It’s not always a walk in the park, and I don’t know if I’m ever going to fully manage it, but it’s a start. And it’s much better than where I was before. Sometimes, understanding how your brain works and being kinder to yourself can be the best tools you can ask for.