I’ve been talking about writing this post for a longer time than I care to admit. You could never accuse me of not being true to form.
Name, Age: Zanita Whittington, 31
City: New York
Diagnosis type: ADHD, Inattentive
Age of ADHD Diagnosis: 29
I was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, but I’ve been aware of its effects on my life since childhood. I’d like to preface that this is not a ‘woe is me’ story, I am writing these words in the hope that sharing my experience, might be a small help to someone who is struggling.
“Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is a neurobehavioral disorder characterized by a combination of inattentiveness, distractibility, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior. Symptoms include difficulties with attention to tasks, being forgetful in daily activities, difficulties in organizing, and following through.” – Psychology Today
It’s not at all common for females to be diagnosed with ADHD, in fact, as much as 50-75% go undiagnosed. The stereotype is the young male, playing up and causing distractions and failing at school. Now informed, I can see I was a pretty textbook case as a child. I would constantly get in to trouble by causing quiet distractions, chatting to other students during work times and day-dreaming out the window. Finishing every project or essay in the final hour was (still is!) my normal.
Many falsely assume people with ADHD are unintelligent, or doomed to fail at school. Through school, I was almost always top of my class – but when it came to attending university, I failed at longer form projects – especially when it meant needing to focus on the same topic… Let’s just say that my Commerce degree couldn’t hold my attention. I dropped out after six months when the opportunity to model in Sydney came up. Yay, fashion!
I came to be diagnosed two years ago, after suffering from anxiety and depression and being compelled to seek therapy. It was very emotional. I characterized my life as a series of failures and letting down everyone I cared about. I couldn’t see how any of my successes were attributed to talent or drive, rather believed they were one lucky accident after another, Hello, imposter syndrome!
ADHD manifests definitely for everyone. For me, there is a daily struggle to drive myself towards completion of daily tasks; each day is a tale of bumbling and forgetfulness. I often can’t follow a line of conversation – when someone talks to me at length – I find myself tuning out, focused out the window, and trying to NOT check my phone. I’ll be telling a story and half-way through, change my line, effectively interrupting myself.
When tidying up my apartment, I’ll pick up an item, remember something in another room and leave what I was focused on half done, over and over. Procrastination, forgetfulness and disorganisation are my MO.
After spending a week sitting at my computer I couldn’t recall anything I had effectively achieved, so I sought help. A typical day, would involve opening my laptop sitting there all day, feeling as though I was working, but constantly being drawn to anything and everything other than the task at hand. I was failing my team, and myself, and my life felt wildly out of control. Post-diagnosis, I was able to increase my own productivity by 500 percent +, with the help of strategies and constant coaching from my Doctor.
There is a huge stigma around taking medication – and in some cases with valid reason; stimulants are a coveted recreational drug! I’d prefer not to go into the medication topic at length – there’s no perfect solution for ADHD and all the drugs available on the market have pretty serious side effects. Every person has a different experience using them and they can be abused.
Thankfully I have found a few solutions that are right for me – but medication aside, the biggest help has simply been being aware of the way my brain works.
I’ve often heard the dialogue that ADHD in kids is just an excuse for bad parenting. But in my adult life, I am also bombarded with lack of understanding. When I have confided in friends that I have ADHD they say, “Oh me too!” or laugh and dismiss it. Other standard/hurtful responses include but are not limited to, “Oh that’s heavily overdiagnosed.” or “You don’t have ADHD!”Everybody suffers from distraction, so I can see why it might seem like an absurd excuse and a made up ‘disorder’ from the outside. Dismissiveness of the disorder, is essentially the dismissiveness of my reality, and reinforces within myself, the idea I’m that making excuses, I’m lazy – or I’m just genuinely useless. In part all of these things are true, it’s why my self esteem is low, I feel like I’m choosing to fail. What’s required of me to achieve better things is constant tenacity, a practise of snapping my mind back to hourly goals, sometimes every ten – fifteen minutes. On the flipside, It’s also true that many people with ADHD have the ability to hyper-focus – meaning, you’re able to focus on something if it engages you – if it’s fun, you can do it! Which also makes ADHD sound like a total luxury. It’s for this reason that I’ve been fired or ‘let go’ from more casual jobs than I care to admit – and that I was been compelled to make a career from a hobby I fell in love with. I can say with certainty, that if I was stuck in a job I didn’t enjoy I wouldn’t be a model employee.
THE BAD STUFF:
So, while a lack of focus doesn’t seem like the most terrible of afflictions – ADHD is also associated with many co-morbid disorders. I was suffering from anxiety and depression because I was struggling to cope with the results of my inability achieve simple tasks on a day to day basis. OCD, Bipolar Disorder, learning disabilities and substance abuse are also common co-morbid disorders. Other traits include; insomnia, low self-esteem, self destructive behaviour, struggles in maintaining relationships and rejection sensitive dysphoria. I’m a people pleaser, will over compensate by constantly buying lunches and dinners, even gifts – all the while feeling guilty and paranoid that my friends all hate me – because I’m so unreliable, forgetful, a failure. Whenever I have a drink it’s kind of permission to let go of all the things that have misplaced, my worries over late deadlines, details I’ve almost certainly missed. If it weren’t for my diagnosis and developing strategies for managing my life, I dread to think where my own self destructive behaviors might have lead me.
Plenty of ADHD’ers develop coping mechanisms just like anything else, when you lose a leg – you learn to walk in a new way. When you brain functions in a unique way, you adapt.
THE GOOD SHIT:
While all of this sounds incredibly dreary, having ADHD makes up a big part of my personality and while I’d love the ability to be a little more put together on a day-to- day basis – I can appreciate that there are certain things about my disorder that are assets. I’m SUPER adaptable! For example, if something goes wrong on a photoshoot and we need to change concept, I can pivot with ease. I can identify that this comes from constantly needing to quickstep as a consequence of being forgetful. I’m also pretty great in social surrounds, a creative conversationalist, someone who strives to find common ground and connect. I have a creative mind and a constant stream of ideas. I’m forgiving of the flaws of others (I hope they forgive mine!), encouraging, and optimistic.
“If something goes wrong on a photoshoot and we need to change concept, I can pivot with ease. I can identify that this comes from constantly needing to quickstep as a consequence of being forgetful.”
WE MADE IT:
Now that I’ve finally got all of this out, I hope that my story might be able to help anyone else with ADHD to know that you’re absolutely not alone. OR perhaps help the friends and family of someone with ADHD better perceive their experience. I’ve learnt so much and been encouraged by the stories on The Kaleidoscope Society, a community for women with ADHD – especially when it comes to focusing on my achievements and talents, rather than my pitfalls and mistakes.
I’d love to hear any stories you might have – and I’m so grateful you’ve made it to the end of this article, especially if you too do have ADHD. I would personally consider it an achievement.
…And finally, to everyone ever, sorry I haven’t replied to your email.