illustration of a head and butterflies around the scalp and inside the brain

It’s Neurodiversity Celebration Week and I thought this was a good opportunity to talk about how I found out I’m neurodivergent. It’s a long post because I’m unable to be succinct unless I’m in an interview, I’ve been told!

Disclaimer: I’m undiagnosed and haven’t sought a diagnosis yet. There are many reasons for it, which I won’t get into. I do not welcome opinions on whether someone thinks I have/do not have ADHD based on this post. This is a very small part of my story that I have decided to share.

How it started…

The thought of being neurodivergent had never crossed my mind before. Until 2021, when I started seeing Instagram reels on “signs of ADHD that I did not know were ADHD” kind of thing. At first, I saw myself in these, but thought, “Well, everyone does this”. Dear reader, how I was wrong.

I dismissed these reels and TikToks, but they somehow stayed at the back of my mind. Every now and then I’d think to myself that I might have ADHD, and then proceed to swipe those thoughts to the back and shove them in a little drawer. This was until I interviewed for my current job. I got a call at the end of the day to offer me the job but was told I had to be given until Monday (this was a Friday) to think about it before I could accept it. Cue excitement and happiness, followed by dread. This dread was worry that I had completely misheard and I did, in fact, not been offered the job.

You might think this was classic impostor syndrome, but I can assure you it wasn’t. I wasn’t worried that I was crap and wasn’t offered the job because I wasn’t good enough. I simply knew that my brain had switched off during the call. My husband asked what was said, and I couldn’t remember anything other than being offered the job. So had I misheard that? Was I not offered the job? My doubt was fuelled by not being able to recall more than that and by knowing that, in the past, I’ve misheard things quite a lot when under pressure. So I spent the weekend celebrating, while also worrying that the call on Monday to check if I had accepted the job would never come. It did, and only then my anxiety settled.

A new job, and new questions…

Then, starting the job involved facilitating small group sessions with lots of discussions. Great, more having to listen to people and opportunities to completely misunderstand them. I knew I struggled with hearing people in busy environments, usually when there are multiple conversations happening at the same time, and I wasn’t sure what to expect from the sessions. So I remember Googling “Why can’t I hear people when there’s noise?”. Kid you not, this is what I typed on Google.

A few results came up, and one page had a good list of reasons. At the very bottom of that list was ADHD. The reason provided in this website resonated with me, but again, I brushed it off. During my first session, I tried so hard to focus and not miss anything that I actually missed a lot. I remember looking at the whiteboard, where a student was taking down discussion notes, and wondering what happened because I had zero recollection of discussing some of those points. I was really frustrated for missing so much of the session, despite trying so hard. What was wrong with me? The next session was better as I wasn’t trying as hard to focus, but this made all the ADHD thoughts ressurfaced a little more, at the same time as the reels I was being shown increased, as I engaged more with them.

This also coincided with starting an Open University Microcredential on how to teach online for adult learners. The course was completely asynchronous via self-directed learning, and I really struggled with engaging with it. A lot of it was text, which made it worse. The first sections were about “how to study”, taking us through how to go back to studying as an adult, so we could make the most of the course. None of that applied to me. I felt like an alien. “Do all of your chores and organise your desk before you start working on something”. Say what now? An immaculate desk, super comfy chair, and complete silence. Are you kidding me? Everyone in the comments is mirroring the content provided. They all needed a tidy desk, complete silence. I felt so out of place. I do not need a super comfortable chair, because I won’t sit still for more than a few minutes and what I need is a chair that allows me to put my legs in all kinds of awkward positions. In fact, my favourite spot to sit is the floor. Always has been.

How psycho-education was a game changer…

I was baffled and confused. But, coming to my rescue, was ADHDAdultUK, the Adult ADHD charity. Around the same time, James and Alex founded the charity and shared all of this on Twitter. They also started an amazing podcast. I followed both, as we worked on similar research topics when we were all researchers and, while we never met or spoke in person, we had interacted on Twitter. I listened to the first couple of episodes of the podcast, learned more about ADHD and plucked the courage to message Alex and ask if we could have a zoom chat. “I think I may have ADHD, but probably not”, I said. He reassured me that he wasn’t trying to recruit anyone to the ADHD club. We agreed on a date and I told my husband I thought I had ADHD. I was so anxious about telling someone else out loud. He looked at me confused and said there was no way.

I had my call with Alex. It was very thought-provoking, and he asked me to think about things I had never considered before. I didn’t think I showed any symptoms in childhood, and suddenly a memory resurfaced. It was year 7, I believe, and we were in PE class all playing football (soccer, for any US reader), the whole class. I don’t like sports, especially those where things are thrown your way and you have to hit them, kick them or grab them. We were in the middle of a match and I was in the middle of the field. Someone calls my name and I see a ball coming in my direction. I promptly grab it in my arms. I was holding it like a baby, much to the astonishment of my school mates who were now screaming at me. I remember the confusion I felt. Why were they screaming at me. They told me to get the ball… That’s when it hit me that I had completely forgotten I was in the middle of a field, and in the middle of a football match. I couldn’t recall what happened before and I was so embarrassed that I couldn’t remember anything after either.

I remember Alex being able to point out a moment I dissociated during the call. I remember his words at the end “I can’t diagnose you, but I’d be very surprised if you didn’t have ADHD”. Queue hyperfocus for a few months and learned all I could, mostly from their amazing podcast. Every day a new memory resurfaced that explained this or that. The going from winning lots of academic awards to failing in maths, one of my favourite subjects, when I changed schools. The coping mechanisms I unconsciously developed to help me when I struggled. The failing my Chemistry and Biology A-levels, but ending up with a BSc and MSc in Biochemistry, which showed it wasn’t the subject I struggled with, but the way it was taught.

How it ended… Or has it?

As most people (that I know of) who find out about their ADHD as adults, I felt such relief for finally having answers, and such frustration of having struggled without those answers for so long. It has been such a journey of learning about myself and deconstructing my internal ableism. Knowledge gave me the power to be kinder to myself and communicate what I need help with or when I struggle. Bringing my husband along to one of James and Alex’s “little” talks helped him hearing from other people what the struggles are. I think we are now better at communicating because of this understanding.

Do I still struggle? The answer is a resounding yes. Some days more than others and no day or task is the same. However, I’m very privileged in my personal life and I have a job where no day is the same, which is a massive help.

I don’t want my students to have to struggle the way I did through university (and high school) and I lot of what I do is focussed on what would have worked for past me, when I was a student. Not sure if this is the best approach, but I try my best.