“It’s not that difficult.”
“If you really want to do something, you’ll do it.”
“You’re just being lazy.”
I was 29 years old when I was diagnosed with ADHD.
I experienced all the emotions. Anger, frustration, pride, upset, confusion, determination*, but mostly relief. I finally had an answer to why I find it so difficult to get started on things.
I’m not “just lazy”. It’s executive dysfunction.
Anyone who knows me would be stunned to learn that I’ve spent my whole life thinking I’m lazy. I run several successful businesses and earn my living from being 100% self-employed.
The thing is, everything I do is pretty much always at the last minute.
I’ve had so many opportunities pass me by because I didn’t do something in time. I always feel like I’m not doing enough, and I’m letting everyone down. I often find or remember things I was meant to do months (or even years) ago which I’d just forgotten about. I’ve had so many times across the years where I’ve nearly thrown it all in, and applied for employed work, even though I know I would hate it.
And yes, I told myself I was lazy every single day.
*If you’re wondering about how all those emotions fit in: anger, frustration and upset for not having had a diagnosis sooner. Pride and confusion for how much I’ve managed to do with my life so far, despite having undiagnosed ADHD. Determination for my future.
Keeping Myself Organised — The Ongoing Struggle
Keeping track of my to-do lists has been an ongoing struggle for me.
I’ve tried every option suggested on those 10 top things lists and attended countless business guidance seminars. Apps, notepads, colour coding, organising by feelings, sticky notes, alarms and more. They all seem to take a lot of setting up, work for a week or so, and then I’m back to square one.
One thing that has been a constant for me is having a physical paper diary, but it took me years to embrace this. People would regularly laugh at me when I pulled my A5 hardback diary from my bag to arrange a meeting, job booking, or a catch up with a friend. This would often bring me shame, that I couldn’t seem to be able to ‘do adulting’ the ‘right way’, as was implied every time someone would kindly suggest (although I didn’t ask for suggestions) a particular online system or app that they ‘just knew would work for me’. Believing I was just ‘not trying hard enough’, every time someone suggested something, I’d try it, but it never worked. So I built a coping mechanism that allowed me to use my paper diary without feeling I was being ridiculed — by perfecting the way to introduce it:
“Yes, let’s book a date in!”
(reaches into my bag)
“I know, I’m old fashioned — got to love a paper diary! Haha!”
This way I controlled the narrative, and they were laughing with me instead of at me. Except inside I still felt shame. I’d swapped being rejected by the other person, for being rejected by myself.
This shame seeped into every part of my life where it sat for so long, I didn’t realise it wasn’t something everyone experienced. Every time I found myself coming up against that wall of not being able to do things, I searched over and over for answers to help me “adult better”, but all I found were the same old suggestions that never worked for me, and I couldn’t understand why.
Turns out, I’d been looking in the wrong place.
September 2019, I took a holiday. My first holiday since being self-employed, and my first holiday on my own. Everyone I know was so excited for me until they learnt I was taking my laptop with me.
“Oh! No! You have to stop working totally for it to be a holiday!”
“You deserve some real time off.”
“A holiday means relaxing — that means no work at all!”
“Take some fiction books, and just sit in the sun all day and read — that’s a holiday.”
I was told from my (not self-employed) friends. Once again, I felt that I wasn’t “adulting right”, and that shame seeped in again. Fortunately, I was staying with friends who were completely understanding, and let me just do what I wanted without passing judgement.
One of the reasons I wanted to get away was to help me reset my sleeping habits, which have never been in-line with the typical 9 to 5 but had been worse of late. A few days into week two though, I still wasn’t sleeping, so I started researching if there might be any other reasons why.
I found ADHD, and it was like my whole world clicked into place.
I’m not broken.
I came back from my holiday and went to my GP to be told it was an 18-month minimum wait. I figured — I’ve waited this long, and I’m doing fine without a diagnosis — I thought I wasn’t that bothered. I started reading articles and research about ADHD though, and the more I learnt about it, the more I wanted a definitive answer. I am privileged enough to be able to pay for private health insurance, and I realised I could claim most of a private consultation back through that, so I went for it in May 2020.
Since getting my ADHD diagnosis, I’ve grown so much and been able to understand and identify coping mechanisms I’ve naturally developed because of my ADHD. Some of them have stayed, and others I’ve had to unlearn because I realised they were actually harming me, not helping. I’ve been able to start unlearning the shame I put on myself for so many things, and feel more confident in myself and my abilities.
It’s been hard, and rewarding, and it’s not over yet. I hope that by sharing some of my experiences and things I’ve learnt, I’ll be able to help some other people feel not so alone.
Thank you for reading!
This article has an accompanying piece that gives a more in-depth explanation of how I started organising myself and removing the shame from how I do this. I will link to it here once it is published.
This is my first published article and is the beginning of what I plan to be another “string to my bow” in my career. As an educator, I am used to creating content that teaches something. As a creative, I understand that sometimes simply sharing your story gives an immense amount of value to the audience. As an ADHDer, I know I love to talk! What these things mean is that my articles will be varied in both content and style. Check out the “What Makes Me Different” page on my own website for a snapshot of the sorts of things I potentially will be writing about.