My whole life, I’ve struggled to function in the way that people have been telling me I “should” be functioning.
I’ve gone through various cycles of burnout and breakdown since I was 14 years old. Over the last 20-odd years, I’ve tried various medications, therapy, multiple alternative therapies and wellbeing practices, coaching, and personal development – investing thousands of pounds in trying to “sort my brain out”.
But none of it ever resulted in a lasting solution. And in 2021, when I was diagnosed with ADHD, I found out why.
I am just one of a whole generation of women and girls whose ADHD hasn’t been diagnosed because symptoms present so differently compared to men and boys – and like many things in this world, diagnostic criteria is rooted in the patriarchy.
What’s more, a lot of people have the misconception that when you have ADHD, it means you have bucketloads of energy, talk really really really fast and go haring around everywhere at a hundred miles an hour getting distracted by squirrels. And admittedly, some of that’s true for me.
But ADHD is so much more complex than that. As you will hear many people in the neurodivergent community say, if you’ve met one person with ADHD then you’ve met one person with ADHD.
For me, here are just some of the ways my ADHD presents in my professional life:
🧠 Difficulty in emotional regulation. I get frustrated and upset extremely easily. But, on the flip side, I get ridiculously overexcited about things I love. If you want to talk to me about Doctor Who, you’d better block out the next three hours.
🧠 Hyperactivity. I often find myself talking extremely fast and most of the time I’m unable to notice and regulate the volume (and tone) of my voice. I also have constantly racing thoughts – this is internal hyperactivity, which has been misdiagnosed as anxiety multiple times.
🧠 Zoning out. I get bored quickly and easily when things don’t hold my attention, or if I’m distracted by something else. Sometimes, this happens mid-conversation and I completely lose track of what’s being said to me, which I really hate doing to people. Or, it happens mid-project, and that excellent idea I had never comes to fruition.
🧠 Impulsivity. I often find myself saying yes to things without thinking, then I get overwhelmed shortly afterwards. I also can’t help interrupting people when I’m excited. If I interrupt you, take is a compliment that I am SUPER interested in what you’re saying.
🧠 Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD). I am often hypersensitive to criticism, rejection, and feedback – which is a bloody TOUGH thing to navigate as a business owner! If you need support with this, I have a workshop on managing RSD in business here.
🧠 Lack of object permanence. I have a tendency to forget that things, sometimes even people, exist if I don’t see or engage with them in a while. So if I’m ignoring you, it’s really not intentional. Nudge me and remind me you exist, please!
🧠 Working memory issues. I have difficulty retaining information in my short-term memory, especially directions, numbers, names and dates. If you don’t see me write it down, I definitely won’t remember it in two minutes’ time.
🧠 Hypersensitivity to sound. I struggle to follow a conversation when there is too much background noise, I can’t focus when I can hear certain noises, and I can get overwhelmed and disoriented in loud spaces such as busy restaurants, pubs and clubs.
As you can see, that’s a fair bit to deal with on a daily basis on top of simply being a human in the world. Navigating all of this internally without understanding what was going on for me impacted my self-confidence – particularly when it came to my career – for many years.
Throughout my life I’ve been told over and over again that I’m too much, I’m overreacting, I’m rude, I’m inappropriate. I’ve been told not to cry, not to stress, not to interrupt, not to talk so fast.
For so long I thought I was broken somehow.
I just couldn’t understand how life, work, business, relationships and friendships seemed to come so easily to everyone else and not to me.
But after my diagnosis, I was able to search for and find the information and explanations about my brain that I needed to understand myself and to thrive personally and professionally. I soon started sharing my story in talks, on podcasts and in social media, and I started to see that this made a HUGE impact on others. And ultimately, that’s what led me to Mark and to co-creating Joyfully Different.
While having ADHD means I will always struggle with a lot of day-to-day things many people find easy, it also means that my brain works in a hugely creative, sometimes bonkers, out-of-the-box way. And it works FAST. I am an original thinker, a creative, a strategist, a problem-solver.
And when my working environment allows me to be in my element, I know I can do exceptional things.
Alice Reeves (She/They) is a Brand & Marketing Expert, Business Consultant and the Co-founder and Director of Joyfully Different. They are fiercely passionate about diversity, inclusion and raising awareness of mental health and neurodiversity. They’re an ambassador for Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity, and author of the Truth & Tails children’s book series which celebrates diversity, builds understanding of each other’s differences and promotes social inclusion.
Follow Alice on LinkedIn here