Julia Fletcher is a Compliance Coordinator at Adviza. Here, she writes about her recent Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) diagnosis, what it means for her and how she hopes it may help others.

Julia FletcherI am a Compliance Coordinator on Adviza’s Building Futures project, which helps to bring disadvantaged people in Buckinghamshire closer to work, learning and a better future. I was recently diagnosed with inattentive ADHD, which you might assume would be a disadvantage in a role where I need to be highly organised and detail-oriented. But like many adults who missed a childhood ADHD diagnosis, I have learned to manage my neurodiversity.

My diagnosis was nonetheless a relief and an emotional moment, because it explained a lot about some of the challenges I have faced and will help me to better manage my condition, as well as support others. I feel lucky to be working for Adviza where I am well supported and comfortable speaking about my ADHD. I hope this blog might encourage others to feel able to be open about their own conditions. There are some resources and practical advice at the end of the blog for anyone who has concerns about ADHD.

What is ADHD?

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition that can include symptoms such as restlessness, difficulty concentrating, fidgeting and impulsiveness. About 15% of people in the UK are neurodivergent, which means their brains function atypically: Autism, ADHD, Dyspraxia and Dyslexia are all neurodivergent conditions. I think ADHD is a misnomer: people with it do not have a deficit of attention, but rather, issues regulating their attention and filtering input. ADHD is categorised into three types: inattentive, hyperactive/impulsive or a combination of both.

Historically people have questioned the validity of ADHD as a condition, but studies have shown that the brain of someone with ADHD has real biological differences from a neuro-typical brain in structure, function and chemistry.

It is widely thought that there are many women and girls who have ADHD and remain undiagnosed. It is not fully understood why this is, but research suggests that girls need to have more severe, and more visible, symptoms than boys before their ADHD is recognised. Additionally, girls may be socialised to suppress their symptoms, and internalise their struggle. As such, many are now being diagnosed as adults.

Growing up with undiagnosed ADHD

As a child I did well at school and didn’t get into trouble. Children who have inattentive ADHD do not present as hyperactive and impulsive (which leads to disruptiveness at school) and therefore often miss out on childhood diagnoses.

My life was characterised by a feeling of not living up to my potential.

I had a structured home and school life, and that structure was key to my relative success. I have always been known as a daydreamer and probably suffered from a lack of focus, but that was normal to me. It wasn’t until the structure of early education started to fall away and I found myself at college and university that my undiagnosed ADHD became a challenge. I would zone out in class, pondering the hairstyle of the person sitting in front of me then realising I had missed most of what the teacher was saying. I often wrote essays at the last minute, sometimes on the train on the way to college. I wrote my degree dissertation in the two days before the submission deadline and had to run to hand it in at the faculty building before the doors closed. My degree was in French and European studies and it’s not ideal to be writing a dissertation in a second language at the eleventh hour. If you’re reasonably intelligent and articulate, it’s effectively another layer of disguise that prevents anyone picking up on your condition. I did reasonably well in my studies but if I’d known I had ADHD, I could have done better. My life was characterised by a feeling of not living up to my potential.

How I got my diagnosis

I was made redundant during the pandemic and decided not to look for more work until my youngest daughter went to school. This allowed me some time to reflect on my career, and I realised that although I’ve always been motivated and successful in my roles, it came at a high price. I normally worked longer hours than my peers, often using evenings and weekends to catch up with work and digging very deep to try stay organised despite my lack of focus.

I started to cast around for some resources to help me manage my self-perceived inefficiency (negative self-talk has always been a natural by-product of my condition as I judge myself harshly for my “weaknesses”). I came across a story about a woman with inattentive ADHD, and reading her story was like looking in the mirror. I did some more research, all while struggling with the conviction that I was trying to find excuses for myself, but started to suspect I had inattentive ADHD.

I doubted anyone would take me seriously if I spoke to them about my concerns, but eventually went to a GP and took an ADHD questionnaire. I was lucky to find a GP with an understanding of the condition who knew that even though I had earned a degree and held down a job, that didn’t rule out me having ADHD.

I was referred to a local team specialising in ADHD and was lucky to be assessed in under a year (waiting lists can be two years or more in some areas). I had to complete a number of assessment questionnaires. I also needed someone who knew me as a child, and someone who knows me well now, to complete a questionnaire—which meant confiding in my mum and my husband earlier than I might have. I met the threshold to be assessed by a psychiatrist specialising in ADHD. I could tell she was listening to me and understood and recognised my experiences. Only a few weeks ago I had a final assessment where I talked through different aspects of my life, and was formally diagnosed.

ADHD Symptoms

It takes an enormous amount of effort to stay organised and remember things.

ADHD symptoms may be inattention, hyperactivity or impulsivity or a mixture of these, but this is the tip of the “ADHD Iceberg”. Below-the-line symptoms can include poor sleep, anxiety, sensory issues, habitual lateness, difficulty maintaining relationships, depression, hyper focus, mood swings and difficulty managing emotions.

It is important to note that a lot of symptoms can be experienced by people without ADHD. What characterises the disorder is the combination of symptoms and degree to which they affect you. Everyone loses their glasses sometimes, but I regularly spend hours each week searching for things that have seemingly vanished into a black hole.

Having ADHD means you can often feel overwhelmed. It takes an enormous amount of effort to stay organised and remember things. Prioritisation and planning can be a struggle as it is a challenge to work out which tasks are most important.

One misconception is that people with ADHD are always late. I am much more likely to arrive half an hour early because I have difficulty estimating how long something will take and overcompensate. If I have an important meeting, I have to fight to not go into something a lot of people called ‘waiting mode’ – we are so fearful of becoming distracted and missing the appointment that we struggle to settle our minds to anything else.

I am distracted easily, because I struggle to filter out extraneous input. This can also make busy places overwhelming, because my senses are assaulted with input from all sides. I often put my wireless earphones in for the school run playing white noise through them which helps soften auditory input.

Strategies for living with ADHD

A formal ADHD diagnosis allows you to take steps to manage the condition. As a recognised disability, you can request reasonable adjustments at work to ensure you can succeed. Everyone with ADHD is different and it may take trial and error to find what works for you.

Working from home helps me, because it allows me to minimise external stimuli such as conversations in an open-plan office which can easily distract me. I also use a second screen to help with deficits in my working memory.

Body-doubling is a well-known strategy that helps people with ADHD to complete tasks or fight distractions. It simply involves working quietly alongside another person, but it works; there are even digital body-doubling apps. There are a variety of theories about why body-doubling is so effective, but it’s possible that we find ourselves simply mirroring the other person who is quiet, calm and focused and are therefore less prone to distraction or frustration.

I have come this far without a diagnosis and for years have been aware of the need to manage certain aspects of my life carefully. If something is out of sight it is often out of mind. If I have to open a calendar to look at it, that’s no good to me because I’ll forget to open it. So I need a calendar on the wall. For projects I have mini-deadlines and check-ins because managing time can be challenging.

Benefits of ADHD

When someone with ADHD is interested in something or under pressure it’s amazing what they can achieve.

Thinking differently can be a real positive and people with ADHD are often highly creative and great at problem-solving. On a day to day basis, lack of planning has given me the useful skill of being able to cobble together tasty meals from whatever odds and ends are left in the fridge and the cupboards.

Often very sensitive, we are attuned to people’s emotions and can be highly empathetic.

A well-known benefit of ADHD is hyper focus: an ability to focus on something to the exclusion of anything else and achieve a lot in a short space of time. When someone with ADHD is interested in something or under pressure it’s amazing what they can achieve.

I reject the “super power” phraseology often used to describe the positive aspects of ADHD because I feel it diminishes the often-debilitating impact severe ADHD can have on lives. Many people are worse affected than I am and people with ADHD often live with anxiety and depression alongside their condition, especially those who are undiagnosed and have no idea why they are constantly struggling, failing to meet expectations or achieve their goals.

Getting support with ADHD

There are still many misconceptions about the condition, but the more we talk about it and share our stories, the more we can overcome these.

There are lot of free resources about ADHD and I’ve listed some below. If you think you have ADHD and want to know more, start by talking to your GP. Think about your symptoms and how they impact your life, and be prepared to talk about this as honestly and clearly as you can. Writing down real-world examples was really helpful for me to avoid my mind going blank when I actually spoke to someone. You don’t need to feel ashamed of having ADHD or of needing support. There are still many misconceptions about the condition, but the more we talk about it and share our stories, the more we can overcome these. I have managed my condition my whole life and despite its challenges I have come to accept it as part of who I am. I am proud to be part of this neuro-diverse community.

ADHD resources: 

How to ADHD YouTube channel
ADDitude Magazine Online
The Mini ADHD Coach on Instagram


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