Kubrick Data Engineer Chloe Tang shares her experiences as a neurodivergent individual living with ADHD.
First off, a disclaimer. I am not an expert on this. Everyone experiences neurodiversity differently. I am sharing my experience and some of the things that have helped and continue to help me.
Our brains need dopamine to kick start us to do mundane tasks like taking out the bins. ADHD brains lack dopamine. This means that when someone like me sees the bins full, while my brain says, “We need to take out the bins.” my body goes and sits on the sofa. This is an example of someone with ADHD struggling with their executive function. It was once described to me as having a personal manager who lives in your brain and tells you to complete tasks; but my personal manager has zero control over my body. This is why a lot of people with ADHD can feel like they are not in control. It is very different to being lazy because it is not that I can’t be bothered to take the bins out, or even that I don’t want to. I feel physically blocked from doing so, as if it’s too much. In addition, some people with ADHD tend to struggle breaking down tasks and so, something simple and easily tackled one small step at a time (like taking the bag out of the bin), can quickly become overwhelming.
ADHD brains seek out stimulation or that dopamine hit, which is why individuals with ADHD can often hyper-fixate on something that is providing them with dopamine and have intense periods of focus and work efficiency. This is very unreliable though, and can lead ADHD individuals to lose track of time or basic needs like staying hydrated.
I never considered that I could have ADHD. This is mostly because the narrative around ADHD at the time seemed centred on hyperactive, misbehaving, little boys who couldn’t sit still and I didn’t fit into any of those categories. It goes to show how important it is to spread awareness and truthful information about neurodiversity, and how damaging outdated stigmas can be in creating misinformation and adversity for neurodiverse individuals. It wasn’t until my final year of university that I realised that others around me were not struggling in the same way I was. My entire life I had blamed myself. I thought I was being lazy, not trying hard enough, leaving things last minute, falling asleep in lectures, but these were things that I could never seem to change. So, I would fall into a cycle of self-deprecation and an overwhelming sense of failure until final year when a friend suggested I seek some support.
Disability services suggested my problems sounded like symptoms of ADHD. I remember that day so clearly because it was the first time someone hadn’t turned me away and told me it was just part of growing up, a part of life. I went home and spent the night ferociously googling information about ADHD, symptoms, the science behind it, and stories of women getting misdiagnosed or late diagnoses after years of anxiety and depression. For the first time, I felt understood.
I ended up getting referred through the university to see an educational psychologist and a few months later I received a long report detailing my scores in the tests run on that day, and a confirmation that I had a high likelihood of ADHD. I thought it would be the answer to all my questions, the thing to take home to my mum and explain to her why I was the way I was, and the permission I needed to stop punishing myself for everything I had struggled with. I stayed up all night and read the report over and over. I look back now, and I think I was hoping it would tell me something different. But seeing it in black and white, made it clear that there wasn’t an escape. It wasn’t a relief, it was crushing, because I knew there and then that no matter how hard I tried, I simply wasn’t going to be better. I would always face this adversity. It wasn’t going to go away, and it was always going to be just a bit harder for me than everyone else.
This is why I am not a huge fan of the ‘neurodiversity is my superpower’ narrative because I think it can take away a lot from the struggles that neurodiverse individuals face. I agree that there may be some things neurodiverse people are better at than their neurotypical peers, but in reality, that is just a silver lining and navigating all other aspects of work and life can be a massive challenge.
I didn’t include this to make it a sob story, I promise. I wanted to highlight to anyone reading, who may potentially be able to relate, that coming to accept myself and my ADHD isn’t something that happened overnight. It’s still not something that I’m convinced has happened fully yet. It has and continues to be one of the biggest struggles I have. I still contend with it day-to-day and I still struggle to accept and forgive myself. But after so many years of not forgiving myself, I know how damaging it can be, and so I work every day to be a bit kinder to myself. And it is work, because it can be easy to fall into the trap of punishing yourself and being self-deprecating.
Recently I came across the quote: “Anything worth doing, is worth doing badly” and it’s stuck with me so much that I wanted to share it. Doing 5 minutes of exercise is better than doing absolutely no exercise because you missed the time you said you would go to the gym. Eating a bowl of cereal for dinner is better than skipping the entire meal because you forgot one ingredient for that convoluted recipe you were going to make once and then never again. Completing 1 lecture on Duolingo is not the same as the 1-hour study session you planned to pick up Spanish, but it’s better than leaving it and falling completely off your commitment to learn a new skill. My ADHD makes me an ‘all or nothing’ type of person, which doesn’t bode well for the same person that struggles with executive function because of ADHD. Most of us can probably admit that we aren’t perfect and yet we often insist on holding ourselves to standards of perfection.
If there is one thing that I would like anyone who reads this to take away, it is to be kinder to yourself. We all wish we could have tried harder, done more, or been better somehow but the truth is sometimes it doesn’t work out. I have got it wrong more times than I have got it right and I know I will continue many more times to get it wrong before I get it right. I’m still not great at being kind to myself, but am constantly reminding myself that anything worth doing is worth doing badly.