This week’s newsletter is of a much more personal nature than usual, but is also a continuation of our work to showcase the importance of neurodiverse inclusion. A big part of viewing progress through the lens of social equity is recognising how inclusion is a constant process that requires action and accountability.
Our team member Terry-Jo Thorne wanted to share her experience of working with SHE while in the process of getting an ADHD diagnosis. She has an important perspective, and we hope that her reflections have the same impact on you as it has had on us.
How good leadership helped me after my ADHD diagnosis – an account from inside the SHE team
Earlier this month, we posted a newsletter about neurodiversity in the workplace, and how embracing and empowering difference includes welcoming, celebrating, and utilising the value in those with neurodiverse attributes.
My brilliant colleague, Amanda, wrote that piece, and it struck a chord with me for some time after I read it.
It did so because it made me consider my own experience with this particular issue, especially in my experience with my role here at SHE.
The Deleterious Effects of Trying to Be “Normal”
For some years now, I have been adequately managing mild/medium affliction with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and, less than a month after starting at SHE, I received a diagnosis of ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder).
The latter is a not-uncommon brain condition and, owing to the way ADHD is considered along gender, class and culture lines, it was not identified in me until recently.
Now, many may roll their eyes at the lamenting of yet another person about the ‘hardships’ of living with ADHD, as it is a label frequently bandied about, misunderstood, and often suspected of being over-diagnosed.
It is not unusual to overhear someone refer to a momentary lapse in attention and memory, or excess of energy and distractedness as ‘being so ADHD’. I’ll admit, even I didn’t take it seriously.
But, as I found myself increasingly unable to utilise the coping mechanisms I’d employed since childhood to work around the disorder, I also found my functional life (including my professional one) start to disintegrate around me.
I formed a belief that I was, simply, a hopelessly distracted woman, who self-indulgently followed her whims, and is unable to complete projects or follow a simple calendar.
It was the only explanation. And the more controls I tried to implement to overcome this, the worse my anxiety became, as I failed time and again to master my life the way others around me did.
A Change of Approach
Fast forward to my work with SHE…..
I volunteered to write a personal account of this topic because, following recent revelations of understanding how to work with my differences, as well as which therapies to use to best manage them — I have been wanting to shout about my relief to any soul who will listen.
My work here at the organisation has complemented and contributed to the positive shifts in my life.
When I was first invited to work on the upcoming SHE Conference, I was hesitant to accept the offer.
I was in the process of making huge adjustments after months of personal development work, and I was not sure I could handle the responsibility that came with this large project.
But a friendly meeting with Astrid left me convinced that this was something I was more than capable of.
In part, because of her conviction that I was just the person she needed.
When one is bogged down by the kind of negative self-talk that can result from feeling ‘different from everyone else’ or unable to perform in the way one is expected to, it helps to have somebody dilute that with their positive experience of you or your work.
I took the offer with the condition that I have some flexibility in my schedule and working location. With ADHD, a busy office environment with multiple distractions can be detrimental to some who have it.
This was agreed-to without hesitation – this particular type of work did not require my constant presence in the office or to keep very particular hours.
Shaping a Culture that Encourages Growth and Self Acceptance
And so, in the weeks that followed, I marveled at the synchronous changes that occurred in myself and my work relations.
Regular, and authentic positive feedback (alongside fair and reasonable critical feedback) served to boost my confidence in my abilities.
Well, that seems straightforward – all managers should be applying this already anyway. But I do find that Astrid, and my other colleagues, have intentionally developed a culture for positive feedback when it is due.
A simple, “Wow, this looks great! Thank you!” is surprisingly rare in many working environments, and coming from the person in charge, it can be especially valuable.
The Importance of Clarified Boundaries and Expectations
But in addition to this, I found that being given clear, articulated license to take the space needed to best do my work allowed me to really throw myself into my tasks, without the nagging concern that I was going against some company norm and upsetting my peers.
This, in turn, helped me enjoy each day at work, do better work at my own pace and schedule, and so close the loop by being motivated to keep doing it.
Being Flexible Helps – Within Reason
One of the quirks of ADHD is the seemingly contradictory trait of hyperfocus. For me, more of a blessing than a curse, my periods of hyperfocus, especially in solo creative sessions, can result in a lot of output that can seem, to some…overwhelming.
My team’s understanding that this level of output is not going to be consistent as it is not sustainable, is beneficial in ensuring that I do, over time, average out a good amount of high-quality work — because intense creative periods may need to be followed by a period of calmer, more mechanical work tasks.
Here I will put forward that it is, at the same time, my responsibility that my way of working does not disrupt the workflow of others, and that I should not expect them to force themselves to implement my particular schedule or pace.
This is where a clear project and organisational structure, along with regular meetings and check-ins, has been extremely helpful.
It allows those of us who don’t quite work the way others do, to see the goal posts and aim for them, but work together as a team to do so. And it’s easy to see where the weak spots are.
Fostering a Space of Safety
Finally, a more personal observation.
The shame I had attached to what I perceived to be personal and professional inadequacies meant that I was terrified of talking too much about my struggles.
I felt incompetent at everyday tasks and even thought I might be seen as childish, especially after being labeled with a disorder I associated mostly with young children.
But as my functioning improved with treatment, and my colleagues respected my privacy while speaking positively about such topics as neurodiversity (this is, after all, SHE – it’s what we talk about at work!), I realised I was not ashamed, but relieved.
A good balance of camaraderie and respect for privacy helped me feel quite safe in being able to work within the boundaries I had to set for myself in order to function and succeed.
I feel like one of the team today as the result of genuine regular inquiries about our wellbeing, the presence of our CEO at the lunch table every time she is in the office, and respecting and encouraging all of our ideas, no matter how different they may seem.
This latter point is especially valuable for my particular brain, because mine is a bit of an idea factory – not always a good idea factory, but being allowed to express them and have them heard and, when they are good, enthusiastically implemented, is incredibly motivating.
There remains much work to do in managing my ADHD and rebuilding the trust I have in myself, but it thus far has been a positive journey.
Rewarding work that I enjoy, generous colleagues, compassionate and transparent leadership, a flexible working environment, and encouraging me to be me, has been key to this experience.
I do not intend to go ‘legit’ and commit to one company for the forseeable future — right now I gleefully have at least five projects in various stages on the go — but I am grateful to my experience here for boosting my stamina, ambition and enjoyment by working with my condition and helping me do so too.