Rebecca, a member of our Advisory Panel, was diagnosed with ADD in her 30s. In this blog, she writes about the discrimination she faced, learning to love her brain and how her Work it Out coach helped her on the path to finding an employer who celebrates her neurodiversity.
Being diagnosed with ADD in your 30s will hit you like a truck.
Suddenly a lot of things make sense: every awkward interaction, the times when you couldn’t stop talking, the times you slept through your alarm, the times people didn’t quite ‘get’ you.
You’re not lazy or complacent and you know it. You can perform brilliantly well, on a good day. On those days you feel alive. Like flying.
But a lot of times it is an uphill battle. You’re out of step. Behind. Careless. Dreamy. In your own world.
Now though, you’re finally vindicated. You’ve suddenly arrived in a new space. It feels bigger. More accommodating. Expansive and beautiful, yet scary and unusual. The words ‘deficit’ and ‘disorder’ loom large.
I couldn’t hold steady employment
By the age of 30, I’d been fired 5 times. Even as I write this, I feel a deep sense of shame and I worry about what my friends and colleagues will think.
I disclosed my disability to 2 separate employers. Both promptly fired me – despite the Disability Discrimination Act… which compounded a lifelong sense of shame.
Despite being lucky enough to have a degree, qualifications and experience, I tried and failed to stay longer than a year with over 10 employers (and a PhD programme!) in my 20s. I’d usually be really good at my job for the first 6 months, despite a lot of seemingly careless mistakes, then at around the 1 year mark I’d burn out and need months to recover. Each time I thought I was just being lazy. and that ‘next time, I’ll try harder…’. I internalised the guilt and shame which kept me locked in a cycle.
Because I couldn’t hold steady employment, I experienced a lot of instability and I couldn’t do things like apply for a mortgage or build a pension. I also struggled to drive. I would feel really anxious behind the wheel and forgot how to tell left from right. I later learned that the anxiety caused by my inability to focus was inducing temporary dyspraxia.
Post diagnosis, I felt a huge sense of relief but had to go through a grieving process. I disclosed my disability to 2 separate employers. Both promptly fired me – despite the Disability Discrimination Act, which requires your employer to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate you. One employer went so far as to say they didn’t think I could function in the role because they weren’t willing to make adjustments, despite the fact that I was hitting my targets. It was extremely difficult to overcome the discrimination, which compounded a lifelong sense of shame. I didn’t want to go through the trauma of appealing, so I quietly accepted this on both occasions.
I’ve learned to love the way my brain works
Now I’m raising awareness so other women can get the help they need. Personally, I had a lot of misconceptions, and it meant that I struggled for a long time. I thought that people with ADD/ADHD can’t pay attention. The crucial distinction is that we struggle to regulate our attention but we can hyper-focus for long periods of time. This explains why sometimes I’d be on top of my game and sometimes I’d sleep through my alarm. You can also be primarily the hyperactive type (ADHD) or inattentive type (ADD, like myself) or a mix of both.
Everyone is unique, but generally people with ADD/ADHD are creative, empathetic, and interested in a wide range of topics (hello, hyper focus!). Being neuro-nontypical, we also have a unique perspective.
There is a happy ending though. With the help of my Work It Out coach, I was able to identify the right criteria to look for in an employer…I’m now flourishing as a senior executive at a software startup.
Research suggests that women primarily present with the inattentive type, but a lot of the diagnostic criteria is based on hyperactive young boys. I flew under the radar because I got good grades and wasn’t disruptive. Many well meaning teachers and managers couldn’t understand why I would struggle to focus on a daily basis. We need more research and we need to raise awareness on how the condition presents in women. We also need to improve access to diagnosis and treatments, and placing greater accountability on employers to accommodate.
There is a happy ending though. With the help of my Work It Out coach, I was able to identify the right criteria to look for in an employer. I also take a psychiatrist prescribed medication which enables me to maintain my focus. I want people to know that this is what disability looks like. It’s possible to overcome discrimination and find employers who celebrate neurodiversity and see it for what it is – a valuable asset. The result is that I’m now flourishing as a senior executive at a software startup. I’m also driving, and perhaps most importantly, I’ve learned to love the way my brain works.
Our Work It Out coaching sessions are free for young women aged 18 to 30 who are living in England and Wales. A coach can help you make a plan for the future and unlock your potential.