LIVING WITH ADHD
I first met Deborah back in the Spring of this year through her Born Equal business partner, Emma Gardner, who I’d been connected to for several years via social media. Deborah’s background is in fashion and sustainability. She is also one third of the powerhouse of founders that launched www.bornequalconsults.com, and works as a part-time lecturer at the University of Southampton. I felt very connected to Deborah on a personal level. She’s an interesting, accomplished, bright and creative woman. Communication is what she does and, like me, Deborah has ADHD.
I’ll let Deborah tell her own story…
Hi Deborah, can you paint a picture of what led to your diagnosis?
Prior to a diagnosis two years ago, I struggled for years looking for a reason to explain why I went from one extreme to another, either fatigued and brain fogged or high energy non-stop task orientated and high achiever.
I hit rock bottom during early menopause and as well as HRT my doctor recommended anti-depressants, which just felt wrong. I started to see a counsellor (and have been for 4 years) and through this work I began to have a better sense of myself, which led me to being open to hearing the words of Emma Case, a fellow ADHD neurodivergent who was speaking at a Hubdot event. It took me two weeks to process Emma’s talk and begin to acknowledge I might have ADHD. I shared this with my husband who agreed I should get a diagnosis; it was really important to me that my husband acknowledged that I could have ADHD.
I was diagnosed privately because the NHS waiting list is up to 2 years, fortunately I found the money to go private, however, this is not the case for many people, and I think this is a big barrier for many women living with undiagnosed ADHD.
Since your diagnosis and now understanding the nuances of neurodiversity, what makes total sense to you now?
After the official diagnosis I felt immediate relief that no matter how hard I tried at some things, I was not going to be able to achieve the results expected by society, because my brain is wired a certain way. I was able to let go of the negative talk and shame I had around not being able to do certain things that well, some admin tasks like reading instructions, navigating websites and excel, following recipes, and the list goes on. I also understand that I took on high risk projects that I felt I could achieve on my own, I was able to have compassion for myself for what I saw as failings in certain projects and see them as a success, given what I had achieved on my own was actually amazing.
I finally felt that I did not need to pressure myself. I am much more self-aware and manage my time and energy very differently now. I commit to less and I am much more conscious of what I excel at and have identified where my genius can thrive.
Have you been able to see any correlation between what you’ve achieved or not been successful in, based on what you now know about yourself and neurodiversity, that may have been different had you been neurotypical?
Yes, my education would have been much more enjoyable and rewarding if I’d had the foundation of learning that I needed. I zoned out in the early years, I was not stimulated, and I was told ‘I did my own thing and was not capable of following along’. The result was that I missed out on the foundations of the education to help me thrive, and consequently I had to try so hard just to maintain some form of attainment, never quite reaching the target that the effort warranted.
What does your ideal home and working environment need to look and feel like to get the best out of you?
I need a balance of alone time and sociable time to either process, focus, or relax. I am much more self-aware and feel the triggers of certain situations before I get overwhelmed or sensory overload.
I like a combination of working from home and in workspaces, this feels more refreshing and helps ignite and inspire me as well as help me manage low energy and fatigue.
Have you needed to navigate relationships differently or has ADHD had an impact on how you communicate and behave within those relationship boundaries?
Yes, I have set personal boundaries. Generally I know the source and reason for anxiety and where masking and fitting in has previously been a default, I no longer try or force myself into situations to please others. I focus on my needs first and then my family’s needs.
What do you feel makes you stand out in business and as a creative through being neurodiverse?
I can see solutions to complex systems and structures at a macro level and make connections that offer a holistic and interdependent view. A skill that is much needed if we are to innovate toward sustainable inclusion, circular solutions and mitigate the impact of climate change.
There are so many conversations happening on the subject of DEE&I and how we can create and cultivate a more diverse and rich team culture. With ADHD specifically in mind, do you have an opinion on how those who bring talent into businesses attract, nurture, support and get the best out of neurodiverse team members?
I believe the future of the planet depends on sustainable inclusion of all, people who have neurodivergent minds, must be nurtured as we offer an alternative way of being, doing and seeing. However, if neurodivergents don’t have access, be it digital, admin based, sensory, etc we cannot offer our unique skill set.
I think one of the biggest barriers for people with ADHD (I only speak from my perspective) is the process of applying for jobs. There are so many processes online to go through that are cognitively tiring. For example, clicking through an application process as an ADHD not knowing what the application process steps are, is really tiring and frustrating. Often questions that must be answered on the application don’t link specifically to a section of the job description which makes it difficult to offer your best information. Vague language and non-specific often prove overwhelming.
A Job advert that has so many tasks for one person to do, (I notice this particularly in sustainable fashion roles) immediately feels overwhelming and not feasible. I expect much talent is lost because neurodivergents cannot get past the application barrier and don’t apply.
How do you feel about being neurodiverse and what is important to you that neurotypical people should understand?
I feel at peace living with ADHD, I am proud of the brain I have and how it functions, I am still working out how to function more efficiently and how to meet my needs more effectively. I’m not in a rush to help neurotypicals understand me or ADHD better, I don’t want to replace the huge weight, (I’ve carried for 45 years) and let go of since diagnosis, with the weight and responsibility of it being my job to educate neurotypicals on what my ADHD needs are. My aim is to direct business, institutions and individuals to engage in a self-learning process and make it their responsibility to be progressive through curiosity to include. I use together with Born Equal co-founders a macro holistic approach that considers inclusion from an intersectional perspective, where lived experience and criticality are essential to facilitate the self-learning process.
What does your ADHD look like in day to day living?
It depends, some days are fast paced, super productive, focus is hyper and energy is in abundance. Other days feel like wading through treacle, brain fog and fatiguing. I don’t call ADHD my ADHD, I use the phrase living with ADHD rather than my ADHD because if feels more in tune with how I feel about ADHD, it is part of how I function cognitively, but I believe I can refine my cognitive brain through learning new patterns and therefore I think I can change and adapt, so feel separate from ADHD in a positive way.
Are there any podcasts, books, social channels or routes of research that have helped to better understand neurodiversity, or any changes you’ve implemented that have had a positive impact on you personally?
Dr Gabor Mate changed my perception of ADHD, his work in trauma and addiction are insightful.
A good podcast that explores this is, Under The Skin with Russell Brand
Gabor Mate book Scattered Minds is worth a read if you connect with his thinking:
And I have recently compiled a document called ‘Own It Manual’ which is a list of things that help me get into the zone and how to function at remarkable levels. I discovered it through an article on Additude magazine and it’s an idea from Dr. William Dobson.
I am currently writing a ‘What to Expect When Expecting Me’ document so it’s easier to explain my needs in work situations.
A bit more about Deborah
A sustainable fashion specialist with more than 25 years’ experience in fashion manufacturing and value chain, fabric sourcing, design, marketing, circular and systems thinking. A regular visiting lecturer and researcher in sustainable and regenerative practices, science-based targets, and scope three emissions as well as co-founder of Born Equal. Deborah has a holistic interdependent approach which is critical for the goal of delivering a reduction in carbon emissions in the fashion industry. She says “to achieve a sustainable just future we must recognise we need collective effort. Effort which is rooted in inclusion from lived experience and distributed wealth that creates equity and provides social justice.”
You can say hello and connect with Deborah here:
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