All in the Mind?

It started with a playful quip - ‘Looks like you’re suffering from Attention Deficit - ooh look, bright shiny thing …!’ Then, it seemed that everywhere I looked, there was something about Adult ADHD - an article in the paper, something on my twitterfeed.

I am not sure what exactly prompted me to do some more digging, but I found that, as I read the stories of others’ experience, they seemed to have more than a passing resemblance to my own. So, since September, I have been on a voyage of discovery that has included a diagnosis of Adult ADHD.

It has been the usual tortuous route to assessment and treatment that anyone who has mental health challenges will be all-too-familiar with. In her recent (and truly excellent) book, Better late than never, Emma Mahony charts the three years it took for her to get a diagnosis on the NHS. Waiting lists were ridiculously long before Covid-19 and, though there is a lot of rhetoric about the importance of good mental health, that rarely translates into anything like the right level of resources to provide a decent level of NHS service.

I decided to take Emma Mahony’s advice to UK residents and pay for an assessment. As passionate as I am about the NHS, as someone who has lived with mental health challenges for thirty years, I am appalled at the lack of available treatments. I have been lucky to have been able to access talking therapies through charities and church-related organisations - so many can’t. God only knows where I would be now if those avenues hadn’t been open to me.

The diagnosis, when it came, was a bit of a lightbulb moment - suddenly lots of things became much clearer. It felt like the invisible walls that seemed to prevent me from completing basic tasks suddenly had a name. The forgetfulness and distractions on the one hand, and the hyper-focus on the other, though seemingly contradictory, now made sense. The need for a rigid morning routine in the bathroom in order not to forget to brush my teeth or shave, now didn’t seem quite so weird. The more I read, I became aware of how I had adopted certain strategies to cope with some of the more difficult symptoms, like buying bright glasses cases to help me locate them more easily when I lost them. I gave up using a filing cabinet because, as soon as I filed anything, I completely forgot about it.

Not that it was all bad. In fact, looked at from a different perspective, every symptom of this kind of neurodivergence can also be seen as an asset. Thom Hartman, in his ADHD: A Hunter in a Farmer’s World seeks to reframe the conversation about neurodiversity and move away from problematizing language. Instead, he sees those with ADHD as exhibiting the characteristics of early Hunter-Gatherers, constantly alert and scanning the horizon for danger and opportunity, living in the present moment in order to thrive in a hostile environment. He argues that, whilst the vast majority of humanity eventually became settled agriculturalists, there remained a small population of hunters. In a ‘farmer’s world’ of routine, patience and long-term thinking and planning, the hunter’s particular gifts are rendered useless if not contrary and problematic.

You don’t have to buy into Hartmann’s entire thesis to see that, for the most part, the world of work is designed more for ‘farmers’ than ‘hunters’. In most institutions, including the Church, you are not likely to be disciplined for having too few ideas or being too creative. But fail to fill in all the right forms or complete all the admin tasks, and you are sure to be in hot water! Most workplaces honour those who meet their deadlines and keep the rules, even if this yields no growth or innovation.