Back in late 2020, I received a diagnosis of ADHD, a neurodivergence that probably affects between 3 and 5% of the adult population. It has only been recognized in adults in the UK since 2012, and receiving a diagnosis can take up to three years on the NHS. Since then I have been trying to reflect on my past and present to see how the language of neurodivergence helps to explain and understand my experience.
The trouble with receiving a diagnosis like this, one that is officially recognized as a disability, is that within 10 minutes, you are expected to be an expert. After nine months of reading and speaking to others I reckon I am still in the early stages of
comprehension and anything I say now should not be held against me at a later date! I have begun treatment with medication but am still to find what is known as the appropriate therapeutic dose. Thankfully the side effects are not too severe and
I am still able to function reasonably well. The church has arranged for some professional coaching and enabled me to purchase some useful equipment.
It is important to say at this stage that none of the support and treatment I receive will "cure” ADHD. Some of it will help to mitigate the worst, and potentially destructive aspects of the condition, but none of it will mean I can function as a neurotypical person. There is no ‘fix’. So part of my journey over the past nine months has been headed towards acceptance of the reality that my brain is differently wired to most others, bringing with it a lot of positives and some negatives. That means that alongside treatment and support, I am having to do a bit of a life ‘audit’ and learn to accept that there are some things I will never do well and others that cause me too much stress and anxiety and are, therefore, best avoided.
In many ways, the term ADHD is a bit of a misnomer. It is not the case that I am continually distracted or hyperactive. Rather, there are certain aspects of life, work and study that I find it very difficult to sustain enough focus on in order to do quickly or well. That means there are also other aspects in which I can easily be absorbed and focus on for hours on end. Because of this tendency to ‘hyperfocus’, I find it almost impossible to account for time, meaning that I am usually late and often miss deadlines. This makes planning my workload not only difficult, but extremely stressful. My hope is that the coaching I have been offered will assist me to find the right external frameworks to reduce that stress and plan more effectively. Of course, there is no silver bullet and I also have to accept that no framework will be perfect and I will continue to need some flexibility and forgiveness for when things go wrong.
Looking back over the last thirty years, I am conscious of how much criticism I have received for having too many ideas and not being a completer/finisher. I even had one Superintendent who thought it was their job to reel in, or cut the strings of, the kites I was forever flying. I can have a hundred ideas before I’ve finished my first morning coffee and I used to think that this was ‘normal’. I couldn’t understand, therefore, when my ideas were often met with resistance or a defensiveness from others. It left me very hurt, not because the content of an idea was critiqued, but the very fact I was having ideas was called into question. Sometimes I was accused of duplicity or acting without authority, and attempts were made more than once to stop me. I had to learn to bite my tongue and sit on my hands.
l now see that my neurodivergence allows me to generate ideas because I have a perspective that is rare. I find I can quickly make connections between
concepts and generate something creative in the space of a very short space of time. I had one boss who saw this ability as a gift and would insist on my presence at key meetings that would normally have been well above my pay grade. He recognized that I could listen to a discussion and, there and then, articulate new thinking and offer solutions. By and large, my experience of the Church is very different. There is a much greater reliance on process, order and hierarchy, at the expense of creativity. My fingers have been burnt enough times now for me to recognize that I must be more careful in offering ideas because it comes at a personal cost.
I have lost count of the number of times I have been criticised for having fingers in too many pies. Often with more than a whiff of paternalism, others have shared
their ‘concern’, having diagnosed my perceived ineffectiveness as the result of too many distractions. Such encounters have left me feeling incredibly guilty, before attempting, once again, to work in a neurotypical way, and, once again, failing. It also means that I feel I need to hide away any new ideas or projects I generate like a guilty secret. What I am learning is that my brain only really functions when there are a lot of ‘tabs open’. Like a computer, the plethora of open tabs means that things happen more slowly, but they do happen. At any one time, for instance, I have at least 15 books on the go. In the past, when I have tried to deliberately focus on one book at a time, I have rarely made progress. Having lots of option mean I finish
more. I realize that, to the neurotypical person, this sounds like utter craziness, But I am coming to see that my task is to embrace the craziness and make it work better for me.
All this is to say that ADHD is not solved by locking me in a windowless room, medicated to the eyeballs, without any room or space for creativity or distraction. Rather it is to accept that I will always work differently and it is that very difference that enables me to offer the good things I bring to the table. They go together, different functions of the same brain. However, I am also aware, because it is not typical, it requires a good deal of explanation and communication with colleagues. In that regard, I am very conscious that I have been my own worst enemy in the past and succumbed to the guilt that so often accompanies neurodivergence.
Where do we go from here? Alongside the meds, stationery and coaching, there are deeper questions about the future patterns of my work, study and ministry. There will be decisions to make about the balance of distraction and focus, paid and unpaid, delegation and responsibility. I am both nervous and excited by the process of discernment: anxious of letting people down and exhausted by the thought of the amount of communication required, but also looking forward to finding better ways to nurture my creativity.
Most of all I want to get rid of the guilt I have carried for too long about not fitting in and causing others stress and anxiety as a result. That will take time but I am confident that it has begun.