by guest contributor Laura Spence
ADHD advocate Laura Spence shares how being diagnosed has transformed her life. She speaks openly about the challenges she has faced and the enlightening moments since her diagnosis that have helped her to understand her younger self and embrace her strengths.
She is sharing her experiences to raise awareness of the intricacies of ADHD in girls and women and to help others to celebrate the gift of neurodiversity. Over to you Laura...
Although I'm not typically a strong supporter of awareness months, I wholeheartedly embrace this October as it marks my first "ADHD Awareness Month" since my diagnosis and it provides a valuable opportunity to shed light on the experiences of individuals living with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Historically, ADHD diagnosis was based on observations of hyperactive boys, leading to a lack of recognition for inattentive symptoms in girls. This resulted in the perception that ADHD primarily affected males. Hence, many females are diagnosed later in life, after a lifetime of struggle. As one of those women, I feel compelled to share my journey of discovering and accepting my condition.
While it took until I was 37 years old to undergo an assessment and receive a formal diagnosis, this experience has truly transformed my life, granting me a deeper self-understanding and self-compassion. I am determined to utilise my voice to amplify the intricacies of ADHD in girls and women, emphasising the unique strengths and perspectives that accompany it.
I felt like an outsider all my life, struggling to fit into a world that often didn't make sense. Social dynamics confused me, and I would cling to my friends, expecting to spend every waking minute with them. I would constantly communicate with them via text or calls on my mobile. If they didn't reply to messages or didn't want to hang out, I would catastrophise it. Negative thoughts would flood my mind, convincing me that my friends no longer liked me because I was too intense or "in their face." These thoughts would trigger substantial emotional reactions. I would sink into depression, suffer from anxiety, and silently distance myself from the people I believed didn't like me.
As I matured, this pattern gradually turned me into a people pleaser, constantly striving to ensure others held a favourable opinion of me. I would conceal my true self and attempt to reshape my identity to fit within the confines of my current social circle. The mere idea of facing further rejection from friends was unbearable to me. In retrospect, I now recognise that this cycle persisted throughout my life as I continuously sought validation and approval from others. I never took the time to reflect on whether I genuinely liked any of them. My quest for external validation became a constant pursuit, leaving me unable to find validation from within myself.
Since my ADHD diagnosis, my life has been a whirlwind of numerous enlightening moments. I now comprehend the significance of dopamine and the reason behind my chronic boredom, which often leads me to jump from one hobby to another. Exploring the symptoms of ADHD in females and engaging in discussions with professionals has unveiled the underlying causes behind my perceived neediness.
This journey has allowed me to reflect on my entire life through the prism of ADHD, granting me the ability to extend compassion to my younger self. With newfound knowledge, I have experienced personal growth and significantly improved my life.
These days, I wholeheartedly embrace who I am and unapologetically express myself. I've developed the ability to identify what and who triggers feelings of unease and recognise when my passion for justice is ignited. It no longer weighs on me as if everything that goes wrong is my fault or it’s my sole responsibility to fix the world's problems. I made the courageous decision to resign from a job that had become my entire identity but was ultimately detrimental to my well-being.
Reflecting on my career as a midwife, I felt undervalued, frustrated by the sluggish pace of change, and irritated when colleagues or managers failed to share my enthusiasm or urgency for new ideas or suggestions. This perpetuated a cycle of rejection sensitivity, leaving me feeling exasperated, deflated, and anxious.
Many people with ADHD often experience the debilitating effects of rejection-sensitive dysphoria (RSD). RSD is an intense emotional response to perceived rejection or criticism, leading to shame, embarrassment, and low self-esteem. This reaction can occur when someone believes they have failed to meet their or others' standards or expectations.
RSD is something I have suffered my whole life. I find the emotions overwhelming. So, the GP can be forgiven for diagnosing me with anxiety and depression and prescribing my antidepressants at 14 because RSD can resemble a severe mood disorder. Sometimes, these feelings arise unexpectedly, catching me off guard. The emotional response I can experience seems disproportionate to the circumstances.
Receiving an ADHD diagnosis has helped me to label my struggles and understand myself more profoundly and compassionately. Instead of criticising myself for past mistakes or feeling inadequate, I have embraced my ADHD as an integral part of my identity. I have learned to extend patience, forgiveness, and kindness to myself, recognising that my brain is wired differently, and that's okay. It’s more than OK, it is impressive- some of the time!
Undoubtedly, ADHD presents numerous challenges, but it also brings forth unique strengths that can be phenomenal when harnessed correctly. Creativity, hyperfocus, and out-of-the-box thinking can be gifts accompanying this neurodivergent condition. By embracing these strengths, I've channelled my creativity into various aspects of my life, finding joy and fulfilment in areas where my ADHD traits genuinely shine.
I am in the third year of my master's degree in perinatal mental health, and as part of the final dissertation module, I am embarking on a research project investigating the effects of pregnancy and delivery on the experiences of women with ADHD in maternity services. One of my ADHD skills, hyperfocus, will be valuable for diving deep into the project. I am also working behind the scenes on a start-up company called NeuroNatal, an evidence-based education platform for maternity professionals. Its purpose is to enhance the care provided to women with ADHD, promote awareness and mindfulness of neurodivergence among colleagues, and serve as a community hub where birthing individuals and their families can access knowledge about the impact of pregnancy and childbirth on ADHD.
Through platforms like the ‘She Thrives ADHD Podcast’, which I co-host with my friend Louise, and my active presence on social media, I have had the privilege of connecting with numerous women who have shared their experiences with me. Since my diagnosis, I have been openly blogging about my journey. I’ve discovered that the more I talk about it, the more it resonates with and helps others recognise similar symptoms within themselves. I have found my tribe of like-minded people who are all driven by the same goal: to raise awareness of female ADHD and help each other.
Navigating life with ADHD requires developing coping mechanisms and strategies to navigate daily life effectively. From establishing routines and setting reminders to breaking tasks into manageable chunks, I've discovered approaches that help me thrive in a world designed for neurotypical individuals. I have therapy and coaching, and I take medication that helps me focus. It's a continuous learning process, but each day brings new opportunities for growth and self-improvement. Living in Guernsey has granted me access to the beauty of nature. Cold water submersion is a fantastic way to increase dopamine levels naturally. So I love to get out there in the beautiful (but really cold) sea.
ADHD Awareness Month provides an excellent platform to spread awareness and understanding about this often misunderstood condition. If you suspect you or someone you know may have ADHD, I encourage you to seek professional guidance. Remember, ADHD does not need to be a limitation; it's a part of our beautiful and diverse human experience.
Laura is passionate about celebrating neurodiversity and raising awareness of ADHD in women, working tirelessly to make sure that everyone - regardless of age or gender - can access the care and support they need to be their best selves. Laura shares updates as The ADHD Midwife on Instagram and Facebook and she chats with people from all around the globe on their experiences of neurodivergence on She Thrives ADHD, The Podcast.