The Who: Television developer
The Where: London
The What: One woman in her 30s stops trying to fit in and embraces the unique way she works
Because ADHD traits are considered typically male, lots of women only get diagnosed later in life. It’s when you flee the nest that things really kick off. For me, as soon as I went to university I couldn’t cope with everyday life – losing things all the time, missing lectures. It was fine, because none of my other friends knew how to ‘do’ life either. But then, when I got to my 20s and even into my 30s and the same things were still happening, I became incredibly ashamed and self-critical. Women with ADHD learn to mask their symptoms and constantly feeling useless can create a layer of anxiety or depression.
TV is a crazy place to work and I learnt a lot of coping mechanisms to help me succeed. Because I am so self-critical, writing treatments can take me a long time. I struggle to work in an open-plan office, so I’d lie and say I had an appointment, go home and then I’d spend hours writing until 2am, getting myself in a state. I’d deliver it and my boss would be full of praise, so I’d go home and do the whole thing again.
When I got diagnosed, it was incredibly freeing. I know some people don’t like labels, but having a definition really helped me to understand my behaviour. I started listening to podcasts and reading books by other women with ADHD. I saw a therapist who really hit the nail on the head when she said, “You’ve spent your career as a square peg trying to fit into a round hole and you’ve become incredibly anxious by pretending that you can fit in and then feeling ashamed when you can’t. But you don’t need to change, you just need the world to accommodate you.”
The workplace was designed by men so a lot of women aren’t being true to themselves in order to fit in. Now I embrace the way I am. When I start a new project, I say, "Look, I am good at my job, but this is what I need in order to work best for you." Since doing this a lot of the problems have gone away. I’ve learned to be kind to myself and accept I’m going to make mistakes – everyone does.
As people are becoming aware of the gender bias in ADHD there’s a huge amount of women in their 30s being diagnosed. Hearing other women’s stories was one of the biggest breakthroughs for me – you think you’re on your own, but then you find a whole community that relates to you. It gave me the courage to say to bosses: this is what I require to produce great results, if that doesn’t fit with your culture, no problem, we’ll go our separate ways.
I still struggle with anxiety about getting things perfect, and I lose my phone and my bank card far too often. Accepting who I am and figuring out what works best for me to succeed at work – instead of the other way around – has changed everything.