Career Struggles and a ADHD Diagnosis
It will come as no surprise to most who know me that I was diagnosed with ADHD earlier this year. You could blame the assessment lateness on growing up in a rural town with limited mental healthcare, the lack of research into the presentation in girls or that I was likely surrounded genetically by other undiagnosed neurodiversity and we just continued on.
Either way, I’m here, proudly neurodiverse and more self-aware than ever after a lengthy hyperfixation down the rabbit hole of ADHD in women. So it also came as no surprise that I’ve had what seemed like a never-ending assortment of careers and businesses. At the time I thought this was a quirky trait of my personality, something I loved to do and had that entrepreneurial streak inside me.
Don’t get me wrong. I am multi-passionate and I also have ADHD. So it’s really a chicken-and-egg situation over here. I think differently. I see myself and by extension the world differently. I experience passion and burnout in my own unique way. I, of course, do not speak for every individual with ADHD. I can only share my own liv-ed (see what I did there?) experience.
I’ve left a lot of hyperfixations, hobbies and career paths on the metaphorical floor over the years. I felt a lot of shame about this for quite a while. I wanted to be like so many other people and pick one career path and excel in that industry. I’ve wasted too many moments of my life feeling, frankly, like shit and that it’s an internal deficiency or failure that I couldn’t just stick it out.
On reflection throughout my assessment process, I realised I could either continue beating myself up for not fitting the traditional career path or allow myself the grace to be myself. To stop trying to round peg and square hole my life, thoughts, beliefs and neurodiversity and figure out healthy ways I could manage to find balance in capitalism and a world built for neurotypicals.
Even as I type this post I keep reflecting on my writing style. Will people judge me now that I will write in my own free-flowing style? Will people even understand me? Does my humour translate well through the written word? I don’t care anymore. If you’ve read this far and gotten 80% of what I’ve written well done and I appreciate you.
The benefit of the internet is I have the freedom to write in whatever way I see fit. I love that I can have a blog and share my weird, wild and untethered thoughts with the world.
I’m sure much to the disappointment of all reading this, don’t have photos of my most standout hyerfixation during my tween years. I’ll give you a moment to guess what movie and subsequent character I became utterly obsessed with. It was book and cat-related.
It was Cat in the Hat and you bet I had my room like a shrine to that iconic movie. My bedspread was adorned with a life-size Cat and I only kept time with a themed clock on my wall. Now for the part that always makes for a good dinner party story, I was an avid tennis player for 12 years and during the peak of this phase, I wore the hat from the movie (not the real one obviously) to my tennis games. I can’t recall if it was a lot more than once but I am certain I wore it at least twice.
I surprisingly didn’t have anyone in my life game enough to tell me to maybe cool my jets with the obsession at that point but maybe I was endearing or maybe it was hilarious to see. I’m probably leaning towards the latter.
If my enthusiasm for really niche subjects, movies, endless craft projects and interests didn’t get me diagnosed early I was in for a wild career ride. That’s pretty much what life has been like since I can remember, so to me, this has been my normal.
While I can talk lightheartedly about much of my life and hyperfixations ADHD is a disability and the link between it and addiction is strong and real. I’ve been fortunate that most of my fixations have been business and craft-related. I feel lucky in so many ways, I love the passion I feel and how I can bring that to my work. However, it can be exhausting to have tunnel vision and the mental health implications of ADHD can contribute to a chronic cycle of burnout. Which I have experienced many times in my life. Including right now as I write this.
It’s tough for me to look back on all the career steps I’ve taken to this point objectively without factoring in my ADHD diagnosis. I was often told and encouraged to follow my passions, that this would lead me to happiness, fulfilment and hopefully money, which was easy enough for me to do when I could really dive obsessively into one as a career.
The thing I’ve found with centering my life around my career, especially with the way my mind works is I often burned out, felt trapped and lost interest. Do not get me wrong I’ve loved my time over the years of employment, self-employment and business ownership but it’s come at so many costs to my own wellbeing, identity and financial stability.
There’s no trophy at the end of the day having a career path fueled by ADHD. At least not one that fits a very neurotypical workforce, which is why I’ve opted to stay out of gainful employment for a long time. I miss the office life and getting paid consistently, I definitely miss having a team but I’ve actively kept myself out of even attempting to apply for jobs because of the age-old question that floats around my head like a DVD logo hitting the sides of the four TV walls.
“What if I change my mind?”.
This is a valid question because I have by that very definition changed my mind so many times. I’ve completely changed career paths, studied new interests, produced projects and moved on. Much to the dismay of my HECs account.
The shame of starting and stopping in ADHD is real. It’s so freaking real that I feel like my career and education path is like a skeleton-filled closet with all the interests, hobbies and attempts at trying to stick at one thing combined.
You might be thinking, what’s the big deal about changing your mind? Trying new things? Career progression, life direction and that all are valid. Yes, they totally are but it’s the stigma associated with the frequency, the shame of another “failed” path and the internalisation of not feeling good enough.
This is really what kept me in a shame cycle for the better part of my 31 years until I was diagnosed. Here’s the thing. I hate that it took me a formal diagnosis to be easier on myself. To allow myself the grace to have a different life and career path than others.
I also came to the realisation that I grew up in an environment without support systems in place, I had to grieve for all the times as a student I would get so mad at myself for leaving things to the last minute, for feeling like an idiot because I didn’t grasp social cues as quickly or easily as others and for wanting so desperately to fit in I masked my personality that I am now figuring out who I am without the pressure to be someone I’m not.
For all of those reasons and more, I felt like the only option I had in my career was self-employment. I had tried traditional careers and employment but would often find myself getting burnt out, withdrawing and hiding from my workplace the struggles I was having which I now understand to be a part of my neurodiversity.
So I started my own business in design, well before my current illustration endeavour. I will acknowledge the incredible privilege of being able to have my own business and in the interest of transparency, I’m still working on how I can get it to financially support myself. I felt drawn to being my own boss because I can work a flexible schedule, often I find myself working better at night, it’s when my creativity peaks, and that just doesn’t fit with a 9-5 workplace.
The path to here, being a self-employed writer and illustrator was one I feel like was always meant to be. Regardless of the many side-quests and adventures I had along the way. From starting my own homewares company, being a web designer, support worker, retail assistant, graphic designer and even candle maker.
Throughout all of those, I’ve consistently been creative. It’s been my one constant, I feel the internal need to create. Most of the time that looks like illustrating, sometimes that looks like a wildly random article this one that I feel inspired to share and other times it looks like starting a new exciting craft project and turning that into a successful business that I may or may not get past creating an Instagram handle for (if you know you know).
Now instead of beating myself up for failing to live up to my potential, I’m learning to focus on finding a sustainable balance to my career, life and ADHD. To unlearn all of the internalised feelings of shame and relearn how to be kinder to myself. To embrace being my weird, wild and cat-in-the-hat-loving self.
I hope you know that if you’re struggling with your path you’re not alone, regardless of neurodiversity. While I’ve written from my perspective which now includes my ADHD I’m also redefining what success looks like through a Western capitalistic lens and that’s going to take a lot more time for me to process than just this one article. Please take care of yourself and remember everyone’s path is different, valid and important.