Hi, my name is Jenn. And I have ADHD.
I thought maybe an introduction post was overdue. Although I probably overshare with most of you in the comments section on my Facebook page, I haven’t really talked about who I am or what I do and how I ended up doing all this ADHD advocacy and peer support online.
Long story short, I was diagnosed with ADHD at age 26 (I am 35 now) and I had spent most of my life wondering “What the big secret was that everyone else knows except me” because I just simply struggled constantly at being “normal” and keeping up with people around me. (You can read my diagnosis story here)
Because of my late diagnosis, however, I have a lot of experiences and situations that I regret. I have lost friends, jobs, keys and probably other things that I don’t remember. Especially good ideas and the point of my conversation.
In fact, I struggle with my ADHD so much that I have quit more things than I have started and have been burnt out a lot by trying to keep up the Neurotypical expectations placed on me.
It turned out that I wasn’t all the things I had told myself I was for so long (echoing the voices of others who also told me this..) I had ADHD and I had been struggling to cope with an undiagnosed mental health condition my entire life!
That was BIG news. It was the happiest sad thing that ever happened to me. I grieved my life that could have been, but finally, I wasn’t alone, I had words and language to articulate why I struggled with so much of the simple every day things..
It all made sense. But now what? I thought about my passions and what I really wanted to do. I decided to pursue my life long passion – Art. I thought just knowing I had ADHD and needed to ask for accommodations and taking medication was enough to succeed in this neurotypical world of neurotypical inclined obstacles.
I did OK. Better than ever had before. Although I passed everything in my foundation year and year 1 for my BFA (bachelor of fine arts) I was waitlisted for year 2 and never made the cut. I never asked for the accommodations I needed. Even though I disclosed I was struggling and could have better marks with those accommodations – I had the same experiences with these other adults as I did with the Teachers I had as a child..
I was devastated. I wanted to go to this university since I knew there was a school you could goto to learn Art (A very long time). But I was determined. OK, if I cannot do this, then I will try something else – with some of the burnout issues I kept having at university I thought, let’s try correspondence learning. I took a lesser qualification. I found this worked well for me.
Having my own space and schedule and no people distractions I was able to do really well with my Art, in fact, I graduated, top of my year! I acquired 2 diplomas.
And that was it. Then nothing.
Where I thought I should be satisfied and did the thing I always wanted and as much as I was proud of myself – I still had no job, I lacked the apparent social skills in order to get the work I needed. I felt defeated, I thought again, I had found an answer for the struggle to participate in the world.
I got very depressed.
A nurse liaison linked me up with a local mental health community support trust. I started seeing an Occupational therapist. And I had a social worker. With them, I went to more CBT workshops and did sensory modulation which greatly helped with some of my anxiety. Especially the practice of mindfulness in social situations. But I still felt misunderstood. No one understood my flavour of ADHD or adult ADHD presents at all it seemed. All the help people offered me seemed to be about making me do the things I struggled with, I started to blame myself. Again trying so hard, to be something I am not.
This was how I got introduced to the world of peer support.
I started reaching out to my peers online. I learned a lot from them. I started working exclusively on my ADHD management in my own time and using these other free services to help with the anxiety. That seemed to work somehow, for a while. I learned a lot about myself. Through this, I joined a mental health community centre. The community centre was a place that ran peer-led workshops. I went in there with the attitude of I am not as unwell as the people around me too. I was more “high functioning” (a term I no longer use) than them – over time I could see, I was one of them.
I was deeply humbled and had been very ignorant up until this point.
I could also see a very large need for help. I actually thrived in this environment. I liked going there. It was volunteer work but it gave me
a sense of purpose that no other job had. I felt like I finally had a place to be and it was safe because I was around people also living with mental health and navigating life with it. I also could use my art qualifications for a workshop that I created for Art Journaling.
I had so much fun working alongside my peers, showing them how great Art can be as a positive coping strategy.
I met all types of people with varying neurotypes BPD, OCD, Schizophrenia, Bipolar and ASD. Because of the value, I got from the facility and the worth I could see it had for the life quality of the people around me, I wanted to do more. I joined the board of trustees, did fundraising and made some vital changes to the environment to make it a nicer place to be for the people who spent their days there.
It didn’t work out.
I started working there as a job, and after 6 months I have burned out again from navigating all the neurotypical rules. Nothing had changed. That is when I realized I wasn’t the problem. I never had been.
I was living in a world that was not designed for me. I had wall after wall of expectations, hidden rules, things that asked me to be something that I wasn’t, that I needed to Fight my ADHD not work alongside it.. My biggest problems, specifically how debilitating my ADHD is and how that wasn’t being taken seriously by anyone.
I was always expected to “recover” somehow. If that was the case, why can’t I? Another negative feedback – I fail at ‘recovery’ too – great.
In society – people living with different neurotypes are treated as invalids, infantilized, categorized, stigmatized and if you even show the slight ability to ‘function’ like a neurotypical they write you off as capable when in so many ways you are disabled and fighting every single day to do what they ask of you – because you want that elusive quality of life that others easily obtain. They say, that we must not want it. That we could reach our ‘potentials’ if we just do as they suggest.
“Have you tried sticking to a routine” “Have you tried creating a schedule” “Have you tried going for a walk”.
Even now I am still trying to undo all the indoctrinated ideas of what someone with mental health is supposed to do in order to participate in the world. This is not the world I want to live in. And it has to stop.
So I thought OK, now that I am at home recovering again – I’m going to make vlogs, it was something I enjoyed watching and I saw it as an opportunity to be creative and raise real awareness of what ADHD is.
That’s the thing with Awareness campaigns. Yes we all know what ADHD is (apply this to most things..) – the whole world does – and that’s the problem. They actually don’t know the details, they don’t understand how ADHD presents in an Adult and how very debilitating it can be. How a person can have ADHD and many other co-morbidities which are also hard to diagnose or treat because of how much overlap there is with other psychiatric disorders.
This is no simple matter – and really not something I expect people who do not live with these neurotypes to truly understand. But understanding is only really half the problem.
And that brings me to about November last year. What more could I do – the vlogs were taking a lot of effort, more than I could manage, I didn’t have the mental stamina to continue – I just so desperately want to be understood. I was also looking for work again because I felt up to it. The more I looked, the more I found there was nothing out there that really tapped into what I could offer, plus give me the space for me to be a person with ADHD and not force me to put on my Neurotypical mask every day.
So I created this Facebook page as a way to expand my platform and wasn’t taking from my pool of creativity too much (a space I actually need to navigate and problem-solve my everyday life sometimes too).
I have a new mission in mind – how to change the way people think about mental health, their own mental health and ways to level the playing field.
So people like myself can easily participate in a world where our neurotypes are normalized, accepted and given equal chances to achieve our dreams as well (which often requires us to put our mental wellbeing second). This problem isn’t unique to people living with ADHD or other neurotypes. So I started looking at what does intersectionality and mental health look like.
And how to communicate what that looks like.
What is the most common form of communication online that engages all people in a way they can relate to others, and gives them words and language to articulate their experiences?
Memes. Peer support in the form of Memes. I found a lot of value in this myself – sometimes, however, I found there was still much stereotyping and ableist jokes being pushed out there. “look a squirrel”. I was seeing more and more flavours of ADHD advocacy online that I did not like.
So I thought again talking from the lived experience was key to connecting with others like myself, giving everyone a space to talk and relate.
And that is where I am today. And it’s been mostly a learning experience. No one has helped me more than my peers (and those closest to me in Real life and a few good people in the public mental health system). I am still a student of myself and reading all these comments every day
has been some of the best therapy I ever had and I feel privileged and grateful that I have the time, courage and support to try do my bit to contribute to making this desperate change that needs to happen everywhere.
There are many things wrong with the way we view neurodivergent minds. Through solidarity, it is my belief we can undo the most problematic issues and a lot of the time it truly is just educating people that we are doing our best, that it is hard, to be patient, and that when we
cant do those things that it is OK and not expected of us to be on the literal edge of our mental well being in order to have the same chances at the quality of life.
This can take shape in many forms. But it is also not just up to me to decide what that looks like. I know what I need for me to be my best and feel well, while also knowing that I experience up’s, down’s and that my presentation of ADHD is unique to me in the way I have to look at my culture, my environment, my ethnicity, my gender, my access to help and advocacy. But what I do know is that it should be OK to not be OK sometimes – that if we are able to work a 9-5 job, and we have a few days where we feel burnt out, that we are not punished for that. That we normalize mental health conversations in the workplace – and that is for everyone’s sake. We all will experience mental unwellness at some point in our lives, that’s just the consequences of being human – but it shouldn’t be something that is stigmatized and othered. We should find ways to bring each other up, with compassion and acceptance that actually not all great minds think alike.
I hope by sharing this story, I am able to show the importance of my message to normalize neurodiversity. And for those who are struggling to feel understood, that it is OK to be unapologetically yourself, that you are not wrong or broken. There is a long way to go. And it’s going to be hard. But I do truly believe that humanity deep down knows this is one of the greatest needs in our ability to be united with the understanding of like-suffering is what gives us our humanity in the first place. And to execute that humanity so we can all feel accepted as we are.
Thank you for reading and thank you for your support.