My name is Alex Dentith, I am a 45 year old woman and I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) at 44.
I jointly run Champion Security Installations with my husband Dorian. We have 3 amazing children, 3 adorable dogs and a brilliant work family to take care of. We have worked together for 11 years and our company is our passion. I’m writing this article because October is ADHD awareness month, and I want to share my experiences as business owner with ADHD. Not everyone experiences ADHD in the same way. This is just my story. And I hope it helps raise awareness and understanding of an often-misunderstood condition.
I didn’t know a great deal about this condition until a few years ago when researching a suspected diagnosis for my daughter (now also diagnosed with ADHD). I read an article from https://www.additudemag.com/ shared by a friend on social media about Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria. This article made me feel seen and understood in a way I had never felt before.
Before I write about my own personal experience with ADHD I would like to dispel some myths (www.adhdawarenessmonth.org)
We aren’t all a little bit ADHD.
- Everyone can be distracted or forgetful at times. But the vast majority of people 92-95% do not have ADHD.
- The symptoms of ADHD exist within a continuum of typical human behaviour
- People with ADHD can display many disruptive behaviours - including forgetfulness, distraction, impulsivity and an inability to focus
- People with ADHD exhibit these behaviours with greater intensity, severity, and chronicity than people without ADHD
- The structure, volume, chemical activity and communication in the pathways of brains of people with ADHD are different from those without ADHD.
Many, ADHDers including me would like this term rebranded. It really isn’t a “deficit” of attention, it’s more of an abundance of attention. We notice EVERYTHING, and some, me included can be hypersensitive to smells, sounds, sensations, other people’s emotions and bright lights and sudden noises or interruptions when I’m in hyperfocus can cause me physical pain. And this can at times be debilitating, can cause intense reactions or cause exhaustion and burn out. But the abundance of attention in some situations can also be a superpower, as I notice things that neurotypical folk might miss. Also I notice details in visuals, and this can help with creativity.
As a business owner I believe this helps me suss people out, in an interview for example, or when someone’s behaviour is different to usual. I’ve grown in confidence to speak up about this instinct and am learning to trust this more as we have grown as a company. The downside of noticing everything is it can affect my ability to concentrate. Before I was diagnosed, I thought there was something broken in my brain. I didn’t understand why I’d get so annoyed by things or react so strongly to things people did or said and no one else even noticed these annoyances or weren’t particularly bothered by them. Now I know that it’s a “difference”, not a brokenness, and I have learned (still learning) how to manage it. In a former job I worked in a large open plan office, this is an ADHDers nightmare working environment. I didn’t know I had ADHD then, nor did I know about noise cancelling headphones. If I did this would have helped. It’s a shame someone hasn’t invented a smell cancelling nose piece! Strong perfumes, not all, but some can cause intense reactions. Or if someone has been for a smoke or for a walk, I can smell them intensely to the point of not being able to continue with a task. When a smell or sound infiltrates my hypersensitive brain, it consumes my thoughts and I can’t focus on anything else. It really helps working in a smaller office with people who understand when I say I must focus on something, headphones go on and I’m left alone. Also, I am more direct with people now. If someone is talking loudly, I will ask them to turn down their volume.
Another “branding” problem with ADHD is the disorder part. This makes it sound all negative. I see it more as a difference than a disorder. Don’t get me wrong, at times I feel I have a disorder, and it is classed as a disability in the UK. But having strategies in place to manage this, including reasonable adjustments, understanding from Co-workers and medication make life more comfortable for me and those around me. I can get agitated, and blunt and my husband, who understands me more than anyone will tell me to leave something, or walk away from a situation, or go for a run, or a nap!
There is a paradox with ADHD, the dysregulation of attention, there are times that my focus is impaired due to the noticing everything part, and I get stuck in the moment, but when I want to or need to I have the superpower of hyper focus. This can also cause time blindness, which can be difficult to manage without other people around me. This hyper focus can kick in usually when I am really passionate about something for example a new idea or initiative and I throw myself all in, everything else gets forgotten until the “thing” is done. Or if a deadline is looming for something I’ve been procrastinating, the pressure of the deadline can force the hyper focus to activate. When I’m in hyper focus mode, eating, drinking, having a break from my desk doesn’t happen. I am very fortunate to have colleagues who supply me with lunch and drinks! Also if I bring my dog into the office, he’s very good at telling me I need to go for a walk break! The time blindness is one of the traits that makes those with ADHD late, or so anxious about being on time because they’re not wanting to let people down that they are mega early for meetings.
Executive disfunction - planning is difficult. I can do it, but it takes enormous effort. My brain is very much in the now. I must make lists, sometimes I might forget to check the lists because I’m distracted by something “shinier”, (that’s interesting or urgent!). I’ve got very efficient people in my team who remind me about important payments or emails that I need to respond to. I have safety nets in place, to do lists, people who remind me, more lists! and my husband and who levels me and reminds me to eat! And reminds me that it’s bedtime.
Body Doubling - being with other people working keeps me focussed. If I’m not mid hyper focus working from home isn’t good for me. Being in a productive working environment at these times helps me get on with tasks that I may have been putting off. I’m not going to mention working from home during the pandemic with 3 children also working from home, because I’ve dealt with that and moved on! (Still have nightmares about it!) Having responsibilities, children to collect and taxi around helps me be more organised, structured, and disciplined with my working day. I can’t go off on a work marathon because I must be present for my girls.
ADHD brains are excellent at tackling tasks that are urgent, a crisis, being creative, or accepting and working with new ideas. I love anything shiny and new! And working on something that’s of personal interest I can be highly engaged, focussed and productive (like writing this at 5am on a Sunday morning!)
I am an advocate of power naps, when my children were younger and I had to collect them from school every day, I’d get there early, grab a good parking space, set the alarm for 20 minutes, recharge the battery, collect the kids and carry on with my day. This really helps if my brain has kept me awake during the night.
Work life balance
I always seem to remember something important or have good idea about something at the “wrong” time. For example, in the middle of the night (I started writing this article at 5AM because it needed to come out of my head there and then), or after the meeting has finished I remember something important I was supposed say. I must write it down or type it up before I forget, or so I can go back to sleep (if the idea comes to me during sleep or a nap!)
Life doesn’t fit around 9-5, and work doesn’t always fit into the traditional working day. Some days I will work 12-hour days, when it’s your company and you care deeply and are passionate about something you do it and are happy to do so. But it’s important to schedule in recovery time after a work “marathon”. Our company promote a healthy work life balance and we apply this to the whole team. We have mutual trust and respect, and know our staff are great at what they do and are committed and dedicated. If they need to tap out for a rest or to deal with life during the typical working day this is never an issue. We prefer to give people time back if they’ve worked hard. If I see someone is tired I tell them to make sure they schedule a power nap.
The myth about hyperactivity
The hyperactive part of ADHD isn’t always a physical hyperactivity, it can also be mental hyperactivity. Particularly in girls and women we are good at masking, and “behaving” in a classroom or work situation. Which is why girls and women are under diagnosed, or don’t often get diagnosed until later in life. For me it’s a busy or anxious brain that can’t switch off or having so many ideas at once I forget them, or words don’t come out as intended because my thoughts are moving at a faster pace than speech. Sometimes the words do keep up and I go into “chatterbox” mode, and I can be aware this might be annoying and other times I go silent because the thoughts are too much at once and it’s debilitating and impossible to communicate. Sometimes I can interrupt people, because if I don’t say “the thing” the thought or idea will be gone forever. I do try and apologise if I’m butting in, but again I’m aware this can be annoying at times. The hyperactivity for me is also physical and at times useful, movement can be soothing if I’m feel anxious or have long phone calls, I will walk and talk. I also love to run. It clears my brain, helps me focus and settles anxiety.
I am a yoga nerd. I preach the benefits of yoga to my team, colleagues at other businesses, to my running group to random people I speak to in the street, the postman, basically to anyone who will listen! Yoga has many benefits to overall well-being, and I find helps enormously with my hyperactive brain. I can focus on something that I know is going to be challenging after a short session of yoga. I introduced desk yoga to the Champion team a few months back. We have a 20-minute session delivered by Rosie of Funky Cactus Yoga, at our desks via zoom. It’s recorded for anyone who can’t make it. I know it helps me work better. I’m calmer, more focussed, and definitely more productive when I have done yoga.
Supporting neurodiversity in the workplace
If you are an employer and give employees with ADHD reasonable adjustments, empathy and understanding to complete their job you will in turn have loyalty, respect, from creative, outside of the box thinkers and highly productive people. If you get asked by potential employees for the interview questions in advance because they have ADHD, do it. The ADHD brain can freeze in interview situations. And brilliant answers will spring into their brain on the way home from the interview. If you get asked about helping with noise or light regulation within an office, there are simple things you can do to help. Obviously, the law requires us to make reasonable adjustments for disabilities, but in addition you create trust and loyalty from your team.
Being diagnosed helped me understand myself, accept myself, and recognise my strengths and weaknesses without judgement. It’s also helped me understand and bond with my daughter who has similar difficulties.
My advice to anyone with ADHD is to be yourself, be open and honest to those close to you and your employers. Talk to people about your difficulties. Talk to other people with ADHD. Masking is exhausting, you will burn out, true story. Good employers and colleagues will support you.
I hope sharing my experience helps raise awareness. Also, I feel like I’m “coming out” because only a handful of close friends and family know I have ADHD. This is just my story; ADHD is a spectrum, and we all have different experiences and varying degrees of difficulties with the symptoms. I’m happy to talk one to one about my experience if you’re interested.
There are also some great resources available:
PHOTO CREDIT: Si Cox