Diagnosed with ADHD: Jannine’s story
Diagnosed with ADHD herself, she understands the unique challenges faced by people with the condition and she now uses this knowledge and experience to help others. In 2019, Jannine left her teaching job to set up ADHD Wise UK, supporting clients to optimize their lives through coaching, professional parent training and workshops. In her own words, Jannine is “brutally honest and open about her life with ADHD” and in this feature she shares her own story of living with ADHD.
Getting diagnosed with ADHD
I was diagnosed at 41 – that’s 5 years ago now. I was working as a high-level teaching assistant and wanted to become a qualified teacher (PGCE), but I was too scared. At that point in my life, I’ve had a lot of successes in my life, but also a lot of failures. Training to become a teacher; that whole process – I was just afraid to it because I was afraid to fail. I had a conversation with our headteacher and talked about my barriers to start the training. She was very supportive and said to me that I should get assessed for ADHD, “because it could make the difference for you getting through your PGCE…”.
So, I did – I went and asked for an ASD and ADHD assessment. I went to my GP and burst into tears because I didn’t expect them to take me seriously. He sat and listened, and then he said, “I don’t think that you have these conditions, however, your boss would know better than I would, and so would you”. They were very keen to help me, and I was tested for and diagnosed within four months.
An eye-opening experience
My husband was with me during the diagnostic process and was quite staggered when I was going through various psychometric tests, testing things like my executive function. He even said that, for a clever person, it was amazing that I was struggling so much. It was very eye-opening for him, and I too gained insights about myself.
While I was at university, studying for my PGCE, I spoke to my tutor about my differences and she was amazing. We talked through a few possibilities: I had permission to leave the classroom if I needed to, I could have access to extensions without having to go through the lengthy process of explaining why, and I had extra time available to spend with her. Funnily enough, I didn’t need any of those things because it was the first time in my life, academically speaking, where I wasn’t living on extensions. I had a master’s degree already at this point and I think it was then where extra support could have helped.
The turning point
I think the fact that this time I’d been given permission to not have to worry about these things, meant that I was getting to grips with what was happening. I stopped lying to myself that I would remember everything, so became diligent in the way I would write things down. I’d be making notes of due dates for assignments and became a slave to my planner – simply because I realized I had to. The reality was that I was never going to be able to store this information in my head – before I just assumed that if I tried hard, I would be able to do it. This was a massive turning point for me. I was top of the class the first time in my whole life.
The most challenging thing about ADHD…
Being consistently inconsistent.
I’m very capable and when I’m on top form, I can do great things and I’ve achieved great things. Because of that, people have that expectation of you, and I can’t maintain that because I have ADHD – by nature I am dysregulated. I give my all and then I’ve got nothing, so I crash and get fatigued. Once I’ve achieved something, it is hard to keep the interest levels up as well. That’s hard for employers and anybody for that matter, because people value consistency, whereas I’m peaks and troughs. That’s a huge challenge for me. I manage it much better because I know what’s going on.
Plus, having a very clear ‘why?’ is really important for me. I have an interest-based nervous system, not an urgent and important one. If things are urgent and important, I can force myself to do it – but it is a struggle. When I question myself – why am I doing this even though I hate it, or this just seems pointless – well I’m doing it because I need to get myself to a particular point, and in order to get there I’ve got to do this, this and this. Having a clear why will get you through those tough times.
Understanding the ADHD challenges
ADHD is a condition of dysregulation, we are dysregulated in the way we spend our time, money and energy.
Take the typical ‘ADHD home’ as an example – not everybody with ADHD is messy but a lot of people are. I regularly say that our homes are often the reflection of the state of our messy brain: we have a lot going on in there! Which can be tough for people with ADHD, but for their partners too. Relationships in general can really suffer too. When we’re in a new relationship, for example, it can be really intense and that can take its toll over time. We often mask our ADHD symptoms at the start of a new relationship as well, so our partners may need some time to adjust to our changes in behaviors.
Furthermore, timekeeping and reliability are the two most common factors that create challenges at work. We’re often ‘time blind’, which means we don’t perceive time the same way that everybody else does. That’s particularly difficult with regards to being on time, being reliable but also when having to meet deadlines.
Prioritizing can be a source of anxiety or frustration as well – picking which one to do first, what to decide not to do. With many clients, one of the things we have to work on is deciding what not to do. In our world, everything is equally urgent and important. I help them to a point where they can make these decisions in order to get the important things done and keep track of them as well. Especially as there are a lot of emotional and mental health issues with those who I support, who may be struggling at work. With those clients, I work hard on building their resilience, to better handle these everyday scenarios that can affect them.
The value of coaching
A big part of ADHD coaching is accountability. In a session, we’ll create action points; what are you going to achieve by our next session? Writing something down means it’s more likely to happen, sharing it with somebody else means it’s extra likely to happen. I am that accountability partner for them. I will check in with them and they often send me text messages or e-mails during the course of the week, because they know that I’m going to hold them accountable. Therefore, they’re more likely to do it. It creates an urgency.
I think that coaching also has a lot to do with the serenity of things; understanding what we can change and changing it, accepting what we can’t and having the wisdom to know the difference. Moreover, coaching teaches people to build their self-compassion and self-care, building things into your life that ensure that you are okay. We tend to fill our lives with the things that we have to do, but there has to be space in our lives for pleasure and ‘white space’, that can be filled if need be, but – hopefully – is left empty.
Now, on her third master’s degree, Jannine understands what it takes to create the right environment for success for those with ADHD. In this feature we learn more about why she has dedicated her career to help people thrive and how coaching has been beneficial to her clients.
Supporting others to thrive with ADHD
Helping others to be their best self is what helps me to achieve my best, because I need to be walking my own talk. Often, I’ll be advising somebody I’m working with and realize that I’m not doing it myself right now. Also, I used to have a career in recruitment, training and retention (hence where the coaching background comes from). In this role, I was an active listener, using my skills to work out what people’s motivations were and using that to propel them forward – this has always been my strength. I just love listening to people and seeing them thrive, I find it fascinating, enjoyable and purposeful.
The real life benefits
I once worked with a lawyer who was really doubting herself. Although she’s extremely capable, she was finding that, as she sat with her clients, she’d make loads of notes and then move from client to client with an ever-growing collection of unstructured and disorganized notes. They weren’t categorized in any way, no names, no dates, no action points for her or her clients. It was becoming impossible to find essential information, all because she was focused on actively listening to her clients. She would have to go through this pile of notes one by one to find what she was looking for – and this wasn’t sustainable.
There had to be some scaffolding put in place to make sure important information was being recorded and was easy to get to. To try and tackle this problem, I worked with her to start writing cover sheets for all her notes – names, dates, action points and so on which she now staples onto each collection of notes. Ultimately this saved time both for her and her secretary. Now she feels on top of things, more relaxed at work and less frustrated.
Another example is a teacher/department head I worked with. She was frustrated with herself for the fact that she wasn’t on top of things. She was always firefighting, wasn’t enjoying teaching and was thinking about leaving. I spent a lot of time listening to her story. One thing she said really leaped out at me, she mentioned that she had always been behind on marking. She felt that this was the least of her worries right now. I challenged her on this statement – I had watched her face when she said it. It turned out that, when she first started teaching, she’d got into trouble because she wasn’t marking on time. And now she was saying that she wasn’t marking on time and felt vulnerable. In this case, I said, “this is priority 1, not priority 97”. The challenge was to reorganize her priorities.
As my client was a visual person, I had to adapt my approach accordingly. We created pie charts and bar graphs and they use colored pens and pencils to chart progress. She could now visualize how much marking she had done and had left to do. We could see when she was making progress. This gave her momentum, and momentum for us (with ADHD) can be really challenging.
A take home message
One of the hardest things for me as a coach is when something’s gone wrong and when the client says that there are no lessons that can be learned from the situation. That suggests that they’re not looking at their challenges with the right mindset and we must work on that. They have to see that they had a role to play in things going wrong and therefore they have a role to play moving forward… If they can’t see that, that’s a real challenge – we can’t move forward. We are, however, not looking for perfection, we’re looking for better.
Jannine runs ADHD Wise UK, a company dedicated to ADHD coaching and support. Learn more about ADHD Wise UK here.