Jack-Edward Oliver

Senior Creative Technologist, Design Systems @ CloudBees.
Find me on LinkedIn / Twitter / Github. Or you can email me.

It's time to talk about ADHD

I will preface this post with a content warning on race, gender, orientation, identification discrimination and abuse. I see you, I support you, I love you.

It took me a long time to be ready to write this, but both the business and digital community need to start having this conversation.

Today is the 1st of October. October is #ADHDAwarenessMonth. In early 2019, I was diagnosed with ADHD, at the age of 28.

Some ADHD 101/Background, for some of you:

  1. It's a 'real thing'. Please stop saying that it's not.
  2. No, everyone does not 'have a little bit of ADHD'. Stop saying that too.
  3. It is a spectrum disorder, meaning it can affect everyone differently, and to varying degrees.
  4. It can be incredibly destructive if left undiagnosed, untreated, or unmanaged since it impressed upon every part of your life.
  5. A more appropriate name woul dbe 'Attention Dysregulation Disorder'. It is not the lack of attention, but more so 'too divided attention, everywhere'.
  6. Genetics also play a large part in ADHD. Anywhere from 30–50% of parents with ADHD, will have a child with the disorder. Not to get too scientific, but there are genes related to the dopamine and serotonin systems that have been attributed to the susceptibility of having ADHD.
  7. There is no "cure" for ADHD. It is only managed, through a careful and strict regimen of treatment; ranging from CBT, psychotherapy, and medication.
  8. There are no long-term human studies on the effects of amphetamine-based medications such as Adderall. We just don't have the data. the only treatment (read: management) for many of us, is to take medication several times, every day. I take dextro-amphetamine to get up, a mood stabiliser to remain calm and patient throughout the day, and benzodiazepine to put me to sleep. All the function like a 'neurotypical' person.

These are some of the things that happen as a result of not doing that and living with untreated, unmedicated ADHD:

  1. "Emotional Dysregulation" – the inability to control or regulate emotional responses to stimuli. I get frustrated incredibly easily, which is crap as a father. Not acceptable. Have to take medication.
  2. "Executive Dysfunction" – Impairments in executive functioning leave a mark on every facet of your life. From paying bills, going to work, making plans, remembering. Also not an acceptable way to live. Have to take medication.
  3. "Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria" – the extreme emotional sensitivity and emotional pain caused by the perception – not necessarily the reality – that a person has rejected, teased or criticised you, people that you deem important in your life. Not an acceptable way to live. Have. To. Take. Medication.

On Discrimination

As a straight, white, heterosexual, cisgender male born in the UK, I am profoundly aware of the privilege afforded to me. Discrimination around ADHD has been and still is, difficult for me to articulate. It is systemic in nature, like many other forms.

CONTENT WARNING: I do not know what it is to be murdered or imprisoned for the colour of my skin. People don’t spit at me and I have never had anybody scream at me in the street. I have never been catcalled or blamed for sexual abuse because I ‘dressed like I was asking for it’.

I cannot, and will not put myself in that category, because I cannot fathom how difficult that is to live with every day. Yet discrimination against ADHD is still very real, and appears in its own way:

  1. ADHD is often not believed by those whom you need to believe you the most.
  2. ADHD is often misdiagnosed because of something called comorbidity.
  3. ADHD is often missed entirely by teachers at school, parents, physicians – who just have a limited understanding of it, and even when found, is often 'untreated' by well-wishing guardians who don't 'believe in it', or don't wish to 'pump their kids full of meds'. (FACT: In the US, 40% of youth with diagnosable symptoms don't get treatment).
  4. ADHD is often believed to be overtreated, but research shows that statistically, it is the opposite. Data from the CDC suggests that up to 17.5% of the children they surveyed in the US were not receiving medication or treatment for diagnosed ADHD.

There are a whole bunch of medically peer-reviewed statistics provided by the wonderful, helpful folks over at Additude that you can read here.

On personal experiences:

  1. Because of ADHD, I have found it almost impossible to hold down a job, despite having a well-meaning attitude and a deep love for my work. I was born to create things. I have never been able to feel any other way.
  2. Because of ADHD, I dropped out of both school and design college (a place I dearly loved to be)
  3. Because of ADHD, I was/still am terrible with my own personal finances (props to my accountant. You're my MVP in that arena).
  4. Because of ADHD, I have difficulty in finding and keeping meaningful, engaging relationships that sustain my interest for an extended period of time. And when I do, I worry it might all end, because I will drive them away with my reactions to events, rather than responses. Many wonderful people have come in, and out, of my life over the years. And for that, I am very glad to have known them but conversly; sad that I could not keep up with them.

It took a lot of time to begin to be treated for ADHD (In Sweden, where I live, the average time for someone like me to be treated in the public system is around 2 years), and understand, deny, be angry, feel shame and guilt, and finally, accept these facts about myself.

I debated whether to even post this, having feelings of guilt and anxiety. That it might negatively affect those around me that I care for, work with, and want to maintain relationships with.

We must talk about it, everywhere, because this is the place where those conversations will have a big impact on the leaders of the businesses of today and tomorrow. Today I also posted this on Twitter, and LinkedIn. Honestly, it felt a bit like corporate self-sabotage. But I have to say something.

Regardless of what ‘career repercussions’ I might face:

  • If one person reading this suffering in silence, blaming themselves, seeks help, then it was the right thing to do. Go, speak to someone, find the answer. (4.4% of the adult US population has ADHD, but less than 20% of these individuals seek help for it.)
  • If a leader of an organisation sees this and can better understand one of their ‘problem’ employees, it might help them lead that person to success by creating a work strategy that allows them to exceed expectations — and they will. (And if caring about your people isn’t motivation enough for you; the fact that employee retention costs have been shown to also have an impact on morale, productivity, and company revenue might.)
  • Maybe you’re a parent reading this, and it helps you to understand your child. You now have the chance to shape their life in a meaningful way, and work better with their behaviour, than stand tirelessly against it until it breaks your family. (Parents of a child with ADHD are three times more likely to separate or divorce than parents of children without ADHD)

Thank you for taking the time to listen. If you have questions, experiences to share, or want to talk, please drop me a DM or Email. I will listen, I am here.

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© 2022 Jack-Edward Oliver
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