ADHD And Me - Why I'm Doing Things My Way
Around three months ago I had a light bulb moment. I was born with severe combined ADHD - I don't have a neurotypical brain. So why I asked myself am I constantly trying to work, fit in and achieve my goals on a neurotypical path?
As a kid and all throughout my teens, lessons at school were a nightmare I was forever late, distracted, and switched off if I wasn't interested. My efforts were always questioned, and I was constantly achieving below my predicted ability. Teachers thought I was lazy or that I just couldn't be bothered, and it was easy to understand why. You see I wasn't underachieving in everything. I was underachieving in everything I didn't like. Needless to say as humans we all have preference, things we're going to be more switched on to and things were going to try harder in. This was different, I felt like I physically couldn't learn unless I chose to. It felt like if I wasn't interested I would have to make the conscious effort to switch my brain on just to retain information and learn. It was a struggle, and when it came to the flip side, the things I was interested in — well no wonder people questioned my efforts. I could focus for hours and hours. I'd spend days learning songs, writing songs, creating handmade zines, making mood-boards, writing scripts and monologues to the point where I was completely consumed and couldn't think about anything else. I now know this is a result of my hyperfocus. No one at the time raised any questions about this being an actual issue, after all I seemed happy and in the things I liked I was excelling. Unfortunately no matter how frustrating, a late, disorganized, daydreaming, messy child is — I can assure you having to constantly talk your way out of things and explain yourself becomes exhausting. Feeling as though you’ve repeatedly failed and not knowing why is a very destructive feeling, and I became depressed and anxious.
Fast forward to leaving school at 18, all my dreams felt like they were coming true. My favourite sentence was 'knew I hadn't needed that maths GCSE!' and I signed my first publishing deal. I had music management and moved out of my parent's house. However, still being undiagnosed with ADHD — my life faced a whole new set of challenges. As a kid I hadn't really had to make any decisions, I hadn't had to prioritize things or avoid things, to be honest I have amazing, lovely parents and I hadn't really had to do much for myself at all! I was now living with friends, working towards the career of my dreams, I had money, and everything was exciting. My ADHD I would say is mainly triggered from being overwhelmed. I was now overwhelmed constantly. For someone with ADHD some of the hardest things are making decisions, impulse control, mood stability, and organization. Bearing in mind I didn't even know I had it, my life began to become pretty chaotic.
"I felt like I physically couldn't
learn unless I chose to."
The next few years my life was a constant roller coaster of new managers, drugs and alcohol, studio sessions, being completely manic and going between feeling on top and devastatingly low. A stream of bad decisions would leave me feeling hopeless and heartbroken. My love for creating and my hyperfocus meant I couldn't let my dreams go. Each time I would manage to pick myself up again but I could never shake the feeling of being happy and I'd end up chasing anything for the rush of dopamine. For example if I was in the studio and the session had gone well, the thought of just going back home and being alone would mean that positive rush was over - so I'd end up at a party, staying out or just doing anything to ensure that feeling didn't end, those things usually ended up making the dopamine comes down worse and I'd end up with burdening feeling of being regretful about something I'd said or done. Other people began to notice my behavior was perhaps not normal and my mum would often describe me as sounding manic if I'd call her after sessions or meetings that I'd felt had gone well. I was so desperate to keep making music that I was making music that I didn't even like and I was so desperate to have a career that I'd essentially say yes to anything as opposed to thinking about what was actually the right thing for me to do. These issues intertwined with being obsessed and having issues with my pride.
"I was over everything, I could not understand how life just seemed so difficult for me."
Undiagnosed ADHD often leads to a range of mental illnesses. At 23 I hit rock bottom, and by this point I just didn't know how to pick my life back up. I was over everything, I could not understand how life just seemed so difficult for me. Saying this I still never question my own abilities, I just grew a hatred for the world around me. However I knew there was something - I don't want to say something wrong with me, but something. I'd wondered if it was bipolar, hypo-mania I'd even got books about indigo children just to try and find answers. I was finally diagnosed with ADHD.
I remember the psychiatrist telling me I had ADHD and handing me a load of leaflets. In my head I laughed, I thought wow she's not listened to anything I've said, ADHD is what naughty little boys have who run around and break things. I'm having a breakdown, I don't have ADHD! I got home and mockingly began to read the leaflets out to my mum:
- Easily distracted, difficulty maintaining focus
- Disorganized and messy
- Careless mistakes
- Sensitive and easily upset
- Unable to maintain a regular and consistent life
- Issues with substance abuse
- Constantly feeling like your catching up or covering up
- Finding it hard to relax
- Crushing sadness and frustration from feeling as though you haven't met your potential
The list went on — but it was safe to say, by halfway through I knew I had ADHD. ADHD was totally not what I thought it was. To put it simply ADHD is a neurological disorder, that you're born with. You are unable to naturally make the same amount of dopamine as someone else. Dopamine isn't just what makes you happy, there are actually too many functions of dopamine to even count. The explanation is easily summed up by its other name, the 'Molecule of happiness'. Now imagine you've lived your life in a body that doesn't make enough, it's no wonder many people living with ADHD become addicts as a result of seeking what they naturally lack. To be honest, ADHD which stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is actually not a very apt name. ADHD does not actually come down to just being hyper, or disengaged - because we can be engaged, the chronic problem lies in the inability to activate and manage these engagements in the right way on the right things at the right time, and really it comes down to managing yourself.
Medication changed my life. The best way I can explain how it felt when I started taking the right medication is — imagine you’d had bad eyesight for years, if everything was kind of blurry if it was hard to read and your bad vision was giving you headaches and then one day you put glasses on. It was basically like I realized wow my life doesn’t need to be this difficult.
I found my feet and started again. A fresh start, where I was being treated for my ADHD and beginning to understand it. Don't get me wrong, there were and are still down days. It's an understatement to say it took a while to get the medication right and like anything in my life it didn't suddenly become all smooth sailing. BUT I finally felt okay with that. There was finally an answer and explanation for how I felt. ADHD is not an excuse but it is a reason. I stopped feeling bad and started moving forward. However, after years of trying so hard to do things in the same way as other I was still trying to replicate other peoples paths. Even once medicated trying to follow someone else's paths still felt like I was walking in the wrong direction or just in shoes that didn't fit and I'd lose sight of the destination on route. I saw other people's success and how they got there, I wanted to be told what to do, to have a manager like all the other singers who took care of things, a stylist who told me what to wear, and a record label who told me what to release. Although I was happy and my life was back in control, I just wanted to be like other artists. But I had to face the reality of who I actually am. I had to really think about not only my strengths, but I was now strong enough to look at my weaknesses too. I don't take instructions well, I have to dress for my mood, I don't really like being told what to do, and I think in concepts.
"Imagine you’d had bad eyesight for years,
if everything was kind of blurry,
if it was hard to read and your bad vision
was giving you headaches and then
one day you put glasses on."
Why did I feel like things would happen for me in a way that it might happen for someone else when I don't behave like someone else. I'm not anyone else. At school we're so used to hearing the phrase 'think outside of the box'. By default I've never been inside the box. I wouldn't even know where to find the bloody box, my brain is constantly outside the box — thinking about this, this is when the lightbulb moment came. I had previously toyed with the concept of having my own brand 'Trash Like You'. The name from a line in 'Gummo' an American art film written and directed by Harmony Korine. I felt like the name incorporated the DIY stance I wanted everything I did to have, and also it's my favorite film. Initially, I wasn't 100% sure on what I wanted to focus on but with a hyperfocus brain if I knew whichever avenues 'Trash Like You' took because it was mine and a purely passion project that I would do it the best I could. I threw a 'Trash Like You' party followed by a 'Trash Like You' tattoo pop-up day then it came to me 'Trash Like You' should be a record label. And that was that.
There's nothing I know more about than music, my years of being a geek who reads and researches everything about everyone's music careers and journeys could be put to use. My label was created. Linear methods and practicality is not my forte, either is other peoples time scales and with my hyper focus I can become frustrated when other people don't seem to have the same work ethic as me. So I began the process of creating every element of the label alone. I worked many nights in a restaurant to save money to afford outgoings and other than Marlboro lights and travel cut all personal outgoings. I am calmest, nicest and by far my happiest when I am working and creating. I decided the easiest thing for me to do would be to have the first release, my own four-track EP, along with four videos and a zine - the first one ready to be released by mid-October. I am now in the process of working out the following releases, the label will be non-genre specific - I just want to work alongside and give a platform to artists I believe in and enjoy. I have the launch party for the label on the 28th September at The Old Blue Last, I will be playing a live set with my band, there a number of super talented DJs playing and a live performance from a new artist I really admire called Charles. Honestly, I couldn't be happier. I'm able to think in concepts, and in color and most of all freely; completely out of the box. Thanks to medication and patience (my own and others around me) I know understand the process of how I work and how my brain works. Ideally one day, I would join forces - expanding the label but I've realized for now, it is fine to do things my way. I've learned to not worry about what other people are doing, how they're doing it, where they're going or how they're getting there! I'm no longer a bored child in the car whinging 'are we nearly there yet' I'm an adult who understands myself and knows that destinations never really come, as humans (especially ones with ADHD) we will always want more. Perhaps I won't ever be truly satisfied but I can safely say I'm enjoying the journey, and the process and I'm excited to see where life, music and Trash Like You takes me.
Next up, 7 simple ways to reduce stress and anxiety.