Adult ADHD – to tell or not to tell?

This month is ADHD awareness month in the UK. If I can contribute one thing to this awareness-raising, is to alert folk to the fact that as well as being something many children have to navigate, this is a very real condition for some adults too.

One of the many dilemmas with adult ADHD is the question of whether us grown-up neurodivergents should tell our managers, or indeed anyone but our close friends, about our diagnosis.

Not wishing to retell my story (this can be found here), I’m a 40-something with ADHD. The few people who know this always show surprise because of how I ‘appear’ to have coped with life OK. I’ve jumped through many academic and career-related hoops, I don’t ‘seem’ too crazy, I have kids and a supportive partner, and to paraphrase one friend, I ‘don’t seem like an ADHD type’ (whatever that means!). ADHD in girls and women can manifest itself in quite a different way to boys (and men), often because it is less obvious in a visible sense. There is research on these differences for those that are interested. My story is quite a typical one for late-diagnosed women who just about coped until a certain life stage (often, this point is when you have children) and then the resultant overwhelm can be debilitating and exacerbate other struggles like anxiety or depression.

Like many adults with the condition, I have struggled with a wide range of challenges related to my ADHD. The dilemma of when and if to disclose the fact that I have ADHD has been particularly difficult personally because my nature is to be very open. Although, I’m riddled with self-doubt, I am more of an extrovert and enjoy writing a well-crafted statement on social media.

The question has involved going more deeply into my motivations for telling, or not telling, other people. We all strive to be better understood by others. My drivers might be, for example, to have some of my dominant ADHD traits and behaviours better understood – e.g.  having a hyperactive mind, a strong tendency to get overwhelmed and then anxious, and, most significantly perhaps, the fact that the chaotic, impulsive and driven way in which I lead my life is not always something that can be helped.

I recommend asking yourself the questions, ‘why do I want other people to know’ and ‘what do I hope this will achieve’?

Everyone wears many labels and identifiers, and thankfully we live in an age where more people are feeling able to be open about the differences they may have. Diversity and inclusion, together with mental health and wellbeing, are rightly creeping higher up the agendas of workplaces and educational institutions. Having just returned from a country where young LGBTQ people feel unsupported and most plan to leave as soon as they are able, it brought home to me the importance of being able to be true to ourselves. The relationship between being truly honest and open about who we are and our mental health, is of great importance.

The question of whether to disclose an ADHD diagnosis is massively contingent upon how you believe key people ‘perceive’ the condition. With so many unhelpful stereotypes, myths and misunderstandings about what ADHD actually means and what causes it (not a focus of this blog, do look this up if you are unsure), it is entirely understandable that actually most ADHD-ers I’ve met choose not to disclose their condition in the workplace. On the one hand, it really shouldn’t matter what our neuro-make-up might be, in the way that it often seems bizarre that we are asked to disclose our gender, ethnicity, age etc. in job applications because theoretically these factors should not matter. But for those that require workplace adaptions or who need other people to better understand their particular behaviours, perhaps it does matter.

Like so many identifiers (whether political, physical, spiritual or something else), if we perceive that we might be misunderstood or negatively stereotyped then our defensive mechanism kicks in and we may choose to hide that side of ourselves. Throughout our life journeys we pick and choose what to disclose and what not to disclose depending on which fights we’re willing to have and which we’re not.

Simply put, I do not want anyone to think that my ADHD will prevent me from being able to do a good job or being a reliable colleague. Unfortunately, my experience so far is that misperceptions, stereotypes and, quite frankly, lack of belief in the fact that this is actually an issue for adults (we’re all constantly distracted these days right?) are immensely powerful. So, I choose not to tell – at least not at first.

Society needs to get much better at understanding and empathising with human diversity in all its forms, and sadly I think we have a long way to go.

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