When I was around 11 years old my primary school teacher told my parents I may have dyslexia.
I was struggling with my reading and writing, I was constantly distracted, and I was constantly distracting. This being the early 90s, in hindsight that was a pretty progressive thing for my teacher to point out, and I’ll be forever grateful to Mrs Shingleton (whose name I’ve no doubt misspelled as if to prove her point). Without her I may have struggled for many more years.
After an assessment, the diagnosis was I had mild dyslexia and mild ADHD (which was a new one to me, as well as my mum and dad).
Although I was ashamed at the time (what kid wants to be different?), over the years I came to embrace it. Now I see it as a bit of a superpower.
It’s well-documented that many of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs and thinkers have dyslexia and ADHD and while I wouldn’t dream of putting myself in their league it has definitely been a virtue… particularly when it comes to problem-solving and creativity.
Of course, it’s not all great. If you ask me to go to the shop and get some milk. I’m coming back with two shopping bags full of everything but milk. I’m terrible with remembering names and my working memory at times just doesn’t work.
More seriously there’s no question that my ADHD has impacted my mental wellbeing and my relationships with others. The problem-solving aspect of ADHD is a bit of a double-edged sword as while you can approach problems in a unique way and be hyper-focused, it also can lead to relentless overthinking which can be emotionally draining.
I also find it very difficult to sit still and smell the roses (my fellow co-founder Nic Forster’s favourite expression) and I’m probably the worst person in the world to go on holiday with… that is if you like relaxing!
So to the point of this blog, how do you deal with an overactive, ADHD brain? If you Google it there’s some great advice out there – from therapy, diet and mantras to yoga, CBD and CBT. I’ll be honest I’m still a work in progress and I could probably better heed some of this advice.
I can only speak for myself, but the following tips have certainly helped me.
I try and go to the gym, bike ride or go for a run every day as it’s the number one thing that clears my mind and allows me to concentrate. You’d never know to look at me (thanks to chocolate and beer!) but I put the hours in when it comes to training and I know that if I don’t manage to carve that time for myself I’m not going to be at my best.
- Green tea
I’ve always been a big caffeine drinker… you know you may have a problem when you can have a triple shot and feel nothing – especially if that’s before bed!
Although I’ll never be able to give up my coffee, over the past year I’ve re-discovered green tea (which my dad once described as tasting like old wet sock… it’s a different generation).
OH MY GOD, IT’S AMAZING!
Green tea (with a little bit of mint) has been a game changer when it comes to calming my mind, focusing and feeling great about life. It might not sound super sexy, but I drink it by the bucket load.
Speaking of drinks, I must admit when I steer clear of alcohol I always feel great – something that Stella Insurance CEO Sam White wrote about in Sifted lately… but then someone hands me a beer.
- Mixing up my routine
I’ve never been one to sit still. I’d much rather be pacing up and down a corridor talking to someone on the phone than sitting at my desk. That’s not to say I don’t love being in the London office with other people, but I’m also aware I can be quite disruptive to other people trying to crack on with their work.
Living in Edinburgh, I tend to find I’m more productive and happy if I mix my week up and work in different places – from hotels and co-working spaces, to the gym or an amazing cafe in South Queenferry with incredible views of the Forth Bridges.
But my absolute favourite place to work is on the 4 hour 20 minute train ride from Edinburgh to London – surely one of the most stunning journeys in the UK (well, the Northumberland bit at least). The freedom of movement certainly seems to calm me and aways put me in a good mental space.
- Perspective & positive thinking
Whatever stage of your life you are at it’s very easy to lose perspective. When you have ADHD negative thoughts can quickly spiral and sometimes it feels like you have to work twice as hard as everyone else to feel normal. It’s easy to tell yourself to get perspective, but it can take a monumental effort at times when your mind is racing. Recently I’ve discovered a number of techniques that help and rather than go into them, I’m going to recommend the Happiness Equation, which you can learn more about on Steven Bartlett’s Diary of a CEO podcast.
- Self-awareness & understanding being different is good
Perhaps one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned over the years is that we all think differently and there isn’t any right or wrong way to approach a problem. Although I’ve been aware I’ve had dyslexia and ADHD since I was a child it’s only really been in the last few years I’ve understood more about how this impacts my mental wellbeing and the people around me. At best I can be very driven, creative, funny. At worst I can be too intense, alienating and steamrolling other people’s great ideas and not listen… note this is a fairly common ADHD trait of racing ahead in a conversation and interpreting someone to get to the point, but that’s no excuse. Not only does this have a negative impact on me, but far worse others… which in turn makes me feel awful.
Having a better understanding of how my ADHD brain works, I hope, has made me a much better listener than I used to be… although I’m still working on it. I also recognise in myself when I’m getting a little too worked up and maybe I need to step back and take a chill pill.
Most importantly, what helps me is reminding myself having ADHD isn’t a bad thing. Different is good – as long as you are always kind to yourself and others around you.
For more from our MDs, read Emma Heley’s latest blog: Diversity & Me.