A neurodivergent woman’s journey in the office environment

(posted first on Linked in on 30.03.2022)

I remember the first time I cracked an egg vertically a while ago. I stared at it dumbfounded as I couldn’t believe that this was possible. Most people would probably be a bit surprised, laugh it off and continue to prepare their meal. But for me, someone who has ADHD traits, this was a pretty big thing. So big that I stopped what I was doing and started to google the mechanics and possibility of this happening. It’s how my brain works sometimes, and my curiosity about small things in life hijacks me and takes me on a detour journey. I did get back to preparing my meal when I got an answer.

When this odd thing happened again this week, I started to think how similar I felt to this egg. There were times when I was at school or worked in an office environment when people expected me to be the egg that cracks in the usual way. Unfortunately, that was out of my control most of the time; my brain doesn’t work in a “normal” way.

I’ve always felt that my brain worked differently, but it never crossed my mind that I might be neurodivergent. I only started to consider that I might have ADHD traits while training to become a counsellor a few years ago. This time my neurodivergent brain was like the elephant in the room. It was too big to ignore anymore; I struggled with similar issues as in school: writing academic essays, speaking in front of groups and being fully present. Now with the additional struggle of not studying in my natal language. In the next five years, I began to look back at my life; I saw more clearly the signs that were there in childhood, adolescence and continued in my adult life: struggling in a rigid education system, lack of focus and finding it hard to remember things, inability to recognise and regulate my emotions, being disorganised, relationship struggles, and the list goes on. Every stage had its challenges, but now I understand that I have a choice on how I deal with my ADHD traits.

After graduating from an economic high school, I promised myself that I would never work in Finance. Little did I know that breaking my promise ten years later would be one of the best things that happened to me. I like to joke now that in another life, I worked in Finance for over ten years; in reality, that life ended two years ago. I used to moan about the stress that every month end brought, but secretly I loved the adrenaline rush it gave me; I thrived under pressure. I found out a while ago that this is a common thing with people who have ADHD traits. I also realised that I enjoyed creating order out of chaos; I just had to find my way of doing this. In my opinion, there is no set professional area where people with ADHD most thrive. Their working environment makes a big difference if they can blossom or merely survive.

I thrived in environments where I was allowed to be me, was given the freedom and flexibility to create work processes that suit my brain better, felt supported and was encouraged to grow, people were authentic and accepting. Small things sometimes made a big difference, like understanding that listening to music in my headphones was not a distraction but helped me tune out the office noise and focus on my tasks. These nurturing conditions made me want to give my best to the organisations even when I wasn’t passionate about what I did.

I struggled when I encountered rigidity; it made me feel limited. When people expected me to be something that I wasn’t and do things in a set way that didn’t work for me. When I felt there was no room left for me to grow. Even though these conditions helped me discover things about myself and develop skills I didn’t even know I had, they also made me move on to something else.

Yes, some eggs crack vertically. But does that really matter when what’s inside each egg is the same thing? The odd crack will not affect the taste of the food. It’s the inside of the egg, the other ingredients and spices you add to the food that make the meal flavoursome. Women with ADHD traits indeed see and do things differently, but that’s not a bad thing. We are more than capable of providing the ingredients or the spices when we are in the right working environment and get a job done. The result will be the same and might be even better if we are allowed to bring in some of our best spices or ingredients: curiosity and out of the box thinking.

It’s not the ADHD traits that make women feel disabled in the working environment; it’s the distorted perceptions, attitudes and limited systems created in the working places that are disabling.

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