Last year I was told I have ADHD and I may have ASD. I had suspected the earlier for years, but I went to find out when I saw myself in my son. It wasn’t that anything was disastrously wrong… and yet, I recognised in him the anger, panic and frustration when overwhelmed by a task but still a desire to get it just so, combined with the often hyper focus on something, even as mundane as watching TV, so much so that time runs away with itself and before you know it, three, four, five or even more hours have passed immersed in a single project or activity.
Maybe this could be seen as a mindset issue. That could be true but I love learning and am open to listen and learn: I know I have much to develop and grow inside me to improve. As Chris Moyse said in a recent presentation, I’m a teacher who wants to get better, “not because I’m not good enough, but because I can be even better.” (ResearchEdLoom 4th April 2020)
Being immersed in something for hours, otherwise known as hyper focus, can be excellent can be excellent when you have to finish a lot in a short space of time. Let’s be optimistic, right? However, to will that up from somewhere in those days when executive functioning is floundering has taken oodles of inner strength. I can also recognise from my work and past essays, when my brain has been ‘fully on it’: they are lucid, well-explained, analytical and evaluative. I also know when they aren’t and a foggy haze lies over the main points, that, when someone else utters it, you remember you had that thought in your brain for one sit second about five minutes ago and now it is gone again. I’ve learnt to recognise my cognitive processes and how to hone them to suit the demand and temper them with a routine.
But, last year, as I continued to watch my son struggle at school on a daily basis, I wanted some answers: why couldn’t I concentrate sometimes but worked voraciously, like a Trojan at other times and I’d been like this since my early teens? Was I really a ‘weirdo’ as a child – that kid who wore strange clothes and was always reading in the corner and a bit vacant or boring, who was always smiling but never seemed to say or do much, unless she’d had a drink? Or, next to her in class you’d get the answers from her, but she won’t have done the work herself. Did it explain why I’d been plagued by an eating disorder for a decade from my mid-teens to mid-twenties? Did it explain the imposter syndrome that was following me around and telling me I was about to be found out? Getting answers… proactive, positive, right? Or was it just a distraction?
Don’t get me wrong, I have done alright. I am have two beautiful children, a degree, some decent Alevels and GCSEs: I have amazing parents and they have always supported me. I have two fantastic sisters and I want for nothing. I’m also a really good, dedicated teacher, so I’m told.
So, when I was prescribed methylphenidate hydrochloride (Ritalin) for the first time, the infrequent haze lifted and thoughts and emotions became clearer. What I was not prepared for was how much it slowed me down and took me out of a whirlwind pace at which I usually operate. Slowing down was not what I wanted, but looking at this optimistically, it gave me time to think and experience.
When the medics noticed a few work-related anxieties, they suggested I tell my line manager. I didn’t want to do this, as sadly I’ve seen people be treated poorly when anything ‘mental health’ is mentioned. I was also mindful that I’d not been 100% after the birth of my second child and this had affected me in a role I left in 2013. However, despite reservations, I agreed to do this, thinking optimistically! It was 2019 after all.
This was during October half term; two days later my mom had a heart attack in Gran Canaria; a week after that, my son suffered two head injuries at school, I had a panic attack at work and a learning walk after; I had repeated migraines; the week after that we had Ofsted in school; then another learning walk. After a meeting with my line manager, I saw no solution to everything and so I resigned impulsively, when I was exhausted, stretched out in stress and not thinking straight.
By the time I was able to find someone to accompany me to a meeting with HR, my job was advertised.
I look back and I know I made an error: I loved the school I was at and my job. However, I also know my final meeting could have been supportive and language chosen to challenge me when feeling vulnerable for the reasons I state above, could have been more positive and helpful.
Instead, the subsequent breakdown I experienced as an unexpected reaction to that final meeting (I am not going to repeat was said, some now seems petty) was far from optimistic and perhaps I overreacted. I felt very unwell both physically and mentally for a while.
But, as I say to students occasionally: “We all make mistakes, it’s what we do afterwards that matters.”
So, now I am back to me, I see my experience as a positive marker and look optimistically to the future. I have little faith in religion or any God, but I do believe in the overarching goodness of humanity and sometimes believe things happen for a reason. My actions, however ill thought through and erratic, have provided me with an opportunity for change and a new direction. Nothing stays the same forever and maybe I was ready for a change the year prior. It is sad I could not say goodbye to many of my students, but children are resilient and will also move on. Those colleagues with whom I made a connection will keep in touch and everything is going to be fine.
I was saddened about how I was treated when I trusted and expected a more ethical response. For me, it took a good deal of courage to disclose that personal information, however stressed about other things I was at the time. I was hopeful and optimistic that my outdated worries were wrong.
I’m not sorry I was optimistic or honest. I am a role model to my children and I have to be able to look people straight in the eye and know I speak the truth. I am who I am. Even though I know we have a professional persona we project at work, I am who I am. I am not ADHD or ASD: I am me.
Optimistically, I look forward to a change in the future and will be even braver.