When I was a child I always knew I was different. The other kids would realise that there was a “right” answer, and I would go off on a tangent. Every idea that came into my head sparked a hundred more ideas, and I wanted to share them all. My parents were told that I was “inattentive”, “disruptive” and would never succeed.
As I grew older the difference stayed with me. In my job at a large corporate I often got into trouble for asking the curly questions that no-one else asked. Once, at a meeting of 150 staff, a senior manager said: “Anyone can ask questions, but not you, Anna”. I was embarrassed. I was bullied. I decided to defy expectations and go to university.
Failure and revelation
I struggled with exams and failed a required paper. One day I was sitting in a psychology lecture and it sounded like they were talking about me. So I had a test which confirmed my suspicion: I had ADHD.
Armed with this knowledge, I learned strategies to harness the power of my busy brain. I got my BA in Psychology and Developmental Education, and my Masters with Honours in Counselling. Straight out of university I got a hotly-contested job working as a counsellor at Massey University.
MATES: the double whammy
About a year after my ADHD diagnosis, as part of my BA, I took a paper in youth mentoring. For this paper I worked as a mentor on MATES Junior, a Mentoring and Tutoring Education Scheme run by Great Potentials Foundation and supported by Overland Footwear’s Young Hearts Project.
My MATES mentee was Jack, a Year 8 student with ADHD that was controlling his life – he was struggling with schoolwork, making mistakes in social situations, and being ostracised. He just wanted to be “normal”. This was typical of people with ADHD: we often miss social cues, talk without thinking, make decisions quickly and get into difficult or risky situations. We also often struggle with self-esteem, depression and anxiety.
But there are positives: people with ADHD are often empathetic, dynamic, creative and entrepreneurial. So, during our MATES year Jack and I focused on these positives and worked to develop a healthy perspective of ADHD and of how Jack thought about himself.
This was a real turning point. For me it was the beginning of my academic and practical work developing positive perspectives of ADHD. For Jack it was an opportunity to learn from my experience, recognise the positive aspects of his own difference, and develop the resilience that he needs to reach his own potential. And who knows where the hundreds of ideas in his head will take him?