Updated: Aug 19, 2021
I struggle with a lot of things. I start projects and don’t finish them. I am very sensitive and reactive when hurt or threatened. I am always late to answer or take care of texts, emails, letters, bills, requests, and rarely arrive on time. I interrupt, jump the line, and say things I should have thought out more clearly first. I get exhausted easily in social situations and when I’m upset or stressed I can experience long down times that seem to take forever to get back to ‘normal’. Throughout my life, because of these behaviours, I also felt a lot of guilt and lack of worth, and would look for ways to distract myself from that pain through activities that stimulated me or numbed me out.
In January 2021, I received a grant to make a documentary about Rosemary Thomson, a highly acclaimed music conductor in her fifties who was recently diagnosed with ADHD. It’s much less common for females to be diagnosed than men, and even more rare for someone to be diagnosed past middle age. Her story was fascinating. I began to read books about ADHD, research online, talk to professionals, and learn everything I could as I prepared to make the film. Sometimes I would forget about meetings I had set up, I became even worse at answering emails and texts, and found it easy to not even see the mess piling up around the house. My attention was limited to what interested me, and now that I had something new to obsess about, I felt alive and excited and wanted to work on the film and talk about it and ADHD all the time.
I eventually thought it might be interesting to take some ADHD tests myself, not because I thought I had it, but for fun, or, as I told myself, for science! I wanted to be fully immersed. So I took a self-assessment test (looks like ADHD), followed by an assessment with my GP (very likely it’s ADHD), and finally an intensive three hour assessment with a psychologist, Irene Spelliscy, featured in the film and trained in diagnosing adults (YES you have ADHD). Total shock. How did I go my whole life so far not knowing? As I write this and look back on all the indicators, I guess it shouldn’t seem too surprising, but even though I maybe had a small amount of awareness of my behaviours prior to this, I never considered the idea I might have ADHD.
So there I was, married with three grown kids at age 43, finding out I have ADHD, all while making my first film about a woman who discovers she has ADHD. Is that irony? Or providence? I began to take coaching sessions with Dan Duncan (also featured in the film) who is phenomenal as an educator and guide to all sorts of people on their journey with ADHD. I researched ways to work with my brain and help regulate the way it was functioning, and found out - to my total surprise - that I was capable of a lot more than I realized. Turns out I can finish things. I can regulate my emotions. I can take care of things that need my attention. I can focus for extended periods of time and feel comfortable and relaxed. Even with a more regulated brain however, a lot of things I struggle with are also now habits, ones that don’t turn off without practice. I’m not achieving my newly realized potential 100% yet, but I finally got above 50%, and that’s enough to make life really interesting. I’m starting to see that the “me” who I thought I was, was largely made up of my biochemistry and coping mechanisms built to survive in a world that isn’t necessarily supportive of how I naturally function. This is a very raw, vulnerable, and exciting revelation.
Over the next few months I went from no experience as a director and film producer to making a 40 minute documentary on a 23K budget. So basically it was like a super condensed film school. Keep in mind, I had been thinking about making a film pretty much my entire life, and it was only once I had a grant and some pressure to actually do it that I had enough motivation (this is very typical of ADHD, the need for pressure or reward - dopamine or norepinephrine - to get things done, and also thank you to my funder, Telus STORYHIVE, for being the catalyst that changed my life). To my amazement, I met all of my deadlines and not only was the film done on time, but we finished early (except not because I became so efficient, but because in ADHD fashion I didn’t pay attention to the small details, read the deadline wrong, and submitted a month before it was due - still, at least it worked in my favour this time!). Making any film at all takes incredible effort and focus, a capacity to handle daily surprises and challenges, and, with a documentary, the ability to edit and shape hours of interviews together into one unified story. Turns out an ADHD brain (regulated or not) happens to be perfectly designed for this. It is very common for someone with ADHD, who is truly interested in a topic and motivated to get it done, to kick into overdrive, hyperfocus and produce incredibly creative ideas and solutions to whatever is in front of them. In my case, I felt that advantage and also was very careful to build a team of people who were way smarter and more experienced than me. It was integral for the whole group to be accepting and accommodating to each other's working styles, as well as for everyone to be willing to let each person do what they’re best at. This was a huge game changer. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, it also turned out that almost a dozen people working on or in this film had ADHD. This built the space for a very empowering, shared discovery of how the way we neurologically process and function could serves as a gift in most aspects of filmmaking (which is why I believe there are a lot of ADHD filmmakers out there). The neurotypical people on the team were of course very talented and amazing too, but they already knew that :)
Through this experience I began to feel greater permission and acceptance for who I am and how I function. The more I learn about ADHD and other neurodiversities, the more I am curious about them and respect them, the more I become amazed by the others I meet in the neruodiverse community, and the more I am proud to be among them. There is a lot to uncover here, and I hope to share more stories and also hear from anyone who is neurodiverse who wants to share what they’re going through as well.