October is ADHD awareness month, and The Herbtender’s founder, Laura, bravely opens up about her diagnosis later in life in this candid Q&A session.

You were recently diagnosed with ADHD, how did that come about?

There is something almost comical about a woman in mid-life being diagnosed with ADHD - it seems so unlikely and yet that’s what happened to me. Like many women my age, I found out about my own ADHD while trying to find help for one of my children. There is an incredible community of people on TikTok and Instagram creating really helpful content breaking down what ADHD is and how it affects women and girls, which is different to our stereotypical understanding of the disorder. While researching on these platforms, trying to understand one of my children, I had my lightbulb moment and realised that this was actually describing me to a tee.

How did the diagnosis impact you?

I was on a waiting list to be assessed for many months, so when I received my diagnosis at the end of the appointment it came as a huge shock, even though I had already figured it out myself months before. To have my suspicions confirmed by a professional was probably the biggest paradigm shift I’ve ever experienced, and the start of a painful process of fully understanding myself for the first time.

Many people diagnosed later in life describe ‘grief’, and I felt this intensely. Trying to navigate all this while running my own business and raising three teenagers meant there was very little time to process the information properly. These early days were lonely and confusing, but I’m happy to say that 16 months down the line, I’m in a much better place than I’ve ever been, and climbing.

What does ADHD look like for you?

Comedian, Peter Serafinowicz sums it up perfectly, “Having ADHD for me, it’s like being a genius, and also being a total idiot. Some things I can do really super well, and there are some very, very, very basic things that I find almost impossible. I think that’s true for a lot of people with ADHD.”

My hyperactivity is in my brain. It can sometimes feel like a box of frogs jumping all over the place. While you’re talking to me, I’ll be having a million thoughts and ideas firing away, I’ll be making connections and solving problems. I might struggle not to interrupt you with some of my brilliant suggestions, I may need to jot them down before I forget them. I can get multiple things done while in a meeting or listening to a talk. I may look like I’m not paying attention, but I listen better when multitasking. If I look like I’m listening, I’m probably not! Conversely, I can find it difficult to focus, difficult to remember any ideas at all, and sometimes impossible to start a task or stay on it if that task doesn’t interest me or becomes challenging. Executive dysfunction means that some tasks you may find easy are a struggle for me.

ADHD isn’t a lack of focus, it is having an abundance of focus with an inability to regulate that focus. I notice everything. I’m easily distracted and overwhelmed by sounds, smells, moods and textures. Crowded spaces, busy events or social situations take a toll on me - they can be absolutely exhausting. I love to do these things, but then I need ‘buffering time’ to process and recover.

An ADHD brain is sometimes described as a ‘Ferrari engine with bicycle breaks’. I think really quickly, and if you’re talking to me slowly or take a while to get to the point, which I’ve already grasped, it can be agony to listen to, and I get impatient. Now I know that I listen in this way, I’m working on slowing down and trying to be more patient. I walk the same way and struggle to go slowly or walk behind someone slow. I’ve noticed this calms down if my brain is occupied by listening to an interesting podcast.

ADHD gives me ‘time anxiety’. I get anxious about time and have a strange relationship with it. I like to be on time and focus much of my energy trying to be on time, but I’m often a little late. I can become disorientated and sometimes, momentarily, lose the hour/month/year. I feel intense shame when this happens, and it happens often. I’m learning to externalise time as much as possible. Although I use an electronic diary for work (huge achievement! - see ‘out of sight, out of mind’, below), I also have a paper one so I can visualise time; and use post-it notes, timers and wall calendars as tools to manage a busy family/work life.

With ADHD, it can be a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’, and If I can’t see something, I can forget it exists for a while until I remember in a panic. Apparently, this is called ‘object impermanence’. I can be holding something one minute and have lost it the next. Organisation for me isn’t everything in little boxes - things only exist if I can see them! I try to be mindful and have places for things but finding my phone or keys when I’m in a rush is a frequent challenge, and I’ve locked myself out of the house so often that we’ve installed a key safe.

I’m chronically overwhelmed. I have been for as long as I can remember, which may surprise people who see me as very organised. Yet I am organised and put a lot of effort into being so, but I still make mistakes, drop the ball and miss silly things. If I’m on top of things, it’s not long before the volume of things overtakes me again, and I’m back under. I’m learning to work smarter, to be realistic about what can be done, and not say yes to everything.

Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD)

When I discovered that most people with ADHD suffer from something called RSD - Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, it was another piece of the puzzle clicking into place.

Rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD): a somewhat new term in the fields of mental health and neuroscience. It was coined by experts to describe a feeling of intense unease in the aftermath of some sort of rejection—either real or perceived—and it is not recognized clinically.

It’s something I’ve always felt but didn’t have the words for. For me, that looks like disliking any design work I’ve done as soon as I’ve done it, having a fear of showcasing my work, having my own website or being the centre of attention in any way. So, you can imagine how much I’m enjoying telling this personal story! I’m also very sensitive to unexpected criticism and harsh words, so customer service and personal relationships can feel intensely painful.

Is there anything positive about having ADHD?

Absolutely. Now that I’m getting to grips with it and not letting myself be limited by it, I’m not sure that I’d change it. I’m highly empathic, kind and forgiving. I’m a good problem solver and great in a crisis. I’m brave, fun and positive; I have great powers of observation and a sharp intuition. If you need a wing-woman on an adventure, there’s not much I won’t do for an adrenaline high. I haven’t even touched on ADHD and low dopamine - perhaps another time.

What has been the hardest part?

There have been a few. The hardest by far was seeking a path to diagnosis. My GP seemed baffled when I asked to be put on the waiting list for an assessment for ADHD. She asked me to sit a basic test in her office to see if I met the criteria. I scored very highly and was swiftly placed on the waiting list, with the warning that it would be a very long wait. It can take several years for an NHS assessment and when you’ve waited for 47 years already, that felt like way too long.

It is possible, but very costly, to have an assessment with a private psychiatrist, and I decided to pursue this route. The amount of money was distressing, but even worse was trying to find a psychiatrist with any availability. I spent many hours calling and emailing and found they all had full waiting lists. It seemed an impossible task and felt hopeless at times. I persisted and eventually found an appointment with a psychologist in Cambridge, but the wait was around four months. Then came the forms, about 12 in total, all very detailed going back to childhood. If you know anything at all about ADHD, you’ll know that this was torture!

The other difficult part has been ‘coming out’ to people and telling them about the diagnosis, which I still have to do sometimes. It’s not much fun because it’s a vulnerable thing to do, and I’m often met with disbelief, ‘You can’t have ADHD, you’re so organised!’; ‘Everyone is a bit ADHD’. It can be exhausting and disheartening. It can, however, be really good to connect with people who understand and to have that instant recognition from others with brains like mine.

Have you found solutions?

I most certainly have. I now recognise that I have a super speedy brain, so on the very day of my diagnosis, after talking with a friend who recommended an ADHD coach, I booked in for weekly coaching sessions. In these sessions I began to process the grief, found support and understanding and realised that I could learn productivity techniques and coping strategies to help me progress through areas holding me back. I had coaching for a year before deciding to take a break. I can highly recommend working with a specialist ADHD coach. You can access coaching through the ‘Access to Work Scheme’, and they also provide practical support to help you at work.

I was very grateful to have Schia Mitchell-Sinclair to turn to, our in-house medical herbalist, who was and is an invaluable support. Schia and I were committed to finding natural, non-chemical ways to manage my ADHD. We discovered that two of the seven formulations Schia had created made a positive difference; Focus & Clarity to help me during the day and Calm & Collected to help me sleep at night. Using a hair sample, I also had a comprehensive mineral test done with Schia and found that my minerals were unbalanced. This is not unusual for people with ADHD, I’m told, and is something I’d like to do more research into. I’m almost a year into my journey of rebalancing my minerals, and feel fantastic.

What have you learned about yourself?

I’ve had to relearn everything I thought I knew about myself, and I try to give myself much more grace than I used to. It can be a trait of ADHD to have perfectionist tendencies and feel a great deal of shame when we fall short, which we often do. Now that I understand that some things I do (or don’t do) are because of how my brain works, I’m working on being kinder to myself.

The biggest piece of the puzzle for me has been understanding why I have had lifelong struggles with sleep. I’ve struggled with sleeplessness since I was a child. I remember many long and lonely nights when I was the only one awake. I had a little clock radio by my bed in the 80s and would listen to any talking radio station I could find for company. I don’t nap, I take ages to fall asleep, and I sleep very lightly.

My mind goes into overdrive at night and racing thoughts make sleep difficult. The discovery of adaptogens was life-changing for me because they really help quieten my busy mind, and I sleep more deeply now. I’ve tried various sleep supplements over the years but worry about taking anything long-term, and I hate any grogginess in the morning. Adaptogens are safe to take long term, and I wake up fresh.

I’m so proud to have founded a company that creates the products that help me the most, even though I was undiagnosed when we launched The Herbtender. It feels like divine intervention!

Do you have a message for anyone awaiting a diagnosis?

  • I’m always available to chat with anyone feeling lost and hopeless. It can feel impossible to know where to turn, and there is an overwhelming amount of information out there.
  • You can make many diet and lifestyle changes that will help you enormously, with or without a diagnosis.
  • People with ADHD are usually highly sensitive individuals; we can be sensitive to our environments, clothes and what we consume and put in our bodies.
  • Focus on a protein-rich diet, avoid ultra-processed foods, and avoid artificial flavours and colourants.
  • Regular exercise is essential. I’m not talking gym workouts if that’s not your thing. Just get outdoors and move your body when you can.
  • Some natural plants and fungi can help with many challenging aspects of ADHD, such as focus, anxiety and maintaining energy levels. Follow us on Instagram or Facebook, if you’re on those platforms, or reach out by email. We’re always happy to help!

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  • Jayne Jackson

    Thanks for sharing this. You summed it up perfectly. I’m in a similar situation. Diagnosed at 60 with two adult sons who are also seeking diagnosis. I think getting sleep is crucial so I think I’ll try your adaptogens

  • Pauline

    Thank you for pointing out that it is ADHD awareness month in October. I very much appreciate your input here. as I am trying different approaches to managing my ‘Inattentive ADHD’, I won’t be referred for an assessment/ diagnosis, because a new process in my area means that only those who identify as e.g. a ‘high risk of harm to themselves’ will be moved forward for this, despite completing an NHS online ‘profiler’ which identifying many traits. I can’t even find out if my profiler was received by the assessment team, they refuse to speak to individuals..The profiler did offer up lots of tips on how to manage ADHD, but of course all of the suggestions are approaches, I have been trying all of my life, and largely failed. I am joining in a campaign to get this local system changed. It is as if ADHD is not acknowledged as a debilitating condition. I certainly feel it is. On discovering I likely have it, initially I felt I had lost my individual identity, that I was somehow constituted wholly of ADHD traits,.but gradually felt my uniqueness again. As you say, lots of stuff on the internet has been very helpful. And many times had made me laugh, which is a relief. You have articulated and summarised your experiences so well. Reading your responses helps me to fell less adrift with it all. Thank you 😊

  • Jenny David

    A wonderful article and a very insightful description of what to feel alike inside an ADHD head. Very brave of you Laura well done. Much love xx

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