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October is mental health month.

October 15, 2018

Owing your own business and going through a mental health crisis is hard.  Having that be your life for a prolonged period of time is excruciating.

Keep that in mind if you are planning to give up your day job and venture into self-made-person-territory.  To survive it you need a bucket full of resilience, some close family support and maybe even an external councillor.  Working for yourself you are performance paid and performing when your brain is exploding, AWOL or otherwise engaged is quite possibly the most difficult thing you’ll ever do. I know that feeling.

So I have an ADHD type brain. I found this out as a 37-year-old when I thought I had early onset dementia after my ability to keep up with my crazy active brain and ride out the highs and lows started to falter as the adrenaline of youth started to fade away and the pressures of adulting started building.  The brain specialist chap I saw interviewed me a bit then got me to fill out some forms. He also got my husband to fill out a few and I had to talk to my mother about how I was as a child.  The process of diagnosing someone with something mental seemed to me to be a bit hit-and-miss.  I was un-convinced that my husband knew what was going on in my mind any better than I did. I mean sure, he can see the consequences of my absent-minded phases – forgotten appointments, lost keys and wallet, zoning out in conversations, things turning up in weird places etc – but how would he know why I was doing that, I could have just as easily done those things because I didn’t value paying attention to that small stuff/ drunk and disorderly (unlikely being as though I don’t drink)/ tired or just dumb.  Did he really know that I did value it and tried 110% but still couldn’t get it right?  Probably not but it didn’t matter because when all was said and done the diagnosis came back as me ‘probably’ having ADHD.

I didn’t buy the report.

I didn’t go to the doctors for medication.

I didn’t need it. I was fine now I knew what was ‘wrong’.

Nothing was wrong. I was just different and I was ready to embrace that!

From a business perspective I changed a few things. I stopped taking on any form of checking for customers.  I had, before this point, checked off INCI labels for ingredients and done final label checks for customers wanting to sell in the EU.  I’d come a cropper on that before, missing important things that once resulted in a label reprint and a hefty bill for me.  I also stopped taking so many unscheduled phone calls after realising that I found the constant interruption excruciatingly difficult to manage. In fact, I moved most of my clients towards email communication with scheduled catch ups – I didn’t realise that I could actually do that – take control of my communication flow without coming across as a control freak (which I’m actually really not)- but I could, I did and everyone seemed to be OK except for the people who left and that was Ok too. I realised that I’d got some customers that wanted me to be less ‘me’ like, customers who were trying to make me something I wasn’t.  I was finally ready to excuse myself from them and to this day I’m still fine with not being everybody’s cup of tea! Who is?

When it came to phone calls I had found that I could be too impulsive – a bit too ‘can do’ and someone who found it hard to say ‘no’  and set firm boundaries. I’m much better at that now, I learned how to be but I still prefer to make commitments off the phone, just in case my Impulsive brain drops me in it again!   Finding out that I could run a much better business and find my place much easier when everything was in writing was a game changer for me.  I can lay everything out in a way that makes sense to me, craft my response so as to cover as many parts of the problem as necessary,  make a reasonable and measured proposal and be more efficient.  As well as having my ADHD style brain I’m also what I call a ‘whole body learner’. I don’t know if that’s a thing but it’s not unusual for me to go grab all of the samples out of the sample room, surround myself with them plus the online spread sheet of formulations and just dive back into the exact head space I was in when I did the work. Getting into that space mentally and physically takes a bit of doing and a bit of time but it is so worth it and I’m sure that’s how I’ve managed to get some good work done in the past (although not all my work works out…)

So that was the simple stuff.  ADHD brain can’t do checking, can’t be distracted by randomly timed phone calls and appointments, can’t make quick on-the-spot decisions that are in my best interests and reflect my best self and can’t focus on mundane detail work but that’s OK because I can manage that.

The hard stuff was the other part of ADHD and that’s still hard for me.

I’m a chemist but not a brain chemist so while I can describe my symptoms and have a general theory of what might be causing them (from a chemical perspective ) I am not qualified to theorise on that so I’ll keep the brain chemistry talk out of this and just describe how my reality feels.

ADHD and energy flow.

Imagine a computer, one computer that is attached to one operator.

That computer has 10 screens attached.

The operator can call up 10 different tasks on the 10 different screens and through that one computer the operator processes them all.

The operator has days when they can view, take in and process all ten screens brilliantly and quite quickly.

The operator also has days when some screens are blank,  others have the whirling ball of death going and the remainder are stuck but the ‘quit process’ button isn’t working.

In other news, the operator sometimes realises that while they were sat there working on the screen physically, mentally they went somewhere else, not a daydream place but a nowhere place, an absence. In these times it takes a moment or so to re-orient the operator and pick up the pieces.

Throughout all of this the operator (me) remains emotionally neutral for the most part, feeling only ‘normal’ emotions – like being quite pleased with themselves and ‘in a state of flow’ when they are managing the 10 screen juggle and ‘quite frustrated or even a bit angry’ when none of the screens want to respond.  The biggest frustration and worry comes with the absent state as that can lead to experiments having to be started again, especially if I’ve carried on measuring things physically while not mentally there.  That’s one reason why I make every recipe at least 3 times and always try to do a scale-up batch before sending things off to a manufacturer.  It’s my triple plus check!

Some days the operator gives up on the computer and opts to spend some time doing other things that you don’t need a computer for.

Sometimes that phase can last for a few days because things just aren’t working right.

On other days the operator is so enjoying all 10 screens and their state of flow that they forget to cook the kids dinner and nearly pee their pants because there’s just so much exciting stuff to do.  Being interrupted in these moments feels like a huge drag but of course, it has to happen…

This can last a while too but eventually the computer fan comes on, the computer threatens to die and the operator gives it a rest.

I never get to the point where I don’t sleep, eat and act fairly normally albeit a bit more energetically and with only 5 rather than 8 hours sleep!

Now all of this is hard to schedule around because I’m still not 100% sure what causes the flow from one end of the spectrum to the other but I am trying to work on that.  What usually gets me through is that whole ‘adulting’ thing again. I just know I have to do certain things and I just keep telling myself to ‘put one foot in front of the other and do what you can’ rather than letting it get the better of me.  I am lucky that none of this dramatically changes my emotional state – I might swing around in energy and focus but not in emotion.  I am quite happy about that if truth be known, I feel it’s a sort of super power even though the ability to detach emotion from things like this is only ever learned through trauma but that’s another story.

With regards to this and my business I’m actively trying to get a better handle on this side of the ADHD experience and am trying a few things out now but am yet to try medication.   I’m lucky that my ‘working-like-a-machine’ days are plentiful enough to keep me out of dire trouble and my years of experience help underpin that but I’d really like to have a more even and smooth sailing experience of life from an energy perspective, I feel ready for that.  I also feel ready for being able to stick to more of a schedule without having to drag myself around some days and go crazy fast on others. I just want to happily plod a bit. I don’t know how that feels yet.

While I don’t really know what it’s like to be any other way, I do know, from observing and talking to my family, that my ADHD does throw up some challenges for me that others don’t have and sometimes I just have to take a step back.  That said, it also throws up some benefits that others just can’t access – such as my super quick days.   The bottom line for me has been that knowledge of how my brain is wired has been a source of power for me.  I believe that in tackling my mental health when I did I enabled myself to build a consultancy in a way that gives me the best chance of success and if I’m a success, my clients will be too.  It’s still a work in progress but I think it would be safe to say that that’s true for everyone, even the neuro typical.

Happy Mental Health October.

Amanda x







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