Earlier this year I realised something pretty profound about myself - which I know is something a LOT of women in business are discovering about themselves, too.
Autism and ADHD weren’t even on my radar. I didn’t in any way fit the stereotypes and had no obvious giveaway clues… but I was in for a surprise. Now, I’m so happy to have uncovered a little bit more about who I am and why! And I’m embracing my superpowers. I’ll be talking about how I found out, what autism actually looks like in many women, the struggles and surprising advantages - and what being ‘on the spectrum’ actually means.
Think you might have superpowers too? Join my Facebook group Autistic & ADHD Entrepreneurs.
And of course, if I can help with anything else then just reach out: email@example.com
So - this is an episode that I’ve been sitting on for a little while, just letting my mind settle a bit before sharing with the world and putting it out there. It’s pretty personal and all a bit new to me in many ways, but as you may have gathered from other episodes I’ve recently realised I am neurodivergent.
Now when I say neurodivergent, I mean I have Autistic and ADHD traits - and yes there’s that familiar saying ‘everyone’s a little bit on the spectrum’ - which I’ve totally been guilty of saying and thinking myself in the past - but I’ve come to realise that although we’re all on a spectrum, not everyone’s on that spectrum to a significant or clinically relevant degree. I’m going to just dive into that a little bit more before I talk about how I found out and how it changed my life, because I think this is really misunderstood and I’d like to help you get clear on it - because I certainly wasn’t before I started looking into this more! So if you look at the RAADS-R screening test for autism for example, you’ll find that a lot of people would meet some of the criteria, but there’s a certain number of boxes you can tick and still be considered neurotypical. I fall outside of the neurotypical range particularly in the social relatedness category, which explains why I just wasn’t as interactive as some of my peers growing up, I’m definitely one of life’s observers and have always tended to do better in low-pressure conversations where others are leading the way - I’ve become a great listener as a result, though, which has made me bloody ace at the work I do now! I also score quite highly on the CAT-Q test for camouflaging autistic traits or ‘masking’, which is VERY common in females and in LBGTQ+ individuals - it basically means you get very good at copying and mimicking normal social behaviour to help you fit in. That doesn’t mean you’re consciously pretending or putting on an act, but for me it meant things like thinking through what I was going to say in advance and being conscious of my every gesture, smiling all the time because I thought that would make me more approachable and likeable etc. Those things became part of me because eventually all the things we learn and repeat become subconscious and we just do them without thinking, so I am a very smiley person now, but it was probably something I learned to do to appear ‘normal’, to be polite and fit in as a kid when really I’d have been quite happy in my own little world! Now as you can imagine, all that learning, processing and masking is pretty energy intensive and I think that’s why, for me, I’ve always felt quite happy in my own company or in the company of people who didn’t carry such an emotionally charged load - people who were relaxed and easy to get on with, like my best friend who made it easy for me and understood my naughty, literal sense of humour - and at school I preferred hanging out with boys because (sorry men, not wishing to be rude but) I found them less complicated and they came with fewer behavioural rules. I was labelled as shy though I wasn’t super-smart as the ASD stereotypes would always have you believe, so I didn’t particularly excel - I did well at school but I had to work really hard, especially with subjects I didn’t find obvious or fascinating and looking back, I had to work hard at anything that required quite a linear, formulaic approach (like maths).
I also tended to be very good at accidentally putting my foot in it, impatient with mind games and people that won’t speak their truth, and very intolerant of bullshit and sycophantic behaviour (which hasn’t always been easy but has at least kept me very much on the straight and narrow!). So I was perceived as this reasonably bright, slightly awkward kid who just didn’t quite get the normal social rules and it was probably really obvious that I was trying super-hard to fit in - which of course turns people off pretty quickly! I was bullied, I grew extremely self-conscious and anxious and I think really all of this, plus all the pressure to be thought of in the right way and to be the right shape, size etc. that was rife among teenage girls at that time and sadly still is today, led to my crap self-confidence and seeking solace in food (which really didn’t help reinforce that confidence thing one bit!).
So for years I thought this was just me and just the way I was - shy, introverted, anxious. And then as you may know, I discovered hypnotherapy and mind management techniques and my world completely changed - I got rid of all that anxiety I’d built up around my social awkwardness and started to realise that I could learn to be confident and handle situations I’d previously thought were off-limits to me (like public speaking, for example). Now I thought that was the end of the story - that’s just who I was, I’d had anxiety, dealt with it and now was much more confident and happy - hooray! I don’t think I’d have asked any further questions or even thought Autism was a possibility for me until having kids made me start to look at myself and my interactions with people in a bit more detail. And I don’t think I’d even have looked at it then, had it not been for a couple of news articles that caught my eye, talking about how women with autism have been missed and misunderstood for years due to the stereotypes we’re all aware of. I read those articles and I thought… oh my goodness, they sound exactly like me! So I understand that very recently, and largely thanks to the huge pressures of Covid and lockdown, we’ve started to understand that there are a LOT of women out there in the same boat as me. Functionally ‘normal’, going about their lives in society without anything obviously amiss and without anyone guessing they’re struggling - but actually working their arses off to lead and maintain normal lives because our brains don’t process things in quite the same way as the average woman. We ALL put on masks and struggle with certain aspects of life, but for autistics certain, normal, day-to-day things can be that much more difficult. The flipside of that, for me, is that it means I almost have superpowers in other areas of life!
So - focus, for example. I’m shit at focusing on things that bore me or that I find challenging - like booking travel arrangements, planning what to wear, keeping up with WhatsApp groups I’ve been opted into, planning weekly meals etc… I’m very much someone who wings it or goes for the easy option. I get my meat and veg delivered and conveniently live near some shops so I can just grab essentials when I need them! I’ve also historically been pretty pants at keeping track of time but I’ve got MUCH better at doing that when it really matters. On the other hand, I have this wonderful ability to hyperfocus - to just concentrate on one thing and get totally obsessed about it (like understanding how our minds work and how we can make them work for us, for example!). I can get lost in reading, writing or listening to audios for hours and once I’m into a job, I will happily lose days. Tidying my bedroom when I was little was always fun because I’d leave it until it hit chaos point, but then I’d get lost in it and I’d have to reorganise EVERYTHING to get it just right. Autistic brains are also great at lateral and creative thinking, so rather than follow things through step by step and get lost in the details, I’m great at big picture thinking and at coming up with lots of ideas and solutions. That sometimes drives my husband to distraction because I’m always thinking 3 steps ahead and frequently randomly take conversations off on a complete tangent or go back to something we were discussing half an hour ago.
So I feel very lucky in many ways to have the brain I do - it might work a little differently and it’s definitely brought its fair share of challenges! But I think all those challenges I’ve faced along the way have led me to where I am now, to learning so much about myself and to this deep desire to understand our minds and what really makes us tick.
I feel like for me, it’s no coincidence I’ve found myself following the path of entrepreneurship - I’m very happy here, hyperfocusing on my zone of genius and enjoying sharing that with the world! And I’m not sure I would change anything about it.
The coping strategies and techniques I’ve had to come up with have helped me get super-organised - if I didn’t have kickass systems in place for staying on top of all my projects and plans and ways to keep them streamlined, for example, I would be LOST because there’s so much buzzing round my brain and I can very easily disappear down rabbit holes and forget what I should be doing. So it’s forced me to learn how to be excellent at things that really don’t come naturally - and I think although it’s been a steep learning curve, that’s really a huge advantage. I’ve HAD to systemise to keep my brain on track and now I help others do that too! So for me, realising that I have autism has been like a huge lightbulb moment - not only have I learned how to make the most of who I am, overcome the anxiety that held me back for so long and turn my autistic superpowers to my advantage - but I now understand WHY I feel the way I do, respond the way I do and why certain things for me have always been a bit of a sticking point or a struggle. And the lesson for me has been that it’s ok!
That the fact I can’t follow a sequence of directions without massive concentration is normal for me - and that’s ok. The fact that my mind wanders off mid-way through someone reading me a menu - it’s normal for me, and that’s ok.
The fact I can get so wrapped up in things and be completely head-over-heels passionate about them - like my business - but not give 2 hoots about the latest fads & fashions - completely normal FOR ME. And that’s ok.
The fact I get bored easily and flit from hobby to hobby and book to book - also completely normal for me. That’s the ADHD bit, by the way, I’m very distractible!
The fact I can’t STAND interruptions, have most of my notifications turned off and never answer the phone - also fine. It’s my way of keeping my mind clutter free so I can think straight! And that’s ok.
The fact I can’t stand the idea of being constrained to one niche… even though I know it’s technically the ‘easy’ route to success.
Not loving the constant need to show up, be present and be a circus on social media - but wanting to share deeply and in an emotionally connected way, like this.
It’s all ok.
Struggling when I’m caught off guard, needing to plan bulletpoints if I’m speaking so I stick to my train of thought - but being brilliantly intuitive and empathic when it comes to coaching people through their emotional and mindset struggles (because I’ve been there, done it all and got the t-shirt!).
Not coping with too much clutter unless it’s MY clutter!
Not loving too much noise but getting utterly lost in music and randomly finding myself singing along in the supermarket.
Needing to remind myself to stay in compassion rather than empathy when there’s a heavy emotional load around, so as to not get dragged into a negative spiral.
Being a bit crap at remembering birthdays - well, great at remembering them 2 weeks before then forgetting until it’s almost too late!
And a million other things that have made me and DO make me perfect for this crazy, exciting world of entrepreneurship.
They’re all ok. They’re all just how I am.
And I don’t have to change - I just have to turn my uniqueness to my advantage.
Do you know, I think that’s something we ALL need to remember - however neurotypical or not we might be.
We are all just humans and we are all uniquely, wonderfully different and diverse.
We’ve ALL got our own quirks and traits and superpowers to bring to the table.
And we should celebrate ourselves for who we are and the way we are 100% of the way - harness our quirks, find ways to adapt to things we don’t find easy or just accept they aren’t something we need to worry about - and stop trying to force ourselves to be anything other than our already perfect, beautiful selves.
As I’ve said before, our superpowers lie in the way we overcome and adapt to our struggles - not in reaching some sort of unattainable perfection. So let’s celebrate who we are, keep pushing ourselves to be greater - but forget trying to force ourselves to be different. Now since I started talking about ASD & ADHD on social media I’ve had a lot of women reach out and tell me they think they might identify with this, too. Not entirely surprising because entrepreneurship ticks a lot of boxes if you’re non-neurotypical!
So I hope this has been interesting and helpful to you, whether you are neurotypical or not! If you think you might be equally blessed with autism or ADHD, you are very welcome to join our Facebook group which I’ll link in the shownotes for this episode at www.unblockyourbusiness.com/podcast Autistic & ADHD Entrepreneurs.
I’ve also linked the two screening tests I mentioned if you wanted to get a bit of an idea of where you might sit on the spectrum.
And of course, if I can help with anything else then just reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org