HLN Meets… Nicola Jayne Little, Celebrate Difference
Women with ADHD are often undiagnosed until later in life. After finally receiving her own diagnosis aged 45, Nicola is now on a mission to raise the profile of one of the most common disorders in the UK...
Studies show that adult ADHD is more likely to go undiagnosed in women compared to men, with many women often getting diagnosed in their late 30s or early 40s.
Research has revealed that the symptoms of ADHD in girls aren’t as recognisable as those in boys, as many girls can mask their symptoms well. And while girls can often show inattentiveness or introversion, these seem to be commonly overlooked as ‘daydreaming’. The stereotype that attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is associated with disruptive kids who fidget and are overly energetic doesn’t help either, as ADHD actually affects 2.5% of adults.
All these stereotypes and obstacles are exactly what Nicola Little faced. After being labelled as ‘bossy’ and ‘overly emotional’ when she was just nine years old, Nicola accepted her personality traits and managed to find her own ways of coping for years.
But it was when she saw a post on social media from one of her business associates that shared their ADHD journey that Nicola realised her symptoms were similar. She was finally diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 45.
Now, Nicola uses her experience as inspiration and set up Celebrate Difference with the ambition ofempowering the ADHD community. Nicola and her team support those with ADHD in many ways – from mentoring professionals to training individuals and companies and giving people access to work. But her overall mission, which does exactly what it says on the tin, is to encourage others to celebrate their differences.
We caught up with Nicola to find out what it’s really like living with ADHD, her concerns about misdiagnosis and more about her mission for bringing social equality to her local community…
For those of us who don’t have ADHD, how would you describe what it’s like?
Chaos inside my head, with non-stop invasive thoughts – many of which are very negative and self-destructive. I’m twitchy and never still, always fiddling with something; my hair, feet, phone or anything to hand. It can feel exciting and exhilarating and the speed of ideas and thoughts can be a gift, too.
I’m always on the go. I’m never able to chill out and I live by the adage that a change is as good as a rest, because ADHDers really struggle to rest. Burnout can be a real problem, collapsing with exhaustion caused by trying to fit into a neurotypical world.
I’m always second-guessing everything I say and do. Also, the RSD (rejection sensitivity disorder) means that self-confidence and self-belief can be a huge issue.
What’s the most challenging part of having ADHD?
Mainly trying to accept who I am and learn that I’m good enough. ADHD is a terrible name for our neurodiversity. Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder is simply not accurate. We have loads of attention for the things and people we love. We aren’t always outwardly hyperactive (but are in our heads!) and I don’t consider my life to be a ‘disorder’. How awful is that?
How do you overcome the stereotypes people associate with ADHD?
The ‘bossy’, ‘talkative’, ‘overly emotional’ and ‘loud’ labels are lifelong. ADHD for females presents differently. We aren’t six-year-old boys constantly charging around a room. Having a diagnosis helps awareness of the ADHD traits and how they manifest in my character and my medication has been life changing.
Self-acceptance is the key, but I suspect this will be a lifelong battle. I lose everything I touch, I’m very forgetful and often just can’t concentrate for more than a few seconds, but I deal with it as I’ve always done. ADHDers are wonderful, innovative, exciting and empathetic people. Life would be pretty dull without us!
How do you cope with your ADHD on a daily basis?
It’s all I’ve ever known. I got to 45 without knowing, so I’ve developed many strategies. Having a network of non-judgmental people is essential. Managing my time and energy is key. Remembering to always leave my house keys in the door or having very specific places to put things is essential too.
How do you feel about ADHD being misdiagnosed in women?
I worry that so many females have been misdiagnosed with depression or other mental health issues because people really don’t know what ADHD is and how it affects females. Also, there is a very high chance that there will be another comorbid diagnosis for an ADHDer – autism, dyslexia, dyscalculia and dyspraxia (now known as DCD), so it can be a far more complex situation. I’ve only just had confirmation of my own DCD, so I’m now trying to work out how to develop better strategies for dealing with it.
What made you want to set up your social enterprise, Celebrate Difference?
To help others like me celebrate our differences, to provide a safe space for ADHDers to be part of, and to help ADHDers be at their best. Plus, to continue the journey of support that I’ve always offered other freelancers and business owners via MINT Business Club.
Tell us everything about your Facebook community.
We have a private Facebook group for ADHDers, which is a safe space to talk and ask questions. This is vital to our mental wellbeing. We also support people with their Access to Work applications and have just launched a funded employability programme to work with 20 ADHDers who live in north-west County Durham.
In what ways are you hoping to raise the profile of ADHD?
To continuously push the correct narrative that we are brilliant and energetic and have so many superb skills and qualities. We deserve to work and to be accepted for our skills and strengths, rather than the deficit-based narrative that’s so often quoted. We are human, not a list of everything we can’t do or aren’t good at. They’re labels that others have given us.
We really want to hammer home that language matters. Every time a negative label is applied to us, we believe it and chew on it, and it’s very destructive and harmful. When I was nine years old, I remember it was the first time I was called ‘bossy’. It hurt me and has followed me around ever since.
What advice would you give anyone who thinks they may have ADHD or are currently struggling with their condition?
Visit the Adhdfoundation.org.uk and do the online self-assessments; they’re really helpful. They’re the largest charity in Europe dedicated to ADHD. Also, definitely seek out positive ADHD groups and read and learn.
If you have always felt that you don’t fit in, don’t quite understand what happens in your life on a daily basis, struggle at work or in relationships and take risks or have financial difficulties, these are some indicators of ADHD.