Part 2 focuses on the assessment process and the first part of Claires journey with ADHD coaching as she reflects back on the changes that occurred.
I remember elements of the day I had my assessment so very clearly. It took place in St Patrick's Mental Health Hospital, where there was an ADHD clinic at the time. Both of my parents came with me. I walked out the doors that day with a new knowledge about myself, unaware of how positively it would impact my future.
I did eventually graduate from Maynooth University and it was a very special day, that meant so much more because of all that it took. Throughout my time there, I received incredible support and permission to do things the way I needed to do them. From the age of 19, it felt like a bulldozer was swinging and I wasn't quick enough to dodge it. One thing after the other, things always seemed to go wrong for me.
I was lucky to have made great friends in Maynooth, and that it had an active student nightlife. With that, and my place on the college basketball team, I had enough interest to keep me going back.
It took me 6 years to get my degree. I 'dropped out and deferred' three times. I became a university student in 2005, and in November 2011 I was officially a graduate. 11.11. Magic numbers!
Throughout the trauma and the chaos, I experienced counselling, psychotherapy and CBT with 3 different professionals. The healing that I did here played a vital role in how my life panned out, and in turn prepared me for the work that still lay ahead of me. I think that is why I was so committed to my own coaching journey, and open to change.
My assessment in 2015 was incredibly thorough and was carried out by a multidisciplinary team which consisted of the clinic co-ordinator, a clinical psychologist and a consultant psychiatrist. There were 2 parts, each part taking up to 3 hours.I was interviewed about my current situation and my childhood. I carried out some practical cognitive tests on a laptop. These were observing my functioning abilities in areas such as verbal comprehension, perceptual reasoning, working memory, and processing speed. This involved multiple choice and problem solving questions, sequencing and a whole load of numbers.
Half way through, what I liked to call the maths portion of the assessment, I broke down crying. I was frustrated, I felt under pressure and this section required a lot of concentration. I have always known that 'I wasn't good with numbers'. The nurse in the room with me hurried over to comfort me. I turned to her and said, "I know I have ADHD". I took a short break, grabbed some chocolate, changed my focus for a bit and came back in to pick up where I left off.
They interviewed my Mam about what I was like as a child, looking at my development, behaviours and educational history. They asked for copies of my school reports which Mam had kept. Every report mentioned challenges with comprehension, concentration and procrastination. The signs were always there, but nobody put them together. At the end of a long day I was told, 'we are officially diagnosing you with ADHD'.
Through St Pats and The Dean Clinic, which is unfortunately no longer in operation, I worked with another multidisciplinary team, who held space for me to process this new information and supported me while I learned how to 'manage my symptoms'. There were regular appointments, where we trialled and tracked medication and discussed and monitored its side effects. It was in this space that I was first introduced to the concept of ADHD Coaching. I hadn't a clue what to expect, but I was open to exploring.
Initially, I spent 2 years working with an ADHD Coach, getting clarity on all the things that happened, and why they happened that way. I learned so much about ADHD and how it presented itself in my life. We looked at all the challenges I was facing through a different lens, an ADHD lens to be exact and all of sudden everything finally made sense. We spent a lot of time finding new ways for me to do things according to how my brain works, and for the first time, I had a conversation with someone about my strengths, my values and how I wanted to show up in the world.
During this time, there was a lot of crying. Space was held for me to process my grief and to make sense of it. This meant that we also spent a lot of time learning how to process and express my emotions effectively, while putting things in place like boundaries and my own policies and procedures to manage incidents that would cause emotional flooding, overwhelm and stress. Before this, every time I cried, I was told to stop. I had never ever been given the space and the freedom to cry it out, so that I could release the stress, pain and anger from my body.
When I first met my Coach, we drove to her house for an in person visit. Heather was the only ADHD coach in Ireland at the time. She worked primarily on zoom, and at first I wasn't open to this. She was soft spoken, warm and a fellow ADHDer. I took this video on the way home from that visit, and made up my mind that day that I was going to work with her. I knew in this moment, that everything was going to change.
At one point, I took a break, so that I could go live a little and savour my new way of being in the universe. Doing the work is hard, and it is important to incorporate fun, especially to remind yourself of why it is important to do it. I reconnected with Heather as I discovered other areas in which my ADHD impacted my life. We pulled apart negative self beliefs that were holding me back and found plenty of evidence to prove that the story I had been telling myself, was in fact not true. And so we wrote a different story.
After coaching, everything was different. I walked away knowing myself better than I ever had before. How I spent my time changed. I was more careful about who I spent it with. My responses and my reactions to the things happening around me changed. My interests, my clothes and my environment all got completely overhauled. It was like I could finally see things clearly, and this gave me permission to let myself be seen. My work with Heather even led me to returning to college, and changing my career.
I feel incredibly privileged to have had accessible services and supports, and to have been in a position to avail of them, which led to getting an official diagnosis. More so because of how things are currently, very few services with long waiting lists, a daunting and frustrating process and the piece of paper comes with great expense. Diagnosed at 28, I entered my 30's with a deep knowing that this decade coming would be completely different from the one before it. It really is amazing what you can go through in a decade yet achieve in a year or two.
"My story up to this point had been about failure and struggle".
With Heather, I discovered that while that was going on, I had also achieved many great things. I played basketball from the age of 7 and was awarded many MVPs, coached junior teams, was president of my college club, and even ran my own local club for 2 years. I have many badges, medals, trophies and certificates for basketball, swimming, Irish dancing and music competitions that I took part in. I had a 10 year career in fashion and retail, where I used my creativity, innovation and organisational strengths across selling, operations, design and buying. I am incredible in a crisis or an emergency as I am quick thinking on my feet in managing heightened situations.
Despite the wins and successes mentioned above, I did not feel like someone who mattered. There was too much focus on what I was not doing well, and not enough emphasis on the things that I was really good at. They were not celebrated or savoured in the way that A's and B's were. So from a very young age, my belief was that I wasn't able. I had very little confidence, and I spent most of my days trying to survive. I was exhausted and often reached burn out from masking and trying to meet societies expectation of me.
"I am so grateful for where I am and what I have today, and I would not be here, if I hadn't of been through everything that I have experienced. I don't know who that person is anymore."
When I was reflecting on the past, I cringed when I thought about the people I met along the way, who didn't get to meet the real me. And my heart ached over the things that didn't go well for me. So many opportunities I missed out on and so many basketball games where I didn't play to my full potential. There is so much that I could have done differently, but I don't wish it never happened because now I know who I am and , and its surest I have ever felt in my life.
I read a quote once that said in order to heal, you should go back to the places you cried in, and laugh. Well, this is me standing outside the student services building on the north campus of Maynooth College in 2019. A place which provided comfort to me amidst the chaos, and helped me to be myself and do things in my own way, and in my own time.
Part 3 in the series will take a deeper look into Claire's third decade, her positive experiences in the academic environment post diagnosis and how she became a coach!