First posted to this site on 16th October 2017
While ADHD has its challenges and I have documented them well on here, ADHD can actually be a very powerful gift as some of our traits can be particularly beneficial in some situations.
Impulsivity might lead a child to call out answers in class but it can also make someone a quick and decisive decision maker and if they already have a lot of industry knowledge, this could make them a great leader in their chosen career.
The ability to hyperfocus on a special area of interest means that someone with ADHD can throw their heart and soul into a business if it interests them and give it their all.
In fact, people with other neurological conditions such as Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and ASC are also found to have these same traits. Youtuber Jessica McCabe of “How To ADHD” said recently in the TedX talk (I posted the video in an earlier blog- take a look) that “people with ADHD don’t think outside the box, we don’t have a box.”
When you live in a world that is constructed in a way that you just don’t quite get, you have to come up with solutions to get you through and many people with ADHD choose career paths that suit their personalities and interests (possibly why obvious symptoms of ADHD decrease in some adults).
With that in mind, I thought I would celebrate some the success of some well-known people with ADHD- but when I started to research this topic there were so many examples that this post would be about 10k words long!
So today I am writing about some well-known British people who have ADHD and that we don’t often hear about. I have shared their own words, taken from different publications (links at the bottom). Tomorrow I will share what some successful people from around the world have to say about their ADHD.
I hope you enjoy their stories.
Louise Mensch started off working in PR in the music industry before going on to publish a series of “chick-lit” novels. She is a former Conservative Member of Parliament and well known for asking very tough questions of Rupert Murdoch in the Parliamentary enquiry into phone hacking. She now works as a journalist and once tried to launch an alternative to Twitter.
“With ADD your whole focus is on what you are good at, which is why I loved politics but couldn’t keep my bedroom tidy. You are great at what you are good at, but incredibly scatter-brained when it comes to anything else. It’s the stereotype of the ‘absent minded professor.”
“It’s something a lot of creative people have.”
Trudie Styler is an actress, film producer and director. She is also the wife of the musician Sting.
“Those who have primarily the inattentive type of ADHD, rather than the hyperactive—most often girls—tend to be overlooked, because they’re well-behaved… You want to sit up straight, you want to do what the teacher asks you, you want to please people, but you’re operating in a fog a lot of the time.”
“What my learning difference has done is taught me to be a great communicator. My mother’s advice was always, when you’re lost, always ask a policeman, and there’s a bigger truth there. To reach out. To communicate. Help is always there.”
“Yoga has been an amazing tool for me. The physical practice has helped me maintain my body and given me strength, but the meditation aspect has been incredibly useful in stilling my mind, clearing the traffic that goes on in a chaotic mind like mine.”
“I’ll put my hand up to taking Adderall on days when I have scripts to read. It’s a great tool for me getting a lot done.”
Louis is a British gymnast who won a bronze medal and two silver medals on the pommel horse at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, 2012 London Olympics and the 2016 Rio Olympics respectively. He also won Strictly Come Dancing in 2012.
“I always thought I was a normal kid but my mum told me I was very restless. I couldn’t sit still and I was very loud.
Mum said I was always looking for attention too, and my behaviour got me into a few scrapes – people said I was naughty.
I remember once I went to a petting zoo with a summer play scheme during the holidays. I started pulling the hair out of a little pig. The people who were looking after the animals were horrified but I thought I was just a typical kid.
Sleeping was an issue for me. Mum said as a baby I never slept and I still have problems now. I tend to sleep better when I share a bed with someone else. When my ex-girlfriend used to stay over, I would get a good night’s rest.
I still get bored in the middle of the night though. Quite often, I watch TV, which I used to do as a boy. When I was at school I tried to turn the TV on quietly when everyone was in bed.
I started gymnastics when I was four because my mum thought it would be a good way for me to burn off energy and give me some discipline.
I was hyperactive so I did a lot of different sports such as football, basketball, hockey and climbing.
Being in a gym was a safe environment with coaches around to support me – if I wasn’t there, I would just be messing around in fields and climbing trees and my mum would be worried.
I got better and better at gymnastics but I was always getting sent out of training for bad behaviour. I started going more and more, until by the time I was nine, I was going five times a week.
I was seven when I was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, and put on the drug Ritalin.
My mum always thought I was different, and one day she was talking to another parent at gymnastics training.
This woman said her son had ADHD and Mum said that sounded like me.
She made me an appointment with a specialist, and I was diagnosed with the condition. Nobody knew much about having ADHD then.
If you have it, you don’t understand the consequences. You think what you are doing is fun and move on – you don’t think of the effect you are having.
Even a few years ago, I would make a decision and only think of the real impact it had afterwards.
At the time, ADHD was just a name to me – I didn’t think I had anything wrong. It is only when you get older and look back that you think there might have been a problem.
Gymnastics taught me discipline and respect and overall, I didn’t get into too much trouble.
But I was still hyperactive and sometimes I would take a joke too far, but I didn’t get into trouble with the police and I didn’t drink or do drugs. I concentrated on my gymnastics instead.”
Billy Connolly, CBE is a Scottish comedian, musician, presenter and actor and is also known as “The Big Yin”.
Connolly has revealed how he used to think that he was stupid.
“I don’t anymore, because I’ve since found that there’s something wrong with me. I have this attention deficit thing. I have an inability to focus. Sometimes it’s so intense that I want to sleep.”
“People say it’s awful clever the way I’ll leave a story in the middle and come back to it later. No, it’s not. I leave the story because I can’t f***ing remember it. I’ll have had another thought, and this thought will spoil the story I’m on. So, I have to talk about the thought until it’s finished. That’s the way my brain works. I’m allowed to be like this on stage. And I’m very good at it.”
“People say, ‘You should get your head examined’. Well, I did and I was found wanting. I am attention deficit apparently, which is fair enough, I don’t care. I don’t feel any different from when I thought I was stupid. That was the diagnosis before.”
His wife said, “Everyone who knows Billy today is aware of his considerable, albeit unusual, intelligence. However, he does not process information the same way that many others do. Psychologists currently ascribe a diagnosis such as ‘Attention Deficit Disorder’ or ‘Learning Disability’ to such a way of thinking and, in the more enlightened educational environments, there is understanding and help for such children. Instead of writing his material down, and then performing it, Billy just rushes on stage and “hopes funny things will come out”.”
Ashley McKenzie is an English Olympic Athlete competing at the men’s 60 kg division of Judo.
“For as long as I can remember, I’d always been a naughty kid. Whether it was right or wrong, if I wanted something I would take it, if I wanted to do something, I’d do it.
Nobody thought there was anything seriously wrong with me though, and ADHD wasn’t obvious at that point.
I had physical health issues though. I’d been born with a hole in my heart and needed surgery when I was 18 months, and I needed hearing aids because I was 60% deaf in one ear and 40% in the other.
I also suffered from eczema and asthma, though they were mild. I had fits as a result of epilepsy which seemed to stop before I reached my teens and generally, I was a pretty fit kid. But by the age of 11, my bad boy behaviour was becoming a real issue.
It started with small things when I was about five. At home in London with my mum, dad and two brothers Aaron, 27, and Jack, 20, if someone ran a bath I’d just jump in it. It didn’t matter whether I wanted a bath, or if it was for someone else, impulsively I’d just have to jump in. My parents thought I was mischievous, but as I got older things got worse.
Then aged seven, I kicked some boy in the head and was expelled from school. Then I was excluded over 60 times from a new school in Hackney. At eight, I started getting into fights and flying off the handle all the time. It was so hard for my mum Susan because I was constantly being expelled from any primary school I went to.
When I reached secondary school, I got a lot of help from a teacher, Melissa Johns, but then I got sent to a special school for kids with behavioural problems. I must have had about 100 exclusion notes sent home with me from that school alone.
Finally, at 11, I was assessed and diagnosed with ADHD and placed on Ritalin, a drug which helps regulate chemicals in the brain, which I took three times a day. It really calmed me down and made me feel like a normal kid. The trouble was it also reduced my energy and made me tired all the time. It wasn’t a long-term solution.
I was still so violent and abusive, usually to other kids, that my mum agreed to have me placed inside a psychiatric unit for six months. She just couldn’t discipline me because I had no remorse. I didn’t care about life and had no fear of consequences
But it was an awful experience. If you were naughty they would put you in what they called the ‘cosy room’, which was basically a padded cell. The walls were really high with a security camera at the top, and the only air in the room came from a window with bars over it.
It just felt like being in prison and I ended up in the ‘cosy room’ a couple of times. I think my mum knew how horrible it was, but she did it for my own good.
I could go home for a couple of days at the end of the week and every time I’d have to leave her I’d cry and cry.
I just didn’t think a naughty boy deserved that much punishment. It just felt so wrong to me.
Then one day I got into a fight with a guy over Pokemon cards and he just threw me with a judo move. I was amazed and from there I joined the same club as him, Moberly Judo Club, in Kilburn, North West London.
I still had a temper and attacked other kids, but I never misbehaved when I was at judo. And as I got into my teens, judo played a big part in gradually calming me down.
When I started to get really good at it, judo gave me a focus for all my energy and anger. Even then, I knew, without it, I would have ended up in prison.
Judo made me change so much. Throughout my teenage years my mum would say: “If you behave for me all week, you can go to judo.” And that was enough to keep me on the right tracks.
Everyone could see how hard I was trying to keep it under control. And most importantly, when I started competing, I couldn’t take Ritalin any more as it was a banned substance in professional judo, so was a good way for me to stop.
I initially trained once a week, then three times a week, and within a couple of months I started competing in tournaments.
By the age of 19, I’d won the British Judo Open. From there, I went on to scoop both the judo World Cup and European Championships before taking part in the London Olympics 2012.
I missed out on a medal, but some of my pride was restored last year when I won gold for England in the Commonwealth Games under 66kg judo final in Glasgow.
The constant need for discipline keeps my ADHD in check, and I take supplements like whey protein and fish oil, which helps me to focus.
I’m ticking off the days until Rio 2016 and nothing, especially not my ADHD, is going to get in my way.”
Zayn Malik is an English singer and songwriter who used to be in the band One Direction and now performs by himself.
“Growing up I was pretty wild, I could never focus, couldn’t get a handle on where my brain wanted to go. I was constantly getting in trouble. Once, when I was at Tong High School, I was collared for a BB gun in class, It wasn’t loaded or anything, but me waving it around didn’t go down too well. I was later diagnosed by doctors as having super-hyperactivity — or ADHD as they like to label it.”