My beautiful butterfly brain
I had absolutely no idea...
I was watching a YouTube video in bed the other night — not the smartest move but sometimes I like watching productivity gurus and get inspired by their systems. They rarely work for me but still, I try things, they don’t fit, I go back to what works, then I get inspired again… rinse and repeat.
The video was titled Avoiding Toxic Productively Advice for ADHD: Find What Actually Works. I don’t have ADHD so I didn’t know how this would apply to me, but it appeared in the suggested videos so I pressed play and over the span of 20 minutes the video described how I work to a tee. I was confused — I thought ADHD was noisy kids at school who couldn’t sit still? I mean, sure I’ve seen ADHD memes on Instagram but I’ve never paid attention to them. That’s not me ME, surely?
Friends, it appears that is exactly me.
I have ADHD (woot! Sing it loud!) and I now realise I’ve been wired this way all my life. I’ve been reading articles and books and watching videos and doing tests, and after writing a LOT of notes and joining all the dots I’m 99% confident in my self-diagnosis. Turns out ADHD typically looks different in women and men, leaving women often undiagnosed:
Without question I have the Inattentive flavour. My brain functions like a butterfly flitting from thing to thing, getting distracted by shiny objects and obsessing over absolute pointlessness, until that inevitable moment when something MUST be done, and then I go into hyperfocus. But until that moment, I’m flut-flut-fluttering. In the last few days I’ve noticed I fidget and get out of my office chair far more than I realised, and I’ve been observing my brain like a hawk. It’s been shock-lightening to acknowledge how I spend my days. I mean, I knew but really, I had no idea.
I can flutter around for months, doing bare essentials here and there, “composting” as I call it, gathering ideas, fluttering around the internet, jotting things down, getting distracted by something else… and then suddenly, when it’s crunch time, I hyperfocus. I can do that for an entire week — often more when I’m creating a new course — and burn myself out completely. It’s just how I work… But does it have to be this way?
[This morning to-do list in my journal lasted a few weeks - pretty impressive!]
Today I learned that ADHD can become more pronounced in perimenopause:
“Dropping estrogen levels include a drop in dopamine levels, which are already low in the brain affected by ADHD. Although there are several symptoms associated with perimenopause and menopause, two in particular are common for women affected by ADHD: changes in mood, primarily depression and anxiety, and increased inattention.” [source]
I’ve been in perimenopause for about five years now so it makes sense that as my oestrogen drops further I notice my ADHD wiring even more. If I’ve been a 6/10 all my life I reckon I’m 7.5 in perimenopause.
I’ve always just assumed all this <waves hands around> was part of my creativity. I just assumed I was a chronic procrastinator. I must have written “I’ve GOT to get on!” a million times in my journal. At school and college I did my homework the night before. I procrastinated on anything I had to do, even if I was excited about it. It just felt so hard to sit down and start when I could be chasing something else more inspiring. I thought it was multi-tasking but is it really if nothing gets finished? When I worked at the newspaper I’d fluff around all day doing non-important things and then get the feature written in the last hour. Every. Single. Time.
Fast forward to now, it typically takes me three days to write a newsletter — that’s one hour of actual writing spread over three days of fluttery brain activity (I wish I was joking!). It takes me hours to get something quick done if it’s even remotely pedestrian and boring. I HATE admin and repetitive tasks and will put them off for weeks (sorry Nita and Jakki!).
I’m great a starting new missions and coming up with ideas, but lack the desire to keep them up. I always say I need my days to be “spacious” and I actively hate any kind of appointments, but now I wonder if this is just part of my ADHD. I hate feeling hemmed in and tied to anything because I know I need fluttery brain time before I can settle down to actually work (at the last minute, natch).
On the flip side, the concept of “hyperfocus”, something ADHDers utilise when their braincells line up at the last minute — my non-scientific explanation — is how I’ve been able to build a successful business over the last 13 years. Because I DO get things done, and I can be very consistent, but I do it in my own way. I am starting to recognise my neurodivergence and it’s FASCINATING!!
[Spoiler: I did not do a single session of yoga in December 😂]
Other fun manifestations of my ADHD flavour:
I’m always late to things, always thinking I have more time that I do and allowing myself to get distracted by something else.
I find it hard to read a book unless I’m REALLY into it (then I will finish it fast, obsessively reading it). I have a MILLION unread books. Maybe 2% have been read to the end? I buy them impulsively, to grasp hold of the immediate inspiration urge, and then they live out their days on the shelf.
I tend to finish people’s sentences, wanting to rush ahead to share what their words are sparking in me. I do this on the phone with my sister all the freaking time.
ADHDers have a propensity to shop and eat impulsively. Um, YES, unfortunately.
THIS is why I can’t properly rest! When I try to take a day “off” I can’t do “nothing”, I still need to be flutter-braining. I’m on the laptop looking at things, “researching”. Making connections. Organising, shuffling, finding, looking.
And apparently, the constant desire to get organised and find new productivity systems is a thing too.
Outwardly I look pretty chilled — I’m a confident introvert. I like my alone time and I love being at home. I’m a thoughtful mindful person. I can be quiet. I’m a day dreamer. My inner world is rich and now I understand that the butterfly brain IS me and also a particular kind of wiring.
My ADHD hasn’t stopped me, clearly, but how much more could I have achieved if my brain could be focussed on demand? This is something I’m eager to discover, because I value my creativity and the way I make connections — there are some wonderful things about having a butterfly brain — but gosh, if I could harness my superpowers even just 10% more, perhaps I could get work done in a timely fashion and not burn out so often?
Maybe I could actually take time off? Imagine that!
So I will be looking into an official diagnosis and am open to medication as well as any other coping techniques that might help. As I make my notes I see I’ve been using workarounds intuitively for years. Such as:
I’ll have a Youtube video playing quietly in the background as a treat while I do something work-y. It gives me a dopamine hit and bizarrely doesn’t distract me. It’s comforting somehow. White noise videos also help.
I’m definitely organised but in my own way, with my own systems that make sense to me (nine notebooks on the go at any one time. I love it!)
I prefer communicating with friends via voice note and now see how that stops me interrupting! Genius!
I also now understand why I prefer taking self-study courses over “live” courses. I don’t want to be online at a certain time and I don’t want to be stuck in a virtual space for a set amount of time. I need the freedom to flutter in and out. I also prefer teaching this way.
Writing things down helps you remember them so it’s no surprise I’ve been journaling for 38 years. “Structure and repetition is hard for ADHDers” [source] which is why I mix it up — I love decorating my pages and using colour and whimsy. I also religiously use a digital calendar so I don’t forget important things.
One of the tests I took asked about having piles of papers/bills and not dealing with that stuff — my solution has been to pay everything by direct debit so I don’t have to remember. The things I do have to do manually I screw up — e.g. pay my mid-year tax bill (two days late, even though I’d had six months to pay it) and reading my gas meter (I never do it, despite all the email reminders).
I’m sharing all of this because it’s been such a huge aha I wonder if there are some of you who can relate? Books, recommendations and stories are welcome in the comments (I’ll add them below) — I will definitely revisit this as I learn more.
VIDEOS + AUDIOS
How to ADHD Youtube channel
Jessica McCabe’s TED talk
Sweet and validating video: This is What it’s Really like to Have ADHD
ADHD videos on Tiktok
Avoid Toxic Productivity Advice for ADHD: Find What Actually Works
Deep dive into ADHD for Women Entrepreneurs
ADHD for Smart Ass Women podcast
ADHD + Perimenopause podcast episode
Signs and Symptoms of ADHD in Women
Women with ADHD: No more suffering in silence
Changing estrogen levels affects women’s ADHD symptoms
Identifying and treating the seven types of ADHD
Entrepreneurship and ADHD
From Leonie Dawson: On Being Psychiatrically Diagnosed with ADHD
Women with ADHD by Sari Solden & Michelle Frank
Better Late Than Never by Emma Mahony
Your Brain’s Not Broken by Dr Tamara Rosier
Scattered Minds by Gabor Mate
Online test I did (not recommending, but good first step)
Pomofocus - online pomodoro timer I’m using for blitzing admin in small chunks (15 or 25 mins)
How To Do Things ebook (a twist on the pomodoro technique from an ADHDer)
My favourite white noise video on Youtube (great for focussing when you’re in the right headspace)