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Brianna Parkins: It’s tough living with the feeling you’re not as ‘good at life’ as everyone else

As a person with ADHD, these are the alternative new year resolutions I will be observing

It’s January. The gyms are full. Budgets are being drawn up. New calendars are filling out. We are flagellating ourselves for the pathetic way we squandered the last few weeks. The days spent lathered in gravy and prosecco.

But all will be well if we start the year off right. We will morph from our overspent, Christmas-pyjama-wearing, shambolic, shame-laden pig state in January. For we have made resolutions. This is the belief that if we write things down on a notepad, with a pen that we probably nicked from a hotel, we will magically transform ourselves.

People put down phrases such as “get organised”. Then they read articles about “getting organised” and maybe buy themselves another colour-coded planner.

These actions are utterly useless to me, a neurodiverse person. Neurotypical people are fine, quite lovely almost, except for their weird love of leaving the big light on and asking how you are without wanting an honest answer. But their advice and to-do lists don’t work for me and my brain. After all, these are people who derive satisfaction from completing tasks like sick degenerates. So here are resolutions I’ll be observing as a person with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) instead.


1. Accept yourself for where you are right now

You might want to “get organised”. You’re tired of always running late because you forgot something was happening, or having to buy last-minute gifts for a birthday that crept up. It’s tough living with the crushing weight of feeling like you’re not as “good at life” as everyone else.

Stop living your life as if you’re being surveilled by an anonymous judgmental great-aunt

But a new planner is not going to help that overnight. Expecting too much, too soon is only going to make you feel worse about yourself.

Start small like promising yourself you will get your clothes ready for work the night before. If you forget to check your planner but check in on Twitter every morning, before you go to bed stick a Post-it over your phone screen listing all the meetings you have next day.

Take the pressure off by re-examining certain “must-dos” around obligations. Okay, so you’re probably going to struggle to remember someone’s birthday to have things ordered and delivered in time. That’s okay. Would they enjoy flowers or tickets to an event or a night away in a hotel, or flights? These are same-week or same-day solutions that show you care, which is the whole point of present-giving in the first place.

2. Forget the ‘shoulds’

Chances are you grew up with a constant soundtrack of “shoulds” in the background. You should iron your clothes. You should put things away in cupboards. You should cook things from scratch. Don’t buy the pre-cut vegetables at the supermarket. They’re more expensive and you’re just being lazy. Cut them yourself and save money. Even though the uncut carrots will rot in the crisper because that extra step feels like too much for your brain anyway.

Ep 552 What it’s really like to have ADHD

Listen | 33:56
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a chronic condition which affects millions of people around the world. It is often associated with hyperactive or disruptive children and as a result ADHD in women often goes undiagnosed. In today’s episode, Róisín Ingle speaks to two women who received a diagnosis of ADHD in their late twenties, broadcaster and journalist Brianna Parkins and barrister and coach Mairéad Deevy. Both were repeatedly misdiagnosed as they searched for answers to their symptoms. Here, they share their personal experiences of living with ADHD and the ways they’ve learned to manage it.

Buy the pre-cut veggies if you know you’re more likely to eat them. Buy clothes that don’t need ironing if you struggle to get them done (Uniqlo have magic no-iron shirts). If you forget what clothes you have when you shove them into closed wardrobes, invest in open storage so you can see them instantly. Stop living your life as if you’re being surveilled by an anonymous judgmental great-aunt and do what works for your brain.

3. Stop agreeing to things because of optics

Somehow, work that gets done before the sun has a chance to get out of bed and scratch itself is valued more than work done at any other time of the day. Working out at 6am also takes on the same unearned moral superiority.

Chances are you might not be a morning person thanks to disrupted sleep patterns (and working on your passion project until 3am accidentally).

YouTube is always there for you if you’re having a day of overstimulation and it feels like too much to leave the house

If you can manage it, don’t schedule 8am meetings just because some other (self-hating) member of your team has suggested it. Don’t say yes because you’re afraid you will look lazy. You don’t have to buy into the marketing around early mornings being a signal of productivity. If you do your best work in the afternoon when everyone is in their biscuit and Reddit slump, you are still working just as hard as the dawn-rising weirdos.

4. You are a good person

Stop feeling guilty for not always being able to interact in social relationships in the way others can.

Yes, you might have forgotten to text your friend happy birthday, but you also spent three days tracking down the coeliac-friendly Mexican restaurant she couldn’t remember the name of, giving you only “it has spicy margaritas and does the fried things I like” to work off.

5. Move your body

I was always sceptical of “do some exercise” as advice when it came to mental health or neurodevelopmental issues. It felt like an ineffectual cop-out in the same way my Mum would suggest “have a drink of water” as a first-line treatment for any malady, ranging from a headache to a broken arm.

However, after a year of one-woman trials, I found it improved my mood, reduced restless anxiety, minimised side effects of medication and helped concentration. I know. I am disgusted.

While there have been multiple studies suggesting exercise is beneficial to managing ADHD symptoms, there hasn’t been one conclusive finding about what activity, and for how long, is best.

I’ve found joining a sports team works for me because I have to train and attend games. I have a level of accountability that motivates me to exercise. The receptionist at the gym isn’t depending on me to turn up the same way a sports team is. I have to do activities that trick me into exercising. I hate exercising for exercise’s sake, but I do love playing netball.

It’s also important to be realistic. YouTube is always there for you if you’re having a day of overstimulation and it feels like too much to leave the house. Throw on a 20-minute Joe Wicks session, stick in an old Jane Fonda aerobic video or learn to do a yoga headstand instead of cleaning the lint filter in the dryer. All without leaving home.

Lastly. If another person tells me “but everyone’s got a bit of ADHD/is on the spectrum, it’s just made up” in the course of casual conversation, I will jam my fingers in my eyes and loudly hum the EastEnders theme until they stop. Or I will remind Gerry from Accounts that I plan to heed the advice of the medical community rather than him, a man who still can’t work out how to convert a pdf into a Word document.