My recent ADHD diagnosis was both shocking and totally expected. It turns out that my other struggles – dyslexia, dyscalculia, anxiety and chronic insomnia – veiled my ADHD for most of my life. Still, I had an inkling there was something more to my mix.
The diagnosis was a welcome relief. It explained many of the personal and professional challenges I’ve had over the years and continue to face. But considered alongside my other differences, my ADHD also helps to explain my wellspring of ideas, creativity, insights and deep social connections. Ultimately, I owe a huge portion of all I have – in my personal life and in my dream career – to my neurodiversity. Thank goodness that creative industries are now celebrating the unique abilities of neurodiverse people like myself because we’re really only getting started.
Neurodiverse and Proud
My work for the Association for Electronic Music (AFEM), a global non-profit representing companies and their staff working in the genre, is as busy as it is rewarding. From planning and leading conference panels to producing podcasts and traveling around the world (pre-pandemic), I’ve harnessed my ADHD and dyslexia to accomplish and create more than I ever dreamed possible. In stark contrast to the more methodical thinking of my colleagues, my intersecting conditions empower me to flick quickly between thoughts and pursue new, exciting ideas.
The out-of-the-box thinking of my ADHD, dyslexic brain is on full display when I’m moderating big conference panels. Truth be told, I often don’t know what I’m going to say until I say it, which is kind of terrifying and exhilarating all at once, especially when faced with a talented, diverse group of panelists and hundreds of audience members. I know it’s a noradrenaline-ADHD mix that helps me thrive in these spaces.
I also know that my ADHD craves novelty and stimulating experiences. A love of meeting new people in interesting places and discussing fascinating subjects has helped me build a substantial network, even prompting one industry expert to describe me as “the best networker” they know. These are heartening words that help balance the “failures” I often encounter in my work and personal life.
Music is my passion — inside and outside the office. I DJ as a hobby and have been fortunate enough to play after-parties for Notting Hill Carnival — Europe’s biggest carnival — and in secret clubs hidden in stately London manors. DJing with ADHD presents an interesting mix of overwhelm and intense focus all at once. Once I’m able to move past the “noise” and pre-gig anxiety, however, I reach a point of hyperfocus that elevates my work.
Here, I stop “thinking” about mixing and often reach a flow state, where I’m in touch with the crowd and music and become totally absorbed in the moment. Even away from the DJ decks, ADHD hyperfocus facilitates incredible states of uninterrupted flow, which can produce work of great quality — whether that’s planning a podcast, delivering a panel, or being deep in conversation with a fellow industry professional at a music conference in some far-flung location.
The Unique Challenges of Neurodiversity
My dyslexia and ADHD yield a wealth of benefits — and mistakes. Last year, for example, I spent six months planning a high-level meeting with a leading electronic festival promoter in Barcelona. Arriving in Spain, I found I’d booked the meeting at the wrong time and missed it, having confused my time zones. Fortunately, they were understanding and rescheduled for that afternoon. Nonetheless, times, dates, and diary planning are a perpetual challenge.
Chief among my struggles has been managing mental noise. Focus doesn’t tend to come easily when I’m being constantly bombarded by internal and external distractions; difficulties with reading and writing add to the pressure.
Until my recent ADHD diagnosis, every day of my professional life had admittedly been a struggle. Focusing was my Mount Everest. Avoiding distractions required Herculean effort, a lift-and-hold of mental muscle so completely disproportionate to the task at hand that I marveled at how others traversed their work with such effective dexterity, seemingly oblivious to phones, chatter, excited calls, and office voices. There are still days when reading and writing can be a slow, laborious, and a very frustrating challenge.
The Tools & Strategies That Keep Me Going
Since first realizing in 2018 that I might have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD), I’ve developed a host of tools to help calm my body and mind. These tools, in combination with ADHD medications, have been game-changing.
Like many individuals with ADHD, I worried that medication might mute my creativity or change my personality somehow. These concerns have now been allayed by lived experience. ADHD medication mutes my mental noise, replacing the cacophony with calm. I liken taking medication to putting on glasses and being able to see clearly. You are exactly as you were before, with all the same skills and talents, only now everything is in focus. On medication, a new sense of peace envelops my mind, providing more time to think and concentrate.
Routine is also fundamental to managing my ADHD and dyslexia. Each morning, I center myself with yoga, meditation, a nutritious breakfast, and deep writing, where I read (usually philosophy) aloud whilst taking notes. I did this for years before getting medication and it was wonderfully effective in helping me calm my body and mind — even while I was traveling for work. Now, in combination with medication, it is incredibly powerful. My focus and physical calmness improve, but so does my reading speed and writing.
Advocating for Neurodiversity
Neurodiverse individuals flourish when colleagues understand their talents and play to their professional strengths whenever possible. From my own experience, trying to work like everyone else or fit into a generic performance mold only results in wasted talents and energy. Going public with my ADHD diagnosis on social media helped me see that I wasn’t alone. I was inundated with messages of support as well as public and private messages from industry professionals about their own struggles and joys born from their neurodiversity.
My interest in spreading this message aligned with another passion: becoming a mental health awareness advocate in the electronic music space, an immensely rewarding experience that has meant conversations with some of the industry’s top artists and professionals, and lending expertise in interviews with DJ Mag, Billboard and BBC News. Not bad for a dyslexic who on bad days still struggles to spell his own name!
It’s a great honor to help senior music execs open up about their suspected ADHD and to accompany them on their journey toward a diagnosis. Major labels have also contacted me seeking information to further inform their approach to neurodiversity — all of which is extremely heartening for me, personally, and for the industry.
Neurodiversity, Music, and the Future
Much work remains to destigmatize neurodiversity in all industries. Inspiring initiatives, like that of Universal Music UK’s Creative Differences Handbook, are enhancing our understanding of neurodiversity and codifying best practices for supportive workplaces. Companies that seize this opportunity will inevitably secure a creative edge and a competitive advantage in their field.
If you, like me, have a different mind, please don’t feel alone — because you’re not! Your talents are amazing and deserve to be celebrated. Whether you’re already celebrating your neurodiversity or still working it through, know that you can succeed because of your unique nature, rather than in spite of it.
Dyslexia and ADHD: Next Steps
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Updated on September 29, 2020
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