Living with ADHD, my life as a manager

This is an illustration representing neurodiversities. There are 5 silhouettes. A grey one with dots, a brown one with a grid, a light grey one with a ladder, a tan one with a person in side it and a dark brown one with another grid.

For Neurodiversity Celebration Week (13-19 March), Kaite Welsh (she/they), Senior Audience Development Manager at PinkNews, shares their experience of navigating their career and offers tips on being a manager living with ADHD.

You did it! All those years you spent masking, taking extensive notes during meetings because it’s a socially acceptable way to stim and you find it easier processing written information than verbal, have all paid off. You’ve got that promotion and a team to lead. You’re a manager, baby. 

Now the neurodivergent reality is kicking in: you’ve spent the first part of your career learning how to manage your workload and suddenly you have other people’s workloads to manage as well. You have to lead meetings instead of dreading the part where you have to speak because you still don’t know how much eye contact with each person is acceptable. Add to that some additional duties and more responsibility, and you’re about ready to spiral. 

For the majority of my journalism career, I’ve been my own boss in a team of one. I’ve worked extensively as a mentor, I’ve held editorial positions that required commissioning freelancers and I’ve managed interns, but for the most part, I was a one-stop shop freelancer. If anything went wrong, it was on me – but I was also the only one who’d really be impacted. So when I joined PinkNews as Senior Audience Development Manager, mixed with the excitement was more than a bit of trepidation. Not only was I moving away from the coalface of reporting, but now I also have a team to co-lead. I was ready for the challenge – but was my brain?

“The variety of my days align so well with the way my brain works”

Kaite Welsh is wearing a leapord print top and has on red glasses and dark coloured hair.
Kaite Welsh is the Senior Audience Development Manager at PinkNews. (PinkNews)

The short version: I was diagnosed with ADHD in 2018 by a lovely Welsh psychiatrist, who agreed that I probably met the criteria for an autism diagnosis as well but that I’d have to go through another round of paperwork and assessments. Since staying on top of all the admin that goes into getting an ADHD diagnosis had exhausted my supply of executive functioning, I decided that “probably” would have to do. I’m also dyspraxic, which means I’m typing this with a possibly-broken finger after falling face-first into the pavement for no apparent reason a few days ago.

Before my diagnosis, I spent years assuming that there was something intrinsically wrong with me. Despite my confirmed status as an overachiever, I was somehow also disorganised and lazy. My experience isn’t universal, but it might be helpful all the same.

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PinkNews is only the second job where I’ve been out about my neurodiversity, partly because my workload and the variety of my days align so well with the way my brain works that I pitched it as a benefit to hiring me in my interview. Most of the time it’s an advantage. The rest… Well. Let’s say I’ve had to develop some strategies. 

No matter what flavour of “neurospicy” you are, if you’re in your first management role and starting to doubt yourself, it’s time to take a deep breath, put on your noise-cancelling headphones and make a plan (you can colour-code it later, we’re staying on task here):

Be your authentic self

Being a manager often means longer shifts, or being on call out of hours. If all your energy is going into masking during the working day, you’ll find it harder to respond to those extra demands. There’s no one way to be a professional, and the world is not going to end just because your direct reports have heard you monologue about why Jurassic Park is the greatest film of all time. Yes, your uniqueness will probably come across. That’s not a bad thing! Remember that one person’s shared nugget of random information acquired through your latest special interest is another person’s winning answer in a trivia game. 

Use time-blocking

With great power comes great responsibility, but it can give you more leeway to shape your day, especially in an office environment. So think about your attention and energy levels and plan accordingly. This is especially useful if you take medication: when I took short-acting Ritalin, whatever I was doing when it kicked in (normally around the 20-minute mark) was what I was going to be focusing on for the next few hours. Now I’m on medium-release Elvanse and the best time to take it is an hour before my first meeting, which means it starts to wear off around 5pm. To accommodate that, I try not to schedule any tasks that require close reading or multi-step processes, but it does mean that I’m chattier in my later meetings. 

Set boundaries for yourself

I love my job. I listen to podcasts about audience development, read case studies and best practice examples on my lunch break because if I’m eating at the same time, it doesn’t count as work. If I see you get a push notification on your phone, I’ll interrogate you about why you decided to click on it or not. But there’s a line between ‘this is useful information for my job’ and ‘Kaite, you’re hyper-fixating again’. This is especially important when working in the media, where the adrenaline is addictive and the news cycle can be bleak. A healthy balance is key to not burning out, so save some of that all-consuming fascination for your hobbies, friendships and film franchises about dinosaurs. 

Remember that it’s going to be hard at times

The ‘neurodiversity as superpower’ message doesn’t always sit comfortably with everyone. It can often make your working life harder. Neurodiversity is still surrounded by stigma and often makes people feel set apart from their peers in the office. Just as it can be useful when it comes to thinking outside the box or focusing on the minutiae of a task, it can also be a roadblock. So bear that in mind while setting goals for yourself and your team, and build in whatever extra time and resources you need. 

This advice doesn’t only count for people with a formal diagnosis. Both autism and ADHD have traditionally been underdiagnosed in people who were assigned female at birth, and the increased pressures on healthcare systems mean that the wait for an adult diagnosis can be longer than ever. So even if you just suspect you’re neurodiverse, read this and try the techniques out!

Your neurodiversity is your business

Most importantly, remember that you don’t have to tell anyone if you don’t want to. Yes, neurodiversity is legally classed as a disability and in many countries that grants you some legal protection. That doesn’t mean that you’ll necessarily be treated fairly or that you’ll get the accommodations that you’re entitled to. If you’re openly LGBTQ+, you may already be facing discrimination or know that even if diversity is promoted on paper, it doesn’t always transfer to day-to-day life. As with coming out of the closet, it’s OK not to bring it up if you’re in an environment where it could be used against you. Just don’t internalise other people’s ableism or misconceptions or feel ashamed – think about the atmosphere you want to create in your team or organisation for your neurodiverse colleagues because I guarantee you’re not the only one. 

I know how lucky I am at PinkNews – I’m not the only neurodiverse person in the organisation, and many others are open about it too. No one talks about it with shame or apologetically, even if that’s sometimes the way we feel inside – it’s just a bit of context about the way we work and who we are. 

As a writer with ADHD, I’m never going to use one word when I can get away with an entire article. Still, all of this can be summed up in the message one of my team sent in our Slack channel on Monday – “It’s Neurodiversity Celebration Week, everyone! This is our time to shine!”