STORIES OF COMMUNITY RESILIENCE
Yusra Metwally speaks with Aamon Sayed to share her experience of being diagnosed with ADHD as an adult.
Content Advisory: Discussion of Eating Disorder / Disoredered Eating from 16 minutes.
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Aamon Sayed: My name is Aamon Sayed and welcome to another episode of the Stories of Community Resilience Podcast by 3ZZZ. On this episode of the show, I’ll be speaking with Yusra about her experience of resilience and in particular neurodivergence in adulthood. Before I start, I want to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land and recognise that as we capture stories here today, the Indigenous people have been storytelling on this land for thousands of years. It always was and always will be Aboriginal land. Welcome Yusra.
Yusra Metwally: Thank you for having me.
Aamon Sayed: I want to start by asking you about your journey to discovering your Neurodivergence.
Yusra Metwally: Sure. Where do I begin? It was a very long, prolonged journey, and I’m a very textbook case of women with ADHD who don’t demonstrate hyperactivity and and don’t have the typical symptoms that lead to teachers pulling aside parents to say what’s going on here? It was a really, really long, arduous process of putting different things together, of challenges I faced in life. And it actually the journey started when I was 24 years old, uni student, trying to finish off my double double law degree with a lot of difficulty despite coming through as a high performing high schooler. But yeah, uni getting adjusting into university was really hard and over the years I’ve heard different, um, heard different things from whether it was psychiatrists or health professionals or reading articles that give you a little ‘aha moments’. And so it started with the very first thing is a friend of mine who’s very neurotypical found an article about late diagnosed ADHD which was all about what ADHD in adult women looks like, and that is highly underdiagnosed because of the fact that it often presents as inattentiveness rather than hyperactivity, and that some of the typical symptoms include being a distracted child daydreamer. And immediately it clicked things for me, things that I remembered. Mum would say that apparently a teacher in primary school let her know that “she’s that I’m distracted in class”. It was in the context of having a new sibling, having my younger sister join the family and it had a few things click with me. The other big aha moment for me was listening to a documentary that I watched about adult ADHD. He spoke about life falling apart during college. After you finish school, which is very structured, and I did quite well in school and I always look back and that was like my golden era of focus, discipline. And the other added thing that I reflect on a lot actually is it was just before technology took over our lives. So it was 2007, I think I was one of the I had a Facebook account, but Facebook was –
Aamon Sayed: – Yeah, it only had like 3 or 4 things on it.
Yusra Metwally: You’d post things like “I’m eating chips” (laughter) you know, it wasn’t on your phone. We didn’t have we didn’t have Instagram and and things. Technology is a massive player because it is made to be addictive for everyone. And universally, people’s attention spans are shifting. So for me, it’s been reflecting on that. There’s an added challenge of the role of technology, in addition to neurodiversity. But back to my original point, because, you know ,this is my storytelling style…
Yusra Metwally: So went through high school, and for me it was a case of always looking back at my schooling years and always being the one where I’ve had to catch up at home because I was distracted in class all the time, and it meant that I was used to having to work extra hard. That’s probably where my late nights came in, because I remember actually having to discover drinking Nescafe and doing my HSC because I had to spend time writing up my notes because in class I was chatting I was too busy entertaining and being distractible and doing all those things that they talk about in the report. The typical symptoms that manifested with me were things like the general comments from teachers were things around “you have got more potential, just need to focus more”, those sorts of things. So basically throughout the latter part of my schooling is like leading up to HSC is when I really started to kind of up the ante and focused and managed to kind of come with a good grade and squeeze into law school. I think that’s where the challenges started, is that once I was at university, suddenly you don’t have the same structure with schooling. Also life happens. You start working, you start having to manage competing priorities and suddenly things are a lot more challenging. It requires a level of self-discipline, organization and that’s where I did start to notice things being challenging, but I wasn’t able to name it. I couldn’t name it. I just felt like it just everything’s just really hard and once I found the words and the language for ADHD that could validate my experiences, it was just so relieving. So since 2020, there’s been this explosion in awareness about ADHD, under-diagnosis in women, and there is this huge ADHD community forming, reflecting on those universal experiences. I think for me, that’s what gave me sort of the confidence to start sharing my experiences because for so many years, over seven years, it was it was a very isolating experience of trying to work why everything was so hard, why basic things were so difficult. Just going through a process of reflecting on the strengths, there are strengths that we have, but it comes it comes at a cost of burnout. There’s the beauty of going through the ADHD discovery journey and learning, and hence why I’m reading books and listening to podcasts all the time. They should give me a degree because I really think that, you know, given ADHD is not is not something that all health professionals are across – I should just get some kind of a recognition degree, honorary degree (laughs). All the things I’ve had to learn and it’s been, it’s been very validating to know that there are things like time blindness, there’s rejection sensitivity dysphoria.
Yusra Metwally: There are specific tools that work. For me, it’s just been a process of understanding myself and connecting with the ADHD community to learn about the proven techniques. Some of those things come from, from a communal process. So for example, there’s such a thing as body doubling and that’s like having an accountability buddy. So doing things together, reaching out to friends or people in an ADHD support network really has benefits. For me, the diagnosis process was very long winded because for many years it was a case of – once I knew that I could have this going about the diagnosis is really difficult. I remember actually, I think I remember trying to reach out to Headspace because I was 24 and they take people under 25. I remember we were playing phone tag because I keep missing them private number missed calls, and by the time I reconnect with them, I’m over 25 and they’re like, Oh, you’re too old for us now. Just went through different processes. I had one thing that really helped me is I found a very good GP and she’s been along with me as I went through different referral processes with psychiatrists.It wasn’t until the day before I turned 30 that I was actually sitting in a psychiatrist’s office and I got the diagnosis. So that’s seven years. Is that seven years? I’m not very good at counting, but that’s that was such a long process. And I. I just shed tears when I got the diagnosis because there was something about the timing as well. It was 2020. It was, um, it was just after the lockdowns. And, um, I just felt, I just felt like I could look back at my 20s with a level of kindness, of understanding that it was a really challenging time that I was in this extremely busy all the time, always doing things, always in survival mode, trying to keep up with the world, with myself, never really having space to stop and reflect. And then I think the significant part of 2020 was that forced there was a forced slowed down. And the other added challenge I had with my ADHD diagnosis is that it did also, um, coincide with me becoming a mother and dealing with much more added challenges that that’s when it, that’s when it was just it was like that was the point that I could no longer just get by, that I knew that I needed to do something about it.
Yusra Metwally: I always tell people who are in the same boat of being in the undiagnosed, um, grey space is that it’s not, it’s not the silver bullet. It’s not going to be the instant quick fix, nor is a pill going to be an instant quick fix. It’s actually a process of learning to understand yourself and learning to just just go through a journey, a journey of accepting that you are neurodiverse and what that means. That it’s not a, it’s sort of like being visually impaired that you just have to wear glasses. That’s what having, having ADHD means that we do need extra tools to help you function in a neurotypical world and having to make adjustments that work for you. So it’s a very it’s a very individual process.
Aamon Sayed: Can you talk a little bit like looking back at that period between 24 and 30 that you were talking about? What were some of the hardships of having ADHD and looking back at it now …what were some of the hardships that you had experienced that you may not have known at that time were because of the ADHD? Yeah, but now, looking back at it, you can understand.
Yusra Metwally: I think that period between 24 and 30 is like was a huge – I think it was a period of transition in many ways of finishing uni, becoming a professional, really kind of getting into adulthood, getting married, navigating relationships, navigating how to be an adult and manage very different competing priorities. I think just feeling overwhelmed, that was a common thread. It does come to that executive decision making. Being able to sort of look at something at a wide angle and see, okay, that’s why this thing was hard. I was talking to a friend the other day about why meal planning is so hard because it’s like I can walk into a grocery store and spend a couple of hundred dollars, but not walk out with what I need to make a meal. But I’ve bought containers on special that was essential, and I bought shiny things in the whatever section it is that are there to distract you. It’s kind of then having an awareness that that just to organize your meals and do those things requires executive decision making and being able to sift through the distractions and it’s so easy to get lost in that. So for me, one thing that I absolutely love is I’m a big fan of those meal boxes. So not long after I got married, I remember there was this salesperson for Hellofresh, and I just signed up and I was absolutely blown away.
Yusra Metwally: It was one of those things that I just thought like, I should not be doing this. Like I’m Egyptian. My mom cooks amazing meals. My sisters, they’re foodies and they used to have this food blogging account called, ‘Once Upon a Kitchen’. So I’ve always been surrounded by incredible culinary culture, yet I just wasn’t capable of doing all the steps to create those meals myself. But there’s also then that recognition of what’s realistic, like having to change, adapt circumstances, adjust expectations. Whether that’s working full time and having to just accept that you have to buy frozen meals, pre-prepared things.I think for so long I had this level of judgement “no eating frozen meals” My mum cooks amazing Egyptian home made meals and I think I had that level of expectation to meet. But then I have to always remind myself that my mum was doing an incredible job raising, raising a family with four kids and she found it really hard to juggle work when she was trying to work in the childcare sector. She’s always done amazing things, you know, running her own business. She actually she actually does her own food catering business now. So I’m going to give a plug out to my mum because the food’s amazing and just kind of accepting that we all have different strengths and being in the workforce, that’s that’s something that, at a generational level, I’m able to I have I have the privilege to be able to have a career.
Yusra Metwally: And at an intergenerational level. looking back at my mum’s parents and where they came from. There are shifts, so there’s no there’s no way to be able to do it all. So I think there’s a level of societal expectations on women. But then when you throw in neurodiversity, it’s just a whole other added challenge. But yeah, for for me, the process of cooking meals has always been one of the hardest things and I’ve been reflecting a lot on it lately with the help of a dietitian who who actually focuses on ADHD as well as binge eating disorder and the other added discovery, which I had no idea had any relationship with ADHD and undiagnosed ADHD, is that for so many years in my 20s, I was a constant yo yo Dieter. So my weight was always going up and down and it was always a case of going through extremes, All or nothing of being at the gym twice a day, the crack of dawn, and then the days that I wasn’t at the gym, I was eating a packet of chips or bingeing on ice cream. I learnt that binge eating disorder is very common. First of all, it’s very common in women and it’s classified as an eating disorder to some extent, actually, to a huge extent it’s actually a problem that’s, um, that’s manufactured by a society that places so many expectations on how women should be looking. And so I’ve reflected that. I’ve picked up unhealthy habits. I’ve picked up unhealthy traits with how I relate to food from my mother. Because again, it’s such a societal thing of having this constant obsession with with weight. I started dieting at such a young age. I’m pretty sure I was on a cabbage soup diet in year seven, and I just begged my mum to let me join her because she was doing it as well. So I just wanted to, to lose weight. So I went through my 20s doing that, that turbulent period where I always felt like I was chasing. Like this unachievable goal with weight loss. And it was a case of constantly going up and down. Now I look back at that period and going, Oh, you know, I’d love to go back to the weight I was then. I’ve discovered so much about my relationship with eating, but also the challenges that comes with being able to prepare healthy meals because diet is and what we eat has such a huge impact on, on your health and wellbeing being that it requires this level of organization to be able to make good choices. That’s something I’ve been working through with a dietitian and I have found it to be really helpful because so much of it is about, first of all, understanding what your eating patterns are, And again, I’ve adopted all this language and things that I didn’t understand about ADHD of, you know, for example – being hyper focused and you can go through periods, long periods of time where you won’t eat and then having to deal with some kind of binge or some, some level of unorganized eating. And so for me, the struggle that I had with, um, with my weight and trying to achieve my health goals was very frustrating because I felt like I was constantly chasing my tail. I felt like, um, you know, I wasn’t being consistent enough. But it was, again, because I lacked the understanding of what was coming in the way. And so much of that is, part of knowing yourself and the other aspects that I’ve started to learn about that again, huge aha moments is the interaction with women’s menstrual cycle and knowing that, um, that there are periods of shifting energy and moods and basically having a level of kindness to ourselves and compassion to be able to prepare yourself for when you’re not going to have the energy to cook certain meals. And so it’s about, yes, it’s okay to eat frozen meals, tinned pre-prepared as long as you’re eating. So I’ve had to really let go of that judgment that I’ve that inner critic of. You know, you’ve got to have homemade freshly cut, do it all yourself to just being able to eat and feed yourself, nourish yourself so that you’re able to function and avoid extremes.
Aamon Sayed: Yusra thank you so much.
Yusra Metwally: I’ve gone into like, a whole other tangent. We were talking about food, and we have covered so much.
Aamon Sayed: Thank you so much for sharing your experience and being vulnerable with the fact. I know it’s very obviously, um, I guess a difficult conversation for a lot of people to talk about, but I think more conversations like this and more projects like this, the point is to connect to those that may find connection in these stories. So thank you for sharing.
Yusra Metwally: Thank you.
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