At 7pm on the last day of January this year, I sat in front of the familiar Zoom waiting room screen. On a piece of paper in front of me, I had my weight, pulse rate and blood pressure written down, and my heart pounded as I tried to process what was about to happen, and what the possible outcomes were.
By 8:15pm, after over an hour of difficult questions and over-explanations, I had a diagnosis of combined type ADHD, and a recommended treatment plan. I stayed at my desk for a long time after the call was finished, trying to work out how exactly I was feeling. I texted my husband the results of the assessment, still not quite ready to say it out loud.
It’s not that I felt ashamed of the diagnosis, or even that I was surprised. After all, my whole reason for seeking an assessment in the first place was to try to understand myself better, to see if there was a different lens through which I could view my experiences so that they made better sense. I had been trying on this potential diagnosis for a few months, seeing how it fit and watching how it might change the way I viewed things – how I might reflect on my past and present struggles and, in particular, the journey I’ve been on in my relationship with money, in the context of being neurodiverse. I just needed to give it some time to percolate – to filter down through the different aspects of my life – before I was ready to give voice to it.
One of the places where my diagnosis makes most sense is, perhaps unsurprisingly, in my relationship with money. Due to traits like disorganisation, procrastination and impulsivity, and the ripple effects that often follow, it’s not uncommon for people with ADHD to struggle with money management. And I’m no exception.
In 2019, with over £27,000 of debt spread across seven different credit cards and an overdraft, I reached a breaking point in my relationship with money. Slowly, over the years that followed, I started to process the causes of my financial difficulty and the emotions that I attached to money. Alongside paying off what I owed and getting myself into a more stable and comfortable financial position, I posted about it – anonymously at first, as @myfrugalyear on Instagram – while working through the process in real time and sharing what I learned.
One of the things I find myself pondering now, as I process my diagnosis, is how someone who has spent almost three years learning about her own behaviour, studying every mistake and the factors contributing to it, could miss the possibility that her brain didn’t work in quite the same way as most other people’s? I had spoken and written and posted so frequently about how alone I had felt in my mistakes with money. How I had tied myself in knots by overcommitting to too many different lenders, and how I’d struggled so badly to control my impulses or compute the consequences of my actions. Like many others diagnosed with ADHD as adults, I had put all of those traits down to failings in my character – but now I am free to view them differently, and I choose to put shame and blame to one side, in favour of understanding.
Before I started to work on my finances in earnest, my relationship with money was erratic – a series of impulsive spending and borrowing decisions, followed by knee-jerk reactions and obsessive, punitive budgeting. I would lose track of when things needed to be paid, and constantly felt ambushed by regular life admin and expenses. When it all got too much, I would feel frozen in fear, burying my head so deeply in the sand that I could pretend it was all fine – for a while at least. The cycle went on for over a decade after I started managing my own money, taking a toll on my relationships, my work and my mental health.
When I first began the journey to repay my debt, my motivation was purely superficial – it was about the money and nothing else. But, after a while, something clicked into place for the first time ever, and I began to focus more on behaviour change than the numbers.
Finding coping mechanisms and new ways of doing things that worked for me, but that I’d never seen in mainstream personal finance advice, was a revelation. I interrogated my need to constantly level up, my unquenchable thirst for newness and how I could sate it. I found a way of budgeting that worked for me, creating something akin to consistency for the first time ever while allowing myself the flexibility I needed in order to stay honest and motivated. I identified my spending triggers and found other ways to cope with them. I realised that my path to a better relationship with money was different, that it needed to take into account who I am as a whole – and that there must be a whole plethora of other people who were in need of this approach, too. What I didn’t realise at the time was that I was creating something that worked alongside my ADHD traits, rather than fighting against them, and that was why it was finally working.
I’ve learned an awful lot about myself in my exploration of my relationship with money, and the changes that I’ve made have transformed my life in a far broader sense than just my finances. My ADHD diagnosis feels, in some ways, like the final piece in the puzzle. It gives me the context that I need to fully process why I found money so difficult for so many years, why I needed a different approach in order to make things work, and why I will probably always need to work that little bit harder to keep my money habits in check. And I’m ok with that.
Five Steps to Financial Wellbeing, written by Clare Seal and published by Headline Home is out tomorrow (£14.99). Buy your copy here.