I’m not a hyperactive little boy. I’m a woman with ADHD

Jemma Burgess explores her journey with ADHD and why it's important the industry welcomes and supports neurospicy brains

Jemma Burgess

Creative McCann London


For an audio version of this article please click the video below.

When I was growing up, it was often assumed that ADHD only manifests in mischievous little boys, running around the class and bouncing off the walls—all hyperactive symptoms that are easier to recognise because they are visible. This meant teachers realised there was a problem, so they treated it.

But not us girls. We’re conditioned to ‘be polite,’ to not disrupt the room because it’s not ‘lady-like.’ When you mix that with internalised hyperactivity, sprinkled with forgetfulness, constant daydreaming, and being disorganised, it's easy to be cast aside and seen as someone who’s 'just not that bright.’

I spent most of my life thinking that something was wrong with me. My head filled with racing thoughts, thoughts that were so loud yet no one could hear me struggling.

It wasn’t until I was 30 that I was finally diagnosed with ADHD.

But doesn’t everyone have a ‘little bit’ of ADHD? Absolutely not. Think about it like this, you might get bloated from time to time but you would never claim that you’re a ‘little bit’ pregnant. Feeling something related to pregnancy doesn’t make you a ‘little bit’ pregnant. You’re either pregnant or you're not. You either have ADHD or you don’t.

The best way to spice up your life is to talk to someone who’s neurospicy.

Jemma Burgess, Creative at McCann London

And no, despite what ‘Lean in Fifteen’ Joe Wicks might say, you did not get ADHD by eating too much sugar as a kid. Social media has become a breeding ground for misinformation, especially as more people - particularly women - are receiving a diagnosis. It's as though we're all seen as faking it. This makes me feel like my experience is being devalued and dismissed.

But if we can't rely on social media to tell the truth, where else are we supposed to turn? Frankly, the advertising world isn't addressing this issue, leading to a significant lack of awareness.

The closest thing I've seen that truly captures the experience of being neurodiverse as a woman is Vanishes' work for Ambitious about Autism. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend stopping everything you're doing to watch it now. 'Me, My Autism & I' beautifully explores the profound impact of clothing on autistic individuals who struggle to regulate their senses. A heartfelt story that radiates empathy and genuine compassion.

I wish I’d made that ad. And I know you do too.

Okay, so there isn't much representation in advertising, but you would think this industry is made for us with neurospicy brains. We’re inherently drawn to anything creative, like a cat to a laser point. Take the office, this is supposed to be our creative playground but recently, they’ve all been looking a bit, dare I say it…boring.

I worry that the corporate world has grabbed the industry so tightly around the neck that it’s begun to suffocate any sense of creative design within agency walls. We need to inject more dopamine into our environments. I recently went to Just Eat offices where every meeting room was named after a food-related pun. It’s so silly but my god it’s so fun! Should we book ‘Fifty Shades of Gravy’ for our next creative review? Yes, we absolutely should.

Then there are the more practical ways we can sprinkle some joy into the workplace to support neurodiverse employees. This could be as simple as offering noise-cancelling headphones, changing the overhead lighting so it’s not so harsh, or offering people with ADHD private desks in quiet spaces so that they can remain focused. I particularly love the sanctuary room at McCann. If I ever get too overstimulated, it’s a great place to go and just decompress.

You might see these as small things, but it’s the difference between being overlooked and feeling heard and supported. And if you’re unsure what the right thing to do is, talk to your ADHD colleagues. The best way to spice up your life is to talk to someone who’s neurospicy. You should have seen the joy that filled the room during McCanns Atomic Soup session where a group of us employees shared our experiences and how best we can be supported.

In an (ad)land that’s not built for our minds, how do we survive?

Here are just three things that I know have personally helped me.

  • Do it for the dopamine. We’re often told that immediate gratification is the enemy but hunny, your brain craves it. And you can leverage this to your advantage. Take time sheets. Immediate ew. It’s not a big task, but seems to be one of the most impossible tasks to complete. I now schedule my timesheets every Wednesday during the ad break of Scandal. Why? Because immediately after finishing I get the dopamine rush of Oliva Pope screaming to the president ‘If you want me. Earn me!’ Iconic. Our brain learns from pleasure; it signals that something is worth doing. We’re more likely to tackle a task if it's satisfying. If it's not, find a way to link it to something that is.
  • David Beckham doesn’t need to tell you to ‘be honest’ for you to admit that if you work hard, you might play hard. I would be cautious around alcohol and any form of drug. It’s much easier for your brain to get addicted to them and it can make your ADHD symptoms a lot worse. You don’t need it, you dopamine little treasure hunter. Just wait until you start learning to unmask, they’ll be moments of pure euphoria.
  • Lastly, choosing a job where you’re told to throw your ideas in the bin or regularly is bold with a capital B for someone with rejection sensitivity. Yes, ADHD can make you more sensitive to criticism. But despite what the critics say you are still creatively brilliant. No one hates you. No one thinks you’re shit.

This article is part of McCann London's Atomic Soup series. Fuelled by diversity of thought and blended with cultural truths from their global network, Atomic Soup is an accelerated swarm designed to generate ideas that catch fire in culture and build brands.

Guest Author

Jemma Burgess

Creative McCann London


Jemma Burgess is a Creative at McCann London

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