My guest on today’s episode of Period Story is Hana Walker-Brown, a multi-award winning, internationally acclaimed audio documentary and podcast maker, creative director and author of the book, A Delicate Game, which tells the story of the degenerative brain disease Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) through first-hand intimate interviews with sufferers and their families.
In this episode, Hana shares:
- How lockdown led to her realising she might have ADHD
- The value of Right to Choose in helping her get an ADHD diagnosis
- That there’s no blueprint for ADHD but there are commonalities
- How having a diagnosis gave her an explanation for certain feelings and behaviours
- How she’s had to move forward with more grace and kindness
- Her new podcast Late to the Party, which is about navigating neurodiversity as an adult
- And of course, the story of her first period
Hana says that the big things for her in getting through everything have been to trust and forgive herself.
Thank you, Hana!
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Le’Nise: Thank you so much for coming on to the show. Hana. I’m really excited to talk to you. But let’s start off by hearing the story of your very first period.
Hana: Oh, gosh. So I was thinking about this and I mean, we can get into this, but I think I had a lot of kind of fear and shame about when my period might arrive. I was definitely like a late bloomer, I guess. I hate that expression, but that’s the first thing I could think of in terms of kind of my friends, like I didn’t have boobs till really late and I felt kind of like the child when everyone started to become like a woman, which is ridiculous because we were like 14. But like, so I kind of I wanted it, but then I also really didn’t want it.
And I remember my parents divorced when I was four, and the thing I really didn’t want was to be at my dad’s house. And it came at my dad’s house and I hid it from everyone. I didn’t know what to do. And I, I think because I felt so much shame, I just didn’t say anything. And I had like two stepsisters there. One who is two years older than me. And I just remember being laughing, but I’m like, Oh, that poor girl. But I remember being in the bathroom of just being like, I just don’t know what I’m going to do. And looking in cupboards and stuff not being there. Yeah, it was not traumatic, but it wasn’t like, Oh yay, I’ve now blossomed.
But yeah, so I remember, I think I just put tissue in my pants and I just got through the weekend and got back home and I don’t, I didn’t tell my mum for ages either. I don’t think I told anyone and I think my mum just found like sanitary towels I’d bought down and in the bin in the bathroom and was like did you start your period? And I was like, Yes. It’s such a I don’t know, I think, I don’t know where that came. I mean, now I can kind of look into it a bit more and that’s how I was feeling generally as a person was quite afraid to, to say how I was feeling and was kind of shut down a bit or told I was exaggerating or being dramatic. And I think when that sort of plays into you in that moment, I did feel like it was quite massive, but I was like, Can’t tell anyone. So yeah, it was all the things that I didn’t want to happen happened at my dad’s. I was alone and I didn’t tell anyone for ages about it. I didn’t even tell my friends about it for ages.
Le’Nise: So how long did you keep it a secret from your mum?
Hana: I think a couple of months until it came back.
Le’Nise: And your mom. So she found this, the pads, and she was kind of like, why? Have you started your period? Yeah. And then what was the conversation like from there?
Hana: Quite. I think she was shouting at me because she said. When you when you’ve used when it needs to go in a bag. It can’t just go in the bin. And I think I’d actually flushed something down the toilet. And that’s when it start. That was another thing, because I think she had to now in my remembering it, she had to call a plumber to come around. And that’s what was in the toilet. I didn’t know. No one told me. Like, I’m terrified. No one said right when it happened. It’s like I knew it was coming, but we didn’t kind of have a real you know, we knew what to use. I didn’t know that they couldn’t go down the toilet, you know, or we didn’t know how long we were scared about. What was that thing that everyone talked about? School like toxic shock syndrome. Like I was terrified of tampons. I was like, I’m going to die if I use this. So, yeah, it was like just feeling very ill equipped and rather than kind of being asking for help, I think I just sort of was like, Oh, just get on with it. Yeah. So yeah, I wouldn’t say like, I’m sort of laughing now, but I’m like, Well, what an entry? What an entry into this thing I’m going to have, you know, for the majority of my life.
Le’Nise: Yeah. And you know, the flushing the pad down the loo I, I laugh but I actually did that and luckily I didn’t cause any plumbing issues. But I think back on it now and yeah, no one, no one said, you know, don’t flush a tampon, don’t flush your pad down the loo. You can cause like, you know, a blockage. Um, but it’s funny how, you know, we learn these things. I think I just read it in the magazine when I was in my twenties, and it’s like, okay.
Hana: Yeah, that’s it. I think because they only started putting signs in public toilets. But again, maybe in my late teens, early twenties, when it was don’t put sanitary products down the toilet. And I thought, Oh, that’s new. Maybe the systems have changed, maybe the piping’s changed. And I’m like, Oh no, it’s just like blocks everything. But yeah, that wasn’t a conversation. I mean, I think back to kind of sex ed even at school, it was just, here’s an egg, here’s a sperm where a condom or you’re going to get pregnant. That was it. And you’re like, Oh, no, it’s fearful. And again, with kind of tampons, I think we had like one session where someone came in and all we took was toxic shock. Toxic shock is that was the I don’t know, the only thing that was exciting to hold on to, but yet no kind of detail or information or actually space for people to share their concerns or worries. If you didn’t want to share in front of the whole class. I actually think there were even boys in that class. And that’s probably why we were just like, no one asked anything.
Le’Nise: Because you embarrassed.
Le’Nise: Yeah. Okay.
Hana: So it’s so. But like, now I’m like, Oh my God. Like this world that we would set up for, It’s like everything that is so kind of natural. The reason we’re all here, essentially, and we’re so ashamed of it.
Le’Nise: Yeah. And so you have this experience around your first period, a lot of shame, a lot of secrecy. And then finally your mum found out, you eventually told your friends, I’m assuming. And then what was your experience of your period like throughout your teenage years?
Hana: I just hated it. I hated it. I think. It. It felt like it just got in the way. And I think also at that point, you know, I’m sort of, you know, you’re going through puberty at the same time your hormones are raging. And I just didn’t I didn’t feel good when I got to in the lead up, I did not feel good. And I just I hated that. And again, that was never explained. You know, again, we’d have kind of, I guess, very surface like PMS or oh, it’s her time of the month. But there wasn’t a kind of nuanced explanation of what was happening or, you know, what activities would be suitable around certain times in the cycle. And thinking about this Maisie Hill’s period book that I mean, I only read in my thirties, but I think those are the things that were missing. It was just like, you have to have this and also get on with it and not complain about it and not talk to anyone about it. And I think around that time, you know, you’re starting to like have sex with boys and all those things. And it just felt like it was the thing that was either annoying or got in the way or, I don’t know, I never embraced it. It was every time I was annoyed it was there.
Le’Nise: Yeah. You’re definitely not alone. I think there is this you know, a lot of people are talking quite positively about their periods now. But yeah, even still, like with me, this is the work I do. And when my period arrives some months, I’m just like, I just don’t want to deal with this. I don’t, I feel quite negatively about it.
Hana: Yeah, totally. I mean, I’ve, I think I do. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. I think now having the knowledge and the awareness of what’s going on, like I really suffer the two or three days kind of preceding it. And every time I Oh God, every time I like, I’m so unhappy everyone hates me. And then I’m I know when it’s coming because I’m not really a big scroller anymore on Instagram, I realised it’s kind of detrimental to my health, but I’ll be on there like looking for a reason to feel bad or going, you know, just. And that’s the thing that catches me. And I’m like, Here it comes. Because every time it’s the same pattern and even things like, Now stop putting meetings in on those days, stop doing social things on those days because it’s like I’m not my best. And rather than be like, No, I can power through this. It’s fine, as if I’m some separate entity to like what’s going on in my body. I’ve just gone, okay, you just don’t need to see people in those days. In five days time, you’re going to be great for the meetings. And then but in those days, just, you know, clear the deck, do what you need to do, light exercise, you know, all those things that actually do help, you don’t want to do a lot of them because, you know, I’m still convinced that I’m stronger, capable and powerful, which I am. I’m all of those things. But on those days, I just need a rest.
Le’Nise: How long did it take for you to realise that?
Hana: 30 years. I say no less. I know. Like when I get it. When I was like 15. Yeah, about 20, 25 years, right? Yeah.
Le’Nise: And you still. Do you feel any resistance still? Okay. Actually, I know what’s best for me during these couple of days, but I really ‘should’ be doing this.
Hana: Yeah, and I have done. I definitely feel that resistance. I think that comes down from again, there’s a lot of things are kind of reconciled within the last couple of years about my sort of productivity and how. You know my external output. I just thought that was so much more valid than how I felt internally, like what I could produce and create and put out it win. And I’m sort of pedalling back on that and going, Oh no, that’s not what’s important. I’m important.
So there’s still that resistance, cause I think that’s a lifetime of learning that I’m trying to kind of unravel. But even like there’s been a couple of months in the last six months where my period’s come twice in a month and I because they’ve been short, so they sort of come for a few days and gone and I’ve been like, Great, but why do I still feel shit? And then it’s then I’ve started to feel sort of really low again. I’ve been like, Well, it can’t be that because I’ve already had it. But then it comes back. So I’m like, Well, this is a really annoying pattern that just sort of surfaced and I don’t know if that’s stress or what that is, but even that I, I was sort of on a train back home last Friday and I was so emotional, like biting back tears on the train. And I thought, I don’t know how I’m going to be able to speak to anyone, If anyone asks me how I am, I’m just going to burst into tears. And I said, This doesn’t make any sense. I’ve just had my period. It’s it must be me. I must be mad, crazy this. And then I got to the house and I had it again and I was like, Oh, you need to just trust that this feeling because I know what it is, it’s just when it catches your guard or if it’s out of the kind of the rhythm of the cycle, I suppose it, it must be something else. But it can be quite intense on those days.
Le’Nise: Yeah, that, that’s interesting. Trusting yourself that, that idea that, you know, you’ve spent so much time tuning in and seeing these patterns and trusting what your body is telling you.
Le’Nise: You talked previously about reconciling a lot of things over the last couple of years. So one of those you talk another one of those things you talk about is ADHD and your journey towards getting a diagnosis. And I think this is so interesting because, you know, there is a lot more conversation over certainly over the last year about ADHD, especially in women. And I just want to talk a little bit about what that journey towards diagnosis looked like for you.
Hana: Yeah, it was it was intense. It was, I guess. All things considered, the journey has probably been about ten or 12 years, but kind of that initial ten years was me seeking help for something I didn’t have the language for.
So I’ve had chronic insomnia since since I was a baby apparently. My dad told me recently that sometimes they’d come into my room in the morning and I’ll just be stood in my cot waiting for everyone. And he was like, We just didn’t even know if you slept. I wasn’t screaming or crying. I was just like, awake, waiting for everyone else to wake up. So I say, yeah, for my whole life. And that was sort of never addressed, really. I think my mum had asked me if I wanted to see a doctor when I was like 13, 13, what am I going to say? No, I’m fine.
So I’ve had this insomnia and also this like just relentless, I thought, creative process in inverted commas, where I work crazy hard all through the night, burn out, be on the floor and then get up, do it again. And I just thought that was, you know, sort of romanticised it as this like bohemian, creative, You know, when you’re being self expressive, you have to give everything and suffer. You know, we see it all the time. And that was just the explanation I gave myself, which now I’m like, What? Just what? Come on, that’s ridiculous.
But so I was sort of going to see doctors on and off. And every time it was sort of take this antidepressant, take this anxiety medication. And I knew I could be depressed and I knew I could feel anxious, but it wasn’t like my baseline. Like it wasn’t it didn’t feel like that’s what it was. So I never took these things unless it was sleeping tablets, which they’d only give sort of a couple now and again. And that was great because I could have a good night’s sleep. And then it did come to a head for me in lockdown, but not in the same way it did for other people. I think. I don’t use TikTok and a lot of ADHD discourse happened on TikTok, which was amazing because people didn’t have references for what they were feeling before. I didn’t I wasn’t aware of all of that going on. In fact, I was actually aware of this kind of, just the amount of people coming forward. I think I was kind of in my little world, but all the things that I had kind of unknowingly done to keep myself, you know, level were suddenly taken away. So, you know, exercise, going for long walks. And I couldn’t sit still at my desk in my house all day, like being constricted in that way. And and things just started to kind of amplify and swell. And it’s almost like. I don’t know. It’s like you’re a sausage in this very tight skin and you’re pushing against it the whole time. It just feels so uncomfortable.
And then I moved to Spain in after the first lockdown, because, I mean, why not? And also I feel that was a kind of a running away from the issue. And I feel the issue was being in London and being living with the person I was living with. And I thought, I’ll go to Spain, it’s sunny. That will help. And it did on the most part. But we we had a curfew in Spain a lot of the time, and I was living on my own for the first time. So not a lockdown. But if I wasn’t staying at a friend’s, I had to be in by a certain time at night and no one to go out in the street to try and kind of curb the virus. And so I spent a lot of time on my own and a lot of time facing a lot of stuff. I didn’t have anyone to kind of project on to. Well, there was no one to sort of. I guess minimise some of that or distract me from that.
And I remember I called my doctor because I thought I’m genuinely I thought I’m just going to be one of these women that goes mad. That’s just it. Like people will say, Oh, she gave it a good go, but in the end she just went mad. And that will just be what happens to me because I, I was overwhelmed with all of these things, which I now understand are like pretty common ADHD symptoms. And it was a friend that was having an autism diagnosis around that time that said to me, I really think you should look into ADHD. And it was not even on my radar. Like I knew my brother probably had it, but he was incredibly hyperactive, Can’t sit still, quite disruptive, but wasn’t kind of naughty and in a malicious way but just couldn’t like just wouldn’t was restricted by the systems that we had, you know, in classrooms in school. So that was my only reference.
And then I started kind of really reading into this and it’s like, Oh yeah, I do that. Oh, yeah, oh yeah, I do that. And it was like, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick. That’s when I started looking on kind of Instagram. That’s when I started finding TikTok. And I think I, I have this and I remember calling my doctor and she said to me, Everyone thinks they have ADHD, Hana. And I was like ok, help, please help. And she said, no, she wouldn’t have referred me. And then I miraculously found out about right to choose as I hung up the phone and her feeling like no one’s going to help me, I’m totally alone in this, someone had posted about Right to Choose, which is basically a referral letter from your doctor to have a private, a psychiatric assessment and to get a diagnosis.
So I called my doctor back and she was I thought she was annoyed that I had found this because then because I’d asked for it, I was she was still in Southwark where I was living before was in Spain, and she had to then take it to a board. That’s how it works. If someone asks, you have to take it to the board and then they fill your records and they decide whether they will essentially, essentially comes out of their pocket, not their pocket, but that sort of practice pocket to refer you. So. A few weeks later, I got a call from her. No, she wasn’t going to back me. But then a month after that, I got a call from this woman called Joanne, who had who was a doctor who’d been in that briefing where they looked at my files, and she just said categorically. I think she even said I would bet my license on you having ADHD or something. So. It’s like, I don’t know. Just so like. I just felt someone had finally seen what I was trying to say. And I didn’t have a language for this before. So it couldn’t, you know, maybe it wasn’t that, but it just felt like in that moment, like just the strength of her belief in me, was so amazing. And she was she’d never met me, but she was like, I’m going to refer you and I’ll back you and I’ll get you and the diagnosis.
So that’s how it kind of all started. So I owe that woman a lot because I was I was not in a good place during that kind of period, as a lot of people who went through this weren’t. Because I think in that time we all realise those things and all those things even knowingly kind of done to cope. And the masking thing, you know, the masks that we’ve put on, the masking behaviours we’ve adopted, they all just fell to the ground because we, the world wasn’t the world that we’d lived in. So yeah, I think it was very intense. And then. My diagnosis happened quite quickly, was maybe a couple of months. I scored very highly. Not that it’s, Oh me, I’m like achievement, like come grades, which is part of my makeup as well. But I was like, Wow. And my psychiatrist said to me, I don’t know how you’ve done this for so long. I don’t know how you’ve done it. And I think that’s quite common for a lot of people to hear. And it’s like. I knew that I. What differently to other people. I knew I had incredibly low self-esteem. I knew that there was this kind of conflict between what I was able to do and achieve in inverted commas and how I felt about myself. I knew that that I looked to people who were achieving way, way less than me, and they were so hyped on themselves. And I was like, Wow. How do you do that? Even sleep, you know, as a kid, I was like, When did everyone learn to do this? I didn’t. I was in that sleep class where people were taught how to do this.
It was so, you know, a lot of the time feeling really less than. And to suddenly to kind of have an answer that isn’t just, oh, you’re just you are less that actually it’s like, oh, no, I have this thing that means the way that the world is built and set up isn’t always the best way for me to move through it. So, you know, it’s about not kind of being accusatory or that dwelling in the past. But actually for me it’s like now I know how am I going to work in a way that that serves me rather than always fighting against this box that the I’ve just never fitted.
Le’Nise: You talk about some of your symptoms. So the chronic insomnia, the the need to to move and how movement is kind of a meditation for you. Can you talk about some of your other symptoms because someone might be listening to this and thinking, okay, hold on a minute. That, you know, is this something that’s going on for me? So for someone who might be listening and thinking that, what are some of the other symptoms that you experienced?
Hana: Sure. And I should just preface that with I think one of the there’s a great things about Instagram and Tik Tok is that people are aware that what they’re going through is universal to the to a high degree. But sometimes when we get stuck in like these are the five symptoms, if you’ve only got three and yours might be slightly different, it doesn’t mean that, you know, someone said to me the other day, I just don’t feel ADHD enough because their symptoms would be very different to kind of what’s constantly being peddled out. So there are commonalities 100%, and that’s very humbling to realise that you’re not the only person going through this, but. I’m not a blueprint for ADHD, so that’s not what you were implying. But I just want to preface that because I don’t want people to feel like they don’t have a they have a bit, but not that I think, you know in yourself what you have. And I think it’s important to talk to other people about it because, you know, what you start to see emerges is the differences which, you know, you might have just written off because no one else has them.
And but for me, which I think is quite common for everyone, the the number of tabs that I have open in my head at any one time, it blew my mind that. Neuro. I guess neurotypical is not a term I particularly like that. It’s a good way of just explaining the difference. Someone who does not have ADHD can think of one thought and just do it, and then they’ll think of another thing. I have like a hundred things in my head and I they’re all sort of fighting for attention. And it’s so difficult to figure out which one to pick. Someone said to me today. It’s like they’re at a shop counter and everywhere the queue is like five deep, but people keep swapping places. So you think you’re serving the person at the front, but then they’re at the back and the person at the front and he’s like, And then a camel walks in and you’re like, I bet sort that, you know, it’s just it’s chaos. And sometimes I really pride myself on my ability to manage all of those things, but sometimes it’s just gets so much. You have to just press off like your computer overheats and you just press off, burn out like rest, whatever. And it’s constant. It is this constant just battle for your attention.
And the sleep is a massive one for me. I had this thing for ages. I used to call it my stretchy, so my brother had a Stretch Armstrong doll. I don’t know if you know those, but it was like basically a man in his pants and you could stretch his limbs. Yeah. And I felt like I would get this kind of feeling in my limbs that I felt like I just needed to be stretched. My everything needed to be stretched. And actually what I needed to do is go for a run or go for walks. I had all this built up energy and my hyperactivity was often in my brain, but I can have those outbursts of just kind of need to go, need to move. Which again, I just thought like, what am I stretchy? And I remember like being in bed with a ex boyfriend. And I’d be like, It’s almost like if you ever watch a baby when it’s realised it has arms and it’s just like punching around just to see how it fits. And he’d be like, Are you stretchy? And I was like, Yes, I’ve just got to be, just baffling stuff that I thought, I’m just quirky, I’m just weird. Like, this is just me.
The self-esteem, massive one. Like imposter syndrome, which is, you know, a medical syndrome. And for me, I always thought the that just meant you felt you were lucky to be somewhere. Oh, it was a fluke. And I’ve never felt like that. But what I didn’t realise that tied into that was this kind of inability to celebrate yourself and overcompensating because you never feel like enough. Like always seeking external validation, being afraid to ask for help because you don’t want to be kind of found out. And that could be it’s not. I guess not an assumption, but a lot of people with ADHD experience that. And the more I’ve looked into it, I found, wow, that is kind of really where I’ve sat for a long time. And things like rejection sensitivity. So things feeling, emotions, like I feel everything very deeply, which I’ve always liked, because I think it has afforded me the career that I have.
And I should say that for all the things that make life very difficult, there are some amazing symptoms and behaviours that I have. So, you know, really deep empathy for other people, creativity, really vivid imagination. And I was going to say luckily, but it wasn’t lucky because I’ve. I’ve done it, but. I harnessed all of those things to build a career. And I think that’s a real. It’s a really sad thing when people are kind of in these careers that are like 9 to 5. If you have ADHD, it’s very difficult to even sit at a desk for that long or you’re doing something that you’re not interested in and it’s very boring because that’s that was like a desirable career when we were at school or at uni, and that’s what you are funnelled into. Whereas I’ve sort of rejected all of that and built my own thing based on those strengths. So I feel, I do feel lucky actually in that respect that I was able to do that.
With the rejection sensitivity and what is so interesting is, you know, which I guess everyone gets, but it’s like if someone doesn’t message me back before, I’d be like, well, they hate me. It was like so extreme. Or if, you know, I have very different groups of friends, but if two people decide to go for dinner and they haven’t invited anyone else but they haven’t invited me, I’m like, Well, they hate me. I say, Wow, this is intense.
And sensory overload. There’s things like, I didn’t realise, but if a restaurant is very overly chaotic, if there’s kind of there’s music that you can’t quite hear it, there’s a conversation happening over there. There’s maybe the traffic behind me. I can never sit with my back to a window if I’m in a cafe or restaurant, if there’s noise behind me, like I need to see where it’s coming from. So I’m not thinking about it cause it’s so easy for me to get pulled out of. You know, the one thing I need to be doing, which is engaging with the person in front of me, which is usually the last thing I can engage with, and then I have a real thing again. It’s quite fun once you find out, you know, diagnosis and then you can start to really examine and explore these things.
So I have a really thing with texture of food. I hate watery food, like I’ll have soup, but if there’s water like surprise water, there shouldn’t be water there, like pasta. Or if a sauce is too watery with pasta, I have to drain it. And I realised this is so well, pointless. But with like pho, like it like Vietnamese soup. I’ll let it sit in the water for ages to get the taste, but then I’ll drain almost all of the water out and just eat the vegetables because I can’t deal with having the two together. So, you know, there’s some heavy behaviours. There’s some fun ones. It’s some weird ones. And I think actually, rather than hiding them or pushing them away or pretending they’re not there, I’ve had to kind of blend to embrace them.
Like also things like I if you know, there’s a sort of a misconception that ADHD people are really messy and actually that people leave things out because otherwise we forget they exist. I do it with food in my fridge and I’ve said this on a few podcast, but yoghurt, for some reason I always buy yoghurts and I forget they’re there and and by the time I go to them, they’re like ten days out of date. If I don’t set reminders in my phone of eat yoghurts by this day, then they just go to waste and then, you know, that’s a kind of a shame spiral of I’m wasting food like, you know. But a lot of people just have all their clothes out, otherwise they forget they own them or, you know, you have everything on display on shelves rather than neatly packed away because you just will forget that it’s there. It’s it’s crazy.
But, you know, some people have real time blindness. A lot of ADHD people are late because they don’t you know, you kind of sit down to do something, I’ve got ages and all of a sudden it’s like, you need to leave 10 minutes ago. I don’t have that. But I think it’s because I was always so afraid of being late that I’m always about 40 minutes early for like I’m early, stupidly early for everything. And even if I’m going to be 5 minutes late, the panic that like rages around my body, like I am white hot with like shame and guilt. And it’s like I think that was, again, a coping mechanism for not being late, which just to make sure I was so early. So, yeah, I mean, I’m only two years in two and a half years in, but there’s just every day. Am I? Oh yeah, that’s that. Oh, I have a conversation with someone and they’re like, Do you do this? And I’m like, I do do that. Is that like, Yeah, it is. It’s a thing. I’m like, okay, so yeah, there’s this a mixed bag, shall we say, of, of behaviours and emotions.
Le’Nise: Once you have that diagnosis and you’re able to kind of. I guess I don’t mean like this could be a negative or positive, but like, have that label to be able to put on yourself. What changed? So. Did you get given a medication or were you able to just say, I have ADHD and this is what I need to do to cope with certain situations? I can’t. This is why I don’t like wet food, for example.
Hana: Yeah. Yeah, it was the latter. I didn’t go down a medication route that was a fight with the doctor and the psychiatrist about that. And, and to me, based on kind of the tools I already had and what I’d sort of unknowingly been doing. We all felt that I had enough and I was going to be able to manage this in a kind of a more holistic way. I think an ADHD diagnosis is an essential label if medication is the right route for you because it’s the only way you get it.
So I do know a lot of people who are like self diagnosing is enough for them and they’ve then been able to kind of adopt tools and different working methods that suit them and have ultimately made their quality of life much better, which is amazing. But if you need medication like it’s a label you need, and I don’t think there’s anything kind of derogatory or bad in that because it really serves a purpose, and medication really to serve a lot of people. And again, it’s not something I’d ever rule out. I think it’s there, but it’s if I would need to go through that process, which is it is a difficult process in itself, you know, the titration period and figuring out what works the dosage like it’s not an easy thing for anyone to go down. It’s not just like you get a diagnosis, Here’s your medication, off you go. You know, it’s there’s a lot that you kind of still go through. I think it’s kind of lifelong, this whole journey.
But that wasn’t the route I went down. I think for me it was essential. Like the the clarity at first was very I think I describe it as intoxicating, but that knowing that it’s not is you, but it’s not just you. Like there’s an explanation for how you’re feeling and why you do certain things. And again, it’s very easy. And I think everyone does look back on their life and situations and go, That’s why I did that. That’s why I did that. Not in any way as an excuse for behaviour, but it’s absolutely an explanation and I think that is so helpful for moving forward with a bit more grace and to be a bit more gentle with yourself and to move with kindness when you’ve sort of spent a long time wondering why you can’t do it or why you’re an idiot or all these things, that sort of chip away at your self-esteem when actually like, you didn’t stand a chance. That’s how it was going to be. So I think in that respect, it’s allowed me to just really. Yeah. Move forward with with grace and and be nicer to myself.
And also just, you know, there’s things that I don’t do now that I was doing all the time. Like, I barely drink alcohol. I was passing a law in my twenties. A law? It wasn’t, you know, I didn’t realise or didn’t know about that kind of chasing that dopamine thing and and why I always was the last person standing or why I could just go and go. I couldn’t ever just be like, Oh, I’m going to bow out, guys. I’ll be like, Let’s go more. And actually the, the, then the feelings after that, which are just an immense crash because I start the day on a dopamine deficit anyway. So to then drop right back down and try and build myself up, it was just like this constant yo yo and, and it’s just allowed me to. Yeah. Make better choices that serve me and, and bring me joy and pleasure and allow me to kind of. Work better and smarter.
And, you know, again, coupled with that was this thing of really looking into why I felt I was only as good as that like the awards are is winning or the books I was writing or the podcasts I was making, like it was always external validation and outward. And I kind of mentioned that before, but in the last year especially, I was like, No, this doesn’t mean anything. Like, yes, it’s good. It’s, you know, you built a successful career and you shouldn’t kind of just reject that and throw it away. But actually now what I realise is. The it doesn’t mean as much as what I think about myself, and that’s what’s really important.
So I don’t know if maybe I would have got there. You know, I have a I trained as a yoga teacher for many years. I have a strong meditation practice breathwork I swim like I do a lot of movement. It’s I I’m very self-aware. But then I guess where you think you are and then you’re like, Oh, but also you have ADHD. And I’m like, How self-aware was I? Like, I didn’t even know this, but I think but, yeah, it’s enabled me to. I don’t. I find a bit more peace. And that’s not every day like even last week I felt very overwhelmed and it became very chaotic again. It’s not like you just reach this equilibrium where you’re like ADHD, tic like I’ve sorted it, it is this kind of peaks and troughs and it comes in waves. But now I know what it is I’m feeling and I know what works. Does it mean I always want to do what works? You know what it’s like sometimes you don’t want to help yourself. You’re like, No, I don’t deserve it. And then I’m like, No, just go. Like that Friday, when I was really upset on the train, I’d woken up and I. I was like, Why? You’ve got two options. Stay in bed or go get in cold water for a swim. And it was a beautiful morning early. So I, like toddled off to Hampstead Heath, got in the water and it helped. I was like the alternative was, you know, stay at home, fret, worry, get yourself in a spin. So I think actually knowing ultimately I have a choice in how I approach these things. And again, if my choice is I don’t want to do what’s good to me or good for me, just trying not to judge myself based on that, which is like, that’s a lifelong Practice, I think.
Le’Nise: Yeah. Self-compassion.
Le’Nise: Like long practice loving kindness for yourself. Yeah. So as well as others. It’s something that I think everyone works on every single day. Yeah. This is so fascinating. And I think the information that you share here and the information that you share on your Instagram and your Substack will be so and is so helpful to so many people. And you have a podcast coming up called Late to the Party. Yeah. Can you talk a bit about that?
Hana: Yeah. And it’s I don’t know why. I’m like, I feel like, oh God, because I’ve I’ve made hundreds of other people’s podcasts. Like that’s been my massive podcast success with podcasts, but I’ve never like had my own, I’ve hosted like docs and stuff, but this is like, Oh, and I don’t know why I suddenly go again imposter syndrome a little bit, or I feel like slightly inadequate. I don’t know. But I’m still slightly terrified of doing this, even though I’ve recorded 21 episodes. So we need to go.
But yeah, so Late To The Party I wrote down actually last summer in my Notes app, late to the party navigating Neurodiversity as an adult. That’s all I wrote in my Notes app. I just had this idea that it should be something and I was aware talking about it on Instagram, people were responding, finding it helpful. I think what’s often missing in a lot of this discourse is a human experience that isn’t a kind of infographic or, you know, a tabloid or a Tory telling us we don’t exist. And ADHD is a trend. And actually, you know, the thing that was really helpful for me in during that diagnosis period was talking to other people who had this and learning about their experience and feeling less isolated. I think, you know, stigma and shame thrives in isolation and silence. So by talking about it, you can kind of make someone feel less alone or make them feel seen or, you know, give them the confidence to advocate for their own health rather than always meeting a doctor saying, No, no, no. Or a family member who saying, no, no, no, I’m actually trusting that you know yourself better.
So, yeah, I’ve written I write a Substack on this subject which features posts for me and written interviews with other adults who were diagnosed late to the party, the party being neurodiversity, because not everyone’s confident speaking on a podcast, but some people like to write and I didn’t want to kind of gatekeep experience. I guess you can’t obviously do everything, but I wanted to do as much as I could. And then there’s kind of a spotlight section on there where I’ll highlight different people or businesses or practices and, and then yeah. Podcast. So I guess. Kind of interview, but also, you know, you’ll get sort of a narrative thread for me throughout as well. So I’ll offer a bit more of myself based on the conversations I’m having with the contributors and and just amazing people, like really a mixture of, you know, some quite well known people on there. And then there’s some people that are like a woman, Becky, who I met at a party in Leeds, maybe 20, and I’m not that long 15 years ago and just a really sweet Yorkshire lass and just a really real and honest woman.
And I think, again, that was having worked in podcasting since the beginning, it just seemed to sort of there’s a lot of the same guests on the same shows or, you know, I didn’t want people to think that ADHD is if you’re not smashing it, if you haven’t got a big successful career, then you know you’ve failed. And I think it’s important for that kind of nuance and and that just variety of experience. That’s what it is. It’s like this rich tapestry of human experience. And that was important for me. So I just did a call out and said, does anyone want to do it? And a lot of people were kind of ready to speak. So yeah, that launches on the 17th of April. Hopefully that’s all onme. So I do all of it. And I’ve just been driving myself mad and trying to which I have done.
This is the thing that I realised I was this is very random. I was listening to 50 Cent song if I can’t and the lyric is if I can’t do it, it can’t be done because I’ve been making all these like social media assets and videos which once I get into I can hyperfocus and I’m like in it, it’s amazing. But if I come up against something I don’t know how to do, I won’t ever look it up. I’ll just try and do it. And that’s when it gets restricting because like if I can’t do it, can’t be done. You could do anything. So I’ve been in this weird, like talking to myself, doing everything because it’s completely independent. It’s it’s not monetised. I would like a sponsor if anyone’s listening. Yeah, but for now, it’s just sort of me. So I’m like, I think I can do it all. And once I’ve done it all, I’ll know how to do it all.
So, yeah, it’s. Late to the party is about navigating neurodiversity as an adult. And my favourite bit. There’s been some great bits, but I ask everyone. You know, when you’re late to a party, you bring something. When you come to any party, you bring some eat it to empty handed. So I ask people what they’d bring. And I was like, One day I’m going to throw a party with all of these things because it would be very strange, like fun, because the people there are great. But the items I was like, Hmm. This is going to be quite an odd encounter, but I feel it might be quite fun.
Le’Nise: And that will be available anywhere you listen to podcasts.
Hana: Everywhere. Yeah, so it will be you’ll come. And if you already subscribed on the substack, it will be there. But then it will also go to kind of Apple, Spotify, all podcast platforms. Yeah.
Le’Nise: So and then you have your book. So this came out last year and I just want to talk very briefly about it because I think it’s it’s such an interesting topic. I come from a sporty family and I’ve seen the impacts that concussions have had on family members and the changes that I’ve seen in their personalities and the way they interact with others. And I just find it fascinating that you wrote about brain injury in sport. And I’m just curious firstly, what inspired you to write about this topic and what impact have you seen from your book and the conversations that it’s sparked?
Hana: Yeah, sure. I mean, this started years ago for me like 2016, 2017, I get my background was radio documentary and like narrative non-fiction. So this was before the kind of podcast boom, but this is what I was making and I made a four part audio book podcast, I guess, for Audible on this subject. And I guess it feels like a bit of a I guess, a plot twist. I’m always I always struggle to define myself in my Instagram because I do so many things and I do think I’m quite difficult to categorise. But so underpinning everything is this kind of, you know, drive to tell stories and power human stories, taking this big world stuff and making it human and advocating for change. Like that’s all I want to do is make the world better in whatever way I can.
So I came across this story of this disease and it was a BMXer, so that was my kind of gateway into it, who had died by suicide and they found this disease in his brain. One of the worst cases which is caused by repetitive hits to the head. And I’d seen like the concussion film with Will Smith. I’d known about the NFL lawsuit, but I think the way that it was kind of, I guess, marketed for want of a better word, was it’s just an NFL problem, as if the brain can somehow distinguish what’s hitting it. It can’t. So I started to look into it and it was sort of around the same time that whispers of the 66 World Cup team and all the dementia diagnosis were coming out. And I met an incredibly tenacious and amazing woman, Dawn Astill, whose dad was the first British footballer to be diagnosed with this disease, CTE. And he was the most prolific header of footballs the game had ever seen. So we had this massive story, this four part thing. I produced it. Wrote it, narrated it, sound designed it, the whole thing. It was like a real labour of love.
And I think I do think Audible thought it would just be one of that free content things and it wouldn’t do anything, but it blew up. And it in America was a New York Times number two bestseller. My biggest moment was it beat Michelle Obama for a month and then obviously she wiped the floor with me for several, several years. I was like, I remember arriving in Copenhagen airport to give a talk and I’d see someone had sent it to me and I was like, No way. And it was the first time I’d seen it said Read by the author Hana Walker-Brown. Because at that point in Audible, everything was a book. It was or an original, it wasn’t a podcast. So I was like, Wow. And and it just it made such an impact. And I it was strange to me to do something so science and sport based, but actually like, yes, it is about that. But for me it was always human and it was about advocating for change. And this just unimaginable miscarriage of justice that had been going on for years. So that came out in 2019.
And then I was in talks with a literary agent prior to that and a woman, Harriet Poland, who I was Audible with you just love the documentary. And I said, I really want to write a book about this. So she sort of introduced me to some publishers and then a sort of I guess I don’t want to say luck, but I guess as timing would have it, I was approached by a literary agent. I signed with them and then we wrote the proposal based on this. And by the time it was done. Harry had also left Audible and was head of editorial at a big publisher. So as soon as the pitch came out, she was like, We’ll take it. So it was kind of this like again, almost everything fell into place at the right time.
And I just it was one of those things that I just thought, I can’t leave this story alone because I felt like it would only grow and grow and grow. And it has grown and grown and grown and it sits on the curriculum in the US now, my book, and it’s been debated in Parliament and you know, there’s it’s had I guess well one of the quotes from a prolific rugby player was it’s changed and saved lives all over the world, which makes me feel a bit like, oh but I think, you know, it has and will continue to. And, and what was important for me is that suddenly all these people that thought they were going through this alone, that thought, you know, because they’re busy caring for someone with dementia who’s six foot five and weighs, you know, I don’t know, 20 stone or whatever. And they were seeing their stories reflected back in the experience of other people. And I think that’s really important to me is, you know, sometimes you just need someone to have the courage to go first, and then it gives other people permission to say, this is a problem or I need help, you know? So, yeah, it’s it’s was a big, big like mammoth thing to do during this time. The writing I was when I was getting diagnosed with ADHD, which I wouldn’t recommend, is a combination.
Um, and again, it’s, it’s interesting because I am sitting in this kind of narrative non-fiction space, and there are a lot of women in the non-fiction space, but not in this realm, this kind of investigative storytelling realm. And I guess it’s very easy to get bogged down in, you know, the things that are on top lists and things being made into TV and whatever. But actually with this, it was never about that. It was about doing something useful in the world. And I think is it’s useful in the world. So yeah, it was a lot. It’s it’s not easy. Someone messaged my friend recommend it to another friend and they’re texting, that was so great. But oh my God, it’s so sad. I wasn’t prepared for that. And I was like, Yeah, it was. Sometimes I’m like, How did I sit with that for so long? Carry all this for so long. I don’t remember the January when I did the first draft in which I think kind of tells you everything you need to know about my state of mind. But I think after that, it was, it was slightly easier.
Le’Nise: When you’re writing a book, you kind of it’s never you. And I think you just kind of go into this fugue state, whereas just focusing on the deadline and just like, yeah, I got to get this done, I’ve got to get through this.
Hana: Yeah, you almost just I it felt like once I was in that state, it was great. That’s what kind of this hyperfocus comes in with ADHD. But the procrastination, I felt like trying to sit down and that was another telltale sign for me was I’m sitting here, I want to do it. I know what I’m doing, and I just can’t. I’m almost like paralysed for six, seven, eight, 9 hours a day. And I knew that wasn’t right. And actually on the day of my diagnosis, interestingly, I saw a Twitter article by a male author and it basically he described in his article exactly how I’d been feeling, the procrastination, the like just paralysed, just can’t do anything. But not because you can’t, just something else is happening. And his ADHD diagnosis and I was like, Oh, that’s serendipitous that I should read that like literally the hour after I’ve received my diagnosis and your story is exactly the same. So yeah, that that was a big kind of factor I think in, in all of that process as well. So we all got something out of it. Yeah. Yeah. This is a two years of Yeah. Part hell, part transition growth. Yeah.
Le’Nise: And what do you have next on the book front?
Hana: So I have the paperback comes out well tomorrow but this won’t come out But yes, by the time this comes out, the paperback will be out from book one. We’ve got a very fun new sporty cover, for spring summer 23. And then. I have a second book to write which will come out in 2025. So again, following this kind of trajectory of, I guess, violence and sacrifice and I guess the human cost of power, but with a completely different subject, again, kind of dismantling masculinity as well within that and the choices we make. And I think ultimately everything I do is to allow people to make safer choices or be informed enough to make a choice that is theirs, that isn’t from a kind of external source. But yeah, so that will come out in a couple of years, which will fly. I think that will fly. I’ve got time. I’m like, I know what will happen. Yeah.
Le’Nise; You think you have time? And Yeah, like, Oh, actually, I’ve got this and that and that. Yeah, it goes, yeah, quickly.
Hana: And again, that ADHD thing for me is also I’m not, I’m very, very last minute, but I need that adrenalin and fear of it’s coming to be able to move and when I do it’s always fine like and I can make great work but if I know I have two years. I’m going to, you know, take my time. It’s not urgent. So I don’t feel the. Yeah, it’s it’s annoying working with me, I think, for some people. But a lot of people are understanding that that’s just how it has to go. Yeah.
Le’Nise: Yeah, I definitely can relate to that. The need for a deadline, I, I remember saying to my publisher, I said, I need deadlines, you know, like you can’t just say hand in the transcript on this day, I need, you know, give me more deadlines or else I’ll just procrastinate. Yeah, I really want to do this. I need, I need those deadlines.
Le’Nise: So you’ve shared so much today. You’ve shared about your diagnosis, your ADHD diagnosis, your journey, the symptoms, and who you are to some of your toolkit to manage on a day to day basis. And of course, the amazing book that you released last year. If you could leave listeners with one thought today, what would you want that to be?
Hana: Can I have two? The big things for me in getting through everything but trust yourself and forgive yourself. I think we spend a lot of time, especially late stage diagnosed ADHD, but I think a lot of people in general, women, I think especially because, you know, for so long we still don’t have equality in workplaces or, you know, anywhere near that. But I think. There’s a lot of kind of negative emotions that come when we are achieving or what we haven’t done or what we’re compromising on. And I think actually you just have to forgive out what was and trust yourself moving forward. And I think that’s been so important for me is to let go of things from the past. And it’s annoying when people say, just let it go, and you’re like, How do I let it go? And what I realised is, it isn’t one action? It’s just every day talking to yourself a bit nicer, doing things that nurture you and feel good. And that is an. It doesn’t always have to be kind of super wholesome, but actually asking yourself every day, what am I going to do today that will bring me a bit of joy or what am I going to do today that will get me closer to the person that I know I have the capacity to be?
And I think it’s James Clear that wrote Atomic Habits. And he was like, you know, big picture, which is what to be the sort of person that runs marathons. But the day the action is, I’m going to be the sort of person that puts my running shoes out the night before. So they’re there in the morning, you know, and it’s those small things. So I think for me, a lot of that forgiveness has just come in, like being gentle and acknowledging what was, but also, you know, rather than and it again, it’s like this thing when if you wake up in the morning for me, if I haven’t slept, I used to be like, what’s wrong with you? Why can’t you do it? And now I’m like, It’s okay. Do we need to try and sleep a bit more this morning? Can we carve out a bit of time in the afternoon? Like it’s it’s a real conversation now, rather just the impulse to be like, you know, fighting against myself, but then also trusting that, you know, yourself. I think especially in things like neurodiversity, it’s often, you know, you’re assessed by someone else. Your the school system is built by someone else. And I think actually if your you’re not fitting in or if something is wrong to trust that it’s not on you, like it’s just the way that things have been set up and they just don’t serve us. And I think rather than kind of being silenced or afraid of of that is is just acknowledging it and saying it out loud. I think a lot of these things like they cease to exist when they’re spoken out loud, like they thrive in hiding, in silence and in the dark. And then, you know, you say them and they they do lose their power. So that was a bit rambly. But I think trust yourselves because we know ourselves better.
And I also with that, just to kind of caveat, that is. Which I guess is kind of going to go against what I’ve just said. But some of the things I’ve noticed, especially for ADHD people, is the stories that we’ve told ourselves. They’re not always the reality that we’re experiencing. It’s not to say they’re a total fabrication, but the other thing I found really useful is asking for feedback from people that really see and love you and so on my podcast, I ask everyone how they’re the people close to them would describe their strengths because it makes them go and ask someone, which most of us would never do for fear of rejection, or they hate me or, you know, just feeling that you’re not going to get back something nice. And actually what comes back every time are these amazing things that people say about them. And they’re like, Oh yeah, I am those things. You’re like, Yeah, you are. And you know, you’re also a bit of a dick, but balance, so it’s fine. But yeah, I think trust yourself, but not always. Ask for feedback and forgive yourself. You know, we’re all figuring it out. And I think the real sort of courage of living is to try and fail, try again, fail, try again. And just trying to move through that without judgement, I think. Which again, lifelong practice. I’m not there. I hope, you know, I kind of hope I never get there because it’s quite nice to be in those moments of, I guess, like tension and release and coming through the other side.
Le’Nise: Well that’s brilliant. And I know that will give a lot of people food for thought and hopefully will help even one person, I hope, towards a diagnosis or just feel a little bit more self-compassion. So thank you so much for your time today. It’s so nice to be involved in. Yeah.
Hana: Yeah. Thank you for having me. I’ve loved talking to you. Thanks for holding in space. It’s been really nice.