top of page
1.jpg

My ADHD Journey

1st April 2024

I'm now back in the workshop after taking March off. I'm so glad I decided to take time off as I'm feeling rested and rejuvenated and have been able to have a good think about my business moving forward and my life in general. I thought I would write a bit more about what has been going on in my life about my mental health and how I have been since receiving my ADHD diagnosis a year ago.

Finally Getting my Diagnosis

This year has been such a journey for me. It was such a pivotal moment for me finally getting my ADHD diagnosis in April 2023, it has made such a positive difference to how I feel about myself and how I'm able to cope so much better in my day-to-day life. It has taken me a long time to come to terms with what my diagnosis actually means for me and how going undiagnosed for so many years has had a huge negative impact on my life. I've gone through so many different emotions, I've been overjoyed, excited and optimistic but also angry at how much I have had to struggle through, frustrated at how little support there is and deeply sad for my younger self struggling with so many things and experiencing trauma as I didn't have the skills to cope with things that people expected me to. It's been strange because on the one hand, now I'm feeling so much more positive and life feels way easier than before but I keep looking back and feeling devastated about how my life experiences have led me to become really anxious, that if I'd had my diagnosis and medication when I was younger, my life may have turned out very differently. I still often feel my younger self feeling really afraid and defenceless when I come up against things that are stressful for me. Because I didn't understand how my brain worked and hadn't built many coping skills, I would often go into freeze mode when I was faced with something that scared me. This meant that my brain couldn't learn to process what was going on and work out what I could do to deal with the situation. Subsequently, I became more and more afraid of feeling this way and would try to avoid situations that I felt I couldn't cope with. My self-esteem was so low, I had no confidence that I could face tough challenges and often felt helpless. I'm just now really beginning to undo all this pain I experienced and building my confidence and skills that I was unable to as a child.

 

BRAIN PATHWAYS:

Brain pathways that you use frequently become stronger over time but you can rewire these by changing your mindset which, I can tell you, can feel impossible. When for years my brain would automatically think of the stress I was going to feel and everything that was going to go wrong when I did something as simple as speak to someone on the phone, this brain pathway becomes much stronger and the one that my thoughts will go down, strengthening this even more. This is especially difficult when I have ADHD and my brain is much more prone to going off into whirlwinds of anxious thoughts that are out of my control. Despite this feeling impossible to overcome, the brain can be changed by reinforcing new pathways and working on using old, unhelpful pathways less. For me, thanks starting ADHD medication, I have been able to have more positive experiences to counteract my previous negative ones and these positive experiences have made more of an impact on my memory. Before taking my medication, I would very quickly move on from positive or neutral experiences as my brain didn't reward me as much and negative experiences would stick with me for a long time and have a huge impact on my view of the world and my belief in myself. Recently I have noticed that some things that I would have felt very anxious about before, I don't feel nearly as anxious about them anymore. I have reinforced the pathway in my brain that tells me that I will be ok, I am safe and I have skills to deal with the situation.

Medication

I take medication to help with my ADHD and this has worked so brilliantly for me. It helps make so many everyday things loads easier and has increased my ability to cope with stress and strong emotions. I was a bit sceptical at first about how medication would help me but I cannot believe how much it has helped with so many of my symptoms, even things I only realised were difficult once they became easier on medication. I'll write these as a list as there are so many:

  • I have more energy

  • I can do more things in a day

  • My general mood is better

  • My anxiety is way less as I have better control of my thoughts

  • I can focus and direct my thoughts where I want them

  • I can concentrate for longer

  • I don't get stuck feeling anxious about a task

  • I can start, switch between and stop tasks far more easily

  • I can think through the steps of tasks

  • I can better plan and prioritise

  • My brain now rewards me for finishing tasks (I actually get some dopamine, even for boring tasks)

  • I can think of the words I want to say

  • I can better think on my feet and more quickly process information during stressful situations

  • I actually enjoy conversations and socialising

  • I don't spend nearly as much time worrying about what other people think

  • I have more capacity to deal with my strong emotions

  • I don't get overwhelmed by sensory stress, I can better filter out noise and physical sensations

  • I remember to eat, drink and look after my body

  • I don't get stuck in hyperfocus as much

  • My time blindness is much better, I don't lose track of time as much

  • Literally everything takes less effort than it did before

 

This is probably not even everything it helps me with, I cannot stress enough how beneficial medication has been for me. ADHD is not just the symptoms you hear about in the media, it's not just about getting distracted easily or being hyperactive, for me it affects every aspect of my life. Now my symptoms are much easier for me to manage, coping strategies that I use are much more helpful and I can now work towards building the life I want, not just be stuck in survival mode.

 

BEING MYSELF:

For so long I didn't really know who I was, I was so shut down and afraid to be myself. Since my diagnosis and starting on medication, I feel like I have grown into myself and that my bubbly personality and creativity is finally able to flourish. I wear clothes I've made myself that I find comfortable and that fill me with joy, I have bright coloured hair, I do things that make me happy without worrying as much about what others will think and I actually enjoy chatting with people. I am learning to live unapologetically as myself and building a life that works for me even if that looks very different from what others might expect.

The Future of Emma Hamilton Leatherwork

I love working with leather, giving a new lease of life to damaged items and making things for horses to help them be happier and more comfortable, I don't want to stop what I do but for a while I've known that I needed to make some changes for my business to be more sustainable for me. Taking time off has given me the time to have a good think about the aspects of my business that I love the most and don't take up as much of my energy as well as the things I find more stressful and sap my energy.

RUNNING MY BUSINESS:

My plan is to make my business more of a side thing rather than my main focus and source of income. Being self-employed is great being an ADHDer as it allows me to be flexible with my varying energy levels and I can choose to do work that I find exciting and enjoyable, but the lack of structure can be a real challenge to manage as well as only being able to rely on yourself to do every aspect that is involved with running a business. It's a lot of things to manage on your own and a lot of stress to carry, you can't just leave your work at the office, it ends up taking up so much of your brain space even when you try to have a good work-life balance.

 

I've been finding it nearly impossible to both run my business day-to-day as well as working on building it up and promoting myself to more potential clients. The amount of things I have to juggle just to keep the business chugging along is a lot for me to handle, especially when dealing with symptoms of ADHD not even mentioning the anxiety I often feel which can paralyzing and make these things even more difficult. The pressure of constantly feeling like I'm not working hard enough, worrying that I've not got enough work coming in and that I should be doing so many things at once has made my business not feel very rewarding. I've been treading water for a while, trying to keep going without getting burnt out or overwhelmed, but things need to change.

 

COMFORT ZONE/SIGNALS:

Since my ADHD diagnosis last year, I have been slowly learning what my capacity and comfort zone is and what things I find a real challenge that I either need to stop or change how I do them. I'm not someone who wants to make a huge profit from my business, I want to just make a reasonable living doing something I enjoy and that I am able to live comfortably and to have the money and capacity to do other things that I love. I've realised that the most important thing for me is to always listen to myself and what my body and emotions are telling me. For years these signals have been shouting at me, trying to tell me that I was overwhelmed and couldn't cope with what I was going through. I couldn't hear them as I had learnt to supress them as it wasn't considered 'normal' to find things so difficult or stressful or to have such strong emotional reactions to things. Many people say that you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone to grow as a person but for this to work, you need to be in your comfort zone for the most of the time so that you feel safe and able to tackle challenges. I realised that for most of my life I was nearly always out of my comfort zone as nobody was able to teach me what my personal comfort zone looked like. I was constantly in fight/flight/freeze so instead of challenges helping me build confidence and skills, these challenges made me believe in myself less and I wasn't able to develop and practice skills to help me deal with future challenges.

 

EMOTIONS:

I now know that my capacity and ability to cope is often very different from what people expect and that is ok. I am now finding ways that work for me and continually getting better at listening to myself. Your emotions always honestly let you know how you feel about something, this might be skewed by negative experiences so might not be accurate to what is actually happening to you, but you feel those emotions for a reason, even if it seems irrational in the moment. My anxiety around certain things is often bigger than is helpful but I feel this way because in the past I experienced stressful situations that I couldn't cope with and so my body is trying to protect me now by making me feel a big emotion. Working through these things with the insights I have now about my ADHD allows me to have a new perspective about these past events and to understand why they were so stressful for me. Understanding my brain is now allowing me to build skills and resilience and feel so much more confident and less afraid about tackling stressful things moving forward. ADHD medication has played a huge part in this for me as it has given me a leg up to be able to build these skills. I now feel much calmer and at peace with myself and I'm able to make sure that I don't push myself past my limits without stopping to think if I need to push myself or if I can do it a different way.

 

Making Changes to the Work I Do

To help me find a good balance of continuing the parts of my business that I love whilst being able to make enough of an income without completely burning myself out, I'm going to focus more on certain types of work and stop doing others.

My favourite job to do in the workshop is tack repairs. I find this interesting enough as I need to be creative to think of the best way to repair something but it doesn't cause me much stress at all as there are much less variables when compared to other alterations or making bespoke items. I've also got loads of experience repairing all sorts of tack so I feel really confident in my ability to carry out a repair well and for the client to be happy with my work. I know exactly what the client wants, for the piece of tack to be back in working order as close to how it was originally as well as being safe and secure. I find tack repairs super easy to get started with as they are usually quicker to do and I find them really enjoyable.

Tack Repairs
Bridles and Bridle Fitting

I also love making bespoke bridles as it makes me really happy to be able to make something for a horse that fits them much better than what they had before and I know I have helped them to be more comfortable and to enjoy what they do with their owner. Bridle fitting and making, horse anatomy/biomechanics and horse behaviour are some of my special interests, I get really excited and engaged when I can work on a bridle and use my knowledge in these areas and talk about these things with the client. Every bridle is different either in what the horse needs or in the design, I love working with both the horse and the client to make the perfect bridle for them both, especially when I get to use fun colours and sparkles to make something really unique.

Although I do really enjoy visiting clients for bridle fitting appointments, I find these much more taxing on my brain than working in the workshop so I cannot fit in as many appointments in a day/week as other saddlery fitters. If I try to see too many people for appointments, I would feel really drained and have little energy left for other important things. Originally when I started my business, I hoped to build it up so I was seeing several clients each day but this is not feasible for me. I put my heart and soul into each appointment and bridle and it is really important to me to be able to really get to know each client and their horse and put my full focus into finding the right solution for them. This means that bridle fitting will remain as just a smaller part of my business, I want to balance this with work I find less taxing so that I can continue to offer bridle fittings moving forward.

Saddles

There are some types of work that I have decided to stop doing going forward as the return I receive for the amount of work I have to put in and the stress these sometimes cause me aren't worth it for me to continue to offer these services. This includes any work on saddles, boot alterations and some more complex repairs such as to larger or more antique items. Saddles in particular can be very stressful to deal with as there can be hidden issues that only present themselves once other work has been started on it. This even includes a saddle that just needs some stitching re-done on the flap. As an SMS Qualified Saddler, I follow their code of conduct which says that if I find damage in a saddle that makes it unsafe or unsuitable for use, this either has to be repaired or the saddle disposed of. It is so important that your saddle is safe for both you and your horse so following the SMS code of conduct is more than just following a set of rules, it ensures the safety of both of you. It can be a really difficult situation for both the saddler and client if hidden damage is found in a saddle as this can be very expensive to repair.

Repairs & Alterations

Other kinds of repairs and alterations such as to boots, larger items or antique items can present lots of challenges as there are so many variables which can make this work quite stressful. I have to make sure that I have understood exactly how the client wants their items to be repaired/altered, I have to check I have the measurements correct (e.g. for boots or a bag strap or belt etc.) and that the client is happy with the plan I have come up with for how I will repair/alter their item. I also need to worry about how the materials I have chosen to use will stand up to wear and if any additional leather I need to use matches the item. I need to understand what the client is hoping the item will look after I have finished the work on it and that it will function how they want/expect it to.

 

For most repair/alteration jobs I do it is the first time I have either worked on that specific item or have been asked to do that specific repair, it can sometimes be a challenge to do a job just right when it is the first time I have done it. All my leatherworking skills are transferrable between different jobs so it is rare that I'm doing something I have never done before but I may be asked to work on a part of something I haven't repaired before or the leather an item is made of may require me to use different techniques to do a successful repair. Sometimes there can be hidden challenges with items that can make altering/repairing them more complex and time consuming than I originally thought if the construction is not easy to alter or the leather is too thin or fragile to stitch securely. I receive a lot of items in the post to work on and this can add additional cost if an item I repair isn't quite right first time round and needs to be posted back to me for a bit of additional work (e.g. getting a perfect fit for a pair of riding boots).

Antique Restoration

I don't have the skills or experience to restore antique items in need of a lot of TLC so have decided to not accept these kinds of items. To carry out work successfully on these requires a different set of skills, tools and materials than I have so I will recommend clients look elsewhere for someone who is better equipped to do this work. I mainly focus on repairs on items that aren't as old and don't require restoration to the leather itself. Things such as re-stitching torn stitching or replacing a section of damaged leather such as a tear or worn area as long as the rest of the leather on the item is in good enough condition for a repair to be worthwhile.

Going forward, I will decide on a case-by-case basis if I will accept an item for repair or alteration as it depends on so many factors how challenging the work will be. I may also decide on certain occasions to not accept a certain item that I have accepted previously or I may take on more challenging work depending on how I am feeling or my current workload. 

Emma x

Thank you to all my clients who have been so kind and supportive of me and my work and for your lovely messages and comments on my social media posts. I am feeling really good about the decisions I have made for my business and feel these are the right changes for me to make at this point of my life. I could never completely stop making things, especially leatherworking, and so I hope that taking a little step back means that I can continue to run my business and who knows, maybe in the future I will feel ready to jump back into it head first.

bottom of page