Living as an atypical in a typical world with Katy Bartzis
Neurodiversity Celebration Week is recognised between 15 - 21 March this year and it aims to celebrate and raise awareness around neurological variations such as autism, learning disabilities, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and others.
It is estimated that around 1 in 7 people (more than 15% of people in the UK) are neurodivergent, which does not mean that they are broken or "abnormal" but their brains function in an atypical way.
One of these people is Katy Bartzis, Bank Staffing Administrator at the Together Trust. Having grown up undiagnosed and being led to her ADHD diagnosis thanks to a workshop she attended at one of our specialist schools, Katy is helping us understand neurodiversity better through her journey.
Growing up undiagnosed…
Feeling overwhelmed by everyday tasks, struggling with forgetfulness, self-motivation, time management and short attention span or hyperfocus, are only some of the symptoms Katy experienced before her diagnosis. To some people, it might be human to forget things occasionally, but for someone with ADHD, forgetfulness and lack of focus tend to occur more often, or as Katy shares:
"Although I got fairly good grades at school, I rarely did homework and never listened to what the teachers were saying in class. Thankfully, I had good friends who would remind me what the teacher asked us to do because I can forget things even if someone just told me."
However, growing up undiagnosed started getting a lot more serious for Katy when she got to university. Skills such as excellent time management, organisation and sustained attention, are essential for any student, but what happens when these also happen to be one of the biggest enemies to people with ADHD?
"During my undergraduate course, my mental health took a battering because I couldn’t keep up. I felt stupid and didn’t know why. I had to take a year out to recover because I was feeling so low. Even though I went back and finished my degree with a 2:1, I vowed for the sake of my mental health that I wouldn’t go back to uni ever again. I spent the next few years bouncing between jobs where I could never get promoted or progress in any way, and failing to explain the silly mistakes I kept making in my work because of my condition that I did not know of at the time."
Realising not all conditions and disabilities are visible…
When Katy started having second thoughts about being atypical, she had already joined the Together Trust and it helped her realise she might be neurodivergent:
"Working at the Together Trust is what eventually led me to my diagnosis. I knew a lot about other neurological conditions such as autism but I barely knew anything about ADHD.
I started researching more about ADHD online and the more I learned, the more it made sense for me."
Getting a diagnosis is a common challenge because even though the general practitioner Katy initially got in touch with was understanding, it took her about two years on the waiting list to get assessed, at the age of 26:
"I had to fill out a lot of questionnaires, which in true ADHD style, I didn’t even notice until the day before my appointment, so I had to rush to get them all done. Then, I had a long conversation with a consultant psychiatrist where he asked about my past experiences, and looked through my school reports which were full of comments like "has a lot of potential but needs to focus more in class and finish homework". In the end, I was given a diagnosis of ADHD (predominantly inattentive type). My biggest thought at the time was "How on earth did I manage to get a degree?!"...
Having said that, it could be said that one of the trickiest things about neurodiversity is that you can't always tell when someone is neurodivergent, or as Katy explains:
"Some people mask well, and we often find ways of managing our symptoms over the years so they don’t outwardly affect us too much. I’ve met people who were pension age before they realised they were neurodiverse and got diagnosed! But that doesn’t mean it is easy. In my case, managing my ADHD by myself cost me my mental health for many years."
How a diagnosis can save your mental health…
Being diagnosed with ADHD was crucial in Katy's life, as after it, she admits that she finally started to feel validated:
"I realised I wasn’t stupid or destined to be unsuccessful my whole life and I'm thankful that I was able to get diagnosed in the first place because not every neurodivergent person feels they need a diagnosis.
For example, since the diagnosis, I have been back at university, doing a Masters which I'm finding easier than my undergraduate course because I have the right support this time. I never had ambitions before because I failed whenever I tried to progress, but now I feel like opportunities have opened up that I would never have had the confidence for previously."
ADHD in the workplace and the Together Trust
When it comes to her current job at the Trust, Katy sometimes finds that her condition can benefit her work due to her ability to think outside the box, work under pressure, being more patient and empathetic towards others. It helps her understand a lot of the struggles the people our charity supports face since a lot of them are neurodivergent too.
"The Trust as a whole is understanding of neurodiversity, and I have had amazing support from colleagues since my diagnosis. We now have a neurodiverse staff network which is brilliant because we can support each other.
Equality and diversity is an important topic in every workplace all over the world, including our organisation. The Together Trust is committed to eliminating discrimination and treating all individuals fairly and equally in all aspects of its work.
We are proud to have neurodivergent colleagues such as Katy who kindly reminds us that not all learning difficulties and disabilities are visible, and those who are seen as ‘atypicals’ can and still deserve to thrive, they just have to be given the chance to.