The Executive Function Fiend: Discovering My EFM!

Feeling different – it’s a strange phenomenon and not something I can easily explain on a blog post. To truly understand what it is like to have these emotions, you would need to step into my body and experience the feelings for yourself: good and bad, happy and sad.

For years I felt like the odd-one-out! An intelligent learner, nobody ever really suspected my brain was anything but ‘typical’, as I breathed in information and recalled most of what I’d learnt – I’ve always had a naturally inquisitive mind which thrives on memorising facts. However, underneath this intelligent exterior, was an inner core which felt different from the rest. I can’t say I felt different enough to be unhappy, but I always seemed to be viewing life through a different lens and seemed to have a permanent feeling of being from a different planet.

When I was diagnosed with ADHD (in July 2020), I was told my problems stem from difficulties associated with executive functioning – suddenly, it all made sense!

My EFM

I like to imagine my executive functioning manager (EFM) as the life and soul of the party. Dressed in colourful clothes, she is always ready for fun and spends her days ensuring people are happy by laughing as much as humanly possible. However, she also sits at a desk surrounded by piles of disorganised papers and, although excels in creativity and lateral thinking, struggles with the boring parts of her job like planning things in order and getting started on things she doesn’t want to do.

When I was younger, my EFM really struggled with emotional control and flexible thinking. Operating around three to four years behind my peers, my EFM drove my brain to engage in activities usually associated with much younger children and always struggled to allow me to make friends with people my own age. When I was eleven, my best friend was seven and when I was seventeen, my best friends were all thirteen or fourteen. I never knew my EFM was driving my behaviours and thought there was something wrong with me when my form tutors told me to ‘talk to people my own age’ rather than always engaging in conversation with younger people. However, that advice never really made sense as I found it so difficult to talk to people of my age and always seemed to have so much more in common with younger students. Even as a teenager, I had no interest in fashion or relationships and spent my money on Lego (this hasn’t changed) and other educational toys. Even though my intelligence led me to build masterpieces, my EFM struggled to keep up emotionally.

For most of my childhood, my intelligence covered up the difficulties caused by my EFM and allowed me to work my way through the education system and score highly in my exams. My mother provided the structure I needed at home and, as I developed into a teenager, my anxiety and subsequent perfectionism, grew to the point where I was fanatical about forgetting anything and was terrified of being late. Additionally, I became a self-confessed people-pleaser who sucked up to every teacher – this also made me unpopular with my peers.

However, when I left school, the difficulties associated with my EFM became ever more clear. For the first time, it became evident how much I struggled with organising information and prioritisation, and I also began to realise my working memory was nowhere near as well-developed as my natural intelligence. Working in offices (and getting fired quickly), showed me how different the real world was from the structured embrace of the classroom, and I began to realise my natural intellect wasn’t enough to cover up the problems caused by my quirky EFM.

A few years later, when I was around 27, a local dyslexia assessor gave me a free IQ test as a thank you for recommending clients to his business. Even though I am not a fan of using pure IQ as a measure of intellect (working with children and adults who have SpLD has taught me there is much more to intelligence than IQ), it was fascinating to see how I ranked in each area. Interestingly, my verbal IQ came back as the highest score (around 128-130) and my non-verbal IQ was only slightly below this. However, my working memory score was much lower and I genuinely struggled with the whole process. As soon as the assessor started the working memory test, my brain just felt as though it turned off and I remember telling him how my hunger was impacting my performance (looking back, this was just an embarrassed excuse). I found everything about this working memory assessment boring and unappealing and, where I had been fully engaged before, I struggled to maintain focus as I tried to copy hand movements and remember number sequences – backwards! Obviously, he reassured me that this was nothing to worry about, but it did make me question my earlier woes in school: struggling with sequences in algebra classes and having difficulty remembering multiple steps in dance lessons.

Yes, I have a high IQ, but this means very little in my life. My vocabulary, though wide as the Atlantic Ocean, covers up a human who struggles to navigate her way through a confusing world. In my brain, ideas flow from an endless waterfall, but I still have difficulty beginning things I don’t want to do, even if the said thing will only take thirty seconds. My emotional regulation is at least ten years below my peers and I still have trouble following instructions and seeing things through to completion. Fortunately, as I have developed, my coping skills have also improved and I struggle less with impulsivity and self-awareness now I am older. However, when compared with neurotypicals (I do avoid comparing myself, but for this it is needed) I am around ten years younger on an executive functioning scale. I only truly cope with the demands of adult life because I have a support network in my family and am lucky enough to run a business where my customers see my strengths as more important than my weaknesses.

My EFM will always be a difficulty for me, but I do encourage myself to reframe my struggles as much as I can. Even though my executive functioning manager is often disorganised and emotionally insecure, she is also humorous, colourful and intuitive. Her ability to begin tasks she sees as ‘boring’ may be impaired, but when she wants to do something, she works with great aptitude and skill, and her tenacity in overcoming personal challenges is enviable.

ADHD is a struggle, but ADHD is also the reason why I am successful in business. Having a high IQ and weak executive functioning manager (weak in a neurotypical sense), makes me the person I am and allows me to empathise with those who also have similar difficulties. Even though difficult to manage, over the years, I have learnt ways to use my intelligence to aid my weaker executive functioning skills, and this has allowed me to live the life I love, without needing to medicate. Even though I am fully in support of ADHD medication if needed, I believe I now have the necessary skills to live the life I deserve and help others overcome the challenges associated with having the ADHD EFM!

To find out more about how I can help you with your EFM, please see my Coaching & Mentoring page.

Have a great day, ADHDers!

Published by Chestnut ADHD

Hello, I’m Annabel and my mind is like a galaxy. Diagnosed with ADHD during lockdown, since then I have made it my mission to inspire other ADHDers to see the positives of living with a ‘galaxy brain’ and educate people about what it is like living with ADHD. I run my own tutoring and coaching business, helping many children with ADHD and dyslexia, and have always been an avid amateur writer and artist. Recently, I have written a children’s book which highlights the positives of ADHD: ‘Hadie & Adah’ and I will continue to promote my drawings and blog posts – focusing on positivity and creativity – in future. I truly am proud of my galaxy mind!

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