This is Rebecca Schiller’s story about how, over three decades, she had always felt at odds with the world. She spent her life trying to fit in and to cover things up, amidst the swirling chaos of her mind. But in the end, it broke her. And then she was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 37. And finally, things began to make sense.

It’s a truly enlightening read. Plus, Rebecca’s also written a very honest book called Earthed, so I’m full of admiration for her. It can’t have been an easy journey, as she goes to every dark corner of her mind in search of her real self and starts understanding how to live.


  • In February 2020, aged 37, I was diagnosed with ADHD, just as I started to write a book about things in my life that I hadn’t realised were connected.

  • The story of how I learned and then wrote about the discovery that I’m not the person I’ve been wearing my whole life, is confusing – even for me.

  • There’s motherhood involved, a move to the countryside and a long, slow breakdown, and the trouble is I never know where to start; which is the beginning and which is the end.

  • So I’ll just pick a spot – any spot – land on it and hope for the best.

  • When I was nine our class was asked to write our own school reports. I have no memory of doing it but my neat, deliberately written summary of Year Five turned up in a box at my parents’ house earlier this spring.

  • In it I read the story of what was to unfold across the next three decades: a girl, then a woman who always felt at odds with the world but never admitted it even to herself. Someone who tried and tried and tried her way out of being neurodivergent until it got too hard and she broke herself instead.

  • At school I sat still, was polite, never spoke out of turn, was diligent, revised for my exams, was popular with friends (if never quite on the inside of any gang), had a horror of getting into trouble, was seen as sensible and capable of juggling many things – the opposite of the many misplaced assumptions about how a child with ADHD might behave.

  • Teachers liked me and I liked them. The school reports they wrote were very positive. I can find the ADHD in them if I try – but I have to really search for it. A project about Winchester Cathedral that was ‘not up to Rebecca’s usual standards’ – an inability to retain spellings, grammar rules or times tables, occasional lapses in handwriting and presentation – hastily correct when pointed out – a particularly astute teacher digging around in my cleverly constructed cover-ups to notice that I didn’t hand my homework in on time and often did things at the last minute.

  • But I was bright, liked learning and, though I’d struggled (somewhat mysteriously) to learn to read a single word for several years, by the time I was asked to write that review of myself, I was unequivocally flying through school.

  • My nine-year-old self however, had quite a different take on how it was all going.

  • In a total of 300 words my self-penned report included more than 80 exclusively on the subject of needing to try harder, having tried very hard or not having tried hard enough.

  • There’s a further 25 words dedicated to needing to improve myself; 51 on how I rushed, made mistakes, was too loud, talked too much or forgot things and 49 more given over to setting out the things I was not good at.

  • Year 5 Rebecca spared only a miserly 95 words to say neutral or positive things about herself. She crossed out the only confession – “I find it a bit boring” and ended by setting herself some impossible goals and pretending to be realistic about them: “I will draw what I see, not what I imagine. My writing will be brilliant if I try hard enough. But I don’t expect to achieve it all in one term.”

  • (I did expect to achieve it all in one term of course.)

  • Like many high-functioning women with undiagnosed ADHD I coped well with life within the structures of school and a stable home life. Sure, I’d have what my mum called ‘blonde days’ – regular 36 hour blips each term where I’d be overcome with exhaustion and need to stay off school and sleep. I did feel awkward and outside of everything. I didn’t understand why my head would fill with white noise in maths and I’d have to whack the side of it to try and get the synapses to fire. But on the whole, I think I really was ok back then – if a little tired and over the top at times.

Photo credit: Penelope Fewster

  • Leaving home for University prompted my first mental health wobble but I righted myself by trying very hard once again and by distracting myself with a shiny new career.

  • As adulthood layered increased responsibility on me – life admin, a hectic professional remit, two children, a house, a marriage and everything else – I redoubled my efforts to be what I was supposed to be on every front.

  • When in 2016 I started to feel anxious I didn’t admit it. Instead, we embarked on a new and shiny distraction – moving to a two-acre smallholding to learn to grow food and raise animals and live a more self-sufficient life.

  • I loved our new life, but I couldn’t find the rest and peace I needed in it. Instead there was an increase in the swirling chaos I’d moved here to try and escape – a swirling chaos that turned out to be inside me.

  • This new, vast project was the last straw – though it took a long time to realise it. My cover ups had tripped me up and become punishing and by June 2019 – after lugging around a diagnosis of depression and anxiety that didn’t seem to me to be the whole story – I hit crisis point and collapsed.

  • Several months into waiting for NHS help that I was repeatedly denied, I had turned to repetitive work on my land and sprawling research about its history and the women who’d lived there before. This project was helping me get through my crisis alone, but it felt like living in a fragile holding pattern and I knew there was a missing piece to be found.

  • One November day, during a research session, I stumbled on that piece: a piece of writing by 10 high-functioning women with ADHD. I clicked on it unthinkingly but a few paragraphs in I began to realise that I might explain so much for me.

  • These were professional women; who’d done well at school and achieved in their careers but were at the mercy of what I was at the mercy of: a spinning mind-scrambling chaos, a way of thinking and living and working that didn’t match the way they knew they were supposed to think and live and work. Punishing schedules, reminders and lists to organise themselves and the exhaustion of camouflaging mess, both internal and external to hide the shame it caused.

  • These were my people: restless, can-do-it energy that could be the best thing and also the worst. Emotional highs and lows that had them wondering if they might have bipolar disorder. Constant feelings of failure because the constraints of being a woman and a mother felt even more constraining to them.

  • By February 2020 I had a diagnosis. A number of interviews with a psychiatrist and a computerised test had shown I was 99th centile for inattention and hyperactivity. Me – someone who prides herself in noticing things and who – if required in my previous work as a doula – could sit in the corner of a birth room motionless and in silence. A human security blanket.

  • It has been quite the thing to work these contradictions out. I am still working them out: which bits are really me and which my ADHD traits or the masks I’ve worn to hide them.

  • I have medication now and weekly sessions with a specialist psychologist. Both help, but I am still struggling. Maybe I always will.

  • As I walked out of the psychiatrist’s office with my diagnosis and into the pandemic last year, I was already writing a book – a memoir about returning to the land to start a smallholding when the world outside and inside my head felt volatile and strange.

  • When I turned into someone else that day my book changed too. It became the story of who I had always been, who I was and why I see the world as a great big spinning ball of interesting, terrifying, interconnected things that pull me this way and that.

  • Writing a book during lockdown; about a story that unfolded as I wrote it, less than a year after a breakdown, with a brain that sees everything as important and concentrates only in hyper-focused bursts was really fucking hard.

  • But it was exquisite too – in the way that the most worthwhile things often are gruelling and agonised and sharp with things that sparkle as well as puncture.

  • ‘Earthed’ is a story of being alive right now – of hard things, good things, urgent things.

  • It follows my brain outwards from a patch of Kentish mud, from my own experiences of motherhood, love, success and failure to find forgotten stories, to bring lost women back to life, to wrestle with the bad things that happened to people very far away– but also not very far away at all.

  • It journeys through mental health to goats and back to breakdowns via the pandemic, ancient oak trees and fictionalised accounts of the people I wish had been able to tell their stories.

  • I now know that my brain will not work if it is not excited enough. I am excited by honesty and so I had to be honest – to try and tell how it all felt even if it left me exposed. Someone I admire has described it as ‘every crevice writing’ – and that is exactly how it felt to write. As if I was digging something out of every crevice, every fold of flesh, every dark corner and buried hope.

  • I know that most readers of this and of ‘Earthed’ won’t have ADHD, but less than a fortnight since publication and women have contacted me in far-larger numbers than expected to say they are now seeking help to understand whether it might be the missing puzzle for them too.

  • I’m proud to play a part in smashing the idea that ADHD is a naughty little boys’ problem – that it isn’t serious or that it’s not something that adult women might suffer with. 23.5% of women with ADHD will attempt suicide in their lifetime compared to 3.3% of neurotypical women and 14% of men with ADHD. It is serious.

  • But it’s not a book written for that reason or that audience. I hope that my story resonates with many others – neurodivergent or not. Women, like many other minoritised groups, have not been allowed to tell our stories in our own way. FFS, we haven’t even been permitted to live our lives within a system that allows us to be who we need – who we really are.

  • In my life I am still fighting to understand how to live without trying so damned hard to be the opposite of myself. But in my book, I think I found a way to let myself be her: the real girl underneath that self-critical school report.

  • In ‘Earthed’ I tried to find the brilliance my nine-year-old self wanted from her writing. Not by knuckling down and forcing myself to be slower, neater and better but by breathing out and scrawling madly in the messy margins where I’d always wanted to live.

  • I wrote the 87,000 words that were bubbling under those 205 words of trying hard, not rushing, improving and insisting I draw what I saw rather than what I imagined.

  • Screw drawing what I’m supposed to see – I choose the realness of what I imagine.

  • It hurts to let go like this. Maybe it will never stop hurting – and that is scary. But oh how gorgeous to get this taste of feeling free.

  • I’m re-writing that school report. Getting rid of one set of imperatives and replacing them with another. No more: be neater, try hard, improve! Instead I instruct my small self to just be. To breathe out, find your margins and scribble in them! Because those are the stories that are needed. Because that’s the life you deserve.

Photo Credit: Penelope Fewster

** Earthed by Rebecca Schiller is out now (Elliott and Thompson, £14.99)



NHS: www.nhs.uk/conditions/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd

Royal College of Psychiatrists: www.rcpsych.ac.uk/mental-health/problems-disorders/adhd-in-adults


** ‘But why is there blood in the toilet?’ ‘But why do people die and are they just sleeping?’ and “But why do adults drink beer and what does it do?’ are some of the tricky questions I tackle in my debut book BUT WHY? which is available to preorder now  and also on audiobook.**



–  Read Jess Williams’ (AKA The Hot Cross Mum) list about how much her ADHD diagnosis at the age of 40 meant to her.

–  Listen to Matt Haig on But Why? podcast as he discusses mental health and why the conversation needs to be handled mindfully.


Find submission guidelines here.  All writers and topics  are welcome, but we are currently particularly looking for lists on:

–  Internet trolling

–  Prison

–  Pain killer addiction

–  Extremely large families

–  Estrangement

–  Lottery winners

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