Dystinct Journey of Kat Alexander

Issue 18: Dystinct Journey of Kat Alexander

Kat Alexander shares her lifelong journey with ADHD and dyslexia, recounting the challenges, societal perceptions, and self-discovery, ultimately embracing neurodiversity and advocating for self-acceptance and love.

Kat Alexander

Table of Contents

This story was published in Dystinct Magazine Issue 18 November 2023.
Kat Alexander - Operational Excellence Leader & Neurodiversity Advocate
When I was invited to share my story, I felt both honored to be seen as offering a valued experience for others and immediate pressure. My brain has a big-picture view. This is just one of several ways my dyslexia and ADHD work together and against each other. The advantage is that I can see the evolution of an idea and all the possibilities. The downside is that I'm almost immediately overwhelmed. My ADHD is on full alert whether I want it to be or not.

I seem to be hard-wired for these few things to be front and center:

  • It will take forever to complete.
  • Imposter syndrome. This is weird, right? Because, in this case, it's my story.
  • Perfectionism. Also, it's odd in regard to this article because all I have to do is tell you a story. There is no 'perfect' way to tell it.

Nonetheless, I got stuck for a while on "Where do I begin?"

So, let's start here….

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Kat's Story

Kat's Story

I've always known I am ADHD, although when I was diagnosed in 1969, it was called Hyperactivity. ADHD wouldn't become an official diagnosis until 1987.

The main reason my parents sought help was because my ADHD was the loudest noise in the room, for me and everyone else. At age four, a doctor prescribed phenobarbital, a strong narcotic used as a sedative that doctors stopped prescribing in the 1960's. Today, its primary use is to treat epileptic seizures. I had a severe reverse reaction.

I was 5 when my parents started me on Ritalin. I never liked how it made me feel. Like all the energy was still inside me, screaming to get out. I felt sluggish and found it hard to interact with others. It also severely aggravated a physical anxiety disorder that I've had my entire life, but I wouldn't be diagnosed with it until September of 2022.

Teachers and school nurses would say things like "Time to take your pills!' in front of the class every day. To the other kids, this only served to make me the weirdo who had to take pills to be normal. Making friends wasn't exactly easy for me.

Growing up with ADHD and undiagnosed dyslexia, I felt like I was never good enough. I felt desperate to be seen and heard for my interests, thoughts, and talents, for who I was, not how I behaved or how bad my grades were. Instead, everyone in my life; family, teachers, friends, were constantly telling me that everything about me was wrong. The culture I grew up in made me feel like a weirdo, freak, stupid, lazy, hyper, crazy. Hopelessly flawed!

At the beginning of my senior year in high school, I was told it would take an extra 18 months for me to graduate if I passed all my classes from that point forward. Instead, I got my GED. With ADHD and dyslexia, going to a four-year college seemed impossible. And one more time, I felt like a failure.

I have always been a positive person, always seeking joy, and I was determined. Come hell or high water, I was going to find a way to have a happy life. I got married at 24 years old, and we had four beautiful kids. Three of the four would end up being ADHD, as well as having several other learning disabilities.

At work, I was always seeking promotions. I took college credit courses through my employers and spent one year in junior college. I always felt unteachable in a formal school setting - Stupid. So, I kept self-educating, learning how I learned best through collaboration and practical application. Early on, I found that if I could take apart and put back together any process or function just once, I would know it for life. But don't hand me a book to read and then test me because I would fail every single time.

Early on, I found that if I could take apart and put back together any process or function just once, I would know it for life.

I built a career for myself in Operations Management specific to Service Excellence. I found managing and developing employees into leadership roles something that excited and challenged me. I was good with people, communication, and, oddly enough, teaching others to be really good at their roles. Strange considering my own learning challenges. I also excelled because this was a role that had many moving parts and required wearing lots of hats. Operations and Service Excellence with C Suite engagement is where I naturally excelled to a director's level. This career seemed to have all the requirements of my ADHD energy and dyslexic thinking strengths.

Then, in February 2022, I learned the term Neurodiversity (ND) for the first time, and my brain was on fire learning all I could about ND as a whole and self-discovery about the specifics of my own ND. By February of 2023, I completed two separate neuropsych and academic evaluations, wanting to know how my ADHD and dyslexia showed up so I could find strategies for my challenges and leverage my strengths.

When I received the results of my IQ scores at the first evaluation, I was speechless and hardly able to hold back tears. Prior to testing, I had prepared myself to hear these scores were average across the board, certain from my education experience that I was average at best. When she shared that of the five categories, two were advanced, and one was superior, something inside me shifted. My very first thought was, "Is this evidence that maybe I'm not stupid after all?"

My very first thought on receiving the results of my evaluation was, "Is this evidence that maybe I'm not stupid after all?"

The advantage to these two evaluations, besides confirmation of ADHD - Combined (Severe) and dyslexia, was that each showed and confirmed the areas that challenged me most, like procrastination, object permanence, and time blindness. And I was offered new strategies to help me manage them. The best part was when they showed me my strengths - communication, strategic thinking, highly intuitive, empathy, strong visual and detail-oriented thinking. Both also highly recommended stimulant medication to help with attention and focus, which, with my anxiety disorder, is not an option.

Today, I know so much more about myself than ever before. I will always have challenges with my neurodiversity. But now, I have brain hacks and strategies to help me manage each day without being exhausted by noon. A good example is my process for writing this article. In the past, I'd have sat at the desk for hours on end, several days in a row, and at best, been disappointed with the end result. That's not my experience today.

Today, I recognize and accept that with most tasks, my process is going to be all over the place. Just as one example, while completing this article this morning, I thought of a quote from one of my favorite authors. I went and searched for the journal in which I knew I had written the quote. My home office is upstairs, and I knew the journal was downstairs. Not three feet from the bottom landing was the journal on the bench in my entryway. It should have been easy for me to pick up the journal and go right back upstairs. But my eyes landed on all the things around the journal. My brain immediately jumps to "I can have a load of laundry running while I finish writing."

And off I go! When all was said and done…

  • I had sorted four loads of laundry
  • opened a new box of laundry detergent and transferred the little bit left in the old box into the new one
  • Started the load of laundry
  • came across the new package of bathroom tissue that I then sorted between the downstairs and upstairs bathrooms
  • While I was at it, I figured I may as well take the recyclables out into the garage to be brought out to the bin later
  • While putting away the bathroom tissue in the hall closet, I saw some pillows that I took to the upstairs closet so that the box in the hallway that I've been walking around for the last three weeks could be put into the closet where it was intended to go in the first place
  • And in the process of all this, I happened to notice the empty bathroom tissue rolls that I had been saving to cut in half to use as curtain rung separators for all the curtains in the house (awesome hack, by the way). It occurred to me that I needed to count the total number of these bathroom tissue rolls I would need in order to accomplish this for all the curtains in the house…34, in case you were wondering.
  • Of course, this distraction ride I was on wouldn't be complete if I hadn't noticed the watering can and watered all the plants upstairs.

And now that my brain had settled down, I could go to the journal and find the quote that I was looking for. I accomplished all of this in less than 25 minutes.

The downside?

Yes, I was distracted from the task at hand.

The upside?

The things that I'm able to accomplish in a short amount of time in moments like these are amazing. The list of things that I was sure were going to take me all afternoon ended up being knocked out in less than a half hour.

I've spent a lifetime hiding my ND, feeling less than everyone else. When my children's ND started to present, I found it hard to help them when I couldn't help myself. But intuitively, I knew to love and support them all the way through it. I may have done that clumsily and taken some wrong actions, but I sought information and resources, educationally and medically, in every way I could. The fact of the matter is that those resources and support didn't exist for me, and although some were in place by my kids' generation, there was very little guidance with finding them, much less utilizing them. We just had to figure it out as best we could. Through it all, I think today they'd say they each had challenging experiences, some even traumatizing educationally, but they each know their own value, and their self-esteem and self-worth are well intact.

I've spent a lifetime hiding my ND, feeling less than everyone else.

I 've embraced the fact that it's in my best interest most of the time to lean into the direction that my ND takes me. Otherwise, I find myself falling into a ton of negative self-talk. As a good friend sometimes reminds me, "It's time to take your knee out of that sweet girl's back and let her up." Sage advice. I've learned to approach myself as I would approach my kids when they were growing up - as a capable and loving parent. The quote I was looking for is from the book "Dusk Night Dawn, On Revival and Courage" by one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott.

She's describing a time when the electricity was out during a period of wildfires in her community…

The Wi-Fi didn't work, and periodically not even the phone, but man, indoor plumbing did, which is the beginning and end of all civilization. I savored the hot shower. To show my inside person that there was a caring mother on deck. I lovingly washed my big funny body, my baby belly button, behind my ears, between my toes, as I had for my baby son, and his. I put on a pretty shirt, forgiving pants, excessive mascara. I partook of Saltines with peanut butter and raspberry jam, and then a fistful of Good & Plenty: heaven.
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Kat Alexander

Operational Excellence Leader, Neurodiversity Advocate

Kat Alexander

Kat Alexander

Extracts from Dystinct Magazine

Extracts from Dystinct Magazine

Love what we do at dystinct.org? Please support us by Subscribing here!
First Person

Kat Alexander

Operational Excellence Leader, Neurodiversity Advocate


Table of Contents