Pain to Purpose

By Sally Coles-Robertson, diagnosed officially aged 40

The big questions: What was your earliest recollection of being ‘different’? Why do you have to be awkward? What is it like to live in a head like yours? Why can’t you behave like everyone else?

These are just some of the questions that one constantly hears when they live in my world. That is what prompted me to write my first book: The Secret Tips to Success.

I was three years old. At playschool I can remember being sat on a little wooden chair at a table, whilst all the other children played. Another vivid memory was my first day at school when the teacher sat in a rocking chair, wearing dark glasses like sunglasses. I was frightened, soiled myself, and screamed hysterically and so had to be taken home. Being incredibly sensitive is just one of the symptoms that can come with ADHD. As I grew older, I learned very quickly how to ‘mask’ and pretend to be the ‘same’ as all the other girls. After all, there’s only so many times you can hear “sit down”, “shut up”, “stop showing off”, “be quiet”, and “get out” before you realise that maybe you might be a bit ‘simple’ (as I was reminded time and time again). There were mainly boys in my class which consequently, I made a preference to behave more like the boys. I was a ‘Tom-Boy’. I’d play up in class, throw things, and play on building sites.

I was great at sport, but everything else felt like a catastrophe. Cookery classes were generally abandoned half way through. I never used to see the whole of a science lesson as I’d either try to create a small fire with the Bunsen burner, or try and throw sanitary wear in the fish tank to see how they would expand.

Why? I simply did not know.

This carried on all the way through my school days in the UK. My mum worked in the school canteen and would quite often see me regularly stood outside the Headmasters office.

We moved away, with my father, to Australia, in 1982 when I was 12 years old. I was sent to the Headteacher within the first week for spraying paint up in the ceiling fans in the art room. Yes, you’re right… Red paint splattered all around the room! I wanted to see the art, as I was intrigued how far the paint would reach.

The Headteacher told me I was a disgrace and that Australia did not like me at all. Eventually I returned, unaccompanied, on a flight from Australia to the UK. Things started to turn round when I was 15years old. I was sent to finishing school, won a modelling assignment and felt like the ugly duckling had, at last, made a U-turn into a serene swan.

The trauma didn’t end there though. Despite successes, such as winning awards for beauty, achievements that saw me win a place proudly marching for our Queen in the Armistice Parade, and standing on Trafalgar Square for my country in the freezing winter mourning; I was told that if I carried on having an attitude like this, then I would go nowhere in life. A light bulb and pivotal moment.

That remark, to me, was the best thing that was ever said. Since that moment, my superpowers, abilities, and coping strategies have been the catalyst to the success I now have as an entrepreneur.

I embarked on a course for hairdressing and beauty. Here I was able to win competitions, receiving a letter from the Principle offering his heartiest congratulations. I felt so proud. Another hurdle was leaped over, and I went on to win regional and national finals for the industry. I may not have been academic, but I could certainly use my creativity, dialogue, and enthusiasm to display different qualities to my peers. From there I went into business, opening an award-winning salon. I was nominated for the Chamber of Commerce business awards, winning first place! This lead on to opening other salons, earning a teaching qualification, and even completing a degree in business management.

I now spend my time running successful businesses in hair, beauty, nutrition, and natural therapies; before embarking into property and letting houses. I can travel globally, when I choose too. During the Covid- 19 pandemic, I have started a chat show.

Although I previously had misgivings about becoming a parent, I am proud to be a mother of three wonderful, healthy children.

My eldest son has ADHD. His neurodiversity is wonderful to see and encourage. He is funny, witty, intelligent, and works successfully with me in our family business.

My beautiful daughter is highly academic, and without a doubt will use her skills and learned behaviours to go as far (and as high) as her desires; reading Criminology and Psychology at Nottingham Trent University.

My incredible youngest son, again an academic, is extremely competitive and knows he will not let anyone steal his dreams.

They enjoy having a neuro-diverse mum, because of my abilities I am able to demonstrate a brighter side of life. We take risks, we applaud the people who have tried in life, and we encourage those who need to be shown a way.

My motto and mission are: “there is always a way to seek the common good”.

I was invited by our local council, as a recognised entrepreneur, to have dinner with Baroness Michelle Mone, who is also neurodiverse. What an incredible and inspirational woman!

I want to leave a legacy and urge women with this diversity, to lift you up onto a pedestal and cheerlead all the other hidden ADHD women. They are out there in the millions waiting to shine. I used to feel robbed, as a young woman whose life was supposed to start at 40, but discovering Dr. Tony Lloyd and young Sienna Castellon has been a revelation!

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