Policing, parenting, ADHD, and me

By Detective Sergeant Clare Hargreaves, Avon & Somerset Police, Cyber Team Manager. 

My name is Clare, I am 49 years old, a Police Officer, Mummy to one amazing child and am ADHD.

I had a mostly happy childhood but was one of those ‘can’t sit still’, ‘struggle to concentrate’, ‘boundless energy’, ‘doesn’t pay attention’ little girls. I liked being the centre of attention and if I wasn’t then I would take it personally. I often felt like I didn’t fit, that I was different from others but couldn’t identify why. I made friends easily but struggled to maintain them, in my head they didn’t want to be my friend. I realise now it was me who was already seeking the next new exciting experience/relationship.

In my teens my parents separated and moved me from the north of England to the south. At the time I thought that was the worst thing in the world but in hindsight it provided a whole brand-new exciting life experience which was perfect for my ADHD brain. Even though I was a ‘lively, million miles an hour’ child, I was well behaved and quite sensible. I think this stemmed from having a disciplined childhood, however once I left home for University, I started putting myself in increasingly risky situations. Amazingly I am here to tell the tale. Maybe I was a cat in a previous life?!!!

After procrastinating for years about what I wanted to be when I left school, I happened to see a poster at Uni one day advertising ‘Policing’ as a career. That immediately energised and excited me. I wouldn’t be in a classroom or a lecture theatre like my parents had been, I wouldn’t be stuck in an office, I would be out and about and able to help people. It would always be different and varied. I wouldn’t get bored. Sign me up!! I applied and was offered my first choice of force, Avon & Somerset Police.

I started in summer 1995 and apart from a couple of ‘ooh other nice shiny jobs over there’ moments, that funnily enough I didn’t pursue because I procrastinated and then felt overwhelmed with the prospect of leaving the police, I have managed to stay engaged for almost 29 years. How does someone with ADHD stay on task for 29 years?! I believe the answer lies in the facts that I love helping others, locking up bad people, and I have been able to carry out multiple, exciting (and yes, some risky), roles within Policing.

About nine years ago, after a period of burnout, I was enticed back to work by being offered a wonderful opportunity to create a new team in Avon and Somerset Police, which I initially called the Digital Investigation Team. Did I know much about the digital world at that time? I did not, but it was recognised by the Senior Leader that I was someone with vast investigative experience, creative ideas, drive, determination, and the confidence to engage with others nationally to identify the best ways to deliver this internally, which is what I achieved.

This team has grown and developed beyond initial recognition over the last nine years, incorporating cybercrime investigation about five years ago with the creation of Team Cyber UK (TCUK). They recognised that many cyber criminals (as well as those investigating cybercrime), are neurodivergent, and to get the best evidence from these people, it would be helpful for the investigators to be educated about neurodiversity.

As part of this national awareness piece, in February 2021, I completed ‘Neuro Vision’; neurodiversity training created by Creased Puddle. This was delivered as an initial two-day online course presented by Caroline Turner educating people about everything ‘neurodivergent’. I found the information fascinating. How had I got to being 46 years old with almost no conscious awareness of neurodivergence?

My incredible life changing ‘light bulb’ moment happened a month later when I attended the in-person part of the course. We were introduced to three people whom we were told were neurodivergent, but initially we were not informed what their individual diagnoses were. We were tasked with using everything we had learnt so far on the course to plan to interview each person about a given subject, to achieve obtaining their best evidence. This included considering how we may want to set the room up, consider the lighting, how we would approach the people, what questions we may ask and so on. I thrived at the task, I felt that I’d engaged well with the interviewees and obtained some great information. Upon receiving feedback from one of the interviewees, they commented that they had been heavily distracted by being able to see the top of my blue bra strap, as they were sensitive to bright colours. I had no idea my strap was even visible yet alone that the colour would affect someone so greatly.

Each interviewee then shared their individual neurodivergent journeys with us. I listened intently and one lady’s account was my story! I could relate to everything that she said, everything. It felt like an out of body experience, that I was seeing a reflection of myself. In a few sentences my whole jumbled life made sense. At the end of her account, she told us that she was late diagnosed ADHD. I knew immediately that I was too, that was me! It was incredible and overwhelming, all at the same time. How had this not been picked up by my parents, by my teachers, in 49 years? Crazy. I spoke with the lady after the class and told her how her story had resonated and asked her advice of where to start trying to rediscover the real me.

She recommended I conduct some research starting with using the DSM-5 Criteria for ADHD, which is the official diagnostic criteria used by mental health professionals to diagnose ADHD from the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This includes 18 ‘symptoms’, some are ‘inattention’, and some are ‘hyperactivity and impulsivity’ traits.

As I read each statement, I ticked alongside those that I believed represented me. I ticked 15 out of the 18 traits! Still amazed and astounded at my awakening, I contacted my GP to seek their advice and guidance at what my next steps could be, only to be faced with the response, “why do you want a label at 46?”. Wow, did a doctor just say that to me? It wasn’t about having a ‘label’, or being categorised in some way, for me it was a journey of personal discovery and understanding how my brain worked. How could I be the best person I could be without that awareness and compassion for myself?

I was diagnosed in July 2022, but even as I write this, I have imposter syndrome, am I really ADHD?

The diagnosis allowed me to try stimulant medication which has been a game changer. I am now able to focus, concentrate, read long complex texts without constantly being distracted and thinking that’s because I was stupid. I’m able to control my urges to blurt in meetings, to sit for longer periods of time without the need to move, to listen to what people say to me rather than zone out after the first few words, to be less impulsive, and to be kinder to myself/my inner critic.

In December 2023 I received an email from TCUK about an upcoming conference (TCUK 2024); an annual event where law enforcement and partners meet to talk about all things Cyber. TCUK wanted one of the presentations to be about ‘Neurodivergence’, to further raise awareness, by inviting Creased Puddle’s talented Caroline Turner to present, followed by a Q&A session with neurodivergent staff as a panel. I jumped at the chance to share my journey as I thought it might help educate others, and at best, I could be that person, that someone in the audience listens to, that consequently leads them to have their ‘light bulb moment’. Meeting Caroline for the first time in person was lovely, having only ever seen her on a screen. I admire what she has achieved her having left policing many years ago due to challenges faced as a consequence of being neurodivergent. It felt as if we were old friends.

After breathing through my initial nerves at standing on a stage in front of 450 people, I loved sharing my story with others, allowing myself to be vulnerable, being myself, being real.

Having left the stage I was greeted by others from the audience who told me that my story had resonated, and they wanted to learn more. This was so empowering to me.

Cliché to say but the neurodiversity Creased Puddle training I attended changed my life for the better. Thank you for educating me and many others. Thank you for helping me to become my most comfortable self.

For more information on the services and training Creased Puddle offer contact [email protected]