Steve Murdoch joined WiseTech in 2019 as the Global Digital Lead, after an exciting career in advertising and marketing roles for the likes of Qantas, NAB and Amazon.
Like many others, Steve was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as an adult, after experiencing years of misdiagnosed anxiety and depression.
We had the opportunity to speak to Steve about his experiences living with ADHD, how his diagnosis changed his life, and why he views it as a superpower.
Can you share a bit about your past experiences with depression?
I started experiencing the symptoms of depression at around 25 or 26 years old. Back then it wasn’t discussed as much, especially among men, so I didn't really have a clue what to do about it. I just knew that even though on paper everything was hunky-dory, I had a dark cloud over me and a lot of negative self-talk.
One of the advertising agency offices I worked at back home in the UK was in a railway arch, which was really cool, but it had no natural light or windows. I was getting in before it was light and leaving at night, so I’d essentially never see the sun. At the time, I already had depression but being in that environment definitely exacerbated it.
I also couldn't bear my own company and the thought of having nothing to do on a Friday would fill me with dread, so I’d always make sure to pack my weekends out. It was difficult though because no one really took me seriously when I’d mention depression. They’d say “but you're like the life of the party!”, but what they didn’t know was that on some days, it would take everything for me to get out of bed.
Eventually, I got to a point where I spoke to a GP who suggested I try antidepressants and speak to a professional. I didn't feel that I would be able to speak to someone immediately, so I decided to go on antidepressants. Initially they worked, and it really helped with managing the extreme highs and lows, but I also knew I needed to fix the issue at its core.
How did you manage to work through those difficult times?
Part of me feeling depressed was that I never felt like I was achieving anything or following through with plans. I realized I needed to do something different and scary and that’s why I moved from the UK to Australia. I sold my car and my house, I quit my job and I hopped on a plane here the day before my 30th birthday.
Moving had a pretty profound effect because when I got here, I was able to quite easily and quickly make friends, get a job, see the sun and go surfing and all that kind of stuff, so it made a big difference to my mental state and reassured me that I could achieve things.
I then found a brilliant GP who started me on a mental health plan, which means you have access to subsidized psychology sessions. He also changed my medication and put me in touch with a counsellor and that's when I started really investigating cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
Can you share a bit about your experience being diagnosed with ADHD as an adult?
My son, who is now 10, had some difficulties when he started kindy and they suggested that we have him assessed for ADHD. He was then diagnosed, and we were able to work with the school and they knew different techniques to deal with it, which was brilliant. But while I was researching it, a lot of things started to click into place and I realized, this is definitely me.
When I was young, the kids with ADHD were very much stereotyped as the ones who were naughty or disruptive. Whereas I was just called talkative, bouncy and active, so it was never really looked into.
I decided to get a referral to a psychiatrist who specializes in ADHD and I underwent the proper assessment, which is a mix of medical tests and questionnaires and interviews, and they then confirmed the diagnosis.
For such a long time I thought I had anxiety and was on medication for it and tried all sorts of methods to overcome it, like mindfulness, yoga and meditation. But it was only when I found out about the ADHD that it all started making sense to me.
Obviously knowing about it earlier could have helped, but there's no sense in looking back now. I don't see it as any kind of disability, it just helps me understand why I think certain ways and do certain things.
How does having ADHD affect you and your life?
Of course, there are downsides, and the things I’m actively working on are interrupting people and dominating conversations. I don't want to cut people off and I don't think my thoughts are more important than others, but I just get so enthusiastic and engaged in a conversation and my mind races that I just can’t help it, but I know it can be frustrating for people. I’m fairly self-aware, so I’ll often call it out and say “by the way, I talk a lot so if I interrupt you, please stop me.”
Reading for pleasure can also be extremely difficult for me and I’ll have to re-read the same page over and over because my mind is somewhere else. So, I’ll watch a lot of foreign TV shows with the subtitles on because it forces me to pay attention and engage.
I work hard on tempering my energy for different types of people because not everybody responds well to high energy all of the time. I also want to be able to relax because from the second I wake up, my brain is instantly on, and I find it quite difficult to wind down. A big thing for me is exercise, so going to the gym, walking, running, tennis, playing with my kids, all that kind of stuff helps keep me in check.
But then there are the positives! For me, in some ways having ADHD is a superpower. It means I'm able to balance a million different things at once. For work it's great, because I've got a big team and I always know what's going on with each of them and all the different projects going on. Looking back, that's probably why I've always been good at advertising because I can juggle so many things at once and solve problems quickly because my mind works very fast.
It's also a superpower in that it’s helped me to be really sociable and outgoing, because I get very engaged in conversations and very enthusiastic about people and topics. It can be helpful for making friends or being a leader, as I’m able to be empathetic, motivate others, sell ideas and get people on the same page.
What has being diagnosed with ADHD meant to you?
Neurodiversity is a different way of thinking, so since being diagnosed it’s been really helpful to understand that the way I think or behave isn't wrong, it’s just different and something I need to be aware of.
Being diagnosed has actually been a huge relief, because now I know it wasn’t anxiety. So being able to come off that medication has been truly amazing. One thing that happened with the antidepressants was that I never really cried or felt my emotions in the higher or lower spectrums. So it was quite funny for the first couple of months off the medication, I found things like missing family or certain films would make me cry and then I realized that was normal.
The best part is, it’s a bonding experience for my son and I. He knows that I have ADHD as well, and that he’s not alone and that we both have this superpower, which is really special.
Why is it important for you to share your experience?
I think anytime someone shares a story about any kind of neurodiversity or mental health issue, it just breaks another brick out of that barrier. The more people talk about ADHD, the more it can help people who are suffering in silence and the less it becomes a stigma. So I don't have any issue talking about it, because it's not something I'm ashamed of. It's not something that I see as a disability, and I actually think it's a positive.
I'm lucky that I have an incredibly supportive and empathetic people leader, so talking to her about it was natural and easy to do, without any thought of judgement or misunderstanding. WiseTech, to me, is a very supportive and encouraging place, and it’s a safe space to talk about mental health. Personally, I’d feel awful if one of my team was struggling with something but felt they couldn't speak to me. I think if you can show vulnerabilities and share real stories, it makes you a better leader as well because we’re all human, and if you can give a little bit of yourself, I think you earn people's trust and respect.
That's part of working at a company where you can be yourself. We spend more time with our work colleagues than we do with our own families, so if we can't be our true authentic selves, then I think it hinders any kind of progress. So WiseTech encourages me to be open, honest and vulnerable and to provide that safe space for others to share too.