On the Cusp of New Awareness with ADHD

Episode 187

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In this episode of Translating ADHD, Ash and Cam discuss the importance of awareness in managing ADHD. They explore how difficult it can be for individuals with ADHD to reach a new level of awareness, which is crucial for initiating any kind of change. They also highlight that many clients who seek coaching have recently become aware of their ADHD diagnosis, whether it’s a new realization or a revisiting of a childhood diagnosis.

Listeners will recall past episodes discussing the three barriers of ADHD. Awareness is the first barrier and also the first stage of coaching. Tune in to learn more about the role of awareness in the coaching process and how it can lead to positive change for those with ADHD.

[00:01:36] Becoming aware of ADHD.
[00:07:27] Facade building and masking.
[00:08:37] Denial about ADHD impact.
[00:12:26] New information and resistance.
[00:19:11] Appreciating strengths and challenges.
[00:23:38] ADHD and developing identity.

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Episode Transcript:

[00:00:07] Ash: Hi, I’m Ash,

[00:00:07] Cam: And I’m Cam.

[00:00:08] Ash: And this is Translating ADHD. Cam, if you want to tell our listeners what it is we’re going to be talking about today.

[00:00:16] Cam: Absolutely, Ash. So last week we were talking about change. We’re talking about how the coaching process discovery process and change processes associated with coaching line up exactly with the three barriers of ADHD that we’ve talked about in past episodes. So, again, with the focus of bringing more of the coaching process into our conversation here, we thought we would focus on each of the barriers and then look at the opportunity at each of those barriers.

So the first one is awareness, the second one is the barrier to action, and the third one is the barrier to learning. Again, it coincides with this basic general generic coaching model of developing awareness and designing actions. And then the learning from your experience or your actions. So today we’re going to look at awareness and how it can be so difficult to get to awareness with ADHD, that executive functioning is not just about making that meeting on time or, you know, remembering where you put your keys. It’s really about getting to a new place of awareness, which is key to initiating any kind of change process.

[00:01:36] Ash: Cam, I think an interesting place to start is to talk about where clients are when they come through our door. Typically, they’ve pretty recently in time become aware of ADHD itself, whether it’s a new awareness, or whether it’s revisiting a diagnosis from childhood. I would say that a typical client has discovered and found true for themselves that the identity of ADHD is real for them in the last 1 to 3 years. That’s the place that they’re coming to us.

So the first big barrier is even becoming aware that ADHD is there. I had a client who told a great story about what wasn’t great for her at the time, but it’s just such an illustrative story about her time in grad school. She thought everything was going great. She was getting decent grades. She enjoyed her subject matter. Things seem to be just fine. She showed up for some meeting with another student or group of students, I’m not sure. And one of her peers, I don’t know if she was late – there was something ADHD in the mix here – and one of her peers just dressed her down. Just named all of the ADHD. And not in a nice way, right? This was a person who was incredibly frustrated by my client at the time.

My client describes that moment as the moment the fantasy bubble burst. Someone else was holding up a mirror and in a pretty unkind way at that, and all of a sudden she is now hyper-aware of ADHD and how it is showing up. Yet It wasn’t for another few years that she and I got together. So what happens in the in-between? We talk about 1 to 3 years as an average for a client from discovery to walking through our doors. There’s this hyperfixation, but the problem is there’s a lot of really useless information out there about ADHD, and we’ve talked about this before.

So much of the traditional literature on ADHD talks about symptoms and then tries to solve the symptoms by looking at the cause. Often understand that the symptom is a symptom of something else that’s going on for that person. And so, so many of our clients will hyper-fixate on their ADHD, try every tip, every trick, every strategy.

We sometimes get listeners who tell us they wish that we gave more tips tricks and strategies. And listeners, the reason we don’t do that is because we know that even for a very generic ADHD problem – we should keep a consistent calendar – for each client is going to have different stuff going on behind their dilemma of, I can’t keep a calendar. Well, so no tip or trick or strategy’s universal there. There’s just not.

[00:04:57] Cam: I appreciate your example and appreciate, Ash, the discovery and rediscovery piece. You know, so it, it can happen that way where it’s the bubble is burst and you go from this. Not knowing to all-knowing and all-consuming. It can be a hyper-focus, can be hyperfixation, and we often go to tools and strategies.

For me, it was more of an iterative process. Or like this, I mean, as I’m listening to you, I’m just thinking back about my own experience of this sort of discovery and rediscovery and this whole, you know, we talk about the barrier complex – these three barriers and the barrier complex.

I’m now seeing awareness as a barrier. It’s its barrier complex, right? Several different, like, again, moats and tiger pits and walls and fences and. All these, these hazards, because when I first started, it was like, okay, you know, got the diagnosis, get a, get the diagnosis, get a prescription, take the meds. And it worked. I was like, okay, I’m done.

And back to destination thing is like, I’m at mine, I’m done. I’m done with my destination. Right. I’m like, oh, fixed. And then as I go along, it’s this sort of like, Oh, another challenge where I’ve got to kind of run it through this algorithm or this rubric, this just not adding up. And that the only thing that can explain this is this thing that I don’t understand. It’s like, okay, I gotta, I gotta kind of go through my own understand, own, translate thing again.

And so this, yeah, 1 to 3 years is like, what are people doing? People are kind of bumping into these barriers. And like looking at it and what worked is no longer working.

So then it’s this challenge. So a lot of people, when it comes to change, they’ll kind of, kind of scurry back to what they know what’s comfortable and just like, I’m going to stay where I am. That friend is wrong and they’re just being mean, and they’re wrong, and I’m going back to where I am. Versus, you know, I didn’t like the tone of that friend and what they’re saying, but your client looked at the evidence and started to get curious about, and it’s like, maybe there’s something here. Maybe there’s something here and start to kind of explore this and look at, okay, there’s something that I am not aware of.

And this is the definition of curiosity. Okay. Is this comfort with the gap between what you know and what you don’t know?

[00:07:23] Ash: She did indeed get curious, but that’s not what happened first. And so I think it’s worth talking about what happened in the in-between before she started to get curious. And that was a lot of facade building, which is a great metaphor another client gave me.

She said, I feel like I spend all of my time, I can never build a house. I just build a facade, and then I build another facade, and then I build another facade, and it’s exhausting. It’s exhausting. So another term for this would be masking. She was trying to pass as neurotypical. Trying to put on a neurotypical mask, and I don’t know at what point that client started to get curious.

But what I do know is that right there is the reason you and I started this show because there’s not just a barrier to understanding. Okay. I have this thing called ADHD. There’s then another barrier in the realm of awareness to understanding, getting curious about your ADHD, and examining it is the way through not trying to prescribe it away or tip and trick it away or facade build it away.

Or another example that you brought up before we hit record is just going into denial about the impact of our ADHD on ourselves and others, which to a degree is what I did. So I had the fantasy bubble moment. It was at a professional organizer’s conference. I saw Dr. Russell Barkley speak. He spoke for three hours.

[00:09:01] Cam: If it was three hours, it had to be ICD.

[00:09:04] Ash: Yeah. It was the Institute for Challenging Disorganization. Yep.

[00:09:07] Cam: Yeah, it had to be. Shout out to ICD listeners out there.

[00:09:11] Ash: Absolutely. ICD is a great organization. And for those who are not familiar, they fund research and educate organizers on what we call in the organizing industry, chronic disorganization. Two big examples that are very different would be hoarding disorder and ADHD, which impact a person’s ability to self-organize for complex reasons beyond what a situationally disorganized client might be experiencing.

So yeah, I had the fantasy bubble moment, but Cam, when I finally decided to pursue a diagnosis some months after, I just couldn’t shake that niggling question. I walked in expecting the psychiatrist to tell me, no, you just work with a lot of people with ADHD because of what you do. You’re fine. You’re fine.

And so spoke with this guy for an hour. He walked out of the room. He walked back in and he said, so I’d like to talk about medication. And I was like, excuse me for what? For what do you think I need medication? Well, you’re here for an ADHD diagnosis, right? You have ADHD. And that was almost like a second bubble burst for me because I’m like, I’m a professional organizer. This is what I do for a living. And I have ADHD.

[00:10:22] Cam: Yeah, I can’t, right? You can’t have it.

[00:10:24] Ash: Right? What am I supposed to do with that? And then I too did the thing. I was even in coach training at the time, but I didn’t start with coaching. I started by trying to out-organize my ADHD, which by the way was a strategy that worked for me for a long time.

But here’s the other thing. When clients come to us, when clients have their discover that ADHD is typically when life gets too complex to keep running the ADHD.

[00:10:54] Cam: Oh, very nice.

[00:10:55] Ash: You know, there’s a lot of quote unquote controversy about how diagnoses went up during the pandemic. But for those of us who were in the trenches, working with clients, it’s so obvious why that happened.

So many people had supportive routines, supportive environments, supportive people, supportive structures just boom, gone overnight. And on top of that, not only are you now isolated at home without all of these supports, but if you have children, they’re at home doing school. And so everything changed overnight.

And it was a doozy. Every one of my clients and I were revisiting and rebuilding new supports under these very unusual circumstances. So people who find themselves in this circumstance, not knowing they have. What a primo time to figure it out because when that much changes.

I’ve told this story before, so I won’t tell it again, but when things started to get bad for me, it was when my ex-husband and I moved from a thousand-square-foot house to a 3000-square-foot house. And again, suddenly just out organizing, out managing running my ADHD wasn’t working anymore. Just wasn’t working.

[00:12:17] Cam: I’m sitting here, and I’m thinking about David Attenborough narrating, you know, narrating one of the wildlife, you know, a nature documentary, right? It’s like, you know, notice the feral cat when he’s presented with a different challenge, you know, like taken out of his environment and placed in this environment.

And the point being here is that we humans can struggle with new information. It’s not like we take new information, just assimilate and say, okay, got this new information, and let’s move forward and let’s create change. We grapple, we do all kinds of interesting things. And so the opportunity here is to kind of be with your experience.

Are you trying to out-organize your ADHD? Are you again this denial or being dismissive? This is one that I see a lot of like, you know, it’s just what’s the big deal? What is the big deal, especially in relationships? What’s the big deal? This is dismissive and then a little prickly, defensive downplay.

So again, this behavior that it’s like, here’s this new information that is nudging its way in. And just to kind of like, okay, what’s the new information? What is my spouse trying to tell me? What is my colleague trying to tell me? What are, what’s, what is the info? And can I look at that without the tone, the emotion? and just take it for what it’s worth and sit with it. This is sitting at this barrier of awareness.

You’re not going to get through this until you sit and own the part that is yours. But also not own the parts that are not yours. This goes back to your thing about yours, mine, ours. It’s another thing we’ll do is someone will be like, oh, we’ll do the martyr and the victim, the martyr, excuse me, the fall on the sword. I will take full responsibility for this. I have to atone for my sins.

It’s like, then that’s not it’s the ADHD is it’s a piece, but it’s not the whole reason for the dilemma in your world. It is a piece. And so getting to this place of curiosity and self-compassion. Because that whole thing of hypervigilance and hyper-focus and it’s like, ah, it’s like I got scabies and I’m like, I gotta move from this place. I gotta, let’s find the tool. Let’s find this planner. Let’s find the system. Let me get away from this because of that new awareness.

Oh, do I do that to be here in this place and to sit with it and start to observe and notice and in this place of curiosity? Okay. Then we start to see the subtle nuances, right? Subtle distinctions of how it shows up and how it doesn’t show up.

I love what you said earlier, Ash, about life becoming more complex, and you can no longer outrun your ADHD. That there’s like a time when we could handle it. We could manage it. We develop coping mechanisms and strategies to figure out how to be successful every single day.

Yours and my clients, the typical story is this, is that yes, they can be successful, but it often comes at a great expenditure of time, energy, and attention. And that’s the only way they know. So they either again bump into a friend who’s like, as you said, with your example, or they meet an immovable obstacle that they cannot overcome with what they’ve developed in the past.

And so it challenges all of them, sense of who they are, and what works. And this is a part of change. This is a part of the change process. It’s messy. It’s a bit ugly. It’s not fun, necessarily, but it’s necessary. And so looking at this with your coach, looking at this with your partner, cultivating a support group that can help you look at this. And it’s going to support you and not look at it with consternation or judgment.

Because again, I want to go back to this idea of ADHD strips you of the actual executive function tools to recognize what’s going on and take action to overcome what is going on.

[00:16:58] Ash: On top of that, we’ve been experiencing the consequences of ADHD in one form or another our whole lives. So there’s one down in the mix there – to that blame sponging thing that you described comes from that one down place – comes from that there’s either this defensive reaction, that defensive crouch, or there’s this assumption that it must be our fault. We must be to blame. My co-worker’s in a bad mood, were short with me today. I must have done something. A project that involved many people didn’t go the way it was supposed to go. That must have been all me, and what I was hyper-fixated on that I wasn’t doing correctly, or that I didn’t know. We’re good at that.

The other thing, because one down is there, is we don’t see our strengths. The funniest part of my job is helping people see their strengths. And people, I’m not, like, making stuff up. I work with incredible people who have cool strengths, and it’s so fun to tease those out. To point them out in our group coaching courses, we invite other participants to share what they’re noticing about a person, and what they see, and we get cool things from our participants.

So you don’t have to be a coach to do that either. And Cam, here’s what I tell new clients. When we talk about where I want to see them be by the time we conclude coaching, it’s here: Strengths and challenges are on an equal playing field. So it’s not about flipping the script from the challenge is the big signal to strength is the big signal. It’s not some going from ADHD as a curse to ADHD as a gift thing, but having them live on an equal playing field.

And when you start to see a client being successful in the ways that we define success in coaching, it’s when they start to learn how to tap into strength, when they start to appreciate their strengths, when they appreciate the value that they bring. So, awareness!

And awareness work is by far an important thing that we do because it helps our clients get to this place of ownership, this place of, I understand my brain differently now, and I can distinguish that it’s not all crap. It’s not all a challenge. It’s not all blame and fault, and I’m terrible. There’s a nuance there.

A thing I like to do with a lot of my clients is have them retell me a story. So many of my clients will tell a story of how they got where they are being successful in some way. Like they had no role in it. Like it happened to them. And when they do that, I always invite them to tell that story again, to see where they were at choice. To see where their strengths had a role, to see the nuance and distinction there. And that perspective shift is huge.

I used to tell the story of how I became a coach like it happened to me, like I had no idea how or why I got here. And so ownership is not about owning all your challenges and fixing all of the ADHD. That’s part of it, right, and owning your challenges, and having different experiences. But it’s really about seeing the whole picture of you and your who and appreciating that person’s strengths and challenges alike. And from that place, the action stuff of coaching gets a whole lot easier.

And that’s often the place where clients start to realize, Hey, I think I’ve gotten what I needed here. I can do the action part now because I know how to examine it. I know how to get curious. And I know what my strengths are. I know what my resources are. And when I am challenged, I can ask for what I need, or employ the support I know works for me from a place of strength, without feeling like other people don’t do it that way, I shouldn’t need to do this. Like, all of that stuff just starts to vanish. It’s a cool thing.

[00:21:19] Cam: I appreciate that, Ash, because, you know, we said with this 2nd season, we were going to bring in more of the coaching process. And so coaches out there, did you just hear what Ash did is that meeting the client where they are as they show up and to trust that there are strengths? There are values. There is a who there to discover.

And that’s the interesting thing with ADHD. ADHD blocks a person’s ability to see their strengths and their sense of who this is. Back to Barclay and his four circuits, right? The why, the who, the when, and the what, and so much in coaching, so much out there with ADHD land, is about the what, the when, and the how are we going to do it? What are we doing? And when are we doing it versus this?

When you meet your clients, they’re coming to coaching because they’re frustrated. They’ve tried everything they can think of. This is something of a last resort for them. So they’re coming down frustrated, and they’re at this barrier. They think they might be at the barrier of action.

We’ll talk about that next week. They’re probably at the barrier of all three, but mostly at this barrier of awareness, where when you’re faced with a challenge, are you thinking awesome things? Are you thinking I’m awesome? No, you’re thinking I’m frustrated. I can’t figure this out. And we start that whole negative tape thing to reinforce all the challenges that we’ve had, right?

The working memory, the amygdala and the hippocampus, all conspire to bring back all those stories of how we haven’t been successful. So a good coach is going to listen, and Asher, as you said, invite that story. And like, can you say it now where you’re in the picture to encourage and trust the process?

It is a reveal. It is not a fast reveal, but it is a reveal. Nonetheless, there are strengths here. Again, some of the strengths come through in the ability to overcome challenges. I think that’s a good place to wrap up today.

[00:23:30] Ash: I agree, Cam, but there’s just one more little thing I want to say. And that’s that this thing of ADHD and your who, your identity, there’s some really interesting research out there that supports this, that supports the idea that ADHD people need support in developing identity. And it makes sense. We spend a lot of our lives trying to be the round peg that fits in the round hole when we are the square peg.

And something cool happens when a person has permission to explore being the square peg. And that’s what coaching is inviting clients to explore. Who they are and what’s going to work for them without attachment or judgment to what they come to. So let’s wrap here. Next week, we’ll talk about that second barrier. And until next week, I’m Ash

[00:24:25] Cam: I’m Cam.

[00:24:26] Ash: And this was the Translating ADHD podcast. Thanks for listening.

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