“I get it.”
Wait, what? “I understand. I do that too!”
Let me back up a bit. I was suffering from post-natal depression after the birth of my second baby. I had it after the first one too, and had counselling then, but this time I was looking for something different.
SOMEBODY HELP ME, PLEASE!
I had been to the doctor to ask for a referral to an ADHD specialist, but they didn’t know any. Here in the UK, it is even more misunderstood than in the USA, and the official diagnostic criteria lean towards the “hyperactive little boys” model (my ADHD is the inattentive type, and obviously, I’m not a little boy). So that was pretty much a brick wall.
The reason I wanted my ADHD treated is because I’ve known I’ve had it for years, but because of the difficulty in accessing treatment, I never did anything about it. But I knew that doing stuff helped my depression, so I figured, if I got my ADHD treated, I could do stuff and feel better!
But without an official diagnosis, I was a bit stuck. I signed up to ADDitude magazine and through one of these articles, I discovered June Silny, an ADHD coach. I had contacted a couple of coaches and therapists in the US before, but didn’t really click with them.
So, what swung it for June? Well, the first session was free, which helped! It gave me a chance to see if June really could help me (and presumably, a chance for her to make sure I wasn’t going to be a pain in the arse). It was in that first session that she said “I get it” and something clicked. Here was someone who didn’t think I was lazy, disorganised and generally rubbish at everything. Here was someone who could help me.
I was very sceptical about coaching. I had never done it before (only different kinds of therapy, with mixed results). And I knew that very few people recommend coaching. So I went into it without any high hopes but a willingness to give it a shot.
SESSION #1- Crash and Burn
After our first session, June suggested I look at some of her online writing so I could check her out a bit more. I read her most-shared article on loving someone with ADHD, but this wasn’t the piece that resonated most with me. I looked her up on Quora, and saw she’d answered someone who said they couldn’t focus for more than 10 minutes at a time. Her answer? “If that’s all you can do, then do that. Work within those 10-minute blocks.”
That advice hit me like a truck. Everything else I’ve read about productivity, procrastination and focus said “Do this thing” or “Try that trick” or “This is what Steve Jobs did.” No-one else ever said “Do what you can do. Work with what you have.” June was fitting solutions to individuals, not chucking a load of one-size-fits-all life hacks at people.
After that first session I was buzzing and excited. I was going to be a champion of productivity, I was going to do loads of stuff, and everything was going to be bloody marvellous.
And then? Nothing.
I crashed and burned. I didn’t do anything that first week, not even my homework that June had assigned. What was wrong? I was so keyed up about this and yet I was instantly back to my old ways.
SESSION #2- I’VE GOT ADHD, say it out loud
I started my second Skype call with June with a heavy heart. I wasn’t going to lie to her, so I told her how my week had been. At school, work and everywhere else, this was the point where I got bollocked, or faced with a mystified look from someone who couldn’t understand why I couldn’t do something that I was so excited about.
“Yeah, that happens,” said June.
“People with ADHD do this all the time. They get excited over something then don’t do anything about it. That’s OK.”
So… this wasn’t my fault then? I could learn to manage things to actually get stuff done?
Yes, I could! But first, I needed to accept some things.
I’d never really admitted to myself I had ADHD. I knew I’d had it, but it wasn’t until the third session I said it out loud. It was a big deal for me to accept there was a medical explanation for why I’d been struggling.
Those first few sessions focused on the neurology of ADHD. The executive functions, the brain chemistry and why people like me are the way we are. And most importantly, it’s not our fault.
This wasn’t therapy, but June did dig into my background a bit to learn about some of the messages I’d received through childhood, and how I was at school and so on. Apparently, these are common to people like us.
“Must try harder.”
“Needs to pay attention.”
“Not living up to potential.”
I told June how I would leave something until the last minute, then hyperfocus (usually at night and/or in my pyjamas) to get the task done. She kept saying “Oh yes” or “Me too” or laughing with me over our shared experiences.
DON’T LISTEN TO FALSE BELIEFS- THEY’RE LYING TO YOU!
Once she understood me a bit better (which didn’t take long!), we got onto talking about my strengths.
She pointed out, right in the first session, that I was doing a lot better than I thought I was. She asked me about things I’d done and things I do, and pulled out examples of when I was resilient, or hard-working or tenacious. I think a lot of people with ADHD fall into the trap of saying to themselves “I’m so lazy”, “I always procrastinate” or “I never get anything done.” I know I did! But I realised that I wasn’t lazy when it came to exciting things, I didn’t procrastinate when something was important – and I did get stuff done!
But it wasn’t all on-the-couch style analysis. From the beginning, we talked about ways of getting things done, ways of managing emotions and obstacles and what tools or techniques might be helpful.
June uses an expression “Get through the yuck.” It’s not about making the crappy stuff go away, or making you feel better about doing it! It’s about getting through the important things, so you can do something fun without feeling anxious, or guilty, or lazy.
This was another concept that was new to me. She talked about getting through a small bit of unpleasantness. I’d always seen it as a never-ending sea rather than an easily-traversed stream! The idea that I could suck it up and get through it was really helpful. Now, any obstacle in my way didn’t seem insurmountable
June gave me resources – books, website recommendations, tools and suggestions. These helped me recognise my strengths, deal with my impairments and ways to work around my obstacles.
MAKING MY ADHD WORK FOR ME, NOT AGAINST ME
Each week, I had homework. I loved doing this (and I never liked homework before!). I was given the freedom to create something that would suit me. Pretty makes me happy, so I made my projects with joy. June understands the need ADHDers have for everything to be sparkly and looking nice! I made a pie chart with crayons, a good/bad chart on a whiteboard, and took the VIA strengths analysis quiz.
I also looked at the list of executive functions that don’t work properly in people like us. I wrote it out, and listed ways each flaw actually helps me, so it actually became a design feature! I discovered ways of dealing with each impairment, and I still use these.
But my favourite bit of homework to do was the toolkit. I took everything I’d done so far and made myself a tiny toolkit to help get things done. It’s small so it can fit in my pocket! And laminated, so it will last (also I wanted an excuse to buy a laminator!). There are 3 bits, for 3 different tasks – fun, gauntlet (challenging) and vanilla (boring). Each has a list of things I need to do before I begin, the strengths and executive functions I’ll need to do the job, some help getting started, an obstacle remover and suggestions for taking a break (ones that will let me get back to the job easily). I also attached a picture of my kids to each little ring of laminated cards – the best reminder of why I’m doing this!
After a few months, I felt that it was time to start bringing things to a close. The cost was one aspect – plus I didn’t want to get “addicted” to coaching. I also felt that June had helped me so much, I was now ready to continue by myself.
IT’S TIME TO COACH MYSELF
She agreed! She said since I had the experience and the willingness to “coach myself” – it was time to find my own solutions to obstacles and continue to chart my successes. I felt sad when we had our last session, but also uplifted, because I felt able to manage on my own (which I didn’t feel when I started). I prepared for my “post-June” life – I’ve got some books to help me and I joined a couple of ADHD support groups on Facebook, so it wouldn’t be doing this by myself. And I have my journal that I continue to write in.
Our last session was about time management and, like the first session, by the end I was all bouncy, I was going to fix this, and I was never going to be late again.
For the next six days, I was late.
But then on day seven, something happened. I was on time for something.
On day eight, I was actually early! I can’t remember being early, ever before.
And best of all, I stopped beating myself up about it, for the first time. I knew there are no instant fixes with ADHD – even though we love our instant fixes! I knew that it wasn’t my fault. And I knew that it would slowly get better, and easier, and it has.
There were some unexpected benefits of coaching as well – a few things that I didn’t intend to tackle, and that we didn’t work on directly, but just sort of happened.
I’m calmer with my kids now – much calmer and my toddler is behaving better. He’s not a normal kid (whether he has a disorder of some kind remains to be seen) and in understanding myself better, I’m able to understand him better – as we’re very similar! The whole family is functioning better as I’m able to work with, rather than against, my ADHD design flaws and features. (Unless my husband messes up my towel organising system of course, then all hell breaks loose!).
THE BENEFITS OF COACHING with JUNE
Another weird thing that happened is that I care a lot less what people think. I’m more confident in what I wear, how I carry myself, and how I interact. I speak up more now about what I want and need – and also what my kids need (I don’t apologise for my son’s shyness any more, for example). It’s made my life much easier as I’m not so anxious, and I’m a better example to the kids.
My post-natal depression – the reason I started coaching in the first place – has lifted too. I still have my off days, and there are still times where I get in a funk and can’t do anything – but that’s all they are – the odd day. It’s not there all the time any more. June encouraged me to recognise and appreciate my strengths. Working with a coach who has ADHD has made me more compassionate too – for myself and others – and compassion is effective in countering depression.
If this was a film, it would now fade out on me larking about in the sunshine with the kids, hair perfect, everyone at ease, with our beautifully tidy house in the background. But you know that real life isn’t like that (certainly not in the UK where it rains 90% of the time!). Coaching hasn’t made me into someone I’m not – and that perfect person doesn’t exist outside movies anyway.
What coaching has done is made things better. I’m not always on time – but I’m on time for the things that matter. I still procrastinate – but nowhere near as much as I used to. I get anxious making that phone call – but I make it instead of putting it off. I’m making progress – it’s slow, but it’s progress. My business is going better, my kids are doing fine, my marriage is strong and my house is a damn sight tidier than it used to be!
I actually enjoy having ADHD now. June taught me how to work with, rather than against my condition. And, of course, she “gets it”.
Thank you, June.