6 Stories of ADHD Triumph

Six artists, thinkers, and entrepreneurs with attention deficit share their personal stories of taking the road less traveled to find their niche — and success.

Beth Nielsen Chapman, one of six ADHD success stories

I don’t measure a man’s success by how high he climbs, but how high he bounces when he hits bottom.

—George S. Patton

Beth Nielsen Chapman, 58

Songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman has come a long way from singing at weddings and in bowling alleys in her high school years. Today, she’s a twice Grammy-nominated, Nashville-based singer-songwriter. In addition to recording her own albums (including Prism, recorded around the globe and sung in nine different languages), she’s written hits for artists like Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Bette Midler, Elton John, Trisha Yearwood, Faith Hill, and others.

She’s also a songwriting teacher and workshop leader. In 2014, she released Uncovered, and that same year The Mighty Sky was nominated for a Grammy for “Best Children’s Album.”

Nielsen Chapman lived with undiagnosed ADHD for most of her life. Now 58, she was diagnosed at 56, after her second husband, a psychologist, recommended that she visit a clinic near Nashville. She felt both relief and sadness after her diagnosis. Her sadness didn’t come from the fact that she had ADHD. It came from remembering all those times “when I had been hard or mean to myself... because I thought I wasn’t up to snuff.”

Nielsen Chapman is now a master of hyperfocus. “I go in my studio, and I think I’m going to be in there for 10 minutes, and my husband calls to me at midnight and says, ‘You going to go to bed today, or are you going to wait until tomorrow?’” Her biggest problem is getting enough sleep. It’s not that she has trouble sleeping; it’s getting to bed that’s the challenge.

Nielsen Chapman has the heightened intuition and emotional sensitivity that often comes with ADHD. These contribute to both the depth of her songwriting, and the subject matter she writes about. Long before her first husband, Ernest, was diagnosed with cancer, she’d started writing the poignant lyrics for her album Sand and Water, in which she explores grief and the joys of living.

A year after Ernest’s passing, a friend invited Nielsen Chapman to a retreat with Deepak Chopra. There, she found her most important ADHD treatment: meditation. “When you practice it with some regularity, your mind grows still.” Nielsen Chapman is calmer and less in need of ADHD medication when she meditates. She also manages time better.

Nielsen Chapman uses Adderall on occasion to treat her ADHD symptoms, especially when she has to critique a song the next day after a night of writing. Like many with ADHD, she finds herself finishing projects at the last minute. Once when she was asked to write a song for Willie Nelson, “It took me until the very last day to finish writing it. I handed it to him at the last second,” says Nielsen Chapman. Yes, he liked it.

Nielsen Chapman sees her diagnosis as one of the best things that has happened to her. “ADD is a gift and a challenge. Sharing that I have the condition with others has been essential to my happiness.”

Peter Shankman, 42

For someone who was sent to the principal’s office regularly for talking out of turn in class, being a sought-after professional speaker feels pretty sweet to Peter Shankman. He’s in high demand as a guru on customer service, marketing, social media, and more.

Born and raised in New York City, where he still lives with his wife and two-year-old daughter, Shankman has learned to use his ADHD to his advantage. His transformation from class clown to corporate consultant, author, and entrepreneur was fueled by a determination to prove that he wasn’t a “slow learner,” as his teachers called him. Shankman worked hard earning his undergraduate degree in journalism and photojournalism from Boston University. He’s best known as the founder of Help a Reporter Out (HARO) and The Geek Factory, a New York-based social media, marketing, and public relations strategy firm.

Until his late 20s, Shankman’s exercise routine consisted mostly of running to McDonald’s for Big Macs and to the grocery store for cigarettes, he says. Today, exercise is a form of ADHD medication for him: He’s a licensed skydiver, runs marathons, and has completed the Ironman triathlon.

Because of his challenging childhood — he suffered from dyslexia, was overweight, and was bullied in school for a while — he wants to reassure kids that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. He routinely visits New York City high schools and gives talks about ADHD to students and teachers.

Shankman, who was diagnosed in his late 20s by a psychiatrist, doesn’t take medication to treat his ADHD. He believes that “my level of dopamine after I go skydiving or for a long run is the exact same as taking Ritalin or Adderall.” Shankman says skydiving grounds him. “[It] gives me the ability to focus and think clearly.”

Before learning how to manage his ADHD, “I always waited until the last minute [to do something] or I’d forget things,” says Shankman. He’s learned to turn this last-minute approach to his advantage. “When I need to write a book, my publisher gives me six months to do it. I usually wait until the last week. I book a flight to Tokyo and I write chapters one through five on the flight there, and chapters six through 10 on the flight home. That’s the only way I know how to work.”

When it comes to success at home, with his two-year-old daughter, Shankman sheds his devices when he’s with her. “I spend the majority of my time focused on her, talking to her. I enjoy living in the moment.”

When Shankman goes home to his wife and daughter, “I stop at the door and I take 10 long, deep breaths. It centers me, and it allows me to walk in with a clear, calm head.”

Shankman doesn’t see his ADHD as a problem. “Know that what you have isn’t a disease, it’s a benefit. You need to learn to manage it. Whether that’s [taking] medication or doing 20 jumping jacks to change your brain chemistry for a bit, we have the ability to think and process faster than most people. We need to embrace that.”


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TAGS: Adult ADD: Late Diagnosis,

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