Disorganization didn’t stop Jordana Haspel from excelling in high school or graduating from Brown University.
But for this adult with attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD), success in the structured world of school didn’t lead to success in the adult world of work and roommates.
Bright as she was, Jordana lost one job after another. Her messiness alienated roommates. Therapy and medication for depression helped her cope but didn’t get to the root of her problem — until a therapist suggested that her depression might be a side effect of adult attention deficit disorder, or adult ADD, rather than the cause of her unhappiness.
The right ADHD medication and the right ADHD support coach have helped Jordana turn her life around. Today, she is a successful marketing copywriter, with an apartment that, while not pin-neat, no longer reflects the chaos that once ruled her life. Best of all, she finally feels she is in control of her symptoms of ADD.
Jordana: A therapist I was seeing for depression several years ago suggested I might have attention deficit disorder (ADD). I felt I had a kind of constant, low-level sadness rather than major depression.
A lot of my symptoms were symptoms of ADHD: I wasn’t depressed so much as unenergetic, unfocused, unmotivated, and confused. Although I was surprised at the suggestion that I had ADD, some things did make sense. I had done well in school, but while my friends really got immersed in their majors, I just went to classes — sometimes.
Johanna: Jordana was an indifferent student. She slid through a lot of her classes, getting mostly Bs. She was still doing all-nighters in her senior year, while most of our classmates had outgrown that. Meeting deadlines were challenging for her.
Jordana: After graduation, I saw people who weren’t as smart as I do a lot better professionally. They were able to focus and give it their all, and I couldn’t. Since college, I’ve been through three careers. I worked as a journalist on several local papers. I spent a year doing visual effects and animation for the Narnia movie before I was fired.
Johanna: When Jordana didn’t have structure and people like parents or friends watching over her, she fell apart.
Jordana: I had trouble in my personal life, too. I realized later how ADD affects social development. Other kids seemed to know how to behave, how to interact with people. I’ve always had difficulty reading social cues, getting along with my peers. As an adult with ADD, it never occurred to me to say “Hi” if I saw someone I knew. I had trouble keeping up with conversations; I’d put in my two cents after everybody had moved on to another topic. I interrupted people. I was just uncomfortable. I didn’t fit in.
When I lost my last job, about a year and a half ago, I told my therapist I needed more hands-on help. He suggested Barbara. One of the first things we worked on was miscommunication. That’s what had cost me my job. I was ostensibly fired for not getting there on time, but I’d thought I was doing what my supervisor had told me to do. Work started at nine, and he said it was OK to get there by 10, when they made “rounds” to check on everyone’s progress. I called in if I was going to be late, and I thought that was OK. When they fired me, they hadn’t said anything to me about lateness for months, and I hadn’t picked up any signals that my supervisors weren’t happy.
Barbara: People with ADD are often very literal. If you give them specific information, they know exactly what you’re talking about. But if employers are vague when giving directions, or if they leave out relevant details, there’s room for misunderstanding. That happened where Jordana worked. Her failure in reading nonverbal signals and clarifying spoken instructions led to problems. In my work with her, I emphasize the importance of clarifying anything she doesn’t understand.
Jordana: I ask more questions than I used to—not to be demanding but to find out what I need to know. The people at my new job—as a marketing copywriter for a weight-loss company—are good communicators. When I began here, I asked my boss to let me know if there were any problems with my performance. If I’m not sure what needs to be done first, I might say, “Is it OK to go through my priority list with you?”
I’ve been working with Barbara on other problems that come up at my job, too. She’s helped me find little on-the-job tricks that make a big difference—like working in a quiet place when I need to concentrate, and putting attachments on e-mails before writing the message, so that I don’t forget to add them.
We work on scheduling, too. I have a mix of long- and short-term projects, and I start the day with tasks like answering e-mails. I save the middle of the day for long-term projects that I’ll have to come back to, like creating training materials. There are some things I do every week, like gathering content for the website on Wednesdays. I use a computerized planner and set alarms to remind myself of those recurring tasks, as well as meetings.
Barbara: Jordana works best doing chunks of tasks, rather than making a lot of transitions. When she has to edit something, she’s learned to do the whole thing, rather than stopping to return e-mails. One of the gifts of ADD is the ability to hyperfocus, and “chunking” takes advantage of that gift.
This article comes from the August/September issue of ADDitude.