Claire Boehling spent decades in therapy trying to figure out how growing up with an alcoholic parent led to a life of anxiety and stress — and chronic disorganization. She masked her disordered world with a quick wit, rambling explanations, and the occasional white lie.
Four years ago, while teaching at a Cleveland public school, Claire (pictured at left, with one of her students, Shyla, and colleague Mark Hoffman, the school's phys-ed teacher) noticed that some of her students were hyperactive. In researching their behavior, she realized she had similar symptoms. An evaluation with a specialist confirmed that she indeed had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD ADD), and Claire was prescribed the stimulant medication Adderall.
While medication helped this adult with ADHD focus, it didn’t stop her perpetual lateness or the inability to tackle paperwork, including the piles of documents that covered her basement floor.
Claire signed up for an ADHD workshop, headed by coach Joyce Kubik — and quickly realized her anxieties were caused by ADHD, not by a dysfunctional family life. She credits Joyce for helping her bring order to chaos and replace distress with serenity. Claire has the skills to lead a peaceful, productive life.
CLAIRE: I was relieved when I was diagnosed with ADHD. I finally understood that I wasn’t undisciplined. It was the ADHD that was responsible for my disorganization and inability to deal with paperwork. I took Joyce’s workshop in February 2006, a weekly, two-hour conference call over six weeks. Five or six of us would call in, and Joyce would give us exercises to manage time and paperwork, improve communication, and stop procrastination.
JOYCE: Claire stood out. Over the phone, I could “see” how frustrated she was. Once she started working with the daily planner I sent to the workshop participants, light bulbs started going off in her head. I asked Claire to estimate how long it took her to finish everyday tasks. People with ADHD are typically out of touch with how long things take.
CLAIRE: The exercise was revealing. I estimated it took me five minutes to shower. It actually took 20. I figured getting dressed and doing my make-up took 10 minutes. No, it took a half hour. I understood now why I was always late for work. I was so embarrassed and stressed over my tardiness, I used to lie about it. I’d call the school secretary from the road and tell her I was in a traffic jam.
MARK: I’m a physical-education teacher at Claire’s school, and I monitor tardy children and teachers. Claire was often late. Her children would be sitting in class waiting for her. She would run through the door with stacks of papers and folders in her arms. Sometimes she’d recruit student volunteers to help her. It was classic ADHD behavior: Many of us are packrats.
CHERYL: Claire also had avoidance issues. She loves gardening, and has a beautiful yard. Instead of doing her taxes, she’d garden late into the evening, sometimes until one or two in the morning. One of our neighbors got her a miner’s hat with a light on top.
CLAIRE: I don’t think I’ve worn that hat in at least a year!
CHERYL: Claire has a nice finished basement, but piles of paper covered the floor. She always had a reason not to clean them up, especially if a paper required her to do something—pay a bill, fill out a form, whatever.
JOYCE: Claire desperately wanted to organize her basement. The first assignment I gave her was to clear a path across the floor without getting distracted. I instructed her to deal with the papers she was moving later.
CLAIRE: We’d have to check in with Joyce every day by phone, and sometimes I’d call her and say that I couldn’t do it. Whatever “it” was, I couldn’t get the whole thing done, and she would say, “Well, Claire, what can you do? Can you pay one bill? Can you unpack one box? Clean one corner?” So I’d pay one bill — and then another. Ten or 15 minutes later, they’d all be done. I’d start to clean up one corner of my basement, and I would wind up cleaning half the day.
JOYCE: Those with ADHD often talk negatively about themselves and over-explain when they don’t finish a task. They think, “I have to explain myself with all kinds of excuses, because, if I don’t, you won’t like me.” In the fourth week of the workshop, Claire realized she had to change the way she talks about herself, to improve her self-image and other people’s perceptions of her. I’d say, “Don’t tell me you didn’t get your project done on the day you said you would. Focus on the good news instead: You got it done.”
CLAIRE: I’ve learned that over-explaining is part of ADHD. Joyce wouldn’t let us make excuses for not getting something done. Instead, she would have us break down projects into tiny steps. We had to get something done, no matter how small it was. We learned to think of each little thing as a completed project. I finished the basement cleanup the summer after the workshop. After that, I knew I could do anything.
CHARLOTTE: These days, Claire gets to school on time, or even early, and never winds up staying late. Her classroom is neat as a pin. She seems a lot calmer and more confident.
This article comes from the December/January 2008 issue of ADDitude.