If I Only Had a Heart...

Confessions of an ADHD adult who was diagnosed at 37 and, thanks to ADD medication, finally learned what it meant to empathize, to feel, to reclaim his life.


Filed Under: Adult ADD: Late Diagnosis, ADHD and Relationships, Exercise and ADHD, ADHD and Marriage
Living with ADD/LD ADDitude Magazine

After 37 years, my brain was finally working the way it was supposed to.

Jeff Hamilton, father of two

It's been said that every crisis is also an opportunity. Jeff Hamilton certainly thinks so. A marital crisis gave the 40-year-old Vancouver, B.C., salesman and now-divorced father of two the opportunity to address the communication problems and chronic lack of focus that harmed his personal relationships and turned his work into an obstacle course. The crisis put him on a path that has made him, by his own account, a better and happier man.

Jeff Hamilton: My ex-wife and her mother were the ones who first suggested I get tested for ADD. That was three years ago, as my marriage was coming apart.

My ex-mother-in-law had been a school principal, and she knew the symptoms of ADD. A couples counselor agreed that my getting tested was a good idea. So I went to see Gabor Maté, M.D., the author of Scattered Minds: How Attention Deficit Disorder Originates and What You Can Do About It. He gave me a comprehensive test, and then the diagnosis became official. I have ADD.

Medication made a huge difference. After 37 years, my brain was finally working the way it was supposed to. It was like coming out of a fog. I could concentrate. I could listen to what people were saying and absorb new facts and ideas. I also became a little better at facing challenges. But I knew that taking pills wasn't enough. I had to learn some basic life skills, like controlling my reactions and staying organized, especially when things went wrong.

Around the time I went on meds, I started looking for an ADD coach. With Gabor's help, I found Pete Quily, who also lives in Vancouver. Pete and I have been working together for more than two years now - a 45-minute phone call three times a month.

Pete Quily, Jeff's ADD coach: A lot of people with ADD say they want to change, but they don't really want to step out of their comfort zone. Not Jeff. He's committed to getting better. He's been willing to do the hard work, to do whatever it takes to overcome his problems.

Coaching is a big part of Jeff's journey, but it's not the only part. He read books about ADD, got counseling, and joined a support group. Rather than merely take medication, Jeff has taken a multimodal approach. I think that's why he's made so much progress.

Jeff: I was never a good student. I would get two or three pages into something, and then have to go back and read it again. I couldn't sustain my focus.

In college, I majored in business marketing, but I left before graduating. Out in the world, I couldn't find anything I wanted to do. I gravitated to sales, which turned out to be a good fit for me. You're not pinned to your desk, and you keep yourself busy with lots of different things, like traveling and giving presentations.

Working in sales allowed me to use my creative side. I started earning good money at an early age. Unfortunately, I was impatient, and I had a short fuse. I had a hard time listening to my boss telling me what to do. I'd get upset, we'd butt heads, and then it was "my way or the highway." So I'd have to find another job.

An even bigger problem was my inability to be empathetic. I knew what empathy was, at least in theory. If I was speaking with a friend whose father had just died, I'd say what you were supposed to say, but I didn't feel it deep down inside, where it counts, where you really relate to someone. I didn't feel empathetic. That made it hard to understand people.



This article comes from the April/May 2006 issue of ADDitude.

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