Writing a New Chapter: Discovering My ADD

Once her youngest child left home, successful screenwriter Sally Harris, decided to get to the bottom of her daily struggles by discovering she has adult ADD.

Personal Journey, Part 2

Sally: That was three years ago. When our children were still at home, I spent most of my time helping with their activities. There wasn't much time for anything else. But once our youngest child went off to college, I knew it was time to address my own issues.

Right around then, a friend was telling me about her ADD. It piqued my interest, so I started reading about it. When I picked up Ned Hallowell's and John Ratey's Driven to Distraction, it was epiphany time. The book lists 21 diagnostic questions, and I answered "yes" to almost all of them. For me, the question that resonated most was about not reaching your potential. I always felt that way.

I went on medication, and that gave me a boost in energy. Medication also slowed down my rapid-fire mind so I could concentrate. I went to the Hallowell Center, where they referred me to Nancy. Meeting her was the greatest thing in the world.

Nancy Ratey, Sally's ADD Coach: Many of the people I work with are high-functioning, like Sally. They're driven, and they've managed to succeed in life by working from their strengths. They do a good job of covering up their struggles, but beneath the surface they're suffering. They know they're fooling people, and they feel like scam artists. There's a tremendous amount of guilt.

At some point, they hit a wall. They're no longer able to use the strategies that used to work, like waiting until the last minute to complete a project. When you have a family, you can't pull all-nighters or work all weekend and still maintain good relationships and stay healthy.

Sally: I thought it would be hard to talk to a coach. But it was like a waterfall. Here was someone who knew what I was talking about, someone who could listen to me and understand. The fact that Nancy also has ADD seemed strange at first. Why take advice from someone who has the same problem I do? But Nancy knows how to do all sorts of things because she's had to figure them out herself. She's as passionate and enthusiastic as I am, and that's what makes her a great coach.

Nancy: I'm very high-energy, and I like to coach people who are fast-paced and who have a good sense of humor. I'm blunt - people have to expect blunt feedback. Sally is one of my most amazing clients. She's so determined, so willing to work.

I'm there only to expedite my clients' agendas. The job is helping Sally realize her goals. It's not me telling her, "You need to do this." It's me saying, "You told me this is important to you. If that's right, you need to stop doing X and start doing Y."

Sally: I didn't think coaching by telephone could work. But we've been doing half-hour sessions, first twice a week and now once a week, for almost three years.

One thing I asked Nancy to do was to help me finish a screenplay by myself. I had written other screenplays, but always with a partner. This time, I didn't want to collaborate. Once I understood ADD, I realized I had depended on the other person's sense of structure, not their creative input. So Nancy is now my partner. She listens to me and helps me sort myself out. I don't talk to her about the screenplay's content, but we do discuss my own organization and strategies I can use to work long hours without burning out.

Nancy taught me to ask myself, "What's the minimum number of hours I want to work on the screenplay today, and what's the maximum?" As a writer, I find that sitting down and getting started is the hardest part. So I set the timer on my watch for 15 minutes, write for that long, and then give myself a 30-minute break. For the rest of the day, I work in 45-minute stretches with 15-minute breaks. That's something we came up with together.

This article comes from the February/March 2006 issue of ADDitude.

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TAGS: Adult ADD: Late Diagnosis, Organization Tips for ADD Adults, ADHD Therapy, ADHD and Marriage

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