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 3

There are lots of other things that are important to me - my family, volunteer work, travel. It's hard not to feel scattered. Nancy gave me a way to stay on course with the screenplay, despite all these other things in my life. She taught me to think of these other interests as "transparent." That way, I can always keep the screenplay in mind.

Another thing I learned is what Nancy calls "structured flexibility." I look at what I want to do that day, and the time I have to do it in. I have a schedule, but I can move things around. If I want to work three hours on my screenplay, I can do it in the morning or in the afternoon.

Nancy: People with ADD are often allergic to structure. We see it as an enemy instead of a friend. Usually, that's from trying to lock ourselves into a too-rigid structure. My whole idea of coaching is to help people create a flexible system that works for them, instead of forcing them into a system that is incompatible with who they are and what their situation is. Structured flexibility lets you stay on target by choosing from a list of tasks you have to accomplish. For Sally, that means, instead of sitting down to write when her brain feels dead, she runs errands. When her mind feels clear, she goes back to the writing.

Sally gets an amazing amount of stuff done. She continually challenges herself to go to the next level, trying to master tasks that cause problems, coming up with ways to live the life she wants. I don't think she ever imagined her life could be so multifaceted.

Sally: Another thing that's been a huge help to me is cognitive therapy. I tend to keep a lot of things going around in my head - ruminating, rather than getting things done. The Hallowell Center recommended cognitive therapy, and I tried a version called "rational emotive behavioral therapy." With REBT, I write down exactly what I'm thinking, and come up with ways to dispute self-defeating ideas like, "I'm too old to start another screenplay," "I'll never finish," or "Why bother? It doesn't really matter."

I carry a lot of baggage from all those years I spent with undiagnosed ADD. I wasn't aware of it, but I would have negative thoughts, like "I'm not good at this" and "I can't do that." And if I thought I wasn't good at something, I stayed away from it. I never used to cook, because it was fraught with times and measurements - you had to finish the broccoli at the same time as the casserole, calculate how much each person was going to eat, and so on. Now that I feel more comfortable about cooking, I'm intrigued by it. I feel confident that when I understand a problem, I can solve it.

Fred: The fact that Sally feels so much better about herself has improved our relationship. I don't think I was ever insulting, but there was a certain wise-guy element to what I said to her: "Every time we go to the airport, the same thing happens, and we're late."

Now that I know what's causing Sally's problems, they're easier for me to accept. And I have to say that I've learned from Sally. I'm self-employed, and I have a hard time keeping track of projects, file folders, and things like that. Many ideas that Sally learned from Nancy - color-coding, taking the stuff out of your pocket and putting it in the same place every day - have really helped me.

Sally: I'm 56 years old. At this stage of life, I suppose I could look back on the years before I found out about ADD and think, "If only I had known." But the way I feel is more like, "Hooray, now I know." It's been exciting to see how much better life can get.

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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