Bob Carney found out he had ADHD by pure happenstance. In 1997, the East Islip, New York resident and his wife were working with a marriage therapist in an effort to revitalize their 11-year-old union, which had faltered as a consequence of his wife's frustration with Bob's disorganized lifestyle.
During one session, the therapist asked Bob, then age 37, to answer a series of questions. Unknown to Bob, all of them were drawn from a behavior checklist for ADHD in adults. Exhibiting 12 or more of the 21 behaviors suggests the presence of AD/HD. Bob showed signs of 17.
"If I hadn't hedged a bit on four of the answers," jokes Bob, "I'm sure I would have gotten a perfect score."
Once he got the news, Bob did the responsible thing. He consulted a psychiatrist, who prescribed ADHD medication. Yet his problems didn't go away - far from it. Bob got divorced. He lost a lucrative consulting job. His car was repossessed, and he had to sell his home to cover his lawyer fees. Last year, he filed for bankruptcy.
Through all of the upheaval, Bob managed to hang on to his one-on-one coaching sessions with Dana Rayburn, an ADHD coach in Medford, Oregon. For the past four years, Dana has worked with Bob, helping him weather his setbacks, and celebrate his successes. She's also helped him act on his long-time dream of becoming a professional musician.
Bob Carney: When I got the AD/HD diagnosis, the therapist urged me to read Driven to Distraction [by ADDitude consultant Edward Hallowell, M.D.]. I started reading and thought, "Oh, my god, these are my people." I finally had a name to explain who I was and what I was experiencing.
At the time, I was doing corporate training for telecommunication companies. It never occurred to me while I was doing one of these consulting jobs that I would have to find another one when it ended. So it was always a surprise to me when I was out of work. My then-wife got so frustrated that she would literally stop speaking to me until I found another project.
My wife and I filed for divorce in 1998, and it was finalized in 2001. In between, I attended an ADHD conference in Altanta. That's where I met Dana. I really liked the fact that she also has AD/HD. When I tell her about something that's affecting me, she understands what I'm talking about.
Dana Rayburn, Bob's ADHD coach: I've coached Bob for four years, and 99 percent of our work has been done over the phone. Bob and I talk three times a month, 30 minutes each time. Sometimes we talk casually between sessions.
I really like telephone coaching. People tend to be less self-conscious and to open up more on the phone than in person. I find that I can really tune in to my client's mood over the phone.
Bob: My initial sessions with Dana revolved around some pretty basic stuff. She'd say, "Bobby, you're finished with that project. What's the next thing on your agenda? What are the steps you need to take to get there?"
To the outside world, this sounds simplistic. But when you have ADHD, you focus on the distraction intead of what you should be doing. I lack the ability to think this way without being told to do so. I need someone to force me to think about things rather than avoid them.
Dana: When we started working together, Bob had a tendency to view himself as a victim. That's not uncommon for people who have ADHD. Their lives are challenging, they don't fit society's mold, and they struggle against cruel remarks from spouses, teachers, family, and friends.
On occasion, when he hit a particularly rough patch, Bob would start to feel sorry for himself and hyperfocus on all the rotten things that had happened to him because of his AD/HD. As valid as these feelings may have been, they didn't help him accomplish anything. When I pointed out that playing the victim was holding him back, Bob agreed to pay close attention to the things he said to himself when problems cropped up. With this awareness, and with a little practice, he quickly learned to recognize this victim pattern and nip it in the bud.
Bob: Dana and I have spent a lot of time on my financial problems. As I told her, nothing is more painful to me than bill-paying. I would rather have a root canal than pay bills or organize tax receipts. I had three years of unpaid taxes, and I hadn't even looked at them. No wonder I had to file for bankruptcy.
For many years, I beat myself up for my financial shortcomings. It's easy to do that when you have ADHD. Dana helped me realize that I will never be able to prepare my own taxes. After all these years, it's wonderful to say to myself, "Don't worry about it. Let it go."
I now put all of my receipts into plastic bags - labeled "entertainment," "books," and so on - and hand everything over to an accountant. As for bills, I keep things as simple as possible. For example, I recently put my cable, telephone, and Internet service all on a single bill. It's easier to pay that way.