Making Connections, Seeing Things Differently
Karen O'Donnell, 55
Documentary filmmaker, Toronto, Ontario
"Part way into the making of A Mind Like Mine," says O'Donnell, "I realized, 'Maybe I'm actually going to be in this film.'" Sure enough, in 2008, while making her second film about her son's ADD, O'Donnell herself was diagnosed, on camera, at 52.
When her son, 19-year-old Kail, learned about his mom's diagnosis, "He started putting the pieces together. He said that, in many ways, he felt that my ADD made things worse because I complicated matters for him. On the other hand, he felt more comfortable with himself. Until I was diagnosed, I don't think he accepted his ADD."
O'Donnell had begun wondering about her own ADD about two months before starting production on A Mine Like Mine. She'd been on a camping trip with her family, and "in four days, I lost my car keys three times," she says. "I wasn't overwhelmed or distracted, so the fact that I continued to lose my keys for no apparent reason upset me."
When the late Atilla Turgay, M.D., a psychiatrist O'Donnell had interviewed for A Mind Like Mine, suggested that she might have ADD herself, "I took a breath of relief," says O'Donnell. "I knew my suspicions were correct."
Being forgetful and having trouble prioritizing have plagued O'Donnell all her life. "I will never be able to manage my time on my own," says O'Donnell. "I try to pack so much into each minute." Because her film career requires managing logistics, O'Donnell uses various time management strategies to deal with her ADD. She works with a team to keep herself on track, and builds in extra time for projects, so she can meet deadlines.
Time management has been a challenge in O'Donnell's friendships, as well. "But my friends have it figured out," she says. "They trick me by giving me false timelines."
O'Donnell uses the buddy system to keep herself on track. "One friend has problems with clutter, so we barter our services," explains O'Donnell. "I'll say, 'I can take an hour this week [to help you]. Would you take 15 minutes to go over my scheduling, and check on my progress?'"
"Try to be honest about your strengths and weaknesses," says O'Donnell. On the other hand, she adds, "Don't be too hard on yourself."
Debbie Young, 56
Visual artist, Ellensburg, Washington
An award-winning artist, Debbie Young has had work commissioned in Washington, D.C., and is exhibited nationally. Young earned her bachelor's degree, with majors in fine art and anthropology, from Washington University. Inspired by the natural beauty of the Cascade Mountains of Washington State, Young incorporates wood and stone into her eye-catching sculptures, and creates textural abstract paintings.
As an artist, Young feels that ADD has been an advantage. "I'm always making different connections," she says, "seeing things in ways other people don't see." In her career, Young has changed mediums, experimenting with painting, photography, drawing, and sculpture. "It's been a good thing, but it's also been hard, because I haven't gone as deep as I would like in certain directions with my work."
Young's life took a turn when she found herself swamped with commissions, while caring for her terminally ill sister. Taking time off to regroup, she and her husband bought a farm in Ellensburg, Washington.
Instead of working in her studio, Young tended goats and gardens. But she missed the work she did as a full-time artist. "Prior to my diagnosis, I had done years of talk therapy," she says, and it helped her notice when her life got out of control. "As early as grade school, I wrote an essay titled 'The Different Child.' I've spent my life wondering, Why aren't the pieces fitting together?" After she had diagnosed herself, Young told her therapist that she thought she had ADD. "I just wanted to be evaluated to get another perspective," says Young. In 2011, at 55, she was formally diagnosed.
Young struggles to deal with her ADD symptoms."I'm always getting lost in conversations," she says. "When something's important, like directions, or something that has to do with a sequence, I can't follow it. I can't hear the information and store it."
Friendships are difficult for Young. "I don't maintain them. I've lost friends by not keeping in touch." On the other hand, Young enjoys spending time alone or with her goats. "I can entertain myself," she says, "and I'm happy."
These days, Young is learning all she can about ADD by reading books, and she is benefiting from the routines in her life, like milking the goats every day. She's also taking a structured approach to her art. "My mind works rapid-fire," says Young. "Farming requires that I slow down enough to perform my daily tasks. It's been one of the hardest things I've had to do, but I'm doing it. And my art benefits from it: By slowing down, I'm getting a lot of inspiration from the things I see."
To discuss this article with other women with ADHD, visit the ADHD in Women support group on ADDConnect.