Leading Ladies: Seven Successful Women with ADHD

Persevering amid attention deficit, these seven bold women do it their way.

Trudie Styler, Woman's World, Women with ADHD

There's no reason ADHD should prevent you from doing anything. You may stumble, you may have difficulties before you're diagnosed, but, you know what? They're not insurmountable.

Denise R. Greenwood, surgeon

Trudie Styler, 58

Actor and filmmaker, New York, New York

When Trudie Styler -- mother of four and the long-time partner of rock star Sting -- started school, in England in the 1960s, she had trouble learning to read. School officials sent her to get her eyes tested. When it turned out she could see fine, the diagnosis was simple: She must be a "backward."

"Backward" is the British word for what we now call cognitive impairment. While she didn't get a real diagnosis of inattentive type ADHD until years later, her mom came to her defense: "Our Trudie is not backward," she said. "She's just slower learning to read."

School became a nightmare for Styler as she moved from a small primary school to a big high school. She was lost. What got her through? "My faith in God began to grow, and it was that small voice, when you're extremely lonely and lost, that lets you know that you're not alone."

Being a good athlete and actor in high school also helped. "When I got on stage, and when I started to be another character, I could somehow take a distance from me, and that character would come through."

After high school, Styler pursued an acting career. She packed her bags and left home for Stratford-on-Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare. While there, she became a house cleaner for a family, and later moved to London with them. She wrote the Bristol Old Vic Acting School, begging for an audition. She got one, and was accepted as a student, with a scholarship.

"My life really began there," Styler said. "I had started to realize my dream. It was the first time the tide wasn't going against me." In 1981, she joined the Royal Shakespeare Company. Since then, Styler has appeared in movies and TV series and has produced 15 films.

Yoga is a big help for Styler -- "the meditation aspect has been incredibly useful in clearing the traffic that goes on in a chaotic mind like mine." Medication helps her focus, especially when reading scripts. Styler's advice to parents: "As a kid, you obsess about wanting to be normal. As you get older, being normal is not such a big thing. Your gifts are important. Celebrate who you are, and listen for the small voice."

Sharon Wohlmuth, 65

Author and photojournalist, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

After several academic stumbles -- getting kicked out of a junior college for flunking shorthand, and dropping out of Pennsylvania State University because it didn't interest her -- Sharon Wohlmuth enrolled at Moore College of Art and Design, in Philadelphia, in 1972. "That propelled me into the most wonderful years of my life," says Wohlmuth. It also started a lifelong passion that would earn her international acclaim as a photojournalist and bestselling author.

Arriving in New York shortly after graduation, armed only with a firm handshake, an impressive portfolio, and undiagnosed ADHD, Wohlmuth landed her first photography assignment, at Newsweek. Shortly after, she began her 20-year career as a photojournalist at the Philadelphia Inquirer. Wohlmuth says ADHD contributed to her success. "It gave me a certain spontaneity," she says, "a sense of adventure and danger." Wohlmuth covered everything from the collapse of the Soviet Union to the Three Mile Island accident. The coverage earned the team of reporters, and Wohlmuth, a Pulitzer prize.

Around 1993, Wohlmuth was caring for her terminally ill mother, and working on what would become her co-authored book, Sisters. She became photo editor at the Inquirer in addition to taking on photo assignments at the paper. The responsibility overwhelmed Wohlmuth, and she decided to take a break with her husband to recharge her batteries. Just before they left for vacation, someone dropped a copy of Ned Hallowell's Driven to Distraction on her desk.

Wohlmuth hit the beach and began to read it. "I started crying and said, 'Oh, my God, this is me.'" At that moment of epiphany, the hotel concierge delivered the news that Sisters had reached number two on the New York Times bestseller list. Soon after, at age 47, Wohlmuth was diagnosed with ADHD and was put on medication.

Since leaving the Inquirer, Wohlmuth has relied on Post-Its, which adorn her car steering wheel and her bedside table lamp, to keep herself organized. She uses a Filofax for appointments, color-coding personal and business activities.

Wohlmuth has given speeches to Hallmark, the Omega Institute, and at commencement ceremonies, where she shares her experience with ADHD to educate and encourage young graduates.

Her advice for other women is, "Get professional help, and go online to find ADD support groups. Read every single book about ADHD. You have to know what [ADHD] is. And then you discover you're not alone, you're not weird, and not stupid. You're bright, but your brain just functions differently."

Above all, Wohlmuth says a sense of humor is critical to managing ADHD. She and her husband share a joke a lot: "On my tombstone it will say, 'Wait, I'm not ready; I'm still organizing.'"

Next: "I'm always making different connections."

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