A New Focus for Terry
Sari Solden (Terry's mentor): Most women have expectations about what it means to be a wife, a mother, a friend, and they feel ashamed when they fall short.They'rethe ones responsible for remembering peoples' birthdays.They'rethe ones who are supposed to shop for food and clothes, to plan the family's meals and to cook. But when you have ADD, these expectations collide with executive function problems.
Terry: Sari lives in Ann Arbor, which isn't far away. I met with her after reading her book, and I've been working with her ever since. At first she was my mentor. Now she's more of a consultant. I check in with her at transition points in my career, and when I want to make major changes in my life.
Before I had children, I was a social worker. After learning that I had ADD, I decided that I was passionate about working in the field that Sari pioneered: helping women with ADD.
At first, I taught community education classes, but I got bored with that. So I got involved with the local chapter of CHADD, and I wrote an article for Focus, a magazine published by ADDA. Eventually, I decided that I wanted to get back into clinical social work, setting up a private practice that specialized in ADD.
I figured I would work a few hours each day, and spend the rest of the day painting in my studio. Sari thought it would be better to block out two full days for clinical work, and two for painting. [Visit Terry Matlen's Web site to see some of Terry's artwork.] Sari also helped me figure out what times of day I should work on things that required lots of focus.
Clinical practice didn't work out. I found it hard to concentrate in my office, knowing that my children needed me. My daughter's school was calling me constantly. So I shifted into consulting.
Because of my work with CHADD and ADDA, and with the online support chats that I'd been hosting, people had begun e-mailing and calling me from all over the world. I realized that I was onto something huge, but I didn't know how to help all these people. When I came up with the idea of an online clinic, I talked it over with a friend who is an ADD coach. I've been running the online clinic since 2000. I love the fact that I can work at home and be available to anyone in the world who has a telephone or a computer.
Sari: Whatever the challenge facing them, people with ADD need to believe that it can be done. I have ADD, too, and I had accomplished some of the things that Terry aspired to. I've been able to help her steer a course, staying away from the rocks, and helping her get back on track when she drifts off. For example, if Terry and I meet after several months and she's overwhelmed with too many new projects, choices, and ideas, we discuss what to eliminate or how to restructure her goals.
Terry: Over the years, Jerry has learned to share more of the child care and housekeeping responsibilities. He knows that grocery shopping can take me three hours, so he often takes on that chore.
Since I'm not a morning person, he's the one who wakes our younger daughter and gives her breakfast and her meds. Then I take over and get her off to school on the bus. We each have our special time with her and neither of us is overburdened.
Jerry does his own laundry. He even reorganizes the freezer so things won't come tumbling out. When I began writing my book, housekeeping took a back seat, and he was very supportive. His tremendous sense of humor helps a lot. When there's a bump in the road, he can say, "That's the ADD," instead of blaming me.
Jerry: When friction comes up in a marriage, you sometimes think your spouse is being insensitive or doing something on purpose, not that they're unable to do anything else. If I wanted to ask Terry something while she was on the phone, she'd put her hands over her ears and grimace. I felt two things - that I was bothering her, and that she wasn't paying enough attention to me. I'd wonder why she couldn't just tell the person on the phone, "Hold on, my husband needs to speak to me."
Once I understood that ADD makes it hard to concentrate on two things, I learned to wait until she was off the phone. She wouldn't have to worry about multitasking, and I wouldn't feel bad about being ignored.
Sari: Working things out with ADD is hard if your partner isn't involved in the process. Spouses sometimes can't imagine how difficult life can be for someone with ADD. They feel resentful. They compare their family to other families and wish theirs could be like that.
Terry: I can't downplay the difficulties of having ADD. But I'd like to think that I've learned to use ADD in positive ways. ADD has gotten me where I am professionally. I'm totally focused on working in this field, and it gives me tremendous satisfaction.
Sari: The great thing about Terry is that she takes risks and makes choices that allow her to grow. When she reaches one level of success, she wants to take on new challenges. From local to national ADD boards, from writing articles for her local chapter to writing a book, from helping a few clients a week in person, to helping hundreds online.
Terry: I tell people that ADD isn't a death sentence. It's a challenge. Don't look at the rocks, but at the path between the rocks.
This article comes from the June-July 2006 issue of ADDitude.