After a diagnosis of attention deficit, these six women blazed a path to success and happiness.
Radio personality, Fort Wayne, Indiana
Angie Nash, who works at Majic 95.1 (WAJI), spent much of her freshman year in high school polishing her nails during lectures, skipping class, and rearranging classroom desks in a “U” formation. “It was less confusing to me that way,” says Nash. “My teacher did not appreciate it and made me call home.”
That’s when Nash’s mom decided to have her tested for ADHD. Nash was diagnosed at 15, but didn’t take ADHD medication. After high school, she attended Northwestern College, a small community college in Ohio. After struggling at school for six months, she was placed on academic probation. Nash blames her challenges there on too much freedom and not enough structure.
“I got into radio about 12 years ago, by accident,” she says. She’d been hired as a receptionist at a hip-hop radio station, where a friend worked on-air. “The boss saw something in us, and he teamed us up on a show. It’s the most ‘normal’ I’ve ever felt in a job. My mind goes fast, and in many directions, and that’s great in my line of work.” It also helped that her friend and co-host understood and accepted her ADHD. Nash moved on to Majic 95.1, where she now co-hosts “Majic in the Morning.”
At work, Nash struggles to stay on task and meet deadlines. “What’s helpful to me is to do things immediately,” she says. “If I complete tasks as soon as they hit my desk, distractions don’t have a chance to get in the way.”
Writing daily lists helps Nash stay on track, and jotting notes on the back of her hand helps her focus when talking with friends. “I don’t interrupt people when they talk anymore, because the notes remind me of what I want to say.”
Nash has learned to stop comparing herself to someone without ADHD. “They can handle tasks and manage simple, everyday things that, to us, seem insanely overwhelming.”
Nash works on simplifying her life. “I live in an apartment, and I don’t have credit cards. The fewer things I have on my mind, the better. Since I don’t use medication, the key for me is to slow down, regroup, focus, and get lots of sleep.”
Software and database developer, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Mandy Prosser, 43, coasted through high school, then attended four colleges, all in South Africa, enrolling in a different program at each one. The only program she completed was secretarial training in Pietermaritzburg. Having failed many courses after high school, Prosser’s self-confidence plummeted. “I couldn’t concentrate long enough to do the assigned reading,” she says. Twenty-two years later, she’s taking correspondence courses to complete her Bachelor of Commerce degree at the University of South Africa.
In 2000, at age 30, Prosser was not diagnosed with ADHD. “The doctor wrote down instead that I had major depression, because ADHD was not considered an adult condition here in South Africa and wouldn’t get insurance coverage.” It wasn’t until 2011, at age 40, that she started taking ADHD medication.
“It changed my world,” she says. “I am so grateful to be able to get a day’s work done.”
Prosser dabbled in several careers before finally taking a six-month Web development course in London, England. “On returning to South Africa, I got my first job in Web development for a company in Cape Town. Within a week, I was building databases, which I loved! I did really well.”
These days she works in database development. Prosser still struggles to complete tasks she doesn’t enjoy, such as documentation and large projects that she can’t break into smaller pieces. But she thrives in the software industry’s fast-paced environment, where new projects pop up all the time.
Besides medication, counseling, and joining an online support group, Prosser treats her ADHD by practicing Buddhism, yoga, and meditation (sometimes all at once!). She finds yoga a real boon for her ADHD brain. It calms her down.
Although it’s hard for many ADHDers to meditate, Prosser insists that they can – and should – learn to do it. “Meditation helps quiet the chattering monkeys,” she says. “Emptying the mind of thought for a few minutes can calm one down to the point where things no longer seem insurmountable.”
Entrepreneur and CEO, Oak Park, Illinois
Kathryn Goetzke, 41, has an MBA in international marketing, as well as an undergraduate degree in psychology. As founder, CEO, and president of Mood-factory, Goetzke develops products aimed at improving the mood of her customers. Diagnosed with depression and PTSD in her 20s, Goetzke’s personal struggles led to her passion for helping customers with mood disorders.
Says Goetzke: “I managed my undiagnosed ADHD by keeping myself moving and engaged, and taking on difficult projects that required hyperfocus.” She overindulged in alcohol and food, and occasionally went to therapy.
In her 30s, Goetzke contracted Lyme disease, and her life changed. “It forced me to slow down,” she says. She saw a counselor, worked to end her alcoholism, took mood medications, and started exercising and eating well.
Her depression was well managed, but she couldn’t stay organized or focused without self-medicating. “I had major responsibilities running a business and a nonprofit, and I could not figure out what to start or do,” says Goetzke. Then, at 37, she was diagnosed with ADHD. Taking a stimulant medication enabled her to curb her impulsivity, stay on task, and finish projects. She finds daily prayer and meditation helpful, as well.
“It is critical for me to focus on my goals and to write them down,” she says. Otherwise, she’s easily distracted by the requests of others, and risks losing sight of her priorities. “Treating my ADHD allows me to use my creativity in a focused and structured way,” says Goetzke.
Treatment has allowed her to foster new relationships and repair damaged ones. She talks openly to her brother about her ADHD, and he is understanding and helpful. She keeps tabs on family and friends’ birthdays, so she can send a card. Her willingness to explain her challenges to friends and family has brought unexpected benefits: They help her say “no” to activities and responsibilities, so she can manage her time effectively.
“Now that I understand my ADHD, I consider it a gift.”
Entrepreneur, Calgary, Alberta
ADHD may be no laughing matter, but it doesn’t keep Eva Pettinato from making others laugh at comedy clubs, corporate events, and open mics. After taking a stand-up comedy course, in 2000, Pettinato started teaching comedy workshops and founded ZEDS Comic Communications.
Before launching her business, Pettinato had more than 50 jobs. “I was hired, promoted, and then fired, or I quit out of frustration or boredom,” she says. In 2009, Pettinato enrolled in a Business Administration program at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT). She found the work difficult, and met with a learning strategist at SAIT to get help. He suggested she speak with the school’s disability services. This led to her ADHD diagnosis, in 2010.
Pettinato says her diagnosis explains the difficulties she’d had in maintaining personal relationships and staying in jobs, and why she was drawn to comedy. “I love using humor to connect, disconnect, or get out of sticky situations,” she says. Learning about ADHD gave her a new perspective. “I understand now that I am easily bored, and I stopped blaming everyone else for being boring. I learned to stay engaged in conversations by pretending it’s a first date.”
Along with medication, Pettinato gets counseling and has joined the Calgary branch of CHADD. She learned to advocate for herself without mentioning her ADHD. “Many people have distraction problems, so if I ask for noise to be reduced in a meeting at work, no one thinks it’s a big deal,” she says. “Getting diagnosed helped me to accept assistance from others,” she adds, “and to admit that there are some aspects of business and life that can be more successfully done by others.”
After decades of feeling bad about herself, and spending thousands of dollars on personal development courses, Pettinato says, “I’ve given up the great race to perfection based on others’ standards.”
Lisa Livezey Comingore
Human resources and community relations professional, La Porte, Indiana
In law school, Lisa Livezey Comingore, 42, daydreamed in class and had trouble studying for tests. While some of her classmates pulled all-nighters to study for finals, Livezey Comingore had to balance sleep and study to succeed. To stay focused, she took nonstop notes in class and frequent breaks while preparing for tests.
After graduating, Livezey Comingore ran her own home-based business, Owlz Media Group. “Working at home is a minefield of distractions,” she says. At 39, she underwent chemotherapy for breast cancer. That’s when her wife noticed that Lisa was forgetting to rinse her hair in the shower and wandering around the house aimlessly. On her suggestion, Livezey Comingore sought and received an ADHD diagnosis and began taking medication.
“The first med I tried didn’t work. When I found the right med, it was like turning on a light,” she says. Livezey Comingore also used the ADD Crusher program, a series of videos and materials that teaches ADHD management skills, to develop routines to stay on task.
She appreciates the structure her human resources job at La Porte provides. She’s forced to get up and out the door, but “there’s still some flexibility.” She’s learned to give herself extra time in the morning to get to work, which has reduced stress. At work, she uses reminders on her computer and phone to stay on task. She’s also learned to keep the project she’s working on in the center of her desk. It helps her fend off distractions.
Livezey Comingore can be hard on herself when she forgets or loses something, but, she says, “It’s important to realize that, like anything else, ADHD isn’t all negative or all positive. It’s important not to beat yourself up.
“I am at peace with the fact that the condition makes me the quirky person I am. I try to laugh at the silly stuff and call it what it is: ‘There’s my classic ADD acting up again….'”
Adolescent and pediatric psychiatrist, Chicago, Illinois
Karen Taylor-Crawford was chairman of the department of psychiatry at Christ Hospital, in Chicago, when she was diagnosed with ADHD, in her early 30s. She supervised the department, saw patients, and reviewed piles of documents, all while raising two children, ages two and 14.
Until she started treating kids with ADHD, Taylor-Crawford was skeptical about the benefits of medication. The turning point came when she started consulting for a local CHADD group, and her patient load increased. That’s when she realized, “This [ADHD treatment] works!” She also noticed that she was often late for social engagements. She concluded: “You know what? I have ADHD.”
Once she recognized her ADHD symptoms, she began to see a psychoanalyst. Her analyst didn’t believe she had the condition, because she was an accomplished psychiatrist. “People would say, ‘But you’re so accomplished.'” When she heard this, she thought, “Do you know what it takes for me to get stuff done and how many deadlines I miss?”
Without a formal diagnosis and treatment, she relied on her faith in God, the help of family members, and supportive coworkers to manage symptoms. After a year or so, her analyst said, “You know, Karen, I don’t do a lot of medication management. I’m going to refer you to a colleague, because I think you have ADHD.”
“I sat up on the couch and said, ‘Really? Praise God.'” She was diagnosed with ADHD and depression and was prescribed a stimulant medication and an antidepressant. Taylor-Crawford supplements her medications with fish oil, vitamin E, and a multivitamin with B-complex.
While recognizing the challenges of ADHD, Taylor-Crawford also recognizes its benefits. She attributes her intuition, spontaneity, and her capacity to forgive to it.
Although semi-retired, she keeps busy with patients, her sorority, writing articles, and tackling projects. “[ADHD] makes me look for projects and things to contain my wandering mind.”