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The ADHD Workshop That Changed My Life

At 59, a second-grade teacher recognized herself in her hyperactive students. With the help of treatment and a coach, she learns to manage her ADHD symptoms.

Claire Boehling: staying focused like a stone in rushing water
Claire Boehling: staying focused like a stone in rushing water

Claire Boehling spent decades in therapy trying to figure out how growing up with an alcoholic parent led to a life of anxiety and stress—and chronic disorganization. She masked her disordered world with a quick wit, rambling explanations, and the occasional white lie.

Four years ago, while teaching at a Cleveland public school, Claire noticed that some of her students were hyperactive. In researching their behavior, she realized she had similar symptoms. An evaluation with a specialist confirmed that she indeed had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and Claire was prescribed the stimulant medication Adderall.

While medication helped this adult with ADHD focus, it didn’t stop her perpetual lateness or the inability to tackle paperwork, including the piles of documents that covered her basement floor.

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Claire signed up for an ADHD workshop, headed by coach Joyce Kubik—and quickly realized her anxieties were caused by ADHD, not by a dysfunctional family life. She credits Joyce for helping her bring order to chaos and replace distress with serenity. Claire has the skills to lead a peaceful, productive life.

CLAIRE: I was relieved when I was diagnosed with ADHD. I finally understood that I wasn’t undisciplined. It was the ADHD that was responsible for my disorganization and inability to deal with paperwork. I took Joyce’s workshop — a weekly, two-hour conference call over six weeks. Five or six of us would call in, and Joyce would give us exercises to manage time and paperwork, improve communication, and stop procrastination.

JOYCE: Claire stood out. Over the phone, I could “see” how frustrated she was. Once she started working with the daily planner I sent to the workshop participants, light bulbs started going off in her head. I asked Claire to estimate how long it took her to finish everyday tasks. People with ADHD are typically out of touch with how long things take.

CLAIRE: The exercise was revealing. I estimated it took me five minutes to shower. It actually took 20. I figured getting dressed and doing my make-up took 10 minutes. No, it took a half hour. I understood now why I was always late for work. I was so embarrassed and stressed over my tardiness, I used to lie about it. I’d call the school secretary from the road and tell her I was in a traffic jam.

MARK: I’m a physical-education teacher at Claire’s school, and I monitor tardy children and teachers. Claire was often late. Her children would be sitting in class waiting for her. She would run through the door with stacks of papers and folders in her arms. Sometimes she’d recruit student volunteers to help her. It was classic ADHD behavior: Many of us are packrats.

[41 Time Hacks Used by ADHD Ninjas (aka Our Favorite Experts)]

CHERYL: Claire also had avoidance issues. She loves gardening, and has a beautiful yard. Instead of doing her taxes, she’d garden late into the evening, sometimes until one or two in the morning. One of our neighbors got her a miner’s hat with a light on top.

CLAIRE: I don’t think I’ve worn that hat in at least a year!

CHERYL: Claire has a nice finished basement, but piles of paper covered the floor. She always had a reason not to clean them up, especially if a paper required her to do something-pay a bill, fill out a form, whatever.

JOYCE: Claire desperately wanted to organize her basement. The first assignment I gave her was to clear a path across the floor without getting distracted. I instructed her to deal with the papers she was moving later.

CLAIRE: We’d have to check in with Joyce every day by phone, and sometimes I’d call her and say that I couldn’t do it. Whatever “it” was, I couldn’t get the whole thing done, and she would say, “Well, Claire, what can you do? Can you pay one bill? Can you unpack one box? Clean one corner?” So I’d pay one bill—and then another. Ten or 15 minutes later, they’d all be done. I’d start to clean up one corner of my basement, and I would wind up cleaning half the day.

JOYCE: Those with ADHD often talk negatively about themselves and over-explain when they don’t finish a task. They think, “I have to explain myself with all kinds of excuses, because, if I don’t, you won’t like me.” In the fourth week of the workshop, Claire realized she had to change the way she talks about herself, to improve her self-image and other people’s perceptions of her. I’d say, “Don’t tell me you didn’t get your project done on the day you said you would. Focus on the good news instead: You got it done.”

CLAIRE: I’ve learned that over-explaining is part of ADHD. Joyce wouldn’t let us make excuses for not getting something done. Instead, she would have us break down projects into tiny steps. We had to get something done, no matter how small it was. We learned to think of each little thing as a completed project. I finished the basement cleanup the summer after the workshop. After that, I knew I could do anything.

[“Beat The Clock” With Personal Productivity]

CHARLOTTE: These days, Claire gets to school on time, or even early, and never winds up staying late. Her classroom is neat as a pin. She seems a lot calmer and more confident.

CLAIRE: I’m divorced, and dating is something I struggle with. In the past, I couldn’t have anyone over, because my house was messy. One time, a date wanted to watch TV in the basement, but I refused and cut the evening short because I didn’t want him to see the mess.

Now it’s a time issue. In relationships, people expect you to spend time with them. In one serious, long-distance relationship, I felt like I was losing entire weekends when I went to his place — instead of enjoying the visits, all I could think about was how I could have used the time to clean my home, run errands, or pay bills. I ended the relationship because of the stress it caused.

Learning to manage my ADHD symptoms also taught me to be respectful of my needs — like sleep. I need to get seven or eight hours a night, so when a guy asks me out, I request that we go to dinner before the movie, so I can get home at a reasonable hour and get a good night’s sleep.

JOYCE: Using a planner has helped Claire feel empowered in her personal life and throughout the workday. Planning time for herself, as well as for things that need to get done at home, is important. I met her in person for the first time when she attended a CHADD meeting I had organized. Claire is so together that she led a meeting when I was out of town.

CLAIRE: My life is completely different now. Managing time is important to me. In the past, when my students would go to gym class, I’d stay behind and work in my classroom. I’d watch the clock, notice that I had five minutes till I had to go get them, and try to cram in last-minute tasks. I’d be late picking them up. Now I stop myself from working and head down to pick them up a few minutes early.

I’ve learned to cut back on time-consuming tasks. At Christmas, I used to have the best-decorated house in the neighborhood. But it took so much time to get it that way. Last year, I threw a wreath on the door. I don’t even write long e-mails anymore — no more long explanations. The few extra minutes, or an hour here and there, that I gain make a tremendous difference. As a result, I no longer have that always-hurried feeling.

I go off medication in the summers, when I’m not teaching. There isn’t nearly as much paperwork, and I don’t have deadlines. A year ago, when school began, I didn’t resume my medication, thinking I’d be fine. By October, the hyper aspect of my ADHD was making me frenetic. When a friend asked whether I was on medication, a light bulb went off in my head, and I went right back on Adderall.

CHERYL: Claire used to be paralyzed by deadlines. Now she doesn’t stress when she has to get something done, and she stays on task until it is completed. She’s much more at peace these days, and is able to sit quietly for 10 or 15 minutes at a time.

MARK: Claire’s a living example of the serenity prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”

CLAIRE: I’m sad when I think how different my life would have been if I had been diagnosed and had acquired the skills I now have at a younger age. But I know why I couldn’t accomplish what others did so easily. I have a grateful heart.

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  1. Am I the only person with ADHD that finds these “success stories” sort of annoying? If managing my ADHD was as simple as learning to use a planner or having someone show me how to be organized then I wouldn’t have ADHD because, believe me, most of grade school through high school people were showing me how to be organized. As an adult do you know how many planners I’ve purchased? I might use them for a week, then they gather dust.

    I, too, have managed to get organized and manage my time better – for small pockets of time. That is not, however, my natural state. I always revert back to my ADHD ways. The amount of energy it takes to keep up with being ‘normal’ is enormous. It’s exhausting. And it’s boring to be like that all the time.

    I love to stay up late working on projects. It’s time I get to actually enjoy instead of marching dutifully and ceaselessly through every day working 8-5, running errands, eating, maybe having an hour or so to enjoy before it’s time to go to bed just to get up and do it all over again.

    I know how I must sound and there is a balance one has to strike unless one happens to be independently wealthy, but I was a little depressed for the woman who hadn’t gotten to do midnight gardening in over a year. Being on time for work, yes, is critical. But really, what is the objective of treatment? To make us look and act like ‘normal’ people?

    1. I feel exactly the same. I’m thrilled that people have these success stories,but I have never experienced one for any length of time. I wish I could find a way to navigate life better. I’m 50, married 33 years and struggle every day just to make it.

      1. I agree that these uplifting narratives about individuals overcoming certain problems associated with ADHD are ultimately mean spirited and not helpful at all. If anything, they can be hurtful. I think organizational newsletters like this one headline such stories for one of two reasons. They believe they are useful and beneficial for readers OR they know such stories will attract readers, and keep their “ratings” up. I have ADHD, and have worked as a counselor and a teacher for students with ADHD. Everyone with ADHD is different. A short analysis will prove it. All people are different. What works for someone may not be helpful for another. What is very important, however, is that people get diagnosed as early as possible and as accurately as possible. That is the most significant thing about dealing with ADHD. I don’t want to sound mean spirited, but being diagnosed doesn’t put money in people’s pockets (a one-time session is usually enough, sometimes several may be needed). Treating ADHD brings profits. Something to consider: in the bicycling community, there seems to be a high percentage of people with ADHD. Rigorous exercise seems to help considerably with ADHD, allowing people to lower the dose of their medication, and in some cases, they can get off medication. Michael Phelps, the Olympic swimmer, is a good example. However, it doesn’t cost money to job or to cycle (except for the initial investment of buying a bike). Thus, exercise is not advocated as much as it should. In addition, studies in learning find that reading about something is not an optimal way of effecting change. Read Albert Bandura and his studies on learning: the least effective way to change is emotionally wanting to, next is reading about it, then modeling oneself after what another does, and finally actively finding the best means for YOU to change, whether it be medication, external cues, self-talk, etc. I could say a lot about the subject. But I think you get the idea. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with these sorts of success stories, but they should be used judiciously, not presented in ‘headlines.’

  2. I thought I was the only one who felt like this sometimes. I remember being in 6th grade and our teacher would compare us to students in Japan; “the students in Japan spend hours working on homework”, “students in Japan score above average In Every Thing”. I remember thinking, yeah that’s great…why don’t you move to Japan if you like the students in Japan so much.
    I know I sound mean spirited. I am glad when someone succeeds but get tired of people thinking if one did it, we can all do it. That is not life.

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