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Older, Wiser-Never Late

At 59, a second-grade teacher 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.

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.

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.

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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