Support & Stories

Singing a New Tune

Despite setbacks, Bob Carney is enjoying happiness and freedom for the first time ever.

Bob Carney: Burning Match
Bob Carney: Burning Match

Bob Carney found out he had ADHD by pure happenstance. In 1997, the East Islip, New York resident and his wife were working with a marriage therapist in an effort to revitalize their 11-year-old union, which had faltered as a consequence of his wife’s frustration with Bob’s disorganized lifestyle.

During one session, the therapist asked Bob, then age 37, to answer a series of questions. Unknown to Bob, all of them were drawn from a behavior checklist for ADHD in adults. Exhibiting 12 or more of the 21 behaviors suggests the presence of AD/HD. Bob showed signs of 17.

“If I hadn’t hedged a bit on four of the answers,” jokes Bob, “I’m sure I would have gotten a perfect score.”

Once he got the news, Bob did the responsible thing. He consulted a psychiatrist, who prescribed ADHD medication. Yet his problems didn’t go away – far from it. Bob got divorced. He lost a lucrative consulting job. His car was repossessed, and he had to sell his home to cover his lawyer fees. Last year, he filed for bankruptcy.

Through all of the upheaval, Bob managed to hang on to his one-on-one coaching sessions with Dana Rayburn, an ADHD coach in Medford, Oregon. For the past four years, Dana has worked with Bob, helping him weather his setbacks, and celebrate his successes. She’s also helped him act on his long-time dream of becoming a professional musician.

Bob Carney: When I got the AD/HD diagnosis, the therapist urged me to read Driven to Distraction [by ADDitude consultant Edward Hallowell, M.D.]. I started reading and thought, “Oh, my god, these are my people.” I finally had a name to explain who I was and what I was experiencing.

At the time, I was doing corporate training for telecommunication companies. It never occurred to me while I was doing one of these consulting jobs that I would have to find another one when it ended. So it was always a surprise to me when I was out of work. My then-wife got so frustrated that she would literally stop speaking to me until I found another project.

My wife and I filed for divorce in 1998, and it was finalized in 2001. In between, I attended an ADHD conference in Altanta. That’s where I met Dana. I really liked the fact that she also has AD/HD. When I tell her about something that’s affecting me, she understands what I’m talking about.

Dana Rayburn, Bob’s ADHD coach: I’ve coached Bob for four years, and 99 percent of our work has been done over the phone. Bob and I talk three times a month, 30 minutes each time. Sometimes we talk casually between sessions.

I really like telephone coaching. People tend to be less self-conscious and to open up more on the phone than in person. I find that I can really tune in to my client’s mood over the phone.

Bob: My initial sessions with Dana revolved around some pretty basic stuff. She’d say, “Bobby, you’re finished with that project. What’s the next thing on your agenda? What are the steps you need to take to get there?”

To the outside world, this sounds simplistic. But when you have ADHD, you focus on the distraction intead of what you should be doing. I lack the ability to think this way without being told to do so. I need someone to force me to think about things rather than avoid them.

Dana: When we started working together, Bob had a tendency to view himself as a victim. That’s not uncommon for people who have ADHD. Their lives are challenging, they don’t fit society’s mold, and they struggle against cruel remarks from spouses, teachers, family, and friends.

On occasion, when he hit a particularly rough patch, Bob would start to feel sorry for himself and hyperfocus on all the rotten things that had happened to him because of his AD/HD. As valid as these feelings may have been, they didn’t help him accomplish anything. When I pointed out that playing the victim was holding him back, Bob agreed to pay close attention to the things he said to himself when problems cropped up. With this awareness, and with a little practice, he quickly learned to recognize this victim pattern and nip it in the bud.

Bob: Dana and I have spent a lot of time on my financial problems. As I told her, nothing is more painful to me than bill-paying. I would rather have a root canal than pay bills or organize tax receipts. I had three years of unpaid taxes, and I hadn’t even looked at them. No wonder I had to file for bankruptcy.

For many years, I beat myself up for my financial shortcomings. It’s easy to do that when you have ADHD. Dana helped me realize that I will never be able to prepare my own taxes. After all these years, it’s wonderful to say to myself, “Don’t worry about it. Let it go.”

I now put all of my receipts into plastic bags – labeled “entertainment,” “books,” and so on – and hand everything over to an accountant. As for bills, I keep things as simple as possible. For example, I recently put my cable, telephone, and Internet service all on a single bill. It’s easier to pay that way.

Dana: In addition to his financial problems, Bob has always had trouble getting organized. He’s tried using calendars, planners, dry-erase boards, timers, a PDA, and computer reminders – but with little success. One problem is that he keeps losing things. The only thing he never loses is his cell phone. That’s why we think that getting one of those combination PDA/cell phones will be Bob’s ticket for keeping track of his time and his to-do list.

Bob: A couple of years ago, I was working as a traffic reporter at a radio station in Houston. I did traffic updates from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. One night, my boss happened to be at the site of an accident I was reporting. She called in to say I had gotten all the details wrong. The accident wasn’t at the exit I’d mentioned, the intersections were wrong, and so on.

The problem was that I kept getting distracted. To get the information about the accident, I had to listen to three separate scanners at once, and there were also several TVs on in the station at the same time. To do my job right, I would have had to put together some sort of book with maps and a list of all of the streets, so I could chart everything out.

Dana has encouraged me to create my own systems for getting things done. She says I am like a ping-pong ball, and that, to get down the right path, the walls on either side shouldn’t be too far apart or too narrow. She has helped me create systems that give me the right amount of space to keep moving and stay on track.

I think the best system I’ve learned is a new method of time management. In the past, one day for me was pretty much like every other day, and it was hard for me to tell how I should allot my time.

Dana suggested dividing my days into the following three categories. Focus days are money-making days. Foundation days are devoted to planning new projects, creating presentations, and taking care of other tasks that don’t bring in cash right away but which lay a foundation for the future. Free days are for resting, having fun, and nurturing relationships.

Before I managed my time with foundation, focus, and free days, I had been trying to do everything at the same time. It was chaotic.

Dana: Right now, Bob is concentrating on his career and on getting back on his feet financially. He dates occasionally – nothing serious. The few relationships he has had during our work together drained his focus and energy. But he’s eager to find a loving, supportive relationship.

Bob: I’d love to get involved with a woman, but I’m afraid of burdening her with my ADHD. Dana is getting paid to listen to my problems. It’s exhausting for someone in a relationship to play that role.

I’m not saying that I don’t tell women that I have ADHD. In fact, I make a point to mention it. I tell the women that we have to go to a quiet restaurant and that I need to sit with my back to the “traffic” going to and from the kitchen. If not, I’ll be staring at every waiter who walks by, and my date will think that I’m not interested in what she has to say.

My trouble with time management makes my dating life even more complicated. I explain to the women I date that I might be late for get-togethers or even miss them entirely. We might agree to meet at such-and-such time, and then I get delayed and she’s left wondering where the heck I am. Or I’ll forget to call her till about 11:30 p.m. – so I put off calling her until the next day, and then forget again. My last relationship hit the wall because the woman didn’t want to deal with these things.

Dana: I always try to help my clients find ways to work with their strengths. Bob loves singing and playing the guitar, and he has always dreamed of becoming a professional musician. I’ve tried to help Bob focus on that dream. A number of times in our years together, Bob has taken a job only for the money. But making money isn’t enough for Bob.

Recently, I urged Bob to check out the music stores in his area. That led to a job as a salesman at a guitar store, which led to work as a deejay and some singing gigs. This past summer he played several solo gigs near his Long Island home. At this point, the money he makes from performing isn’t enough to support him, but he’s starting to rebuild his world around his passion.

Bob: I’m sure that it looks to most people as if my life has been on a downward slide. I’m not denying that I have experienced some setbacks, but I’m also experiencing a sense of freedom and happiness that had eluded me for almost my whole life.