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Win with ADHD: Shawn Ladd

A late-in-life diagnosis freed this economist from distraction and restlessness on the job.

Shawn Ladd talks Money
Shawn Ladd talks Money

After moving from city to city for years, Shawn Ladd, 50, now lives in San Diego. Ladd, a Canadian, is no stranger to motion. “When I was a baby, I would move around the room by throwing myself against the bars of my crib.” As an adult, says Ladd, “I shake my leg [when sitting for prolonged periods], which can be uncomfortable for people close to me.” This makes sitting in long meetings frustrating. To compensate, Ladd stands up and walks around to clear his mind.

Throughout his career, Ladd moved from job to job. “I had a three-year threshold of boredom, and I moved on.” In 1987, after receiving a bachelor’s degree in economics, Ladd worked at an economic consulting and forecasting house. While there, he earned a master’s in economics from the University of Ottawa in 1994, at age 30.

In 1995, Ladd was hired as an economic policy analyst for a Canadian federal political party. “Working on campaigns turned me on,” says Ladd. “There was a finish line. There was a project to do, and then you could collapse.”

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Despite his career successes, Ladd had a sense of failure and frustration as he jumped from position to position. This led to two bouts of depression, the second occurring when he was 34. He knew something was wrong, consulted a doctor, and was prescribed an antidepressant. Two weeks later, “I felt like my old self again. Actually, I felt like a new self.”

Ladd continued to work for the Canadian government, but in 2005, he moved to D.C. and traveled widely as an advisor to an executive director of the International Monetary Fund, and later as a Senior Economist in the IMF’s African Department. Ladd wanted to stay in D.C., but to do so required a step back in his career. At 45, Ladd found himself at a company inputting numbers into spreadsheets. “I was very bored and frustrated,” he says. Ladd decided to consult a psychiatrist, was diagnosed with ADHD, and was prescribed a stimulant medication.

The medication helped him focus on his job and gave him more patience in conversations, curbing his verbal impulsivity. It also helped him deal with clutter.

“Nothing is more therapeutic for me than cleaning off surfaces and getting rid of stuff periodically,” says Ladd. “On medication, I have the patience, energy, and the decision-making ability to simplify my life. And when I simplify my life, I’m a little less reliant on medication.

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Late-life diagnosis brings an opportunity to revisit the stuff you’ve been doing that might not serve you well,” adds Ladd. “People should approach [treatment] from [the perspective that] you’re already whole. There’s nothing ‘wrong’ with you, but until you’ve tried treatment, you don’t have a sense of what you’re missing.”