Back to school, back to school, to prove to my ADHD brain (and all the doubters) that I’m not a fool!
It can be tough for the ADHD brain to get through transitions, regardless of the size or importance. So how does this struggle affect students heading back to school? Sure, it’s something we do an awful lot growing up. But does it ever get easier? Not without putting in some work.
Christina Kantzavelos is a licensed psychotherapist and writer based in southern California, whose work focuses on treating and advocating for those with chronic illnesses — like lyme disease — and physcial, development and age-related disabilities.
She also has ADHD and shared insights and workarounds from both her time working as a psychotherapist and her own experience growing up attending a school system that didn’t work for her and what happened after she looked outside traditional school (spoiler alert: she thrived).
Lindsay Guentzel (00:01):
This is episode 17 of Refocused with Lindsay Guentzel. And today we’re diving into the connection between ADHD struggles with transitions and back to school.
Lindsay Guentzel (00:30):
Hello and welcome back. I’m Lindsay Guentzel. And I happen to love back to school season. It has been a few years since I actually went back to school, but there’s just something so wonderful and nostalgic about this time, the new folders, notebooks that have never been written in, planners to fill out with all of the assignments and exam dates. For some of us with ADHD, the newness is very, very wonderful. And it always felt like the opportunity for a fresh start, like all of my bad habits weren’t going to make the trek to class on that first day. They would miss the bus or something and the new and improve Lindsay would show up instead. Obviously, sitting here with lots of student loans and no college degree, I know that’s not how any of it worked.
Lindsay Guentzel (01:25):
Last week, on episode 16, we looked at why transitions are such a problem for people with ADHD. And today, we’re going to look at back to school and what we can be doing to make these transitions easier for all the students in our lives. Keeping in mind that even if you’re not a student right now, or you don’t have a student in your house, there are so many opportunities to adapt these conversations for our own lives. Christina Kantzavelos is a licensed psychotherapist and a writer based in Southern California. She received her bachelor’s and master’s of social welfare from the University of California, Los Angeles and her master’s of library and information sciences from San Jose State. Her work focuses on treating and advocating for those with chronic illnesses, like Lyme disease, and physical, developmental and age related disabilities through her clinical practice, Begin Within Today. She also recently published the Begin Within daily health wellness journals to help people document chronic illness and mental wellness. Christina is also the creator of Buen Camino, an award-winning publication that brings together her gluten free health conscious lifestyle, while also sharing her adventures traveling around the world.
Lindsay Guentzel (02:39):
The most important thing, I almost forgot to share, about Christina, which is very ADHD of me is that she also has ADHD. And I loved her willingness to share her expertise from her role as a psychotherapist, as well as her role as someone living with ADHD. And we’ll get to my conversation with Christina in just a minute. But it wouldn’t really be an episode of Refocused with Lindsay Guentzel without bringing Keith Boswell, Boz, into the conversation. Boz is the vice president of marketing for ADHD Online. And I know it’s been kind of a stressful couple of weeks. I shouldn’t even say stressful, I don’t know that it’s been stressful. I just know that your girls, your daughters, have gone back to school and there’s a lot that comes with that. And your girls are at an age where they’re more independent, they want to do things on their own. But you’re also their parents. And so it’s probably a little bit of a give and take game, isn’t it?
Keith Boswell (03:39):
It is. And this is the first year we’ve started school with both of them having jobs. And in typical ADHD fashion, we did the bootcamp approach this year, which was like, we literally went from summer to school, Sunday to Monday. It’s going great, but it is that back to school rush. And it’s really, it just reminds me, we have to have routine. These routines when we fall out of them, it’s so easy in summer.
Lindsay Guentzel (04:07):
Well, the thing that’s funny is that it’s not isolated to just kids going back to school. I took on this project, this collaboration with you guys back in, we started in April, we launched in May and every week in therapy, my therapist brings up, “How are you with your new routine? How is the day blocking going? Are you writing things, your schedule down each day?” And I was like, “Oh yes, mm-hmm (affirmative). I am totally.” No, I’m not. I don’t want to just completely bulldoze everything I’ve done this summer because the days that I’ve been able to have structure have been really awesome. And it was the other day I was at the Minnesota State Fair, which is like a holiday here. It’s 12 days.
Keith Boswell (04:55):
Lindsay Guentzel (04:55):
It’s insane. It’s big, yes. But I was having a conversation with the group of friends that I was with, all of whom had taken the Monday off of work. And I had worked over the weekend to make up some of those hours. And I just was thinking to myself, maybe summer wasn’t the best time to try and create a new routine. And then I found myself saying the words out, because the one thing that I’ve learned is I internalize so much, it’s a part of my inattentive ADHD. And I’ve learned that when I say things out loud in front of people, I trust, I either get confirmation that what I’m thinking is accurate or I get great insight of stuff I hadn’t thought about. And so I just said it out loud. I was like, “Yeah, maybe that wasn’t the best idea.” And they all kind of looked at me, “You think? You’re just realizing this? It’s August 29th and you’re like, yeah, maybe summer is not the best time to start to have a routine.”
Keith Boswell (05:55):
There’s a power in that self realization, isn’t there? Like, “Oh, I can say this.” And I’m trying to do that more myself. I have really, really realized how many conversations were just going on with me and not involving anybody else. And the more I say, the more positive feedback and it’s not all like, oh yeah, that’s great. It’s just, like you said, it’s people going, “Yeah, really.” It’s those moments of self-reflection when the mirror doesn’t feel so scary, I guess.
Lindsay Guentzel (06:27):
So I’m going to put you on the spot. I want to know two things. I want to start with what you want to improve on when it comes to transitions and schedules and setting yourself up for success.
Keith Boswell (06:41):
That’s a great question because for me the biggest thing I need in this arena, and it’s been a lifelong cliff for me, is that mindfulness in the moment that what I had planned in my head it’s okay if it changes. I mean, it’s weird, I never realized why I like to be early to things. And I was almost the type where it was like I would get agitated about being late. It was something I don’t know, someone had said to me early in my life, kind of stuck with me that you need to be early for things, you can’t be late. I would just stress about these things in the moment. And so if I have something in mind, if I’m thinking this is happening, then this, then this, and suddenly it changes, old me would just get frustrated. But I wouldn’t say anything. I would just fester on it and keep to myself and have all those conversations rattling around in my head, why I was upset about something, but I never did anything about it.
Lindsay Guentzel (07:41):
And to end on a positive note, what do you see that is something you do well or an area where you feel like you’re thriving when it comes to how we view our lives and our schedules and the transitions that come along with all of it.
Keith Boswell (07:59):
I think something I fall back on and maybe too often, but is humor. I try to keep a positivity about it, I think as I’m learning more about myself and catching myself in these moments. Rather than beat myself up, I try to laugh about it. And I try to say, this is funny that you’re catching yourself doing this and you’re so frustrated, and this is exactly what you’re saying you don’t want to be doing. So unwind from it. I’ve always called myself like an optimistic pessimist. It’s a weird point of view, but I prefer to be more positive even as I can deconstruct things. But that, to me, having a sense of humor about it and laughing at myself more, is really helpful.
Lindsay Guentzel (08:47):
And I will say, as someone who gets to work with you, the empathy and the humor that you show other people, I’m really glad to know that you’re working on showing it to yourself. Because it’s actually one of my favorite parts of working with you is that right off the bat, it has just felt so easy and I’ve felt like I could come to you with anything and these things that felt so just over the top, these monsters in my head, the stories I was telling myself, I would come to you and you were just like, it was always the best response. So I’m really, really happy to hear that, that is something that you are sticking to and you’re working on giving yourself more of that grace and that laughter.
Keith Boswell (09:30):
I appreciate that. I really do.
Lindsay Guentzel (09:31):
One thing we do want to clue you into is we have some really exciting stuff down the pipeline for ADHD Awareness Month, which is coming in October. We are not prepared yet to kind of lay it all out there for you.
Keith Boswell (09:43):
Lindsay Guentzel (09:44):
The team at ADHD Online and I have been working very, very hard and it is going to be an incredible October of 2022, and that will lead us right into November and the International Conference on ADHD, it’s in Dallas. And Boz, as always, I’m so grateful for your candor and your honesty and thank you for joining us. And we’ll talk off the podcast soon and we’ll get things in order so we can tell people about all the awesome stuff that’s coming.
Keith Boswell (10:16):
Absolutely. Can’t wait.
Lindsay Guentzel (10:22):
ADHD Online is a telemedicine healthcare company that specializes in diagnosing and treating ADHD through convenient and affordable assessments and personalized treatment plans, typically, in just seven days. It’s healthcare run by tech, not tech running healthcare. And that’s an important distinction. It was started and is run by healthcare professionals who treat the whole person, from diagnosis to treatment, to medication management and teletherapy. If you’ve been wondering if you have ADHD or perhaps you’re seeing behaviors in someone you care about, that have you questioning a connection, head on over to ADHDonline.com to find out more about their diagnostic process and how their team of healthcare professionals across the country can help you move forward in life with more answers and understanding. So I ask all of my guests to start by introducing themselves to the audience.
Christina Kantzavelos (11:33):
Hello, my name is Christina Kantzavelos and I am a licensed psychotherapist who is neurodivergent and focuses on chronic illnesses as well as developmental disabilities.
Lindsay Guentzel (11:47):
I was very excited when we connected about this topic. So it’s back to school and I think what’s really interesting about back to school time is that I’m 36 years old, I’m not going back to school. But the start of the school year feels very new and like an opportunity to better yourself, and kind of like this perfect time to reset and recharge. And I don’t know, I almost feel like it’s more inspirational than New Year’s. I don’t know why that is. Maybe I live somewhere where there’s four seasons, so we get fall weather and it’s just lovely. And with ADHD, it’s not great for everybody. So I was super excited when you raised your hand and were like, “I want to talk about this.” So let’s just start there. What is it about ADHD and the transitions and this strange little gray area period that you were very excited to come on and talk about?
Christina Kantzavelos (12:51):
Yeah. I think for ADHD, first of all, the fall’s is always exciting for me too. There’s just something that feels very renewed about it. And like you said, kind of a new start. It also represents change and progression and just moving forward, kind of like a new chapter, if you will. So ADHD is on a spectrum and for some folks with ADHD, change can be exciting because it’s almost this release of dopamine and, “Oh gosh, what’s on the other side? This could be really cool.” And for others on the spectrum, it can be almost debilitating, really scary. My schedule, my routine is about to change and that is quite upsetting to me. So I want to keep both of those in mind when we’re thinking about going back to school and this essence of that.
Lindsay Guentzel (13:55):
It is, and you’ve touched on it a little bit. Everyone’s ADHD is so different. You could put 100 people in the room and be lucky to have some connections as far as how people view certain things in life, because it’s just so different. And it’s also so different depending on where you are in life. So let’s start with children because back to school and going back to school and maybe you know you’re neurodivergent, maybe you are receiving some extra help in school. Maybe there’s some insecurity that comes with that. But that’s really a time in life where the parents are taking the lead on how these transitions are starting and how they’re going. And I think it can be overwhelming for parents who have just never dealt with this before, whether their child has a new diagnosis or it’s reevaluating what they’ve done in the past. So how do you view this back to school with children and how parents should really be focusing in on it?
Christina Kantzavelos (15:00):
Yeah. So first of all, I think it’s wonderful if your child has recently received a diagnosis or if you’re just recalibrating. I think both of those things are exciting and new and offer room for improvement. And what I suggest is creating a schedule that makes sense for everyone, back to the fact that every person who is neurodivergent is different. And so their schedules may look different.
Christina Kantzavelos (15:33):
But having a schedule laid out that your child can view that everyone has access to, and it can be as specific as waking up at this time, eight o’clock, nine o’clock, whatever, taking a shower, getting dressed, brushing your teeth, or eating breakfast at this time and just creating a daily schedule that makes sense for them. And also, keeping in mind when your child has higher energy and utilizing that to your benefit. I have found a lot of children have that energy come up at night. And I like to say, use that to your benefit. Pick out your outfits for the next day, make your lunch then. Take advantage of this energy, because perhaps in the morning they feel really groggy. And it’s just tough. If you’re doing that at night, have the backpack next to the door, have everything just ready to go so it feels as seamless as it possibly can.
Lindsay Guentzel (16:39):
It’s really interesting what you touched on there is the time suck or the disappearance of time. I feel that as an adult. I wake up and I have what feels like all the time in the world. And then all of a sudden, I’m still running late for whatever it is that’s getting me out the door in the morning. But the routine of getting up and knowing the order of what you do things is so important for children and it really kind of sets them off on the right foot.
Christina Kantzavelos (17:03):
Definitely. And I think it’s important to bring in some benefits to them doing it, like positive reinforcement. So if they’ve gone a week with following the schedule, maybe you get to take them to a special place to eat or miniature golfing. You get to decide. And if it’s after a certain amount of months, maybe it’s even larger positive reinforcement. Those of us with ADHD, we are constantly chasing our dopamine. And even for those of us as adults, we almost have to dangle the carrot in front of our faces too, right? It’s not just children, it’s all of us.
Lindsay Guentzel (17:44):
It’s very funny because I get very excited, later in life ADHD diagnosis and the more I’m learning about myself and little things that a, quote, unquote, normal person, would just do because that’s what they’ve been told to do and they understand the process. And I do it and I have to show everyone. I’m just like, “I need you to acknowledge that I did this.” And it makes me think a few months ago I interviewed a couple of researchers from Florida International University who work specifically with children who have ADHD, who are around the preschool age. And the big thing was positive reinforcement and just how important it is for establishing routines and helping children understand how they’re supposed to go through the day. Because at that age, they haven’t really clung on to body doubling yet. I think for me, as a high schooler, the only way I was as successful as I could be, or as I was, was because I was just mimicking those people around me and they haven’t learned that yet.
Christina Kantzavelos (18:48):
No. No, no, no. As parents are laying out and setting up this foundation. And a couple of other things, I think it’s really important that parents create a relationship with the teachers or anyone else in the classroom so that you can, as a parent, explain what your child is like, what they’re up to, what works for them, what doesn’t. It’s important because teachers, they can’t assume and put every student that’s neurodivergent in a box because we’re all so very different. And creating a steady space at home is another tip I like to suggest to folks. So just a place where you know when you go there, that is where you’re doing homework. This is the environment you’ve set up. And for some kids, and adults, we do really well with noise and music and others need quiet space. So if noise is necessary, getting a machine with white noise is helpful, but just creating that space and maybe having a yoga ball they can bounce on for that sort of stimulation, just creating it to and customizing it to them and what they need.
Lindsay Guentzel (20:05):
It sounds daunting, but it’s also kind of the perfect time to experiment because your kids are so young and you don’t necessarily know where they thrive yet. And they don’t know where they thrive yet. I feel like I have days where I thrive in pure quiet, and then I have days where pure quiet is the most horrifying situation to be sitting in and trying to get work done. And so having those conversations with your children, hindsight is so important as we learn more about ADHD and as more people get diagnosed later in life and they talk about their own experiences. I look back and I was very much combo, very outgoing and loud and all of my report cards told my parents, she talks a lot, she has a hard time raising her hand and waiting her turn. But I was very inattentive in the fact of, I could not remember things to save my life, I could not get into routines.
Lindsay Guentzel (21:09):
But I was also very sensitive and I just assumed everyone felt that way. And I think what’s so important for parents as they’re learning more about their children, whether they’re neurodiverse or not, is talking about feelings and talking about those moments where… The one that stands out for me the most is the idea of rejection sensitive dysphoria and how young I can go back to my childhood and pinpoint where it was really starting and where the anxiety was coming from. And so having those moments of honest conversation with your children about what their body is supposed to feel like. And I think it’s hard, I think sometimes parents assume their children will just come to them. But again, it’s very clear with everything we know about ADHD is that you don’t know what you don’t know. And for a child, you don’t know that you’re not supposed to be feeling that way.
Christina Kantzavelos (22:04):
Amen. Yeah. Very, very well said. And it’s not discussed enough. We can set up all of these tips and tricks. However, feelings are just as important as these fundamentals, these physical fundamentals. And that may change from day to day. When it comes to ADHD, it’s sometimes hour to hour, nevermind day to day. So checking in, like you said, is vital. It is so important. It’s so informative and you can go from there. I also recommend just getting a journal and maybe documenting what is and isn’t working. We do really well with patterns. That’s what I’ve observed. We’re folks of patterns. And patterns can change, I’m just saying. But for the most part we’re folks of patterns. And so just jotting down, what has or hasn’t worked is also a game changer and can be quite informative.
Lindsay Guentzel (23:04):
I’m curious how your own ADHD journey has impacted the way you view the work you’re doing with people who also fall into that diagnosis.
Christina Kantzavelos (23:16):
Yeah. I have such a blast. Most of my clients are on the spectrum. Actually, I would say 90%. And we have such a great time together because I say we have pinball machines for brains. We’ll just go from one topic to the next and they can follow along and I can follow along back. And we just have such a blast in terms of our dynamics and being able to bring in a clinical and personal perspective, I have been told, has been very cathartic and healing and has allowed my clients to feel less alone, less alienated, like, “Oh, I’m not the only one who processes information like this or thinks this way or does this weird thing?” No, no, no, we’re all weirdos in a good way and we can use it to our advantage. We just have to tweak things here and there and that’s okay. That’s okay, we’re all constantly learning.
Lindsay Guentzel (24:16):
Oh gosh, every day.
Christina Kantzavelos (24:18):
Lindsay Guentzel (24:19):
Every day. Every time I talk to somebody I’m just like, “Oh, Hmm.”
Christina Kantzavelos (24:24):
Lindsay Guentzel (24:25):
One of the things with transitions is, and I don’t think we necessarily think about with ADHD is, like you mentioned, we are seeking that dopamine rush. And a lot of times that means wanting to do the things that we want to do. And the unfortunate reality about school is that that is not always the case. And a lot of kids come home and the last thing they want to do, regardless of how great of a student they are or how engaged they are, is do homework.
Lindsay Guentzel (24:52):
And so the transitions from the fun to the less fun can be that phase where things get rocky. What do you recommend? And I feel like this is the conversation that is not just isolated to children in school. I feel like this is very much something that everyone who struggles with transitioning out of something that they enjoy into, we’re adults, we have to get things done, there are responsibilities. They’re not as enjoyable. I don’t want to do them, but I do have to do them. And so how do you bridge that gap and how do you do it in a way where it gets easier, if that’s possible?
Christina Kantzavelos (25:32):
So I’m very pro time blocking and I’m very pro not postponing joy. And so if your child’s coming home from school and doesn’t want to go straight to homework, has a lot of pent up energy, if an hour is okay for them to go run around, play with their friends, do something creative, then I’m all about that because that’s getting them that dopamine, that’s irrigating energy and emotions so that they can come back and focus. And then perhaps again, having a time block for fun after they’re done doing homework. It’s important to have time blocks for working and for studying and for getting ready and for chores, but we also need to time block fun and movement. It’s imperative. And that goes for us as adults too.
Lindsay Guentzel (26:31):
And how does movement play a role in that? Because one of the things that I’m constantly working on is bringing people into the conversation who are working to add to the outdated stereotype of this young boy bouncing off the walls. And it’s not to erase that stereotype, because that stereotype is there for a reason, those people exist. But on the flip side, there’s so much more to it. But physical movement plays a huge role in how our brains operate. And so where does that fit into this routine?
Christina Kantzavelos (27:05):
So I always say it’s important to irrigate emotions. Physical activity has a plethora of benefits. It helps with our lymphatic system, it’s helpful for our joints. It’s great for our emotional and mental health. And that’s where this comes in. I’m always very obtaining positive neurochemicals. So we’re looking at endorphins, movement. Yes. So how can we get that? We get those endorphins, that helps with lowering our cortisol levels, our stress. So that way, when it is time to sit down and do work, we feel a lot calmer and better in doing it.
Lindsay Guentzel (27:52):
Let’s dive into irrigating your emotions because it feels like something that you probably say a lot. And if I were someone who came to see you, I would nod along and be like, “Yes, I totally understand what that means.” But let’s explain it. What is it? And when you say that, what are you trying to get across to your patients?
Christina Kantzavelos (28:13):
So emotions are energy in motion. And when we dance, when move intentionally, that really helps with moving your emotions, getting it out, having it leave the body. So I’ve noticed with folks I work with who are neurodivergent, like when we’re processing something or there’s something stressful, we’ll start to move, we’ll start to bounce, we’ll start to shake. And often, they’ll say they’re feeling better. I do it myself. So that’s how we’re just processing emotions. We’re letting it run through our bodies and out, ideally.
Lindsay Guentzel (28:52):
So you’re saying when I am stressed out and angry and I’m really good at the slam balls at the gym, that there is a correlation between what I’m putting in and what is coming out.
Christina Kantzavelos (29:06):
100%. Yeah. I need a slam ball here.
Lindsay Guentzel (29:10):
They have their purpose, I will say. I don’t always love doing them, but they definitely serve a purpose.
Christina Kantzavelos (29:17):
Yeah. It’s a great tool for, again, just irrigating those emotions and what’s coming up.
Lindsay Guentzel (29:23):
So haven’t we talked about when we’re talking about transitions and people with ADHD and how you kind of start to have these conversations with your patients and building up their tools ahead of those moments?
Christina Kantzavelos (29:40):
I think it’s important for there to be some awareness, to understand where your challenges are and where your strengths are and maximizing on those strengths. How do we work smarter, not harder for each individual person. And as I was saying earlier, capitalizing on someone’s energy levels. Some people just do really well at night. Okay, well, let’s get all this stuff done at night so then maybe you have that time to zone out during the day. And this is of course, as an adult, not so much as a child going to school.
Christina Kantzavelos (30:17):
But just really, really honing in on your child’s challenges and their strengths and what works for them. And perhaps finding a therapist who specializes in this or a coach, or there might be someone at school, there’s school social workers, they might be able to point you in the right direction. I want to say to parents you are not alone in this. And there are some really great resources, there’s groups out there to make sure that you’re also taking care of yourself while you’re taking care of your child, because that’s really important too, that your nervous system feels regulated. Because it’s so easy for it to feel dysregulated when your child’s upset or having challenges.
Lindsay Guentzel (31:00):
And we do know the genetic connection between parents and children who have ADHD. And I’ve heard so many stories, mostly from women who were not diagnosed or weren’t even considering it until after their children were diagnosed. And so then you’re talking about two people with ADHD who are trying to figure out a routine and I’m sure it can just be overwhelming. And I’m sure from the parental side, you’re a parent, you have ADHD, you’re trying to keep it together and be the best person you can be. And at the same time, you’re trying to pass that along to your child and the guilt and the sadness and the shame. My mom doesn’t have ADHD, but when I was diagnosed, it was like we were working through some stuff with her and it was like, “I’m good.” You didn’t do this. This is just life. But I think it’s hard as parents, for them to separate themselves from that.
Christina Kantzavelos (31:57):
Definitely. And this isn’t your fault. And I always say, I’m like, “Look at this as just a different way of thinking and doing things and processing information.” I say that it’s my superpower. Folks I know who are on the spectrum are some of the most brilliant, creative, wonderful humans. And they don’t exactly fit in a box and that’s okay. Again, it’s back to what we were saying earlier, the more I learn, the less I know. We’re all learning together every single day and it’s important to have self-compassion around that. No one’s going to be a perfect child, no one’s going to be a perfect parent. And that’s okay, we’re not meant to be perfect, we’re just meant to learn and grow as best as we possibly can with the information we have available to us.
Lindsay Guentzel (32:51):
You mentioned taking advantage of times throughout the day where you have energy or you get these great little moments of clarity. It reminds me of, I do a lot of meal prepping and planning and people always reach out for meal ideas and stuff, and I’m always, “Eat what you want.” Breakfast food, that idea of breakfast food and what you’re allowed to eat in the morning, that was established by people who probably don’t live on earth any longer. They’re not alive anymore. And I think it’s so easy to just assume what has been set up before us is what we’re supposed to follow. And obviously, we know that our ADHD brains were not meant to be successful in this world. There’s just so much that is set up in a way that is difficult for us. And whether that’s what you eat for breakfast or when you do your work, like life eight to five, it’s not the only option.
Christina Kantzavelos (33:53):
No, no, it’s not. It’s not. There are alternative options. There’s alternative schools. I found a hybrid charter school, unfortunately, not until I was in high school. But oh my God, that would’ve been so great for me at a young age. I didn’t do well with the eight to three structure. I didn’t thrive in that environment. They gave me laptop and said, “You’re going to online school and you have some classes in person,” I thrived because it was on my schedule. And I had those times to move around, to irrigate my emotions, to follow my joy, to follow my dopamine and then get serious with what I was doing.
Christina Kantzavelos (34:39):
But that’s just me. Every single person, it’s so individual. And it’s just important to remember that whether you have a child with ADHD or if you have ADHD and it’s checking in with yourself. What you mentioned earlier, checking in with your child, how are they feeling about things? Well, how are you feeling about things? How does this feel in your body? How does this make your nervous system feel? Is this calming or is this of ease or does this feel of dis-ease?
Lindsay Guentzel (35:06):
Yes. All of those things. And I’m so happy that we are having more of these conversations and that I think back on times as a child, that felt very tough for me. And I just thought that was what you dealt with. And I don’t think I ever even opened up to anyone about it. And so to know that we are setting up this next generation to have so many outlets to learn about themselves, it’s such a huge relief, because I think all of us who were in those moments, like you mentioned, you didn’t thrive in the eight to three school setup. But you didn’t know that. It wasn’t until you went to a different school that you realized, this is where I’m supposed to be.
Christina Kantzavelos (35:51):
Yeah. And those of us who weren’t diagnosed when we were children, because females present totally different than males. Not always, but a lot of the times. We don’t have the, quote, unquote, hyperactivity. It was hard for teachers to know. How could they know we were struggling? They didn’t even know this really existed to the extent that it does now. And so yes, these conversations are vital. This dialogue needs to happen because it’s going to normalize what so many people are experiencing and perhaps haven’t even been diagnosed with or who have been diagnosed and didn’t realize that other people are experiencing things just like this.
Lindsay Guentzel (36:34):
Well, I love that I get to talk to you because not only are you experienced working with people as a therapist, but you also have ADHD. And you’ve mentioned that you look at it as your superpower, that so much of what you’ve wanted to do in life has benefited from it. So let’s talk about that for a second, because I think it’s really great for other people to hear these stories, because what you view as your superpower might be something that someone is sitting there going, this is terrible. This is holding me back. And I think when you just change how you look at it, and sometimes that does mean changing how you look at it, but also changing what you are doing around it. Is this feeling that way because of something else? So I would just be really curious to know when you look at your life and your ADHD, what are those things that stand out as just like, this is amazing?
Christina Kantzavelos (37:36):
Yeah. For example, I’m able to do what seems like a million things at once. But I’ll hyperfocus on just one. I think one of the big things that they put us down for is not being able to focus on anything like, “Oh, you have ADHD, can’t focus.” No, I can hyperfocus on anything I am very interested in. And also, I’m a creative person. So I’ve done random creative things my whole life. And I noticed that folks not on the spectrum aren’t able to hyperfocus, maybe aren’t nearly as creative, can’t follow all the conversations happening. I can be in a group and there could be four conversations going at once and I can tell you the gist of what’s going on. If I’m uninterested, of course I’ll zone out, like we all do.
Christina Kantzavelos (38:43):
So I find it fun. I think it makes us dynamic and interesting. And we can tell you about subjects that we are so very fascinated by and interested by. And we go deep. When we’re into something, we dive into the deep end. We’re not hanging out in the shallow end of the pool. And I also notice that in general, when it comes to conversations, we go into the deep end. We’re not here to talk about the weather. When you meet someone who’s on the spectrum, you know you’re going to have a good conversation about something, whatever it is, especially if you guys have something in common.
Lindsay Guentzel (39:24):
Oh, yeah. The number of times I end a conversation with someone who I’ve never met and I’m like, “I think we just became best friends.” Should we measure for bracelets? I would be curious to know if there’s anything that you look at that, that you’ve had to work through some feelings on about negativity, because I think it’s really easy to talk about the positive stuff and to be excited about all the opportunities that are presented because you have ADHD and you can see the world in a different view. But for a lot of people that means working through some things that aren’t fun and don’t make you feel good. And again, going back to how society is set up, we’re meant to think that because we don’t fall into that small box, that nothing good will come our way.
Christina Kantzavelos (40:13):
Yeah, yeah. I don’t want to pretend that ADHD is all rainbows and butterflies in a world that’s not set up for us. I have had so many challenges, especially before knowing I had ADHD. That could be issues in the classroom. I was like you, I was hyper verbal. I wanted to talk to everyone about everything because I wasn’t interested in the subject being presented to me. That was it. And I’d get in trouble time and time again for that. And teachers weren’t working with me on my strengths. They were very focused on my challenges, which wasn’t going to help me thrive as a student. And even in work environments. I’ve been working since I was 14 years old. And it’s great in the sense that I’ve gotten to try out so many different types of jobs and see how I work, see how I do.
Christina Kantzavelos (41:11):
What I’ve learned is that I cannot work with or work for someone else. It took me a long time to realize that. And I’d get in trouble for the strangest things I felt like sometimes, or if I was passionate about something, it wasn’t taken seriously. And I felt hurt by that. I think even organized sports, dancing, the way I process information isn’t the same. So for dance, for example, it was difficult for me to understand the routine. My brain just didn’t process information like that. So I didn’t make certain teams because I didn’t have that great of hand eye coordination. And again, it’s back to how my brain processes information. So yeah, I’ve had my challenges and I’ve felt very hurt by not being able to, not just be accepted into certain groups or certain situations, but feeling like I cannot acclimate to them because it’s not set up for me.
Christina Kantzavelos (42:21):
It’s like being right-handed and having to use lefthanded scissors. That’s how most my life has felt. And I think a lot of folks on the spectrum can resonate with that. These situations that have been challenging, hard, have left me feeling down, depressed, in every single one of those situations, I was able to use that as information of what I don’t want to do. I don’t want to continue working like this, I don’t want to be in this situation. I don’t want to hang around these types of people. I don’t want to do this sort of activity. And finding other activities, other jobs, et cetera, et cetera, cetera, that I am able to feel like my authentic self in and feel accepted by.
Lindsay Guentzel (43:13):
Everything you said, especially about the jobs, that has been the biggest struggle in my life. I’m someone who’s incredibly career driven. And I could not understand, for the life of me, why I couldn’t fit in anywhere. And it wasn’t lack of trying. It was, probably if anything, too much trying. You’re just constantly working to get people to accept you and it’s exhausting and you can’t figure out why certain people connect with you and just that energy they give to you. And you’re like, this is what I want around me all the time and why is it not working here? And I love that you acknowledge that you know now that you can’t work for somebody. I spent so many years building someone else’s dream and I couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t fulfilling me. And it was like, I know I meant for more, but I’m terrified of it.
Lindsay Guentzel (44:06):
And it’s like, I kind of felt like I was supposed to just pay my dues and go that route as a producer and working my way up the media ladder and I would get my opportunity as it came down. But it came with all of these scenarios where I felt awful about myself. It’s so defeating. It can be so defeating. And it’s also, I think, so hard to explain to somebody who doesn’t know how that feels like. I can say to people, I can walk into a room and feel like not one person wants me there and I am manifesting stories in my head and I will spiral for days over it. And they’re like, “Wait, what?” And you’re like, “Oh yes. Have I not told you about the stories that I tell myself in my head? This is a really fun one.”
Christina Kantzavelos (44:56):
Yeah, yeah. We just ruminate for hours and days, sometimes weeks.
Lindsay Guentzel (45:01):
And I will say, I didn’t know what ruminating was until I was diagnosed. And the first time I heard it, I was like, “Oh, that makes complete and total sense.”
Christina Kantzavelos (45:12):
Lindsay Guentzel (45:14):
Well, this has been so lovely. I am so appreciative of you sharing not only your expertise in talking about ADHD and transitions and providing some really awesome tips and ideas for parents and students, and even just adults with ADHD who maybe are starting a new job or looking at the school year as their opportunity to reset. I would like to end this by asking you, what is making you excited about the future right now? What is your motivation? Where are you thriving? When you look ahead, where is the spark coming from?
Christina Kantzavelos (45:53):
Right now I’m creating an app out of my journal and I think it’s going to be really impactful and helpful to any folks with chronic illness or mental illness or who are just trying to track their health. And I don’t know, I’m very excited for that. I’m also just feeling hopeful in general. I’m hoping to plan trips in the near future. Just the thought of that gets me excited. The visualizations offer me that serotonin and dopamine that I’m always after. That’s a great question.
Lindsay Guentzel (46:35):
I know about your journals. But explain a little bit about what they are and what you created them for.
Christina Kantzavelos (46:42):
Sure. I was couch bound due to Lyme disease and needed a way to track my health on a regular basis. And I had read about the mind-body connection, how fierce it is and how journaling is a great mind-body tool in that it’s not just helpful for our mental health. It actually helps speed up the healing process and the physical body. So it does both of those things. But when you’re feeling fatigued and exhausted and defeated, the last thing you want to do is write sentences upon sentences. So I created sort of a bullet journal, a wellness bullet journal. And at that time, there wasn’t one that combined the mind, the body and the spirit. Everything was very separated. I actually had no intention of creating a journal, I was very sick. But I started just writing prompts for myself.
Christina Kantzavelos (47:34):
And then as I did it, I noticed that I was getting better. I was noticing things I wouldn’t have noticed had I not written them down in terms of energy level increases. Even if it was like 5.5%. It’s like, healing’s not linear, but there was a positive trajectory I was witnessing within my journal. And I was just feeling better after each time I did it, which is why I decided, okay, this has been so helpful for me. I take it to my doctor’s offices and my therapist and “Hey, look what I’ve come up with.” And it was really helpful. It took me a while, but I decided to publish it. And I’m very excited because that’s what’s being turned into an app at this time and you’ll get to share your data in real time with your providers or anyone you wish.
Lindsay Guentzel (48:24):
That sounds fantastic. What an amazing example of taking a dark time in your life, like you said, you weren’t planning on creating this. It was just like what you needed to do to take care of yourself and to be brave and vulnerable to put that out into the world, that’s really awesome.
Christina Kantzavelos (48:45):
Thank you. That’s so awesome for you to say. Yeah, I believe in post traumatic growth. Anyone who’s here right now listening has experienced post traumatic growth. You survived your hardest days and I am so proud of you and thank you so much for creating a platform like this, to have this dialogue and discuss these things. It’s amazing.
Lindsay Guentzel (49:07):
I’ve been having them in my head for many years and I figured it was about time I brought somebody else into the conversation.
Christina Kantzavelos (49:13):
I love it. I love it. I feel honored. Thank you.
Lindsay Guentzel (49:16):
Well, Christina, thank you so much. And I hope we get to have more chats and the second the app is up, come back, let’s talk about it, we’ll run through it. But it was such a pleasure. Thank you.
Christina Kantzavelos (49:27):
Likewise. Thank you so much.
Lindsay Guentzel (49:36):
Refocused with Lindsay Guentzel is a collaboration between me, Lindsay Guentzel, and ADHD Online, a telemedicine healthcare leader, offering affordable and accessible ADHD assessments, medication management, and teletherapy. You can find out more by visiting ADHDonline.com.
Lindsay Guentzel (49:57):
A giant thank you to Christina Kantzavelos for sharing her insight and expertise with us. Make sure to check out her website and social media. I’ve included all of those links in the show notes. And as always, thanks to Keith Boswell for continuing to allow me to reserve time on his calendar, week after week.
Lindsay Guentzel (50:20):
The show’s music was created by Louis Inglis, a songwriter and composer based out of Perth, Australia, who was diagnosed with ADHD in 2020 at the age of 39. Remember to subscribe, rate and review wherever you’re listening now. Share a favorite episode with a friend and join this next week for another episode of Refocused with Lindsay Guentzel.