Episode 86. I’m An Adult With ADHD And I Stole My Son’s Ritalin



Can you identify with how Kim Livingston felt when she wanted to clean, but was somehow unable to attack the chaos? Simple tasks seemed complex because she couldn’t find a starting point, and didn’t see a clear set of steps ahead. Let’s set aside the judgment that the title generates and in the nearly 20 years since this all took place Kim has had plenty of time to reflect back on that moment. She has recently released her first book, “Walks Like a Duck: How a Mom with ADHD Led Her Neurodiverse Family to Peace of Mind” and in this episode we get to talk to Kim about the book, her thoughts about her reverse-diagnosis, and what she wishes people knew or understood better about ADHD.

  • Kim R. Livingston teaches English at Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove, Illinois, and is an advocate of community colleges everywhere. Growing up, Kim’s family was neurodivergent, and three decades of teaching have made Kim an even more passionate advocate of neurodiversity. She sees value in our differences and understands that intelligence has many faces. Her first book, “Walks Like a Duck: How a Mom with ADHD Led Her Neurodiverse Family to Peace of Mind,” was recently published by TouchPoint Press. Visit Kim at www.kimrlivingston.com to learn more. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse issues, here is a resource for you to reach out to. The SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders. Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visit their website www.samhsa.gov.

Resources mentioned in the podcast:

Book: “Women with Attention Deficit Disorder” by Sari Solden

Book: “Brain Energy” by Chris Palmer, MD

Podcast: Huberman Lab: “How to Breathe Correctly for Optimal Health, Mood, Learning & Performance”

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Lindsay Guentzel:


On May 26th, Huffington Post published an article entitled I Couldn’t Manage My Messy Life. Then I Started Stealing My 9-Year-Old’s Ritalin. And today on Refocused, we’ll meet the wife, mother, teacher, and author behind the headline.


My name is Lindsay Guentzel, and every week on Refocused, we dive into the incredibly complex world of ADHD, exploring the topics most important to our community by interviewing medical providers, mental health professionals, and ADHD experts. We also just talk to other neurodiverse folks who share what it’s like living in a world not built for them. And of course, all of that brings up lots of tips, tricks and workarounds that we can mix and match to fit in our own lives and needs.


Whether you’ve been navigating ADHD your entire life, or you’re just starting your journey, there’s something for everyone on Refocused. And I promise that while we take this very seriously, we also have a lot of fun because life is way better with a little laughter in it. So sit back, relax, or do whatever you need to do to get into your listening mode because the latest episode of Refocused gets started right now.


The headline was catchy, no doubt, I Couldn’t Manage My Messy Life. Then I Started Stealing My 9-Year-Old’s Ritalin. As I read the piece Kim R. Livingston wrote for Huffington Post’s personal essay section at the end of May, I saw myself in her story. Obviously not the whole stealing Ritalin from a child part, but in the way she saw herself prior to that.


Kim wrote, “Even though I wanted to clean, I was somehow unable to attack the chaos. It was like trying to pay bills before I married my engineer husband. I knew it needed to be done, and I had every intention of doing it, just not right now.


“Simple tasks seemed complex because I couldn’t find a starting point and I didn’t see a clear set of steps ahead, write a check, address an envelope, walk it to the mailbox. If I had known that a first step was what I needed, I might have been able to find it.


“In my mind, the more I thought about it, the more the chore grew into something dark and nebulous. So I tiptoe around my laundry on the bathroom floor thinking, ‘I should clear this mess,’ and then move on to something else.”


As you already know from the title of the article, there was a point where the 36-year-old English teacher with a minivan and a master’s degree started taking her son’s Ritalin. Is grasping at pearls still a thing? This is the point of the story where there would be a lot of pearl grasping, which is to say, this is where the judgment starts.


And the unfortunate reality, this judgment is something I would imagine most of us have dealt with. And judgment turns to shame and shame can turn to avoidance, and avoidance can turn into entire generations of women being forgotten about. And it almost kept Kim from seeking answers.


So what happened after she stole her son’s medication? Well, some might say Kim started to thrive. Her brain had what it needed. In the nearly 20 years since this all took place, Kim has had plenty of time to reflect back on that moment, on those days, on that decision to finally speak to someone. And now that her husband and her are empty-nesters, she also has more time to write.


Kim recently released her first book, Walks Like a Duck: How a Mom with ADHD Led Her Neurodiverse Family to Peace of Mind, an intimate, often funny brain memoir of family neurodiversity and getting along with each other. And I’m so excited to have Kim joining us today on Refocus. Kim, thank you so much for sharing your story with us today.

Kim R. Livingston (04:33):

Thank you, Lindsay for inviting me. I’m happy to be here.

Lindsay Guentzel (04:35):

So I’m curious, besides the abundance of time parents tend to find themselves when they become empty-nesters and their children have grown up and left the house, what was the motivation for you behind sharing the story and sharing it now?

Kim R. Livingston (04:49):

Well, honestly, I did not want to share the story. I’m all about stories. I’m an English professor and I’ve been writing forever. And I had gone back to school kind of just for fun for an MFA in creative nonfiction. So I was telling stories and I needed to find a theme for my thesis, and I didn’t know what to write about.


I thought maybe I’d write about turning 50 because I was going through this kind of transformation, this kind of identity transformation where I was becoming this new person now that my kids were growing up. But I looked back at all these stories I had been telling through this degree, and all of them had something to do with the neurodivergence of my family with attention mostly, my attention, my son’s diagnosis.


And so I finally landed on this theme of a family brain memoir. And when I tell that to people, they’re like, “I don’t know what that is.” And I think that’s because I made it up. I think I made it up anyway. And then that allowed me to tell all these stories about the brains in my family. And so now after 31 years of grading essays, I get to be the writer, which is fun.

Lindsay Guentzel (06:11):

Well, congratulations. It’s quite an accomplishment. And I love that it is another reminder that growth and accomplishments aren’t just for people in their 20s, it can happen at any age. And I love that you were able to see this connection between the stories. And so I’m curious what people can expect from your book.

Kim R. Livingston (06:32):

It’s a fairly lighthearted story of dealing with the different brains in my life from wanting to understand my brother’s schizophrenia, to my own problems of becoming a teacher and a wife to a guy with a brain very different from my own, then parenting kids with ADHD, and finally, the struggle to accept and understand my own brain and to figure out how to make the most of it.


The stories bounce back and forth in time often. And when I was writing that thesis, my advisor told me that that was okay because maybe that’s the way my brain works. So I took that and ran with it. It’s like, “I can do whatever I want here because that’s the way my brain works. Yeah.” It was kind of freeing and fun.

Lindsay Guentzel (07:24):

I love it. And I have found from my journey hosting this podcast is I think our community of people learn so well through personal stories and being able to connect to personal stories and being able to see somebody else’s growth is always inspirational.

Kim R. Livingston (07:39):

Yeah, that’s one of the reasons I like your podcast, honestly, is the stories. And I think the stories that we all tell each other, just like a walk in the woods and on Facebook and at the dinner table, they’re so important.

Lindsay Guentzel (07:55):

Well, let’s start telling yours. I’m hoping we can go back to before your son EJ was diagnosed. This is in 2003. I’m curious, prior to even starting on that journey with your husband and your son and his teacher and the school, what were your thoughts about ADHD?

Kim R. Livingston (08:11):

It was a different time, and people today know a lot more about it in general than I did. I really knew nothing about ADHD. I’d hardly heard of it at all. What I did think was that it was a label for hyperactive young boys, intellectually stunted even. I mean, I was just clueless. I had no idea really. And as a teacher, I should have been more aware.


And so when EJ’s second grade teacher first called me, I thought it was about the academically talented program. I mean, my son was bright and funny, a good reader with decent grades, test scores. He wasn’t especially hyper. He could sustain his attention for a long time drawing, building, playing outside.


Because I didn’t know anything about ADHD, I was shocked, and I kind of fought her, and in my head, I called her some names that she didn’t deserve. But she said that he was having some problems in class and he was answering questions when it wasn’t his turn. He was getting up out of his seat, he was forgetting assignments.


And my reaction was that they’re trying to stuff my unique creative son into their neat little boxes to make him some obedient, boring creature that he wasn’t meant to be really. And there was a little bit of truth to that, I guess, but mostly my reaction was because of my lack of understanding of what ADHD was.


But we brought him to the ADHD specialist and I continued to push back, afraid of the label, afraid of the misunderstanding that could come with it, and that this doctor, I remember he wrote in his notes, I remember seeing the notes later that my son was friendly, cooperative, and fidgety. Those were the three words, and fidgety was the only word in all caps. And I remember thinking, “Well, why that one in all caps? Why not friendly or cooperative?” But it was fidgety.


And that actually is where the title of the book comes in, walks like a duck, because I was pushing back from the label. I didn’t want him to say in any school reports that my son has ADHD. And so he said, “Well, we can call it whatever you want, but if he walks like a duck and talks like a duck, they’re all going to know he’s a duck.”


So I learned bits at a time. Of course, it’s a process, but we refused to medicate him in the beginning. I just didn’t see it as necessary. And then one Halloween night I saw that word impulsive, which the doctors had been throwing around in action as EJ just ran out in front of a car, and it scared me. And so I thought, “Well, maybe.”


And we started giving him the ADHD meds. And honestly, they have of course changed his life. And I want to go back to that teacher that I was unfair to and just tell her thank you. Thank you for taking the time and the energy to try to give him what he needs.

Lindsay Guentzel (11:36):

I imagine there are a lot of parents who have been in your shoes, especially for something that has been so misunderstood and has had such negative stigma attached to it. I’m curious how that experience, when you look back, affected you when it came time to start asking questions and what you were seeing in yourself and how it maybe held you back from asking things sooner because of what you had gone through with your son.

Kim R. Livingston (12:08):

It seems obvious to me now that we both have ADHD and that he probably inherited it from me and that I probably inherited it from my mother, but back then I was just oblivious. For a long time, I wasn’t convinced that it was a real disorder, even though I had all of the symptoms. My house was an absolute mess. And when I say that, friends say, “Well, my house is messy too,” and it’s not the same. My mess is not their mess. It’s not a normal mess. And I began to see this and understand it when people would drop by.


I remember a friend was driving me home from a teacher’s conference we both went to and asked if she could stop in my house to go to the bathroom. I wasn’t expecting that. And so the house was not prepared for it, and it was a disaster. The kitchen counters were piled with stuff, and it was really bad.


And she knew me only from work where I’m pretty put together, and she didn’t say anything, but I could tell that this was shocking to her. I was just so ashamed. I thought there was definitely something wrong with me. Of course, it’s not only my job to clean the house, it’s my husband’s too, and he certainly did his share, but I did not do my share.


And I didn’t know that ADHD for women was even a thing. So how am I going to go to … I’m not going to tell my doctor just out of the blue that my house is a disaster. This is the kind of thing that I hide from people, not the kind of thing that I tell people.


And so it was when I was in a bookstore, I think was probably supposed to be grading papers, but I wanted instead to go walk around the bookstore and I found this book by Sari Solden, her book called, I think it’s Women with ADHD.


And then I was just flipping through it, and I just found these stories about women who on the outside seemed to be perfectly functional, but behind closed doors, they were a mess. They didn’t get stuff done that they were supposed to do, and they were living these hidden lives. They were masking their truth.


And I mean, I literally dropped to my knees and started crying right there in Borders bookstores. It was such a watershed moment for me, like, “Oh my gosh.” And it was so emotional and everything has kind of revolved around that moment ever since.

Lindsay Guentzel (14:59):

I’m curious because for you, this reverse diagnosis, so that’s where the parent discovers their own ADHD through the diagnosis of their child, and it’s actually something a lot of parents are experiencing right now, but we’re better equipped to help them. And you had to go through your experience alone, and we know it led to experimenting with your son’s Ritalin. And I’m curious what made you initially start to even think that the medication could help you?

Kim R. Livingston (15:26):

Well, it was probably that book. It just planted the seed that, well, maybe you do have it. And I think I did Google some online tests and I found that some of them just didn’t fit me at all. They were, I think, geared more towards men. Are you hyperactive? No, I’m not, not at all. Do you have trouble listening to somebody in conversation one on one? Nope, not at all, that’s not me.


But then there were these other tests that were designed more toward the inattentive type and things like, do you have trouble sending out thank you cards? Yeah. Is your house a mess? Yes. Do you have trouble keeping track of schedules? Yes, all of that. And so it planted this seed in my brain.


And I mean, I knew I wasn’t supposed to take somebody else’s medication, and I’m not proud of doing that. If I could go back, I would certainly do it differently. I do not condone that. It’s dangerous to take somebody else’s medication. And so I’ve been wondering, what was it that made me do that?


And I mean, part of it was ADHD, the impulsivity of it. I did stuff like that as a kid all the time. I was a teenager, a late teenager, went away on a road trip with my friends. My mom gave me some emergency money, and I’m thinking, “Emergency? You know there’s not going to be an emergency. Instead, I’ll spend this money on a little stuffed Garfield doll. That seems perfectly reasonable to me because I want it right now and there probably won’t be an emergency.” This kind of impulsivity, this problem with actions and consequences, they were never big in my life, not something I thought of much.


It was probably my inability to see the forward steps. I didn’t know how to get help. I just didn’t know. I’d never been to a psychiatrist. I wasn’t comfortable talking about my feelings and especially my weaknesses. I was kind of shy.


And this self-medication thing, that’s what I was doing, that’s what I feared most in my kid. I didn’t see it this way at the time, but that’s why we ended up giving him the ADHD medicine so that he wouldn’t grow up to self-medicate. But here I was doing it myself, and I didn’t see it that way. I got really lucky with it, but it’s not something that I’m proud of.

Lindsay Guentzel (18:16):

And still, I’m curious what happened after you took the Ritalin?

Kim R. Livingston (18:21):

Well, it was like putting on those eyeglasses that I’d needed since third grade. Suddenly I could see a path forward toward getting done what I wanted to do, when in the past that just seemed so difficult. And I couldn’t figure out why it was so difficult, why I couldn’t just fill out the form and put it in an envelope and take it to the mailbox. What’s so hard about that? Why can’t I just pick up the clothes off of the floor, get them to the washing machine and do my laundry?


The medicine made it easy, you just do it. You don’t even think about it. You just do it. I thought, “Is this what my friends feel like? Is this how they get stuff done?” And it was just a revelation. I mean, in the moment right there, that first day, I just was able to clean. I was able to clean the house.


I spent a few hours rushing around, and when I say rushing around, I don’t mean I was manic or anything. I was calm. It wasn’t like having too much coffee or I wasn’t jittery. It was just I could see clearly what I needed to do and it seemed like a good idea to do it, and so I did it.


And my husband came home and he was happy that the house was clean. And the kids didn’t notice that it was dirty in the first place, so they didn’t say anything, but I noticed a huge difference.

Lindsay Guentzel (19:55):

How long did that continue when you were taking your son’s medication? Because you mentioned in the article that there was a point where you went, “I can’t keep doing this. If I’m going to continue taking medication, I need to speak to someone.” So what was that timeframe like?

Kim R. Livingston (20:09):

It was probably a few months, and I did it maybe a handful of times, certainly not every day. And this was what we called his homework medicine. So it was the three-hour medicine that he didn’t take often. He had his main daily medicine, and then if he needed it at night to do his homework, he had this short-acting stuff, and so there was a lot of extra.


And I was the one who kept track of it, so I knew that I wasn’t stealing it from him literally, I was just using something that he wouldn’t miss. But I mean, that doesn’t make it a good idea, but I just mean I wasn’t harming my son when I took it. When you look at the comments on that Huff Post article, they’re brutal. And I want to go in there and explain, “No, I’m not a monster.” I’m not going to do that.


And so yeah, a few times. I noticed that when I had things to do for work, like grading papers, an English teacher, there’s always a blending of home and work life. And so it was hard for me to find the time to sit down and grade essays because you need this creative energy and you need a fully working brain to do that.


And so I noticed that if I took that medicine then it could be late afternoon when my brain is normally just kind of dead, ready for a nap or something, but I was able to focus and do that. So a few more times, and then eventually, yeah, I decided I needed to get my own diagnosis.

Lindsay Guentzel (22:01):

I’m curious when you opened up about this, about what was going on and what those conversations were like. And I imagine that they probably happened with people in your life at different times.

Kim R. Livingston (22:11):

I guess I told my husband first. I was really reluctant. If I didn’t have to tell him, I probably wouldn’t have. I was embarrassed because in my head it was still a disorder for naughty little boys or something. It just didn’t make sense to me. It was just ignorance.


But he was always kind about it, but it was still, we had to work things out. If he would see me on the couch just doing nothing, he’d say, “Did you take your medicine today?” And that would annoy the heck out of me like, “I’m just relaxing. This isn’t ADHD. This is just after a long …” Whatever. So that question, did you take your medicine, it seems invasive. He wasn’t being invasive. He didn’t know how to deal with it. So we had all that to work out.


And telling the kids, that was easier because, I don’t know. It was still awkward. It was all awkward in the beginning, but life is awkward. That’s what I’ve found, life is awkward. Awkward is life. You just need to go through it and you’re usually better for it. But the kids, that was the easy part.


And it’s still coming out because I really didn’t tell other people until this book. I mean, I was in a faculty meeting just a few months ago and somebody mentioned the book. And so it was like this celebratory moment where my colleagues are ready to congratulate me and I have to recite the name of the book. And so I say, “How a Mom with ADHD,” and I’m thinking, “Oh my God, I’m telling the whole world here that I have ADHD, all of these people that I’ve worked my hardest to hide it from for years, and I’m saying it out loud.” And it was, my heart started being fast and they just want to congratulate me on my book.


The interesting thing though after that was that people started coming up to me, as you can probably predict, but I didn’t see it. I guess I thought that everybody else in the world had a perfectly easy life except for me. Everybody else, they’re perfectly functional. Of course they’re not. And so people started coming up to me and telling me about their own diagnoses, and another teacher asked if I would join her in a panel for faculty orientation, talking about teaching with neurodivergence.


And so I’m seeing that it goes back to the stories. If I tell my story, then I’m going to be able to hear other people’s stories and that’s going to help me and that’s going to help them, and that’s going to help everybody.

Lindsay Guentzel (25:20):

You touched a little on this, we live in this world of curated content. Everyone puts out their best foot every morning, best foot forward, nothing else. And here you are, a mother opening up about this secret.


And you mentioned lots of comments, people have opinions about the fact that you stole your child’s medication. And it doesn’t matter the story behind it, and you’re never going to change some of their minds regardless of what you put out there or what your family might even put out there. And you’re very open about the fact that you felt guilty about it, but what you gained by doing this thing that as you said was not right, kind of outweighs that in a way because you were able to get help for yourself.


And so I’m curious how you’ve unpacked your feelings around that decision so many years ago? And I’m sure once again, you’ve had to deal with some of that coming back up now that the book is out, the article is out, and you’re putting yourself out there in such a vulnerable way.

Kim R. Livingston (26:23):

When I read those comments on Huff Post, it’s a good thing that I have 31 years of student evaluations under my belt. I have lots of practice being evaluated, sometimes fairly, sometimes unfairly. And so I can see myself pretty objectively. To be a good teacher, you’ve got to see yourself objectively.


And I can forgive myself. I can understand why I did it. I can see that it was a stupid move, but I can see why I did it, and I can see that it led to something that helped me. So although I don’t think it was the best way forward, it was a way forward. And I was desperate. I needed help. And even today, it’s not all that easy to get the help we need.


And so I look at myself with compassion. I was doing the best I could do at the time, and I’m glad that I took a step forward. I’m glad I was courageous enough to do something, even if it wasn’t the right thing. It led me to where I needed to be.

Lindsay Guentzel (27:39):

You’re courageous now too, sharing this because there are so many people, women specifically, who are going to hear your story and who are going to read your story and are going to feel seen and heard and feel like somebody out there gets it.


And I’m wondering, you’ve had a lot of time to look back at your diagnosis. In a sense, you were ahead of the game for women. 20 years ago, we weren’t even talking about ADHD for women, and it is such a different world now. What are the most eye-opening things that you’ve learned about yourself since you discovered you have ADHD?

Kim R. Livingston (28:19):

Well, I guess I’ve learned to accept that I’m just horrible at certain things. I’m horrible at sending thank you cards, at making my bed, at watering the flowers daily, hanging flower baskets, they don’t stand a chance at my house. I’m horrible at mailing packages, at doing dishes, remembering laundry, recalling specific facts and numbers, and cleaning out the cat box.


So I mean, knowing these things about myself allows me to create some sort of workaround. I can just say thank you in a text rather than sending a card. It’s so much easier for me. And I can set a reminder for the laundry and for the cat box. I can ask for help. I’ve learned that I can learn, I can change.


After a lifetime of identifying as somebody who does not make her bed, I started making my bed because I learned that I like having a made bed. And when I make the beds, I open the shades and the sunshine comes in and I like that. And so I’m building that into my routine in the morning.


So I can change. I don’t have to stay horrible at those things that I’m horrible at, but if I do stay horrible at them, the diagnosis allows me to maybe see that without or with less judgment. And I’ve learned that there are things that I can do to help my brain reach its full potential, and the learning is fun for me. It’s just something that I’m really interested in. And I’m learning all about taking my own healthcare into my own hands. That’s kind of the biggest thing lately.

Lindsay Guentzel (30:20):

Well, it’s just a reminder of how important it is, because it’s your health, you should be in the driver’s seat.

Kim R. Livingston (30:27):

Yeah. Yeah, I didn’t used to think that way.

Lindsay Guentzel (30:30):

No. No, we were never told that, it was just, trust what is being told to you from a healthcare provider. I’m dealing with the exact same thing in my life right now, and it’s so important that you are the one leading every single conversation.

Kim R. Livingston (30:46):

Yeah, it’s scary though because I don’t have a degree in medicine and I don’t really understand this stuff, but it really does help to try to understand it.

Lindsay Guentzel (30:58):

Speaking of taking care of yourself in the Huffington Post article, you mentioned that diet and exercise were two things that helped you manage your ADHD symptoms, but they never worked as well as they did when they were paired with the proper medication. I’m curious what else you have found over the years that has helped you feel calm and in control.

Kim R. Livingston (31:21):

Well, I think diet and exercise are huge, especially for me, especially diet. And there was a while where I could not take ADHD medicine because of a heart condition, and so I needed to really rely on those other methods. I mean, well, diet and sleep honestly are the two most important things.


Recently I read a book called Brain Energy by Dr. Chris Palmer, and he talks about how mental disorders are metabolic disorders of the brain. And so he focuses on all these different ways to increase your metabolism. And food and sleep are two of the biggest pathways there to increase your metabolic strength.


And with sleep, for me, that’s probably the biggest method of getting the most out of my brain, whether I’m taking ADHD meds or not. I mean, even when I am taking the meds, I do need to follow my sleep and food regimen, otherwise the meds don’t do enough. I’ve got to take a pretty low dose because of this heart thing. I mean, the heart thing is gone now, but I’ve got heart disease in my family, so I’m being very careful.


But with sleep, I follow the standard practices, limiting caffeine and screens before bedtime, and I try to get daily exercise so my body is tired. But I’ve also found a big difference with just the temperature of when I’m sleeping. If it’s colder, then I will sleep more deeply and for longer and better. I wear an eye mask at night and then I wear mouth tape when I sleep.


I started several, well, a few years ago, just putting this piece of tape. At first, I bought the product called SomniFix and put it over my mouth so that I’m forced to breathe through my nose, and that creates a stronger drag of oxygen coming into my brain. And at first it’s a little scary like, “I can’t breathe,” but you can breathe. And it creates this kind of meditative rhythm. I am a natural mouth breather, but there’s all kinds of science saying that nose breathing is just better for us.


And I use earplugs, I know not everybody can do that. Some people really need to be able to hear what’s going on in their house, but that’s what my husband is for. So I wear earplugs. And it’s funny because he’s got sleep apnea, so he uses a CPAP machine, the mask that covers his mouth with the hose coming out.


So when we’re getting ready for bed, that’s when he wants to have our big conversations when he’s talking through the mask and I’ve got earplugs in and mouth tape. And so I can’t hear him and there’s a lot of, “What? I can’t hear you. What are you saying?” So it doesn’t work well.


Then in the morning, this isn’t quite sleep, but it’s what I connect to my sleep routine, when I’m taking a shower, the last 30 seconds to three minutes, I turn the dial as cold as it will go for my cold shower, and that really helps with alertness. At first it was shocking of course, but then I got used to it, and now I think my dial doesn’t go cold enough. It’s like, “Is this as cold as it gets?” Your body adapts.


And I feel so much more awake after that, so that now, well, if I don’t take a shower, I’m foggy all day. I have to take a shower, but if I don’t take a cold shower, I can tell the difference. So that really works for me.


And with nutrition, it’s super important for me to stay away from sugar and gluten. So sugar and flour essentially. And this really is what started my whole awakening, which is what started me writing the book. Because in 2016, I, for the millionth time, went on a diet.


I was a hundred pounds overweight and unhappy. I was depressed. I was headed toward diabetes, which is a family disease for me, and heart disease and high blood pressure and all of that, and I decided to give it one more try.


And so I tried this low-carb diet and I took those first two weeks very seriously. I just locked myself in my bedroom. When I came home from work, I watched Netflix movies one after the other so that I wouldn’t go downstairs and eat. I brought a very low-carb supper up to the bedroom and ate it and did that for a week or two.


And after that, I lost the cravings for carbs. I was addicted to carbs, and so it seemed impossible to stop eating bread and pasta and brownies. And I had tried so many times, but this time it worked. It worked because I put so much energy into those first couple of weeks and the cravings went away.


And I think that once you get rid of the cravings, anything is possible. People don’t believe me when I say that, but I was there, I was a hundred pounds overweight. I mean, I’m still not perfect, I’m still about 30 pounds overweight, but I have maintained that loss of 70 pounds for seven years, and it all comes down to those cravings and not eating sugar.


And when I eat sugar, it’s not just the cravings that they cause, but it is brain fog. I can’t think clearly when I’m eating that stuff and I’m not happy. And that comes back to that the Brain Energy book by Dr. Palmer, it’s that metabolism. When your metabolism is out of whack, you’re going to be foggy and you’re going to be unhappy, and that’s what it was for me. So I know that it’s essential for me to not eat that stuff.


I also have quit drinking alcohol. I mean, I never drank much, but I don’t sleep well if I drink at night, so I stay away from it. And one more thing I have found is the importance of meditation. And I don’t mean anything fancy by that, I just mean a few breathing techniques that I’ve learned.


Andrew Huberman has a great podcast episode on breathing. He talks about the value of it and the methods. So just a couple of techniques I’ve learned are box breathing. I teach this to my students and I hear more positive comments about this on course evaluations than anything else. But in between big, heavy assignments, I’ll just have us all breathe together, box breathing.


It’s very quick, and you just breathe in through your nose for four counts, then you hold your breath for four counts, then you release it for four counts, you hold it for four counts, and then you do it again. So it takes the shape of a box, breathe, hold, release, hold. And you do that for maybe three minutes and afterward I feel just so much more focused and calm.


One other technique I learned is, I don’t know what it’s called, but you breathe in twice and then you release. So from your abdomen, you know how you can breathe from two places, one is from your chest, one is from your diaphragm?


Well, if you breathe in from your diaphragm as deeply as you can through your nose, and then you breathe in once more to get a little bit more air in and then let it all out, immediately I feel calmer. It’s a miracle really. I feel calmer and then also more focused. I do it a few times a day usually, and it lowers cortisol and all those good things to help your body be at its best.

Lindsay Guentzel (39:53):

Before we wrap up our conversation, I want to give you the opportunity to share something that you wish people knew or understood better about ADHD.

Kim R. Livingston (40:03):

I guess what I want people to know is that this diagnosis doesn’t define me. It’s just a word that somebody decided fits my brain type or my personality traits, I don’t know. And there are as many variations of ADHD as there are people I think, because we’re all unique. I mean, sure we’ve got similar brain patterns in some ways, but there’s more to a person than that.


And so you might know all about ADHD, you might know people with it, you might have it yourself, but you do not know me. The diagnosis is complex. I have sort of a love-hate relationship with it. I think that it can limit how we see ourselves and how others see us. People will try to put us in those neat little boxes.


They might see us as squirrely and dumb. They might make us feel incomplete or incompetent because of their ignorance, like that doctor who put fidgety in all caps instead of cooperative and friendly. I mean, my son was cooperative and … Why not celebrate that? I don’t know, labels are imprecise, they’re kind of slippery, they’re overlapping, they’re changing, they’re dependent on developing science.


And so the label isn’t everything, but that diagnosis can also allow us to get what we need to live better lives, to thrive. So they’re important in good ways too. We’re all these beautiful mysteries, I think, and those symptoms are not explained by a mere diagnosis. Like all people, ADHDers are just, I think, trying to get the most out of our brains, and so I keep learning. And so I wish other people would know that individuals are more important than their labels, and so we should get to know them all with compassion.


My son was just saying the other day that after talking about this neurodiversity stuff so much because of my book, he’s started seeing people kind of as brains rather than people. And so, if somebody says something rude to you, instead of thinking, “What a jerk,” he thinks, “Oh, so that’s the kind of brain you have.”


It’s like, you have that kind of brain and I have this kind of brain and we’re all kind of trying to work through things together. And so if we can just see people as more than a diagnosis, I don’t know, a person with multiple facets, I think that’s a good thing.

Lindsay Guentzel (42:53):

Kim, thank you so much for sharing your story with us today and for the book and the article and just being so vulnerable with something that is so personal. And I hope you know it’s helping so many people.

Kim R. Livingston (43:04):

Oh, thank you, Lindsay. I really have enjoyed being here and I enjoy all of the stories you give us. Thank you.

Lindsay Guentzel (43:19):

Kim R. Livingston is the author of Walks Like a Duck: How a Mom with ADHD Led Her Neurodiverse Family to Peace of Mind, as well as the Huffington Post personal essay, I Couldn’t Manage My Messy Life. Then I Started Stealing My 9-Year-Old’s Ritalin. We’ve shared links to both of those in our show notes.


I’m so grateful to Kim for her bravery in sharing her story. A couple of things I wanted to point out from our conversation. The first is there is a connection between people who have ADHD and gluten sensitivities. It’s something we talked about with Melissa Orlov on episode 68 where she shared that around 15% of people with ADHD also have celiac disease. And according to the nonprofit Beyond Celiac, brain fog is one of the most commonly reported symptoms for any kind of celiac sensitivity because remember, you can be sensitive to gluten and not have celiac disease.


And from my own experience, I cut out gluten in November of 2019 and it changed so much for me. And one of those things was realizing some of my own brain fog was tied to how my body was processing gluten. Every once in a while, I’ll slip up and I’ll take a nibble of something with gluten, and I nearly always regret it. And I get that I have a few years under my belt, but when I made the decision to cut out gluten, I thought it was going to be the absolute hardest thing I had ever done.


And you know what? There were moments that were hard. There are still moments that are hard, like never getting dessert at weddings. The only weddings where you get gluten-free dessert is where the bride or the groom are also gluten-free. And sometimes I can’t find a gluten-free bun at a restaurant when I’m really craving a burger. But all of those little annoyances are worth the way I feel right now.


The other thing I wanted to share was how much wearing a sleep mask has also helped me get better sleep. I’ve mentioned our noise machine, but I also wear an eye mask to bed every night. Having it over my eyes has reduced a lot of the middle of the night brief wake-ups.


And there’s even a December of 2022 study that shows wearing an eye mask increases focus during the day because ambient light, that stuff that sneaks in through our eyelids while we’re sleeping, even if our eyes are closed, it can influence sleep structure and timing. And by wearing a mask that blocks out all of that extra stuff, the study actually found it impacted memory and alertness that could benefit everyday tasks like studying or driving.


I actually keep two of them next to my bed, and right now it’s a nice little reminder that I need to purchase a couple more because it’s pretty common for me to move around and misplace one in the middle of the night. It’s not a perfect system. And it’s also super important to wash them regularly, especially if you wear any sort of face or eye products to bed.


I also wanted to let you know that we’ve shared links to all of the resources Kim shared with us, including more information on, Sari Solden, the author of Women with Attention Deficit Disorder, Dr. Chris Palmer, the author of the book, Brain Energy, and we’ve also shared a link to Dr. Andrew Huberman’s podcast episode, How to Breathe Correctly for Optimal Health, Mood, Learning, and Performance. Those are all available in the show notes for you right now.


I also just want to thank you for joining us here on Refocused. It means so much to me and our entire team that you come back week after week. And we have a great lineup of episodes on the way for you that we’re so excited for you guys to hear. So stay tuned, and if you haven’t already, head on over to our Instagram page @refocusedpod to follow along for more content connected to these episodes.


Today’s episode touched on prescription medication abuse. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse issues, here is a free resource for you to reach out to, the Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration’s National Helpline is a free confidential 24/7, 365 day a year treatment referral and information service that is available in both English and Spanish for individuals and families facing mental health as well as substance use disorders. Call 1-800-662-HELP. That’s 1-800-662-4357 or visit their website www.samhsa.gov. And of course, we share all of this information in the show notes.


Thank you so much for listening to and supporting this podcast. If you’re new here, my name is Lindsay Guentzel. I am the host and executive producer of Refocused, a podcast all about ADHD that would not be possible without the incredible talents of the team I get to work with, including Phil Rodemann, our coordinating producer who leads our live production, scheduling and audio editing, Sarah Platinitus, our managing editor responsible for leading our research as well as guest and show development, Al Chaplin, our go-to for planning, creating, and organizing content strategy for social media.


Support for this podcast comes from our partner, ADHD Online and the incredible team of people I’m honored to work with every day, including Keith Boswell, Susanne Spruit, Melanie Meyrl, Claudia Gatti, and Trisha Mirchandani.


Our show art was created by Sissy Yee of Berlin Grey, and our music was created by Louis Inglis, a singer-songwriter from Perth, Australia, who was diagnosed with ADHD in 2020 at the age of 39. Finally, a big thanks to Mason Nelle over at Deksia in Grand Rapids, Michigan for all of his help in getting our videos ready to share with you guys. Links to all of the partners we work with are available in the show notes.


To connect with the show or with me, you can find us online @refocusedpod, as well as @lindsayguentzel, and you can email the show directly [email protected]. That’s [email protected].


And remember right now through the end of June, you can take $20 off your ADHD assessment through ADHD Online with the promo code REFOCUSED20. Whether you’re looking for a second opinion, are ready to get answers for the very first time, or you’re just looking for a little extra information on your brain, this could be the perfect next step for you or someone you care about. Remember, get $20 off your ADHD Online assessment simply by using the discount code REFOCUSED20 at checkout. Head to adhdonline.com to get started.


Take care of yourselves and please, in an effort to reduce the unbelievable amount of stress we all carry around with us unnecessarily, be a little kinder to yourself this week and we’ll see you back here soon.

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