In this episode of Refocused, Together, Lindsay and Geoffrey talk about the journey of not only diagnosis but also how he’s learned to use his voice to advocate for inclusion and acceptance.
In this episode of Refocused, Together, Lindsay and Geoffrey talk about the journey of not only diagnosis but also how he’s learned to use his voice to advocate for inclusion and acceptance.
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Lindsay Guentzel (00:01):
Welcome back to Refocused with Lindsay Guentzel. What you’re listening to today, it’s a little bit different than the podcast episodes we’ve shared with you before. This episode, this person’s story is a part of Refocused Together, a special series, the team at ADHD Online and I have been working on for ADHD Awareness Month. Every day throughout the month of October, we’ll be sharing a different person’s ADHD story, which is fitting because the theme for ADHD Awareness Month this year is understanding a shared experience. And I can’t think of a better way to really get a sense of that shared experience than by telling a different story every single day. And to be clear, yes, that’s 31 stories in 31 days. My name is Lindsay Guentzel and along with the team at ADHD Online, I’m so excited to present, Refocused Together, a collection of stories aimed at raising awareness on just how complex ADHD is and the different ways it shows up in people’s lives.
When we share stories, it’s easier to find the perspective, ideas and tips that help us live our best lives. I’m interviewing people with varying backgrounds, diagnoses, experiences, and perspectives. We’ll hear from working parents, advocates, engineers, writers, PhD candidates and more, to learn that while we may be different, we are all united by our own ADHD journeys. This special project is very near and dear to my heart, and although talking to 31 different people has been a lot of talking, I am so grateful for each person who shared their story with me and I cannot wait for you to meet my guests and get to know them. Be sure to subscribe to Refocused with Lindsay Guentzel so that you don’t miss a single story this month. And with that, let’s get on to today’s episode.
Geoffrey Evans is in a specific group of the ADHD community, parents who found out they had ADHD as their children underwent the assessment process. As his eight year old daughter started therapy, he and his wife began researching to better understand the ADHD experience for kids. While listening to podcasts, Geoffrey heard so many things that he had experienced while growing up, but he’d always assumed everyone had the same struggles with school, timekeeping and remembering what people asked them to do. And it brought back memories of the shame and guilt he felt as well as the pressure of hearing the words, if you just tried harder, or, if you really cared about it. A year and a half ago, Geoffrey got a formal diagnosis, which has helped him in his relationships as well as in his career. Now he’s working to understand his thoughts, reactions, and habits, instead of fighting them. He’s also learning from his daughter and is focused on being the best dad he can be as they navigate the world of ADHD together. I’m so excited to introduce you all to today’s guest on Refocused Together, Geoffrey Evans.
Geoff, I am so grateful that you joined us for Refocused Together. And to kind of pull the curtain back for the listeners, when we set out to interview 31 people across the month of October, one of my main goals was making sure that we had an incredibly diverse lineup. And I will say as I started to put the month together, I realized that I was very heavy on women. I had a lot of women who wanted to share their stories and that was fantastic, but I needed to balance the weight and I set off to find more men who’d be willing to share their own ADHD stories. And that took me to Twitter, which is where I spend probably most of my time on social media. And I don’t even remember what I searched, but I found this thread that ended up being a bunch of men talking about their own ADHD diagnosis.
And I found Geoff and I sent him a DM. I don’t know if I DMed you or sent you a tweet, it doesn’t matter. But anyway, a strange person slid into your world and said, “Hi, my name is Lindsay. I am hosting a podcast about ADHD and this is kind of what I’m doing for the month. And if you’re interested, here’s my email.” And you emailed me. And I just thank you for that because I think there are a lot of people who would be like, “Ah, no thank you.” No, I don’t know who you are, this is very strange. But I love that that’s probably one of the best parts of social media, is you can connect with people outside of your immediate geographical location.
Geoffrey Evans (05:04):
Yes. Yeah. And the algorithm as frustratingly dangerous as they can be, is also really fascinating because it is able to connect people who otherwise there’s no possibility we would’ve interacted. And instead we get to have a really cool conversation. So it’s got its upside.
Lindsay Guentzel (05:23):
Well, I am super excited because one of the conversations that we’ve been having kind of behind the scenes, when I say we, I mean me and my partner, ADHD Online, is this trend in parents who are finding out they have ADHD as their children are going through the assessment process. And we know now in 2022 we can say there is a genetic connection between ADHD. And it’s so fascinating to me just from the time that I was in school as a young kid and it was called ADD, and it was just boys, that was all they were looking for.
And now fast forward 30 years later and we know how complex it is and how different it shows up in people’s lives, and then we have people like you and me who have made it through a very good chunk of life without knowing that we have ADHD. And had your child not gone through the process of being assessed, you would not know that you have ADHD. And so I’m hoping we can just kind of start at the beginning. And the beginning means that you are, as a parent, starting to advocate for your child.
Geoffrey Evans (06:42):
Yeah, that’s basically where it kicked off. Our oldest is fascinating, we’ll say. She’s big, she’s at eight years old, bigger than most 10 year olds, and she taught herself to read at four. We had grand plans of homeschooling and teaching her to read. My wife was an English teacher. We knew the path. We both knew how to teach so that’s why we were excited about it. And I came home from work one day and she is a really bright kid and has been talking somebody much older than herself for a long time. And so she just came up and said, “”Hey dad, did you know that so and so is the most venomous sea snake in the world?” I was like, “Oh, where’d you learn that?” She was like, “It was in a book.” “Oh, did you and mom read books?” “No, I read it myself.” What? And she had picked up a National Geographic kids’ book that a coworker had given me and read it.
And we knew she’d been parroting along with us on the books we’d been reading her, but we didn’t realize that she was actively reading them until she started telling us things that we hadn’t read her yet. And so that was at four, she was reading words like venomous sea snake and using them correctly and all this stuff, but she had some anxiety and she had a few other things, some sensitivity to stimuli, things like that. There were tastes that bothered her, textures that she couldn’t stand, things like that. And we, being my wife and I, actually thought she might be on the autism spectrum. So we contacted a child psychologist and we’re like… Like you said, we want to advocate. We want to make sure that if there’s something that is going to present hurdles or require extra attention that we start early and that we can address it now instead of just letting it fester or not knowing how to help and not knowing how to give her the best that we can.
And so after the battery of tests that she went through, the psychologist said, “She doesn’t even move the needle on the autism spectrum.” It’s not even a wiggle, but ADHD and anxiety we roll with. And so we started researching and she started therapy and we started listening to the ADDitude Magazine podcast and listening to a couple other things and just doing our research on how to best deal with it and how to advocate for, and how to understand what she’s going through. So trying to say, Okay, ADHD kids experience things this way instead of this way. And the trend of it came up was me saying, “That’s how I’ve been my entire life.” I thought that was normal. I thought that’s how everybody experienced things. Like, “No, most of your friends did not experience things this way.” So it became pretty clear. So about a year and a half ago I ended up getting diagnosed as well and I’m really glad, it probably saved my marriage and definitely saved my job. So it was a good thing.
Lindsay Guentzel (09:45):
I’m so glad to hear that it was a good thing. I think there are a lot of people who find out later in life and there’s a lot of grief and shame and sadness that comes with it. And it feels really nice to hear that there are a lot of people who are feeling relief and are feeling optimistic. And I’m curious, as you and your wife were learning as much as you could about what your daughter was going through, were there any things that stood out? You mentioned hearing about some of the stuff and going, “Yeah, that was my whole life,” and I have felt that as I’ve gone back and listened and learned about certain things and you’re like, “Oh, no one else was dealing with that? What was I doing?”
Geoffrey Evans (10:30):
Well, you mentioned the grief and the shame and everything, and that is still a big part of it. I’ve been in therapy for a little while now and addressing some of that was a big part of it because I spent a lot of people, I spent most of my life assuming that everybody had the same hurdles and that I just wasn’t good at it. Everybody struggled to do piano practice, everybody struggled to do homework. Everybody struggled to keep track of time or remember what dad asked you to do or whatever. And other people were just better at it. So it became like a shame and a guilt thing of like, oh, if just applied yourself, if you just tried harder you’d be…. Or the other favorite one was, well, if you really cared about it, you’d do it. And it’s like, oh, that’d be great, except that’s not how I experience things.
One of the big things that stuck out was the mere total inability to track time. Everything, that’ll only take 10 minutes and then you do it and you’re like, “Oh yeah, I took about 10 minutes.” And the reality is it was like 45 minutes or three days or things like that. And the other piece was the struggles with impulse control and hear impulse control and you think junior high, like you said, our age, it was the boys with ADHD. Oh, they can’t sit still and they fidget or they hit people or whatever. And it wasn’t just that, right? It’s the dopamine hunting impulses too of like, Oh, I’m going to eat some sweets because it’ll make me feel good for a few minutes or just one more tweet. I’ll scroll for just a couple more minutes and then it’s the next day.
Things like that where it’s just the loops that you can get yourself stuck into were big ones that stood out as like, Oh, this is a characteristic of that frontal lobe development, not a characteristic of Geoff being a bad person or Geoff being lazy or whatever. It’s hard. As a parent, it’s hard not to parrot your parents. And so quite periodically I catch myself and I [inaudible 00:12:52] like starting to say something or saying something that I heard a lot and I was like, “Oh wait, that was bullshit.” So I’m not going to say that or I’m going to talk to my daughter and say, you’re going to hear this and this is the reality of it. And trying to help her understand that so she can advocate for herself too.
Lindsay Guentzel (13:12):
I’m glad you touched on the piano practice. That’s something that I actually have been thinking a lot about. I have this very unreal expectation that everything I try for the first time I’m going to be really, really good at. And then when it doesn’t happen, I get so upset. And then you start to go, “Okay, so people in my life who are really good at things, what is it? Oh it’s that they do it a lot.” And then you start to identify, okay, so the things that I do do in life a lot, I’ve started to get better at, but it’s almost like we don’t know how to process growth. And it’s a really interesting thing to look back and think of all of the things that I really was interested in, but I went into them with just unreal expectations
Geoffrey Evans (14:10):
And I see that exact behavior in my daughter. That’s been another really fascinating thing in the learning part is how… And you touched on this earlier, but the differences in how ADHD presents in men versus women and how there are going to be aspects of it that look very familiar and aspects that don’t. And that was one of them, is that for me, if something was hard, I was like, “Well, that’s not very interesting.” And I would find a reason to say like, I guess it’s not that interesting, I’m not going to worry about it. And my daughter’s response is to get viscerally angry like, “I should be good at this. My friend is good at this, I should be good at this.” Or like, “I read it in a book, why can’t I do it in real life?” And it’s been fascinating, the difference there because she has so much that I see in myself and then every now and then there’s stuff and I’m like, “That’s completely foreign to me.” Then I do some research, I’m like, “Okay, that’s in line with expectations and I just didn’t know that yet.”
Lindsay Guentzel (15:12):
I think the thing that I have found so fascinating about this project is I’ve done 31 interviews, actually it’s been more than 31 interviews because I’m really an overachiever. But every single person I’ve talked to, I have learned something new about ADHD. And that’s the part I think that is so exciting and overwhelming because it feels like this never ending rabbit hole. And the more you dive into it, the more you’re able to go back to things and go to things that are actually happening in your life. And you mentioned going to therapy. I’m curious, you go through the process of getting diagnosed, I bet going into that you kind of have it in your head like, yeah, this is… It’s going to come back positive. But you get that confirmation, what were some of the changes that you started to implement?
Geoffrey Evans (16:14):
It took a little while and I think some of this… To spread it out around a little bit I guess, probably ties into part of why it was hard for you to fill out your roster, so to speak, is that there’s a lot of extra toxic masculinity baggage around accepting that you do need help you. Humans are actually a communal species. We’re at the top of the food chain because we’re not rugged individualists. All of the stuff we’ve done has been because of collective work and communities and tribes and whatever else. And recognizing that not only is it okay to say I need help, but it’s actually really good and it’s important and it is a key part of being a functional human being, is recognizing that you can’t actually just do everything. So it took a little while for me to kind of… There was even a little resistance in actually going and getting the formal diagnosis.
And some of that was probably based in fear of what I would have to do if I learned that, right? Would be recognizing that what you’ve been doing so far isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s going to have to change if you want to acknowledge that and kind of framing it in a way that worked for my brain, because it has to be… You have to accept that something is different If you want to act like something’s different, you can’t just go through the motions. You have to actually accept it and push on it. And so I went… Some of the stuff that changed pretty rapidly was recognizing my own actions and my own behaviors and doing that little bit of introspections like listening to the podcast and listening to the books on tape or Audible, whatever, and saying, “Oh, that is a trait of the ADHD or that is an expected outcome of the ADHD.”
And drawing that difference between explanation and excuse, has been a hard one. But like saying, okay, so as an ADHD person, I am going to forget my friend’s birthdays and I’m going to forget to contact my friends if I don’t see them in person on a regular basis. And I’m going to… Bluntly, I’m not going to be a very good friend. And the difference between accepting that as an explanation of the behavior versus an excuse of like, well, they shouldn’t be mad at me. Yeah, they should. It’s okay for somebody to be upset that you forgot to talk to them for three months. That’s okay. That’s a pretty normal response. And figuring out which of those behaviors were ones that I could either via external tools or habits or whatever, modify versus just kind of accepting this is just kind of a fact of life. So how do I make the best of what I’ve got?
Crows are fascinating birds, but they’re never going to be as fast as a paragon falcon and they’re never going to fly as far as an albatross because the reality is their wings aren’t shaped that way. And that doesn’t make them any less of a bird. And I usually rely on car analogies, but it’s just kind of recognizing what I have. It’s the existentialism thing. You create your meaning, you create your path, but you create it within the reality you live in, right? I’m not going to walk on the moon, that’s just real life. That’s okay, that’s not a bad thing. And kind of come into terms with that and that’s where that there became and I was kind of understanding some of the… For me, it was a lot of anger and frustration at things because it was like I should be good at a thing or I should be capable of this and I’m not.
It’s like, ah, you’re capable of a lot of stuff that’s just not that or you are capable of that, but it’s going to be five times harder for you than it is for somebody with a different brain structure, for somebody with a different set of issues in their background. That, and then getting drugs. I got medicine and went through three different meds before I ended up on the one I’m on now. And figuring out what worked and what didn’t and how well it worked and side effects and all that stuff has been a bit of an adventure and a really impactful one. So yeah.
Lindsay Guentzel (20:41):
I think it’s been really interesting talking to everybody about the medicine side of things because I feel very, and knock on wood is very grateful that my experience has been good because I know that there are a lot of people who have to do trial and error in figuring it all out and it can feel really overwhelming and there’s never going to be something that fits for you. So I’m very glad that you’re on a path of feeling like it is helping.
Geoffrey Evans (21:16):
And it’s been a fascinating journey because through mine, one of the pieces and probably part of how you stumbled across me, is over the last couple years I’ve also been on a journey around a few other things around like in my work life around taking a bigger and more active role in our diversity and equity and accessibility and inclusivity work at my role and recognizing that to be perfectly blunt, as a middle aged cishet white man in a position of some influence, I can either use that influence to do something or I can pretend that I don’t have that influence or I can pretend that everything’s peachy or whatever. And so through part of that confluence of learning about my ADHD and learning about what it is from a neurological and an evolutionary standpoint as well as from just a behavior and output standpoint, so to speak, but also tying that into the other work is like I’m in a pretty safe position, I might as well just talk about it.
I’m not in a position where I’m going to lose my job. I’m not in a position where I’m going to put myself in any major risk or detriment. So the more I can use my voice to normalize and vocalize and make this normal, I guess the easier it will be for somebody in a less privileged position to do the same thing at later point. So one of the big things that I just started talking about it a lot and I was like… So I started talking to my manager, I was like, “Hey, I’m going to be changing my meds over the next couple weeks. Tell me if you notice anything,” and stuff like that. And so there have been a lot of little things that I think are important that I can do and are relatively easy because weirdly that level of advocacy is super easy because part of the whole impulse control is I don’t worry about whether my CIO is going to freak out that I said I have ADHD because I already said it like, oops. And then 20 minutes later, oh I wonder if that was a good plan or not. Yes, she didn’t tell me to leave. So I guess we’re good.
Lindsay Guentzel (23:25):
I want to say two things. One, the work you’re doing, yes, it feels easy because you’re just talking about it and a lot of us with ADHD tend to be a little bit of overs sharers, but I don’t want you… You’re doing what I think a lot of us do is you’re diminishing the work. I think you said it was a small thing to do. Actually, I think it’s a really big thing to do, to be vulnerable in that sense. But you’re right, every single one of us who is in a position where we are safe and we are more in control of our future, it is so important to be talking about it and not just for the people who have been diagnosed and know about it and maybe are afraid to come forward, but the more we talk about it and we talk about the bizarre things that ADHD brings into our life, the more people like you and me who have been sitting in hiding and have no idea and then they’re like, wait, what?
And you’re like, Oh yeah. So there’s this thing called rejection sensitive dysphoria and I can walk into a room of 10 or 500 people and think that every single one doesn’t want me there. And the stories that I tell myself can be very powerful and it’s just… So I applaud you for the stance you have taken because I think that it is so important and it just empowers more people to feel comfortable opening up.
Geoffrey Evans (24:54):
And I think that that has a big value and you’re dead on it, it is really easy to dismiss that or diminish it or diminish a lot of things. And I think that comes from, like you said, the RSD and the imposter syndrome type thing is of like… But for me to use the analogy, the only sport I’ve ever really been good at was weightlifting and I wasn’t great. There’s no way I would ever been competitive but it was easy for me and it was enjoyable and I liked it. And compared to an actual professional athlete, nothing remarkable. Compared to a normal guy in IT, pretty unusual to have a 4 or 500 pound squat. That’s weird. And so there are things that are easy for me but are still an impactful thing. And that’s one of those things where it’s not that level of advocacy or that type of advocacy has become really easy to the point of being the reflex and the default for me and the risk to me is pretty minimal but the impact to my environment and the people around me, I’m starting to recognize it and it feels good.
It’s nice to know that I’m making a difference. And since I’m not somebody who’s in a job where it’s my passion, it’s like I’ve got a friend who’s a writer and she wrote a couple books and she writes for New York Times, I think, I don’t remember. She writes for a couple of bigger name things and I’ve known her since she was 10. And she’s all, “I want to be a writer, I want to be a writer. I’m going to make my living writer. I love words. I love the power they have. I love the art of it, I love all of this and I just care deeply.” And I’m so proud of Monica. She’s just the coolest and she’s so good at what she does and I’m like, “I’m pretty good at what I do.”
It’s like football, I enjoy it, I just don’t care. I’m not deeply invested. I’ll watch the Seahawks get their butts kicked and I’m fine with it. It doesn’t bother me. I still got to watch some football, so it’s fine. And that’s kind of how I am about my career where it’s a means to an end and I like it. And if I knew what I know now, 20 years ago, I’d probably be building houses or something. I don’t think I would’ve gotten into IT, but I’m here and I like it, it’s just, you know. So it doesn’t have that other risk of intruding on my art or my self definition. So it’s… Might as well use it.
Lindsay Guentzel (27:25):
And I imagine too, being more vocal about it and being more upfront about it, there are times your daughter then hears you and that’s really powerful.
Geoffrey Evans (27:37):
That’s the hope, yeah. Yeah. And we’ve seen it in action once or twice because she will… At a party or something, she’ll get kind of uneasy if she’s with a new friends or something, she’ll get a little uneasy or something or she’ll go off on a tangent and she’ll just very nonchalantly explain to them what anxiety is or what ADHD is or whatever, to total strangers. She’s like, “Yeah, I have anxiety. So it means sometimes I worry about things that I probably don’t need to, but I can’t really turn it off so this is just how I cope with it.” Or “I have ADHD, so I’ve already lost track of this conversation, but I’m thinking about foxes right now. So let’s talk about those,” and all right kiddo, roll with it, let’s see what you got.
Lindsay Guentzel (28:15):
I love that and I love the words you said. You said, “That’s the hope.” And that to me is really powerful because I think once you become an adult and you can look back at your childhood and our parents do the best they can and I think it is hard, I feel very bad when I talk about my childhood in a way that’s negative because I do have a great relationship with my mom. My dad has since passed away, but it feels bad to go back because it feels like you’re putting a spotlight on all of the things they did wrong, which is not the case. They did the best they could, but we can get better and we can grow and we can learn. And we know that certain parenting, the 80s, the 90s, that’s all I can relate to, weren’t maybe some of the best practices to have.
Geoffrey Evans (29:15):
Absolutely. Yeah. And a hundred percent agreed. I don’t even have much to add to that because that is exactly where I’m at, where it can be difficult to have the conversation with my parents, were exactly those reasons as to like, I’m not angry at you. You did the best you could. We can do better. And I’m lucky that my parents to face on it as good. That’s the point. We wanted you to be better than us and that your kids are better than you, and that’s the idea. If you can be better than me, then I did good. That is parenting. And I think that one of the pieces that has been really helpful to me was understanding, like you said, when we were young, because it sounds like we’re pretty close to the same age.
When we were young, it was ADD and then it got redefined as ADHD and it was boys who couldn’t sit still or would hit people in class or throw a pencil or whatever. That was ADD and that was what I understood it, which I think was part of my resistance in getting diagnosed. I was like, “I don’t hit people, I don’t sit at my desk and be incapable of sitting still,” he says as he plays with fidget toys, nonstop. I was like, “Well, that’s not me.” And I did pretty well at school. What is in the ADHD world now, a trope of like, “But you’re smart and you’re relatively successful and you’re doing okay, you can’t have ADHD.” And it’s like, ah, fooled you. Welcome to masking.
And so recognizing that not only is ADHD a relatively new thing from our point of understanding, but that even from an evolutionary standpoint, the part that’s affected neurologically, our frontal lobe, is evolutionarily an extremely new structure. Big chunks of our brain haven’t had to evolve for half a million years, like since well before we were defined as humans. And the frontal lobe is basically a shiny new toy that nature figured out and it’s still trying to figure out how the LEGO pieces go together. So it’s trying to recognize that it’s not just a new diagnosis that we’re still figuring out, but it’s actually a diagnosis about something that’s not even done being thoroughly defined in the big picture. And just trying to wrap my head around what that means. I’m like, okay, well I’m just nature’s experimental lab then, that’s fine. Whatever. Dump some stuff in the beaker and see what bubbles up.
Lindsay Guentzel (31:51):
I feel that. I very much feel that. I feel like, again going back… I mean, to listen to conversations and learn something new every single time, you’re like, “How? How is it that complicated?” And that’s the part that I think is so interesting is these outdated stereotypes of what it is and how it affects people. And you’re right, if I can do anything with this project, it is disconnecting intelligence and success from ADHD because I think that is just so dangerous and so harmful and really says more about us as a society that that’s the path we took with ADD, which was when we were kids.
But I remember even as a kid thinking that. I think I said it in one of the episodes, and I hated saying the words, I hated it because it made me feel awful. But you grow and you learn and it was like when I was young and there were kids who were diagnosed with ADD, and I mean, they were majority all the time boys. The common stereotype that we all thought about these people was that they were dumb. That they were dumb. And now to know that I was in that group, it’s like you just… It’s so hard. It’s so hard to break some of the stuff that we have clung to.
Geoffrey Evans (33:22):
I really like the way you said that because it’s… Especially when you’re young, you kind of build your framework for how you perceive the world, how you perceive the people around you and how you put things in buckets, especially with our more western tautology, because you look at African and Asian tautology and usually things are defined by what they do versus here, it’s what they are. It’s one of the reasons I feel like America has, and Europe I guess too, but obviously I’m more familiar here, has so many problems with things like why people push back about gender being a spectrum instead of a binary. And it’s because we define everything by what it is. Well, this is a man and this is a woman, and if you are in this bucket then these are the characteristics versus you’re a person who pees standing up.
Okay, that’s it, right? That’s a thing that you do. And like the same way with almost every other disability is that we tend to lump everybody into this like, well, they’re less capable across the board of everything. And it’s like the most obvious example, or maybe not the most, for me it’s Stephen Hawking. And it’s like this dude redefined our understanding of the universe in a very literal sense and had profound physical disabilities. But obviously his mental disabilities were nonexistent. And if anything, he was wired wildly better than most of us.And the fact that it was so reflexive to lump, like you said, to lump somebody with ADD or ADHD into this bucket of less, that was just the reflex. They have a thing that requires medication and treatment, so clearly they’re less than. And it’s like you said, it feels awful as an adult to recognize how easy and reflexive that was as a kid and just be like, Oh, okay, well, you know, and this person can’t hear, or this person has trouble seeing, so they are less. And it’s like, okay. But as an adult you’re going to say, well, that was me being an idiot, that was my failure. So it’s definitely been an interesting learning, yeah. It’s been a very interesting learning path.
Lindsay Guentzel (35:50):
And you mentioned in the beginning, one of the reasons maybe I was having a hard time finding men who wanted to talk about their journey with ADHD is because we have a problem opening up, but we also have a problem asking for help. And I go back in my head, and it’s like in elementary school, if you got help, you were considered to be less than, you were considered to not be at the standard of everyone else. And I look back and I’m like, I wish I had gotten more help. I wish it had been more of an embrace the help. That’s the conversations and the narrative we should be pushing is if you want to be better, you need to ask for help. But that wasn’t it, it was very much, you don’t want help, you don’t want to be different, you just stay in your lane. Don’t be different. Don’t ask for help. And I even think back and it’s just like, oh, that’s such a gross realization.
Geoffrey Evans (37:04):
Yeah, yeah. It’s really hard because we all had a different version of it. But once you boil it down, it’s all kind of the same, it’s exactly what you said of like fit in, don’t stick out and you should be able to do all of these things without needing help. And if you ask for help, it’s admitting failure and weakness and blah blah blah. I don’t even know what it’s from because I think I’m just a little too old for it, but there’s a meme of something from, I think it’s an anime or something, but it’s sucking at something is the first step towards being sort of good at something. And trying to accept that has been really freeing but also really hard because it is most of my life of being programmed like, Oh, you’re a big strong man, go do big strong man stuff.And I’m like, “No, no, I’m going to let people who are good at this either teach me or just let them do it.” We try to demonstrate it at the house here where it’s like there are things that my wife excels at that I definitely don’t. And so there are times when I’m just like, “Well, that’s more of a mom question. I’ll give it my best shot but you’re going to get way better information from your mom or you’re going to get way better information from your grandma.” The kid says something about her shirt and I’m like, “I don’t know, cloth is weird but grandma has a degree in textiles, so ask grandma because she knows all about this stuff,” and she knows about it because she’s spent a lot of time learning it. And kind of accepting, I mean we touched on it earlier, right? Accepting that you’re not going to be good at everything and that’s actually normal, not just okay, but that’s expected. If you’re good at everything, that’s weird. That’s the weird thing.
Lindsay Guentzel (38:44):
Yes, yes. I want to ask because at the beginning I asked about your diagnosis and how it was the whole experience and you mentioned that… You said, “It pretty much saved my marriage and my job.” And I’m wondering if you could touch on some of the things that you can see now that were holding you back prior to getting your diagnosis.
Geoffrey Evans (39:10):
I think the biggest for both, it kind of boils down to a similar thing of when I encountered something that was difficult for me, but not necessarily for other people. It was easy to assume that it was because I wasn’t trying hard enough or because I was less capable or something like that, instead of looking at the mechanism by which those things happen. So habits are hard for us with ADHD because our dopamine cycle’s all messed up. So you can do something every day for three months, just like they say, and then you forget for two days and your body’s like, “I’ve never done that before. Nope. I’ve never seen the exercise bike. What do you mean we used to be… No, that’s not a habit, sorry.” And the difficulty with attention in certain situations, especially in my role at work and in my role as a husband and father, encountering those and when it became a problem, I would become defensive, because that’s the default versus recognizing, okay, this is going to be a difficult conversation, not because it is a difficult one in the normal sense, but because this type of interaction is hard for me to track.
And especially the relationship I have with my wife, for instance, like I said, she’s an English teacher, so she’s very verbose and she processes everything out loud. So we sometimes would have… Do have issues where the ADHD trope of, I went from A to B to C to D to E to F to G, but 80% of that was inside my brain. So you heard A and then a little whisper of F and then I’m on L and I’m talking about it like you could keep up. And she’s like, “What the hell did you… How did we end up talking about Volkswagen Jettas? What are you talking? I asked you about dinner, Why are we talking about cars?”
And in my mind it made sense, and it obviously didn’t to her. But the flip side is also present in our relationship where she processes things out loud. And so we would have issues because if we were, especially in a heated argument or in a debate, whatever ,in a disagreement, she would be processing through and my options with my attention to detail, short term memory, all of that, were either to interrupt so I could answer right now or forget what you said by the time you’re done and then I can’t answer it. And what we’ve realized since is that my default in those situations was to kind of not tune out, but turn down a lot during the early part of the argument because I knew that wasn’t her fully formed thought. So I knew that this is where she’s starting, but where she’s actually going to get to is going to show up later, that’s the part I have to respond to.
I don’t have to respond to the rough draft, which is the first five minutes or whatever. I have to be more mentally involved in this other part. But from her perspective, it was me tuning out and ignoring her. It was her trying to express her frustration or trying to express confusion or trying to express whatever, and it’s important and it’s impactful and it’s meaningful to her. And she’d see me with a flat affect just looking like I’m just waiting for her to be done. And so since we’d both been in therapy and we’d started talking through it, we’ll have a conversation and I will tell her, I was like, “I have an idea. I need to put this in my phone so I can come back to it later. I’m typing a note for you, but I got to write this down or something.”
I’ve done that a few times or other times I’ll just straight up ask her, I’m like, “How well formed is this? How much more processing, because I want to make sure that I’ve got my brain power where you need it too.” And it’s been helpful. It’s still really hard for both of us because we do process stuff wildly differently, but we recognize it now so it’s easier to say, Okay, yeah, this still sucks, but we know why it sucks and we know that it’s not going to just suck forever. We know that this is just hard and so we’re just going to keep working at it. And that’s been a big one. And then it ties very similarly with work where I keep notes, I set reminders, I set reminders for reminders, all sorts of things like that because I know that there’s some aspects of my job that just do not work well with ADHD. They just don’t, I still got to do them.
It’s not optional. So I just know that, okay, this part of my job is going to be the really fun part that I care about and I’m excited about. So it’s really easy and this is the part that’s going to be the slog. So I try to use what I can.
Lindsay Guentzel (43:59):
I have a lot of thoughts. I am also in a relationship with someone who is neurotypical, who has a Master’s in English and is very much a verbal communicator. And when you said I go from A to B, I was like, Oh, we literally have this conversation in our house all the time. We’ll be talking about something and I’ll go from A to Z, but A through M is in my head and then I’ll tell him the outcome, but I haven’t told him the middle part. And it’s like, well, catch up. And then I have to remind myself like, Oh, I didn’t say any of that out loud. And he’s like, “Yeah, if you don’t tell me these things, I won’t know.” And I’m like, “Well, that is a lot of work you’re putting on me.”
Geoffrey Evans (44:44):
Exactly. That was six seconds in my head. This is like 10 minutes if I have to verbalize all of it.
Lindsay Guentzel (44:50):
Oh my gosh. And working on projects and side tangent, but I was at a friend’s cabin this summer. It was just her and I and her 70 year old father, and the septic tank failed. And my dad was a former plumber, so I do have some experience working on stuff and I’m not afraid to get dirty. So long story short, it’s her dad and I who have literally known each other at this point for 24 hours, troubleshooting how to fix the septic tank. And I found myself realizing I was so patient with him because I didn’t know him and I needed him to like me because he’s my friend’s dad. And I was like, I don’t even show this much patience and kindness to the actual people I spent time with in life. But it was such a great reminder that everyone communicates and works differently.
And I had to say to him, this is why I’m thinking we do it this way, whereas normally I would just in my head get frustrated that my partner wasn’t just catching on. And so then I’m, long story short, I’m underneath this cabin in a crawl space that’s probably two and a half feet tall. It was having these great realizations. It was a very disgusting place to be having these realizations, growth happens in very weird times.
Geoffrey Evans (46:17):
Oh yeah. Well, and what you just said was really fascinating. As a parent of a kid with ADHD, that is one of the things that her therapist and my therapist and I have talked about a fair bit, is the piece that you said about, I don’t even treat my partner this well, I don’t treat my immediate coworkers this well sometimes, that recognition and as a parent, what we see is she goes and plays at a friend’s house or whatever, she’s all manners and she’s kind and she’s patient, she’s all these things. And then she gets home and her brother says one thing and she’s yelling in his face and all this horrible… Or screaming at us and picking a fight and everything and trying to recognize that what we see is likely an indication that she feels safe here because she doesn’t have to mask, she doesn’t feel like she has to protect us from her.
She doesn’t feel like she has to shield us from what she is and who she is. And it’s really hard to remind myself that, as she’s doing something that makes me want to just tear my hair out, that it’s actually a good sign and I’m just like, I don’t like it though. It might be a good thing, but I hate it.
Lindsay Guentzel (47:32):
Yes, yes. And the unfortunate thing, I’m the youngest of four girls and I can tell you it’s just going to get worse. She’s just going to get way more comfortable with you.
Geoffrey Evans (47:43):
She hasn’t hit puberty yet, and that rewires giant chunks of the brain. So one of the things our therapist has kept telling us over and over, she’s like, “Don’t get too comfortable, because in a couple years, there’s a tiny possibility that her ADHD may diminish wildly. It may all but evaporate and it may not. It may just completely change to a completely different type or expression or whatever.” Yeah. So don’t get comfortable because ADHD at 8 is not ADHD at 13, which is also your frontal lobe grows until your mid 20s. It’s going to change for the next 15 years. I’m like, “Oh cool. That’s exhausting already. Great”
Lindsay Guentzel (48:25):
Well, and you don’t have to worry about this as a man and your daughter has quite a few years ahead of her. But the really fun thing that I learned recently is that it also changes when you go through menopause. So I have that to look forward to in however many years, knock on wood, again.
Geoffrey Evans (48:40):
I had not really thought about that, but that totally makes sense. Yeah. Major hormonal shift, change in brain work. Yeah. Okay, cool.
Lindsay Guentzel (48:47):
Yep. Yeah, just-
Geoffrey Evans (48:48):
Lindsay Guentzel (48:50):
Another rollercoaster to add to life.
Geoffrey Evans (48:53):
Why not, right?
Lindsay Guentzel (48:54):
Yeah. I want to ask you where you see yourself thriving. You’re new into this journey and I will say one of the things that I think is so awesome is how much of an advocate you have become, not only for yourself and for your daughter, but for the community around you. I think that is just really, really cool to see-
Geoffrey Evans (49:14):
Lindsay Guentzel (49:15):
You have made this your hyper focus.
Geoffrey Evans (49:18):
Right. The thriving, I don’t know, it’s… Honestly, lately, I haven’t really felt like I’m thriving very well in a lot of places. It’s been a weird few years in the last, what now? Three years-ish. Yeah, three years. Everything about what I do for a living has changed, because I went from… I actually just did the math the other day because they had a survey about it at work. In 2019, I spent about 600 hours commuting. And in 2021 I spent about 30 hours commuting. And I was like, boom, 570 hours with my kids. And I got young kids, they changed fast and this job was supposed to be a ton of travel and I did one trip and then they shut down travel completely. So everything about my job has changed. And then on top of that, parenting kids through the pandemic and as people who take it far more seriously than some, has been complicated.
And finding that balancing act between let’s protect the kids from an immun evading degenerative disease and protect them from social dysfunction because they have no friends. Like, Oh, let’s play a balancing act where there is no good outcomes, there just isn’t one. There’s less bad, but there’s no good. And then going through my diagnosis with this and trying to keep up with all of the crap around the mini farm type thing and all of this, I think that defining where I might be thriving has actually been really hard. But where I’m excited about stuff I guess, is the growth and the continued opportunities for it where I can point to things where I can say, three years ago I would’ve done X and now I’m not doing that anymore, or I’m doing a better version of it, or when my wife and I fight, we’ll have a conversation afterward and we’re like, “We’re getting better at this.”
We still fight, we still are going to have disagreements. And we’re both very emotional and loud, but the fights, ended arguments or disagreements, whether they get heated or not, they feel productive and useful instead of just mean or just empty, because we spent a long time where neither of us understood the other’s perspective, even a little bit. We would have an argument or we disagree about something and not really understand any of the why. So afterward it just sort of felt like, Okay, we’ll just go back and just pretend that didn’t happen versus now where we can actually reach an understanding. And I think that understanding better the how and why of my reactions, my thoughts, my thought patterns and habits has made it a lot easier to work around them and work with them instead of fighting them, because I feel like a lot of my life was defined by fighting something that I didn’t understand because I didn’t know that I had ADHD, I didn’t understand why x, y, or Z was difficult.
And now that I do, it’s like I said, I usually rely on car analogies and I’ve avoided them so far, but we’re going to throw one in there. And it’s recognizing that having a… I’ve had a lot of cars. I had a 93 Super Turbo and I have a 22 year old Ram pickup and I’ve got a LEAF and my wife has the electric Mustang. We’ve had all these cars and her favorite thing in the world, is her beat to shit 98 Jeep Cherokee with a stick, like all across the board. And recognizing that for anything we’re doing, one of those is probably the right option. And one of them is probably an absolutely terrible option. And recognizing that that doesn’t make it a bad vehicle. It doesn’t matter how great or how terrible your truck is, if you want to do a long distance road trip with family.
Trucks aren’t for that. They suck at it. That’s fine. And conversely, my LEAF is perfect for what I bought it for, short little commute, it’s fine. I got it cheap because the battery wasn’t great. It can only do about 60 miles before it has the charge. So road trip sucks in that one too for different reasons. And recognizing that in any given situation, it’s less of a failure of me as it is a mechanistic difference. This is something where I will excel. This is something where I can do well, but it will be difficult. And this is something that I’m just not going to be able to do well or I’m not going to be able to do easily. And being able to acknowledge that, like we’ve talked about a little bit, is hard, especially as a man in America. But it’s also incredibly necessary and it’s actually ends up being really freeing to just look at something and be like, “I can do that, but it’s not going to be pretty.”
I have terrible handwriting. I will write notes. I will write all day if you want me to. But you have to acknowledge that what you are getting is wretched handwriting and even I struggle to read it, so good luck to you. And just being able to be honest about that both at work and in relationships where I can tell my wife or tell my kids or tell my boss that, Yeah, I can do that. It’s not going to be great. I’d be better at it if we did it this way or with this accommodation, I can do it and things like that. And it creates a feedback loop where it builds a level of trust because then if I say, I can do this, it’ll probably actually happen now. Or I can bluntly say, “I’m going to struggle with this. I’m going to need your help.” Or my wife will be like, “You haven’t told the robot.”
The robot is what we refer to as Siri, or we refer to Siri as the robot because my Apple watch has become the biggest disability aid I have ever imagined for ADHD because anything I need to remember, yeah, I just yell at the robot and the robot remembers for me. And then I don’t have to, still not perfect, but it’s good. But being able to be honest about that, I guess is the closest thing I can say to thriving is recognizing that I’m starting to understand the why and that makes the how a hell of a lot easier, right? So I can explain to my daughter, I’m like, “Just a minute.” And she’s like, “Is this an actual minute or is this an ADHD minute?” And I was like, “Thank you. I will set a timer on my watch.” And she stole the line from me, but we use it on each other a lot. She’s like, “I didn’t see you set a time, are you actually going to be back in three minutes?” I’m like, “Yes, I’ll be back in three minutes and I’ll set a timer.” And yeah. So that was a very long-winded response.
Lindsay Guentzel (56:27):
It was a great response. I have to tell you that. I mean, I get the gist of some of the car analogies, but that was… There are people listening who have understood every single one of them and I am very happy for them. And again, that is something that I just will never understand and I’m okay with it.
Geoffrey Evans (56:46):
That’s all good. Yep.
Lindsay Guentzel (56:49):
Geoff, this was such a great conversation. I am so grateful for your honesty and your openness and your candor, and thank you for sharing your story, but for sharing a glimpse into your family because it is your story, but it obviously is so much more than that with your family and your children, and I just am truly appreciative of it. Thank you.
Geoffrey Evans (57:12):
It was a lot of fun. Thanks for the invite. Thanks for everything.
Lindsay Guentzel (57:21):
So much gratitude to Geoffrey Evans for not only sharing his story, but for sharing his family’s story as well. I know many of you can relate so much to what he shared, and I’m so thankful for his candor and thoughtfulness.
There are so many people to thank for Making Refocused, Together happen. The entire team ADHD Online, Zach Booker, Dr. Randall Duthler, Tim Gutwald, Keith Brophy. My teammates, Keith Boswell, Susanne Spruit, Claudia Gatti, Melanie Meyrl, Paul Owen, Kirsten Pip, Sissy Yee, Trisha Mirchandani, Lauren Radley, Kory Kearney, and Mason Nelle and the team at Deksia, Hector and Kenneth. And the team at Smack Media, Cameron Sterling and Candace Lefke, Camilla Eden, Lauren Terry, Sarah Gelbard, Phil Roderman, Jake Beaver, and Sarah Platinits.
Our theme music was created by Louis Ingles, a songwriter and composer based in Perth, Australia, who was diagnosed with ADHD in 2020 at the age of 39. To find out more about Refocused Together or to share your story with me, head over to adhdonline.com and check out the ADHD Awareness Month page, which highlights this project as well as each day’s episode after they’ve been released. You can also find out more by following along social @LindsayGuentzel and at @RefocusedPod.
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