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Jen Verhagen and Realizing Your Potential

Jen Verhagen was diagnosed with ADHD five years ago when she was 28, after struggling with insomnia for years. The diagnosis brought so much clarity for the talent acquisition specialist. Like many women diagnosed later in life, Jen excelled in K-12 but found the transition to college difficult, her inability to focus and create her own structure becoming too much for her to overcome. Unaware of what was holding her back – her undiagnosed ADHD – Jen thought she was simply dumb.

Life post-diagnosis has been a season of growth for the 33 year-old Michigan native. After working up the courage to ask for accommodations at a new job, Jen was faced with the fact that there are still people out there unwilling to acknowledge the realities of living with ADHD. Her manager’s dismissal of her needs pushed Jen into a dark place and ultimately led to her leaving the company. The good news is, Jen landed on her feet in a place where she feels supported and encouraged to be herself and to shine as a woman with ADHD. 

Listen in to hear more from Jen about her journey with ADHD, why it’s important for people to recognize that ADHDers face an uphill climb every single day and what she hopes can be done to help the world understand a lifelong condition that is anything but one-size-fits-all. 

Refocused, Together is a collection of 31 stories told throughout the 31 days of October, a part of our commitment to ADHD Awareness Month. Make sure to subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts so you don’t miss a single story this month! 

LISTEN: Episode 75 | ADHD, the Science of Sleep and Why We Need It

LISTEN: Episode 76 | ADHD, Sleep Hygiene and the Recipe for a Good Night’s Sleep

READ: Why Sleep Issues Are Common In ADHD

READ: Managing Sleep Issues With ADHD

READ: 5 Fixes For “I Can’t Sleep!” 

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Jen Verhagen (00:02):

I can have perfectionism tendencies, and so if things aren’t perfect, then I don’t want to use it. But with ADHD, nothing’s ever going to be perfect, and so I need to learn how to accept that, but I just haven’t gotten to that place.

Lindsay Guentzel (00:21):

You’re listening to Refocused, Together, and this is episode 26, Jen Verhagen and Realizing Your Potential.

(00:38):

Welcome back to Refocused, a podcast all about ADHD. I’m your host, Lindsay Geuntzel, and today we’ve got another story in our Refocused, Together series, this special project we started last year as a part of our commitment to ADHD Awareness Month.

(00:55):

You just heard today’s guest, Jen Verhagen. Jen’s a 33-year-old woman who was diagnosed with ADHD when she was 28 after struggling with insomnia for years. The quiet child who daydreamed and hyper-focused on things she was excited about, Jen excelled in K through 12, but college was difficult for her.

(01:17):

A combination of a lack of structure and her difficulty with focusing, Jen’s ADHD diagnosis gave her access to resources and medication, and she’s been in therapy for the last five years, working with someone who also has ADHD, making them a perfect fit. Through their work together, Jen’s gained a better understanding of the different ways ADHD can present in a person’s life and what she needs to do to manage these specific traits she deals with.

(01:49):

For Jen, her biggest hurdles with ADHD are organization, follow-through, and impulsivity. She describes her house as messy in an organized chaos kind of way. She’s also easily distracted and has a tendency towards impulse buying on Amazon. But she’s also a creative thinker who thrives on being able to see the big picture, and she’s learned to rely on her hyper-focus when something needs to be done quickly, making her a reliable go-to person in a time crunch.

(02:23):

Like many a ADHDers, Jen always worried about disclosing her ADHD to employers, a fear exacerbated after asking for resources and being denied by a manager who didn’t take her diagnosis or needs seriously. That brought on daily panic attacks and a bout of depression and ultimately led to her leaving the company.

(02:46):

Through her job search, Jen stumbled upon ADHD Online and on a whim, applied. It’s been almost two and a half years since Jen joined the team, a place where she feels supported by both a manager who is compassionate and understanding, and colleagues who empathize with her experiences and struggles.

(03:07):

Jen’s still learning how to accept her perfectionism tendencies as well as the shame she feels around ADHD related issues like her disorganization and distraction. And she’s working with her therapist to understand what productivity looks like for her and how to balance that with rest.

(03:27):

Let’s hear now from Jen about her journey with ADHD, why it’s important for people to recognize that ADHDers face an uphill climb every single day, often without the proper resources, and her hopes for what can be done to better understand a lifelong condition that is anything but one size fits all. And with that, let’s meet our next guest for Refocused, Together 2023, Jen Verhagen.

(04:02):

We open all of the Refocused, Together interviews with the same question, and that is, when were you diagnosed and what was that process like for you? And then what sparked some of those initial conversations that pushed you to seek out answers?

Jen Verhagen (04:15):

I was 28 when I was diagnosed with ADHD. I had been dealing with insomnia. It got really bad, and I worked with a nurse practitioner, a psych NP, who was managing medication to see if that could help with my sleep. I did a group therapy session for insomnia. It was like six weeks. I was the youngest person there by 40 years. And nothing seemed to work.

(04:45):

So one appointment, I was talking to my primary care provider and he asked if I had ever been diagnosed with ADHD. And like many people, I just assume ADHD is where you are just running around, hyperactive, which I never was. And then he started going through all of the questions and it was right down the list, yes, yes, yes.

(05:10):

So I was finally diagnosed then and then they started medication and did some trials with various meds. Now I’m pretty stable, I would say, on my medication, but from there, they recommended a couple books for me to read to understand ADHD better. One was Driven to Distraction, which I have not finished because I got too distracted to finish it.

(05:36):

So I read about two chapters and then I gave up. And then I did a workbook that was supposed to help me with organization, but then I also gave up on that because I can’t force myself to do things if there’s no one checking in on me. But from there, it made more sense of just everything in my past.

(05:57):

I did really well K through 12 in school, and then once I went to college, I didn’t do horrible, but not as good as I did in high school. And so I thought that I was dumb and that there must be something wrong of why I can’t get good grades anymore, I can’t focus. But now understanding that not having that structure after high school really messed up my college experience when it came to the academic side.

Lindsay Guentzel (06:27):

I think it’s so interesting, you’re one of the first people who has mentioned that after they were diagnosed that their providers actually sent them home with resources. The majority of people are like, “Yeah, I was just sent home and no one ever called to follow up.”

Jen Verhagen (06:43):

It was really interesting that they were able to help me. And then I have been in therapy for, let’s see, probably over five years. And when I moved back to Michigan, I had to get a new therapist. As a lot of people, you have to shop around for your therapist to find the right one. My newest therapist also has ADHD, and she was diagnosed later in life. So it’s the perfect fit for me.

(07:08):

She and I did a woman women with ADHD CBT workbook together, and that really helped me and it made me understand a little bit more about ADHD with women particularly. And so it’s just nice to have someone who I can relate to when I’m discussing what I’m going through.

Lindsay Guentzel (07:29):

You mentioned a few of the things that stood out, needing accountability to do things, the structure that you so needed in college but didn’t realize was missing or that you weren’t prepared for. I think about that all the time. There was never a conversation about the transition from high school to college. It was just if you got good grades and you got into college, you were supposed to know what to do next.

(07:53):

I’m wondering, when you look back with everything that you know now, what stands out as some of those key moments or highlights from your undiagnosed ADHD experience from growing up with it?

Jen Verhagen (08:06):

I was always in parent-teacher conferences known as the quiet child who was daydreaming all the time. I also was someone who was too scared to ask questions, so I would have to figure things out on my own, which is not very helpful as you go through academics. So that stood out of making sense of why I was just always daydreaming and couldn’t pay attention and would hyper-focus on certain things. I get really obsessed about certain things for a little bit, and now that makes a lot more sense.

(08:41):

There’s the Jim Carrey, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I went through a box recently and I have baseball card type things of the Grinch, a remote control car version of it, and just all these things that I got obsessed with. And now I look back and it makes complete sense.

Lindsay Guentzel (09:01):

It’s like the hobbies we all have. I have gone through so many.

Jen Verhagen (09:05):

I have so many different unfinished hobbies in my house, especially when COVID hit and I got furloughed. I was going to do all of these things and then I never did most of them. So I just have boxes of things that I just never got to.

Lindsay Guentzel (09:21):

I feel like that is a very common scenario in so many of our lives, myself included. I want to talk about the insomnia. What was that like? Because I think anyone who has not dealt with sleep issues does not know the frustration of it.

(09:39):

And here’s the example I’m going to use for you. My boyfriend and I recently watched A Nightmare on Elm Street, and obviously the whole thing is Freddy Krueger comes to you in your dreams, so they try to not sleep. And as a 37-year-old woman, it was not the monster that gave me anxiety.

(09:57):

It was the fact that they were staying up all night, and that dread, that feeling when you’ve had that happen to you where you cannot sleep and you are just dragging through because your body just won’t shut off. And a lot of the times we say your body won’t shut off and it’s your mind. So take me back to that place and what that was like for you.

Jen Verhagen (10:19):

Yeah, so I’ve always been a bad sleeper, even as a kid. So I would say I’m more of a night owl, like a lot of ADHD people. But I would try and go to bed at an early time. I would stop doing electronics. I would do all of the things that they recommend, and I would just lay in bed and not be able to sleep.

(10:42):

I was told if you just close your eyes the entire time, at least you’ll get something out of it. That didn’t do anything. They told me to get out of bed and go to another room and just sit down until I got tired, but unfortunately, I can get distracted by anything, so that’s not going to help me.

(11:00):

But I would just think constantly about, “I need to fall asleep. I have three hours left until I need to wake up for work. I have one hour.” And you just keep thinking about wanting to fall asleep and then never being able to fall asleep.

(11:16):

So typically, my amount of sleep I was getting was around three hours if I was lucky, and that would go on for days. And then eventually on weekends I would make it up with napping, which is not always the best way to do it, but I just couldn’t physically do anything beyond that.

(11:36):

So it’s just a mental … you’re just fighting internally with yourself to get sleep. And so I’ve literally tried everything. It’s better now, but I still kind of have it. I have good days and bad days. But yeah, it’s just this constant struggle of convincing myself to fall asleep when I know I’m exhausted.

Lindsay Guentzel (11:57):

It’s the absolute worst, and I have the same thing. I’ll go through stretches where I’m sleeping really well and you start to get really optimistic and then you have that stretch where all of the old tendencies are right back there.

Jen Verhagen (12:11):

Yeah, it’s gotten a lot better from what it used to be, but it’s very frustrating. And then it also affects your ADHD when you can’t sleep. So it’s the cycle that is not helpful for you at all.

Lindsay Guentzel (12:26):

Where you are in life right now, when you look at how ADHD is affecting you, what stands out as the biggest hurdles for you?

Jen Verhagen (12:34):

I don’t know if I mentioned my age, but I’m 33, so I was diagnosed five years ago. I would say my biggest hurdles are organization. My house is, it’s messy and just kind of organized chaos. Remembering to stick to one project and finish it.

(12:55):

I tend to get distracted, even at work. I’ll be working on something and then I’ll just start something else and then have to remember to go back. Sometimes follow-through, just because I will say I will do something like emailing back someone and then I’ll forget to do it, and then a week later I’ll remember that I should have been emailing someone.

(13:17):

And then I would say a lot of people, I’m really bad with my money of just impulse buying on Amazon. It’s so easy to do, and so working on that as well. But yeah, I’d say disorganization, follow-through, and then just impulse.

Lindsay Guentzel (13:38):

You were diagnosed before you started working at ADHD Online, and I’m wondering how that has affected you as a person and as somebody who works every day with a company that is essentially addressing one of the things that is a frustration for you in life?

Jen Verhagen (13:55):

Before I started at ADHD Online, I was working at another company for about eight months. I had to switch insurance, so I was waiting to get my medication. So I was without my meds for eight months, which was terrible. And I had a manager who could not sympathize with it, did not believe that was an issue. I had asked for resources and was not given them.

(14:23):

And so I went into a really bad depression from all of that and was having daily panic attacks. Eventually I was like, “I just need to get out of here.” My therapist said I needed to. And randomly, I found ADHD Online job posting and I was like, “Well, let’s just see what this is,” and took the job not really knowing much about what this company was.

(14:48):

But within a month, I was working with so many other people who had similar experiences and we could joke and talk about things and we could understand each other of, “Oh, sorry I didn’t get to this, but I will,” and talking about our struggles and recommending things to each other. It’s just great to be able to be open about it and not feel judged about some of the things that come along with ADHD.

Lindsay Guentzel (15:19):

You mentioned having this manager who didn’t believe in ADHD, who was not supportive, and I’m wondering if we can go back to that moment for just a second because I think for a lot of people, they’re afraid to open up. They’re afraid of the ramifications of going to their superior at work and saying, “I have this disorder. This is what I need to be successful.”

(15:41):

The issue is, is that a lot of people face what you dealt with, which is not being supported and not having the resources provided to you that would’ve made it a better place for you to work. What was that like for you? I have to imagine that working up the courage to go to them in the first place was probably a lot.

Jen Verhagen (16:02):

I didn’t know if I wanted to disclose that to my employer just because there is a lot of ideas surrounding ADHD or the stereotypes that come along with ADHD, and a lot of people think it’s a childhood condition that you outgrow. But it got to the point where I just wasn’t doing well enough at work, and I knew I wasn’t doing well enough at work that I had to explain to my manager why I wasn’t doing well and that I wanted to do well and I needed these resources.

(16:42):

But it took some courage. I had to have the conversation in my head first before I could even do it with her. And then I talked with my sister about it, who’s a major support for me. I wanted to make sure that I was saying what I needed to say properly to get my point across.

(17:03):

It just never went well, I think with her because she just wasn’t willing to listen to what I was going through and what I needed from her. It was more of, well, everyone has issues and they just figure it out type of thing.

Lindsay Guentzel (17:21):

What is it like for you now working at a place where you feel supported and you’re surrounded by people who not only understand from their own experience but choose to understand because of their commitment to supporting the mental health community?

Jen Verhagen (17:36):

So my manager doesn’t have ADHD. She’s one of those at ADHD Online that doesn’t, and so she has learned what people with ADHD are like because her entire team had ADHD. And so I can be very open with her when I am going through times where my ADHD is affecting me a lot more than others. She’s very understanding.

(18:03):

I think that because everyone’s willing to learn more from each other and want to help other people, that it’s just so much easier to be able to discuss things openly. We joke about how much we talk about our own mental health with each other that we probably would never do if we weren’t working here.

Lindsay Guentzel (18:22):

It’s a lovely outlet for you guys to have to be able to get that out in a way where you feel safe. I think it’s something so many people are missing.

Jen Verhagen (18:32):

Definitely. I don’t think I could work at another company and be able to be as open as I am here. That is one reason why I love being here is because everyone is just so honest with each other about mental health and that’s not typical anywhere.

Lindsay Guentzel (18:53):

Let’s flip the script for a second and talk about where you’re thriving in life. We’ve talked about some of the struggles that you’ve had with ADHD and the frustrations, but when you look at how ADHD shows up in your life in a positive way, what stands out?

Jen Verhagen (19:08):

I’d say I can be a creative thinker. I am someone who may not be as vocal during meetings, but I’m just constantly thinking of all these little things and then I can bring it up later. That has helped me in my career as well as personally. I think the hyper-focus can be a benefit at times.

(19:32):

Of course, it’s not always great, but when I do have to work on something at work and I know that it needs to be done quickly, I can just get into this mindset and be able to just get it done. I think that is one of the benefits of ADHD is being able to just focus. So I’d say creative thinking and looking at all the various details as well as that hyper-focus when it’s beneficial to you.

Lindsay Guentzel (20:02):

One of the things that you said that stood out to me is also something I struggle with, which is remembering tasks. So simple things, for example, you’re supposed to email someone and then it just slips your mind. What have you implemented to try and help yourself remember those little things, especially in a busy workday or when you’re going through life and things just start to get chaotic?

Jen Verhagen (20:26):

I am someone that likes to write things down and then cross it off after I completed it. So I have a notebook with me that I go through very quickly. So I have many notebooks actually that I will write things down. And then I also will fill up my work and personal calendar with task reminders, or I will block time and say, I need to do this during that time.

(20:51):

And I’ve gotten a lot better of not just snoozing it and moving it to the next day. I’m still working on it, but I’ve gotten a lot better of, if I put it on my calendar, I need to do it then. Or if I can’t do it that exact time, to move it to later in the day. But yeah, I’d say those constant reminders on my calendar have definitely helped me.

Lindsay Guentzel (21:14):

I admire you because when you said move it to a later time or snooze it, that is something I struggle with so severely. It is just such a thorn in my side and I want so badly to be great at time blocking and when I see people who have it figured out. But what I think is really hard, and you kind of mentioned this, is you’ll be in the midst of working on something and you’ll get distracted.

(21:41):

Or for example, for me, if I’m downloading a file and it’s taking a significant amount of time, I’ll move on to another task and then a few minutes later I’m like, “Wait, where was I? What is happening?” It’s like we need this board in front of us to remind us where we are in the day and what is constantly happening.

(22:01):

How does that affect you with meetings, because you’re working in a place that’s very collaborative? There’s a ton of different departments and they all work together for a ton of different things. So you’re being pulled in a lot of different directions. How do you put a bookmark where you are to pivot to something else so that you can get back to it?

Jen Verhagen (22:21):

So I don’t know if I do it well yet, I’m still learning. I am someone who literally has many tabs open in my browser, probably like 32 in one of my windows, and then I have four other windows that are open.

(22:37):

So I’m still trying to figure out the best way to do it, but I sometimes will use sticky notes to remind myself of what I was working on. Or I just go through every tab and remember what I was doing, and then like, “Oh yeah, that’s what I was supposed to be doing.” So I don’t think I’ve figured it out completely, but so far it has worked. For the most part, it’s worked.

Lindsay Guentzel (23:03):

Going through the tabs is like when you walk into the room and you’re like, “I don’t know why I came in here.” And you’ll just go through the tabs and you’re like, “Wait, why is this open? I have no idea what I was doing here.”

Jen Verhagen (23:12):

Oh, for sure. And then my computer has been having some issues, so I’ll have to restart it, and then there’s times that the tabs won’t reopen, and that’s my entire life right there. So trying to remember after having to restart my computer is probably the biggest struggle for me.

Lindsay Guentzel (23:31):

I had an idea of having a whiteboard in front of me where every couple of hours I write down what the tasks are and what the goals are, but then you actually have to remember to do that. But I was thinking if I had something in front of me that would go, “Okay, when you pivoted away from this project, then you moved here, and you need to go back to here.” But again, it’s all of these good intentions that we have.

Jen Verhagen (23:56):

When you say the whiteboard, that makes me laugh because I found a whiteboard because I’m still unpacking things after two years of moving, and it still has a list of things that I was working on in 2020. So I agree. I have bought so many things thinking, “Oh, this will help me stay organized and focused.” And then because you have to remember to use it, then it’s not helpful. So I’m still trying to figure out what the best way is to remember what I was working on and what I should be focusing on.

Lindsay Guentzel (24:31):

I would be really interested to know of the adults who purchase school supplies in the fall who don’t have children who are purchasing them for themselves, how many of them have ADHD? Because I swear to you, you could sell me office supplies, office organization supplies, notebooks, calendars, anything that I think will make my life easier. And what we’re learning is that there is no magic product. There’s no magic solution. It is literally figuring out how to use something consistently and then doing it.

Jen Verhagen (25:05):

Yes, and I think the consistency is probably the hardest part because for me, if it doesn’t work quickly, then I give up on it. And so there could be things that actually could be helpful, but if after a week I don’t feel like it did anything, then I just abandon it.

(25:24):

So I have all of these abandoned supplies of multiple planners, but different types of planners, sticky note tabs, highlighters, cool pens, whiteboards. I bought whiteboard magnets to remind myself of things in my fridge. Anything and everything I’ve tried to do and I’m still figuring out the best way to use these things because it’s just I have so many things.

Lindsay Guentzel (25:52):

I am laughing because I have a brand new pack of whiteboard magnets for a whiteboard that is still in the box sitting across the room right now. It’s got a brand new pack of whiteboard markers that are just waiting to be put into use. But yes, it’s just like what is the perfect plan? And I think for a lot of us, we want everything to be perfect. And so it’s the, “I can’t start until it’s perfect,” and then that just drags on.

Jen Verhagen (26:18):

Yes, I would agree with that. I can have perfectionism tendencies, and so if things aren’t perfect, then I don’t want to use it. But with ADHD, nothing’s ever going to be perfect, and so I need to learn how to accept that, but I just haven’t gotten to that place.

Lindsay Guentzel (26:37):

Going back to those boxes that you haven’t unpacked yet and you’re going through them and you’re pulling things out, what sort of feelings do you have when you see those things? Or you see those boxes and you think, “Oh, this is another thing that I haven’t checked off my to-do list yet?”

(26:51):

Are you in a middle ground of there’s still some shame, there’s still some frustration? Or it’s a balance of yes, those feelings are there, but I know what I’m working with and I know that I can leave these here? Where does it fall for you?

Jen Verhagen (27:08):

I think I still have some shame with it, especially if people come to visit at my house and they see a pile of boxes or half unpacked boxes laying around. I think that is more shameful for me of people seeing it than when I’m just by myself and understanding it’s hard to get rid of things sometimes. I get distracted when I find certain things that I didn’t remember that I had in a box, and that unpacking is not fun.

(27:40):

So I think that it varies, but I still hold some shame when it comes to other people seeing my house being disorganized or just things that should have been done over a year ago.

Lindsay Guentzel (27:54):

But also it’s important to keep in mind that you are someone who struggles with getting an adequate amount of sleep, and then you go to a job that you are passionate about and you put in energy all day long and then you come home and the last thing you want to do is that stuff.

Jen Verhagen (28:08):

Yeah, and I think I’ve started working on that more with my therapist of understanding that it’s okay to rest and that I don’t need to be productive every time that I’m home. Or on the weekends, that it’s okay for me to just veg out on the couch and binge-watch some TV or something, and that that’s what my body needs and I need to do a better job of listening to my body and what it needs.

(28:33):

So I’m slowly getting better at it, but it takes some time of being able to understand that I don’t have to be doing something constantly, that it’s okay for me to just sit down and not do anything and rest.

Lindsay Guentzel (28:49):

I’m going to cut just that section and put it somewhere that I can play it over and over again. It is so spot on and we are so hard on ourselves. We want to constantly be doing stuff. We feel like we are supposed to be constantly doing stuff, but you’re right, rest is crucial.

(29:06):

It is a huge part of the ADHD cycle burnout of getting to the point of not being able to handle anything else. And it’s because we just push ourselves and we almost feel like we have to earn rest, which is so messed up, but it is really what’s been ingrained, not just with people who have ADHD, but in society in general.

Jen Verhagen (29:25):

Oh yeah, for sure. I follow various TikTok accounts and Twitter, well, whatever it’s called now, and it’s a very universal thing of understanding that it’s okay to not do anything, and we don’t always have to be productive. So I’m glad that I’m starting to see more people understand that, but it’s hard to convince yourself that it’s okay. It makes sense.

(29:51):

Yeah, I’m glad that you’re resting, but when it comes to me, I feel like I have to just keep going and doing something. And I feel shame sometimes when people ask, “What did you do over the weekend?” And saying, “Well, I just did nothing.” I just feel bad about myself that I should have been doing something.

Lindsay Guentzel (30:09):

But also, and I’ll challenge you, and I’m just as guilty of doing the exact same thing. We say we’ve done nothing, when in reality we probably got up and we probably emptied our dishwasher and we did our laundry and we took our pets for a walk and we got ready for the week or we made dinner. All of those things are things, but in our mind, they don’t count because they’re just everyday things.

Jen Verhagen (30:33):

Yeah, I would definitely agree. And when we do things, it’s not just a simple, oh, I made dinner. There’s like 20 different steps to that, which is exhausting. So yeah, it’s something I’m working on, but it’s very difficult when everyone thinks that we always have to be moving and always doing something big and not just the typical day-to-day tasks.

Lindsay Guentzel (30:57):

Let’s look to the future. I’m wondering what is exciting for you right now? What is catching your eye and is pushing you forward?

Jen Verhagen (31:05):

I think that just better understanding my ADHD and how I can harness all of the benefits of ADHD and not feel that shame that comes along with it. Working with a therapist who also understands it and being around other people and being able to continue to grow within my role at this company and showing other people that there shouldn’t be a stigma around having ADHD and that you can be successful and do all of these things.

(31:38):

And I think just forgiving myself of not being, quote, unquote, “perfect” in my past and being able to move on and learn from it, I think has just kept me going and wanting me to continue to grow personally and professionally.

Lindsay Guentzel (31:58):

The last question that I ask everyone is when you look at ADHD and what the general population knows about it, what is something you wish they understood better?

Jen Verhagen (32:08):

I think that understanding that it’s not just hyperactivity or young children who have it, that it is a lifetime condition and that there’s so many different forms of it because everyone is unique and different and that there’s nothing wrong with it.

(32:29):

I wish that we had a better understanding of neurodivergency and that we can have different options for people that aren’t neurotypical, because telling a group of people to do it only one way is not beneficial to everyone. And even with ADHD, doing it one way is not going to work for everyone. So understanding that just telling me to buy a planner is not going to fix my issues, but it could work for someone else.

(33:01):

And so I just wish society understood better that it’s not this one size fits all condition and that we’re all unique and different and that we are trying really hard. We don’t mean to forget to do things. And honestly, we beat ourselves up pretty badly when we do those things. So it’s not that we just don’t want to do a task or we don’t follow through or we love being disorganized. It’s just we’re working through things and trying to figure it out.

Lindsay Guentzel (33:32):

Jen, I’m just so appreciative of your time and your willingness to share your story with us on Refocused, Together. I am so glad we were able to connect and I was able to learn a little bit more about you. I love that you had this journey start before you came to ADHD Online and that you have found a place where you feel supported because I can only imagine what it was like at that last job to feel like nothing was ever going to change.

(33:57):

I know there are a lot of people who are listening to this who feel that way, so I’m so appreciative of you sharing that. I’m sure it wasn’t easy, but I know that the ripple effects of that are going to be great. So thank you so much for being here.

Jen Verhagen (34:11):

Yeah, thank you.

Lindsay Guentzel (34:18):

I had the pleasure of meeting Jen on my very first trip out to Grand Rapids, Michigan all the way back in June of 2022, and we very quickly connected over our mutual love of the state of Minnesota. So I truly loved being able to sit down and get to know her more and even better that I get to share our conversation with you.

(34:38):

I’m so glad Jen was not only open, but excited about sharing her story on Refocused, Together. One of the reasons why this series is so impactful is it highlights all of the different ways us ADHDers come into our diagnoses, like how for Jen, it was her issues with sleep, or I guess the lack thereof.

(34:59):

One of the most frustrating parts of having sleep issues is there’s never one thing to blame for it, and the even more frustrating thing, there’s never one way to fix it. My own issues with sleep have felt like a rollercoaster, and whenever I find myself getting into a good consistent groove, some lovely little life interruption comes along and pushes me all the way back to the starting line.

(35:24):

Getting enough sleep can have a positive impact on people with ADHD for a variety of reasons. Sleep can help improve a long list of ADHD symptoms as well as daily functioning, behavior, and working memory. Unfortunately, a lot of ADHDers can have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep.

(35:45):

For those with hyperactive impulsive ADHD symptoms, you’re more likely to suffer from insomnia, while inattentive type folks tend to have a later bedtime. And us combined type ADHDers, well, we get to experience a mix of both. It might be racing thoughts or second winds that can make it hard for people with ADHD to fall asleep.

(36:07):

Some find it easier to concentrate on projects at night because there are fewer distractions. Over time, this can lead to disrupted sleep patterns, which can lead to insomnia. And once that starts, bedtime starts to become a stressful event because it’s something that doesn’t come easily anymore.

(36:25):

Nancy Ratey is a master certified coach and senior disability analyst who specializes in personal and professional coaching for adults with ADHD, and she shared some great ideas on ways to improve your sleep in the September 2022 ADDitude Magazine piece, 5 Fixes for “I Can’t Sleep.”

(36:44):

Her first recommendation, get your recommended daily allowance of sunlight. This can be hard for those of us in certain parts of the world where right now there seems to be way more gloomy days than sunny days and a lot less hours in the day to soak it in. A SAD lamp is a great way to bypass all those clouds in the sky while also helping to regulate a person’s circadian rhythm and boost vitamin D production.

(37:11):

I love my SAD lamp. I found using it in the morning adds a little pep to my step, and I’ve also added in little sessions in the afternoon, during that little slump we all feel. For me, it’s usually between 1:00 and 2:00 PM, when I start to feel sluggish. A little time in front of my lamp tends to be exactly what I need to get out of that lull.

(37:32):

Nancy’s second suggestion is slow your mind. This is all about having a bedtime routine. Setting up a routine signifies to your brain that it’s time to start winding down. Nancy suggests showering and listening to a podcast before bed. Meditation apps or listening to soothing music can also help calm your brain. And she even suggests something we’ve started to rely on in our household, a white noise machine.

(37:59):

When we were visiting my sister in Arizona last January, I started playing this 10 hour white noise playlist on YouTube Music to help drown out some of the new to us noises that were keeping us awake, different house, different city, different household pets. It really helped. So for my birthday, John got me an actual sound machine with tons of different options, although I still like to stick with the basic white noise.

(38:26):

Number three, set a bedtime alarm. A big part of establishing a bedtime routine is also making sure you’re going to bed at the same time every night, which sounds way easier than it actually is. But programming an alarm or an alert on your phone or your watch can be a helpful way to start pushing you towards lights out. Nancy recommends giving yourself a one-hour heads up before it’s time to call it a night, and then practicing that over and over again until you get to a point where you’re more consistent with it than not.

(38:59):

The fourth fix that Nancy suggests is avoid sleep traps. What tends to keep you from going to bed? Is it watching TV, mindlessly scrolling on your phone, diving into the next day’s work tasks? Whatever it is, once you’ve identified them, you can create ways to cut them out.

(39:19):

A great way to do that is to create deterrence and disincentives that will help you stop doing those things. And if having accountability is crucial for your success, Nancy suggests asking for help from the people you live with or a close friend so they know not to distract you from your goal and can also encourage you to keep going.

(39:39):

And Nancy’s final fix is try a supplement. It’s important to talk to your healthcare provider anytime you’re adding something new to your routine. So during your next appointment, bring up the difficulties you’ve been having with sleep and ask if adding a supplement might be a good fit for you.

(39:56):

Lots of people use the herb, valerian. We are big fans of melatonin over here. It’s really about finding what works for you and your provider will be able to explain all the dos and don’ts that you need to know. Struggling with sleep is awful, and while it’s rare to find a perfect fix, there are lots of things we can be doing and also not doing that can make getting some Zs a bit easier for our ADHD brains.

(40:24):

If sleep is something you’ve been struggling with, I highly recommend going back and checking out the two episodes we shared earlier this year that dive into the topic further, episode 75, ADHD and the Science of Sleep and Why We Need It, and episode 76, ADHD, Sleep Hygiene and the Recipe for a Good Night’s Sleep. We’ve linked both for you in the show notes along with two great articles from ADHD Online on you guessed it, ADHD and sleep. And you’ll find the link to Nancy’s 5 Fixes for “I Can’t Sleep,” linked in the show notes as well.

(40:59):

I’m so grateful to Jen for sharing her story here with us on Refocused, Together. That her insomnia ultimately led to her ADHD diagnosis is just another reminder of how complex this disorder is and how impactful it can be on a person’s life. And it’s another reminder that we’ll never know what answers we’ll find until we start opening up and we start to make sure we have the right people in the room.

(41:26):

There will always be people like Jen’s manager who refused to see ADHD for what it truly is. But every conversation we have, every accommodation we ask for, every time we show up as our true selves without any masks on, it’s a step in the right direction.

(41:44):

Breaking down that stigma and that ignorance, I’m proud to say that’s one of the pillars this podcast was built on. It’s something my entire team at Refocused is committed to. It’s something our partner, ADHD Online is committed to. And you can rest assured it’s something we’ll continue to bring to the table both here on the podcast and as we continue to grow the Refocused community in the months and years to come.

(42:12):

Support for Refocused comes from our partner, ADHD Online, a telemedicine mental healthcare company that provides affordable and accessible ADHD assessments and treatment plans. To learn how they can help you on your journey, head to adhdonline.com, and remember to use the promo code REFOCUSED20 to receive $20 off your ADHD Online assessment right now.

(42:45):

The biggest thanks go out to our team at ADHD Online, Keith Boswell, Susanne Spruit, Melanie Meyrl, Claudia Gatti, and Trisha Mirchandani for their constant support in helping make Refocused, Together happen.

(43:01):

These 31 episodes were produced thanks to our managing editor, Sarah Platinitus, our production coordinator, Phil Rodemann, social media specialist and editor, Al Chaplin, and me, the host and executive producer of Refocused, Lindsay Guentzel.

(43:17):

To connect with the show on social media, you can find us online, @refocusedpod, and you can email the show directly, [email protected]. That’s [email protected].

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