Episode 60. Joy Thurston and Raising Your ADHD Voice

Happy 2023! We are so excited for the year ahead and are in the midst of editing some really incredible conversations we can’t wait to share with you!

We are also so excited to introduce you to this week’s guest, the incredible Joy Thurston. Joy graciously dives into her own ADHD journey with the Refocused community while also sharing how her love of singing and active meditation have come together to help the greater good in an up-and-coming app called Biiah. After you fall in love with Joy, come back here and find out how you can support the work she and her teammates are doing. 

Here are three easy ways to support the team behind Biiah: 

Check out their Kickstarter.

Share it with your friends and loved ones (and support them if you can).

Follow Biiah on social media. 

The theme music for Refocused was created by Louis Inglis, a songwriter and composer in Perth, Australia who was diagnosed with ADHD in 2020 at the age of 39. To learn more about the work he is doing, check out his online studio here. You can also email Louis directly here

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Lindsay Guentzel (00:02):

Refocused with Lindsay Guentzel is produced in partnership with ADHD Online, a telemedicine mental healthcare company based in Grand Rapids, Michigan that cares for AHDRs of all ages in towns, cities, and rural communities across the country. Are you self-diagnosed but curious about seeking out an official diagnosis? They can help with that too. ADHD Online provides comprehensive all online assessments that are both affordable and easily accessible. And even better, you can take it in the comfort of your own home, at your own pace, in your own comfies, and even get a personalized treatment plan back in around seven days. To find out how the team at ADHD Online can help you on your journey and to see what services are available where you live, head over to adhdonline.com.


Happy 2023. My name’s Lindsay Guentzel and I am the host of this lovely little podcast and I truly hope you’ve all had a wonderful start to the new year. The Refocused team and I are so excited for the year ahead. There are some incredible conversations already on the schedule, including two interviews you’ll get to hear in the coming weeks, both looking at ADHD and our relationship with food. Relationships don’t have to be with other people, sometimes it’s the stuff that doesn’t talk back that’s the hardest to deal with.


And for a lot of people with ADHD, that can mean a complicated relationship with food. So I’ve got two incredible conversations coming up for you to dig into. The first with Dr. Marilyn James, who built Haven Family Health in Jacksonville, Florida, where she uses her dual board certification in both family medicine and osteopathic manual medicine to give each of her patients the individualization they need to help their bodies heal.


Dr. James is also a telehealth physician with ADHD Online, and I’m so excited for you to get to listen to our conversation because she does such a great job of explaining the complexity of the connections. Yes, connections as in plural between people with ADHD and food. Dr. James’s expertise leads perfectly into my conversation with registered dietician, nutritionist and social media, lovely Becca King. For the last few years, Becca’s been sharing her expertise as well as her own experience as an adult with ADHD on social media through the handle adhd.nutritionist.


She uses the principles of intuitive eating and a weight inclusive approach to nutrition for ADHD in her virtual practice, all a part of her commitment to helping other adults with ADHD who struggle with binge eating, chronic dieting and body image issues. Both of those conversations will be available wherever you get your podcast starting next week. Today’s episode is a fun one because it gives you a glimpse into how my brain as a producer works. See something, get an idea, get the ball rolling before thinking about any of the actual details.


Although this time it all actually worked out, and now with you all listening to this episode, I’ve even completed it. Start to finish, I can wash my hands. I have followed through with something a little delayed and procrastinated on for sure, but regardless, I completed something, the little victories you guys. Today you get to meet Joy Thurston, you’ll hear everything you need to know to understand why Joy is a guest on Refocused, but there’s also a call to action attached to my conversation with Joy, and I don’t think we’ve done this yet, so I want to just run through some of those details.


As you’ll learn, Joy Thurston is a part of the team behind the app Biiah, and right now there is a Kickstarter campaign underway to support their efforts. And you have until the morning of January 11th to get on board. The campaign focuses on helping people find the power in their own voice and your support will help Joy and her teammates put the final touches on the app so that it can be ready for the public later this spring. Now I know what you’re saying. What app? What are you talking about? Joy will do a much better job of explaining, obviously what Biiah is, but how you can support their work and even more importantly, why you should support the team behind Biiah.


I’ve included the link in the show notes and I encourage all of you to take a peek at the Kickstarter because there are so many different ways for you to support their work. Even just sharing it on social media, those things really do make a difference. And so with that, let’s jump right into my conversation with the incredible Joy Thurston.


I’ve probably claimed this before, but if there were ever a fully ADHD moment coming to fruition, it is this episode you’re going to listen to today with Joy Thurston, one of the brains behind Biiah, and I have to tell you how we got here. So right now I’m sitting in the Ford building in downtown Minneapolis, just across the street from Target Field. It’s actually a building. I, at one point in life worked in as a radio host and producer, and now it is the home to the Minnesota Twins Techstars’ incubator.


But it’s a long story short, I’m sitting at home and I’m on LinkedIn because that’s what cool millennials do. We go on and browse LinkedIn, and a friend of mine who works for the Minnesota Twins shared a post about a tech startup, an app that is going to change mindfulness and how we look at it. And I clicked on the link, being the true ADHDer that I am, and being someone who is always trying to find new ways to make myself feel better in life, and I watched a video talking about an app Biiah. And the app, which again we’ll learn more about here from Joy, takes some of the things in life that I love, like singing and uses it to help you meditate.


And what I loved was when Joy hopped into the screen and started talking about the app, she mentioned ADHD and her own struggles with meditating in quiet spaces. And I immediately was like, this is what I want to talk about. This was yesterday. Not even 24 hours later, we are sitting in a studio together because Joy’s about to head home to Scotland for the holidays, and we need to support this. So this is my little call to action at the beginning. We’re going to do it throughout the whole thing, but the link to support Biiah and the team of people behind it is in the show notes. It’s also on social media.


Jump in, share the message because I love that so much of the focus is specifically on people with neurodiversity. And so I want to bring Joy into the conversation. I love that this happened the way it did. I love that we are in my old stomping grounds, which are now your current stopping grounds. And so to start… Let’s just start with a little bit about you and a little bit about Biiah, and we’ll just roll from there.

Joy Thurston (07:23):

Yeah. Okay. I’m going to just [inaudible 00:07:25] you. So monologue number two of the show coming in live and direct from opposite Target Field. Yeah, I’m Joy Thurston. I’m product manager and customer success manager at Biiah. I’ve spent a lot of my time when I started with the company, wait… First of all, my name is Joy, I’m a human being from Glasgow, I’m trans, I have ADHD currently going through the process of getting diagnosed with autism. And my life as an adult has been in many ways about reckoning with my own very specific way of being.


And something that I’m really excited about, this podcast in particular for is that I get an opportunity to talk to my family, to the people who are like me, to the only people on this planet that will understand the weirdness that is my perspective and my way of life, and my way of coping with things. So that’s me. My job, which is a very separate thing, is supporting the development of this app, supporting the people that are developing this app and doing everything I can to make sure that this project is successful, whether that be the companies that we work with to facilitate corporate wellness or the people that we work with to build the app.


The app itself is designed for everyone to get access to singing. And that is because there is a huge, huge wealth of information in terms of research projects and academia that shows us that singing is not only good for your mind but your body and your spirit as well. So that the core aim is to just make that in particular thing accessible. And the way it does that is by introducing people to this concept of active meditation. And because I’m talking to a bunch of neurodiverse people, I can say that most of you will probably be familiar with the concept of hyper focus.


It’s something that is amazing for us a lot of the time. But it can also create time skips where you thought you were going to do a bunch of stuff that was important for your life and then suddenly it’s 9:00 PM and you have been drawing or you have been scratching your dog. You have no idea what you’ve been doing because time suddenly went… There’s a curious relationship between that and active meditation. Active meditation is where instead of locking yourself in place and sitting down and trying to be with your thoughts, you take an active stance, you pick an activity, and then you make sure that that’s all you focus on doing.


See how that’s familiar? When we hyper-focus, disappear into what we’re doing, and we don’t have the same experience of scattered thoughts and distractions coming up. If it’s something that you love doing, that’s really easy. If it’s something that doesn’t fit within your immediate passions, that’s really hard for people like us. And so by adopting that in a guided context and applying it to singing, you can draw yourself into practicing hyper-focused mindfully. You can build a routine whereby you deliberately go into a focused state and mindfully do an activity. So bringing it back to Biiah, we’ve created an app that guides you through doing that with a specific focus on singing once a day. So making singing an addictive and fun thing to do because it’s good for you.

Lindsay Guentzel (10:43):

I have so many thoughts. My first being that I grew up in choir. I joke I was born to be an entertainer, but I wasn’t given actual skills of an entertainer. I love to sing and I’m okay at it. I am not filling stadiums or even filling a small bar around the corner, but I love singing. It’s something about performing and I think it is tied to the people pleasing part of ADHD. It’s this performance, it’s getting to be the center of attention, and singing to me has been so therapeutic. And so I’m so curious to know how you see the connection and how it’s benefited your life.

Joy Thurston (11:26):

Oh God, this is going to ricochet everywhere. So a bunch of things came up just then when you were talking about that too, right off the bat. So I was one on TikTok the other day, which is an actual nightmare for me because I can’t get off TikTok once I open it. But there is a really wonderful aspect to it, which is ADHD TikTok, right? It’s a bunch of people with ADHD sharing advice and experiences about ADHD. So tread lightly ADHD family going on to TikTok. But if you specifically look for ADHD advice, there is quite a lot of cool stuff on there.


And someone was sharing their experience and telling me via the medium of TikTok about something that I did but didn’t realize I did, which is the ADHD camera, the sort of seeing yourself in third person as if there is a camera watching you at all times. It’s something I’ve done my whole life, and not until I saw this random TikTok, realized that I was doing it. I’m always performing to myself because I’m watching myself in third person through the ADHD camera. And now you just bringing that up really brought up that memory in me, and I want to attach it to a personal memory that compounds this as a thought.


My mum once said to me, I always thought you just wanted to be the center of attention. And there was one day when I realized that that wasn’t the case. I walked past your bedroom and the door was open and you were just in front of the mirror posing and singing, and you were just doing it for yourself. You didn’t care if anyone was watching. And that was the moment that I realized you weren’t being an attention seeker, you were just being yourself. And the way I related to you changed on that day.


And that for me is something that was a really powerful statement that my mom made. And my mom has been an amazing person in the support of my journey as a human being. And I think that realization for her when I was quite small has helped guide her on that. So bringing it back to the question that you asked, which was…

Lindsay Guentzel (13:18):

The connection between-

Joy Thurston (13:19):

The connection between Biiah, and singing, and performance and ADHD. So I think the key thing is that we are founded on a few core principles. The first one I’ve already mentioned, which is singing is really good for you. The second one is that everyone can sing and it’s not about… There is no such thing as a bad singer, all singing is good because it’s good for you spiritually, mindfully, and in terms of your physical health. So yes, there are people that are going to fill stadiums. Yes, there are people that are kind of born to make a career out of singing or have worked to make a career out of singing, but everyone can and should sing, and up until fairly recently has always sung.


It’s not always been necessarily this idea that’s a particular kind of good singing and it should be performative exclusively in a kind of paid context with a stage and a view. So we are trying to dissolve that myth of the bad singer and invite people to return to the history of singing, which is that it is a way for us to communicate, to share emotion, to express ourselves, and to express our spirituality and our uniqueness. You’re born with this inextricable instrument that is yours and it’s the most immediate way of creating music, right?


Birds don’t care if they sound good. And are we not just birds, really? When we really break it down, are we not just birds singing to ourselves? And lots of the conversations we’ve had as part of the Techstars program have been with sports professionals talking to them about singing, and so many of them have a relationship with singing. But all of them say, only on my own, in my car or in my shower or-

Lindsay Guentzel (15:03):

Or in a group where you can’t pick out exactly where [inaudible 00:15:08] voice. You feel safe.

Joy Thurston (15:07):

You’re kind of on your own because everyone’s doing the same thing. So you are masked in some way. You are hidden from someone else’s view.

Lindsay Guentzel (15:16):

Being isolated, yes.

Joy Thurston (15:18):

I think this is where people with ADHD find it a little bit easier to sing and be loud because we are always watching ourselves, I guess we have that third person camera that’s watching us. And so we are used to external perspective because we give ourselves external perspective by being, in some cases very self-critical, very hyper-critical, but in other cases, really great to ourselves.


And that’s the duality of ADHD. Everything about it in my experience can be both a superpower or ball and chain around your leg, just depending on how you arrange your life around yourself and how you interact with your uniqueness as a thinker and as a person.

Lindsay Guentzel (16:00):

Well, and not even just how you take it, but who you allow into your circle, and who you allow to push their energy onto you. So I’m recently diagnosed. I was diagnosed, it’ll be almost two years, right before I turned 35. And I can look back at these moments of allowing other people’s insecurities that were being addressed and pushed towards me. I allowed them to dim me, to make me quieter. I felt too much. And it’s so interesting as we’re having this conversation, I’m having this flashback to a choir camp that I went to and we were all going through the music and singing certain parts, and then they were going to ask for auditions, and we were all practicing.


And I remember this older classmate of mine turned around and was like, “You have to audition for this part.” And I was like, “No,” I think I was like 15. I was like “No,” it was so out of my range. And she was like, “I’m sitting in front of you, I can hear you, and you sound incredible. You have to audition.” And had that woman not turned around and had she not expressed that to me, I would not have auditioned and I got it. And in this moment of just hearing that, it’s that moment of you feel safe, you feel like no one is listening, no one can pick you out, but then there are great moments where people can, and it boosts you up.

Joy Thurston (17:20):

And I think that’s something that informs the bad singing myth. Something that affects a lot of the people that… Our app is also why it’s called to be an introductory thing for people to get back into singing. Because most people, when they’re kids, their parents sing to them, they sing along to the children’s stories, they engage with singing. And it’s only when you get to a certain age where you have the moment. You have the where someone says, “You are bad at singing, you shouldn’t sing now. You are not stereotypically good at singing.” And therefore you stop, whether a nun smacks the back of your hand or someone laughs at you.


The vast majority of people have this moment where someone tells them they’re bad at singing and they stop. I’m a little bit of an exception in this case because I had several moments where people told me that I was bad at singing and I became a professional singer anyway because there was no stopping me. I just loved it. I loved it so much. And I never fitted in, so I was like, :Why should I care what you think anyway? You don’t like me. You’ve never been nice to me. I’m just going to do what I want for my whole life because I can’t be bothered with these abstract laws of society that I don’t understand.”


So I remember so many moments in my life where people… I did music technology when I was at school, in my post high school college years and everyone of my course said “You’re a terrible singer.” I got pulled out of the school play because I was singing my part really badly and replaced. And they gave me a dance part to compensate. And I don’t know, for some reason I was immune to that specific knock back, right? And I think I have my ADHD and what I suspect is just a we dash of autism to thank for that.


But there are so many people that don’t go in that direction and end up losing an intrinsic route to spirituality and a sense of self, that they have every right to and should be accessing on a daily basis. And to bring it back to Biiah is another core piece of the spirit of our app. Giving people back the power of their voice as a means to health, as a means to self-expression and as a means to non-denominational spirituality, right? There is the aspect of the self from my perspective of spirit. And that is an ineffable thing, but singing is also inextricably linked to that innate sense of self and that magic dust that fills us.

Lindsay Guentzel (19:56):

I want to go back because I think you brushed past it because it’s probably hard to talk about. It’s not fun to know that there was a point in your life where people were mean to you. And it’s terrible to think that… It was great that you were able to block that out, but it is a blessing. In my head, I think of all the times that people have said mean things to me. I am not an angel. I think everyone has been the villain in someone’s story. I know that I have parts of my history I really wish I could take back, but you think of the things that we say to one another, and I don’t know that we ever really fully understand the ramifications of our actions and our words.


Even just sitting here with you, you talked about kids and singing with your parents. I sang in choir from elementary school, to my high school graduation, like the ceremony. And then I went to college and never again was I in an organized scenario of singing unless you count karaoke night, which sometimes some nights I do. But it was such a massive part of my upbringing and how quickly it went away. And this is an opportunity for all of us to go back to that.

Joy Thurston (21:08):

And we kind of try and supplement it with different things. So we’ve got in-person sessions. We’re trying to make the app globally accessible, which you can’t do with in-person sessions. So we have in-person sessions in the UK right now, where we offer it as a corporate wellness thing. So instead of having a yoga class in your workplace, we send a singing coach in, everybody sings together as part of their lunch break or as part of their workday on a weekly basis. And the feedback we get from that is off the chain. It’s so uplifting. People are like, this is therapy. This is the best thing I’ve ever done. And the only reason I’m still working at my job is because I’m doing this program.


On top of that, we also offer an online course which kind of goes alongside the app. So on a weekly basis, we have a coach that does it through Zoom, so everyone’s on mute because it’s chaotic if you have everyone off mute on a Zoom singing session. But the coaches is unmuted, they teach you a song and then you all sing it together as a group. And that facilitates the communal aspect, which is a huge, huge thing as part of choral singing that you mentioned, not just singing on your own, which is already great for you.


Singing as a group is basically standing with a group of people and simultaneously expressing the same emotion, which is just such a powerful experience. And you can apply it in so many different contexts, whether it be in a concert, seeing a band that everybody’s into or at a sports match. When you’re with 50,000, 60,000 other people all singing the same song, whether it’s a national anthem or in Target Field, Take Me Out to the Ball Game.


Whatever it is, when you are all on the same page and coordinated by music, you feel so much part of something bigger, which we all are, but in the society we live in, we don’t get the opportunity to realize how at one we are with everything, in that way, apart from in these brief snatches. So we’re trying to leverage technology to make that more accessible across the globe. And I’m so freaking passionate about that. I think it’s so important.

Lindsay Guentzel (23:02):

I love the accessibility side of it. I think it’s something that is so important to be talking about, not just for neurodiverse people but there is a part of organized choir and organized singing that is a privilege.

Joy Thurston (23:19):

Absolutely, right? The whole reason Biiah as a company was started by our co-founders, Xann and Susie was because they were at the elite level of choral singing. They’re both aficionados of 16th century choral music, which is a niche, but one of the main reasons a niche is because it’s gate kept by classism. You need a certain amount of money to access a certain amount of education to even start thinking about freaking Gregorian chance or whatever you do. You know what I mean?


There is an immediate barrier to entry, and if you are not from a specific class, then you are not going to get access to it. And the fact that the last vestiges of communal singing in our society are gate kept by class makes me so angry. The people who need communal singing most, are the people who do not have rakes of cash. The people that need that sense of community, that sense of joy and that sense of oneness are the people who are suffering from the massive ramifications of a complete wealth imbalance on the planet. And they’re starved of it. We are being starved of it. You don’t seem like you’re in the 1% to me.

Lindsay Guentzel (24:27):

No, definitely not. No. But I fit into the category of I came home and if there was something I wanted to do, it was very rare that I was ever told no. I got to audition for the plays, and the plays cost money. And I grew up in a very small town and I’m at a point in life where I look back and it’s like, oh, it was always the same people on this team, and it was always the same people in the plays, and it was always the same people in this. Where were the rest of the people? And I said to my sister the other night, I was like, our lives would’ve been a lot different growing up in that town if we had not had money. And we were not anywhere near just like no worries about money, but we didn’t feel that worry as kids.

Joy Thurston (25:10):

And that was my experience growing up. Both of my parents came from working class backgrounds and they made it within capitalism, which is not easy, especially now. But they were also very astute financial managers. They looked after their finances very tightly and we didn’t have loads of spare cash. But I never really wanted for anything. And like you say, my parents bought the stress of the finances. I never had an empty belly when I got home. And I never suffered the consequences of not having enough money to feed our family, and that makes a huge difference.


I was able to be in the place as well. I was able to learn the trumpet and to get access to music in that way. But there were tons of kids in my state school that didn’t have enough money to learn the trumpet and didn’t have that initial access to music and didn’t have the opportunity to get to where I am in my life, where that first contact with music inspired me to continue interacting with it because I liked the way it made me feel. There’s always that, even if it’s the 40 bucks a month for your trumpet lessons, there’s that financial barrier.


And one of the core aspects of our project is on the app, when it releases, there’s going to be minimum 100 songs free at all times so that people can use the app regardless of what their background is and engage with it at the same level that anybody else can. And the way we’re monetizing it on a bigger scale is getting up to date music on it, allowing people to pay for extra music, to buy their favorite songs and interact with them in this direct, interactive way. The people who can afford to subsidize the people that can’t afford to, which is, I don’t know-

Lindsay Guentzel (26:49):

It’s how a lot of stuff works in life. We just don’t talk about it.

Joy Thurston (26:51):

It’s how things should work. If you can afford, you should probably buy a cup of coffee for the person who can’t afford the cup of coffee. And so we are subsidizing our app in that way. And that’s kind of part of what this Kickstarter is. In order to allow us to make this platform free and start with a hundred plus songs for people to engage with and meditate with, we need to raise some money so that we can put the thing out, because app development’s really expensive.

Lindsay Guentzel (27:19):

I can only imagine. I feel like I’m at a point in life where every time I’m introduced to something new like, “Oh, I’m getting older.” It’s becoming a lot harder to change things and adapt. And I want to go back because you mentioned trumpet lessons and one of the things that made me think of was I took piano lessons growing up, but I didn’t practice because I was undiagnosed with ADHD.

Joy Thurston (27:44):

Yeah, same.

Lindsay Guentzel (27:46):

And there was no one forcing me to do it, so I didn’t do it on my own. And it’s a big regret of mine, of not being able to play an instrument as an adult because I love live music, I love going to concerts. I love when someone picks up a guitar at a bonfire. I am that person that is just live music, being around it, being around people who are energized by music and it’s a regret of mine. So I’m curious how the app is developed for repetitive use to help start building some of those habits because for people with ADHD, that’s a part of it. There’s a reason why apps have badges and awards and shiny objects to get you to keep coming back.

Joy Thurston (28:33):

You listed a few things that make it worth worthwhile for you while you are learning to sing and to actively meditate. Badges, rewards, leaderboards, you can compete with your friends and family. And also we’ve broken down singing massively. So if you come into it as someone who is actively afraid of singing because of traumatic memories or because you think you’re bad, you don’t even sing. There’s an onboarding process where we learn about you a little bit as a person and where you’re at with singing. And if you are complete novice, you start with rhythm, just tapping to play the…


We have a little game where a little bird… Do you remember Flappy Bird? Flappy Bird was a viral app where you had to make a bird fly along and go between little obstacles. Everyone got into it when I was in my teens. It was one of the first viral apps. This is a glorious tangent. Anyway, our initial level one rhythm game that you’ll be introduced to is tapping to the rhythm of a song to make sure the bird jumps from perch to perch.

Lindsay Guentzel (29:35):

Which is perfect for someone with ADHD because I used to just do my little tap dances. I would literally practice. Well I said I’d never practiced. I practiced my tap dances with my fingers. That was my actual thing.

Joy Thurston (29:52):

When you were supposed to be doing something else.

Lindsay Guentzel (29:52):

And what’s so funny is it’s not until after you’re diagnosed that you go, oh, that’s why I’ve done this my entire life. And then you say it to someone who doesn’t have ADHD and they’re like, “Wait, you did what?” And I’m like, “I did the whole performance and then it makes total sense.” So I’m seeing you tap the screen with the rhythm and I’m like, that is perfect.

Joy Thurston (30:14):

Yeah, it’s tactile. It’s tactile and it’s getting you in at the entry level of singing, right? Because singing isn’t just making noise with your throat and tongue. It’s also engaging with music in a rhythmic sense, in a tonal sense and with your memory. So we have other games that lead you into singing, learning lyrics, listening to the pitch of a song. And we’ll slowly build you up to singing the whole song in a karaoke style, and it goes through that progression.


If you are nervous about starting singing starts with rhythm, starts with things that don’t directly involve you using your voice, some silly warmups, some ways of learning the song first. And then eventually we build you up to the pitch game where you sing, call in response with one of our instructors. So you build up to it and each of these things is gamified in a similar way to the Wei bird jumping up and down, right? It’s built to be tactile, it’s built to keep you coming back. It’s built to be addictive. It pulls at that hook that exists in your brain that makes you want to do better and makes you want to succeed. So we’re effectively tricking people into being mindful.

Lindsay Guentzel (31:22):

Well, and I want to go back because in the video that I saw, which is why we’re sitting here, you mentioned the static mindfulness meditation game and I feel the same way. Put me in a quiet room. Let me dive into 20 years of repressed feelings about one thing that I haven’t thought about in 20 years, but I will go down that rabbit hole.

Joy Thurston (31:44):

Oh, absolutely. I have a long history with static meditation. And something that I learned, if you do have ADHD and you do want to persevere with static meditation, which there is a reason to want to do that. Something that I didn’t realize that I was getting wrong about it for so long was… You know at the beginning of a guided meditation someone tells you to relax? And I’ve always been like, “I am relaxed. What are you talking about?” And then one day I actually tried to physically relax my body and realize that I had 28 years of tension from my head to my feet.


Plagues me every night when I try and go to sleep and my legs vibrate and I can’t get to sleep for four hours. But it was the first time that it clicked that I’m not relaxing. The first part of guided meditation is the hardest part for me because I have to manually relax my whole body if I’m going to relax, which means I have to go through all of the knots, all of the tensions which hold my trauma. And when I feel the pain under my shoulder blade and try and relax that knot I to have the flashbacks that you’re talking about, I go to the dark places and it makes it super challenging. It’s not relaxing.

Lindsay Guentzel (32:55):

No, it’s not.

Joy Thurston (32:56):

It’s not mindful because you have to allow yourself to pass through that pain and through that trauma in order to get to a place where you are actually being mindful. So it’s still a massively challenge for me and I find it rewarding, but it’s not something I’m going to find rewarding if I do it every day. I can do start mindfulness meditation once or twice a week. It’s good for me to tackle my demons and to try and relax my body and to do the focused body meditation where I think about where the pain is, or I think about where the tension is in my body. That’s still a valuable practice for me, but it’s not the headspace is going to fix your life thing for me. For me that’s always been, I didn’t realize, but active meditation. For me, it’s always been singing, and using my voice or writing things, and engaging with mindfulness in a practice.

Lindsay Guentzel (33:53):

I’m curious to know if you guys have looked at all at when people should be doing this. Because I actually kind of, in my head I’m like, well it’d be really great to start the day because it’s energizing. And then in my head I’m like, ah, it’d actually be a great afternoon pick me up, or a lot of people with ADHD try and do time blocking or they do timers and there’s always that point where you’re like, “I have to transition to something else, but I need something to look forward to and what am I going to do?” And this sounds like a great re-energize your brain, the endorphins, all those good feelings. And I also feel like when I’m doing something where I’m getting feedback or someone’s helping me, there’s like this added boost.

Joy Thurston (34:34):

For sure. One of the things about costing a wide net and trying to build something that’s for everybody is that everyone’s got a different routine. We’re a relatively niche subsection of the human brain in people with ADHD. We’re still all different. Some of us are night owls. Some of us are morning people. Some of us like to work in 20 minute increments. Some of us like to work in hour long increments. Some of us like to not eat all day and work for 12 hours and then do the other. You know what I mean? We are different. And so we’re trying to make it condensed. We’re trying to make it easy to pick up, get a boost from and put down, and to fit into your routine because we are a great when structure is placed upon us.


And one of the great hacks to living life in a sustainable way as some with ADHD is learning how to put structure on yourself. And so part of this tool, and this applies to everyone, not just people with ADHD, but part of the design of this tool is so that people can use it flexibly. People can apply it to their own routine, and it can be picked up, put down, it can be played for hours or it can be used for 15 minutes on your lunch break or in your coffee break. You can sing a we song or you can do a little bit of rhythm training and you can build your own journey. But all of the feedback is there for you at whatever point you need it or want it.


I think that’s an important thing in design in general is being aware that people are different and people need support. People need positive reinforcement, but people don’t need you to tell them how to live their lives and what’s best for them and when they should be fitting things in. So we’ve tried to build a product in a way that’s led by people. So we’ve done loads and loads of interviews to ask about, when did you use the app? What did you think was most useful about it, how did you apply it? And everyone said something different. So let’s make it easy and flexible for people to use on a daily basis.

Lindsay Guentzel (36:20):

And I love that a part of your journey as someone with ADHD and where that has taken you is seeing all of that, and knowing how different everyone is.

Joy Thurston (36:31):

Yeah, for sure. I mean one of the things about being neurodiverse and undiagnosed as a child, and also trans right, is you are very othered. You are very different to the box that everyone is trying to make you fit in. As you get older, you realize so is everyone else, it was just less obvious. And so we are all in that horrible place where we feel desperately like we don’t fit in. The beautiful thing is we all fit in because we’re all absolute effing weirdo. Are we not? Are we not?

Lindsay Guentzel (37:02):

Yeah, we are.

Joy Thurston (37:03):

And there are some of us, like the community we’re speaking with at the moment who are a similar kind of weirdo, but even within that, as I was saying earlier, different weirdos. And so yeah, the journey of being trans, and the journey of having ADHD makes you ask hard questions that people who are less obviously weird don’t have to ask until they’re much older. So I had to really interrogate what the fuck was going on with me, in order to figure out that the reason I wanted to die was that I’m a woman and I wasn’t born in a way that’s comfortable for me.


But most people can go up their whole life without question asking the question, what is a woman? What is a man? What am I? But they’re really important questions. And I think the same thing is rings true of having ADHD. What is focus? What is a routine? How do I behave in a way that is positive for me? How do I reinforce positive routines within myself?


If you are failing hard at something, whether it is being the gender you were supposedly born as, or it’s organizing your life and remembering to pack lunch, the problem is obvious. And therefore you ask the question, what is causing this problem? Whereas if you are failing soft, things pile up. And so I think that’s one of the blessings that we have is that we were forced to ask those hard questions sooner rather than later in most cases.

Lindsay Guentzel (38:24):

In most cases, yes. I’m so sorry that you had to answer those questions so early.

Joy Thurston (38:30):

I’m really honestly really glad.

Lindsay Guentzel (38:32):


Joy Thurston (38:34):

People are often sorry about me being trans. I have nothing.

Lindsay Guentzel (38:36):

No, no, no, no. That’s not what I… I know. I know.

Joy Thurston (38:39):

I am messing with you.

Lindsay Guentzel (38:41):

It was more the, you said “I wanted to die.” And I think there’s something when you’re sitting in a room and it’s just you and another person. Another human being and those words come out of their mouth. There is this part of you that goes, I’ve never been there. And that to me is what a journey in that sense of that but it’s why you’re here.

Joy Thurston (38:58):

Yeah. For sure. I wouldn’t recommend suicidal thoughts.

Lindsay Guentzel (39:01):

Yes, exactly.

Joy Thurston (39:01):

That is definitely not something I can recommend. But the place that having suicidal thoughts got me to, I wouldn’t exchange it. I wouldn’t ever choose to live an easier life. I wouldn’t change the experience of being othered as a child and having tons of repressed memories, and having to piece my childhood back together and wanting to die as a young adult. I wouldn’t take any of that back because those questions are important and they’ve led me into being someone who I deeply, deeply love and respect.


And that’s the name of the game. If you can be someone that you deeply love and respect, you’re doing all right, where even if you’re broke and you can’t organize your day-to-day life in an easy fluid way and forget to eat sometimes. Those things, those negative things that come from the symptoms of my neurodiversity are less challenging because on a baseline I’ve asked the difficult questions and I’m in a comfortable spot with who I am and my sense of self and my identity.

Lindsay Guentzel (40:03):

Well, and I love that this entire conversation just goes back to this idea that the world was painted as one size fits all. And we are all realizing in so many ways, that’s not the case. And I love how you put it of when things aren’t working, what’s behind it? But what can you actually change moving forward?

Joy Thurston (40:28):

Exactly. How do I approach? What is the disease, not the symptom? Question one. And all right, do we have medicine for it? What’s the medicine? Is it going for a run? And I think this is what applies to people with ADHD, right? Have you ever read the book, Driven to Distraction?

Lindsay Guentzel (40:44):


Joy Thurston (40:45):

Fantastic book. If you’re listening to this podcast and you’re curious about whether or not you have ADHD and you are struggling to get a diagnosis for it because you can’t afford to or for whatever reason, go and read the book Driven to Distraction, it’s full of, first of all a comprehensive treatment of what ADHD actually is, what causes it, what the experience of it is. But also tons of direct case studies from a psychologist who worked in the field of ADHD for 30 years, compiling these case studies of different people that he worked with and their stories.


And there’s a few common threads that I’m sure a lot of people listening to this going to are going to recognize. One of them is the moment where you’re like, “Oh thank… There’s a name for that. There’s a reason that I… Wait, other people? There are other people. There are other people that do this.” That moment is so consistent through pretty much all of the case studies. He details the moment that he diagnoses these people.

Lindsay Guentzel (41:39):

Oh, it’s Ned Hallowell. I mean it’s Dr. Ned Hallowell that [inaudible 00:41:42].

Joy Thurston (41:42):

Thank you for capturing that because I have no idea.

Lindsay Guentzel (41:44):

Oh, I have to add it to my audible because I don’t read, I listen.

Joy Thurston (41:47):

Same. I actually have a degree, a master’s degree in English Literature and I can’t read books. All audible. If I really needed to focus, I would wear noise canceling headphones with the book and I’d read the book at the same time and that would mean I could bash through it. But that was the only way I could actually get my degree, was listening to books.

Lindsay Guentzel (42:07):

I want to ask about that because I know that when you were young you were misdiagnosed with dyslexia. And I actually hear that that’s a very common thing from people I’m talking to. So how have you, outside of what you just mentioned with the noise canceling headphones and holding the book in front of your face, how have you, I don’t want to say fixed, but what have been the workarounds for you?

Joy Thurston (42:28):

When I was young, I used to have ticks and I used to shut things and be a problematic child in the classroom. And so I used to like beatboxing. One of the things I did when I felt like, oh you should yell that because it’ll be hilarious. So you don’t think about it. Sometimes you just externalize thoughts. And I still do that now I’m a bit kinder to myself about externalizing my thoughts because I think a lot of funny.

Lindsay Guentzel (42:53):

I talk to myself in the grocery store all the time and there’s probably people who are like, “What is she doing?” And I’m like, “I’m getting my list out. Okay?”

Joy Thurston (43:01):

Better get my list out. But I started beatboxing and it meant though I slowly got good at beatboxing. But I think there’s the singing thing. If you feel uncomfortable about the fact that you do something that… You externalize a thought, you make a lot of noise, you occupy a lot of space, try finding something that’s a little bit less intrusive that people will might say, “Oh, that’s pretty cool.” And so that was something that I picked up. I realized that it was less annoying for people if I just went kind of briefly… Right? Just not even a whole bar.

Lindsay Guentzel (43:30):

Oh you can keep going. That was incredible.

Joy Thurston (43:35):

So when I hear the thought, I just beatbox the thought and I’m not saying it anymore. I’m just beatboxing for the lengths of a sentence. And it meant that I could work on a skill, dealing with the space that I was taking up in other people’s life, which isn’t necessarily a problem unless it makes you feel bad. And it was making me feel bad.

Lindsay Guentzel (43:56):

You were multitasking, which we love.

Joy Thurston (43:59):

Yeah, it’s great. Right? The only way for me to cope is to find games, find ways to improve. And because the fact that I was getting better at beatboxing made it easy for me to be like, “Well, I’ll just do that then.” So that I don’t yell inappropriate things at inappropriate times. I have a childhood memory coming back to me. So I’ve really struggled to sleep even to this day. And when I’ve been in relationships where I’ve shared a bed, I find it much easier because I can latch onto someone else’s routine. If I’ve got an external structure-

Lindsay Guentzel (44:34):

I’ve not heard sleep body doubling. But here we are.

Joy Thurston (44:37):

Yeah. Seriously, I was in a very, very pleasant relationship. A very positive relationship, which ended very well, which is a nice change. And throughout the course of that relationship, I was eating three meals a day and I was sleeping from 10:00 PM until 7:00 AM every night. Only time in my life where I’ve ever done either of those things, much less both of them together. And that was great. But generally, if I’m existing on my own, those are two massive problems for me. I struggle to remember to eat or to get past ADHD paralysis enough to feed myself. And I struggled to get to sleep at the end of the day.


And when I was a kid, my mom taught me this thing. I was crying. I was like, I can’t sleep. My legs, they’re full of electricity, they’re shaking, I can’t. And she came into my room and she was just like tense. She said this to me, “Tense your legs.” I was like, “What do you mean?” She was like “Squeeze all of your muscles so tight. Just keep doing it, keep doing it, keep doing it. Okay, now relax.” And that’s something I’ve done ever since then.


When I’m in bed and I’m getting the shakes and I’m full of unstoppable energy, doing deep clenches of my legs until it hurts and then relaxing. It’s like discharging the excessive energy. Right? That’s a massive workaround for me in terms of getting past that initial physically painful experience of trying to go to sleep. Do you have that? Do you struggle with sleep in that way?

Lindsay Guentzel (46:08):

I a thousand percent struggle with sleep. And I’m going back to my own childhood memory. I’m going to take you back to 1993. Mrs. Catec’s class at New Prague Elementary. I had a teacher in 1993 who we practice meditation weekly. Every Wednesday, middle of the afternoon.

Joy Thurston (46:24):

That’s fucking cool.

Lindsay Guentzel (46:25):

It was really cool. And she is awesome to this day. A huge cheerleader of mine. And she would turn the lights off, we would all lay down, we’d find a spot. And I remember it. We walked body part by body part and you clenched it, and let it go. And then you’d move on, and she’d walk us through a different meditation, where we were, what we were doing. And that was something that I did falling asleep. I haven’t done it as much recently, and I should get back to doing it.

Joy Thurston (46:53):

It’s genius.

Lindsay Guentzel (46:54):

It is genius. Mrs. Catec, shout out. Your mother, shout out.

Joy Thurston (46:58):

Yeah. Shout out to my mom. She’s a legend. Sally.

Lindsay Guentzel (47:01):


Joy Thurston (47:01):


Lindsay Guentzel (47:01):

That’s a great name. That’s a great mom name.

Joy Thurston (47:03):

Mega babe. Mega babe. If you’re listening, mom, I love you. Thank you for all that you’ve done for me.

Lindsay Guentzel (47:09):

We’ll make sure that she hears that.

Joy Thurston (47:11):

But just that section though because I’m swearing. She won’t like that.

Lindsay Guentzel (47:13):

I know. My mom’s the same way. I want to talk Techstars because the whole point of me wanting to talk to you about Biiah and the app behind it is you guys need support. I know a little bit about Techstars from my involvement with Midwest House over in Grand Rapids, Michigan and some of the incredible stuff that they’re doing there. You are involved one with Minnesota Twins. Tell me a little bit about what this incubator is and what the Kickstarter is and how people can get involved if they’re listening to this and are like, this is really incredible. I want to get it off the ground.

Joy Thurston (47:51):

Sure. So first of all, I’ll explain Techstars, and why it has to do with the Twins. So the Twins are owned by the Pohlad family and they’re really interested in leading the charge on innovation in baseball. And because baseball is a changing game because it’s a game of the 20th century really. And the 21st century is very, very different. And so baseball needs to change if it’s going to remain relevant.


And so part of the reason that the Twins are driving tech innovation globally is so that they can innovate baseball and they can innovate the way that people engage with sports. And so as part of that drive to lead innovation in the MLB, they establish a program as part of the Twins, which invites 10 or so startups from around the world, entrepreneurs and their teams with interesting ideas that are adjacent to sports and entertainment them, in order to invest in them with knowledge.


So everybody on the program is put into a massive shared office together. So 10 small companies working together, connecting you with the right people, connecting you with mentors, connecting you with the ecosystem, the surprisingly huge tech ecosystem in Minnesota. What’s that about? I had no idea.

Lindsay Guentzel (49:08):

I just admitted that I get overwhelmed when I have new apps on my phone. So you are asking the wrong person.

Joy Thurston (49:15):

There’s a crazy amount of awesome young companies in Minnesota, which I’m not going to lie to you, no offense to…

Lindsay Guentzel (49:24):

I know where you’re going. [inaudible 00:49:25] say it. When someone was like, “Hey, I’m coming to Minneapolis-”

Joy Thurston (49:27):

I was like-

Lindsay Guentzel (49:28):

…it wasn’t the top of your list.

Joy Thurston (49:30):

Why? Where? Why? Who? The Twins? What is that? Why that cold, dark place? But there is so much innovation here and maybe it’s got something to do with the fact that all of the winter you have to be indoors. So the programming in that way, investing companies in terms of knowledge by connecting with a huge ecosystem of mentors, why we are running a Kickstarter is a separate thing. We are really, really keen to get this product in front of people because we think it’s a powerful, powerful tool and will directly affect a lot of people’s lives.


So we were sitting having a meeting, what are we going to do? How are we to start to navigate this problem that you need a lot of upfront investment to finish building this app? And we were like, well let’s just see if people want it. Let’s just take it to the masses and say, here it is. Here we have this thing. It’s a proof of concept stage. If you want it, buy it, back it. We’ll finish making it and you can have it. And so that’s what drove in or informed the decision to set up a Kickstarter, to get that direct backing from the people that we want to the product to anyway.


And that’s really why we need support because we’re coming straight to you folks. We want you to be our early adopters and help us make this product a reality, a toolkit to make you sing on a daily basis and make it easy to be mindful, is something that I wish I had. Because even as a professional musician, I only rehearse with my band. I wish I rehearsed on my own. I just don’t do it. I need the positive feedback loop. I need the people in my band to be like, that was great.


For some reason still, it doesn’t matter how much I’ve learned, I can’t give myself that. And so this tool to me really cuts to the core of me as wouldn’t it be great if you had that? And that brings it back to why am I even working at Biiah in the first place? Why did I stop working on my music and leave my dog at home for three months? And it’s because I want this thing to be a reality and I want to be able to share this powerful idea with the people that struggle I do.

Lindsay Guentzel (51:43):

Joy, it has been such a pleasure and I am already in my head thinking of a long list of people that I’m going to get this conversation in front of. And I have so many more questions.

Joy Thurston (51:54):

We’ll have to do round two.

Lindsay Guentzel (51:56):


Joy Thurston (51:56):

I’ve had so much fun.

Lindsay Guentzel (51:56):

Yes. This was very fun.

Joy Thurston (51:57):

Yeah, we can like… I’m here for work, but I’ll come for pleasure.

Lindsay Guentzel (52:01):

I love it. I love it.

Joy Thurston (52:02):

Let’s have another conversation because at one point you tried to bring us back to my childhood and we didn’t quite get there, but I’d be happy to break it down in more detail because I think it’s important to share our experiences, well as a trans person, but also as someone who is neurodivergent, right? Someone who is… I can’t believe I’m speaking into a microphone and a bunch of other ADHD people are listening. It’s the most exciting thing to me in the world. Hello everyone. Hi. Hi mom. Hi family. All of you. Can I do a thing? Can I say?

Lindsay Guentzel (52:37):

Oh gosh, yeah.

Joy Thurston (52:38):

Can I just say to all of you people who are listening, you can do it. You can stop staring at your phone, you can do the dishes, you can go to sleep, you can live a successful life. I’ve had points in my existence where I was like, I’m never going to get the hang of this. And now, as someone who really, really struggled with a lot of things, I have a job that fits around my life. I have a huge adopted family of loved ones. I have a strong relationship with my blood family.


I have gone through therapy, and I am an example of somebody who nearly didn’t make it, that managed to get through, squeak through and find the opportunities that made sense for me. And one of the cruelest things about bad mental health and struggling with the way your brain works is that you start looking down, you’re blinkered, right? You aren’t looking up. And when you find your stride and when you are feeling good, you’re looking up and you realize that life is literally made out of opportunity.


And the cruel poetry is that when you’re not looking, it’s not that the opportunities aren’t there, they’re still there. All of the serendipity and all of the positive stuff is still flying around your head, but you are just not looking at it. So in those moments where you are full of doubt and you feel like shit, and you can’t go on, remember that you are bathed in opportunity at all times, and all it takes is to just look up.

Lindsay Guentzel (54:20):

I don’t even know how I can say anything after that. I mean, that was curtain call. It was beautiful.

Joy Thurston (54:27):

Roll credits.

Lindsay Guentzel (54:32):

Now remember, you still have until the morning of January 11th to throw your support behind Joy Thurston and her teammates as they work to make Biiah accessible to as many people who need it as possible. You can find the link to their Kickstarter campaign in our show notes, as well as on social media. Refocused with Lindsay Guentzel is a collaboration between me, Lindsay Guentzel and ADHD Online, a telemedicine mental healthcare leader offering affordable and accessible ADHD assessments, medication management, and teletherapy.


You can find no more about the great work they’re doing by visiting adhdonline.com. Our show’s music was created by Louis Inglis, a songwriter and composer based out of Perth, Australia, who is diagnosed with ADHD in 2020 at the age of 39. To work with Louie, you can find his email as well as links to his work shared in the show notes. To connect with the show or with me, you can find us online, @refocusedpod, as well as @lindseyguentzel. You can also email us directly at podcast@adhdonline com.

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