Salif Mahamane and the Power of Self-Compassion

Salif Mahamane’s early struggles with chronic procrastination and difficulty concentrating as a child eventually led to his ADHD diagnosis at the age of 28, during his Ph.D. program in experimental and applied psychological science at Utah State University. Despite grappling with the challenges of ADHD, Salif discovered the concept of hyperfocus, which enabled him to delve deeply into his areas of interest.

Following the urging of his wife, a mental health therapist, Salif sought professional help, leading to a definitive diagnosis and a newfound understanding of why he had faced various academic and cognitive hurdles throughout his education. Motivated by his personal journey, Salif became an advocate for neurodiversity, sharing his experiences and insights in his widely viewed TEDx Talk titled “ADHD Sucks, But Not Really.”

Listen in to hear more about Salif’s ADHD journey, how he uses time alone in nature to manage the busyness of his brain and how building up the compassion he shows himself has been critical in his journey. 

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! 

Connect with Salif on Instagram @thedreadedfly

WATCH: Salif’s TEDx Talk, “ADHD Sucks, But Not Really”

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Salif Mahamane (00:00):

The nature of it and where it actually comes from if given space to be itself can be a superpower in a lot of ways. And people always use that term like ADHD superpowers because there are things that you are good at that most of the world, or at least the neurotypical world isn’t necessarily as good at.

Lindsay Guentzel  (00:25):

You are listening to Refocused, Together and this is episode 22, Salif Mahamane and the Power of Self-Compassion. Welcome back to Refocused, a podcast all about ADHD. I’m your host, Lindsay Guentzel, and we are in the home stretch of Refocused, Together 2023. Refocused, Together is the special project we started last year as a part of our commitment to ADHD Awareness Month. It became very clear to us early on after we started Refocused, the power of connection. When we share stories, we find the perspective ideas and tips that help us live our best lives which is why this series is so important to us.


We created Refocused, Together as a way to raise awareness of just how complex ADHD is and the different ways it shows up in people’s lives. You just heard today’s guest, Salif Mahamane. Salif struggled with chronic procrastination and a wandering mind as a kid. He would often lose things, forget what he was doing in the moment, and would need to reread things a handful of times before his mind could actually concentrate on what he was reading.


Still, he could spend hours on the things he was interested in learning many years later what hyper focus was and how it was a feature of ADHD. Salif didn’t receive an ADHD diagnosis until he was 28 an in a PhD program in experimental and applied psychological science at Utah State University. His wife is a mental health therapist who professionally helps people with ADHD and she suggested that he talk to someone about it.


Initially resistant to the idea, he went to his first appointment when grad school started to feel all uphill. Salif’s therapist was certain of his ADHD and diagnostic tests confirmed everything. It left him wondering why he hadn’t been diagnosed earlier and how he had gotten through his education to that point without any accommodations. Salif’s personal journey inspired him to share his story and help others navigate ADHD.


His TEDx Talk, ADHD sucks, but not really has garnered over 2 million views and he’s become an advocate for neurodiversity. Salif is currently an associate professor of psychology at Western Colorado University and is an accomplished expert in the fields of cognitive science and environmental psychology. He’s dedicated his career to studying how people’s environments affect their thoughts, emotions, and actions. Salif also loves spending time with his family and is an avid outdoorsman who enjoys fly fishing, hunting and river tripping.


His Instagram @thedreadedfly centers around getting outdoors. Let’s hear more from Salif about his ADHD experience, how he uses time alone in nature to manage the busyness of his brain and how building up the compassion he shows himself has been critical in his journey. And with that, let’s meet our next guest for Refocused, Together 2023 Salif Mahamane.


We get all of these Refocused, Together interviews started in the same way, and that’s by asking our guests when were you diagnosed and what was that process like? And what sparked those initial conversations for you?

Salif Mahamane (04:02):

I was diagnosed when I was 28 years old. I was in my PhD program for cognitive psychology, cognitive science, and I’ve always struggled with procrastination, doing things when I’m supposed to be doing them versus at the last minute or at weird times, and that makes life pretty chaotic. By that point, I had a child. I was living with my wife. We weren’t married yet, but we were a family with my child. And so that family life complicates things. You’re not just single where you can create all your own problems, but now you’re creating consequences for others.


So my wife talked to me, she’s actually a mental health therapist herself, and she was talking to me about how she thought I might have ADHD, but obviously you’re not supposed to work on your own family. So she was urging me, even begging me to go talk to someone else and get some type of an assessment or just kind of a diagnostic… They have these diagnostic questionnaires. Initially, I was very resistant and offended that she would tell me I had something like that, but I did eventually go talk to someone and took those kind of diagnostic measures and definitely scored really high on having ADHD inattentive type rather than hyperactive or combined.


And that just kind of translated. So then I got diagnosed and that was a very defining moment because if you have ADHD, you’ve had it your whole life. The only times where you don’t have is sometimes a trauma event or brain injury. We’ll start presenting as some of those kind of cognitive or some of the same symptoms like we look at executive functioning, attention, that type of stuff. But if it’s happened following a major event in life, then it’s not the same. It’s not ADHD in the classical sense of it’s a neurodevelopmental condition.


So typically you have it your whole life. And so even though I got diagnosed when I was 28, it started making a lot of things from my past make a lot more sense. And so it was like, “Oh, this is why I could never find things that were right in front of me.” And my mom used to get frustrated by that, or I’ve always procrastinated no matter how bad the consequences were after something like that. Like an all-nighter or two and my body crashing afterwards turning something in, that’s probably not my best work. That type of thing.


Those experiences never changed my behavior. So usually in a neurotypical person you would see that behavior like negative outcomes following a behavior tend to decrease the rate of that behavior. So a neurotypical person would usually procrastinate, have a really awful experience and then is less likely to procrastinate in the future. In the case of somebody with a neurodevelopmental or with some type of neurodivergence, those characteristics of that neurotype don’t go away just from negative experiences.


So I had always been like that and that started to make sense and I don’t know. That was kind of, I guess, the diagnostic process anyway. I’m getting into other stuff now.

Lindsay Guentzel  (07:36):

How long ago was this?

Salif Mahamane (07:38):

So that was about nine years ago. I’m 37 now, so that would’ve been about nine years ago.

Lindsay Guentzel  (07:45):

Just in the first question, you were able to connect so much science and psychology back and I’m assuming that where you were in your PhD program probably helped prepare you a little bit for this big life-changing diagnosis. But as you said, it was life-changing. What were some of the biggest things you noticed following this file folder that gets set down on your desk that has so many answers in it and then you’re left to put the puzzle pieces together?

Salif Mahamane (08:17):

It gives you a lot of answers. It helps you understand yourself in some ways, not perfectly. It’s still been a struggle, but in some ways it helps you feel like you personalize it less because before that, these are just things that people call character flaws. So like, “Oh, you’re lazy or you’re disorganized. You have poor time management. You’re apathetic. You don’t care enough about your goals or things like that.” And so those types of ideas coming from other people until the point where they start coming from yourself, those types of ideas are really harmful and they get really negative. It’s easy to get depressed and things like that.


So getting a diagnosis wasn’t just this magical thing where it all went away, but it helps you not internalize it as much know that this is a thing that millions of people have that has some strategies for how to navigate those challenges. That part was really helpful. Interestingly, cognitive science, even within the broader field in psychology is specifically the study of thought processes like attention and memory, executive function, decision-making, working memory and things like that.


So ADHD, most of it’s key symptoms are in the realm of what I was learning and studying. So that was serendipitous, but my research wasn’t specifically on ADHD or the ADHD population itself, but it was really easy to read the literature and learn about it because I had an understanding of the attention. And like I said, executive functioning, working memory, things like that. And so that was also in some ways a privilege because most people don’t have that training and experience and academic knowledge about the thing that they’re also personally diagnosed with. So that in a sense was a privilege to be able to understand it like that.

Lindsay Guentzel  (10:37):

I like that you used the word serendipitous because I have to imagine there have been points over the last nine years where you’ve thought about the fact that you went into something that is so intertwined with this major thing in your life. What are the odds that you were headed down that path prior to even receiving the diagnosis?

Salif Mahamane (10:58):

So interestingly, when I was an undergraduate student, I got the, again, a really fortunate opportunity to work with a professor on some research that had to do with the effects of natural environments on human experiences, human states of mind. So feeling humble was where we started, but reading about those nature effects on psychology led me to this particular theory that was originally published in, I believe, 1989, called Attention Restoration Theory, and that is the theory that particular types of environments are best for helping us focus and pay attention.


And specifically natural environments tend to have most of the characteristics that facilitate that. So I was very into environmental psychology. That’s actually how I got into cognitive science. I was avoidant of my cognitive science class. I dropped it and didn’t take it because it was too scary and I thought it was too hard and I wouldn’t get it in undergrad, but then started working in that area in grad school because of this attention and nature connection.


So I very loved the outdoors and I was starting to study how nature connected with attention and get into that, and that’s kind of how I ended up becoming a cognitive scientist. And then learning I had ADHD, and so that was all very, I don’t know, serendipitous and interesting and weird that it all connected like that. And in some ways it might not have been pure coincidence. Those traits of mine probably led me towards some of the activities I really liked to do.


ADHD is a very diverse array of activities, very dynamic things that are constantly changing and interesting like fishing and that puts me in the outdoors. And then I learned that the outdoors are good for helping people focus. And so that was all very, I don’t know, serendipitous in that way. And they’d come to learn I had ADHD. So I was starting to put all those things together and talking about that is actually what led to my opportunity to do the TEDx Talk.

Lindsay Guentzel  (13:22):

I want to talk about that for sure, but I want to go back for a second. So nine years ago you’re diagnosed. I’m wondering what you changed or what workarounds you started to put into place. Then, if you wouldn’t mind even fast forwarding to today, what you do day to day to make ADHD work for you and make it work against you less?

Salif Mahamane (13:44):

Yeah. That’s a tough question. The thing is, I didn’t figure out anything magical. If I had, I’d be very rich right now. For me, the path was more about self-compassion. So there are a lot of things that I still do. I haven’t figured out the hacks so much. There are little things like I use my phone religiously for alarms. I used to always get told by people even after I got diagnosed and was in therapy at times and stuff like, “Oh, do you use a planner? If you get a planner, write everything down.”


But you have to remember to check your planner. So I have a stack of planners from throughout my life that only have writing on the first page and are otherwise empty because you put them away in a backpack, you put them in your desk drawer, and you forget they exist. So when smartphones came out and you’re able to set alarms and it yells at you, and you don’t have to remember to check it, that was game changing for me. Set alarms for things you think are ridiculous to set them for like, “Call mom, take out trash. Don’t forget the broccoli.” Because I’ll always make a meal and forget to make the side, and my wife is like, “We’re supposed to make the broccoli.” I’m like, “Oh.”


So all these little alarm things, it’s like just use it. That was one. On the self-compassion piece though, going back to where I tried to stop and was able to begin the process of stopping, internalizing these things. I’m a bad person, I just have bad traits. I’m lazy. All that narrative, having the diagnosis helped me, and so that’s at least helped me with some of the negativity that comes around it and beating yourself up because people are constantly telling you, you’re bad for all these reasons.


So that helped with that and it also helped me play to the strengths a little bit in a way that helped to balance that out. So it’s like you asked how has ADHD worked for me or how have I made it work for me. I’m like, for example, at my job as a professor, I’m perpetually behind on some of the more rote like administrative work grading or turning in reports or forms or things like that. But in the classroom, my class is always dynamic. We’re always going into all these different directions and conversations.


I take a lot of tangents as expected, but I lean into them because they usually come from an example of something I’m trying to teach and then lead all these ways and the students get really interested and stuff like that. So I enjoy that part of me. There are some teachers that are very organized, but their class might be kind of boring and students. There’s a trade off. So it’s like no one is good at everything, so just be happy about the things I am good at.


I also started working broadening my perspective of what counts as work. Perfect example was the TEDx Talk where I semi-auditioned for it and was told about five months before the event, “Yes, you’re accepted and we’re going to work with you.” And I was really excited. And so then I start on that path of preparing for it. But the procrastination in me, I was always like, “I need to just stop, sit down and write this thing out, a script, write what I want to say.”


But I didn’t write anything on paper until about two, two and a half weeks before the talk. I didn’t write anything down and I was terrified. I’m like, “It’s in two weeks and I haven’t done anything.” So I write out everything I want to say. And what I realized was that I had been thinking about what I want to say for months, for that whole five months. I used to ride the bus to work or to school. So I’d think on the bus ride I’d be walking and thinking anytime I had any moments to myself, I’d be playing with lines or things I’d want to say.


And then by the time I did finally start writing it down two and a half weeks prior, I just had this whole thing. I wrote all these things I’d been thinking for months. I wrote them all down and then it was like, “Okay. Now, I need to memorize this.” I’m like, “I have two weeks to memorize all this stuff.” And within one or two run throughs, I could say it from memory because I’d actually been rehearsing it for five months, not for just two weeks. But most people think like you’re not working on it. If you haven’t written it down, if you haven’t sat down and planned and if you haven’t gone through this process of memorizing, the original version was like 33 minutes long and they were like, “This is supposed to only be nine minutes. I got it to about 13.” And they were like, “Okay, that’s fine because they liked it.”


But that experience taught me that… Everyone says I’m lazy because I’m procrastinating. I’m actually working, I just don’t work the same way. Realizing that consciously took me back to when I wasn’t an undergraduate student in college, and I remember a shift around my junior year where I just stopped taking notes and just started listening to the professor and just an audience member like you would listen to a talk. I would listen to their lecture like that and I started remembering way more because that was engaging my attention where if I was taking notes, my hand was making the movements and copying what was on the screen or some parts of what they said, but I would be a million miles away.


I wasn’t thinking about any of it, so I wasn’t actually learning it. And so again, working differently worked for me and leaning into how your brain does work versus fighting against it all the time when you know it doesn’t work the way other people’s do. It’s like you’re just working against yourself. So that was kind of the process. Not any specific little management things except for using my phone for a lot of alarms, always stopping now for my Google calendar.


If there’s an appointment or something, put it in right when you learn about it. Don’t try to go back and do it. Things like that. People often say anything that takes two minutes or less, just do it then. Don’t be like, “I’m going to do this later, you’ll never get back to it.” Those are a few little things, but for me, the big thing was working on self-compassion and learning that I work differently. And to count that as legitimate work and not discredit myself for it.

Lindsay Guentzel  (20:37):

The title of your TEDx Talk is ADHD sucks, but not really. And I’m wondering if you can dive into what you were thinking about when you put that title together and how it fits into your life.

Salif Mahamane (20:50):

So when I was putting the title together, it was after I wrote that stuff down. So I didn’t have very long. I had a weaker reach and a half and they needed a title. They were like, “Bro, we need your title.” It was somewhere around there. And so it just came to me and it was just very, very straightforward about what I was talking about, but still in a way that I liked. I just liked that straight, simple, but capturing like it sucks, but not really because that’s like, I don’t know. And I think at that time, but not really was kind of a soundbite that was around on social media and stuff like that.


So anyway, it was the experience of it can be really hard even to the point of depression, even suicidal thinking, stuff like that. But the nature of it and where it actually comes from if given space to be itself can be a superpower in a lot of ways. And people always use that term like ADHD superpowers because there are things that you are good at that most of the world or at least the neurotypical world isn’t necessarily as good at. Maybe on average. And those were some of the things that I listed in that segment of the talk was just like, “I’m good at all these things because of this, not in spite of it but because of it.”


So I think that was what that juxtaposition and the title of it sucks, but actually not really. The “but not really” part kind of is a signifier, a shout-out to people telling you it sucks. Society is saying it’s a disorder and characterizing it that. Even though you know it’s not inherently you have a bad character, because it is a diagnosis. Even the word disorder is still very stigmatizing and we know that it has a large genetic component and a lot of those traits, theoretically were adaptive for humans that it might not essentially be a disorder.


It can actually be something positive. But in this context of our modern industrialized world, it presents challenges and thus fits that technical definition of what a disorder is. It causes challenges in everyday life to the point of distress of the person, and that’s the definition of a disorder. So the term comes from that, but I think the “but not really” is also part of just calling out society for saying something one way when it’s really not or really has all these other things to it.

Lindsay Guentzel  (23:33):

I love what you said there about how ADHD can be wonderful when given the space and I think everything you touched on with how society reacts to people who have ADHD or people who make mistakes or forget things and the shame and just the anger that can be pushed on a person because of that. I’m wondering, when you look at life right now and the spaces that you have created for yourself, where do you see yourself thriving when it comes to your ADHD?

Salif Mahamane (24:07):

It’s interesting because this is a symbiotic cycle, but it’s like the ability to be really creative as a problem solver is really helpful as you create problems. And so it’s in that sense, it’s kind of like the balance there, a natural balance. So I’m constantly having to think on my toes and respond quickly and creatively to novel situations, which is one of the skills of someone with ADHD is that novelty, fast thinking and creative problem solving. That’s been one of the skills.


Interestingly, certain types of resilience, which is again cyclical in the sense that you need to be resilient to some of the stressors, some of the criticism from other people, some of the situations that you find yourself in that you’ve created and being able to quickly move on even emotionally. So that resilience piece is pretty big where you just need to move on from things quickly. Sometimes if I get in an argument with my wife, she’ll be still upset about it like hours later the next day.


This doesn’t help that situation, but sometimes I’ll forget it even happened. I’ll be like, “Oh, I forgot about that.” But that’s part of that resilience is that you’re more in the moment, new things come along and you just move along with those and so you don’t hang on to that as quickly. Sometimes those experiences are really bad and when you’re in it, it’s really bad, but that kind of sleep on it or go do something else as long as I get away from that situation and do something else, I’ll be better.


So anyway, that resilience. I mentioned the creativity. Boom, I’m trying to remember some of the other ones I said way back then. Those are two of the big ones I think that have really helped from getting into some of the knowledge around creativity. It involves two types of thinking. One is called divergent thinking, which is when your brain takes a situation and comes up with all the possibilities of things that you could do in that situation, what you can do with different objects or tools you have with a problem that you’re faced with.


Just coming up with all types of possibilities. That’s called divergent thinking because you start with a problem and your mind can go in all these different ways to just generate possibilities. Then convergent thinking is kind of the opposite, but works hand in hand with it where you come up with all these possibilities and then you start ruling things out, ruling them out to arrive at the best solution in what you’re going to do. So ADHD is really good at divergent thinking.


You can just generate possibilities. There’s all these different ways that you see how things in the world connect that might not be as noticeable or come as naturally to other people. And then sometimes that convergent thinking can be a little rocky and not such a straight process, but it does help you come up with those possibilities and ultimately arrive at something that’s a good course of action. If you’re in a group setting working on a team, then you provide that divergent thinking to the team and then through conversation other people help with that conversion thinking like, “Okay, what are we going to do going forward as a group?”


So that’s one of my favorite parts about it and that’s part of where I end up with a lot of ideas where I start something and don’t finish it because the divergent thinking process is very exciting for me by coming up with a new research idea, a new research project, a new hobby I want to try or activity or whatever that is. I come up with that and I’m like, “Ooh, I want to do that.” But then some of the work that goes into it, especially when you start doing that project, you get into some of the more routine or rote things, just like entering and managing data or sitting down to write and things like that.


That’s where for me, I’m like, “Oh, but the fun part, I came up with the project. We got the data. It was interesting.” Doing the results and looking at the stats is really interesting too, but then it’s kind of like, “Okay.” And it’s like, “Well, no, we need to finish the process, but the next novel interesting project is already coming to mind for me.” So I like that beginning of everything, but the end parts are kind of boring or the practice and the work and that type of stuff. And so then that’s where that part of that procrastination comes is sometimes I lose steam for things that I’ve started.

Lindsay Guentzel  (28:43):

I have to say, this was the funniest answer I have had yet to acknowledge that you are a great problem solver because you create problems that you then have to solve. And my goodness if that isn’t, so many of us. I mean that is very much me. I could list off a lot of problems that I very creatively solved, but they were also problems that I created for myself.

Salif Mahamane (29:07):

Which is also creative, literally. I create problems creatively. I create problems in ways no one else does.

Lindsay Guentzel  (29:16):

Absolutely. I love it. I love it. Sometimes it is just so important to have a good mindset about it and I love, you go back to the self-compassion, which I think is something that is so hard for human beings in general, but especially for people who have spent so much of their life being told that the way they do things is wrong and that they don’t fit in, and that they are not the right type of person for whatever the situation is. And it can be a lot. It’s a lot to carry around.


When you look to the future with everything you’ve got going on and all of the incredible stuff that you’ve done so far, what is really exciting for you? What’s pushing you forward?

Salif Mahamane (29:57):

I like my research. I have some upcoming research ideas just about testing different types of natural environments and actually starting to do that with an ADHD sample and studying some of the things I’ve studied on just the general population with attention and nature, and starting to do that with ADHD. So that’s something I’m excited about. I would actually like to do a little bit more outreach about it. I do things here and there. Usually things where after watching the talk or something, people will approach me similar to this and I’d like to be a little bit more deliberate and offer that and put that out there, especially with like, I don’t know, groups or going into schools and helping staff administration teachers get a better sense of the reality of it and what their lived experience might be versus some of the textbook things about ADHD.


The DSM actually leaves a lot of things that are the actual experiences of it out. So I’d like to do that. Maybe more talks. My wife and I have talked about giving presentations, offering workshops or things like that as a couple and be like, “What is it like to be a couple where one person has ADHD?” And also from the interesting perspective of both being different types of professionals in psychology also. So she works with a ton of clients with ADHD and can help them from her own experience and my experience, but also with her clinical training.


Like I say, I have more academic knowledge of these things, but also the lived experience as a person. So with all of those things combined, we’ve thought about getting out there a little more, maybe doing some workshops, talks, things like that. I’ve always wanted, and again, this is a lot of the things where I had this idea that’s really exciting, but the actual work of it hasn’t happened yet, but I’ve always wanted to write a children’s book from the perspective of a child with ADHD and what some of my experiences were growing up and that type of thing. And just to kind of that. And even so some intersections of that with other types of characteristics of a person like their ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, people getting diagnosed with ADHD much older than I was, have a set of unique experiences at that age range as well. So I don’t know. Those are the types of things that I’m wanting to get more involved in and looking forward to.

Lindsay Guentzel  (32:33):

I love that they all sound fantastic and I think what a better way to take your expertise than to really encourage people to embrace nature because there are so many studies that show people with ADHD thrive in those situations. I know from me personally, every time that I am away from the city and it is quiet or I’m on a long hike and you can just be in your brain and there’s nothing else adding into it, “Oh my goodness, the sky is the limit.”

Salif Mahamane (33:04):

There’s actually… I’m not great at the term. I don’t know a ton about mindfulness meditation and that type of stuff, but I think there’s a term called active mindfulness where it’s like you’re not simply just completely quieting your mind in a traditional mindful meditation, for example. So fly fishing, which we were chatting about a little bit, I think it was before the interview, but that is an activity, and one of the reasons I love it so much is because when I am fishing and fly fishing, which takes so much focus and attention on just that activity, I don’t think about anything else.


So all stressors, all problems, all of that stuff is completely out of my mind when I’m standing in a river trying to make my fly land at that exact spot where I know if I make it land at that exact spot, a fish is going to bite it and then it works. That is one of the best feelings in the world. It’s like if I can just hit that right in front of that rock, [inaudible 00:34:08] just right by it and then boom, and it works, nothing else is in my mind. And there’ll be some days where I just am in an awful place, just absolutely dysregulated, depressed, upset, and I’ll be like, “I need to go fishing.”


I’ll go from one to four in the afternoon, one to five. And during that entire time I completely forget any of that’s happening, kind of that resilience piece where it’s like, “Oh, it’s out of mind.” And then as I come back, I start remembering things like, “Oh yeah, that paper, that email, whatever.” So it’s an active task, but it’s very mindful in the sense of like, “You are in that moment. You’re not worried about the past or the future or anything. You’re just in the present.” And that is just… Yeah.


And so that’s something that I really encourage dynamic activities because when you’re completely quiet as someone with ADHD… I think mindfulness meditation is good and the research has shown it can help with ADHD, but it’s really hard to really empty your mind that way. And I just love things that just put me in a moment like fishing or anything else where there’s some type of task at hand, but especially in nature.

Lindsay Guentzel  (35:22):

I’m curious, at the time you auditioned for the TEDx Talk and then finding out that you had been selected, did you ever have any hesitation about sharing your story publicly?

Salif Mahamane (35:32):

No. Which is funny because I maybe should have. I was like after the talk and it was recorded and all of that, I was like, so every employer I ever apply to now is going to know that I have no privacy about this. I have no clinical privacy. Usually your medical information is private and you don’t have to disclose it to potential employers and all that stuff. And it wasn’t because of just that energy and the impulse like, “Oh my God, I get to do this.” I was so excited and then I did it, and then it was put up on YouTube and all of that stuff. It’s like, “Wait, I have no control over this information.”


But again, that’s part of like, I’m not that upset about that. I just thought I laughed at myself and thinking like, “Oh, I maybe should have been a little more conscientious about that.” But really it’s been good because I like it as a self-advocacy and as an advocacy for other people because then it’s like they could pair that with what my CV or resume looks like on paper, and that helps with some of that de-stigmatization as well.


And it allows me to self-advocate because I can say, “Look, these are the things I’m good at. These are where I struggle. You can see some of my past products and successes and things like that. And if you don’t like it, farewell or whatever. The best to you and we can go our separate ways.” So it’s actually been really liberating in a sense that I don’t have that privacy because then I don’t have to make that decision all the time. Every job interview, every whatever, because it is not just job interviews, it’s like all these things where you talk to people.


I don’t have to think, I don’t have to make that choice hundreds of times. I made it. It’s out there. I can’t control that anymore, so it’s a given. And that’s another thing I really like about ADHD is just the ability to let go for some reason. I don’t think that might be in everybody because there’s some comorbidity with anxiety and things like that. For me, it’s been helpful to be able to just like the things I can’t control. It’s like, “All right. How do I work around them? What do I do? Let them go and things like that.”


So when I’ve done something like that’s out there, anybody in the world can find it, look at it. If I am an applicant for something and you search my name, I don’t have a very common name, especially in the western world, and so that’s going to come up/ and so it’s out there so I don’t have to worry about it because it’s already said and done. But that was funny. When I first got it, I was just excited and I don’t think I really considered that or putting myself out there so much. And it was relatively shortly, maybe a little over a year after I was diagnosed, and so I was still very into learning and learning more about it, relearning who I am with that new information.


So it was at a time in my life where it was helpful to have a space to share and express myself and show myself in terms of how I’m feeling about that. And so it was because I was really excited. It was kind of the thing I was doing was figuring all of that out. It was really good timing in the sense of like I get to just put it out there versus later on I might’ve been a little more reserved.

Lindsay Guentzel  (39:12):

I wrap by asking everyone the same question, which is, when you think about what the general population knows and understands about ADHD, what is something that you wish they spent a little bit more time diving into to understand better?

Salif Mahamane (39:27):

What our everyday life is like and how things happen, especially when you get frustrated with us, I think that’s a big one for me because I’m one of those people who likes to explain how something happened or why I did something because I feel like context matters behind a given behavior or something like that. So what I would say is I wish they would listen more and have a little bit more flexibility or imagination about how things happen because I met some people who are like, “Yeah, I really don’t care about the explanation.” This thing is still a problem or it’s hard to live with or it’s difficult. I don’t care so much about why you did that as much as I need you to not do that or fix it,” which is really hard for me because to some degree it’s not something I can fix.


I can try to hack little things and try to work on different habits, but my mind is going to work that way. My nervous system is wired differently and will work differently. And so trying to fundamentally change me isn’t going to happen. Whether someone’s on meds or not or whatever they’re doing, you’re not just going to completely change that about them. So really for me, it’s like people listening and having… Even if I have self-compassion, I’d love to see more compassion from the world. Earlier I mentioned that the DSM, which is the diagnostic manual in Psychology for all disorders, it leaves a lot of things out.


Usually, it’s what people hear those things like if you ask them, “Do you do this, this, and this, and none of those things are really represented in the DSM. They’re like, “Yeah, oh.” And that’s when they’re like, I should probably go get tested or something like that. I feel like that’s in some ways like some misinformation. And again, had I known some of those things, I would’ve probably figured that out earlier for myself. So that’s what I hope more psychoeducation, maybe an updating of that manual and just more compassion from the world and willingness to be patient and accepting and interested in learning how we got to a certain situation or an idea or something like that.

Lindsay Guentzel  (41:45):

I agree with you wholeheartedly on everything, especially the stuff with the DSM. It’s so hard because there is just a disconnect. There’s a massive disconnect between those nine things that are set in stone there and then the way it actually shows up in life and how people understand it. This was so wonderful. I appreciate your time so much. I’m so excited to see what’s next for you. I can’t wait to dive more into nature. The attention restoration theory fascinates me.


I’m so excited to dive into that. I really appreciate you sharing your story and you do it in such a way where you’re able to connect your expertise with your experience and it is really wonderful. And I encourage you to keep doing it.

Salif Mahamane (42:28):

Thank you so much. I really had a good time. This was a really fun interview. I’m glad you reached out and connected with me so that we could do this.

Lindsay Guentzel  (42:41):

I am so glad I was able to connect with Salif where we focus together and share his story with all of you. It’s clear he is done a lot of work building up the self-compassion that tends to be missing for a person with ADHD. Acknowledging that finding a way to be kind to himself despite all of the things working against that narrative, it’s a great reminder of the power we each hold when it comes to who we want to be in life and more importantly how we want to treat ourselves.


I love this quote from Dr. Sharon Saline featured in the November 2022 Attitude Magazine piece, How to Practice Self-compassion with ADHD. She said, “Self-compassion allows you to be good enough as you are with your warts and your foibles. Sometimes you may be off balanced, sometimes more reactive than you’d like, sometimes disorganized, but fundamentally, you are perfectly imperfect as a human being just like everyone else.”


She goes on to remind us that despite how loud that negative voice inside us yells, we do have another voice, one that can be stronger and louder than that shame field whale and it comes from the parts of ourselves we really like. A big part of Salif’s journey has been identifying and accepting the ways that he is different. Instead of trying to [inaudible 00:44:05] himself to fit others’ expectations, he made the conscious choice to embrace those differences.


I really liked how he said the big thing for him was learning that he works differently, but that it’s imperative that he counts that as legitimate work. And to not discredit himself for it. So how can we break the habit of internalized criticism? Dr. Saline offers up a handful of great suggestions in the article I mentioned. The first step, and this is something Salif touched on, is normalizing your experience. You are not the only person who makes mistakes.


Also, newsflash, neurotypical people make mistakes too. We all do. It’s a part of the human experience and really probably one of the most important things needed for growth. It’s one of the many ways we learn. The next step is identifying how you got to this place. What’s influencing those negative voices inside your head? Observing what happens when those little buggers come out to play can help you see patterns which can help you with your plan of attack when you’re ready to send those nuisances packing.


The third step Dr. Saline offers for building up your self-compassion is identifying your stinking thinking. I love the way that she sets this up. You are not your negative thoughts, but you are the one who can choose to believe them. So what are you going to be doing to break that connection? Well, for starters, it’s crucial that we externalize the shame. That’s the fourth step Dr. Saline offers up. Giving our shame a name helps us identify what’s fueling our negative self-talk, and makes us more aware when it’s about to show up for another round of let’s beat ourselves up today.


So much that comes with ADHD, finding your self-compassion takes work, and I get it. You are likely all worked out. I feel that way all the time. It literally feels impossible to add anything else to my to-do list even if it’s going to make my life better, more peaceful, even calmer. The good news is there’s a lot of crossover when looking at the benefits for the tools us ADHD’ers keep in our mental health toolkits. There’s a great article from our partner, ADHD Online that lists off a few of the methods we can use to boost our self-compassion.


To boost our self-compassion, including practicing mindfulness, writing a letter to yourself, therapy methods like compassion focused therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy, and taking a self-compassion break. That’s a method created by Kristin Neff, a pioneer in the field of self-compassion research. The practice incorporates three elements of self-compassion through the repetition of three phrases. If you’re interested in trying it out, there is an audio guide for the exercise linked in the article. We’re sharing both ADHD Online’s great resources along with Dr. Saline’s Attitude Magazine piece in the show notes. I highly recommend checking both of them out.


Another thing I found really wonderful is how self-aware Salif is when it comes to knowing what his brain and his body needs so that he can achieve his full potential, and that he’s found great coping strategies like getting out into nature and fishing to give his brain the break it needs. Something I’ve added to my own routine recently that I’ve found to be extremely helpful in quieting down all of the different channels I have blasting in my brain at any given moment is Yoga Nidra.


It’s something anyone can do. Truly, it was introduced to me as sleep yoga. You typically lay comfortably on your back in Savasana or corpse pose while following the voice that guides you through the practice. It became a crucial part of my healing during that very long hospital stay and is something I’m trying to make a priority now that I’m continuing my journey back at home. I’ll share a link to one of my favorite instructor’s YouTube channels in the show notes along with one of my favorite practices if you want to test it out.


I just continue to be blown away by this community and I’m so glad I got to meet Salif. I’ll tell you, we talked fishing for like 10 minutes before we even got into the interview, and it reminded me of the peace you can feel sitting in a boat with your line in the water and nothing on your agenda except moving from spot to spot in hopes of finding a fish. Your calm might look different. In fact, it probably does, but when you know what it is or even better what they are, it can be easier to add those into your routine without too much distraction.


I also want to thank Salif for all of the advocacy work he’s done on behalf of our community. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend checking out his TEDx Talk, ADHD sucks, but not really. We’ve also shared the link for that in our show notes. Thank you guys so much for listening and supporting the work that we’re doing here. Make sure to join us back here tomorrow as we share episode 23 of Refocused, Together, and it would mean so much to us if you would take the time to leave us five stars and a review wherever you’re listening now. And if you haven’t already, make sure you’re subscribed to Refocused so you get every brand new episode delivered right to you every time they drop.


Support for Refocus 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, REFOCUS20 to receive $20 off your ADHD online assessment right now.


The biggest thanks go out to our team at ADHD Online, Keith Boswell, Suzanne Spruit, Melanie Mile, Claudia Gotti, and Trisha Merchen-Dunny for their constant support in helping make Refocused, Together happen.


These 31 episodes were produced thanks to our managing editor, Sarah Platanitis, our production coordinator, Phil Roderman, social media specialist and editor, Al Chaplin and me, the host and executive producer of Refocused, Lindsey Guentzel. To connect with the show on social media, you can find us online at Refocused Pod, and you can email a show directly, [email protected]. That’s [email protected].

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