Jane Massengill is a master certified coach and licensed social worker. She found coaching over 20 years ago when she was working with a group of psychiatrists who were exploring and expanding treatment for adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. A new profession in its infancy, coaching was exactly what Jane was looking for to bridge the gap between the internal personal growth work she was doing as a therapist and the external restructuring her clients needed with daily challenges such as getting to work on time, keeping a daily schedule or creating an exercise routine. She quickly fell into being among a small group of professionals in the country who had experience as a therapist with the training of a coach, plus years of work with adults with ADHD in a clinic setting. It put her in a unique position to write a chapter on ADD Coaching in Dr. Daniel Amen’s New York Times bestselling book, Healing ADD, and to participate in creating the first set of guidelines for ADD Coaches for the newly formed Adult Attention Deficit Disorder Association.
This article is an excerpt from Carrie Ann’s March 3rd, 2022 Instagram Live conversation with Jane Massengill. It has been edited for length and clarity.
While ADHD (Attention-deficit / hyperactivity Disorder) is a fairly new type of mental diagnosis (it wasn’t recognized by the American Psychiatric Association until the 1960’s, and the “hyperactivity” component was not added until the 1980’s), it is also one of the most common. Many of us are related to someone, or at least know an individual with ADHD, yet a stigma still seems to shroud the disorder. When we imagine someone with ADHD, a lot of us picture that busy boy in class that can’t sit still. The truth is that ADHD has many faces, which is why it can often get missed in childhood. Many people do not even realize they have the disorder until their own children are diagnosed and they connect the dots. This is especially true for women, who don’t always present with that stereotypical case of hyperactivity. If you’re unfamiliar with the disorder or simply curious to learn more, we were lucky enough to have Carrie Ann’s personal ADHD coach, Jane Massengill, dispel common misconceptions and share her own story.
Carrie Ann: On our on our first episode of “Carrie Ann Conversations: Journey to Wellness”, I spoke with Dr. Daniel Amen and shared my ADHD diagnosis. It was Dr. Amen who referred me to you, and suggested I speak with you. Can you share with everyone how you started working with ADHD patients? And how an ADHD coach is different from a life coach?
Jane Massengill: Great question. It’s really interesting, I was thinking about this this morning. When I first started out as a social worker in the early 80s, there was no such thing as adult ADHD. It was really just a diagnosis and kids. I ended up meeting Dr. Amen when I moved to California, because I wanted to work with a psychiatrist and work with families. So at the time, the only thing we had was the Yellow Pages. I called every psychiatrist in the Yellow Pages and Amen begins with A, so I met him the next day. Dan hired me on the spot. He had actually just finished his residency, so he had just started his practice. So we started working together in the late 80s, and were seeing a lot of parents that had kids with ADHD. Right around that same time, Dan started doing brain imaging, and I volunteered to have a scan. Through that process, I learned about my own ADHD.
Carrie Ann: Wait, is that the first time that you realized you had ADHD?
Jane Massengill: Absolutely. Yeah, I was doing all of these evaluations with people at the Amen clinic. I had left the clinic for about four years when my kids were really little. When I came back, Dan was doing these scans and he needed a bunch of people with healthy brains to volunteer. After the diagnosis, I remember thinking, this just makes so much sense. He said he didn’t expect it, but he didn’t see a lot of my own struggles that weren’t showing up in the workplace. He didn’t see the stuff in the background, you know, what my piles looked like at home and how I worked really hard to just try to keep it together. So it was such a relief to me when I had that diagnosis. I think it is for most people, Carrie Ann I think you said earlier that it helped you connect the dots. That’s what it was like for me, a light bulb.
Carrie Ann: Yeah, it really brought it together. And you’re right, it connected the dots for me. When we first started working together, I remember that you asked me if I had kids, because you said a lot of parents don’t even know they have ADHD until their children get to a certain age. Then they start to see it, and feel overwhelmed in their life. Why is it so difficult, not knowing that you have ADHD?
Jane Massengill: Yes, that was absolutely true for me. I mean, my diagnosis happened right in the middle of when my kids were really little. I was juggling a lot of stuff and trying to try to work. Again, it was just a big aha.
Carrie Ann: It was such a big aha for me too. And it really helped me understand a lot of things. As a child and for most of my life, I’ve always felt a bit different. Some parents will tell you, oh, no, you’re not special. But that’s not what I was trying to say. I was trying to say that I think my brain is a little different. But parents always try to keep you in line, and keep your feet on the floor. My mom was always doing that, she would go “oh, I don’t know about that”. There’s a lot of misconceptions out there about ADHD, especially adult ADHD. So first of all, what is ADHD?
Jane Massengill: Great question. ADHD is a genetically and biologically based syndrome. I like to think of it as a way of being in the world, but there is biology to it. There absolutely is clear science. There’s no disputing any of that. When you’re an adult with ADHD, you have issues with attention and focus, and doing things that are routine, that are boring. The opposite is true, though, too. Attention Deficit is such a misguided term, actually. We don’t have a deficit of attention. We have so much attention, we don’t know what to do with it! That’s the biggest challenge. So It’s all about learning how to bring that attention under control. That’s really the challenge.
Carrie Ann: I’m an open book, so I’ve been running around telling all my friends that I have ADHD. And I can see in some of their eyes that they don’t believe me, or they think that I’m just being a hypochondriac. Because when you have autoimmune conditions, you’re also often accused of being a hypochondriac. As I’ve done my research, working with you and Dr. Amen and reading every book possible about ADHD, I’ve realized that it’s just a different way of thinking. We can’t control the speed at which our brain wants to focus on things, so sometimes it hyper focuses and sometimes it wanders down the street. Is that a good way to describe it?
Jane Massengill: That’s a wonderful description. One of my favorite ADHD books, “ADHD 2.0: New Science and Essential Strategies for Thriving with Distraction” by Edward Hallowell and John Ratey, talks about this. Dr. Hallowell says that when you have ADHD, it’s like having a Ferrari brain with bicycle brakes. When you have ADHD, you prefrontal cortex, which is kind of like your supervisor or your secretary, is not functioning like it does for everybody else. So, you have issues with what they call “executive functioning”. I think of that as an executive secretary that’s just out to lunch. And sometimes that person comes back. And sometimes they don’t. You don’t always know when they’re going to come back. You can’t trust them to always be there for you. That is why learning how to manage it, working with a coach, and getting treatment for it will help – you’re training your manager.
Carrie Ann: I know it’s very important to manage your ADHD. You were telling me some statistics last time we did a session about unmanaged ADHD, can you share them?
Jane Massengill: Russell Barkley is a psychologist who’s been researching ADHD for 40 years now, and I had the honor of working with him when I worked at UMass Medical Center. He came up with research a couple of years ago, which absolutely blew my mind. This research says that if you are an undiagnosed, untreated, unmanaged adult with ADHD, your estimated life expectancy is up to 12 years shorter than everybody else’s. I mean, that’s a lot of time. And if you think about it, you’re more prone to accidents, car crashes, and not managing your health when you have untreated ADHD.
Carrie Ann: What about eating and stress? I think unmanaged ADHD had an effect on my autoimmune condition. This has been a hidden key to helping me feel better, because I noticed that my stress is escalates when my ADHD is unmanaged. And that’s why you have been such a blessing in my life, because you really taught me how to manage it.
Jane Massengill: It’s funny, when I when I share that statistic, everybody has a story. I just shared it with a colleague of mine yesterday, and she was telling me that when she was in her early 30s she found a spot on her hand. And her friend said look, you need to go get that spot on your hand checked. But it became one of those things that she just kept procrastinating on. When she finally saw the doctor, he said if she would have waited one more month, it would have killed her. It was melanoma. So I just think it’s there’s so many things. I think about my own family. My father was killed in a car accident when he was 48 years old. He was a policeman, and a lot of people with ADHD end up going towards those types of professions. But ADHD wasn’t around then. When I look back, it certainly makes me question if he was undiagnosed and died early because he was staying up really late, and probably not paying attention while he was driving. So ADHD is something worth paying attention to.
Carrie Ann: First of all, I’m so sorry about your loss. I didn’t know that. And it’s interesting when you do find out about your ADHD, you can kind of look back through your life and track how it may or may not have affected you.
I’ve also noticed that people often think of ADHD in a stereotypical way. They think ADHD only looks like a little boy in class who can’t sit still, who’s hitting the girls and having emotional outbursts. But look, that is not what I looked like growing up, and I’m sure that’s not what you looked like. You just mentioned that people with ADHD could be more accident prone. What are the other signs of somebody who has ADHD?
Jane Massengill: It looks different in everybody, and that’s why it’s hard to pin down for some people. People don’t necessarily understand it, there’s a lot of misconceptions. And some people – if you think of ADHD as an arc – barely meet the criteria for diagnosis. Other people have it on a much more extreme scale. It’s also an invisible disorder, so it’s harder to see sometimes. In adults, it can look like bouncing around. Many of my clients have these big balls that they sit on when we do coaching sessions, or they stand up. I always support that kind of stuff. Women are oftentimes missed with being diagnosed, especially as kids, because they’re the quiet ones that are sitting in the corner, not making any trouble. As adults, a lot of women with ADHD are afraid to engage because it feels too scary. They are more focused on wanting to do things that are less out in the world, and don’t push themselves to go out and do things.
Carrie Ann: I remember when I was younger, before I was diagnosed, someone said to me “oh, you have analysis paralysis”. And I sure do!
Jane Massengill: But you can also have hyper focus on things that you really love. A good friend of mine, Rick Carson, who wrote “Taming Your Gremlin”, told me once that I was like a pit bull on a rump roast. So when we are passionate about something we can dig in and not want to let go. When I first learned about ADHD, I read every single book that was out there, because I wanted to learn everything I possibly could about myself and about the people that I was working with. The benefit of that is we are really good at things that we love. The challenge of that is we sometimes don’t know when to stop, and we can burn ourselves out. And we don’t know when enough is enough. Almost everything with ADHD is a double edged sword.
Carrie Ann: One of the things that I’ve learned from working with you is that I need stand up against my brain. My brain wants to run away from a task that I know I need to do. I can walk by something on the floor 100 times, but that is not because I’m lazy, or that I don’t want to pick it up off the floor. Except that now I know that I have to actually put more effort into stopping and taking that moment to finish something. If it’s a short or mundane task, I can struggle with it. Even brushing my teeth in the morning. I do it every morning, but I’m always trying to talk myself out of it. I talk myself around it, like maybe I’ll do it this way. Maybe I’ll change the way I do it. It’s challenging. And I say all these things because I want people to understand that. You may not have ADHD, but you may struggle with some of the things that we’re talking about. And if you do have it, it doesn’t mean you’re limited in any way.
Did anything that Jane had to say surprise you? There’s so much to learn about ADHD, and a lot of what we know can lead to misconceptions! As Jane mentioned, the term “attention deficit” itself can be misleading – people with ADHD are also known to possess extreme focus. We hope that this conversation informed your own understanding of the disorder, or satisfied your curiosity. Factual information is the key to destigmatizing anything. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, we’d love to hear what resonated with you.
To watch the full interview, click here.
For more information on Jane and her workshop, follow the links below:
Jane’s Favorite Books:
Jane’s FREE e-book “7 Questions to Ask Yourself When you are Stuck”
Where to find a coach:
ADHD Coaches Organization: ACO Home | ADHD Coaches Organization(specifically for ADHD Coaches)
International Coach Federation: The Gold Standard in Coaching | ICF – Credentialed Coach Finder For all kinds of credentialed coaches. Many people who work with adults with ADHD are listed here who may or may not also be listed on the ADHD Coaches Organization website.
Attention Deficit Disorder Association: ADDA – Attention Deficit Disorder Association – ADDA, The Only Organization Dedicated Exclusively to Helping Adults with ADHD. They have a Professional Directory of coaches, physicians, mental health professionals, educators and more who treat adults and kids with ADHD).
Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/in/janemassengill/