“Change the focus.” With Tyler Gallagher & Jennie Friedman

The government has laws that protect the “disabled.” But not all mental illnesses are the same. For many folks, the focus is on accessibility more than ability, an area I feel the government can help with most. Having “accessibility” laws would help lessen stigma because it becomes less about what one can or cannot do […]

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The government has laws that protect the “disabled.” But not all mental illnesses are the same. For many folks, the focus is on accessibility more than ability, an area I feel the government can help with most. Having “accessibility” laws would help lessen stigma because it becomes less about what one can or cannot do and more about HOW someone CAN do.

As a part of my series about “Mental Health Champions” helping to normalize the focus on mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Jennie Friedman. Jennie is a certified coach specializing in leadership and business while completing her MBA. Born typical into an ADHD family sparked her passion for exploring how to embrace our differences so we can focus on the important business of loving one another. Inspired by the people she works with, she wrote the book, ADHD: A Different Hard Drive? She also created See in ADHD talk radio, which focuses on both the fantastic and challenging aspects of the condition. Now and newly hosted by her colleague, Liz Lewis, Jennie’s current focus is on her newest venture, Reach Furthur as a consultant and speaker.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?

When I was 20 years old, my dad committed suicide. He had been diagnosed with what was then called manic-depression, which today is known as bipolar disorder. But it was not until after my sister’s later-in-life ADHD diagnosis that I was inspired to change course from the business world, earning my degree in psychology and credentials as an ADHD Coach. I started to look back at my family through new eyes and realized that much of my childhood’s chaos was due to my dad’s undiagnosed, and therefore unmanaged, ADHD.

However, I also knew that my father and sister were amazing and beautiful people. I do not consider them broken; however, their behaviors could seem so crazy at times. That was until I learned about the unique ADHD nervous system and design responsible for how their executive function, among other systems, operates. Once I understood, I got it! I could see where they were coming from and firmly believe that if everyone could see what I do, they would get it too; hence, See in ADHD. The stigma could end!

According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?

People are generally not educated about the mental processes that determine a lot of our behaviors. Sure, our beliefs, attitudes, values, and personality also contribute to how we behave so I think people can understand how psychological therapy can sometimes help. But our brain chemistry and wiring are invisible and what folks do not know and cannot see are hard to believe in, much less understand. Stigma is judgment. So, people are ignorantly judging behaviors that they cannot explain as well as negatively labeling them.

Can you tell our readers about how you are helping to de-stigmatize the focus on mental wellness?

I created the See in ADHD podcast so folks could listen to an honest conversation with regular people who have ADHD. When you hear them share stories of their everyday experiences, you begin to see that their behaviors make sense. You don’t see them as crazy or lazy. If you had thinking processes like theirs, you too might behave the same way.

Another significant outcome has been that folks with ADHD are also listening to the show. In the reviews on iTunes, audience members have shared how hearing the guests’ stories have helped them release the shame they feel about being different from their family members, friends, and colleagues. That shame has been a demoralizing stigma against themselves!

Was there a story behind why you decided to launch this initiative?

I love to talk! I also know that generally speaking, folks with ADHD prefer to watch or listen to information rather than read, mainly due to challenges with working memory. By the time they get to the bottom of the page they have often forgotten what they just read. Pair that with the fact that podcasts are accessed for free by all kinds of individuals; I figured it could potentially influence far more people over and above any other way.

In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?

I think as individuals we need to look at our friends, family, and neighbors and realize that their life’s experience includes how they process information; that may be different from you. As I like to point out, my sister and I grew up in the same household with the same parents; yet, our day-to-day experiences were vastly different from one another. We need to acknowledge and respect that difference.

Society is a group of individuals. If our collective groups: schools, community centers, neighborhoods, places of work and worship acknowledged and respected differences amongst its members, that would be huge! Helping folks access benefits from activities by accommodating for challenges that some members may have would be a great start. Examples include providing more than one kind of chair to sit in or one kind of desk to use. Cognitively challenged individuals benefit from all types of information being made available in various ways too, like audio, video and written text. Society needs to allow for the variety that makes up in its members.

The government has laws that protect the “disabled.” But not all mental illnesses are the same. For many folks, the focus is on accessibility more than ability, an area I feel the government can help with most. Having “accessibility” laws would help lessen stigma because it becomes less about what one can or cannot do and more about HOW someone CAN do.

What are your 6 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?

Mindfulness is the best strategy to create and maintain a healthy mindset. It means pausing instead of reacting and noticing things instead of judging them. It’s not easy, but with practice, I’ve seen mindfulness change lives including my own. For example, I worked with a woman who felt hurt every time her husband said something that made her feel defensive. She cultivated mindfulness techniques enabling her not to react to him, helping the two grow closer. You cannot control what others say or do, but you can choose how you will or will not respond.

Interest, we need to engage in activities that stimulate us mentally and emotionally. When we act in areas of interest, we feel like our true selves, our natural selves, our best selves. Often, folks get wrapped up in their day without noticing a sense of fulfillment is missing until they feel it’s too late to change. You may not need to change everything wholly. By adding sparks of interest to your life, you can achieve more balance. Perhaps, by learning a new skill, taking up a new hobby or making new friends.

Conscientiousness is the personality trait of being thorough, careful, or vigilant. It implies a desire to do a task well. Conscientious people are efficient and organized as opposed to easy-going and disorderly. The definition of conscientiousness is almost the opposite of everything you think of when referring to ADHD such as organization, planning, and thoroughness. But under these descriptions lie the central concept of being intentional. People with ADHD can be intentional with persistent mindfulness and habituation. Why go through this trouble? Because people who have higher levels of conscientiousness experience less procrastination than those with lower levels.

Exercise helps the body create its dopamine and other neurotransmitters that are involved in maintaining healthy brains. I have coached individuals who are too sensitive to use the medications that are usually prescribed for treatment with attention and hyperactivity, but regular exercise regimes have made substantial improvements in these areas. About 40 minutes of vigorous activity can provide an average of two-and-a-half hours of clear and focused calm and increased attention.

Diet is so important it cannot be overstated. It is even more important than exercise in maintaining overall health. The problem comes when people are unable to keep a healthy balanced one. My best advice is to stay away from processed foods especially the carbohydrates that increase blood sugar as well as eat a protein breakfast. I have seen the miraculous changes that come from proper nutrition even after years of neglect and abuse. It is always true; you are what you eat.

Sleep is the last but not least contributor to mental clarity and wellbeing. All of our other biological systems depend on us getting restorative sleep. Unfortunately, many mental challenges are accompanied by sleep struggles. I suggest before you run out to get an expensive sleep study, which may ultimately be needed, first try going to bed at the same time every night at least two hours after eating. I have seen it work for so many people but know that the greatest challenge is usually keeping this schedule even on the weekends.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?

Dr. Thomas Brown has inspired most of my work. He has several excellent books; I suggest starting with Smart But Stuck: Emotions in Teens and Adults with ADHD. I also highly recommend Focused Forward: Navigating the Storms of Adult ADHD by James Ochoa, primarily as it addresses the executive function’s emotional realm. He’s also been a guest on See in ADHD with Liz and me!

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

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