My ADHD Journey

My ADHD journey started with my diagnosis in March of 2006. I always felt I was a little different from everyone else throughout my childhood, but I never knew why. I always had a wild and crazy imagination that would take me to vibrant worlds waiting to be explored. I just had a hard time leaving those worlds to live in the present. When I was a toddler, I would spend hours playing with Hot Wheels cars on a mat in the basement alone. I vividly remember creating complex stories and worlds on that mat. For example, I would make massive traffic jams that a late-to-work father had to navigate around. I would drive to the grocery store to do some shopping. I would get in car accidents. I would speed around town. I could entertain myself for hours on end. This was my normal.

In elementary school, I was a good student. No one ever suspected I could have ADHD because I was quiet and always appeared to be conscientious. Signs were there, however, that I had difficulties with attention. On my report card, my kindergarten teacher, Ms. Cappelletti, noted that I "was a pleasant young boy who enjoyed playing with puzzles" on my report card. "His ability to focus remains inconsistent, however."

In middle school, I continued to do pretty well at school. The structure at school and home were enough to mask what was lurking beneath the surface. I had a somewhat difficult time making and staying connected to close friends. I began to develop some social anxiety as I would wonder why I was struggling to make meaningful connections with other friends. I had a strong desire to be accepted and liked by others, which only worsened things. This was exacerbated in my transition to high school when one of my closest friends changed schools. When I entered high school, I struggled right off the bat. My social anxiety grew, and my grades suffered tremendously. I noticed I had a tough time paying attention in class. I could never keep up and was unable to take good notes. With social pressures growing and pressures at home developing, this was when my self-confidence started to take a hit, and when thoughts of "What is wrong with me?" and "Am I just stupid?" started to infiltrate my mind. The limited structure around me could no longer mask my attentional deficiencies. My parents grew concerned and had me visit with a psychotherapist.

I suppose to be thorough; it was decided I would be subject to a multi-pronged, thorough investigation into my brain. As a side note, I never saw the results of the tests I was given until just a couple of years ago when I finally became interested in my brain and my ADHD. At the time, I was simply told I had it. I didn't even know the result of the IQ test, which would have at least reassured me that I had serious potential and wasn't merely "stupid." If I was told, which is certainly possible, I was not paying attention!

Okay, back to the story. The idea was first to give me an IQ test and see if anything was sticking out. There was. My IQ score of 109 suggested I had, as the Dr. put it, "at least superior intellectual potential." However, the IQ test revealed "the presence of a diagnostically and statistically significant difference between his Verbal Comprehension and Working Memory Index Scores." In other words, I was above average in one and borderline below average in the other. Can you guess which is which? Yes, working memory was the weakness.

They used this information to conduct more tests, ten to be exact, zeroing in on my working and short-term memory abilities. The results were beyond conclusive. I operated anywhere from the 9-year-old level to the 12-year-old level in these areas. Remember, I was 15 at the time. The results suggested that it wasn't to do with intelligence but rather a "failure to attend appropriately." In other words, pay attention. Reading through the report, there was one line that I feel has summed up a lot of my experience in life in many ways. The Doctor wrote, "On a number of occasions David failed to successfully meet rather basic task demands, but then exhibited far greater skill when encountering more complex expectations." This is something I have come to understand about my brain and ADHD. We operate best when faced with challenges. We don't like easy questions. We want to have our brains excited, stimulated, and raring to find a solution to complex questions. Just don't ask me to remember, word for word, what the question was!

I was officially diagnosed with "Significant Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder of the Inattentive Type," and the Doctor recommended that I seek pharmacological intervention and learn coping strategies.

Let's talk about how I felt upon receiving the diagnosis. From what I've read in support groups, in books, and articles, for many people, the diagnosis of ADHD comes as a relief as they finally have an answer for why life seemed to be such a struggle. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case for me. Maybe it wasn't explained well to me by the doctors, but for whatever reason, I felt like the diagnosis meant something was wrong with me and that it was something I needed to hide and try to cover up.

Throughout high school and into college, I did my best to cope with my ADHD in the background, without ever really admitting I even had it. I never accepted help or assistance. I refused to be given extra time on tests, as the doctors recommended. I simply just dealt with it the best I could. I suppose I wanted to prove that I wasn't broken, that ADHD didn't define me, and that I could overcome it. Having accepted medication, which did help to a degree, but not strategies to cope, I was in for some rude awakenings. As much as I did not want to, I waited until the last minute to do papers and projects. I had to study twice as long and twice as hard as others to get B grades. Because I was never truly consistently "there" during class, I remember always having to learn things for essentially the first time alone in the library at college, where I could hunker down and absorb some information.

The most significant pain points for me and my ADHD came with athletics. I consider myself a good athlete, and in high school, my outlet was soccer. My dad and I built a big backboard in our driveway, and I would go outside for hours alone kicking balls against the wall, practicing dribbling, practicing set pieces, you name it. I would hyperfocus on technique and get lost in the joy of working on the craft and improving. The skills I was developing were a source of pride for me. Playing pickup soccer at school was my favorite activity. The freedom to express myself on the blacktop through soccer brought me incredible joy.

However, it was a completely different story when performing on the field for my high school and college teams. I've since traced a lot of my struggles to coaching and practices. Because of my inability to pay consistent attention, I would frequently mess up drills during practice. This would be followed by criticism from my coaches for not paying attention. Already being a more sensitive soul, this was painful for me, and it became routine. When my coach would begin explaining a new drill that would require my working memory to remember the Xs and Os of where I needed to move, I would try my hardest to pay attention. Inevitably, it was often not enough, and my sputtering engine of a brain when it comes to working memory would leave me embarrassed, messing up drills, and being called out by coaches for not paying attention. When I would then try and pay attention again and fail again, it led one of my coaches to call me the R-word in front of my teammates and another to ask me if I was "high" openly in front of my team and to go sit out of practice. Like I said, already struggling with self-confidence, I never stood up for myself. Instead, I let the pain of the moment flood through my veins while I went to sit down and replay the event over and over, wondering why the hell this had to be so hard for me.

It got to the point where I would have tremendous anxiety just going to practice. I would wonder if today were the day I would yet again be made an example of in front of all my teammates. These are my worst ADHD memories. I've been asked why I didn't just quit, why I put up with it, why I didn't come clean about my ADHD. I'm not sure why. I loved soccer, and I was not a quitter. I had climbed out of adversity before, and I suppose I figured I would again, albeit with yet another battle scar.

I bring up these more painful memories I have not so that you will pity me, but because I am sure there are others out there who have painful experiences that their ADHD brought upon them. These types of experiences lead people with ADHD to have problems with self-confidence and self-worth. In Dr. Edward Hallowell's book, "Delivered from Distraction," he talks about how feelings of shame are often associated with ADHD. When I read this, it hit me like a brick. He writes about how these feelings frequently develop due to repeated minor traumas while growing up. All those times your teachers called you out for not paying attention, caches calling you out, friends poking fun at you, or relationships lost add up over time. I always thought traumas had to be more serious, but it all made sense instantly. Unfortunately, I didn't know this at the time, and I internalized all my struggles as failures of my own making.

Well, I got through college with a B average and a degree in Business & Economics. I got my first job as a mutual fund accounting analyst at a large investment company. I excelled. My burgeoning interest in investing coupled with a work environment well suited for someone with ADHD with tons of structure and clearly defined job enabled me to get promoted six months into the gig to Senior Accountant.

It was around this time I decided to pursue a CFA charter. CFA stands for "Chartered Financial Analyst." It is the gold standard designation for financial analysts. To earn it, you have to pass three notoriously hard exams. The Level 1 Exam for August 2021 had a pass rate of only 26%. Looking back, I wonder if one of the main motivations for pursuing the CFA was to prove that I am capable beyond a shadow of a doubt. I managed to pass the Level 1 exam on my second try, which came after countless hours of rigorous study. I managed to channel my hyper-focus onto this productive outlet, and I got it done. And it did feel good! I never ended up continuing to pursue it, but I considered that a win for myself, and it did improve my confidence.

I ultimately joined up with my father to become a financial advisor. It took me a long time to find confidence in this industry where I was responsible for managing other people's money. While I was doing an excellent job on behalf of clients, I couldn't help but feel like an imposter at times. Am I cut out for this? What if I make a huge mistake? Am I going to exude confidence in front of new prospects and clients when I feel insecure and uncertain inside? To make things worse, I was also doing a poor job of managing my finances, which only added fuel to the fire that was the internal voice telling me I was qualified for this job. I spent money impulsively to get temporary relief and built up crippling amounts of debt. I was not practicing what I was preaching.

Fast forward a couple of years, and I finally had my big aha moment. I came across, as mentioned earlier, Dr. Edward Hallowell's book, "Delivered from Distraction." Listening to this book was utterly life-changing. This was the first time I came to grips with my ADHD. I thought it was eerie how much this book understood me. It was incredibly therapeutic, and I began piecing together the story of my life, and I realized that so many of my hardships were linked to my ADHD. I continued to read every single book on the topic of ADHD that I could get my hands on and continued to develop a much deeper understanding of my brain. It is crazy that I was diagnosed with ADHD for over 13 years before I finally understood what it meant. I was not stupid, dumb, braindead, or a moron. No, I am not. I am a dreamer, I'm creative, I'm driven, I'm persistent, I have ingenuity, and I am most importantly proud of how far I have come and proud to have ADHD. Anyone who thinks differently they don't matter. It is almost as if I was "re-diagnosed," and I was able to experience the relief that others feel upon diagnosis.

It then came to me that there are so many other people with ADHD that surely have experiences similar to mine. Whether they are diagnosed or not, I know some people will relate. While I am no doctor and no certified life coach, I do happen to know a thing or two about investing and personal finance. And I can tell you from experience and what I have read that effectively managing our money is difficult for people with ADHD. I decided my mission would be to help others with ADHD own their financial future. But first, I needed to develop a system that would work, and I knew I needed to practice what I was preaching. So through trial and error, I created a system that I have successfully put into practice.

And now that I have a system that I have been successfully implementing, I wanted an outlet to share with others that can benefit from it. And that's why this podcast was born.