ADHD: Living a Consistently Inconsistent Life

Krisstina Wise interviews James Ochoa

Hi, I’m Krisstina Wise, and welcome to the Wealthy Wellthy Life, where I interview thought leaders who teach a counter-cultural approach to money, health, and happiness. Great riches don’t matter if you’re sick and good health doesn’t matter if you’re broke. Today, I tackle health and wealth with James Ochoa. James is a survivor of a near fatal head injury at the age of four, which posed a serious health threat to his mental development. He suffered from the ill effects of ADHD from that young age which really put him on this journey to find answers. While working with kids diagnosed with ADHD at a summer program early in his career, he identified a brilliance in these people that nobody else seemed to be seeing.

Since then, he’s devoted his life to study neuroscience and ADHD, which has led to ground breaking findings and answers in the field, including emotional distress syndrome, a term that he’s identified and coined. He’s now a licensed professional counselor and has written a book highlighting his discoveries called ‘Focus Forward: Navigating the Storms of Adult ADHD’. I know you’ll learn a lot. Enjoy.

James, it’s so much fun to be here with you today. Thank you for coming over in this crazy weather. Thank you for weathering the storms and coming over to hang out and have a conversation.

Absolutely. I love that and obviously, I have weathered a few storms in my life so this just mimics who and what I am. I find it pretty perfect this morning.

Well, that’s what I love about you because that is such a good metaphor, that you have weathered a lot of storms and you teach people how to weathers storms, metaphorically. In reality, you have to build to weather the storm with a good mood. It’s raining today and I have to deal with a little bit more traffic or change a few things around within the day. It’s all good. Right?

Absolutely. I always play with people about being a traffic angel and raining like this. You let people in. You slow down but yeah, you’re right. It’s the consciousness you take into the space even if it’s weather that’s difficult that really changes everything.

Well that’s a good segue into our conversation; I had the real pleasure to meet you through our mutual friend, Laurie Morero.

Absolutely.

She’s both one of our dear friends and she’s got this ability to pull great, amazing people together.

She does, doesn’t she?

I fell in love with you at that coffee meeting. You’re such an incredible soul and a gentleman and have so much to share with the world to make the world a better place.

Thank you.

Every word you said, I was right there thinking, “Oh my gosh. This man’s incredible.” It’s a real honor to have this conversation with you today.

I really appreciate that.

You recently have published your book.

Yes, after 27 years along being on the hunt, about 12–14 years in concept, and 3 years with a writing coach and an editor. Yes, I have a new book out.

Congratulations. It’s a big deal to write a book.

Thank you so much. It is.

It’s not easy.

No: everything they say about writing a book is true. It’s a life-long pursuit and the book — ‘Focus Forward: Navigating the Storms of Adult ADHD’ — has really been just a real life course for me and it’s so wonderful to see it out there.

Well, it’s a great book. I read it firstly to be prepared for our conversation and also to learn more about you and having the honor to do so, but thirdly, is for personal reasons. My son, Cale, has been diagnosed with ADHD since high school and college. It’s a loose term that’s thrown around a lot, so you wonder if it’s really real or just a label or easy excuse that we’re throwing on kids these days. But once I read your book, I want to say thank you because I think you’re going to change so many lives just based on my own experience. You helped me understand my son and you share so much in the book. The first ‘a-ha!’ for me in reading the book was to do with the brain. It’s neurological.

Yes, absolutely.

It’s not just the fact that we live in this digital world with all this distractibility and how certain personality types are more easily distracted. No, this is biological. It’s neurological.

Yes.

It’s built in. Now that I know that. It changes my relationship or orientation with an acceptance that if that’s the case, it changes everything. What is adult ADHD and this neurological aspect of it that’s so important to know?

Well it warms my heart to know that a mother’s closer to her son. These are the reasons why I wrote this, that I want family members to understand the people diagnosed with ADHD in their family, certainly with the individuals diagnosed with ADHD, to understand themselves. But, one of my major bends also is getting out to the professionals who are treating those with ADHD. You immediately brought up probably one of the biggest Pandora boxes with ADHD; if you look at it from a diagnostic perspective or neurological developmental perspective, this is a genetic condition. It is passed on at the rate of hair color, height, and weight. It’s enormously inheritable. The diagnoses of intensity is what you’re born with: mild, moderate, severe conditions.

We have millions of people actually living with the neurological developmental genetic pattern that we diagnose as ADHD, very successfully. Some never even discover that they have it, so to speak, because they’re managing it. If you’re on a mild course or you have two or three of the characteristics, but not enough to really create a deficit in your life or a disordered space, then a lot of times it becomes just a quirk. This is just your personality and everyone knows this is who you are and as long as you’re living powerfully with that, that’s a great space to be in.

But, I think what you bring up is really critical; sometimes, sensational media, in wanting to look for eyeballs on you, people will over sensationalize what it is or isn’t. If you look at the research measures of this, conservatively, that’s about 3%-5% of the world’s population. It’s a fairly narrow bandwidth and there are some research that would say 8%-10%, 10%-15%, and that’s where you bring up what you’re talking about is, well, one of the biggest challenges with this is someone will say, “Everyone’s got attention problems so everyone must have ADHD.”

Well, okay. Let’s define this. The first part of that sentence is correct. Everyone has attention problems and I will add in from time to time: sleep, stress, having a cold, not feeling well, is going to cause problems with your focus and concentration. ADHD is a chronic under activity in neurological parts of the mind that have nothing do with character or willpower. It’s a shortsightedness, it’s under activity, it’s a nearsightedness of the mind that needs help to be able to focus and concentrate and motivate consistently.

Now that I’ve read the book and listening to you, I know that we’re in this age with all the technology, social media notifications, email, and the fast-paced life that we’re all distracted at some level. It’s hard to pay attention today. We have certain tools like meditation, which you and I both do, to help us become more able to pay attention or hold our focus, or be present because it’s so easy to be distracted. But, that’s distinct and different. Even though I find myself distracted a lot because of those things and really work to be distracted less. That’s still very different from a diagnosed ADHD that is a neurological issue. The way you explain a little bit in the book, is it’s two things. One, it’s the prefrontal cortex may be smaller and/or the connectivity about how information travels to different parts of the brain isn’t linked up appropriately, so it produces certain behaviors or lack of behaviors. Is that correct?

Correct. If you look at the neurological differences, and that’s probably one of the most effective ways to look at them, I say this becomes a deficit and a disorder when you don’t understand what it is and know how to manage it, or navigate your life with it. If you look at the left prefrontal cortex, either in size or in what’s considered underactivity of blood flow and oxygen to it, is less than what you would anticipate or expect. Once we understood that, in the mid ’90s, we began to look at what that part of the mind does. What’s an executive control center? It’s the conductor in a symphony. It’s the coach on the sidelines of a sporting event. It’s responsible for things like planning, prioritizing, being able to evaluate things effectively, along with being able to focus consistently, stay concentrated and stay motivated consistently.

Now, if you look at those six factors, that’s maturity and adult living, and if it’s underactive, many adults with the diagnosis of ADHD, appear immature because that underactivity is there. If they don’t understand that, and others around them don’t understand that, we get into some pretty difficult cycles that look immature. There is also a part of the brain in the center of it, called the hippocampus, where the chemical signaling, we believe, is weak. There are signals between the neurons to keep active working memory engaged, isn’t as strong as it could be. Therefore, in mid-thought or in mid-sentence, I can lose what I’m thinking about. Well, if I don’t understand that, suddenly I feel stupid or I feel ignorant, or I feel broken. But, if I understand that, then I can start doing workarounds, associative memory, tagging things with other pieces, putting pens behind my ear to remember something. Then it’s just something I’ve learned to manage and it’s not a big deal.

I would like to really explore the different tools that we can use that people can use that you think that they would fall into ADHD. When I read your book and I thought about my son, the frustrating part is called “consistently inconsistent”. It would make me crazy because I’d be like, “Dude, like really? Just follow through.” I couldn’t figure out if it was not caring or not giving a damn, because some of this showed up. But, I know he does because he has such a big heart. He’s so loving and considerate and respectful, but he would behave in this disrespectful way. He couldn’t attach this behavior to that consequence, so he’d find himself in the same bad consequences.

When I read the book, you explained that his brain doesn’t work that way. That changed everything. He physically can’t do it, it’s not that he doesn’t care. It’s not disrespectful. It’s not an immaturity like you said. It’s an inability, cognitively, because his brain can’t work that way.

But how does it show up for his feelings? “I’m not good enough. I’m always disappointing my friends. I’m disappointing my parents. I’m a failure. I’m a screw up.” He’s trying and working so hard to not attach those labels to himself but how can he not when he’s always finding himself in the same mess ups and he’s sitting thinking, “How the F did I do this again?”

Right. Sometimes words don’t describe the feeling state of beginning to understand that the consistently inconsistent factor has nothing to do with character or willpower. It has nothing to do with the size of somebody’s heart or desire and in fact, those with ADHD seem to try to put more effort into it. A lot of times it becomes even that much more painful when you see the inconsistency. Yet, if you don’t understand that about yourself, then yes, you fall into very quickly what I describe as the emotional distress syndrome of ADHD. It’s a chronic mental, emotional health disruption; how can it not break down an individual’s resiliency, or persistence, or missing potential? You tell me. It’s impossible.

This is why, in writing the book, I wanted to make sure I was crystal clear in a very pragmatic, simple, engaging way that didn’t hold back the punches off and said, “We have to look at this. We have to put it on the table in all its suffering glory a lot of times and we all have to cry about it and we all have to understand that these people can get missed.” My passion, Krisstina, is that I feel like my destiny is to reconnect this 3–5% of the world.

What would happen if we had that 3–5% more effectively connected? Who can your son become? What might he change? I saw a client yesterday who is 26 years old. He had a drop dead passion about nanotechnology, working in research labs, could not keep up with the details of college, failed out of college, lost that research position. He is now in a subservient service job, which is fine, but he’s suffering. In reconnecting him immediately back into his passion, you just see him light up. He starts talking fast. Well, what if he has the next invention that’s really going to change the world in 5 years? I don’t want to miss that. We don’t want to miss that.

When you talk about this inconsistently consistent issue, you just have to understand it as a neurological, neurochemistry weakness. Now you can talk to your son and say, “Oh, I get it. You’re inconsistent here. How might you personally stay connected to this in a way you hadn’t thought about before?” What I just used was a neuroscience approach of curiosity and observation that allows him to potentially keep a conversation going with you. That’s what we’re after, right?

Yes. Two big things opened up for me, reading your book: it’s an understanding and acceptance. With that comes the understanding that putting more pressure on him is not going to work. I need to learn a whole new way of communicating with him and working with him and maybe, as a mom, helping him if he wants my help or just being present with him. Where it really emotionally touched my heartstrings was for him, to understand himself so that at a younger age, he understands it now and that there are tools that he can use to overcome some of these limitations that come with this diagnosis.

The overcoming would indicate that he could get past it, and if you take the overcoming into a powerful managing, navigating of life. If you give him the education and the understanding about what the reality is, you begin helping him build personalized strategies. It’s not about overcoming anymore. It’s about powerfully living his life and learning what works for him.

But, if understand that 3–5% neurology and understand that 95% of the time, you may feel different or awkward or strange, what you don’t understand is that you need the courage and confidence to stand behind that difference, then you flip over. That’s the emotional distress syndrome again and I really cannot say enough about the reconnection to those, but getting them real information. These are brilliant adults who want to know about themselves. I know your son wants to succeed.

But wait…there’s more?!

This post has been adapted from The WealthyWellthy Life podcast. Listen here for the full interview and story of James Ochoa and to download a PDF of this entire conversation.

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