39 → New Brunswick, Canada → Founder & Activist → ADHD → Medication, Structure, & Routine.
R: Where do you live?
S: I live in Nahswaak Village, New Brunswick, Canada
R: How old are you?
S: I am 39 years young.
R: What do you do?
S: This is a loaded question. It really depends on the day. I will stick with saying I try to be awesome, I will get into more detail as we go.
R: What did you do before?
S: I was still trying to be awesome but realised my awesomeness wasn’t recognised or appreciated. I rocked whatever job I had and then got bored and moved on. I always left a place better than I found it.
R: Do you enjoy it?
S: Always and forever!
– Shawn is an up and coming social entrepreneur.
R: What did you study?
S: College Diploma in Social Sciences (1998). John Abbott College in St. Anne-De-Bellevue Quebec, Canada. Bachelor of Arts Degree with double majors in Psychology and Sociology (2002).
I purposefully do not promote the university where I obtained my Bachelor of Arts Degree because I filed two human rights complaints against the university after I was diagnosed and tried to return as a mature student and was discriminated against. Rather than acknowledge any wrong doing and work collaboratively on an inclusive policy to ensure other prospective students were not discriminated against, the university hired a law firm to take me on and spent thousands of dollars.Both human rights complaints were dismissed without merit but although I lost the battle, I did win the war. A more inclusive policy was implemented two years later, likely because of my efforts.
Master’s of Education Degree in Counselling Psychology (2011). University of New Brunswick in Fredericton New Brunswick Canada.
R: When did your ADHD begin?
S: At birth.
R: What made you see a doctor?
S: Which time?
The first time was while I was in college (probably 19 or 20 years old); I decided to ask my family doctor for a referral to be assessed for a learning disability. My family doctor refused and told me I needed to lose weight. I now have a different family doctor.
It wasn’t until much later (30 years old) that I decided to see another doctor about getting assessed. My wife and I were living in the Northwest Territories, Canada and I got into a dispute with my employer. I spent longer preparing a report than my employer was willing to compensate me for.
R: Were there symptoms earlier?
R: Has it gotten worse over time? Or better?
S: Increasingly better in the most amazing ways.
“I felt like I was sleepwalking through life. Always mentally and physically exhausted. I couldn’t remember anything; I couldn’t remember what I had to do for homework, projects or tests.”
R: How would you describe ADHD in your own words?
S: ADHD is a unique gift that when explored in the right context with the right people can make the impossible possible. I am living proof of this.
R: How did ADHD affect you as a child?
S: This question always makes me teary eyed because no matter how hard I tried, it didn’t matter. My efforts never amounted to any form of academic success. I felt like I was sleepwalking through life. Always mentally and physically exhausted. I couldn’t remember anything; I couldn’t remember what I had to do for homework, projects or tests. I couldn’t count pocket change until my mid twenties and I tied my shoes the wrong way before tying them the right way until I was diagnosed at 30.
I became the world’s worst liar. I constantly lied to my parents to cover up that I had done so poorly in school. They tried to motivate my siblings and I by offering monetary incentives for good grades but no matter how big the carrot was; it was always too far out of my reach. The consequences also became more severe. Each year of high school consisted of 2 semesters, each semester consisted of 4 classes. During the fall semester one year I failed all 4 classes. I was grounded the entire following semester which meant I was not allowed to watch television, talk on the phone or spend time with friends on evenings and weekends.
I developed anxiety which stomach issues. I couldn’t keep my lies straight and no matter how obvious it was to my parents I wouldn’t tell the truth. People in my life called me dumb and stupid, over time I believed this to be true. It has taken a lot of time and effort to change my way of thinking, but I have and, so can you!
— Joanna Nickerson (@joanna_nickerso) April 21, 2016
R: How does ADHD interfere with a normal day?
S: I don’t really like how the question is worded. ADHD isn’t what is wrong with me; it’s what is right with me.
R: Do friends and colleagues notice your ADHD?
S: They do, they value my insight because I have ADHD. I pick up on things others don’t because I’ve had to.
R: Does it affect your relationships with them?
S: Definitely. Having ADHD has taught me a lot about who is on “Team Shawn” and who is not. For those who are not, I limit the amount of time and energy I allow them to take from me.
“I’ve built a business out of having ADHD. I am being sought out all over the world to provide expertise in the emerging field of Neurodiversity.”
R: Have you found any positive aspects of ADHD?
S: So many. I’ve built a business out of having ADHD. I am being sought out all over the world to provide expertise in the emerging field of Neurodiversity.
R: Do you think your life would be different without ADHD?
S: I don’t even want to imagine this.
R: If you had the option to lose your ADHD would you?
“Medication gave my brain a jump-start. I was able to process my thoughts and emotions with clarity. It was like going from dial up Internet to fibre op.”
R: You have a Masters of Education degree in Counselling Psychology, Certified Canadian Counsellor (CCPA), you’re a Director at Large, Technology in Counselling Chapter (CCPA), Board Member, New Brunswick Career Development Action Group (NBCDAC), Ambassador for Inclusion (NBACL) and you’re fluent in two languages, was it easy to achieve these milestones and accreditations with ADHD?
S: Once I was diagnosed and started taking prescribed medication every aspect of my life became easier. Medication gave my brain a jump-start. I was able to process my thoughts and emotions with clarity. It was like going from dial up Internet to fibre op. I was excited to learn. I was also excited to make mistakes; I rarely make the same mistake twice now so every time I fail, I learn.
— Don't dis-my-ability (@dontdismyabilit) January 27, 2016
R: Can you tell us about the company you have started?
S: Don’t dis-my-ability consultation services Inc., an innovative, multifaceted company specialising in the emerging field of Neurodiversity. Because I have a unique understanding of my thought process I know that I can’t do just one thing. I need to keep my mind stimulated. I provide counselling and psychotherapy to individuals and families; I consult in a handful of industries ranging from non-profit to the world of animation. I also provide executive business coaching services to entrepreneurs.
R: How did you get started?
S: I set myself up for success. One of my gifts is digging for resources. The last job I had was a term position so I knew it was only temporary. I applied for a government program that promotes entrepreneurship for the unemployed by providing Employment Insurance benefits.
R: Where is your office located?
S: Don’t dis-my-ability is a proud partner and located within The Ville Cooperative – www.theville.ca
R: Have you been officially diagnosed by a health professional?
S: Yes I have.
R: What made you see a doctor?
S: Please see answer provided above.
“First Ritalin and then Concerta. I was prescribed a few anti-depressants in between and had horrible experiences on them. I eventually went back to Concerta and it works for me.”
R: Did they prescribe medication?
S: Yes, first Ritalin and then Concerta. I was prescribed a few anti-depressants in between and had horrible experiences on them. I eventually went back to Concerta and it works for me.
R: Have you seen a therapist?
S: Yes, I have.
“I don’t watch the news or read the newspaper. It has a negative affect on my mental health.”
R: How do you best manage ADHD? (medication, meditation, yoga, alternative medicines or something else)
S: It isn’t that I manage ADHD; it’s more about managing my life. I surround myself with positive people who focus on lifting each other up.
I don’t watch the news or read the newspaper. It has a negative affect on my mental health. I choose to focus my time and energy on things I feel I can effect positive social change rather than on the things I feel I cannot. My challenge is that I feel things so deeply. As one negative thing is reported after another I put myself in each of those situations mentally because I am a contextual person. It is emotionally and physically draining.
R: Did any treatments work?
S: Medication, structure, consistency and routine.
R: Do you feel in control now?
S: More than ever.
— Don't dis-my-ability (@dontdismyabilit) April 4, 2016
R: Do you tell friends, family and colleagues that you have ADHD?
S: I tell everyone, I connect with people everyday. Everyone knows someone with ADHD.
R: How do you educate yourself on management and resources?
S: I really don’t. I often say the difference between thinking and knowing is experience. Everyone else before me thought they knew. I am the first counsellor and psychotherapist I know to help people using my personal experiences to shed some insight on what is or is not happening.
R: Do you read specific blogs, magazines or news articles?
S: I only read blogs, magazines and articles. Authors and Publishers have done a horrible job creating books that hold my attention. I recommend differentbrains.com and mensmovement.com. I love technology and use all Apple products and subscribe to Mac Life.
R: Have you read any great books about ADHD?
S: The Power of Neurodiversity by Dr. Thomas Armstrong
R: Or seen any movies?
S: Not yet but I am in the process of creating one!
R: Can you recommend any therapists/doctors/specialists/coaches/mentors/clinics/foundations?
S: I can’t, I am the only person I feel comfortable sending people to.
R: What’s on your horizon for 2016?
S: Tons of amazing partnerships and projects! I was awarded Catalyst Funding through the ponddeshpande.ca to create an animated short on my thought process. I am teaming up with my talented friend Eugene Fowler of loogaroo.com. The Catalyst Funding will be used to create a Kickstarter campaign to raise capital in order to complete the project.
I was recently accepted to the B4Change Cohort Experience. I am being recognised as a Social Entrepreneur and garnering attention in the business world because of my innovative ideas and approaches.
I hope to write a book and travel the world as a keynote speaker sharing my story with others. For inquiries on availability for keynote and other speaking engagements please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
“To keep redefining ADHD and pushing the boundaries of inclusion.”
R: What’s next for your ADHD?
S: To keep redefining ADHD and pushing the boundaries of inclusion.
R: Anything else you would like to add?
S: Thank you for also being awesome!
Rodger Hoefel in conversation with Shawn Smith
Cover Photo and other images from ddmacs.ca