When Linnyette Richardson-Hall’s brain starts to fire, her staff gets out of the way. “It’s like I’m on the autobahn: There’s no speed limit on my brain. Sometimes I’m cruising and sometimes I let those horses go. That’s when I do my best work.”
The 50-year-old Baltimore event planner and educator has always had a racing mind. But she was only diagnosed with attention deficit activity disorder (ADHD) at age 34: A pediatrician testing Richardson-Hall’s six-year-old son noticed that Richardson-Hall was also answering the questions, revealing both she and her son had the condition. (Her daughter, born two years later, also has it.) “I was stunned,” says Richardson-Hall. “It was like the doctor said, ‘By the way, you have always been a diabetic.”
Richardson-Hall takes no ADHD medication, but she did see a counselor for six years at Johns Hopkins to help manage the condition. The counselor suggested that Richardson apply her event-planning skills to her life to control her adult ADHD. So, she created a master life schedule just as she does for events. And she compensates for her distractible energy by writing everything down. “In all the chaos, I have to have order, so I’m a voluminous list maker,” says Richardson-Hall. “I have Post-Its all over the house and I carry notebooks with me.”
She’s also learned not to push on days when she feels overwhelmed. “I take mental health days,” she says. “The work will still be there tomorrow.” A natural procrastinator, she’s found that the price of delay is exhaustion. “I have the attention span of a gnat,” she says. “So even though I have a white board and to-do list, it’s like something shiny catches my attention, and I’m gone. I’ve had to learn to take a breath and do what I say I’m going to do.”
She also uses exercise to calm herself but currently only gets to the gym once a week. “Stress plus adult ADHD is a bad cocktail, and I have an inordinate amount of stress,” she says, noting that she cares for her live-in 95-year-old grandmother, ill with cancer. “Getting back to the gym is back on my project board,” she says.
Most important, she says, is that no one think of adult ADHD as a disease: “You can turn it to an advantage. Your brain just works differently. Embrace the difference.”