Interview by Judy Brenis, ADHD coach, AAC
“Mom, you seem so happy,” my 26-year-old son said to me the other day. “And I am,” Sheryl Greenfield said, smiling, “but I wasn’t always.” At age 54, Sheryl has finally discovered what it means to trust herself, to believe in herself and to be her own cheerleader.
“It wasn’t easy,” Sheryl said, looking back on her journey of self-discovery. “I grew up feeling broken, like I never fit in. It took me more than 50 years to find my voice, but I finally did, and it feels amazing!”
Sheryl, who has ADHD, though she was not diagnosed until well into adulthood, grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia in a family that looked perfect from the outside, but that was not so perfect on the inside. “In our family, it was all about appearances,” explained Sheryl. Keeping up the façade was so demanding that by sixth grade she was seeing a psychiatrist. She was overweight, dealing with a lot of insecurities and (the old standard), ‘not working up to her potential.’
“I was so embarrassed to be in therapy, I would sneak home from school and hide out in the bathroom before appointments,” Sheryl said. “I never said one word to the psychiatrist during the entire year and a half I was seeing her.” Her mother tried putting her in group therapy, but that wasn’t much better. Sheryl said, “I still didn’t participate. I was totally shut down.”
At school, “Reading was always very difficult for me. I couldn’t concentrate, and while I was good at certain things, I did very poorly in others. I tried glossing over my struggles, lying about my grades, even though my parents always found out. I had low self-esteem and I was very frustrated,” Sheryl explained. “But the lesson I learned at home was that the important things was to be able to hide my problems behind a beautiful smile so no one would know how unhappy I was or how much pain I was in.”
“Because I had so little self-confidence, I did whatever my mother told me to do,” Sheryl said. Sheryl’s mother encouraged her to study interior design because she was artistic. Her mother’s plan for Sheryl’s life was simple: go to college, get a degree, work until you find a husband and then raise a family, Sheryl explained.
“The pressure for me in college was unbelievable,” Sheryl said, “I felt I had to work 10 times as hard as anyone else. If I loved what I was doing, I would do well. I aced economics, but always had poor marks in other subjects. I was shocked when I managed to graduate.” And even then, though she had her degree, Sheryl recalls, she never had the confidence to even look for a job in interior design. “I worked as a waitress and then as a bank teller until I met my husband, Bruce.”
“Having children only made it worse,” the mother of three said. “I’d felt like a failure most of my life, but I thought surely I would succeed as a mother. After all, it’s a maternal ‘instinct,’ right?” But things got worse, Sheryl admits. She found she was bored with her young children and wondered what was wrong with her, thinking, “What a terrible mother I must be!”
But, once again, Sheryl hid her true feelings. After all, how could she admit not liking motherhood, not liking her own children? Sheryl quickly fell back on the lessons she’d learned at home. Reality’s not important if you keep up appearances. “Everyone thought I had the perfect life,” Sheryl said. “I was the president of the PTA, served on a variety of boards and always looked well put together. The house was always clean and organized only because I had a housekeeper – of course, I felt guilty I couldn’t handle it myself – and I enjoyed entertaining and throwing parties because of the stimulation, but do you know how much energy that took?” she asks. “Something as seemingly simple as packing a suitcase was overwhelming.”
Stressed with the effort to keep up appearances, Sheryl was miserable, dealing with bottled up anger, anxiety and a feeling of hopelessness. While in her 30s, Sheryl again sought the help of a therapist, but he prescribed anti-depressants. They took the edge off, but were not the solution. “I screamed a lot back then,” Sheryl admits, remembering those days tearfully. “I would lose the kids’ papers for school. I just couldn’t keep it together.”
Sheryl is quick to credit her husband for helping her get through that period of her life. “He is so even-keeled, he picked up all the loose ends and never made me feel bad about it,” Sheryl said. Things became even more difficult for Sheryl when her oldest son, Josh, at the age of seven, was diagnosed with ADHD. He was unable to sit still for one minute. “I knew something was wrong,” Sheryl said. “From the time he was little, I knew he was different and that he struggled like me in many ways.”
“We had him tested and it confirmed what I had known all along.” From that point on, Sheryl said, she fought hard for her son to get the accommodations at school that would help him succeed. He also began taking Ritalin and went from barely scraping through school to straight A’s, although Sheryl admits that, on the down side, Ritalin quieted her son’s exuberant personality. But today Josh is a very successful musician and chef with a catering business he owns along with his younger brother, Michael. “He’s worked very hard on himself,” Sheryl said proudly. He graduated with a degree in marketing from the University of Delaware, but went to New York to follow his dream of making it with his rock band and “we encouraged him to follow his passion.”
Once Josh was diagnosed with ADHD, Sheryl was sure she too had ADHD and one day tried his medication. “For the first time, I could sit and read a book and really focus,” Sheryl said, and shortly thereafter I was diagnosed with ADHD as well. “Honestly, at first,” Sheryl confesses, “I didn’t really read much about my ADHD. I would merely use it as an excuse, blaming my lack of organization on my ADD. But a friend of mine suggested I read her sister-in-law, Sari Solden’s, new book, Women and ADD.”
“That was five years ago, and when I began to read Sari’s book, followed by Lara Honos-Webb’s The Gift of Adult ADD, my eyes were opened. I’m not screwed up. I have strengths, I have a voice.” This epiphany eventually led Sheryl to want to bring what she’d learned to help others who have struggled like she has. Sheryl explained that she spoke to a therapist friend who told me that I could help her run some support groups, “but first you have to become more knowledgeable,” she said to me. “Go and learn.”
So Sheryl did just that, and in her search for more information, she discovered David Giwerc and the ADD Coach Academy. “When I first listened to his online video, I cried from the moment he started talking until he stopped,” Sheryl said. “What he was saying hit my heart. This man is talking about me; I’ve got to sign up for this.”
Unbeknownst to Sheryl, this was not the end of her story, but merely the beginning. Taking classes through the ADD Coach Academy, Sheryl not only learned how to help others, but to help herself as well. “For nearly four months, I was sick in bed,” she said. “I wasn’t physically ill. I was dealing with a lot of emotions. A lot of that old stuff, regrets, self-judgment, mourning, and so on was coming up and I had to learn how to let go. I cried a lot.”
Sheryl also began to do the “work,” as she explained. “I remember David telling me that he could only take me so far. ‘You have to be the one to believe in yourself,’ he said.” And working with David as her mentor coach, together they pushed through Sheryl’s walls and she began to discover who she really was.
However, Sheryl recalls how things came to a head during a recent ADDCA conference Sheryl and David both attended. David realized that Sheryl had not fully developed her self-confidence and independence… he had become a surrogate decision maker. As Sheryl explains, “I had put him on a pedestal and needed to learn how to trust myself.” Knowing how important this step was for Sheryl’s development as a coach and as a confident adult with or without ADHD, David withdrew from her during those days at the conference.
“It was really tough for me when David wasn’t there for me, but I knew from the beginning I was learning something important from this. And as hard as it was, I have come out of it stronger,” Sheryl said. “I have so much more confidence in myself.” Today, Sheryl is grateful to David for what he did, and their friendship is stronger than ever.
Sheryl is now working as an ADHD coach herself, and wants to help others find their own inner voice. She has also developed a wonderful relationship with her own children, and she’s brought her new confidence in her ability to relate to young people to her career. She particularly enjoys working with young men and women about to go to college and their families, knowing the struggles that those with ADHD have during this important time in their life.
As for Sheryl, “The most important lesson I learned is to trust myself, to believe in myself. It’s nice when people notice my transformation or notice all the hard work I have done to get where I am today, but I no longer need the confirmation of others because, “I know it inside,” she said, “in my heart.”
“I’m comfortable in my own skin, I feel good about myself. I’m content. No, it’s not easy. I still work very hard every day. My ADD is not going away, but I know how to manage it. Things still come up, but I don’t let it immobilize me. I get out of bed saying, “How can I make a difference today?”