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An ADHD coach on being a defiant teen, ADHD overwhelm, and self-care (Caren Magill’s story)

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ADHD coach and creator Caren Magill was diagnosed with ADHD in 2020, during the pandemic. Caren gets real about her experience as a teen girl with undiagnosed ADHD: dropping out of high school, smoking, having poor self-care, and being a “messy kid.” She also shares how she manages her ADHD through fitness, sleep, and meditation.

Caren is also the host of Its The ADHD-Friendly Show podcast. Listen as she shares what shes hearing from women with ADHD about overwhelm, and approaching ADHD challenges with curiosity instead of shame. 

Related resources

Episode transcript

Caren: So, the real "aha" moment for me was listening to a podcast where somebody explained their experience of, you know, recently being diagnosed and they were just struggling to get by and they thought they were broken. And yet here was this reason. And just by them sharing their experience, it not only validated my feelings and my experience but gave me hope that there was a brighter future for me and just this self-compassion to know that I wasn't broken and I wasn't a screw-up.

Laura: This is "ADHD Aha!," a podcast where people share the moment when it finally clicked that they have ADHD. My name is Laura Key. I head up our editorial team here at, and as someone who's had my own ADHD "aha" moment, I'll be your host.

I am so excited to be here today with Caren Magill, ADHD coach and creator. You can check out Caren's excellent work on YouTube. It's under her name, Caren Magill. She is also the host of the podcast "It's the ADHD-friendly show." Yay! We love podcasts, of course. Caren, welcome to the show. I'm so excited to have you here today.

Caren: I am so pumped to be here. Thank you for having me.

Laura: Well, as my listeners know, I like to get started by hearing about your ADHD diagnosis story. Tell us when you were diagnosed and what was going on.

Caren: Well, 2020 was going on.

Laura: Yeah.

Caren: So, what happened during 2020 was obviously everybody's life got turned upside down. And any structure that I had or built over my adult life just went out the window and I was struggling to get anything done. I was struggling emotionally with emotional regulation. I just couldn't cope very well. And around that time I was listening to a podcast by Charlene Johnson—not sure if you're familiar with her.

Laura: Yeah.

Caren: OK, yeah. And she also was talking about recently getting diagnosed with ADHD. And you know, she just happened to share her experience, which was a light bulb moment for me. And I thought, "Oh my gosh, maybe that's what it is." So, I went down a rabbit hole as one with ADHD does, and I was convinced that I had it. So, I, you know, had the privilege of having access to the appropriate diagnostic testing to go down that route, which I know a lot of people do not.

The process took about three months, and during that, I just knew in my heart of like before I even got like the final diagnosis, I knew in my heart that that was what was going on with me. And I had already signed up for an ADHD coaching program because, I mean, you just want to skip the line and dive right into it, right?

So, I'd been thinking a long time about doing some sort of a coaching certification, but what I put the ADHD and life coaching together, both from understanding that that was a career path, and also knowing that that would be the ideal route for me, it just all sort of came together quite beautifully. So, that was the origin story. So, that was what... I believe that's almost four years ago now.

But since then, you know, I've gone through that training, completely changed my career and completely changed my life and my attitude about how I am, how I do best and, you know, really cultivating a sense of discernment around what works for me and what doesn't and choosing in that direction. So, I don't even recognize the Caren of pre-2020 anymore. It's been a wild ride.

Laura: Stick with me in 2020 for a minute though, if you don't mind. I know you say you're not, but yeah, let's hang out in that space that many of us I know are trying to forget, right? But at one point when you were sharing your story, you said that you were just convinced that you had ADHD. Give me some specific examples of things that would happen that you were like, "This is such an ADHD behavior."

Caren: I don't know that it started that way for me. The way it started, it was late 2020 —it might have even been into 2021 at that point. But I was having a hard time focusing on anything and my emotions were all over the place. And to be honest, some of this could have been menopausal as well. I was perimenopausal at the time, and after that, hearing that podcast, that was the light bulb that made things click. And then I started, I started getting into that mode of, "Oh, this is probably ADHD." So, it wasn't so much a, "Oh, this is such an ADHD thing," because I didn't have that much familiarity with it yet.

But as I went down the rabbit hole of research, I started comparing that to everything in my life. And a lot of it was going back to childhood, because in my situation, I believe that my ADHD symptoms were probably at their worst from as early as I can remember, to about sixteen, seventeen, when I dropped out of high school. And then over time, I built a lot of compensatory methods. So, again, I didn't know I had this disorder.

And also I had a big life shift around my early 20s where I moved from being a, young adult who didn't move very much and didn't have a lot of great self-care habits —I actually had atrocious health-related habits. And I shifted from that to really embracing fitness, which was not an overnight thing. But it did gradually happen, and the more I got into it, the better I felt, and the better I felt physically, the better I felt emotionally, and the better that started to have a positive impact on my life. So, I went from being, not a word of a lie, very much a hot mess to someone who coped very well.

I ended up going back to school, finished my high school education, went on to get, a degree at undergrad, and then much later on went on to go do a master's degree. But I look back at young Caren and I had so much compassion for her where I used to have shame, because I used to think that there was something wrong with me, that I couldn't do math. I couldn't tell time till I was like 13. My locker was always a mess. I always forgot things. When I was in grade school, we had —I mean, I'm dating myself here —we have these desks where it's like the desk, and it was attached to a chair, and everything you had for school from, you know, morning till afternoon was in this little shelf underneath the desk. And my shelf was always like a disaster zone.

And, you know, I look back at all those habits thinking I was just like a messy kid who couldn't figure anything out and clearly wasn't very smart. And now that I had this knowledge, I could go, mentally go back in my mind and in my heart and have like a world of compassion for that kid who was doing the best she could with what she had, not knowing, you know, what she was dealing with. And, you know, my parents were, you know, working immigrants. And this was back in the 70s and 80s. You know, ADHD wasn't even really a thing.

And of course, both of my parents have passed on now, but I just so desperately wanted in that moment to go back in time and say to my parents, you know, "This was the problem. It wasn't me. It was something else. And while it's not curable, it is fixable with the right support." So, I'm just so grateful that this has become such a conversation now. Like that little tidbit of knowledge that Charlene Johnson shared changed my life, which is why I'm doing what I'm doing today. Because I get comments every day like, "Oh my God, you just explained my life experience."

Laura: Yeah, yeah.

Caren: It's an eye-opener. So, the more we talk about it and the more we normalize it, the more we're not only going to help adults that are still struggling because they don't know they have it yet, but we're going to be able to help, you know, younger generations really thrive and balance out this, you know, expectation that we all have to live this neurotypical life where we don't.

Laura: I was wondering if you'd be open to sharing more about dropping out of high school and what was happening there.

Caren: So, a lot of things were happening there. My father had just passed away. My parents, like there was a lot of family stuff, right? And my mother came back into the picture of my life where she had not been there for a while and we did not get along. I was very defiant, as a lot of ADHD teenagers are and can be. A lot of teenagers are, let's just be honest. But we did not get along and I was doing very poorly at school. I was skipping all the time because in my mind, school was pointless for me because I didn't believe I was smart and I didn't believe I was going to do much with my life academically.

And that was clear to everyone in my family. So, my mother's opinion was, well, if you're not going to go to school, then you're going to get a job and start paying rent. And I thought, "Well, yeah, I'll do that, but I'm not going to, you know, do that and still be under your roof."

So, I dropped out of school in grade 11 and from that point on started working full time and moved out on my own, which, I mean, in retrospect, was probably a good thing because I was forced to learn those compensatory methods, whereas if I grew up in a different environment, I may not have been forced to really figure things out as fast as I did because it was feast or famine at that point when you're living on your own and not making much money. So, I learned a lot really quickly and had to grow up, which I think helped me during that adult period of my life where I became a lot stronger.

Laura: You mentioned self-care and health. I think that there's a misconception that ADHD is all about, you know, focusing on your schoolwork and your productivity at work. But there is this work-life health kind of, it's about the whole person, right? These are skills that we use throughout life. So, would you be open to sharing how you were struggling from a health perspective that may have been ADHD related?

Caren: Sure. Now, I don't know that it's ADHD, well, it's ADHD related in that my behaviors were impacting my ADHD. So, I was, when I was younger, let's say starting from 15, I started smoking and I was smoking a pack a day for years after that. I became a bartender when I dropped out of school. So, I was partying all the time, drinking all the time. I ate at the bar that I worked at, which was a roadhouse, and it was just kind of salty, you know, not the best...

Laura: Mozzarella sticks.

Caren: Oh, no, I was talking about the people.

Laura: I thought you meant the food.

Caren: Oh, yeah, I know the food, but you call that one mozzarella sticks and chicken wings and, you know, hamburgers and things like that. That was my diet. And, you know, I was up all hours of the night and sleeping through the day. I had no structure. I just had to make sure that I showed up for work on time. And that was pretty much it. My lifestyle was really bad, and the impact of that was I was terrible at taking care of myself. I was terrible in relationships and my motivation for getting out of that, I'll be honest, was purely to get attention from boys, right? Like I was at this point, I don't know, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen?

Laura: Yeah.

Caren: And that was my modus operandi. So, I thought, "I'm tired of being overlooked. So, I'm going to work on my appearance." And in doing that, I opened like a door to a whole new experience for myself. It started with throwing on a pair of cheap Keds and, you know, running around the block and getting shin sprints, but doing it again the next day. And it was started very, very, very, very small. And the more I felt the impact of it, the more I was excited to keep moving forward. And that completely changed the trajectory of my life.

Laura: Wow. Well, good for you. Do your ADHD-related challenges feel more difficult or more present if you, for some reason or another, aren't able to exercise or to do your fitness routines?

Caren: Oh my gosh, yes. Like today it's a lot more than just a fitness routine, but every day I have like five things. I meditate, just short meditation. I get 10,000 steps, which means that's my non-exercise intended steps, like just walking around the house, taking the dog out, stuff like that. 20 to 30-minute workout and heart coherence meditation. Oh, and a good night's sleep. If I can get all of those things, you wouldn't even know I have ADHD.

If my sleep goes off, if I have seven hours or less, you will immediately see that I have HD and when my sleep is off, then it's almost like a domino effect. All of the other habits go out the window because I'm not really good at follow-through or self-orienting. So, it always for me starts with sleep. So, fitness is a piece of it but is probably not the most important piece of it.

Laura: Sleep is so important for, especially for people with ADHD. Do you ever feel like if you don't do one thing—I mean, you mentioned this with the sleep, but if it's anything else—that, do you have this all-or-nothing feeling like, I'm just, I'm not going to do anything then.

Caren: Yeah. Because for me, sleep is emotional regulation. If I don't get enough sleep, the dysregulation is the root of all my poor habits, right? That if I don't get a good night's sleep, I'm going to be tired, so I won't want to work out. I'll be unfocused, so I won't want to, first of all, not meditate, but then finish anything that's important or be productive.

And at the end of the night, I'm feeling tired and grumpy and disappointed in myself. So, I'm just sitting on the couch and eating food and drink wine. That is the downhill spiral that starts with a night of either poor sleep or not enough sleep, which is, I mean, it's hard, right? Because I don't always have control over whether or not I have a good night's sleep. But I do my best to ensure it happens and, you know, just hope for the best.

Laura: I very much relate to that. I'm very much relating to the on the couch with junk food and a bottle of wine. Did you say bottle or glass?

Caren: I could get there.

Laura: Well, starts with the glass.

Caren: But this is the thing, like with a lot of clients that come to me that struggle with bad habits, when we dig beneath the surface, you can usually find that at the root of it, there is one thing that makes you know, the domino effect happen, and nine times out of ten it is sleep.

And if they take the time to, with curiosity as opposed to shame, go through like how did this day turn into such a dumpster fire? And you probably wouldn't want to say dumpster fire, if you're not, you're looking at with curiosity, but like, why is it that today's behavior is not as appropriate or as fruitful as yesterday's behavior? Why was my state so off today?

And if you kind of go back through your day with curiosity rather than shame, you can often find that it's like, "Oh, is rooted in I didn't get a good sleep last night, or I ate something yesterday that upset my stomach, which upset my sleep." And with that level of curiosity, you can find the domino effect, the trigger that makes things go one way or the other. And for me, knowing that sleep is my trigger, that's why I prioritize it above everything else. That is my full-time job, because without it, I can't do my full-time job.

Laura: I love that, looking back with curiosity instead of shame.

Caren: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

Laura: So Caren, I love talking to ADHD coaches. Anybody who listens to the show knows that I'm obsessed with ADHD coaches. Sorry, that sounds a little creepy. I don't mean to. It's always such a good conversation, and I think that deep down is because I need ADHD coaches in my life. So, I know that you coach a lot of women. Only women with ADHD, or...?

Caren: No, I started coaching men as well. As my YouTube channel has grown, I've gotten like equal interest from men. So, I do coach men as well. But the predominant amount of clients I get are women.

Laura: What kinds of things are you hearing women with ADHD are really struggling with these days?

Caren: Like beyond a shadow of a doubt, the majority of clients who come to me, the feeling they have is overwhelm. There's just so many things to do and not enough time in the day, which underneath that is "I'm not reaching my potential. I'm supposed to be doing all of these things. I look to the left and the right of me, and all of these people around me are doing so much better at life, or at least making it look easy. And meanwhile, you know, I can barely get myself out the front door every day."

So, it becomes a process of not just unpacking why they're so overwhelmed, but really reflecting back. You know, "Here's what you're saying about yourself. Here's all of the expectations that you have of yourself. Is this really realistic?" And when they start to break it down and have that non-judgmental conversation with someone else, they start to realize that it's their own executive dysfunction that's getting in the way.

Because, let's say one of my early clients came to me with a goal list of 44 things that she wanted to accomplish in the next quarter. And when I say 44 things, some of it was, you know, help somebody with their struggling marriage and start a new business, like that would be one line item. And what I started to realize in the clients I was taking on and myself, like, I am number one for this, one of the biggest executive function struggles that I think a lot of women deal with is not only that, we have all of these things going on and we feel overwhelmed, but it's the prioritization skill.

And when you don't have that ability to discern in the moment that "This is important, but this can wait," and "This is worth stressing out about, but all of these other things are not," then it becomes incredibly overwhelming and you think all the things need to be done right away, and they're all equally important, and no wonder you can't move forward on them. So, it's a process of pulling that apart and building those muscles of discernment to realize what's truly important and what's not important or can wait.

Laura: What reaction do you get from your clients when you explain the ADHD tax to them? I'm assuming that's something that you do.

Caren: Oh, I don't know that I necessarily explain it as ADHD tax, but I definitely see it.

Laura: OK, tell me about that.

Caren: It's an interesting thing. I can't tell you how many ways I have been overtaxed because of my ADHD. Starting as a young kid who was cross-eyed for a long time, and I was constantly losing my glasses to the point where my mother made me wear a like a big, thick strap around the back of my head to keep my glasses on my face. That was a tax she absorbed. I had to deal with the emotional tax of that, but it started there, right? Like you lose things, you forget things. You pay fines because you don't follow through with a parking ticket or anything like that, and then it grows from there, right?

Like the additional support that you need or the underemployment that you experience when, you know, maybe you're not properly supported or diagnosed or also, you know, the multiple interests that we have, right? Like, I'm constantly investing in things that have a momentary interest for me and then they go away. Now, I try very hard to manage that now, but for a long time I would just buy stuff that accumulated, accumulated, and that in itself was a master undertaking to control. So, it's a thing.

Laura: How do you manage that now? What was your secret?

Caren: So, this is going to be a bit of a life lesson, so it's going to be a big answer. But the most important thing to me, the thing that motivates me intrinsically, not intrinsically —so not like shiny objects—is basically freedom of time and resources. So, when I have autonomy over what I do and when, I feel at peace, and peace is a big thing for me. So, I never felt that in my day job for, you know, my entire corporate career, because I was never doing something that I was truly, inherently interested in. I was doing things to pay the bills and keep a roof over my head.

And in 2017, on the way home from work one night, I listened to a Tim Ferriss podcast, and the whole conversation was around looking at money in a different way. Like the money in your pocket, your dollars are an army of employees that can work for you, or they can be like the employees that go out to The Gap and become a sweater that you never wear, right? Like I got home, like I completely lost my mind and I was like, "Honey, we're going to retire early," and I completely changed my life.

The way I spent money. I became a minimalist to the degree that I could. I call it messy minimalism because I think about minimalism as a steer, an organized lifestyle which is not mine. But I became a messy minimalist. I got rid of things that just didn't mean anything to me anymore, and that took me down a course of, you know, creating boundaries. This was pre-diagnosis, but I knew I had this propensity to buy things I didn't need, and I knew where they came from. The triggers came from my email list when all of my favorite retailers would say, hey, there's a sale this weekend and I would buy things I didn't need.

So, you know, I combed through my email and I didn't have Amazon like as an app on my phone anymore, and I did all of these small things that were external triggers that eliminated that instant spark to buy or get something I didn't need. And as I was able to manipulate my environment to manipulate my behavior in a positive way, it really did move the dial. I know it sounds kind of simplistic.

Laura: I wasn't thinking that at all, Caren. I was thinking...

Caren: Oh really?

Laura: "Oh my gosh, I want to do this." And I was actually starting to feel a little bit overwhelmed, like, "I want to do this. I want to do all of this."

Caren: And then get excited about money and finance. That took me down a rabbit hole of personal finance. And, you know, get an app on your phone where you can track your personal wealth or your personal debt. But, you know, to see momentum for me anyways is a huge motivator. And then to have that "why". I wanted to not have to work for anyone I didn't like or do things I didn't like ever again, because that's really hard for an ADHD. It's hard for anyone.

But when you have an interest-driven brain forcing yourself to do things you don't want to do day after day, it's like a death by a thousand cuts, right?

Laura: Right, right.

Caren: So, for me, it was a huge motivation. And I mean, I'm very privileged to say that I'm in a position of financial independence now. I do everything today because I'm passionate about it, not necessarily because, you know, I'm living paycheck to paycheck and I have so much peace in my life because of that.

Laura: That's amazing, by the way. I'm like, I'm really pumped up over here. You can't totally tell, maybe. What are some of the simple things that you coach your clients to do that are such a game changer? I mean, I'm hearing this about like finding out what intrinsically motivates you, like what's really important to you? What about in the day-to-day? What are some simple changes that have been kind of mind-blowing for some of your clients?

Caren: So, planning is this very grounding process of sitting down at the top of the week to truly understand, you know, what you need to get done in that week to move you towards you know, the life you want rather than the life you don't want. So, planning your week, doing a weekly review so that you can look at what you accomplished the week before and reinforce that you are somebody who does important things and then follow through with things.

And it really helps build that muscle of discernment that I was talking about, of what's most important this week, and especially if you're someone who struggles with overwhelm because you want to do all the things all the time to sit down and try and plug all of those things into your calendar, you start to realize, "I probably can't do all of this stuff."

And then time measuring. So, a lot of issues with my clients is, again, wanting to do too many things. And what they realize is with ADHD is we struggle with the passage of time. So, we have to externalize that muscle of time management with alarms or timers or anything like that. But start with, you know, all of the things that you have to do in your day, the big rocks or the non-negotiables like getting your kids out of bed, getting them to school, time them. See how long it takes from you to wake up to getting your kids out the front door. You might think it takes 30 minutes, but it probably takes, I don't know, an hour and a half.

Laura: It does, it does. You're right. It's an hour and a half.

Caren: Yeah. And then as you start to realize how long things actually take, then you realize how much time of your day is already, you know, spoken for by the non-negotiables in your life. And then you've got, like, the priorities that you want to grow in your life, and you realize "Time is precious. And I may only have like an hour or two a day to, you know, dedicate to the things that are most important to me." And once you realize that, then you build that muscle of discernment, you get very clear on what you can do and can't do, and you start saying no more often.

Because we are infamous for, you know, we're good people and we're people pleasers, and we want to say yes to all the things and help all the people and go all the places, but we just can't. So, that tangible practice of planning and timing along things in your day to day life take can be incredibly eye-opening. To realize how little time you have, and that can really help you hone in on what's most important and what you do want to spend your precious free time focused on.

Laura: I have been taking notes, if you've heard me typing, just FYI. I've got it. I've got them highlighted in my little document here. I'm feeling like I want to go sit and just think and process all of the great tidbits that you've provided. And they're more than just tidbits. You're doing a lot of really important deep work, and I really appreciate that. Where can our listeners find you?

Caren: Well, if you are a YouTube watcher, then I would love for you to come find me there. And you can also, if you're a podcast person like you mentioned at the top of the show, my podcast is "It's the ADHD friendly show" and jump on my newsletter because if I'm, you know, ever doing workshops or anything like that, people on my newsletter will be the first to know about that. So, that's where I share all of the content that I build out every week as well.

Laura: Caren, one more really quick question. I know that we need to go, but I've been meaning to ask you, tell me about the topknot, the hairstyle in your, the thumbnail of your podcast.

Caren: That's so funny. That's actually just stock photography, and...

Laura: OK.

Caren: I found that one day —first of all, it's a pink background and I love pink — but the topknot to me, is just so symbolic of "Get your hair up in a messy bun, throw on some lipstick,k and get her done," or lip gloss, whatever you want. It's like a lexicon of "We're just going to put her hair up and we're going to get this done."

Laura: Love it. That's how I interpreted it.

Caren: Exactly.

Laura: Messy bun. Yeah.

Caren: Messy bun, get it done.

Laura: Cool. Well, thanks so much for being here today, Caren. Everybody check out all of Caren's great work. And, yeah, thanks. It's been really lovely.

Caren: Oh, I so appreciate being on and I appreciate your time. Thank you as well.

Laura: Thanks for listening. As always, if you want to share your own "aha" moment, email us at ADHDAha@understood. org. I'd love to hear from you. Be sure to check out the show notes for this episode. We have more resources and links to anything we mentioned.

This show is brought to you by Understood is a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering people with learning and thinking differences like ADHD and dyslexia. Learn more at And if you like what you hear, help us continue this work by donating at

"ADHD Aha!" is produced and edited by Jessamine Molli. Jessamine, are you there?

Jessamine: Hi everyone, I'm still here.

Laura: And Margie DeSantis.

Margie: Hey, hey.

Laura: Our theme music was written by Justin D. Wright, who also mixes the show. Ilana Millner is our supervising producer. Briana Berry is our production director. Neil Drumming is our editorial director, creative and production leadership from Scott Cocchiere and Seth Melnick. And I'm your host, Laura Key. Thanks so much for listening.


  • Laura Key

    is executive director of editorial at Understood and host of the “ADHD Aha!” podcast.

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