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The pain of struggling with basic tasks: ADHD in the pandemic (Ellyce Fulmore’s story)

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Ellyce Fulmore had structures in place her whole life that kept her ADHD hidden. When the pandemic hit, those structures disappeared. Doing basic daily tasks — things like cooking and running errands — got really hard. Then she went down a research rabbit hole on ADHD in women and asked for an ADHD evaluation.

Before the pandemic, Ellyce had been struggling with impulsive spending. It made her feel like she was in control when really the spending was controlling her. Now, she’s the author of the book Keeping Finance Personal.

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Episode transcript

Ellyce: When the pandemic hit and I was laid off from my part-time job, suddenly lost any sense of structure. And I was scrolling on TikTok as many people were, and started seeing some videos of people talking about getting diagnosed with ADHD as an adult and women getting diagnosed with ADHD. 

And I think that seeing those experiences, coupled with the fact that I was really struggling day to day to take care of myself, cook for myself, get errands done, really led to my "aha" moment of "I need to get a diagnosis. I need to seek answers for this because I think it's something that's really impacting me." And at this point, I was really suffering. So, it's something I needed to change. 

Laura: From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "ADHD Aha!," a podcast where people share the moment when it finally clicked that they or someone they know has ADHD. My name is Laura Key. I'm the editorial director here at Understood, and as someone who's had my own ADHD "aha" moment, I'll be your host. 

I'm here today with Ellyce Fulmore. Ellyce is the author of "Keeping Finance Personal." She also offers what she calls shame-free finance education that goes beyond numbers, and you can find more information about that at her website That's Q-U-E-E-R-D-C-O dot com. Ellyce, welcome. Welcome to the show. 

Ellyce: Thank you so much for having me. I'm so excited. 

Laura:  I'm so excited to have you here too. And it's funny, I recently interviewed, I think this name is going to ring a bell for you, Paulette Perhach. 

Ellyce: Yes. Oh my gosh. 

Laura:  So, Paulette was the author of the New York Times story that you were featured in with a big, beautiful picture of you at the top of the article called "For women with money issues, an ADHD diagnosis can be revelatory." You were featured in that story. 

Ellyce: Yes. That was amazing. I love Paulette. I've been an admirer of her work for a long time, so that was a really surreal moment and the absolute best way to make a New York Times debut. 

Laura:  Is it a coincidence that you're here right after Paulette and you have a money-related ADHD story? Is this just a coincidence? Is this just serendipity, or do you think that this is a trend? Women noticing money issues and considering ADHD symptoms as part of the root of that? 

Ellyce: Yeah, I think that it's definitely a thing that is trending right now. Like people are starting to pay attention to it. And I think there's just been such a lack of research when it comes to ADHD and especially ADHD and women, and especially like other things outside of just like the typical productivity, like focusing in class, like, I don't know, the main kind of symptoms that the diagnosis first started with. 

And so, yeah, I think more people are kind of starting to make these connections of like, "OK, if I really struggle with time management and executive function and like all of these things, couldn't this also impact other areas of my life, like my money?" And I think that those connections are starting to be made a lot more. 

And I think that TikTok has also played a big role in really elevating those experiences and those voices. I know, like I'm one creator on there that talks a lot about ADHD and money. But there's also other creators who aren't necessarily finance creators, but they have ADHD, and then they're talking about their struggles with their finances. And everyone in the comments is like, "I struggle with the exact same thing. I also have ADHD." So, I think that there's just a lot more conversations happening around it. 

And yeah, Paulette also has ADHD and she had actually followed me for a while, like we had followed each other for quite a while before that article came out. And so, I don't know how much of an influence I had on that perception, but we've had conversations before, so I'd like to think that maybe that inspired somewhat the contents of the article. And yeah, I'm excited to see there be more conversations around it. 

Laura: She mentioned all the women that she featured in her piece and just how much community that brought, and it was a surprisingly emotional interview. Money can be such an emotional topic. And now I'm going to ask you about money. So, I'm going to ask you about an emotional topic. One of the headlines in that piece that I'm looking at on my laptop right now, the caption under your picture, it says, "After racking up $15,000 in debt, Ellyce Fulmore was diagnosed with ADHD in December 2020." Tell me about that. Tell me about $15,000 in debt. 

Ellyce: Yeah, it's actually $35,000 of debt, but $20,000 of that was student loan debt. And so the $15,000 was specifically consumer debt, high-interest debt. So, that was a combination of a line of credit and credit card. And that was primarily racked up because of impulse spending. And I can look back now and see that most of the spending that happened and most of that debt was stemming from my undiagnosed ADHD, that I was not managing very well at the time. 

So, I was impulsively booking trips all the time. I was impulsively just shopping. I was a student, keep in mind, so I did not have the means to do so. But I wrote about this in my book actually, how I feel like that was an area that even though it was impulsive, I felt in control. That was a decision that I felt in control of. 

And because the rest of my life felt very out of control and I felt like, I don't know, I just didn't fit in and things weren't working. I was doing well, but it always just kind of felt like I wasn't getting it and I didn't know what that was. 

And so for me, spending became this form of I was making those decisions, I was in control of it, and I would feel something every time. So, I would get a dopamine hit and I would feel good; it made me feel good. So, when I was feeling so bad in every other area of my life, that was one area that I felt good about. I obviously didn't feel good about the debt, and I didn't feel good about, you know, after the fact, looking at like, "Why did I buy this thing?" But in the moment, I think that was where a lot of it came from. 

And yeah, it just became really out of control for me. Like, I would forget completely what I even spent that week or that month, and then my credit card statement would come out and I like, honestly wouldn't remember half the things on that statement. And it was all sorts of things like going out to dinner, buying clothes, events, like I said, travel. Just like so many different things to try and get some dopamine from something. 

Laura: I've never heard it described that way. These are decisions that felt like you were in control of when you were spending. Tell me more about that feeling. 

Ellyce: Yeah, it's weird because it was an instance of two things were true at the same time, because on one hand, I did feel out of control and that like, I almost felt controlled by my urge to spend. So like that, that kind of felt like I wasn't...I don't know. I didn't have full autonomy over that. But then on the other hand, it felt as if I was kind of taking control of my happiness and like my emotions and like I was feeling bad and I was problem-solving. I was like doing something that then would make me feel good. 

So, I don't know, it's kind of a weird thing to talk about because I do describe it as being out of control a lot of times. But I also, I think reflecting back, it was a way for me to have a little tiny bit of my own decision-making, and instead of things happening to me, I was the one that was like doing those things and making those decisions. 

So, it was a very strange time, and I think a lot of it at the moment, I was just suppressing it and wasn't really facing how I was feeling. I wasn't really reflecting on it. And it wasn't until years later and actually until writing my book, thinking back, that I was like, "Wait a minute, what was I actually feeling in that moment?" And like, "Why was I doing these things?" 

Laura: I understand what you're saying about, like, it was out of control, but it was this thing that you could feel like you had some sort of agency. And I'm sure that lots of listeners can relate to that. However that may surface. It does beg the question for me, though, what else was happening during that time? What are the kinds of things that you felt maybe out of control of? And you paint a picture, this was during the pandemic, right? 

Ellyce: Yeah, I think so, going through university, I have always been good at school. I've always done well, I've always gotten good grades, and I had everything together. You know, I had the friend group. I was doing well in school, I was active, I had sports I was involved in, and from the outside, I was doing well. I was just like, a well-functioning adult that kind of had all these things going. 

And I was doing really well in university, but I didn't feel good and it always felt like I was kind of out of control. I'd always do my assignments the night before, last minute, which obviously makes sense sitting now, knowing what I know. 

But that like wasn't a great feeling. I always felt like I was behind. I always felt like I couldn't catch up. I always felt like I was doing things just in the nick of time and kind of always feeling like, wow, I wish I had been able to put more time into that. I probably would have done a lot better. Like not feeling proud of a lot of the work I was doing. 

And then I also, I did have a good friend group, which I'm really grateful for, but I also at the same time was really struggling to make friends in my classes and like just feel like I, I always kind of felt like I didn't fit in. And my friend group I had connections to before university, so I think that's partially why. 

But I just was feeling off with that and I was starting to have some — at the time I didn't realize this was ADHD — but I was starting to have some health things. Like I was struggling with brain fog a little bit and having issues focusing and really exhausted during the day and stuff like that. 

So, yeah, I think it was just like from the outside everything seemed great, but I just was not feeling good about so many areas of my life. And I think if someone had even asked me, I'm not sure I would have been able to even verbalize what I was feeling. It just was everything felt off, right? 

And so, I was racking up this debt, and it was about partway through my degree that I realized I no longer wanted to kind of go down the career path that I thought I did. I thought I wanted to be a physiotherapist, and that had been so much of my identity and who I was. And I talked about it all the time, and I was always doing things to work towards that. 

And so, when I had this realization, that's when I also started feeling really guilty and shameful about my money because I realized, "Wow, I don't want to do this anymore. And I have this degree now that I have $20,000 worth of debt for, and I don't even know if I'm going to use this. I don't know if this is even what I want anymore."

So, that kind of forced me to start learning about finances. And when the pandemic hit, I was already on my financial journey. I already learned a lot about money, and I had become very financially literate, and I was kind of implementing a lot of these things in my finances. But I was still struggling, and it wasn't until my ADHD diagnosis that I was able to connect all the pieces and kind of realize why I was still struggling with my money, even though I was doing quote unquote, the right things and following this kind of formula for financial success.  

Laura: So, then things kind of hit a head during the pandemic. You decided to pursue an evaluation. Tell me about that. 

Ellyce: So, like I mentioned, I was kind of feeling off and was struggling a little bit, but I was still holding everything together. And I think a big part of that was because in university, everything was so structured and there was a lot of external accountability from professors and also from my friend group who were in the same degree program as me. So, we had a lot of the same classes and we would always study together. Like I would go to school really early in the morning, stay till late at night with my friends studying. So, I wasn't at home, you know, studying alone. 

So, I had these structures in place I think really allowed me to get by and do well. And then once I graduated, I'm off on my own, and I started my business in January of 2020, while I was also working a part-time job. 

And I was just really struggling since leaving university to basically take care of myself. Like I had a hard time keeping my apartment clean, I had a hard time cooking for myself, I had a hard time like planning out my week, prioritizing things, getting errands done. I feel like I could never sink into a task. Like it always kind of felt like I was like hovering above the task, kind of half in, half out. But I couldn't just sink into it and like, really just focus on one thing. 

And then, especially when the pandemic hit and I was laid off from my part-time job, suddenly I'm at home all the time attempting to kind of kickstart this business and really just struggling to do anything all day. And I, yeah, at that point, I just that kind of was it for me. I was like, "I'm not functioning well at all. Like I'm not taking care of my mental health, my physical health. I'm not able to complete anything that I want to do." And it was really just... I was suffering. It was affecting me a lot. 

And I also was starting to see a lot of TikToks about ADHD and women with ADHD. And that was also kind of at the same time being like, "I think maybe something's going on here." And I should mention to you that prior to that, when I was having those kind of feelings in university, I did go to doctors and I saw a lot of different doctors and health care professionals. 

So, I ended up getting like allergy testing. I got daytime and nighttime sleep studies, I got blood work I saw an ears, nose, and throat specialist, and like so many different things and never was the thought of ADHD brought up. 

So, yeah, I had been seeking answers for about 4 or 5 years leading up to that. And then yeah, the pandemic was just like my breaking point. I need answers and I think that this is it from my own research. And so, I went to my doctor was like, "You need to test me because I'm convinced that I have ADHD." 

Laura: When you were growing up, did you, was there ever any suspicion that you might have ADHD? 

Ellyce: No suspicion at all. And, you know, I think part of that is that my parents are definitely both neurodivergent. Like, my mom actually got diagnosed with ADHD after me, and my dad is 100% autistic, but he's never been diagnosed and they didn't know they were neurodivergent. So, I think that is part of it. When your parents are undiagnosed, they think that that's just typical behavior because that's what they do.

Laura: It's typical. Yeah. 

Ellyce: So, I think that was part of it. I did get told I was a chatterbox and I was, talked way too much in basically every report card that was mentioned. And I got, used to get in trouble for that. But because I had such good grades, it was not a concern that like it's affecting my schoolwork, it was more so, just like "She doesn't pay attention all the time in class because she's talking," kind of thing. 

So, that was one thing. But no one ever flagged that as ADHD or anything like that. And yeah, I think reflecting on it now, I also had a lot of structure in my childhood because I did competitive gymnastics for like 16 to 20 hours a week. So, I was practicing... 

Laura:  Hardcore, Ellyce. That's hardcore.

Ellyce: Yeah, a lot of nights. So, it was like I would go to school, go straight to gymnastics, like come home, eat dinner, go to bed. So, I also had structure in my childhood that I think helps. Like that, having that clear structure helped me kind of function a little bit better. 

Laura: I wanted to go back to the lockdown and talk about loss of structure. You were noticing your struggles in college and then coming out of college. There you find yourself you don't have the structure of college anymore and you also have the pandemic happening. So, that's like a full loss of structure, like 1,000% loss of structure. Why is that so bad for someone with ADHD?

Ellyce: I think everyone is a little different. And I think my particular flavor of ADHD neurodivergence, I need kind of a mix of both. Like, I need some structure to give my day some sort of goalposts and like, some bookends to kind of hold it together. But then I also need freedom. 

So, if I try to like time block my whole day, that's too structured and I feel like I almost struggle in that sense. But having absolutely no structure, it's very hard, I think, for a lot of folks with ADHD, because we already struggle with prioritization, time management, scheduling, like those executive function tasks. 

And so, when you have nothing to attach other things on to, like an appointment or "I'm going to work for this time," or "I have to pick up my kid from school at these times," like when you have nothing in the calendar, it's endless possibilities. And I think in that case, it's almost a hindrance when you have too much time to do something, because then you don't have that sense of urgency or pressure that oftentimes our brain needs to actually get those things done. 

During the pandemic, you have nothing on your calendar. So, let's say I'm like, "OK, I want to write an Instagram caption." I have endless time. I could do it today, I could do it tomorrow, I could do it next week, I could do it whenever. But if I work from 9 to 5 and then I have to eat dinner, I have to walk the dog, whatever, it's like, "Oh, now suddenly I only have an hour in this evening to do other things," and so, it's easier to get that thing done, because you know that that's the only time you have to work with. 

Laura: And when I asked the question, you were right to hedge a little bit because it's not "bad" in quotes for all people with ADHD. Some people may thrive with that lack of structure or depending on the context, person to person, of course. But I used to hate the weekends; I remember that feeling. 

Because I'm like, I don't know, there's I feel like I could do so many things, I could get so much accomplished, but I don't have to. And then I just end up kind of in this shame spiral, feeling low and whatnot. I don't struggle with that as much anymore because I have two kids at home, and so, that just ends up giving you structure whether you like it or not, frankly. 

But I really relate to that. And it makes me wonder if on your path to seeking out an evaluation for ADHD, was there one day, was there like a day or a week in particular that was really tough? Tell me about the moment when you're like, "I'm going. I'm doing this." 

Ellyce: Yeah. I don't know if I have like that specific memory, to be honest. I feel like the pandemic really blurred together for me. So, I know that it happened relatively early on in the year. I would say March, like when the world really shut down and I was laid off and I was just kind of like spending all day at home scrolling on TikTok was the first. 

And then I was like, "OK, well, I'm laid off now. Obviously, this is really hard, but this is also an opportunity for me to put a lot of time and energy towards growing my business that like I wouldn't have had otherwise. 

So, that was what I really wanted to do, but then I was really struggling to get anything done because of the complete lack of structure that we talked about. So, like, I don't remember the specific moment, but I do remember being on TikTok. I remember crying a lot, and I think it was more so like in the fall, that like early fall summer, that I began seriously researching it. 

Laura: And then you got diagnosed with ADHD, and everything was perfect then, right? 

Ellyce: For a moment, a day. 

Laura: For a moment. Yeah. How did that impact how you approach things, having that diagnosis? 

Ellyce: Yeah, it impacted everything. Initially, I would say it didn't necessarily change how I approached stuff right away because I wasn't really sure how to even change things. But then over time, as I learned more and reflected more, especially on like, "Oh wow, I actually do really struggle with these things, but I kind of developed these coping mechanisms to help myself. And maybe there's a better way of doing this that will support me more." Things like that. I think like, over time it started to change things. Like my finances was obviously a big one, and I talked about it a lot. 

And because I was talking about it for my job, I think it was like more front and center where I started to realize these things. But it also affects like, you know, the way that I take care of myself grocery shopping, cooking meals, planning out my week, the way that I approach my business, the way that I approach relationships, like every single area of my life. 

Laura: So, give me an example of something that you have kind of trained yourself to do that you've learned that now as a financial advisor, you share coping strategies, advice that you give.

Ellyce: OK, so big one is definitely having an allowance card. So, having a separate bank card that is separate from all of my other daily banking that I would load a monthly allowance onto, and that would be my card to spend on like fun money. 

So, you know, going out for dinner, buying myself clothes, getting coffee that would all be on that one card. And that worked really well for me because it was not easy to, like, just take money from my savings because it was like a totally different bank. So it'd be like a couple day process to get the money over. So, it was like, had that kind of barrier. 

And then also I had a clear, "This is how much money you have to spend. And like when it's out, it's out." But I also was giving myself permission to essentially impulse spend if I wanted to. Like, I was like, "This is your money to spend however you want, and you're not going to feel bad about it because you've budgeted this money out." So, that was a really big one that I share a lot. 

And kind of, going hand in hand with that is, I call "my five account system" is basically having the cash envelope system, but digitally. So, all of your money is in different accounts. And for some people, this might be overwhelming, having different accounts. 

But for me, I used to have one checking account and one savings account that I opened at the bank that my parents banked at, and I would do everything out of that checking account. So like,e that debit card was what I would spend all my money on and get groceries, pay my bills on, like everything was coming in and out of that account. 

And so, as a result, I was constantly having to do mental math of like, "Has this bill already come out this month? You know, this $100 in my account, can I spend this? Or do I have another bill coming out?" And so, that was a struggle. And I was always getting NSF charges and I was constantly struggling with that. 

So, separating out my money, I will have a paycheck come in, and then the money will be transferred automatically to all these different accounts. So, I have an account for bills where all my bills are paid. I have my spending account, I have a short-term savings account, like investment account. And then oh, I guess my hub. Yeah, my hub is the main account that the money goes into. So, that's kind of like your main one that you disburse from. 

And so, for me, this actually really helped because there wasn't a pot of money sitting somewhere that I could grab from. Everything had been disbursed, so it was harder to get at. And there was very clear, I guess, boundaries of where the money could go. So, I didn't have to do that math anymore. I just knew the money on this allowance card is mine to spend and just don't touch anything else. 

And then also having those separated, it's more out of sight, out of mind, which actually plays to an advantage, I find, because like having your savings out of sight, out of mind, but having an automatic transfer going to them, you're just saving money without even realizing it. And then you check it six months later and you're like, "Oh my gosh, there's so much money in here." 

Laura: That's a really cool strategy. Yeah. That's great. And your book "Keeping Finance Personal." Tell us about that. And then everybody should go out and buy it. 

Ellyce: Yes, OK. So, it is a intersectional, shame-free, trauma-aware approach to money. And it's not a step-by-step guide on how to build wealth, but rather it's a book that explores all of these aspects of your identity and your upbringing, like things like your mental health, neurodivergence, culture, all these things and how those affect your money. 

And in my opinion, and in my experience, both my own experience and working with clients, your money story and money history have a way bigger impact on your financial decisions and behaviors and your ability to become financially stable than just like manipulating the numbers does. Like you can create the most perfect budget with the numbers that work out perfectly. Everything equals out. It's like amazing. And you can still be struggling with your money every month and be struggling to stick to the budget or to reach the goals that you want and all of these things. 

So, that's kind of the gap that my book aims to fill, because no one's talking about these things. And yeah, there's a whole chapter on ADHD. 

Laura: I love it. Thank you so much. Congratulations. 

Ellyce: Thank you. 

Laura: It sounds really inspired and inspiring. So, I'm so glad that there are people out there like you bringing all of this to the forefront so we can have better tools and have more awareness of what's going on in our brains. And then the website is so folks can check you out there. Is there anything else that you wanted to share with our audience? 

Ellyce: I guess one thing I would add or just draw attention to you if you're going to my website is I do offer a six-week money management program for folks who are neurodivergent, and it's called the Neuro Spicy Money Method. And I open enrollment a few times a year. Every cohort has been such an amazing, safe space of people being able to share their experiences and cheer each other on and change their relationship with money. 

Laura: I love it, the Neuro Spicy... 

Ellyce: Money Method. 

Laura: Money Method. I love it. It's so great! Well, thank you so much Ellyce. It was really lovely to talk with you today. 

Ellyce: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. This was lovely. 

Laura: You've been listening to "ADHD Aha!" from the Understood Podcast Network. If you want to share your own "aha" moment, email us at I'd love to hear from you. If you want to learn more about the topics we covered today, check out the show notes for this episode. We include more resources as well as links to anything we mentioned in the episode. 

Understood is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people who learn and think differently, discover their potential and thrive. We have no affiliation with pharmaceutical companies. Learn more at "ADHD Aha!" is produced by Jessamine Molli. Say hi, Jessamine! 

Jessamine: Hi everyone. 

Laura: Briana Berry is our production director. Our theme music was written by Justin D. Wright, who also mixes the show. For the Understood Podcast Network, Scott Cocchiere is our creative director, Seth Melnick is our executive producer, 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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