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Lawyer Adam Sosnik was miserable in his job. Miserable when he couldn’t concentrate, which was often. Miserable because it was physically uncomfortable to focus on even a small thing, like writing a single sentence. The trouble was, he was being treated for anxiety and depression, but not ADHD.
When he began working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, his wife noticed his frustration. And with her encouragement, he booked an appointment with a new psychiatrist. That led to an ADHD diagnosis, which validated the discomfort Adam felt. But it also marked the beginning of a new struggle.
Also in this episode: Adam talks about ADHD and tics and his experience with Tourettic OCD (TOCD). And how he’s charted a new way of living that’s finally made him happy.
Adam: The most "aha ha ha" was during the pandemic when I was continuing to work a job that made me miserable and my wife was recognizing that as it made me more miserable, my ability to continue to pursue it in the face of frustrations was decreasing. So, I finally said, "I can't take this anymore. I'm miserable. And I want to see another psychiatrist. You know, I do want to ask him about ADHD."
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 Adam Sosnik. Adam is a listener who wrote in and shared his ADHD "aha" moment with us and we wanted to invite him on the show. He's also a lawyer who's based in Florida. Adam, thank you so much for being here today.
Adam:Thanks a lot for having me. Really excited to talk to you.
Laura: I'm excited to talk to you too. And I love already like the energy that you bring is just it's very, it keeps me up. I like that.
Adam: I've been wired for a little bit. I've only walked through this conversation about a thousand times over the past three days, and I tried everything in my power to not do that thing.
Laura: Oh, no, it's hard, you know, we're just going to keep it casual. We're just going to chat. And I guess we'll start with you telling me and the listeners when you were diagnosed with ADHD.
Adam: Yeah. So, I'm 36 right now. I was diagnosed formally in February of 2021.
Laura: Pandemic diagnosis.
Adam: A pandemic diagnosis. So, once the pandemic started and I was working remotely, my wife was able to see me and how I worked and what made me miserable, and I'd been miserable for a long time in my job as an attorney. And she was able to see that when I was miserable, my concentration lacked, and I would be walking around the house not knowing why I was in rooms and looking for any kind of distraction or side project other than the work.
She said, "Maybe you do have ADHD," because we had previously talked about it. I'd been in treatment since 2005 for what I was told was just anxiety or depression, and I was told maybe a little of ADHD, maybe a little bit of bipolar.
Laura: It's that helpful to hear? Just maybe a smattering, right?
Adam: A smattering, a touch. I can manage a touch of whatever this.
Adam: You know, I later learned that those things don't have a touch of it. It's just symptom severity. But I have it through and through, and I've been on every medication you could possibly think of for anxiety, depression, bipolar, some OCD-type medication. Nothing worked. Surprise, surprise. So, I finally said, "I can't take this anymore. I'm miserable.
And I want to see another psychiatrist. You know, I do want to ask him about ADHD." We had one appointment and at the end of it, he said, "It really looks like this is ADHD." And I had your classic instantaneous reflection on every single second of your life, and I just saw everything differently.
It was kind of like those like crime movies where at the end they realize who the killer is, and then the detective starts thinking back to all the different events that he participated in, or she participated in. All of a sudden, they see it from a different perspective. It was just incredible, and it felt awesome. It was just this surge of validation, which validation is probably what I have just been seeking my entire life.
Laura: I want to stick with the conversation with your wife for a moment. That sounds like her telling you what she was seeing in you about concentration was really a tip off for you. I'm wondering if you could just speak a little bit more about your thought process when you were trying to concentrate and you couldn't. Like, what was it about that period of time that was obviously the coming together of the comment from your wife and whatever was happening with you, that was a tipping point?
Adam: So, I was at the time practicing corporate law, you know. I liked law school. From the second I graduated and started working, I realized I had made a mistake. Absolute first second I walked into work. So, I was miserable, and I felt stuck. The salary was good. I didn't know what else to do.
Laura: Why do you think that is?
Adam: I have motivation issues. I have impulsivity issues to allow myself to be distracted by things that are more interesting. And so, she was seeing the increase in my inability to sit and do my work. And a lot of that was hard, but also a lot of it as a younger associate is a lot of mundane work, just drafting mundane, boring stuff. And she saw as I got more frustrated and miserable, I was able to do less and less of this to the point where it was starting to impact significantly my interactions with the world around me. You know, my temper was a lot shorter.
Traffic was making me even more frustrated than it usually is, and I couldn't relax on the weekends, you know, any time I could be getting a phone call or an email saying, you know, this thing on Monday, we have to do and it's going to rain, it's going to ruin your life. And so just to have that unknown constantly hanging over my head, my happiness and my health and my sleeping ability decreased.
Laura: You used the word miserable, which I think is a great adjective to use, but it wasn't like some people may hear the word miserable and they may think sadness or depression, right? And I know that you maybe had been, maybe had a smattering of that or a misdiagnosis of that, but it sounds like the "miserableness" it wasn't necessarily a depression so much as it was "I'm bored, I'm frustrated. I can't make decisions. I'm distracted. I'm constantly waiting for the next thing and that's leading to irritability and moodiness," which is all part of that ADHD cornucopia.
Adam: You nailed all of it. And all that manifested almost into a physical discomfort where it's like, if I had a type of sentence, I just couldn't physically do it because it was so painful to focus all of my attention on writing a coherent sentence. And it was physically painful to do, and it would just take me so long to do things.
And then I, you know, it was a catch-up and a mad dash, and that never works out. But you're right, it wasn't sadness. I didn't know what it was. I just knew I felt bad. And if you feel bad, it's probably anxiety or depression, because that's what the TV commercials tell you. But every single therapist I had... the balloonist in those depression commercials is not me.
Laura: Yeah, and to your point, like your productivity at work wasn't suffering, even though maybe it felt like it was. But it sounded, based on what you said earlier, right, you managed to just push through it.
Adam: Yeah. So, with and especially with law — I don't know anything about other careers — you're basically competing against every other person to first to make partner and then to attract clients. And eventually, it would get to the point where I would be of a certain age where you're either on track to, you know, making partner and becoming a bigger deal at work or you're kind of just going to fade into mediocrity.
And I kept thinking that that breaking point was going to be coming. Every single day I'd wake up thinking that today's going to be the day where all the peers my age who've been practicing as long as me are going to be recognized as more talented or more reliable. So, that was the constant feeling that I wasn't meeting expectations. And to a certain extent, I really don't think I was, you know, my goal was to do as little work as possible, just get through the day and try and find the pleasure in it, which is really tough when you have to account for all of your hours, you know, billable hours.
And it doesn't matter if you're working from 9 to 10:30 at night, if you've only billed for two and a half hours of work, that's all they see as your workday. Every single thing about that career was wrong environmental-wise. It just exasperated all the preexisting conditions that I knew I had, and I just didn't know that put together as a package it's ADHD.
Laura: It was ADHD.
Laura: I want to hear you talk about what I'll call your second "aha" moment. Your wife approached you about your concentration and that seems like an "aha" that led to your diagnosis. After you got diagnosed, then you had a childhood home "aha" moment that it's extremely resonant for me because I had the same thing. So, will you tell us about that?
Adam: I would love to tell you about that, and I hope my parents never listen to this.
Laura: I feel the same way.
Adam: So, I found out I was diagnosed, and it actually came on that very same day, literally on the way home from a doctor's appointment. My wife was pregnant at the time, 20 weeks pregnant, and she had that 20-week ultrasound. And we found out our daughter was going to be born with what's called a congenital diaphragmatic hernia that spirals into a whole lot of other conditions, but ultimately, it's a lung issue. If you can't breathe, nothing else matters. So, that's when I kind of realized that everything we thought about ADHD was true.
So, I was dealing with that literally the same hour that I was dealing with what we found out was going to be a significant life-altering medical condition for my daughter. And we ultimately decided that Florida would be the best place to move to. They had a hospital here in Saint Petersburg, Florida, where they had the best unit in the country to treat my daughter and my parents had moved to Florida. And just for fun, I went through some of the boxes of my old stuff that my parents had — my artwork, my report cards, not looking for anything in particular — and I found in it and I'm actually holding it in my hand right now...
Laura: Oh wow!
Adam: ...and so it's this 12-page report from when I was five years old in 1992. Apparently, my preschool teachers had suggested that I might not be ready for public school kindergarten, whatever those high standards are. So, I found this in my parents' house and I read through this, and at the end of reading it, I was like, "What the F! You guys didn't tell me about this? It is literally a play-by-play of what an ADHD diagnosis looks like."
"Adam is an extremely active boy who is constantly moving or fidgeting throughout the session. For example, he was either shaking his foot or moving around his chair. In fact, his favorite activity was to spin around and around in the examiner's chair. Adam seemed to have a lot of energy, which he constantly needs to keep in check. The level of activity interferes with his ability to focus and to concentrate on work. He seems to manage to harness his energy well for approximately one hour after that amount of time, his attention begins to wander, etc., etc.."
Laura: It's like out of a dictionary.
Adam: It was like textbook, textbook. And I brought this to my parents, and I said, "Why didn't you tell me about this?" And they kind of thing, you know, they're boomers, we're Jewish. Their parents were first-generation Americans. Their grandparents were from the old country. Mental health wasn't something that was talked about. It was a shanda to say in Yiddish.
Laura: What does that mean in Yiddish?
Adam: It's just, it's a shame on the family.
Laura: Oh wow.
Adam: And, you know, it's a stigma. Not that this was openly talked about, but that's just kind of the impression you got just from growing up in my household. And they didn't really know what to say. My mom, I think, said "We just didn't know what this meant at the time, and so, we didn't know what to do." And that's when all of my excitement that I was diagnosed and now I could begin the process of recovery turned into anger without my ability to stop it.
I was angry that this existed and that I could have known about this, and I could have brought this to other therapists. Throughout my process. I was angry that the psychologists doing the report didn't say that it was ADHD. The recommendations at the end were to go to a smaller kindergarten and then afterwards to public school, I guess, and go to occupational therapy and to have more structure at home. So, that timeout was created in my home where I sat and looked at a wall to calm down.
Laura: That was the, that was the structure?
Adam: Exactly. That was the structure. And for a long, long, long time after that, their lack of understanding maintained the anger inside of me. And it wasn't until recently where my acceptance of their lack of understanding kind of became my own understanding in and of itself, right? That open issue that I was angry about was now finally going to come to an end. Finally, that chapter was closed out because I came to that acceptance. And once you accept it, that's the understanding of the situation, and nothing to do but go forth from there. And so, a lot of that anger has gone away.
But I got to say that the treatment itself didn't really begin and I didn't really begin to learn coping mechanisms until recently because that diagnosis happened right before we were going to move to Florida permanently for this hospital. And then my daughter was born, and she was in the hospital for five months, continuously hooked up to every machine imaginable. I'm walking around knowing that I have these issues, that I'm not going to be able to manage all this.
And surprise, surprise, I didn't, and my mental health deteriorated even further. My relationship with my wife deteriorated even further. So, it wasn't this immediate. "Oh, I have ADHD. Aha!" Now it's time to start addressing it. It was "I have ADHD. I don't know what to do. No one has been able to help me before. I'm angry about it. And now the universe is throwing me a curve ball that no one ever wants."
Laura: How is she doing now?
Adam: She's doing great. She'll always have some management, but she is doing great. Cognitively, she's healthy. She's doing great.
Laura: I want to pause and reflect for just a moment on everything that was happening. You had the pandemic. You have your daughter coming into the world with severe health issues. It's so much to go through and at the same time an ADHD diagnosis. And it sounds like that's a lot, a lot, a lot happening. And then, it sounds like maybe with about a year of processing because you got diagnosed in 2021 and everything that you went through, then you started towards treatment and then there was another diagnosis that came into play. Is that right?
Adam: Correct. I also have a kind of an OCD and Tourette's combination called Tourettic OCD, is what the new term for it is. And I kind of figured that one out on my own. And then I did reach out to psychologists in the area, and it was just my process of elimination.
I did always have tics, and I knew about that and the tics, I do you remember started when I moved before fourth grade, I moved from New Jersey to New York, and I loved where I lived in New Jersey. I had all these friends. Now I move somewhere where I have nothing, and I had no one. And all of a sudden, I developed tics.
Laura: And I don't know much about tics. And I will not pretend to be any sort of expert on them, but I know that from content on Understood that's expert vetted, about half of all kids with chronic tics have ADHD, and about 20% of kids with ADHD have chronic tics. I know that the issues are highly co-morbid. Highly co-occurring.
Adam: Yeah, I kind of call it the Holy Trinity, the ADHD, OCD, Tourette's Holy Trinity. And I will say this: the Tourette's and the OCD are child's play compared to what the ADHD does to you, especially as an adult.
Laura: Wow, that's so interesting. Tell me more.
Adam: So, as an adult, I've kind of learned to suppress the tics. There's always a bubbling energy underneath me that wants to tic. I've learned to kind of deal with the OCD, and it's a different type of OCD. I don't have any irrational fears. The compulsions are exclusively physical.
A good example is I could walk through a door and close it and then say, "Uhm, let me just go back and close that door again so that it feels better so that it closes a little better and I can hear it click perfectly." An hour later, I can walk through that door and not even have that thought. So, it's a very odd physical driving urge.
But the ADHD, I can't control my thoughts when my instant reaction to something is driven by ADHD wiring. And so that's the part — it's the emotional aspect of ADHD, which has by far scarred me the most, which does and continues to cause the most damage because managing emotions is really important in every single interaction. And you can't hide it, especially engaging with other people. You know, your reactions, you can kind of read them on your face.
And so the ADHD, it just was so much more devastating and continues to be and it's so much less manageable and unpredictable than the Tourette's or the OCD. So, ADHD is the nastiest of those three.
Laura: I imagine that for some listeners that will come as a surprise to hear that. And of course, everyone's story is different. For some folks, I'm sure that they're OCD or their Tourette's is much more difficult to manage than their ADHD. But I hear you. I mean, the managing emotions aspect of ADHD, which so many people don't even realize is a thing, but that is all tied up with executive functioning challenges. That's really hard. How in particular have you struggled with managing emotions?
Adam: I realized my whole life I've been lost in thought. Everything I'm doing, I'm not thinking about that thing. I'm thinking about something else. And so, it took a lot of retraining my muscle memory to pay attention to what I am feeling. And I think that's a really high-level skill for everyone.
And so, as a child, as an adolescent, as a young man, I just didn't have the skill. Something was blocking my ability to see the misery and then to connect it to in the moment when I’m miserable, "What am I really feeling?" And I don't know how to better explain it other than it's just a matter of paying attention. And I realize every single thing I do, I mean, I drop things all the time and I'll go to pick something up and I'll drop it immediately, and I believe it's because I'm not paying attention. I go, my fingers touch the thing that I'm going to pick up, and my mind immediately says, "Job done. You've gotten that thing, time to move on."
But the fact of the matter is, all that happened was my hand went around it. There's also you have to pay attention to closing your hand and feeling the grip and then lifting it up and walking and recognizing there's something in your hand. And all those are specific tasks and things you have to pay attention to. And if you don't, you're liable to miss one of the steps and I miss steps all the time. Every single thing is multiple steps, and I realize I just don't pay attention to it.
I really don't think that's exclusive to ADHD. I think a lot of us walk around diverse neurodiverse everything in between, everything outlying. I think we all walk around lost in thought for the most part, with very little attention paid to what's going on right now.
Laura: I just want to reflect for a moment on, you've used the word "miserable" so many times in this interview, and I'm not saying that as judgment. It's just as something that I've noticed, that you quickly tend to follow it up with this moment of reframing what that is. And it seems like a big part of your journey is unpacking those little, tiny tidbits of like, "What do I mean by miserable and how can I turn that around?"
Adam: 100% correct, especially because objectively, more comparatively, my life isn't miserable. It's great, but it's hard to see that, and it's hard to accept that when everything is frustrating. And if you can't manage all these frustrations, it's going to tear you apart. And there was no better word other than miserable. And misery builds on itself, and misery is addicting. And once you're addicted to misery, that's your comfort food.
And so, to this day, it still feels weird to be happy about something or to start feeling miserable at something and then taking that beat and saying, "Why is going out with my in-laws to dinner making me miserable? Why is planning this project or this meeting, you know, making me miserable?"
Laura: And some of those things have nothing to do with ADHD, but it sounds like...
Adam: Nothing to do with it.
Laura: ...this process has like kind of helped you with self-awareness, maybe on all aspects of your life.
Adam: It helps me package the issues together and then attack it, seeing the whole picture.
Laura: Well, Adam, I'm excited for you on this journey of finding coping skills and understanding yourself, and glad that your daughter is doing OK.
Adam: And she's going to be a big sister, so...
Adam: Thank you. Thank you.
Laura: And I want to thank you for listening to the show, for writing in to the show, and for being on the show.
Adam: I commend you guys. Your show is so refreshing. I haven't been able to talk to anybody about what coming out means with ADHD. And now I'm listening to all these stories and holy cow, this is a huge event in all of our lives. It's like being reborn, so it's just a super refreshing twist.
Laura: Thank you. I really appreciate it. And now you're part of it.
Adam: And now I'm part of it.
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 ADHDAha@understood.org. 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 Understood.org/mission. "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.
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