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“I thought I was just quirky.” Plus, ADHD accommodations at work (Mananya’s story)

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Executive Mananya Komorowski has been described as “brilliant but chaotic” and “unlike any other executive.” Mananya thought she was just quirky, until she found out she has ADHD.

Over the last few years, Mananya has experienced a lot of loss. A number of her loved ones have died. To cope, she’d set her emotions aside and hyperfocus on work. Then her grief counselor recommended an ADHD test. Now, she’s making space to process her feelings. And she’s thinking a lot about ADHD accommodations at work — especially in high-stress executive roles.

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Episode transcript

Mananya: I thought that people were seeing me as quirky and hyperactive and just fun. Did not realize that people may have seen me differently. Then I got emotional also because how have I gotten to this place at the age of 41 as an executive? It meant probably that I have overdone myself and exhausted myself to get to this point.

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 am here today with Mananya Komorowski. Mananya is a celebrity, an influencer executive, and a mental health and wellness advocate. Welcome, Mananya.

Mananya: Hi, thank you!

Laura: I'm so glad you're here today. Can you please explain to our listeners what is a celebrity and influencer executive? Absolutely.

Mananya: I get that question a lot. I think my husband probably still wondering what I do for a living. So, truly what it means is I match major brands with celebrities and influencers in the space. So, it could be any sort of celebrities, whether is musicians, artists or film influencers. It could be TikTokers, YouTubers or thought leaders with major brands in terms of what they want to do online.

Laura: Very cool. And I think I know that you probably won't say this about yourself, but I know that you're kind of a big deal in this space.

Mananya: Well, it's nice to hear that I may be seen as one. But I will say this, I am an OG in the space. I've actually been an influencer on celebrity marketing for about sixteen years now. And influencer marketing was new sixteen years ago, and I got right into it at the start. It was born out of PR and social media and I did not think I was going to be on this ride to this very day.

Laura: So, let's talk about ADHD, Mananya. This is the ADHD Aha! podcast. We want to know about, number one, when were you diagnosed with ADHD?

Mananya: About four months ago at most. So, this is a new journey for me and a surprising one. So, the "aha" was no more than four months ago.

Laura: Tell me about that "aha." And welcome to our ADHD community, by the way.

Mananya: Thank you, thank you. I'm learning so much about the community, but also of course, I'm learning so much about myself. I have a lot of "aha" moments throughout the entire day, but the moment it really happened was I had honestly seven close deaths in five years and three major caretaking. And still to this very day, I'm doing one major one, tag teaming with my husband. But I was informed that I may have ADHD by my grief counselor. So the latest unfortunate death of a close, close friend, almost a sister to me, happened six months ago, and it was the first time that I felt like my brain was a bit foggy.

And I have always been highly productive, highly on the go without any sort of qualms about it, right? But when I was talking to my grief counselor, within that first hour, she asked me if I've ever been diagnosed with ADHD. And I actually just asked her, I said, "Is it because I talk too fast? Is it because I keep putting things in the parking lot?" And what I mean by parking lot is that, like I have so many things happening in my mind that I'm always afraid I'm going to miss a topic or a point. And so, I'll put things in the parking lot, and then I'll reverse the car when I need to talk about that particular topic. And I just thought that was normal in terms of my pace and speed in which I talk and think. And she said, "No, it's just not about the parking lot. I just feel you may just need to see a psychiatrist."

Laura: She didn't give you any more than that? I'm sorry to interrupt you, she didn't give you any more specifics?

Mananya: No.

Laura: I'm asking because I also know that people with ADHD can struggle with grief in different ways than other people, or sometimes more intensely because of the innate kind of ADHD challenges that they face around managing emotions and impulse control, etc. So, I was just wondering if she had mentioned anything specifically to you. It sounds like no.

Mananya: We're uncovering that right now in our six-month relationship together. But within that first hour, we didn't go further and she didn't push me at all. And it made me curious enough, shall we say, in terms of the ADHD, that she was actually putting a label or name to something, in which I've always just thought it was a personality. Everyone has quirky personalities, right? I just happen to be quirky and hyperactive. And I sought out a psychiatrist and that was a pretty emotional experience for me.

My psychiatrist gave me a series of questions as an assessment. This particular assessment, it was ranked from one through ten, one being low frequency, ten being often, with a special answer, which is you could also say this is the way it's always been. So, one through ten or this is the way it's always been. And within four questions, he looked up at me and said, "We're going to continue for 25 minutes. But I can already tell you you have severe ADHD combined type one." Didn't know what that meant, and I just proceeded to continue. And by maybe the sixth question, I paused him and I said, "Wait, hold on, wait a minute. Why did you just say that? How did you know already?".

Laura: Yeah.

Mananya: And he said, "Because every single answer you've answered so far has been 'This is the way it's always been.'" And I asked him, "So you mean to tell me that the six questions you've asked me others answered differently? Then this is the way it's always been?".

Laura: Wow.

Mananya: But yeah, so we went through the entire 25 minutes and all of my answers were "This is the way it's always been." And that is when I started getting emotional.

Laura: Why do you think you were emotional?

Mananya: That was the moment I realized I thought that people were seeing me as quirky and hyperactive and just fun. Did not realize that people may have seen me differently. Then I got emotional also because how have I gotten to this place at the age of 41 as an executive? It meant probably that I have overdone myself and exhausted myself to get to this point.

Laura: The coping with grief.

Mananya: Yes.

Laura: It's not a topic that we've touched on on this show, and you're certainly the first person who I've had on whose "aha" moment came from a grief counselor, which I'm very grateful to, this wonderful grief counselor that you have. Yeah, coping with grief is harder when you have ADHD.

Mananya: This latest particular grief gave me that "aha" moment in a way that I did not expect because I just thought I was going to go to the next grief, the next challenge, right? But coping with grief, now knowing my diagnosis, has allowed me to stop and actually grief. Because I promise you, if I did not get the ADHD assessment and saw it on paper, that neurologically my brain just, is always on the go, I would not have walked away from an amazing job. My company as much as many corporate entities, when you have such a special relationship with them, they will give you all the time you need. I didn't want anything to hang over me. I needed for me to just grieve because I know medicated or not, my ADHD was going to get me back to something else immediately.

Laura: So, not allowing yourself the time to actually grieve because your brain is moving so fast that you couldn't stick with the grief. Is that what you're saying?

Mananya: Yes. So, I'm blessed to have a partner that's very supportive and a great company I've been with for so many years and professional network that all pretty much by now all probably know that I'm taking care of me. It's really interesting because some of the most highest executives have commended me openly and personally about taking what I call 'press pause.' And I'm proud of myself, too, because, again, my behavior and routine is just go to the next PowerPoint deck. Just go to the next pitch, right? So, that's how the "aha" moment has changed me during grief this time around is I'm actually allowing myself to wake up late this morning, to cry if I want to, so I don't have to like, hide it on a Teams call.

Laura: And what do you think might have happened if you hadn't done that? Like, how would the grief have come out?

Mananya: I would have continued to kill it, but it would have taken a toll on my body. I'm also reading a book called The Body Keeps the Score.

Laura: I've heard of that. Yeah.

Mananya: And I'm also learning that your brain, of course, is tied to many other things. But we don't think about that. We think of our organs as separate entities. I think I would have done continued back pains. I think that I would have continued to maybe breathe faster. My heart's beating faster and I wouldn't even know it. So, I think that my body would have just given me signals eventually, but I would have still, because ADHD folks are pretty freaking smart, when they'd know how to do something, they do it well. They just keep on doing regardless of anything, right? I wouldn't have failed at that, but I think my body would have failed me.

Laura: Right. Sounds like you probably would have burned out because you would have been hyperfocusing on anything you could cling to. It sounds like.

Mananya: Yes.

Laura: And then jumping from one to another. It's really hard when you have ADHD. I'm speaking from my own experience to just sit with how you feel. Isn't it?

Mananya: We don't often sit with how we feel.

Laura: Yeah.

Mananya: Especially when we have roles in society: a mother, an aunt, a wife, a partner, a teacher.

Laura: You were talking about how others might be perceiving you as different than the way that you viewed yourself is. Was it about that? Were you getting feedback from other people that you weren't, or was it really that you had a new conception of yourself maybe?

Mananya: The latter, yeah. And I've never seen quirky and hyperactive and being all over the place and putting too many cars in the parking lot is a bad thing. But then I started to realize, "Wait a minute, how does the world see me? Am I damaged goods?" Now that we're putting a title or label on things, I was just kind of shocked, I guess, that one: I also have such loving friends and colleagues that may have known, but have either adapted to me, have catered to me, or have just accepted me as I am. And don't forget, I've led North America teams. So, that means that I manage a lot of also executives under me and also all the way down to like the new generation. And so, how I show up, I start to think, "Wow, bless them too."

Laura: Do you think that they knew that about you or have you been masking?

Mananya: Absolutely. Because as soon as I received my confirmation, my husband started smiling. I said, "Wait a minute, you knew?" And he goes, "Mananya, of course." My closest colleagues and co-executives, oh, yeah, they all knew. My team under me, all the way down to the new generation, "Wait a minute. You didn't know?". One of the stories when I had approached my close network, right? with this, one of them said, "Mananya, do you not recall how when you just hired me and we had our first one on one, you said to me you don't believe in multitasking? Yes, that's correct. I believe that you should focus on one thing at a time. Give it all you've got." She goes "But you had your Beats headphones on while vacuuming on Kuma with me." I said, "So, what about it?" She goes, "Mananya, I'm your new employee. You don't believe in multitasking and you're vacuuming with headphones." I said "Oh, that's a good example. Yeah."

Laura: That is a great example. However, I wonder, because I acknowledge that you're very new to getting this diagnosis, right? So, I imagine the emotions are just all over the place, right? You're getting this feedback from your husband, from your colleagues that they knew.

Mananya: Yes.

Laura: Do you think that they're viewing that as a bad thing, a neutral thing, a good thing? Like, what's your perception of that, and do you care?

Mananya: I, you know because I have a couple of sets of parents, but she laughed and she said, "Of course you are." But she's from the Thai culture. So, ADHD and cognitive behaviors amongst many things are not often discussed or recognized at all. But my mom is a trendsetter. She knew what that meant, ADHD. And she just laughed and said, "Well, why do you think I've always said since you were young that you're hyperactive, hyperactive, and Thai culture equals ADHD I guess.

Laura: If you look back, do you remember experiencing signs of ADHD growing up? And if so, what were they?

Mananya: Did not see any signs outside of my life mother saying I've always been hyperactive, my husband saying I'm quirky, my friends love me because of it and my colleagues saying I'm brilliant but chaotic. Well, whatever. So, we grieve, right? When we find these "aha" moments because we're like, "Wait, who are we? Are we like not ourselves? What was our old self then? How are we just finding out right now at 25, 22 or 41 in my case?".

And I say life mother because I have a pretty traumatic childhood and therefore I was often abandoned, and my life mother unfortunately wasn't with me past the age of eight. And also that was when I was in Thailand. Again, different cultures don't see things like this as an issue. They try to almost knock the ADHD out of you sometimes, too. And so, after the age of eight, I was placed into a home with my biological parents and unfortunately, they abandoned me pretty often. And so, no one was around as an adult to be able to see me grow since the age of eight. And so, no constant adult to take me to a doctor, no parental unit to see my personality change or my focus change over time, no parents to really notice my grades failing at a certain point. And that's why. I didn't see it until now. And the grief helped resurface something that was truly hidden.

Laura: When did you come to the United States as a child?

Mananya: I came to United States at the age of eight.

Laura: At eight, OK. So that was at age eight. OK, so yeah, that, yeah English language learners and then untangling things like ADHD or learning disabilities from that, that's very tricky.

Mananya: Yes. Yes.

Laura: Yeah.

Mananya: I mean, I came at eight and constantly had to be in survival mode, right? And so, therefore, that is what I truly believe attributed me to building a life for myself professionally here, which is you ain't got other options. You got to do do do, you got to win win win.

Laura: People have described you, I think if I remember correctly from the last time we chatted, as unlike any other executive.

Mananya: Yes.

Laura: What is it about you and how has ADHD manifested for you at work? You know, what do you remember from even pre-diagnosis?

Mananya: Fearlessness? I do have friends and colleagues still that say, "Are you sure you only got ADHD girl? You think have something else too? Because sometimes you say things that everyone's thinking, but we just don't say it."

Laura: So, if that's ADHD.

Mananya: Yes. I guess that's what that is, yes.

Laura: Right.

Mananya: I would say that I do have a sense of fearlessness and that probably as a female and as a BIPOC, it probably catapulted me further in my career and faster just because I don't often hold back in which I've learned through the years that I have to learn how to hold back a little bit, too, to ensure that I'm reading the room and understanding social cues and social norms. But in the world that I work in, it's also good to be unique, right? You have to be a trendsetter to really understand what's next before people know what's coming. And so, I take some of these, like clairvoyance superpowers of mine to be able to predict "Y'all, I know it won't make sense right now. Just trust me on this. I'm seeing, you know, the forest through the trees. Y'all are still in the shrubs. Just trust me." So, I'm also, I think, great in a room, too. And clients love that energy.

Laura: What maybe have you struggled with at your job when it comes to ADHD? And then let's talk about if you can even accommodate for that sort of thing in your role.

Mananya: So, I think that ADHD and accommodations in the workplace in corporate America is still very new, right? And it's so unique per person. So, that's still a journey that I'm hoping to discover and continue conversations, which is what does accommodations for ADHD look like in today's society in corporate America? But what I have had some challenges in is that in my world of Ad PR agency, it is so high paced, it is high volume. And so, when you have to code switch constantly in meetings between 15 different clients you work with and masking, you tend to get exhausted and maybe a little bit faster than some.

And the uniqueness for me in addition is that I'm ESL. English is not my first language. And the culture, even though I'm very Americanized, my processing of my brain pre-knowing about ADHD was already having to translate everything. So, we talk about working in an agency setting. You're working with a pharma client, you're working with a food client, imagine the set of languages and content and information you have to constantly switch to and from. You're working with consumer clients, and then you're working with more conservative clients. Your language also has to change too, often. So it's been something I've excelled at. But that's when I realized, especially tying back to the trauma I face as far as constant losses and stuff like that, is sometimes you just cope and you have insane defense mechanism and you just have survival skills like no other.

And I think that individuals with ADHD, you could fall into having high anxiety and depression because you feel like you can't do it all. Or you could be opposite of me, which is I have zero disclose depression and zero disclose anxiey, because we also took those tests because I'm so severe, that my psychiatrist was shocked. Each time I see him monthly, he said, "I think we need to take that test again. I really want to make sure." I said, "Doc, I'm 41, I'm 41. I think like I've just learned how to survive.

Laura: Let's talk about that some more because that's such an interesting point and one that — if I'm being honest, I've been thinking about a lot lately with my own therapist and talking about how exhausted I feel and even the code-switching that I'll do between like doing an interview like this and then managing a team, just like going back and forth, like have a little vulnerability hangover, and then I move on and I'm talking about budgets, you know, that kind of thing. So, I'm assuming in your line of work, you don't have the luxury of only working with one client per day, right?

Mananya: Correct.

Laura: You can't only get to talk to that food Client. Yeah.

Mananya: Yeah.

Laura: So, you're constantly switching gears, like that's a lot of executive functioning load on you all the time, right?

Mananya: That's correct, yes. You just have to keep on going. And those are some of the accommodations that I think that executives probably will need in the future, which is like the recovery time, the support for executive functioning.

Laura: I want to hear more about that because that's really interesting. I think that's kind of groundbreaking to think about what are possible accommodations for people at this executive level like this recovery time.

Mananya: Yeah.

Laura: I do that after these interviews. I always schedule a half an hour in between my meetings, but I proactively do that and someone could very easily just schedule over that, right? I try to avoid that, but like I don't have a formal accommodation in place to allow for that. Do you have other ideas of other types of...

Mananya: Yeah, and those are things that I don't think, well, I mean, it definitely doesn't exist yet, right? There's no template for it yet because how often do you see executives like me or see levels that could have that large seat at the table to open up this conversation? And that's why I'm doing this podcast interview, is because I want to have people start to think that ADHD is not just with kids between 3 to 5 and then the newer generation. There are folks like us that are like the boomers and the Gen X or whatnot that have it.

So, I would say that some of the things I've learned I will continue to fight for is recovery time, right? And every single industry looks different. But if you're doing a lot of presentations, is it just saying, "You know what, between every single presentation, I need at least the rest of the day to have not one," or if you're doing major patches, is that they you restrict it to only two per month, right? But again, this is why it's so hard to kind of put some sort of rigor and process around it because every single organization is different. So, I think that is the responsibility of each company when they're doing DEAI programs.

Laura: Diversity, equity and inclusion.

Mananya: Yeah, they need to really think about neurodiversity as its own entity. And how do we not just get together and talk about it at these employee groups or business resource groups, but how do we change policies within each company? Because each company has to really take a look and take stock of their employees and the wellness of their employees. From a DEAI standpoint, DNI, I believe still, which is important, focuses on race, culture, gender, and things like that. Again, very important that we've really sparked a lot of conversations, and within the past five years. But let's add neurodiversity to that, too.

Laura: Yeah. So, what's next for you, Mananya? Your new on your ADHD journey.

Mananya: Yes.

Laura: You're still grieving.

Mananya: Yes, I'm still grieving. But, you know, I think that humans grieve and challenges doesn't just come one time, two times and stops, right? We have to learn how to kind of adapt to it. It's just part of life. But really knowing and listening to yourself to go like, wait a minute, this time around is a little different. Let's give ourselves some grace and do some self-care and love. And I don't mean self-care, just like getting massages. Self-care is also knowing to make some compromises in your life so that your heart and your brain, your body is just one.

So, given that I love what I do as a career, I'm still dabbling in terms of doing some projects because I think that it's really important for me even medicated to be able to not just go cold turkey, shall we say, like kind of like slowly take a back seat eventually over time. So, I'm still learning. I'm doing a lot of new cues now. So, learning new things such as Mananya, all right,  write things down more? Mananya, like maybe like don't have 500 outstanding text messages. When you get a new one answer right away. So, just like learning a lot of these new executive functions, to be honest with you.

Laura: Mananya, I'm so glad that you reached out to me and to Understood.org, and I'm just grateful that you came on the show today.

Mananya: Thank you for having me. Thank you to the listeners for taking the time to hear my story out. It's definitely an honor. And but more than anything, thank you for supporting and being a part of this organization, I think is such an important organization and the mission and what you're doing. I think there's a lot of work to be done and coming from where I sit, which is corporate America, I really want Understood.org to really like tap in to that and continue to break through in those conversations.

I think that the newer generation, even though it is hard for all of us to be neurodivergent, they have a very supportive community and you know, it's not stigmatized for them to talk about it. But like for all of the ones that are older, you know, we see you and I really do hope that individuals don't burn themself out and they start to take stock of their life, too, and go, "What's happening? Do I need to take a pause? And what does that look like?" But then again, that goes back to having organizations like you to kind of bring that sort of integrity into what you're supporting and in doing is going to help move the needle a lot, I think, in corporate America.

Laura: Thank you so much Mananya, I appreciate it.

Mananya: Thank you.

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.

 

Host

  • Laura Key

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

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