College student Chris Lozano seems calm on the outside. But on the inside, he feels “like a volcano.” He has trouble sleeping, sitting still, and stopping his mind from wandering. And often his only relief is going to the gym — to the point of obsession — or riding motorcycles. Hear how Chris came to get diagnosed with ADHD at 26 and why he went back to college to seek a career helping people like himself.
Also in this episode: Chris shares how he’s coped with substance abuse and other risky behaviors.
Andrew: We hear a lot about students with learning and thinking differences like ADHD and dyslexia. But what about working professionals? Join host Eleni Matheou on Understood' new podcast, "How'd You Get THAT Job?!" as she chats with people about their unique and sometimes unexpected career paths. From teachers with ADHD to writers with dyslexia, each person has their own story to tell. Hear the advice and strategies that help them on their journey and the role that learning and thinking differences played. Listen to "How'd You Get THAT Job?!" wherever you get your podcasts. Brought to you by the Understood Podcast Network.
Chris: I noticed with me, I couldn't stop thinking. I can become very impulsive. So I feel like I indulge in a lot of risky behavior, like when it comes to like motorcycles or like cliff jumping and stuff like that. It's also difficult having a conversation. I would feel like I there, like physically, but my mind, I would be at three different places at the same time, thinking about a hundred different scenarios. I thought it was just something personal that I could change it by myself. And then I realized it wasn't that — I feel like there's something like chemically wrong in my brain. And then I started seeing a therapist and then that's when it all started. And I was like, damn, I really do have it.
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 Chris Lozano. Chris is a 27-year-old college student who lives in New Jersey. Welcome, Chris.
Chris: Thank you for having me.
Laura: I actually wanted to ask you about the gym and athletics. You're a really athletic guy, aren't you?
Chris: Yes. Yes. Since I was young, I've always played sports. Like for me, I have to stay busy or I feel like I'm going crazy inside. Going to the gym and staying active is very important to me. I love how I feel when I'm being active.
Laura: How do you feel when you're being active?
Chris: I feel like myself. I feel like I'm OK in a way. I feel like I'm normal. How I am in the gym and how I am like in school or something is completely different.
Laura: Tell me about feeling crazy when you're not working out or not at the gym. What's that like in your body and in your brain.
Chris: On the inside, I feel like a volcano, but on the outside it looks like I'm calm. And when I'm working out or if I'm doing something I really enjoy, I feel normal in a sense. And I know like in today's world, like what is normal these days? But for me, I just feel like I feel OK. I can take a step back and I feel relaxed because I feel like a lot of us just don't take the time to really tune in to our emotions. So I feel like that's a very important thing for me.
Laura: When did you get into sports and working out?
Chris: So I got into sports at a very young age. I grew up playing T-ball and then Little League.
And then I played high school, and I was like an all-around athlete, from baseball, basketball, and football. And, um, I'm sorry, what was the question again?
Laura: I love that. That happens to me all the time. I was asking, when did you get involved in sports and working out?
Chris: OK. Yeah. So I got involved maybe at the age around 10 till maybe about 17. So I was always playing on a team, you know, for the schools. And then once high school came along, I think that's when my, um, ADHD started settling in.
Laura: And that was affecting you on the baseball field, on the basketball court, on the football field?
Chris: Just everything in my entire life. Yeah, everything. I just felt like I wasn't myself. I felt like I couldn't function properly. I was always like just too busy thinking. Very, just sad. And that's why I stopped playing sports. To play in high school, you have to have good grades to stay on the team. And for the most part, I wasn't even in school. Cause I was always in therapy all the time.
And in order to stay onto the team, you have to have good grades and have a good attendance record. And for me, I'm surprised I even made it without being held back a grade.
Laura: So sports was revoked for you because of absences and grades.
Laura: Chris, I'm so sorry. That was your rock — was playing sports. That must've been really hard.
Chris: Yeah. And I feel like that's when like depression and stuff all started for me.
Laura: In an ideal world, they would have said, well, play more sports and then we'll get, that'll help you with your attendance and getting your grades up, right? Do you think ADHD in any way helped with your sports performance?
Chris: Yeah, because I'm super fast. I'm super fast with anything I do. It's weird. Like when I cleaned, I could clean faster than anyone. I do things really quick. I really get things done.
Laura: For me, I was a really competitive volleyball and basketball player. And that's how I channeled a lot when I was in high school. I didn't know at the time that I had ADHD. I didn't even know what ADHD was. But I knew that I had this ability only when I was playing sports to like summon up all of my focus and my energy and just be so intense and in it. And I couldn't do that anywhere else.
Chris: Yeah, I love that intense stuff. I love that too. I love it.
Laura: When were you diagnosed with ADHD?
Chris: Over a year ago.
Laura: What was it specifically that led you to pursue an evaluation?
Chris: I notice with me, I couldn't stop thinking. Not being able to focus. My thoughts are scattered all the time. I think I have hyperactivity and impulsiveness. I become very impulsive. I'm not able to sit still for long periods of time. I feel like I need to do stuff like that when it comes to like motorcycles or like cliff jumping and stuff like that. To feel like who I am, you know. I definitely had the symptoms, but I never really got it checked out. I thought it was just something personal that I could change it by myself. And I felt like I could try harder and keep on trying. And I feel like I could just sort of come in on my own. And then I realized it wasn't that — I feel like there's something like chemically wrong in my brain. And then I started seeing a therapist who would say, you know, um, I feel like you may have ADHD, and then that's when it all started. And I was like, damn, I really do have it.
Laura: It sounds like both your body and your mind feel like they're driven by a motor.
Chris: I can feel all the gears working. I feel like it's going a thousand miles an hour.
Laura: Is it overwhelming?
Chris: Yeah. I feel like it's always sad a lot of the times, but you know, it's very hard to manage just daily tasks. I feel like I'm putting all this extra effort just to do normal daily tasks and it's just overwhelming. It's like, like, what's wrong with me? Why can't I just handle like normal heavy stuff, you know? So it's just very exhausting.
Laura: What kind of stuff?
Chris: Like laundry or folding clothes or homework? Vacuuming, cleaning out my room. Washing dishes. It's just.
Laura: It's hard. It's a real thing. Do you ever have trouble sleeping?
Chris: All the time. It's either I sleep around 3, 4 a.m. or I don't sleep at all. And it's crazy because I feel super tired, but I can't sleep. No matter how tired I feel, I just can't sleep. I just last night, yeah, I slept around 3:30, 4 a.m. And then I woke up at 6:30 and I tried going back to sleep, but it just started up here. And then I was like, I'm going to go to the gym.
Laura: And you said "started up here." You're pointing at your head. Is your mind wandering right now?
Chris: Yes. Yep.
Laura: What are you thinking about? I won't be offended.
Chris: I'm thinking about what I'm going to eat. The things I have to do later on today. I'm thinking about school. I actually have to go to my school later on today to get some work done. Because I feel like I have to go places all the time. No matter where I am, I can't be in the same place for a long period of time. I always have to keep moving.
Laura: Do you feel like you are to the point of maybe even being obsessed with sports and working out?
Chris: Oh yeah. A hundred percent. A hundred percent. That's my daily — I have to go to the gym. That's like, it's like food and water to me.
Laura: And what happens if you don't?
Chris: Oh, I just feel super down. I just feel super down.
Laura: You mentioned that you were interested in taking medication.
Chris: Yeah. I'm actually on medication. Yeah.
Laura: Is it helping you?
Chris: Yeah, a hundred percent. I feel like with the thoughts that they slowed down, I think they're more under control. And I mean, I still feel anxious, but it's just, it's not as bad as before.
So like, you know, going to therapy. So I'm learning a lot of coping skills. And, you know, I'm just learning just to take, just take everything, just one thing at a time. And just try not to overwhelm myself, which I do all the time. Therapy and medications are definitely helping me. And I remember before, even when, in my younger years I was so against taking medication cause that felt weak, and I came to an age or the point where I couldn't do it on my own anymore. So I had to reach out for help.
Laura: Good for you. Where do you think it comes from — that feeling of being weak for taking medication?
Chris: I think it's an ego thing. I feel like I didn't need outside stuff to make me feel better. I'm very hard on myself. I think that's what it is. I'm very hard on myself. I'm my own worst critic.
I'm just super hard on myself and I don't need to be that.
Laura: Does anyone else know that you take ADHD medication?
Chris: There's only a few people that know. And now that I've been diagnosed, I still don't even tell people. I felt like if I were to tell people they would start treating me differently.
Laura: What about your family? Are they supportive?
Chris: I don't know. Out of my family, I was always a black sheep.
Laura: How so? What's your family like?
Chris: Oh, we're all good. It's just, you know, I'm very outspoken. So, you know, if I don't agree with things or if I feel like I'm right or I feel things aren't the way it's supposed to be, I'm very outspoken. So I would say I'm very like problematic in a way, but I really stand for my beliefs And with some people, they don't take that well when you speak up for yourself.
Laura: Is "problematic" a word that you're using for yourself or that someone else has used? Chris: Someone else.
Laura: Are you comfortable saying who?
Chris: It's definitely my family. To be honest, growing up, I just felt like my idea of a family wasn't what it was growing up. And like for me, what I realized, what I saw, that's not what I wanted to be. That's how I became the person I am today.
Laura: How do you feel about the path that you're on right now with ADHD and coping with your, with your thoughts?
Chris: Once I got diagnosed, I felt like finally, I feel like everything started making sense now.
Like for the first time in a very long time, I felt understood. Like, I felt like, damn, like I knew I knew it was something, but I actually didn't know what it was. I was just too, I was just in denial of it. And then, you know, once I started taking this seriously, which was like, wow, like everything started to make sense. Like I felt understood like for the first time ever.
Laura: Are you kinder to yourself?
Chris: Yeah. In the past, I did a lot of like self-harm and so I felt like I was always like punishing myself, or I just felt like nothing just made sense. And then I don't do that anymore. And I'm just, I'm definitely a lot easier on myself. I'm starting to love myself more.
Laura: So compulsions and some obsessions, is that right? What kinds of things? Well, you mentioned self-harm.
Chris: Like cutting. I had a history of substance abuse. And I just, I feel like I did those things to like, try to maybe escape from reality in a way, or like to cope — a negative way to cope.
But cutting for me, it was the emotional pain was just too much to bear. So I received the physical pain, outweighed that. And you know, with the substance abuse, I just felt like I was always trying to find something to escape to. Like from other people with perspective, they thought of it like trying to do it for attention. And then I was like, well, that makes zero sense to me. And honestly, I just couldn't help it. I couldn't. I feel like I wasn't in control of what I
Laura: Thank you for sharing that. And I'm really sorry that you've gone through that. If I'm channeling some of the experts that we work with, it's that need for stimulation — that need to satisfy and crave. Does that make sense to you?
Chris: Yeah, I think that's why I, like, I indulge in such intense behaviors. I feel like, like when I mentioned earlier about like, when it comes to like my motorcycle, like I love going fast. Like I love stuff like that. I don't know, maybe I'm an adrenaline junkie or I just love stuff like going fast.
Jumping off a cliff when my friends would be afraid to — I'm saying there's nothing to be afraid of, just jump — where I do something normally people don't do. And they think like, dang, wow. Like you're pretty ballsy. I'm just like, I just how I am.
Laura: There have been some studies that have shown that taking ADHD medication, which is obviously a very personal decision and it's not for everybody, but taking ADHD medication can reduce the risk of substance abuse in people with ADHD. Do you feel like that has helped you?
Chris: Yeah, tremendously.
Laura: It sounds like you're a really brave person. And I'm not talking about, you know, jumping off cliffs and going fast on your motorcycle. I'm talking about talking about this openly and going to therapy to really work it out.
Chris: Yeah. My goal with this, or like, you know, the friends, like people I talk to, I just want to help people that aren't asking for help or they're too afraid to ask for help. Cause like I've been there and it sucks feeling that way. And I just wanted to reach as many people as I can. I know what it feels like to struggle. I know there's people struggling still, and I think it's important to take mental health and therapy and stuff like that super seriously, because this is like your life you're talking about and you only have one shot at this, so you want to make the best of it.
Laura: I'm just processing everything you're saying Chris. Cause it's a lot and it's just reminding me how serious ADHD can be. It's real. It affects decision-making. It affects your brain. It affects your relationships.
Laura: Are you OK?
Chris: Yeah, I'm OK.
Laura: I'm here.
Chris: I just feel bad because I remember seeing signs when I was younger. I can remember being in middle school and I remember walking around all the time too, but I just never thought it was serious, you know. And then I don't know why, but I just waited so long just to ask for help. And I look back at the younger me, and I'm saying, damn, I wish I was more aware. I wish someone else saw like what I was doing or took it seriously so I can get help at a younger age. But you know, there's no point of doing that because you're just making it worse. But just looking back, I'm just like, damn, I feel bad for my younger self for sure. You know, maybe, maybe if I got it earlier, I probably would have been on a better path, but it's OK. Because I feel like the road I've been on definitely made me the person I am.
I'm definitely not as fearful anymore. I feel like I go after what I want. And I feel like I very, I have very strong problem-solving skills. I don't like the bulls***. I just go straight to the point.
Laura: Do you think that's a strength that's emerged from what you've coped with through ADHD?
Chris: A hundred percent, a hundred percent, yes.
Laura: You know, it can be painful to look back and wonder how things could have been different if you had noticed things. But remember you were just a kid.
Chris: Yeah. It felt like the treatment I got was just like, I don't know. They're like, oh, nothing's wrong with you. You're just, you're just acting out and stuff like that.
Laura: Does your family believe that ADHD is real?
Chris: My parents are very old-fashioned. So I feel like they feel like you just, you just gotta try harder. He's got to think more positive. I'm saying yeah. yeah. I wish it was that — it's easier said than done. And that's just how they are. They're very, just always go traditional: Do what you're supposed to do and everything will be good. That's not like the case.
Laura: Yeah. It's amazing how those things sink into our bones, right?
Chris: I feel like that's where I got it from. That's why I'm so hard on myself, because I think if I just work harder, if I try harder, if I do more, if I put more effort, I just figured it was never enough.
Laura: Yeah. Between the exercising and like, first of all, your self-awareness of what you need to function and to function well is really incredible, Chris. So you've got your working out, you've got therapy, you've got ADHD medications. And you've got your amazing brain that can do really amazing things when, you know, channeled the way that you want it to be channeled. I think that's exciting.
Chris: I appreciate it. I'm also a psychology major and I feel like my purpose is to help people like you and I, and I want to reach out to not just kids, but even adults that are still not asking for help. And, you know, it's OK to ask for help. You know, that's my purpose.
Laura: You're a psychology major. I didn't know that. What a wonderful choice for you. Is there a particular profession that you want to be in?
Chris: Yeah, so counseling. I've been through a lot of stuff, so I feel like my experiences can help a lot of people. I feel like, just don't do what I did and you'll be OK.
Laura: I understand that feeling, but, you know, look at where you are, whatever you did got you here. And I just, I have chills right now. I didn't know that you were studying psychology. What an amazing — I'm sitting here talking to you and I'm just thinking if I could talk to this person every single day, get my two-minute dose of Chris, that I would probably feel OK.
Chris: Yeah. That's funny. I'm starting to hear that a lot.
Laura: Who else tells you that?
Chris: Oh, friends.
Laura: Do they come to you with how they're feeling a lot?
Chris: Yeah. They come to me for advice. I hear from a lot of people. I'm a very good listener. I'm very, I'm very easy to talk to is what they say.
Laura: Well, let me tell you, if this is you with your mind wandering a little bit in the background,
I can't tell. I just want you to know that I know that you will become a successful counselor and help a lot of people. I think you're going to be really effective and help a lot of people, Chris.
Chris: I believe that too. I feel like being vulnerable is the most important thing when it comes to people and when people are vulnerable, you can learn from that.
Laura: It has been so lovely to talk to you.
Chris: Oh, likewise. It was fun.
Laura: You've been listening to "ADHD Aha!" from the Understood Podcast Network. You can listen and subscribe to "ADHD Aha!" on Apple, Spotify, or anywhere you get your podcasts. And if you like what you heard today, tell someone about the show. We rely on listeners like you to reach and support more people. And if you want to share your own "aha" moment, email us at ADHDAha@understood.org. I'd love to hear from you. You can go to u.org/ADHDAha to find details on each episode and related resources. That's the letter U, as in Understood, dot O R G slash ADHDAha. Understood is a nonprofit and social impact organization. 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: Justin D. Wright created our music. Seth Melnick and Briana Berry are our production directors. Scott Cocchiere is our creative director. And I'm your host, Laura Key, editorial director at Understood. Thanks so much for listening.
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is executive director of editorial at Understood and host of the ADHD Aha! podcast.