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Not “dumb” or a “hot mess”... it’s ADHD (Jenny’s story)

Before getting diagnosed with ADHD, comedian Jenny Lorenzo felt like she was “dumb” and “not good enough” — a race car without brakes that left disaster behind. As she learns more about ADHD and how it impacts her, she’s pushing back on people who think ADHD is “a joke” and who don’t believe ADHD is real.

Jenny co-hosts the Hyphenated podcast, an English-language podcast about living in the hyphen that connects American and Latin culture.

On this episode, Jenny shares her take on how ADHD is perceived in Hispanic culture — and how frustrating it is when friends and her community don’t take ADHD seriously. Host Laura Key and Jenny also talk about forgetfulness and why people with ADHD might overexplain things. Jenny also shares that she has dyscalculia, a learning disability in math, and how it impacts her.

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Episode transcript

Jenny: I had a really hard time writing. My brain would think of anything else to do. Clean the house, make animated GIFs, like I would just hyperfocus on something else entirely that wasn't writing. It's like my brain was just like, "Nope, we're not doing it. Nope, nope, nope. It's too hard." Everything was a challenge, like making sure I was always filling up my gas tank and getting my oil checked and organizing my files and responding to email. It was just like, I just felt like a really big mess.

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 Jenny Lorenzo. Jenny is a comedian and the co-host of the podcast Hyphenated, which is an English-language podcast about living in the hyphen that connects American and Latin culture. Welcome, Jenny. How are you?

Jenny: Thank you for having me. I'm good.

Laura: Can you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and your show?

Jenny: Yes. So, I am a Cuban American comedian from Miami, and I've been living in Los Angeles now for almost eight years. And I have a podcast with one of my comedy partners, Joanna Hausmann, who is a well-known Venezuelan American comedian. It's called Hyphenated, and it's about living in the hyphen and something I've been saying for a while to express my experience growing up in the States with a heavily Cuban family. So, you're kind of living between these two worlds.

And so, Joanna had the same experiences growing up, and we still do. That doesn't change. So, we decided to make this podcast. And it's not just about cultures. It's about anything. Just being a multi-hyphenated creator and, you know, wearing multiple hats, all the hyphens, basically.

Laura: Is ADHD ever included in those hyphens?

Jenny: Absolutely. Joanna Hausmann also has ADHD, so it's really interesting recording this podcast with her because we go off on a lot of tangents and we have discussed ADHD before in some of our episodes.

Laura: It's such a great show. I highly recommend that everyone listening to this show check out Jenny's show. OK, so let's dive into ADHD and see if we can stay on track, Jenny.

Jenny: My fave topic.

Laura: Let's start off by you telling me when you were diagnosed and what was happening at that time.

Jenny: It was in the midst of the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, and I was recommended by a friend to go to this testing facility by this really wonderful psychiatrist. And I did it. I did it. I went in and we did the wackadoo three-hour exam in person. And then about a month and a half later, I got my results.

Laura: Why did your friend suggest that you go get evaluated?

Jenny: I just started wondering if I had it because a lot of my friends have it and they told me, "I think you have it." They're like, "This sounds like ADHD, girl. You got to get tested." And that's what I did. I've just always been a hot mess. It's just the reality. And people don't believe me when I say that because I am successful in my career and they're like, "There's no way." And I'm like, "Buddy, you do not know my life." I don't even know how I've gotten this far, to be honest with how scrambled my brain truly is.

But again, the classic stuff, without delving too deep into like RSD and emotional dysregulation, all that stuff, it was like I was always forgetting things, I was always late to meetings, I had no concept of time, I was always locking myself out of my apartment, locking my keys in my car, running out of gas, just feeling like a race car with no brakes. And it was just like, and I was messy, and I couldn't keep a calendar and I would forget people existed. It was just so much, so much, that again, people would be shocked to hear that that's actually how my brain operates.

Laura: Why do you think that people would say that they just can't believe it? Are you masking a lot of the symptoms or what's going on there?

Jenny: If I'm masking, I didn't know I was masking. I think it's just because it presents differently in women. So, even women with ADHD don't know they have it because everyone thinks ADHD is a hyperactive, annoying little boys disorder. So, everyone's like, "I'm not that."

But yeah, like I had a cousin who was like that, who had ADHD, and I'm like, "That's not me." And so, he was just like really badly behaved, and he was like a Tasmanian devil. And I'm like, that's what I thought ADHD was. It was like a mostly ill-behaved issue that little boys suffered from. And I think again, I think so many people think that if you have ADHD, that means you're lazy. And so, they see me as the opposite of lazy because I've accomplished so much. And they're like, "There's no way you have ADHD." That's really what people have told me. They don't believe I have it because of what I've accomplished.

Laura: Does that ever seep into your own mentality and perspective of yourself? I think last time we chatted you mentioned feeling some imposter syndrome.

Jenny: Yeah. I mean, I don't know if the imposter syndrome is entirely related to the, I mean, I'm sure it is, but it's also coming from like a low middle-class Cuban American family, being a woman. So, there's all these other added layers that give me the imposter syndrome of, you know, "I don't belong here, I'm not good enough.” But definitely the ADHD I always felt that I was dumb. For the lack of a better term, dumb is the word.

I went to private school. You know, my mom put every penny she made into my education. And sometimes I would feel bad about that because I'm like, "I'm not that smart." Like, "I didn't really pay attention in class, and I failed math."

But as a kid, though, again, no one raised a red flag about me in terms of my teachers because I was a straight-A student until the sixth grade, which is very common, because that's when math and science starts getting to become a real pain in the ass. And that's when I got my first C, and it was through middle school and high school that I was just a heaping mess. And the only reason why I had a B average in high school was that I was really good at winging it. I was really good at memorizing things 5 seconds before the test, and I would just spew everything on the page and then I would forget about it.

That's why I feel dumb, because when I went to the University of Miami, I went to the university surrounded by so many really well-spoken, well-read white people from like New York and Vermont. And I felt just inadequate, like, "Oh, I don't have that vocabulary. I don't know those facts. I don't remember anything about history or science because I was just winging it. I was winging most of my high school education."

Laura: That sounds exhausting.

Jenny: Yes.

Laura: You have a cousin who has ADHD. And I don't know what the age differences between you, but was that cousin, you know, diagnosed around the same time you were, you know, a younger kid and you flew under the radar and your cousin didn't?

Jenny: He's eight years younger than me. So, no one ever thought, "Oh, Jenny has what he has," because it was so different. It was so, so different. I was a pretty well-tempered kid. I never threw tantrums. I wasn't, like, reckless. I didn't get in trouble in school. The only time I would get in trouble is when I would talk too much, which again, is a classic ADHD symptom in young girls. I mean, in hindsight now, my mom and I told her, I've told my mom, I'm like, you definitely have ADHD.

She just kind of laughs about it. I think it's not that she doesn't believe me. I just think she doesn't understand it and she doesn't really care to fix it or anything at this point. She's just like, "This is who I am, I guess." But it's very apparent that she has it.

Laura: I know that, you know, you're one person, but I'm just curious what your perception is of how ADHD is perceived in Hispanic culture.

Jenny: Like I recently did an ADHD campaign with this company called Understood, and I made a couple of sketches, Instagram reels, of my Cuban abuela character, making fun of the younger granddaughter for having ADHD and the Cuban grandmas like "You kids are always coming up with different acronyms and different like ABCs for different things, and it's not real."

I was very disheartened that a majority of my comments were agreeing with the grandma. They think giving things a title, when it comes to mental health specific — because they don't do that when it comes to like physical health issues, it's more like mental health issues — they just bunch it in with like woke culture for some reason. Like, "Oh, you, you kids and your wokeness and your need to label everything, and none of that exists. Just eat right." Like, I was getting a bunch of comments like that. And that's not just from like older people. It was from people my age, but ultimately, my audience is still predominantly Latino, so. I was very disheartened when I saw those comments. I was like, "Oh, we have a long way to go."

Laura: Yeah, it sounds like a "just try harder" mentality.

Jenny: Yeah. Or like, you guys just want to feel special and get a sticker for saying you have ADHD. Yeah, they were being dismissive of it.

Laura: By the way, "ADHD Aha!" is Understood.

Jenny: Oh, OK. OK. That makes sense. Love this for me. Just discovering this wonderful. OK.

Laura: I love it. Forgetfulness. It happens. It's not a big deal.

Jenny: I think what I struggle with the most is people not empathizing and being open and willing to learn about neurodivergence. And so, they're very set in their ways in thinking, "No, you're just rude" or "You're just a bad person because sometimes you're forgetful, because sometimes you take too long to answer a text, because sometimes you seem to be on a different realm when we hang out. Like you're not as focused, you're aloof."

So, I found myself having to, in even recent years, like just this very year, I lost a friend because the stuff that they felt very negatively about regarding me had to do with my ADHD traits. And when it comes to mental health in general, I think we are all responsible for getting help and for working on ourselves. So, you know, now I'm medicated, I have an ADHD coach. I'm constantly researching tips and tricks and ways to make my life easier.

A lot of it has worked. But ultimately, you know, you need people in your life who are understanding and are willing, because I do that. If I have a friend who gets diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I'm going to research bipolar disorder. I want to know about it so I can understand them better. I don't think that's a lot to ask from people, but, you know, some folks just don't want to. They just want to be upset and they want to see you in this negative light, and they refuse to believe that it's the ADHD and the executive dysfunction that is making you that way.

Laura: And that this is willful behavior.

Jenny: That it's willful behavior, and you're just an asshole.

Laura: This friend that you had a falling out with, did you tell them that you have ADHD and that these were ADHD traits that they were struggling with?

Jenny: Yup. And it didn't go well. She was a little ableist. And I actually suggested I'm like, "Look, if you want to, you can research ADHD, so you see what I'm talking..." And she cut me off and she was like, "I'm not doing that. I'm sorry."

Laura: Oh, geez, I’m sorry to hear that, Jenny.

Jenny: What's more disheartening is when it's another fellow person in your own community, in your career path, also be dismissive of your ADHD. So, sometimes I feel like we're kind of like seen as like the grime and the dirt of the I don't know what it is because people are like, "Oh, you have anxiety, oh you have this, oh! ADHD, you're a dick!" There was another friend who I also had an issue with, and again, these are not like my best friends, these are just people that I've met in recent years, and this one person who's known as like a mental health advocate was quite rude to me because I was again, as most ADHDers, we tend to overexplain — which is a trauma response, I learned that recently — and so, she was mad at me about something that didn't make sense and I was like, "Wait."

And then I started like overexplaining in order for her to fully understand my brain and where it was coming from. And she kept interrupting me and was like, "Why are you talking about this? This has nothing to do with the topic." And I'm like, "I need you to please let me finish my train of thought or I'm going to forget what I was trying to say." And I always make sure to tell people, remember, I have ADHD. I have short-term memory issues like bad, poor working memory. She didn't care. She kept interrupting me, interrupting me. So, for me, it's like, "Are we just one giant joke to people? Do people not believe that our brains are like this?" I don't know.

Laura: I'm so fascinated by what you just said about overexplaining. I never, ever thought about it that way. I do that all the time, Jenny. I like even with my husband a bit, you know, "Let me get this out, let me get this out. I got to get this out before I get interrupted," especially when my medication is starting to wear off at the end of the day, and, you know, that's compounded with the stress of the day. And now I got to get dinner ready for my kids and I got to get, you know, I got to set up their clothes for tomorrow and all of that.

And I'm just like, I like need to blurt everything out and then go retreat and be alone and feel like a jerk, even though I know that that's that was just the way I needed to get my thoughts out.

Jenny: I've read that that is a trauma response because people always saw the worst in us, so we had to like overexplain so that people don't think we're bad people.

Laura: That's so wild.

Jenny: I'm sure you had those experiences because again, it's by your own peers, by your teachers. My friends' parents thought I was a bad influence, even on the most straight edge — even at 35, I don't drink or do drugs — but I was seen as a bad influence to my friends by their parents because I was like extroverted and talkative and it stays with you as an adult. And so, because it keeps happening, it doesn't just stop at childhood, you like, your bosses.

You know, when I was like a personal assistant, which now I know was a big mistake because I can't do any clerical work. Like, "What was I thinking?" I would do better stocking shelves at Bath and Body Works than like sitting at a desk and being in charge of calls and emails. And so, my bosses in these offices hated my guts. Like it was so bad I would have such anxiety because I knew they couldn't stand me because I just couldn't do things right. So, it just follows you your whole life in different scenarios.

Laura: What's the hardest thing for you these days that's ADHD related? What do you struggle with the most?

Jenny: What I struggle with the most is that, now that I'm the busiest I've ever been in my life, is staying on top of everything. But I will say the medication has helped me. I take it and I get myself in the zone and I'm able to tackle all my emails and texts and like I feel like I'm unstoppable.

Laura: I don't think we really nailed down what your ADHD "aha" moment was. I know that it was in the pandemic, I know that you were noticing that a lot of your friends had ADHD, and I know you got evaluated. But was there something, some one specific thing or a cluster of things that happened that you were like, "All right, this is just too much now"?

Jenny: I think it was more so that I had a really hard time writing, and my goal is to write for television, sell my own show and I just couldn't do it. I still struggle.

Laura: Yeah. So, what would happen when you would try to write?

Jenny: I just didn't want to do it. I didn't even try. I wouldn't even open the page. My brain would think of anything else to do. Clean the house, make animated GIFs. Like, I would just hyperfocus on something else entirely that wasn't writing. It's like my brain was just like, "Nope, we're not doing it. Nope, nope, nope. It's too hard." That, for me was like, everything was a challenge, like making sure I was always filling up my gas tank and getting my oil checked and organizing my files and responding to email.

It was just like, I just felt like a really big mess. I was losing control. Along with my ADHD test, I also got tested for learning disabilities and I was diagnosed with dyscalculia.

Laura: Dyscalculia for folks who are listening and don't know what it is as a learning disability in math and dyscalculia can make it tough to like telling time or keeping track of time, and that and ADHD can make that hard too. So, I imagine that like this is all compiling for you all the time, and like especially before you got diagnosed and knew really what was going on.

Jenny: Yeah, it's wild how many things go hand in hand with ADHD. There's something else that I discovered yesterday. So, I also have PMDD. I'm a walking joke. I really am the alphabet.

Laura: Can you explain what that is for folks who don't know what it is?

Jenny: PMDD is premenstrual dysphoric disorder. So, it is a much more severe version of PMS. On average, people who have periods start showing signs of PMS maybe four days before their period, three days before their period. Aside from like the physical stuff, it's like emotional, irrational, forgetful, really low self-esteem, angry, like, irritable, or cry over anything. Well, I was like that for two weeks out of the month.

Laura: Oh, dear.

Jenny: I just felt like I was transforming into some hideous, terrible creature half the month.

Laura: I'm so sorry. I'm sorry to laugh, but that sounds awful.

Jenny: It is awful and it's hilarious because you could feel it. You can feel yourself transforming. I'm like, I'll snap, like, "Why am I so angry?" Like the Hulk, you know? And I would look at my calendar and I go, "Oh, oh, great."

Laura: I mean, do you feel like since you got diagnosed with ADHD, that, because it helped I guess just having the awareness of that and like the cornucopia of other things that are going on, you're talking about like getting made fun of and getting it lumped in with woke culture and the alphabet soup and the labels and whatnot. But I find it helpful to be able to reference where certain behaviors are coming from.

Jenny: Absolutely. I mean, again, this PMDD thing I just found out yesterday, so I feel like I'm constantly discovering new things.

Laura: You're on fire, Jenny.

Jenny: Yeah. You know, I just, I've always been extremely fascinated by psychology, and so I'm always learning about different disorders and stuff. But I will say, when I first got diagnosed, there was like I felt really depressed. I don't know what it was. I just felt like I was grieving. And now I'm feeling a lot better about it. And again, I don't ever want people to feel like I'm making excuses for myself.

There's a difference between giving an excuse for your behavior and just giving the reason so that people can empathize and not be so hard on you, but also know that you're aware of it and that you're working on it. But this is why my brain does this. And so, again, I'm constantly learning like, "Oh my God, no wonder I had a hard time regulating my emotions, and no wonder I'm so sensitive to rejection."

Laura: You used the word grieving before. Is that remembering what you went through and sad that it hadn't been recognized sooner? Or was it something else?

Jenny: I think that's probably what it was. It was hard to figure it out when I was feeling that way, but that had to have been it. I think it was like, "Damn, if I knew sooner, I would have gotten help earlier." Or like, "What could I have accomplished even more had I not had this stunting me my whole life?" Because the reality is, again, I always told people who were like, "Oh my God, but you do so much, and you get everything done and blah blah blah." I'm like, "Yeah, but I leave a mess behind."

So, I'm kind of like the Tasmanian devil. I just keep going and going and I'm doing the thing, but I'm leaving behind a catastrophe that I then have to waste hours cleaning up after myself, whether it's my physical space, my computer desktop. When I worked at BuzzFeed, those people were so annoyed with me because I was very disorganized. My files were all over the place, but I was one of their top producers and my videos would do really well and they'd go viral. No one would think when they see the finished product that in order to get to be a was a shit show.

Laura: Do you really think that people view you as the mess that you're, you know, referring to yourself as? Or do you think that that might be you, you know, being hard on yourself?

Jenny: Well, it was only this one specific department that was in charge of organizing my files, and I would be the messiest producer when it came to handing in my hard drives. So, that was it. Other than that, no. No one knew. No one knew that I was that messy except that one department. I mean, they were super sweet, but I can tell they were like, "Oh God, Jenny," I don't, they couldn't figure it out. Like, "How did you get this done?" My brain just has a really wackadoo way of doing things. And I feel like in a sense it is making it harder for myself, but it's the only way I know how. So?

Laura: Well, Jenny Lorenzo, thank you so much for being here. The podcast is Hyphenated. I encourage everybody to check it out. It's been really a pleasure to talk with you, Jenny.

Jenny: Oh, my gosh. Absolutely. Laura, thank you so much. And you're a badass for doing what you do every day. You despite being neurodivergent because it's a superpower.

Laura: Yes. Preach, Jenny.

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

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