Working mom with ADHD, feeling control over nothing (Cathy’s story)
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ADHD coach Cathy Rashidian spent the first 20 years of her career climbing the corporate ladder. She was a workaholic with undiagnosed ADHD. Then two major life events shifted her path and perspective.
At 35, she was diagnosed with cancer. She kept craving going back to work after treatment, even though she wasn’t ready. Then she had a baby at age 40. She felt overwhelmed and like she had control over nothing. Finally, after her doctor’s fourth suggestion, she got tested for ADHD. From there everything started to make sense.
Cathy, who’s also the host of the Proudly ADHD podcast, talks about being a working mom with ADHD, her PMDD diagnosis, and “compassionate scheduling” to feel and function as best as possible. Join host Laura Key and Cathy’s discussion on ADHD in women, parenting, shame, and more.
Cathy: As a working mom, there were so many pressures, and I also had a certain view of how I wanted to be a working mom. And then when that vision didn't come to fruition, it was like, "What is happening? I have control of nothing." And after four times, my doctor in four different appointments say, "Cathy, can we look at ADHD assessment?" Finally, I gave in and I was like, "Oh my gosh, I had no idea these were all ADHD things."
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 Cathy Rashidian. Cathy is a certified ADHD coach who is based out of Calgary, Canada, and she's also the host of the "Proudly ADHD" podcast. Cathy, welcome to the show. Thanks for being here.
Cathy: Hi, thanks for having me.
Laura: I was struck when I went to your website, and I saw what you had written there: former corporate rock star turned ADHD and executive coach. I'd love to start there. Tell me about being a corporate rock star. We'll start your journey from that spot.
Cathy:Yeah, let's go there. I started my corporate career early in my early 20s and went into marketing, and I worked for one of the biggest telecoms in Canada. And I was at the cutting edge of technology. I was one of those people that we were selling CD-ROMs for internet dial-up and a DSL. And the terminology like how I feel like I'm a bit of a dinosaur when it comes to internet.
So, I was at the beginning of it and it was 20 years of just enjoying moving up the chain, moving up the ladder, and also learning new things all the time, moving from departments to departments, moving company to company. I was living the life, if you will, from my perspective of "I have my career under my belt. This is awesome. I'm doing it."
And then there was a bit of a pause in my career. At the age of 35, I was diagnosed with lymphoma Hodgkin's and found out I have a type of blood cancer, and that was a jolt in my "Whoa, what's happening now?" And that came as a result of working all the time. I loved my job, and I was a workaholic.
Laura: Did you stop working at that time?
Cathy: Yes, I did stop. But then as you know, and this is all undiagnosed ADHD, as soon as chemo was over, it was a month after recovery, I was like, "I'm ready to go back to work." And my boss is like, "Slow it down. You just went through this like, major thing. You don't need to come back to work right away." I'm like, "No, no, no, I'm bored. I need to come back."
I went back and man, they call it the chemo brain. I had major brain fog. I couldn't concentrate. I couldn't hold meetings together. I couldn't retain the information. And I called my boss. I'm like, "You were right. I need to take another leave, and really let this sink in and let my body recover before I can come back."
And then this time, when I went back, I was very cautious of how many things I'm taking on, how fast I'm going, and really slowing down my pace. As much as I loved my job, my health was in jeopardy, so I needed to be very careful with all the yeses that I would give, and all the times that I would volunteer for projects that I had no business volunteering for.
Laura: And at this time, you had not been diagnosed with ADHD?
Cathy: Still not diagnosed. I was just recovering from going through an extreme thing with chemo. Meanwhile, though, underneath all of that, Laura, there was, at the age of 24, 25, I knew something was off and I was always in the search of "Who am I? What am I doing in this world? Is this the career that I want for the rest of my life?
So, I was doing a lot of personal development work, going to all sorts of seminars, going to all sorts of professional development courses, trying to figure out my place in the world.
Laura: So, when did you start to think that you might have ADHD?
Cathy: Yeah, so I went back into the workforce being very cautious about what I wanted to do. So, I actually resigned from the major telco abruptly and I said, "You know what? That's not what I want to do. I don't I don't want to be in this hustle anymore. I want to go do something else." So, and I'm giving you these clues because these were all the undiagnosed things, that people that are undiagnosed do these things.
So, I resigned abruptly after 14 years of being in a major telecom, and everybody, all my VPs were calling me "What are you doing? Slow down. It's OK. Do you need to take another sick leave? Take another sick leave." I am like, "No, I don't need to go. I want to leave." And I went into another tech consulting company and there I was jamming it. I had a team, we were doing our thing, we were going at the speed we wanted to. It was really, I was really aligned.
And at the age of 39, I was pregnant, and I had my baby at 40.
And then life took a different toll. I was like, "Wait a second." I got the career thing down, but this baby thing, it just knocked me out. So, about a year and a half into going back and forth to family doctor appointments, "Am I depressed? What's happening? Is it anxiety? This mothering thing it's not what it's, what they said it's made out to be. Why am I not able to do this? I'm a highly functioning person. Why can't I figure this out?" All of those cliché things.
Four times in four different appointments, my doctor said, "Cathy, can we look at your brain and talk about ADHD?" And I'm like, "What are you talking about?" And I so fit that cliché of what I knew about my ADHD. And to this day, I apologize for saying these things, I said, "Doesn't everybody have ADHD? Isn't ADHD for boys? Isn't ADHD for kids?" That was my little circle of understanding of ADHD.
And so, when she gave me the questionnaire one day, I read the questionnaire and I was like, "Oh my God, interrupting a lot. Not getting projects completed. Those are not ADHD. I just thought that's just me and my personality that likes to blurt shit out all the time." And she's like, "No, that's ADHD impulsivity." So, at 41 I got diagnosed with ADHD and then my whole life just made sense and that was my "aha." I was like," Oh my God, here we go."
Laura: So, diagnosed with cancer at 35, you have a child at 40. If I have the timeline, right?
Cathy: Mm hmm. Mm hmm.
Laura: And then diagnosed with ADHD. Seems like the ADHD moment, that was such a click moment. Like, so many things fell into place as a result of that.
Cathy: Well, yeah, because the "aha" was, "Oh, my gosh. Now it makes sense why I was so burnt out and I worked my way to like I'll always say this is, I think I caused my cancer," because I was always operating in chronic adrenaline and cortisol, and I loved it. And I was like, "Yes." And if things were quiet at work, I'd be looking for, "Oh, what's happening? What's wrong with this?" So, my body was just used to this hustle and grind that eventually it slowed me down. So, that was undiagnosed ADHD.
I was also told that I have mild depression. So, I thought, "Oh, maybe it's the depression piece," but also that was unmanaged, undiagnosed ADHD. So, when they, when I saw the writing on the wall, I was like, "OK, this whole thing makes so much sense." The overwhelm that, I remember one time I was feeding my baby. As I was feeding her, I was thinking, "I need to do the dishes, I need to cook, I need to clean." Like I had a whole to-do list in front of me, and then I saw my husband in the corner, I was like, I snapped at him. I'm like, "Go do the dishes." And he's like, "What?" I'm like, "Something needs to be done." He's like, "Cathy, can't you just be with a baby and feed her for now? That's the thing to do right now."
Cathy: But it wasn't for me. It was like I needed to do all those tasks all at the same time. So, that cognitive hyperactivity they came through was so loud and so exhausting.
Laura: I remember that experience of "My only job right now is to sit here with my baby and feed them or read with them." And I would, it's almost, I feel bad saying this because there's so much pressure to be a perfect mom and to be like this ultimate maternal figure, but I just like, I felt bored.
Laura: Didn't you feel bored?
Cathy: That's why I went back to work, back to corporate when she was only 5 months old. Here in Canada, we can take a year leave. Oh, no. Five months, I was like, "I need to go back. I need to go back."
Cathy: But also, even as a working mom, there were so many pressures then. I also had a certain view of how I wanted to be a working mom. And then when that vision didn't come to fruition because I also had a really traumatic childbirth experience, so all of the things that I had thought they were, they never lined up and I was like, "What is happening? I have control of nothing." And for those of us with ADHD, when we have no control, it really like crushes us. It's very crippling for us.
Laura: You mentioned that you struggled with some depression as well, or was it that it was ADHD that appeared like depression?
Cathy: Yeah. So, throughout I think ever since I, you know, hormones kicked in and PMS happened and menstrual cycle happened, there was always depression hovering. I remember in the beginning of my career I would call in sick a lot. I would miss a week out of work. I would sometimes miss, you know, weeks out of work. And then I would just shut down, sleep a lot, not go anywhere, feel really guilty and shame.
Now that I look back, it was extreme PMS. I was dealing with it all my life. I didn't know. A year ago, I was diagnosed with PMDD and now I take a tiny little bit of medication for it and it gets me through my hell weeks that I have.
One of the things I do now with my PMS instead of going into that shame spiral, especially now as I coach ADHD, I teach ADHD, I speak on ADHD, I'm like, "OK, I have all the tools, what the hell is wrong?" And I know that it's not me, I know it's my hormones. And for me, I compassionately schedule my life around that. Truly, if we had said, would we do this interview last week, I would have told you no, because that would have been my hell week last week.
Laura: Compassionate scheduling. I love that. I've never heard that before. I just wrote that down. Thank you for that.
Cathy: I think I just made that up.
Cathy: It just came up.
Laura: This notion of shame, not a notion, this fact of shame in women with ADHD is so prevalent. I keep hearing about it, and I'm not hearing that from my male interviewees as often. I'm not saying it doesn't exist, but it's definitely, it seems very prevalent among women who are struggling with executive function and can't seem to do the things that they're supposed to do. And I'm saying that in quotes. Have you experienced that in your coaching?
Cathy: Yeah, you know, I experienced it myself because when I look at it, and if my mother ever heard this should be like, "Why did you say this?" but I'm going to say it, my mom, I think she has ADHD. Has she been diagnosed? No. Have we talked about it? Does it resonate? Yes, it makes sense. And my mom, to me, that's my role model in life that that's who I looked up to the most. And I just love her to bits. She was on the hyper side, physical and cognitive.
And when I became a mom, I'm like, "I need to keep up to that. That was my role model." And any time you walk into her house, it's immaculately clean. It's so organized. Even her pantry, it's like, you know, Marie Kondo’d all the time and it stays that way. It never changes. I'm like, "How do you keep up with this?"
Cathy: So, for me, what I saw was, "That's what I have to keep up with." And that was a bit of a shame in that first year and a half when I had my baby that I needed to do things a certain way. Now, if the dishes are dirty on the counter, they're there for two days, it is what it is. I've come to terms with, "This is my way of doing mothering. This is my way of doing house management. And if mom walks in and 'Cathy,' I'm like, 'Yep, welcome to my house, it's my house.'" And so, I really own that now.
And it's hard because she'll give me the look and I'm like, "Mom, it is what it is." Because she also knows the dark side of that was I was really in a dark place where I couldn't and everything was piling up because I had this standard to meet. And now I no longer have that. This is my standard. Laundry in my household rotates, it goes from the laundry room, then it goes into the living room for a while, and it sits there for a day and then it moves up the stairs. It just is. And I'm so like not ashamed of it anymore.
But then there are times where I'm like, "OK, I need to call Mom to come over. OK, I need to clean up." So, then I'll do that. So, sometimes we use these techniques to do a, you know, a hustle clean. But my house is, you know, it's messy, but it's not filthy. And man, within seconds we can clean that house, like it's immaculate.
Laura: Yeah, you just need that urgency.
Laura: You invite Mom over and fears of judgment and it gets done. I do the same thing with my laundry basket. I feel so productive. I'll do all these loads of laundry and I'll separate them between my kids' clothes and me and my husband's clothes. And then this basket, same thing. It sits down there for an entire week. I do laundry on Sunday and then I fold that batch the next Sunday because I need the space in the laundry basket. Frankly.
Cathy: I'm right there with you. Nothing wrong with that.
Laura: I mean, there are worse problems in the world, but nonetheless it is.
Cathy: That's it. And that for me, the shame and the comparison of how is everybody else is doing it, you know, keeping up with the Joneses is no longer my thing. I need to keep up with me.
Laura: As I listen to you speak, it's just so clear to me how talented of a coach you are.
Laura: Because I'm gathering tips just from the way that you're relating your own personal story. And it's just, everything feels really practical and actionable. What's the most common advice you find yourself giving to people with ADHD as a coach?
Cathy: The word advice, I cringe, because we don't give advice.
Laura: Sorry. Tips. Coaching.
Cathy: We also don't give tips. So...
Laura: So, what would you give? Tell me.
Cathy: I like where you're going with that because people will think, "Oh, I'm going to hire a coach so that they can tell me the tips and tricks to manage my ADHD." True coaching. It's not about that. True coaching, we go in with, "We become your thinking partner. We become that copilot. You're in charge of your ship. You're in charge of your plane. We're just there to be like 'Oh pothole!' Do you want to go over it? Do you want to go around it? You want to jump into it?" So you still are making those decisions.
But the second brain is emotionally detached from what's going on. So, we're able to help you facilitate your thoughts. So, when I'm working with my clients, I'm not fixing them. There's nothing to be fixed. There's nothing is broken. They're fine the way they are. They're coming in as a whole person.
But there's a space where we need to co-think. We need to talk shit out loud. And my biggest thing I always say, this is the advice I do give, "Don't do ADHD alone." So, that's the only thing as far as an advice would go is, "Don't do it alone. Have a thinking partner. Have another brain that you can facilitate out your stuff." I started calling it my Board of Brains. And so, who are your Board of Brains that you're delegating these different things out to?
So, the coach is one where we're doing the executive functioning stuff, we're doing the task things, but it's always deeper than that, Laura. It ends up being a lot of beliefs that we held on from our past, the way we were raised. It's the way we perceive the world. All of that, we put it to the forefront, and we say, "Do you want to keep all of this? Does it still work for you? OK, If it doesn't, let's reevaluate."
I recently met with someone in their 50s, highly successful in financial meeting all their numbers, working out, like all, he was checking off all the marks. I'm like, "OK, then why do you need the coach?" "I just want to make sure there's another better way of doing this. Is there another better way?" I'm like, "Well, it sounds like you had a system going on. You're doing all the things." "I am, aren't I?" "Right."
Cathy: So, you know what I mean? So, it's...
Cathy: ...sometimes we even question that, is we have the system, but we always think there's another better way.
Laura: That's so powerful and your reframing really resonates. And I'm curious as you kind of copilot challenges and conversations and thinking with your clients, do you see yourself? How often do you see yourself and do you have your own "aha" moments? Yeah.
Cathy: That's the thing is, when you get into coaching, in coach training they tell us that your clients are essentially you, and the universe just has this funny way of doing that. It springs out yous in front of you. It's like, "Great." So, yes.
Cathy: I do see my clients. I'm like, "Oh, that was me ten years ago. Oh, that was me last year. That was me right now." But then again, you put ten ADHDers in a room, each of us will have our own flavor of ADHD, will approach things differently.
So, as a coach, my job is to just hold that space for them to process whatever it is that they're going through, and they may come up with an awesome solution that I may have not even thought of. So, in true coaching, that's what we're doing. And yeah, I do see myself and my clients, but then their journey is different. Their process to getting through that is different. Everyone is different.
Laura: Can you give me an example of one of those moments when you thought, "Oh, that was me ten years ago or two months ago" with your clients?
Cathy: Yeah. So, it's actually, I also teach at the ADD Coach Academy, training coaches to become coaches of ADHD. And I'm very particular with who I work with.
For example, if I get a client that's a mother, has three kids, wants to figure out the whole how to be a mother, and then juggle and, you know, raise three kids, I would say I'm not their coach, because I am right now going through that myself, like I'm living it, I'm breathing it. It's too close to me. It's too close to my heart right now, to want to coach moms that are trying to figure out mothering because I'm still trying to figure it out.
Laura: You can't work with me, basically.
Cathy: No, no. If that's you, no. Because I'm going through it. But I would go in a support group with you, and we can jam and, you know, share stories.
Cathy: But if there's a young person who's coming in and saying, "Look, I am in my corporate career, I want to move up the corporate ladder, I'm just making all sorts of like, whoopsies here and there." So, I would be their thinking partner in that, in checking in on their impulsivity, checking in on their communication skills, working through the things that I wish I had a coach at that time with the ADHD knowledge that would have mentored me through that.
Laura: How long after your ADHD diagnosis did you decide you wanted to be an ADHD coach?
Cathy: Maybe about a year.
Laura: Oh, that's...
Cathy: I just knew, you know.
Laura: ...with no context that sounds fast. Yeah.
Cathy: Yeah, because I was clear about my career. I knew that "OK, if this is what I have going on and I have to raise this little munchkin, that was my miracle, baby, what can I do, and do I want to be in this corporate thing for another 20 years?" The grind and the hustle, that I was up the chain, and it's not going to get any easier. And I didn't have the tools, the right tools, if you will. And then I started looking at videos of Jessica McCabe.
Laura: Oh, yeah.
Cathy: She interviewed a coach and I'm like, "That's a thing?" And when she was talking to him, he had a marketing background also. I was like, "Oh my God, it’s like I'm listening to the male version of me." And he became a coach. I'm like, "OK." I am at heart a strategic planner. That is one of my strengths. So, that for me was like, this is good.
Laura: Doesn't surprise me, Cathy. Yeah.
Cathy: But then I was like, execution, execution side is not my...That's another story.
Laura: I was just going to ask you actually, which ADHD symptoms do you feel like you still struggle with? I mean, it's a lifelong thing. So, what are the trickiest ones for you to manage still?
Cathy: Yeah. For me, the bombardment of thoughts is constant, because there's always ideas. I'm an idea person. The other one is, the task management, you know, from juggling from "OK, I've got 20 tasks." The prioritization, which one is important. So, I'm constantly reevaluating the hyperfocus vortex that can get me in trouble.
So, I'll start a task and then I'm now into the deep end of ChatGPT and what is that can do for my business? So, that hyperfocus, I have to tame it, because it can actually, as good as it can be for me, it gets me into trouble.
Laura: What have you found that works for you to get out of flow state? Most people are always trying to get into it, but how do we get out of it when it's not serving us?
Cathy: I schedule my deep work. I know when I want to do deep work. I always piggyback it with "I got to go pick up Sophia from school," so it will actually pull me out of it. So, I'm always giving it as something else that I'm accountable to somebody else that pulls me out. I also allow for a bit of transition out of it. So, it's not an immediate, I can't just cut it off and go to the next thing, is I ease out of it so that transitioning in and out of tasks. So, that's where I'm not a fan of back-to-back meetings. It just isn't healthy for our brain. We need to allow for that transition, that booting down so I can go to the next task.
Laura: Yeah, that shifting is a killer. Yeah.
Cathy: Yes. With family, like, I'll even go sit in the garage for a little bit, because I've been in flow state all day with business, you know, little one comes home, I'm working from home, like, I need to go sit in the garage, so I can transition out of one task into another.
Laura: I do something similar on the days that I do go into the office, and I arrive home and it's just, "OK, what are we going to get on the table?" And I always go, and I sit down for 15 minutes and I don't know, I'll play like Boggle on my phone or something until I'm ready to get back into this new grind, the home grind, right? Cathy, tell me about the podcast, "Proudly ADHD."
Cathy: "Proudly ADHD" was born as a result of me learning so much about ADHD, and I'm like, "Oh my God, how do I retain all of this information? So I thought, "OK, I'll teach it."
Cathy: So that's how it was born. I was doing it for myself. I was like, "I want a knowledge shared. This is gold content." And also, I knew that as a coach, one of the things as trained coaches, we don't teach in session. Like, but I want my clients to have this information, right? So, I was like, "I'm going to teach it in podcast. That was my way of kind of working around the whole coaching agreement. That we're not teachers. We're there to support them.
From there, as I was talking to myself, I'm like, "This is boring. I need to do interviews. Who do I call?" So, I went out and looked for amazing people that are doing amazing things with ADHD. I brought on guests and then I'm like, "OK, I want to also interview experts." And I'm like, "I wonder if Ned Hallowell is going to say yes?" And then I reached out to Dr. Ned Hallowell, and 10 minutes after I sent the email, he was like, "Yes, I'll help you." And I was like, "Oh my God." I was like running laps around my house. My husband was like, "What do you, calm down." So I'm like, "It's like Oprah saying yes to my podcast."
Cathy: So, he came on and from there then I was like, "OK, I can access experts. So, I brought on more experts. I brought on Dr. Russell Barkley.
Laura: Cathy does not like to be bored. That's the thing. Cathy does not like to be bored.
Cathy: And I like a good challenge of like, "Who's going to say no to me? Let me see how many people can say no.".
Laura: Yeah, I dare you.
Cathy: All of them have said yes. Yes.
Laura: Cathy, I mean, it's been so great to talk with you. You know, sadly, you can't be my coach because we're in a similar space. So.
Cathy: One day, one day.
Laura: One day, I'm just, I'm really grateful that you came on this show and you're just doing such great work.
Cathy: Thank you for having me. This was awesome. Thank you for your great questions.
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.