Writer and comedian Jenn Welch is the host of LadyHD, “a podcast for distractible women” where Jenn (a lady with ADHD) interviews ladies with ADHD about their experiences. (She also tackles the 500 open tabs on her iPhone Safari app in mini episodes titled “Whatcha Googlin’?” // #RELATABLE.) Guests so far have included May Wilkerson, Mara Wilson and more; it’s seriously great (whether you are a lady with ADHD or not), so definitely give it a listen!
I recently got caught up with Jenn over the phone to talk about the podcast and how it’s opening up a dialogue in a really fun and entertaining way, and you can internet-eavesdrop on our full conversation below // RECOMMENDED:
I love the podcast! I personally don’t have ADHD or ADD (to my knowledge, anyway), but it is interesting to listen to the different ways it can manifest from what you and your guests have said. Do you get people being like, “Wait, DO I have that?”
It’s only just sort of starting out, but I’ve had messages from at least ten women so far being like, “Oh my god, I think I need to go talk to my doctor!” But the stereotypical symptoms are really not what it is, you know? Which is so confusing, and it leads to a lot of women not getting diagnosed. But that’s definitely been a thing I’ve been getting, which makes me feel good.
Yeah, and there are so many other things that people probably bring up to a doctor to ask about, so I don’t see why it would hurt to throw that into the conversation. But just in general, I think it’s a cool discussion to start having.
Right, the number of things I talk to my own doctors and therapists about, like, “I’m tired all the time, I can’t pay attention at work, I have such a hard time getting going in the morning…” Everybody’s like, “Try yoga!” Finally getting that diagnosis is amazing.
And a pretty good percentage of your guests have only been diagnosed in adulthood, right?
Yes. Well, Emily Lubin (who’s the third guest) was diagnosed in high school I think, so she got some intervention early on. But for the most part, everybody’s been in high school or adulthood. I have a few guests coming up who got diagnosed really young, but it’s been pretty common that it’s not diagnosed until later.
Is that partially because it presents differently in girls, and there were things that people weren’t looking for until more recently?
Yeah, we tend to be not physically hyperactive, but more mentally hyperactive, like we can’t pay attention for long periods of time. I remember anything that had to do with sitting and reading three pages of social studies or whatever, it’s like that kid that can’t sit still at their desk was in my head.
Right. Now, what I like about the podcast (and you did this intentionally) is that it’s not a medical show. It’s been really interesting to hear everyone’s stories, and just how everybody’s brain works a little differently.
So I came up with the podcast twelve years ago, right after I got diagnosed, because I noticed that so many of the things I was reading had nothing to do with what I was experiencing. I was like, “This has to be its own thing. There’s ADHD and LadyHD.” Then two years ago it just hit me that the title was a podcast, because it had just been sitting in my back pocket up until then. I decided I was going to interview all of my lady friends with ADHD about how we manage our ADHD, and I was going to do it by myself, do the whole thing by myself. It was so stilted, and I was so uncomfortable doing it because I had to pay attention to time, and we’re not talking about our brains in the fun way, we’re talking about how we manage to fit in with society, which is what so much of ADHD treatment is about; it’s like, “How do we stop annoying everybody and being bad and start showing up places on time and getting our work done?” (Not that those are the only things affected by ADHD, but you get it.) I didn’t put those episodes out, because they didn’t feel right.
Then two more years went by, and I was like, “You know what? I need to get a producer so I can not have to pay attention to things like how much time has gone by.” And I didn’t want to talk about solutions, because I’m not a doctor, I’m just a person who’s lived with this forever. I didn’t realize until I started doing the interviews just how lonely ADHD is, because you don’t talk openly about it a lot with anybody, especially other people who have ADHD; we’re all out there trying to mask it. Some of the people I’ve interviewed so far are good friends of mine who I didn’t even realize were also dealing with this. It’s been so fun to just both let our guards down and have a ridiculous conversation! The conversation I had with May Wilkerson about going through middle school and trying to remember that you had your period throughout the day, and that you had to change your pad or your tampon, was something I’d felt shame over for like twenty-five years, and to be able to laugh with her about the fact that she went through the same thing was like, “Oh my god!” Because in middle school, at the time, I was just like, “What’s wrong with me?!” [Laughs] It was just this additional wrench thrown into the situation that continued to be a nightmare for years and years and years, so it was cool to be able to laugh with her about that.
Oh my god, I’m sure it must be amazing to talk to other people about their experiences, realizing areas of overlap that maybe you hadn’t even considered before. Have there been any other sort of “AHA!” moments, or just cool commonalities that you’ve discovered in recording these episodes?
It’s so funny, because this type of question is really hard for my brain to access an answer, but if we were just having a conversation and it came up, I’d be like, “Here’s an example!” Let me take a second and flip through my filing cabinet in my brain. Well, one of my close friends who I didn’t realize had it started talking about friendships and socializing in middle and high school, and I’d read a study a week or two ago about how girls with ADHD suffer so much more socially than boys with ADHD at those ages, because boys in general don’t have the complexity to friendships that girls do at that age.
So you miss out on cues, and (for example) I didn’t understand that gossip is just something that people do, and not maybe their true feelings about somebody. So I’d find myself sticking up for somebody who was suddenly mad at me that I was going off of something they’d told me, that they’d been gossiping about; they’d say, “Well, so and so did this,” so the next time I was around that person I’d stick up, and the next thing I know I’m ostracized from the group. Group dynamics don’t always make sense to me; I get really overwhelmed in them.
But talking to my friend for this past episode I recorded, she’s had incredibly similar experiences in her high school social cliques. And it’s a really traumatizing thing to go through, because at the time, you don’t understand, and there’s nobody to sit down with you to explain how neurotypical people might be seeing this situation. And girls especially are kind of taught not to interrupt, and when you have ADHD, it’s kind of built into your system that if you have something that needs to come out of your mouth, I’ll just say it. It’s like physically painful to not say it. It’s comin’ out! [Laughs] I do so much better with one-on-one friendships with people than I do with having a group of friends, even as an adult. But that’s definitely something that started around middle school, and it was amazing to hear that somebody I know who I think is super personable and amazing and together had gone through that same stuff and still feels some residue was really amazing.
It’s interesting, because I think people are starting to open up conversations about neurodiversity and ways people can be more helpful and inclusive, especially in the workplace, but I (and this could just be me) don’t feel like I see as much of that extended to people with ADHD. I definitely feel like I’ve learned a lot from listening to the podcast, but speaking specifically about the workplace, are there things that employers or coworkers can do to be supportive?
Yeah, so I used to try to fit myself as a square peg into a round hole, and for most of my twenties at office jobs I was like, “Okay, I’ll be this coordinator administrative scheduling person!” And then the whole thing would go off the rails, and it’s like, every day’s a nightmare. [Laughs] As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started working for myself and freelancing, which was huge; now I set my own hours, I work when I feel like working. And not everybody can do that, so I’m lucky that I found a career path where I was able to do that. Recently I did go back to working in an office as a copywriter at an ad agency, and it’s funny, because being diagnosed in adulthood, you miss out on finding out what accommodations are possible, and you also miss out on the idea that you’re allowed to ask for the accommodations. So it’s not only that I don’t know what to ask for for help, but I don’t even know that I’m allowed to ask for it, or that it would help.
Two years ago I slipped in the shower and hit my head, had a mild traumatic brain injury, had to re-learn how to talk, but during that time as I was getting my brain back in order, part of what I worked on with my occupational therapist was how to start coping with my ADHD symptoms as well; one of the things that happened when I got my brain injury was that my brain no longer had the capacity to mask or hide my ADHD, so part of the work we did was helping me figure out ways to manage these symptoms in ways that weren’t just these weirdo coping mechanisms I came up with growing up to deal with it. What that taught me was that I’m allowed to ask for help with things, I’m allowed to say, “I need more time with this.”
When I started this new office job after the injury, I talked to HR and was like, “I’m recovering from a brain injury and I also have ADHD. Here’s what I need.” And we worked it out so that my start time for the day was 10am, which was about an hour after everybody else because mornings are always hard for me, we worked in 45 minutes of quiet time for me to just sit and do nothing and reset in a meditation room, and my bosses were instructed to send me a quick rundown of what we talked about at action item meetings so I had it in writing. (When I take notes, I just write down words I like the sound of. It’s really hard for me to take down notes that make any sense. [Laughs]) Then the last thing was that it was a big open office, and a lot of visual stimulation, a lot of hearing every conversation around me stimulation, and it’s hard for anybody to be in that setting, but with ADHD, I see a facial expression across the room and I’m emotionally invested in whatever’s going on over there. If I hear two words from a conversation behind me, I’m ruminating on those two words well after the conversation is over. [Laughs] So I had a chair in the office where I could go and work that was out of the way, and it was open to me whenever I needed it. Those things changed my life, oh my god. The job was already a really good fit for me, but once that happened, I felt like I could actually do well.
And those sorts of accommodations, like, they don’t seem like they should be difficult to make for people in the workplace! That’s awesome that they were cool about it; I wish more places would implement that.
Uh-huh! Yeah, I know. It’s funny, with invisible disabilities, if people can’t see it…there’s just this mentality that we have that, I don’t know if it’s an American thing, but it’s this idea that everybody’s trying to get out of doing the hard work. Everybody’s trying to find an easy way to do something, and it’s just like, “No, I literally can’t handle standing and talking anymore, so I’d really love to sit and have this conversation,” when I had the head injury, for example. You can make me come in at 9am every day, but you’re going to be angry at me, and I’m going to be frazzled every morning, and you’re not going to get good work out of me until like 2pm. If that’s what you want, great! But if you want me to come in and be ready to go, and not have all of this anxiety and shame that I’m bringing in the door, and not pissing you off, then let’s come up with something that works for both of us. I would love to be a person who can show up at the same time to the same place every day. It just doesn’t happen. It hasn’t happened my entire life.
Absolutely. That’s something every office should take into account. (Not that a lot of people are in offices right now, but…)
Dude, that’s one of the biggest things about what’s happening right now with all of the remote working from home and remote learning. The remote learning is a different issue because the way it’s being managed is horrible, but the working from home situation…now there’s literally no excuse for any employer to tell an employee who needs to work from home for whatever reason that they can’t do it; it’s been proven, we have everyone working from home right now, the machine is still moving, the gears are still turning. This whole thing of “the person who sits in the office the longest is the hardest worker” will hopefully be thrown in the garbage when all of this is over.
Oh, I hope the veil is permanently lifted. I think it’s Holland where they’ll literally tell you if you’re staying long hours in the office that it just looks like you can’t do your job efficiently/effectively. Let’s get some of those vibes!
Can you imagine? [Laughs]
Alright, back to the podcast, the last pair of questions I had for you were about how you structure the episodes (if at all) in terms of what you’re going to talk about, beyond the loose topic of you both having ADHD, and also, how do you choose your guests?
In terms of guests, I look for people from different backgrounds. One of my guests coming up is somebody who I met when I was 23 in LA, and we ran in the same social circle, but we really didn’t talk much; now she’s a mom, and is one of the most intimidatingly cool people I’ve ever met in my life, has done all this cool shit, and she just happened to see on social media that I was doing this podcast and was like, “I’d love to do it!” I was like, “Oh my god, I didn’t even realize!” So we got to talk and catch up, and I don’t have a lot of people in my life still from that time, so it was really awesome; we only know each other pre-diagnosis, so it was just a really cool, fun take. I have a few other moms coming up, and another of my guests coming up is a dentist, which just blows my mind! She’s a badass dentist comedian, and her family’s Indian, so there’s all of that going into the background. Another of my guests’s family is Cuban, she’s down in Miami, so hearing about how that affected getting a diagnosis, her family’s take on everything…you know, there’s the gender stigma, the general overall social stigma, but then there are cultural stigmas around mental health, especially stuff like ADHD, and also expectations of women. So it’s been really fun to look at it through all these different lenses.
And then in terms of structure, with May, I did mention to her beforehand that I wanted to talk about period stuff, just to make sure she was comfortable with it (which I knew she would be). But beyond that, it would be untrue to the premise of the podcast if I did too much prep work. [Laughs]