We sat down with our own Chas Karakey, Claibourne Counseling’s Director of Operations and co-founder, to talk about his ADHD diagnosis. Read on for the candid conversation we had about how his ADHD has affected his professional life while building Scottsdale’s fastest-growing, multi-award-winning therapy practice…
It helps that he and his wife, Claire, a licensed professional counselor, both hold degrees in psychology. It also helps that they’re both big believers in practicing what they preach. They each work with their own therapists to hone the skill sets needed to make ADHD a superpower, not the hindrance that too many still misunderstand it to be to this day.
Chas, now 34, was first diagnosed with ADHD in the 7th grade. We’ve all had a Chas in our class. He made us all laugh. He was definitely the kid who convinced the substitute that the teacher liked to show movies on Tuesdays. He probably got detention more than most other kids. He was the class clown who everyone loved. But he also struggled in school. His grades were less than stellar. He didn’t do well on tests. Some teachers outright didn’t like him, while others saw his potential.
He started medication pretty quickly after receiving his diagnosis, which helped. But he wasn’t a fan of the side effects caused by the prescription medication, so he switched to a homeopathic treatment early on, which he says was life-changing for him. He started doing better in school. His grades improved. His impulsivity decreased and concentration increased.
ADHD is a Typically a Response to Trauma in Children
If Chas’s story sounds familiar, it probably is. One in twenty kids is diagnosed with ADHD. If not you, someone you know probably has textbook ADHD symptoms – difficulty concentrating, hyperactivity, excessive talking, frequent interruptions, fidgeting, and of course being easily distracted. These days ADHD is one of those disorders that almost everyone says they “have a little of”. The truth is, especially when diagnosed as a child, it’s typically a trauma response and it runs in the family. It was for Chas. His mother has ADHD and so does he.
It’s worth noting however that trauma can be relative when it comes to a child’s developing brain. Two siblings who experience the same event can walk away with two different reactions, one with ADHD, and the other without. It all depends on the kid. Any parent of more than one kid knows that kid number one and kid number two are not the same. Kid number one may be sensitive and sweet, while kid number two is a free spirit and more bold. This is normal. Whether or not they develop ADHD symptoms and ultimately become diagnosed as a result of the trauma they’ve experienced is subjective as well.
Kids who experience complex trauma, experience trauma over and over. This could be something like an abusive parent, a negligent environment, or even a sick loved one. In response to repeated trauma, a developing brain will develop a hypervigilance response, always ready for anything. This can look like hyperactivity and distractibility of ADHD. It can present itself as the child being restless or having trouble sleeping. These are all symptoms of both complex trauma and/or ADHD. This is why it’s so important to receive a diagnosis from an experienced mental health professional who is trained to recognize the nuanced differences and overlaps. While ADHD does typically result from childhood trauma, childhood trauma may not always result in ADHD. In either case, the child could benefit from processing the trauma with a therapist.
Interview with Chas Karakey, Co-Founder of Claibourne Counseling
Thankfully the star of today’s article did just that. Chas has processed his trauma, worked with his therapist, as well as simply experienced a lifetime of trial and error to develop a system of living and working a highly functional life with ADHD. We asked him a few questions about what it’s like to run a successful business, if he has any life hacks, and how he got to where he is today… all with a childhood ADHD diagnosis. Keep reading for his answers.
– ADHD got a bad reputation when we were growing up in the 90s. What are some of the biggest misconceptions about ADHD that you wish people understood more about?
ADHD does impact your focus, but the most significant thing people think of is that it causes a lack of focus. But the biggest misconception is that if you find something you really like, you’re actually able to hyperfocus. Hyperfocus can be a bad thing, but if you learn how to use it correctly, it can be a superpower. It does take practice, discipline, and intentionality. It’s easy to become so sucked into a task that everything else around you just disappears. You have to be aware of that. I’m sure anyone with ADHD has a story or two about being so super focused on something that they missed something else important, like forgetting to eat or missing an appointment. So, it is true that you have to work a little harder to get things done. That extra practice, discipline, and intentionality is extra work. But the harder we work, the stronger we become.
– What’s a must-have compensation strategy you’ve developed for managing your ADHD day-to-day?
Checklists and time management. Period. I have to plan my days out from a checklist. Find a planner or a CRM or a calendar that you like and stick to it. This is another one of those areas where we have to work a little harder, but the hard work will make us stronger. There are no magic bullets here. There isn’t one super secret ADHD planner or app that will change your life. Just experiment until you find the one that works for you and then use it. If you try one and it doesn’t work, don’t force it. Ditch it and try another one. Forgive yourself for being that person with the drawer full of planners that are only filled in until March. If it didn’t work, it didn’t work. Forget it and find something that does work. Digital works better for a lot of people, while paper works for others. There is no right or wrong answer. You do you.
Also, equally as important, make sure to eat and drink enough throughout the day. When your blood sugar drops, hyperactivity can increase. It makes it harder to sit still and focus on one task at a time. Exercise is huge to keep energy levels more regulated. If you have trouble focusing in meetings or class, grab something to fidget with, like a stress ball to expel energy.
– Have you disclosed your ADHD diagnosis to employers or colleagues in the past? If yes, what was your experience? If not, what factors influenced your decision?
Yes – I’ve always disclosed it, mostly because I didn’t have a choice or because it was obvious. As a retail sales rep at a major wireless carrier, I almost got in major trouble because I was making mistakes and had to be put on medication at that point. I talked about my ADHD with my manager so that my position was protected.
– Are there any specific work environments or conditions that you find particularly helpful and/or challenging in managing your ADHD? (For example, working from home vs in an office or working autonomously vs with a team)
I may be the oddball out on this one, as the only thing stronger than my ADHD is probably my extroversion. I’m a huge people person. I don’t shake hands, I hug. I love people. I love working with a team. I need to be around people. So, I can personally work either at the office or at home and I work best with a team. As long as I have a checklist, I’m good to go. I did have to train myself for this, though. Because I love being around people so much, the idea of not being around people was never really a consideration for me. In school, I had to have a special environment for test taking, which probably did prepare me for working in the real world as it eased me into things a bit more gently than other kids.
– What’s your best tip(s) for success in business when tackling an overwhelming list or task? (Avoiding ADHD Shutdown)
Taking it in parts has always helped me. So, if you have something overwhelming, split the task into two parts. Start by doing a task you don’t like or don’t want to do first. Then, do something fun after. Set up a reward system for getting the tasks done. It doesn’t have to be anything big. It can be as small as “you get a 5-minute break” or you get to go dissociate on TikTok for 20 minutes. It doesn’t matter as long as you’re making progress and checking things off your list.
– Can you talk about ADHD vs. dissociation?
This is a good question. It’s something that people get confused a lot. Both involve daydreaming and can look the same from the outside. The difference is, ADHD is based in reality and dissociation is not. When we dissociate, we’re taken away from reality, completely checked out maybe thinking of an event that occurred 10 years ago or that hasn’t even happened and may never will. When we’re distracted by something because of ADHD, it’s usually just a lot of little things that are based in reality, like the stuff you need to get done that day and you have trouble focusing on one thing.
ADHD Is A Superpower
There you have it. Hopefully, this information from a real-life person, who runs a successful therapy practice, and also happens to have ADHD, has helped you in some way. If you don’t take away anything else from this article, take this – ADHD is a superpower. Give yourself the grace to make mistakes and learn how to work with yourself and your ADHD. It can make you stronger and better at your job. It doesn’t have to be a bad news diagnosis. With a little hard work and understanding, you can be on your way to harnessing your ADHD for good, too. Have questions about how to manage your ADHD symptoms? Claibourne Counseling can help. Reach out today.