Discussion with Leah Chouinard regarding her positive mindset around an ADHD diagnosis and her goals to use her lived experiences to encourage others to pursue a more holistic lifestyle.
Topics of Discussion:
-A positive outlook after an ADHD diagnosis
-Enjoying "The Show" of ADHD
-Word of wisdom for those navigating ADHD
-Leah's experience with pharmaceutical treatment for ADHD
Leah Chouinard is a National Board-Certified Health and Wellness Coach who will graduate from the University of Minnesota with a Master’s degree in Integrative Health & Well-being Coaching in December, 2023. Leah has had a lifelong interest in holistic well-being, which she was grateful to nurture through her undergraduate studies, where she excelled at her coursework in psychology, neuroscience, and nutrition.
As a result of her lived experiences with multiple autoimmune diseases, as well as depression, anxiety, and ADHD, Leah is passionate about providing an empathetic, non-judgmental, and supportive space for individuals to share their story and design a lifestyle that supports their well-being.
Outside of work and studying, Leah enjoys spending time in nature, cooking plant-based meals, making music, and connecting with loved ones.
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Ep 115 - Reframing an ADHD Diagnosis as Freeing with Leah Chouinard
[00:00:33] Cynthia: Hello and welcome to the Well Connected Twin Cities podcast. I'm your host Cynthia Shockley and today I'm interviewing Leah Chenard. So in this conversation Leah and I talk about her recent diagnosis of ADHD and how it's really been A clarifying and liberating experience for her. I was really drawn to her energy when she made a public announcement on Facebook about her diagnosis.
[00:01:04] And I just felt like it was such a refreshing take on the power of a diagnosis and. All the ways that you can reframe something like ADHD. So I am really excited to have this conversation with her. Leah is a nationally board certified health and wellness coach, and she'll be graduating from the university of Minnesota with a master's degree in integrative health and wellbeing coaching in December, 2023.
[00:01:29] Leah has had a lifelong interest in holistic wellbeing, which she was grateful to nurture through her undergraduate studies. She excels in her coursework in psychology, neuroscience, and nutrition. As a result of her lived experiences with multiple autoimmune diseases, as well as depression, anxiety, and ADHD, Leah is passionate about providing an empathetic, non judgmental, and supportive space for individuals to share their story and design a lifestyle that supports their well being.
[00:01:57] Outside of work and study, Leah enjoys spending time in nature, cooking plant based meals, making music, and connecting with loved ones. And here we are with Leah Chouinard. Hello, Leah. How are you today?
[00:02:10] Leah: I'm great. How are you, Cynthia?
[00:02:13] Cynthia: I'm doing well. It's gosh, a hot day, but I'm glad I got a little walk in with my dog before it got too hot.
[00:02:22] Leah: Perfect way to beat the heat during a heat wave.
[00:02:25] Cynthia: Yeah, I was like, she has not gotten a lot of movement in this week, so I'm going to try and take her out when it's cooler.
[00:02:32] Leah: Good for you. Your dog's probably gotten more movement in than I have these days, so that's awesome.
[00:02:39] Cynthia: Leah, I love just starting off our conversations because I know you've got a wonderful, just. story to share that people will be able to resonate with. But first just on that human level, what's been that rose and thorn in your life, right?
[00:02:55] So something that you're struggling with or that's been bothering you. And then also something that's really going well would love to hear.
[00:03:03] Leah: Yeah, thanks so much for posing the question. I want to say, although this episode is all about my story with ADHD the thorn for me lately has been really figuring out how to manage my progressing rheumatoid arthritis.
[00:03:20] So I've been confronting a lot of. joint pain and fatigue and some limitations and even more appointment chasing in that realm. So that does get me down. But there have been many roses in my life this summer and I love summer. So I've just really been enjoying all of the socializing that comes with extra time outside, more flexibility and my friends and family members schedules.
[00:03:47] And I have many friends weddings that are on the horizon. So dress fittings, bachelorette parties, planning this and that, you name it. So yeah good social time, good outdoor time, and just really. Really loving everything that summer is in Minnesota.
[00:04:06] Cynthia: I was going to say, you sound like a true Minnesotan.
[00:04:09] Everyone just really goes all out in the summertime. And I, especially after the pandemic, it feels like almost too much with how packed my schedule is.
[00:04:21] Leah: I feel that.
[00:04:24] Cynthia: Like the contrast. Woo.
[00:04:26] Leah: Yup. Yup. It's it's go time. Like the, we passed 70 and it's time to do all of the. All of the things outside, yeah it's so good.
[00:04:35] Cynthia: But I'm sure, yeah, that's no good for rheumatoid arthritis. Just the heat, I know, isn't really great for that, so I'm sorry you're dealing with that.
[00:04:43] Leah: Yeah, thank you. Thank you. It's, yeah, some, something to balance, but.
[00:04:49] Cynthia: Back in the winter, I think it was January around that New Year's time, everyone's posting their resolutions, et cetera.
[00:04:57] I actually saw on your Facebook, you posted this beautiful written piece, I would call it, right? It wasn't just a typical post. It was like really thoughtfully written and it was titled 2022 Reflections. ADHD and 2023 goals. And I just had so much fun reading it because you are celebrating all of your wins, how you just got nationally board certified as a health and wellness coach, that you were gaining more confidence, feeling more self love you have more capacity to love fearlessly.
[00:05:32] And you also shared your most freeing event, which was learning that you had ADHD and that was such. a surprising thing to for me to see someone really celebrating. And so can you share a little bit more about why that diagnosis of all things was your biggest thing to celebrate?
[00:05:55] Leah: Wow. Yeah, it is such a complex Answer, and it was a complex and beautiful realization because it helped me understand my life.
[00:06:11] My whole sense of self became clearer with the diagnosis of ADHD. And for example, really throughout my life, I've struggled with being late, feeling exhausted struggling with habit formation. I'm feeling so scattered despite being a very put together person. So I think I want to pause on that note right there throughout my lifetime, especially the older I've gotten as I've become more independent as I entered my young adult years.
[00:06:47] I started to notice a lot of mismatches between how I perceived myself and who I wanted to be and internal ways that I was struggling with carrying out my day to day tasks and everything that I was doing. The diagnosis of ADHD finally helped explain why I procrastinate like a son of a gun, even though I value working ahead and doing high quality work, and it explained why I show up late to things that are important to me.
[00:07:25] And it also explained why I struggle to communicate with friends and family members who I care so deeply about. Deeply about but leave their texts and their messages on red or never pick up the phone to call them. I'm excited to talk more with you today about my journey because. Realizing all of these realizing that all these traits of mine were large in part due to ADHD just gave me so much relief.
[00:07:54] I just was able to just let everything go and release a lot of shame and guilt and just confusion. Confusion around why I couldn't do X, Y, and Z when I fully intended to. So I'll just. Yeah, it just really helped me come home to myself and forgive myself.
[00:08:16] Cynthia: Coming home to yourself and forgiving yourself.
[00:08:19] Oof. And I just think about how powerful that mindset is compared to the mindset people may have to an ADHD diagnosis of feeling shame or feeling fear. I just, I remember my first experience with ADHD was with my brother and my mom actually broke down and cried when he got diagnosed and she just was so full of fear and I was like, Oh gosh, like ADHD must be terrible.
[00:08:54] It must be a terrible thing. And I was, I think maybe eight years old at the time. And so it just feels so refreshing and empowering to be able to take the approach that you are of, Oh, relief. This is actually explaining how my brain is functioning and explains why I'm doing all these things.
[00:09:16] I might have had shame around before, and now I can release that shame.
[00:09:23] Leah: Absolutely. Cynthia. Yeah. And I appreciate you highlighting my. Positive reaction to getting diagnosed with ADHD because that was something I noticed in myself. After the psychologist presented me with the formal diagnosis that she had concluded I remember I went to use the restroom after that before I hit the road and I just looked at myself in the mirror with the biggest smile and was, like, almost feeling like we did it.
[00:09:52] We figured it out. And that was because... I'm thinking about the story you share. Of your brother and how your mom may have seen now a new set of struggles and hurdles to overcome. And I can only speak from my own experience, having been diagnosed at 25, where I had struggled day after day, year after year in all settings with various.
[00:10:21] ADHD symptoms that were just supremely distressing. I think distressing is just the best word to describe my struggle with ADHD. To finally... Know that there are tools I can use to navigate my world and do what I want to do or Laugh off some of the things that I've been doing instead of shaming myself Was just extremely helpful and Ever since then, I just keep learning more and more about ADHD and the way it impacts my life and other people's lives and it's just been, it's been eye opening and helpful.
[00:11:06] I've been, yeah, I've been in the place of getting a diagnosis that's more negative and does feel more like impending doom, if you will. But this was one that... Really just unlocked a door for me that I've been able to step through and I'm so grateful for that.
[00:11:24] Cynthia: And it's I think a huge difference there is you knew that there were tools available and you knew, okay, now that I have this diagnosis, it explains things.
[00:11:36] And then I know there are resources and things available.
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[00:12:40] Cynthia: You actually have just, you already just have so much positivity in you, but you've talked about. Enjoying the show. I'm putting air quotes, but it's actually real. Yeah. Enjoying the show of ADHD, which I absolutely love.
[00:12:56] Can you share with the audience what you mean by this and how you came across this concept?
[00:13:01] Leah: Oh, Cynthia, I'd love to. During the pandemic. I like many people spent a lot of time home alone with myself and I really got a front row seat to my life's journey.
[00:13:17] Yeah, just uninterrupted by anything else. And I noticed during those days. That I was just scattered as all heck. And I would like to highlight my morning routines where I would wake up. And I was like, all right, here we go another day. And I would get started with my morning routine. Say I would put some frozen fruit in the blender to make my smoothie.
[00:13:43] And then I would open up the drawer to take out my supplements and I would take out the supplements and maybe I'd put them in the blender and I'd go, Oh, shoot, I need to have my coffee or my matcha because I need that caffeine to hit. So then I'd switch gears and then off we are to the caffeine station in my kitchen.
[00:14:01] And then. It was like, oh, and then there's that one person to reply to, or maybe I had something due for work at 9 a. m. that day. And before you know it, I have lights on in multiple rooms in my house. I have drawers open. There are items everywhere. And then I found the blender in my bathroom because I took the fruit upstairs with me accidentally while I thought I would go...
[00:14:26] Retrieve something that was on my bathroom counter. It's just oh dear. And then you go back to one room and the thing isn't the item isn't there. So I laugh. So first yes, let's acknowledge supremely distressing, like Millions of brain tabs just exploded, they're open, everything's everywhere.
[00:14:46] I'm just trying to get through the first hour of my day. And I'm just like storming around like a tornado. And honestly it's hysterical to me. It is so funny. The blender in the bathroom, that's really funny. That doesn't go there. That doesn't go there, Leah. And there had just been so many other just oddball things that happen, and I think at some point, like I can't help but laugh.
[00:15:16] And I think that's just been a really helpful thing for me. Coping with A D H D is finding that genuine humor in this performance that A D H D just happens to be sometimes. Another example that I think of is how, is the reputation that I have had for years of always leaving at least one item. At any friend or family members place where I spend the night.
[00:15:46] And again, forgetfulness and misplacing items is a common trait in people with and and having not suspected and myself until really just a year ago. It was just like, Oh, Leah's forgetful. Oh, what's the game. Let's all look around the house and see what she forgot this time. So it was a playful hunt if you will.
[00:16:09] But I think that also just plays into the whole enjoying, enjoying the show that ADHD is, and just, yeah. Laughing when you have to turn around the car and forget that thing that you left at home and then moving on, because that's what you can do.
[00:16:26] Cynthia: It's amazing what a difference it can make to just the community that you have around you.
[00:16:33] Because it sounds like you had a really just supportive community who was able to laugh alongside you and not make it a big deal, make it a game. And so I'd imagine that has influenced how you also then approach your, this show of ADHD.
[00:16:53] Leah: Yeah, definitely. It's so funny because of course I've had many experiences that are again, you're very distressing where it's like I'm leaving for something important and I can't find maybe it's, I don't know, maybe it's my laptop.
[00:17:07] It was under a stack of. Or yeah, we'll do the classic car keys. Not sure where I set them. And yeah, my family, especially my mom has been so good throughout my life of just making sure going through a checklist before I leave the door. And again, this is without knowing. I, Had ADHD, but I'm also diabetics.
[00:17:29] Like her big thing was also like, yeah. Do you have like sugar on, do you have your phone? Do you have your keys? Do you have your lunch for work? Do you have your music? If I'm heading off to a band rehearsal just really helping me with all of those things. But yeah, really maybe.
[00:17:47] I'm just surrounded by outstanding people, which is true, but yeah, no one has expressed noticeable amounts of upset with me for my ADHD symptoms and really everyone has been just so incredibly understanding and happy to learn, happy to help, and happy to laugh with me about things, and I think I help model that for people, too it's okay to chuckle at
[00:18:14] Cynthia: this.
[00:18:15] Beautiful. We actually had an incident this morning. My husband has ADHD, and he left for work, he's ready to go. He got to the office, and then he lifted his backpack up, and he's, like, Why is my backpack so light? And he opens it up and his laptop's not there.
[00:18:32] So I get a call while I'm at the dog park with my dog and he's so I'm heading back home. I'm like, why? And he's I didn't pack my laptop. Cynthia, that's
[00:18:43] Leah: a hoot. That's such a, an excellent example.
[00:18:48] Cynthia: Yeah. And so he asked his manager, he's Hey, I can go come back home and then I'll drive right back. He's just for from home today. It's fine.
[00:18:56] Leah: It's fine. He's this isn't a new thing. Yeah. No worries. Let's roll with it. Oh, funny. It just makes me want to give a shout out to my dad at this moment too, because.
[00:19:09] The number of times that man dropped my lunch off at school when I was growing up, even in high school, is way too high to count. Supportive family members for the win. Thank you.
[00:19:23] Cynthia: Yes, definitely.
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[00:20:10] Cynthia: So I'm sure that there are many listeners who either have or know someone with ADHD. So for those who might not have your approach and they might be struggling with their ADHD diagnosis or really pushing against it, what are some words of wisdom that you have for those people?
[00:20:28] Leah: It's a really great question, Cynthia, because I do know that despite the positives that have been revealed through my diagnosis, it can really feel like a barrier for a lot of people. So my advice to any of you who are struggling to come to terms with an ADHD diagnosis is first of all, to embrace what you love about yourself for having ADHD.
[00:20:58] Even though there are a lot of downsides to having ADHD, that's so incredibly real people with ADHD often have a lot of Positive traits as well. So maybe you are a very dynamic storyteller. I'm bringing that up 'cause I love to tell engaging stories and I like to act them out. And that's a very a D H D type trait.
[00:21:21] And that's something I've learned to love about myself instead of you as something that's taking up people's time or maybe over sharing. So I think a lot of people with ADHD also have an amazing sense of humor. And folks with ADHD are very creative. So I encourage you to lean into those things that you love and lean into those things that bring you joy.
[00:21:45] Another thing to mention about ADHD from like the more scientific perspective is that hyper focusing on something when you feel like, Oh gosh, I really love this, or I really want to spend time doing that. Those activities release dopamine in the brain. And that dopamine is what's going to make you feel balanced and make you feel happy and make you feel at ease.
[00:22:13] So just filling that cup of yours is. It's an act of kindness you can do for yourself, and I encourage you to have fun with it along the way instead of saying oh, no, I shouldn't be figuring out this new riff on the guitar or no, I shouldn't go check out another new trail to hike just go for it, just do it and love it and let your brain be fueled by that and let yourself be balanced.
[00:22:39] I think there are a lot of Ways that we can fill our cups with ADHD and I encourage you to not feel like you can't do something because you should be doing something else. Oh, I should be working. I should be doing the dishes. The dishes might be easier to do after you've gone out with friends or gone on that walk.
[00:23:00] Give yourself flexibility. Do what you love and love the traits about yourself that are either related or unrelated to ADHD.
[00:23:13] Cynthia: Hearing that as someone who is married to someone with ADHD, it's actually lighting up some light bulbs for me. Cause I'm just such a get things done right now kind of person.
[00:23:27] I'm like, here's my to do list. And I'm going to make sure I get everything done. And then I'll give my husband his to do list. And I'm like, all right, get this done by this time. And that just doesn't work for him. It just doesn't. And I think it really was a journey in understanding how ADHD. affects him because I think he was a late diagnosis in college.
[00:23:47] And so he just coped and was able to get by and be fine. And he didn't, once he was diagnosed, it was more of a aha, like I do have ADHD, but I don't think there was any pursuing of like how to navigate that or work with it. It was just boom, I have a diagnosis validated.
[00:24:06] This is why I am the way I am. And I actually started reading this book called The ADHD Effect on Marriage. It's by Melissa Orlov. Have you heard of this
[00:24:17] Leah: before? I haven't, but it sounds deeply fascinating.
[00:24:22] Cynthia: Yeah, my therapist friend, who also is a late diagnosis ADHD er, she told me that I should read this because she had really Helped her just feel validated and seen and understood.
[00:24:35] It's a collection of all these stories from people with ADHD and people who are partnered with someone with ADHD. This woman, she started a blog actually. Just so that people can have a space to share their stories. And then she started doing research on it and built, wrote this book just to compile everything she's learned over the last two decades.
[00:24:55] So just, yeah, super cool. I'm like highlighting along as I go so that then I can give it to my husband and he can read the highlighted parts.
[00:25:04] Leah: spouse of an ADHD er. I
[00:25:07] Cynthia: know, we're like, all right, we're going to work with this.
[00:25:09] Leah: That is so great.
[00:25:11] Cynthia: Yeah. So I know there are tools out there for you. What do you think has been most helpful for you in navigating the world since your diagnosis that others might find helpful?
[00:25:24] Leah: Another excellent question. And it's, I don't know that I could, no matter how hard I tried, pinpoint one thing that has been most helpful but I will name a couple things. I'm going to give proper attention to medication. I will admit that being very holistic health minded and having preferred other ways of treating my body over the years that trying out pharmaceuticals is very intimidating and not preferred for me.
[00:25:56] But I struggled with ADHD so much that I was basically desperate for relief from this stressful lifestyle and always feeling behind. So I did opt to go on the lowest dose of an ADHD medication in the fall. And that has been massively helpful for me. It has. somehow given me the sense of focus to get through tasks, whether it's that crazy morning routine.
[00:26:31] I'm not leaving drawers open every place anymore. I just have like more continuity in my day and I can carry out my actions with more smoothness. And I've loved reflecting on treating myself with medication for ADHD because. Something I noticed the very first day I took it was that I conversed with more ease.
[00:26:58] And that is so important to me because I work in youth ministry and I carry out many conversations in a day sometimes. And it's important to me because I want to be fully present when I am communicating with anybody and speaking with anybody. And somehow. Upping that dopamine level in the brain just a little bit has allowed me to stay engaged when I'm talking with people.
[00:27:27] It has allowed me to trip on my words much less. And as a listener, it's enabled me to capture more of what people are saying. And as someone who is a health coach and a compassionate friend and caring family member, and I just love connecting with people. It is so important to me that I can be present and respond to everything that someone is sharing with me.
[00:28:00] And I struggled with that for a while This is one very brief tangent, but one reason why I sought out an ADHD diagnosis was because I noticed that I couldn't pay attention to what my clients were telling me when I was doing practice health coaching sessions during grad school and. I still did a great job, but it was challenging and I had to take notes pretty frantically.
[00:28:26] Yeah, just having medication help with that, that working memory has been just profoundly helpful. And that's allowed me to be more of who I want to be, which is that. Engaged and present friends and family member and coworker and coach. Again, I think, because of medication, it's been easier for me to sit down and start things instead of do.
[00:28:50] everything possible until opening up my laptop. Now I can open it and I can write the email or I can start the paper. It's taken the edge off of the intimidation that comes with starting something. And as I answer your question, Cynthia I think I realized that's been the most helpful thing for me.
[00:29:14] A lot of things have been helpful, but, wow.
[00:29:17] Cynthia: Some people can have a lot of resistance to medication and feel like, Oh, I could wrestle my way through. I can, use all these.
[00:29:25] And you can, but then there's also just that very real chemical action that could be going on that's limiting you from being the person you want to be. And so to be able to just give you that little extra boost has already made such a huge difference in your life. And even if it was just the lowest possible dose it sounds like it's made a significant change in how you can show up and play the roles that you want to play.
[00:29:52] Thank you. So now that you are officially a nationally board certified health and wellness coach,
[00:30:01] Leah: congratulations. Thank you.
[00:30:03] Cynthia: Yeah. And almost done now with your master's in integrative health and well being coaching. What is next for you?
[00:30:12] Leah: My goodness. A great question and an exciting question. So my honest answer is that I don't know my next steps at this moment as I am very focused on getting through that final push before I graduate here in a few months.
[00:30:30] But I am eager to jump into the classroom, Integrative health and wellness coaching field. I don't know exactly how that will look. I do anticipate that it will include health coaching one on one with clients, but I also have some other passions that have arose throughout my time in grad school that I might pursue as well.
[00:30:55] So I need to honestly just say, stay tuned. But I do look forward to moving into the. holistic health and well being coaching sphere.
[00:31:07] Cynthia: I think your lived experience is going to be invaluable to future clients, especially those with ADHD or just neurodivergence in general, to be able to be seen and heard on just a deeper level since they know you've been through your own journey and you have such a positive and beautiful outlook on how to move forward.
[00:31:31] So I'm excited for you to enter the professional space in the health and wellness coaching.
[00:31:38] Leah: Thank you. I'm thrilled myself. I've. I know we've got to stretch a time there, but I'm thrilled for what's on the other side.
[00:31:45] Cynthia: Beautiful. And I know that you actually are taking some clients. So if listeners wanted to work with you or refer someone to you, how can they get in touch?
[00:31:58] Leah: Yeah. So at this time and in summer of 2023 I don't have a business model set up, but I am offering my services to anyone who's. If you're interested in a session, just on a donate as you desire basis, I like to call it. So yeah, we can meet for any amount of time and I'll share my email with you at the moment.
[00:32:23] But you feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
[00:32:35] So feel free to shoot me a message and I would love to connect as you mentioned, Cynthia living through a condition really equips you to help others navigate that too. And at the same time, I understand that every person's experience with ADHD or any condition. Will differ vastly from my own, but maybe we can use the same tools and use similar approaches and reframe the way that you view ADHD and its impact on your life.
[00:33:07] Cynthia: Exactly. And if there were one takeaway that listeners walked away from this conversation with, what would you hope
[00:33:16] Leah: that it was?
[00:33:18] No matter where you're finding yourself on your ADHD journey, Shower yourself with compassion.
[00:33:27] ADHD can make people feel really bad in a lot of ways. And there's no need to hold on to those feelings or those thoughts and let them overcome you. Because at the end of the day, that's not who you are. That's ADHD telling you who you might be. Love yourself. Give yourself grace. Give yourself flexibility, rest, whatever self compassion looks like to you.
[00:34:04] Just give yourself an abundance of it. That would be my wish for you.
[00:34:08] Cynthia: Beautiful message, beautiful story, beautiful human being. Thank you so much, Leah, for your time today and for sharing your story.
[00:34:19] Leah: Thank you, Cynthia. It's been such a delight to spend this time with you.