Facing the Emotional Storms of ADHD with James Ochoa

Straight from the Life Empowerment Center, James Ochoa is back today to share a story of his own emotional storm and the strategies he employed to move through it.

This is one of those important episodes. Important, not just because of the lessons and strategies we share for moving through your own emotional ADHD storms, but for the example that James puts on display. He is, after all, a leading voice in healthy living with ADHD, and he’s suffering publicly through a career-defining storm of his own. If it can happen to him, it can happen to anyone. There is no shame in the battles we engage with our ADHD.

Thanks to James for sharing his story (which you can read in full in the links below).

Links & Notes

Thank you for supporting The ADHD Podcast on Patreon!


Episode Transcript

Pete: Hello, everybody and welcome to “Taking Control: The ADHD” podcast on Rash Pixel FM. I’m Pete Wright. Right over there is Nikki Kinzer.

Nikki: Hello, everyone. Hello, Pete.

Pete: Oh, Nikki. I got to tell you. What a week.

Nikki: What’s going on?

Pete: You know this whole college thing, we did another college tour this week.

Nikki: Where?

Pete: It took…we went to OSU Cascades Campus in Bend.

Nikki: In Bend, oh, Bend, Oregon is beautiful.

Pete: It’s so beautiful. Oh, it was crystal clear. Weather, it was crisp, cold mountain air. It was just amazing. There are real. I am driving out of the hotel because we pulled into the hotel very late at night. I drive out of the hotel the next morning and the light, we can finally see everything. And every center median has these giant statues of deer, like these deer grazing to kind of dress the place up.

And my daughter looks over and says, “Oh look, deer.” And I think she’s talking about statutes and I look in the center median between like onrushing traffic, are four deer, just chilling and eating grass. Like real deer, like living, breathing deer. This place is the “It’s a Small World” attraction at Disney World. It’s just a lovely place. The Cascades Campus is very small. You know, Corvallis has 32,000 students. This has 1300, right? It’s just very, very small. And so very much fits my daughter’s identity. But it is definitely pushing all of the ADHD buttons, right? First I have the exhilaration of wanting to do, I have this thing, “Well, I should go back to school. Maybe I should get my MFA. Like, that would be fun.” Like, “Should I do this?”

This is really exciting.

Nikki: And also [inaudible 00:01:47] Bend, with my daughter.

Pete: Yeah. And then immediately I turned the page and it’s like, “Oh, that’s how much it costs? Ooooh.” Drowning.

Nikki: We’ll let one Wright family member do that.

Pete: One at a time. One at a time. It’s exhausting and it’s causing the old fireworks. I mean, things are just flying all the time and…

Nikki: Going so fast.

Pete: It is going so fast. And so, I am just exhausted as a result of it. And so, it’s funny. You never know when you’re going to be hit by that sort of fireworks storm. And so I’ve been thinking about our guest today all weekend long as we’ve been preparing for this show.

Nikki: It’s going to be a great show.

Pete: Head over to takecontroladhd.com you can get to know us a little bit better. You can listen to the show right there on the website or subscribe to the mailing list and we’ll send you an email each time a new episode is released. And of course, you can connect with us on Twitter or Facebook at Take Control: ADHD. And if this show has ever touched you, if you’ve ever changed your life as a result of something you’ve learned here or something one of our fantastic guests has demonstrated on this show, we hope you will consider checking out the ADHD community over at patreon.com/theadhdgroup. It is a fantastic resource. It is made up by people who are sharing their own stories and strength and at times asking for help and support when they need the strength of others. For just a couple of bucks, you can get access to this group. For a little bit more, you can get access to the livestream and watch “The ADHD” podcast as we record it live and ask questions of our guests in the post livestream chat. It’s incredibly valuable time and we appreciate you taking a part in it. Learn more at patreon.com/theadhdpodcast.

Straight from The Life Empowerment Center, James Ochoa is back, the man behind “Focus forward Navigating the Emotional Storms of ADHD” and “The Complex Shiny Shorts” podcast. And a dear, dear friend of this very show is back to share the evolving story of his own personal ADHD storms. James, welcome back to “The ADHD” podcast friend.

James: Ah, it’s so much fun to be back here. I feel like we are comrades in arms as I would say on the ADHD world and I really appreciate all the support that you all have given me over the years. And yes, I continue to evolve through many storms in my own life and having lots of fun, but I feel like this was just yesterday. I feel like it was a, you know, I feel like we talked just, you know, but it’s been months or could even be a year. I’m not quite sure how long since I’ve been on your show.

Nikki: Too long.

Pete: Long time. [crosstalk 00:04:45].

James: I like that. That’s a great term.

Nikki: Well, welcome back James. It is a pleasure to have you here. And before we get into, because I definitely want us to talk about your blog post because that was a very personal storm that you went through and had the courage to share and I certainly want you to share it with our listeners as well. But before we get into that, can you do just a refresher for our audience of what the emotional distress syndrome is?

James: Sure. So, the emotional distress syndrome is the neurological distress mentally, emotionally, physically, societally, personal relationship wise. It’s what spins off the diagnosis of ADHD. And so, if you’re consistently not organizing or not remembering things or consistently feeling like you’re underperforming, then that stress builds up over your lifetime. And to me, if it’s not understood or treated, that becomes a syndrome. And it’s that syndrome, I would say, it really began to show up in 2002 or ’03 as a really critical factor in treating ADHD. And it absolutely remained the professional conundrum of mine until the book “Focus Forward” came out. And so, really learning how to get around that and understand how to deal with it. Because I talk about it as being a low-grade post-traumatic stress that can evolve over time. And it just erodes self-esteem and identity in ways I can’t even begin to describe to you what I’ve seen, Nikki, over the years. And so is that low-grade stress is what spins off the diagnoses that I think is one of the most critical factors for us to understand how to get around.

Nikki: And so, we have talked in our other interviews, and I know you talk a lot about this in the book, these emotional storms. So, what are these emotional storms?

James: So, an emotional storm would be something related to me feeling out of sync with myself or out of center as I talk about it now. So, if you have ADHD and suddenly you forgot to evaluate transition time and going to your next appointment, okay? Which is a common issue on the ADHD spectrum and you’re on your way there and then there’s an accident and then suddenly you’re 15 minutes late. That storm is feeling bad about not having evaluated the time in transition, knowing you didn’t mean to, not wanting to miss whatever 15 minutes of the appointment that you’re going to miss.

And at the very least, the potential shame or disappointment or embarrassment that someone goes through. And you tell me how common that little statement was everyday, all day for some people. And if you don’t know it’s happening, that’s the biggest issue to me, which is what I’m trying to do with all my formative information. Is, let’s just first acknowledge this is something real and it’s not going away. So, that’s a real storm. And that happens in people’s lives, it certainly has happened in my life in the last month, maybe in the last 24 hours. Does that help?

Nikki: Yeah. Absolutely. Well, and you know something I want to share. I had a conversation with a family member of mine this weekend whose son was diagnosed with ADHD and she was in the process of getting diagnosed with ADHD. And one of the things that she said that her doctor told her that was so helpful and so emotional for her where she started crying when she was telling me about it, is he told her it wasn’t her fault. And she said hearing those words, and she started tearing up when she was telling me was just this huge relief that I wasn’t making this up.

It was real, it was happening and she wasn’t the only person. And so, I think when you are talking about these emotional storms, people, they get it. They understand because it’s them too. They deal with it every day, like you said.

James: Yes, we do. We do.

Pete: And so you come to us with a story of your own experience and I read your post, James. And I felt like my chest was caving in as I read it. It was that like that deep sort of heart sync for you and as a result of like deep, deep, sort of experiential empathy for what you were going through. I knew this so well. Can you share the story of your experience and what you’ve done?

James: Well, in brief, it’s certainly the shine…

Pete: You don’t have to be brief, James, you have the stage, take the time.

Nikki: And we will post this in the show notes so they can read the whole thing.

James: Right. So yes, “The Shiny Shorts” is about it this month. And I, yeah. So, it’s interesting cause it was a post-traumatic stress event, meaning that I remember the time and the day that on August 30th at 10:04 PM, as I stood in my beautiful kitchen, leaning against my wonderful granite countertop bar as I was checking the royalties on my book for the month, which is always a fun thing to do. And I did happen to see the little Audible link for my audiobook. And I thought to myself, “Oh, I think I’ll go to the Audible link and look it on my book on Audible.” And, you know, my book’s been out over three and a half years. It’s been a wonderful success. And as I clicked the link, it was very clear to me. It was like, wait a minute. I’m not sure I’ve ever been here before.

And that thought started the tumble that it was like, wait a minute. And as it came up I’m like, “Oh, I know I haven’t been here before.” And so, the world really did, I mean, your chest caving in, my head started to swirl, which is my reaction. You know, and then I see 164 or 165 comments, which is more comments than I’ve had anywhere on any social media platform openly in the public that I hadn’t seen in three and a half years. And I’m still stunned. I don’t think I’ll ever be not stunned by the chasm of that space. And, you know, all the comments were great. We had what, 4.3, I think it was out of five stars. That’s wonderful. People think it’s great. And then the narration I get is two out of five and I’m like, “What is, I did the narration.” So I’m like, “Wait a minute. That’s a two out of five for me personally.”

And that’s when I think I had to hold onto my granite countertop bar so I didn’t fall over. Because I’m like, “Oh my gosh, what have I done here, God?” And in looking at it, the narration, I had chosen to read some parentheses and bullet points. Which, you never read punctuation in audiobooks? I know that now. And people were really annoyed by that. So here, Pete and Nikki, I had people with ADHD who had comments that were valid, they couldn’t listen to the book, you know. Sure. There were many who didn’t even notice it or maybe in their own ADD they didn’t even hear it. It wasn’t a big deal. But that set off a storm of obviously, monumental proportions for me.

Pete: There’s so many layers to this, right? I have to imagine that apart from the personal layer, and I think your son had a fantastic bit of awareness that we’ll save as kind of the punchline to this story, which makes complete sense. But the bit of awareness of the fact that A, some of those comments are greeting you with ridicule, right? And that there are people who deeply need this information, who found the narration, your personal narration impenetrable. Describe that experience of recognizing that.

James: It’s a void that as a professional counselor, which 99% of my work has been ADHD for over 30 years. It’s one of those things Pete I would’ve never, ever wanted to happen. And it might be the greatest fear, right? It’s like the last thing I want to do is cause distress for my clients in a place where they’re reaching for help.

And so, you know, it’s professionally, it was a very dark, there’s no way to describe it, it’s a dark space. And I had a number of my support people around me said, “Oh, don’t worry about it. It’s not that big of a deal.” It was, you know, 35 or 40 comments out of 165. But I’m like, “That’s a lot of comments.” And the, just the fact that we try to do so much to help people with ADHD that when a mistake had been made at that level, which was, and certainly, I would’ve, of course, corrected it immediately had I known it three and a half years ago, is just the perfect storm at a level I could have never predicted for ADHD awareness month of when it happened for me. And okay, truth be told, many people around me that didn’t listen to the book long enough to get to that narration part, who I’m sure would have told me, and it wasn’t, you know, so…

Pete: I was just going to say the same thing. I mean, even I’m an avid audible guy and I actually own your book in Audible, but I read it on my Kindle. So, I’ve never listened to it. I would’ve told you, man, I would have had your back on this. I share your regret. I should have…what could I have done for James?

James: Well, I think this is true for a lot of people now that are going to hear this. And it’s, you know, Nikki, you were talking about it being, it’s an emotion. It’s a hugely emotional issue. And it was very difficult to do the podcast on Shiny Shorts this month. It was only three weeks after. I would say it is more resolved to a great degree, you know, but just this weekend I was going through some pretty strange emotional changes and I couldn’t figure out where they were coming from.

And the best I can tell you is just stress recovery. There’s lots of things going on in my personal life, but it’s just stress recovery. That’s what us with ADHD go through time and time again. If you don’t know it, all bets are off as to how bad you feel for how long or what you don’t complete or what you run away from or what marriage you drop or what friendship you don’t go back to. I can’t even, this is why the passion for this is embedded at such a deep level. And, you know, I really did. I attempted to hide for three or four days. I’m sure this will go away. I didn’t want to tell anyone. But I, you know, when it came to it in my own meditation and my own spiritual retreat, it was very clear that it could be an enormously powerful space to see someone go through a mistake who has the condition. And so, I knew there was no other recourse at that point.

Pete: I want to talk more about you as a practitioner and your sort of steps to recovery and getting yourself through this. But first, before we talk about that, can you…let’s tell people what happened. What was your observation from your son? And that makes so much sense.

James: So, what became clear to me after a sleepless night is I absolutely, I called my engineer the next day and oddly enough, he had moved to California. He didn’t even have the master tapes with him. I had to get them from my consultant which, by the way, I had not even downloaded my own tapes way back when, I won’t even talk about that. So, it was a little bit of a storm of can we find the book? My consultant was out of town and I did get it re-engineered.

But in talking with my son about the storm, my son, Gabe, up in New York and lamenting about it, he said, “I was still trying to figure out how I had made this decision.” I tried to blame my engineer. I tried to blame Jules. I tried to blame everyone else around me. But my son Gabe said, “Hey, Dad, you’ve done clinical reports for years. That was your normal way of seeing things.” So, in clinical reports, you have to do punctuation to get everything accurate in it. And that’s my frame of reference I came from. And so my son helped me understand why I did it and what I came to. There were still a number of missed elements of evaluation in this space of, again, people not listening to it, other kinds of things, but, you know, that’s the pods of support you want around you. In this case, my family that you can talk to that can give you a voice of reason, that really it probably took a good 30% of the…or 40% of the stress out of it. When he told me that, I’m like, “It still was an issue and I’m still going to have to deal with it” but I’m like, “Okay, I understood why I did it.”

Nikki: It made sense. So when you say reengineered, what do you mean by that in the Audible world, like you rerecorded it?

James: So, in the Audible world my audio engineer went back and edited out all those punctuation. And so it is not there any longer. And it flows much easier. I will absolutely say that. So, now I know it. But you would delete it off the device that you’ve bought it on and you’d re-download it and when you re-download it, you will get the new book automatic.

Pete: So, you didn’t do any…you didn’t go in and reread any passages?

James: No, no. I was really…if we hadn’t been able to find the recording and he didn’t think he could edit out but he did a beautiful job of editing it out. So, you don’t notice that at all. And, you know, it was sticky because it took three passes and he even missed a couple of them. I had to listen to the book again twice.

Pete: And pay attention to it at a very different level.

James: It was very, and there were still and so when the parenthesis would show up and I would say a bullet point, “Oh my God,” I would just cringe. And I’m like, “Okay, I got to mark where that was.” But we’ve got them all now. So yes, Nikki, you can download it again. You deleted off your device and re-download it.

Nikki: I want to know more about the coping strategies because you display different or you have different strategies in the book. Did you go back to what you’d written or that you wrote and go back to those or did you explore different things? Like what was the process?

James: You know, I think that that brings up a great topic and some of my current viewpoints is the ideas of customizing, personalizing in this case resourcing or supporting or resetting yourself. So, I use a lot in terms of what I would call as resetting, recentering yourself now that I think is really important throughout the day. And so yes, from the book I would have…I use things like the pods of support I talk about. Absolutely whether it was my wife or my best friend David or my son Gabe. I was reaching out to, and I have a really strong men’s group in Austin that I’m a part of. I immediately put a text out within days about a group of about eight men that are just like, “Hey, this happened. I just want you to know it if I’m a little off the beaten path or can you check in with me every now and then?”

So, I send out those lifelines as I would call them. I dove really deep into my own meditation. And, you know, they were disrupted meditations, I would say. Meaning, my thought processes didn’t calm down as quickly as they might in my meditation that I’ve been doing now for over 10 years. And so, you know, all the character assasinators and how could you have done this? And, you know, it’s just all the worst nightmares you can think were raging through my head. But my ability to meditate and just watch it was the best I could do with it. And then outside of that, I think was taking some really direct action to correct it. So, it’s like, get ahold of the engineer, talk to your consultants, stay in front of these things. I talked it out with Jules’, who’s really a huge support in my business and it’s like, “Okay, these are the six things I need to do.” So, I just took action. And that taking action helped to really call me in some way. So those are kind of some overarching aspects of resourcing that I did, that I think all of us diagnosed with ADHD, certainly need to have in our back pocket.

Pete: Well, I love that. And it’s one of the things we’ve talked about I think recently, which is this idea of, you know, breaking down the big overwhelming thing, right? Cutting up the elephant into its smallest molecular parts because being able to tackle just one thing allows you to regain control or regain a sense of agency in your own life and process. That’s a beautiful example.

Nikki: You had sent me an email prior to the recording and you were talking about some things that you are wanting to do in 2020 and I know you’re digging even deeper in this emotional distress syndrome. So, talk to us a little bit about that. What are your plans?

James: Well, I think it’s interesting, Nikki, that I could say digging deeper. Is that an infinite debt? I’m beginning to believe that’s infinite. Meaning that I cannot predict everything that’s going to happen in my life that’s going to need support. And at 58, I continue to play with developing more and more support. But in digging deeper, what I’ve done since Focus Forward really has been centered around. If I was looking at the emotional stress that comes off of it, how does someone really get through the stress lifelong, the rest of their lives? And so I’ve done new training on a desensitization model that’s beyond EMDR, which is a desensitization model for post-traumatic stress and something I had been trained in therapeutically for years I use in my practice. And so I’ve trained in another desensitization model that I really like.

It’s called Emotional Transformation Therapy or ETT. There is not a lot of backbone of resource yet around it as far as the number of therapists being trained in it. But I will say that it is a new resource model for me to get around the distress that’s just clinically on kind of how I’m approaching it. But I will also say the other big things I’ve done is like I was talking about earlier, the idea of customizing and personalizing your life to such an nth degree that you know how you work and you can keep it in balance. It is not strategies and other things are very helpful. But what I would say, for even coaches and clinicians working with ADHD, or those who have it on how to ask for help is to really come at it from this personalization point of view that it’s got to come from the inside out.

A person has to understand how organization fits for them, how time orientation works for them. So, I can take all these great ideas outside of here and sift through them for ones that have personal meaning to me. But if you don’t come from that personal meaning aspect on the ADHD spectrum, I think you can…you waste a lot of efforts in getting to where a person can work from. And I think it’s one of the ways that I have gotten, as I say, more efficient in working with my clients because I can get to that personalization faster knowing I come from the inside out. The final thing is the whole idea of around the relationship with meditation and mindfulness. I really feel like I have pulled that apart and understand how to help those diagnosed with ADD to develop a relationship with mindfulness.

Meditation is a skill set to practice. Mindfulness is a state of being to recenter yourself to on an ongoing basis. So, I have things on my website regarding kind of a blog about meditation regarding kind of what is called micro-meditations or slow motion. Micro-meditations are one to three minutes throughout the day to reset yourself. Slow motion is just literally slowing your actions down by 25% of what you’re doing, which brings a curious observational kind of pull to what you’re doing, which kind of helps you to stay centered in what you’re doing. But next year I’m really going to be diving deep into those pieces and leading people in that space in 2020 on how to develop those pieces. A lot of the feedback I’ve gotten is the information incredibly good that I’ve put out there. But people also want real-world time in being able to develop these things.

And so, I’m going to be doing some things on podcasting and mindful meditations that I’ll be recording and things like that, that folks can be a part of with me that I really want to help lead people because I’m really clear. It’s funny, I am the life empowerment center as a single person. And so, I think it’s me and myself and I, is what I joke about it as.

Pete: The whole team.

James: I don’t do well in business development with a lot of people around me. So, I know that about myself. And so this is my way of getting information out there next year. And yeah, there’s got to be a link in y’alls show notes, which we’ve talked about. I really appreciate it. If folks want to be kind of the first to know about that, but does that help you kind of give you some overview Nikki on some of the things that are coming up?

Nikki: Absolutely. Well, and you’ll need to let us know when you get the…it’s a guided meditation that you’re going to do or do I understand that correctly?

James: I’m going to be doing a multiple number of them about how to develop the relationship with meditation. So I’ll be doing guided meditations. I’ll be doing micro-meditations on how to reset yourself during the day. I want people to have resource on an ongoing basis to really help manage their ADHD. And I want to make those so that people can have some ongoing support from me more than just the podcast or the book and those things that on what that’s afforded.

Pete: Is there another book in the future? Is there a 2020 “Focus Slowly?”

Nikki: There’s your title. Focus Slowly,

James: “Focus Slowly.”

Pete: Yes. Well, I have been meeting with my writing coach and editor Robin since July and we feel like we’ve gotten some concepts about another book and the book would really be deeper in the ideas I’m talking about here, a relationship with meditation, how to build it, how to really customize your life with the strategies. But the biggest piece, Pete, that I think when it hit me about a year and a half ago after writing “Focus Forward” is there’s a concept I called intervention fatigue, where it’s those with ADHD that reach for help but they don’t get enough help. They don’t get good help. Well, they don’t get help that lasts a lifetime. What happens is you get tired of asking for help, and I can’t tell you the number of people I have who have what I would call intervention fatigue, that they’re just tired of asking for help about ADHD because it’s not what they need or it’s not customized enough.

And I think that that’s what’s frustrated me because this hits to me on the professional development and to teach other professionals about this issue so that when someone comes in with ADHD, they know how to help and what to do with it. Because it may be the last time a person asked for ADHD help and they don’t get it. It’s a real tragedy if they don’t stick with it. So yeah, there is a second book. I have no idea what the timeframe is. I will play with that next year. I will give people updates on some of the things I’m doing.

Pete: Certainly a thing I think we can predict is whatever happens with the next book, the audiobook is going to rock it right out of the park. I’m sure.

James: Yes. I might even hire, you know somewhat of a high-class status, right, who could really read that just puts it on stage, right?

Pete: No, no, no, no. You have a great voice for this stuff. Please don’t hire it out. You’ve got this. And I will say for our listeners of this show, you know, this show is sponsored in part by Audible itself. And so if you have never explored Audible, I cannot think of a better time than right now today to head over to audibletrial.com/theadhdpodcast, sign up for a new account. You get 30 days free to explore the thing, but we will give you a free book. You can download this book “Focus Forward: Navigating the Storms of Adult ADHD.” And if we know anything, it is now a slam dunk in terms of narration quality. It has been freshly reengineered. If you’ve never listened to it, there is no better time to do it. Get the fresh reengineered version for free, audibletrial.com/theadhdpodcast.

Pete: Absolutely.

James: James Ochoa.

Pete: Lots of fun.

Nikki: Thank you, James, so much for being on the show and your courage. Again, I just have to say that for writing about this story, talking about it in Shiny Shorts, it’s such a huge service to other people who are listening to you and reading about you to see that somebody who is an expert in ADHD has been doing this for many, many years, had something that just really froze them and put them in a deep space.

James: It really did. And I would also tell you, Nikki, I would put a shout out to your audience that, you know, I am collecting storm stories on my website to use for my “Shiny Shorts” podcast and I’d love to get some holiday, you know, ADHD storms of the holiday season, which we know there are plenty, I’d love to be able to feature some holiday storm stories on my podcast “Shiny Shorts.” So, if anyone’s got any good holiday distress stories about being with family.

Nikki: Send them your way.

Pete: Are you looking for just people to email you or what, are you taking audio recordings to include people in this in the podcast?

James: There’s a storm stories tab on my website, which I can send you all a link to that in your show notes, and then you go there and it walks you through the interview of putting your story together and it’s an option. It’s an option then for me to pick up do a podcast on that.

Nikki: Yeah. Fantastic.

Pete: Beautiful. James Ochoa, Life Empowerment Center. He is the whole team and a worthy team he is. Thanks so much for hanging out with us. That’s right. Thanks so much, James. As always, it’s a real treat and thank you everybody for downloading and listening to this show. We appreciate your time and your attention. On behalf of James Ochoa and Nikki Kinzer. I’m Pete Wright, we’ll catch you next week right here on “Taking Control: The ADHD Podcast.”