Women with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) will benefit heart, mind, and soul from reading Zoë Kessler’s new book ADHD According to Zoë: The Real Deal on Relationships, Finding Your Focus, and Finding Your Keys. Kessler, a freelance writer and author of Adoption Reunions, was diagnosed with ADHD well into adulthood. In this book, she shares, generously, her personal story of learning (often the hard way) how to thrive despite — and occasionally because of — her ADHD.
Each of the book’s 17 chapters chronicles an ADHD-related way of being, such as “being diagnosed,” “being impulsive,” and “being unconventional.” In each chapter, Kessler gives a highly personal, often funny, sometimes heartbreaking account of her experience living with that particular ADHD-related trait. Next comes a synopsis of what she’s learned about living with that specific challenge. Last is a section with practical advice for the reader on dealing with that issue.
For example, in “Being Fired: Worst Executive Secretary of the Month Award,” Kessler describes taking, and losing, a job for which her as-yet-undiagnosed ADHD made her supremely ill-fitted. She applied for the position as executive secretary to the president of a media conglomerate, thinking it might be a foot-in-the-door to a career in journalism.
“…I knew that a good strategy was to get a job — any job — in the field you wanted to work in, then worm your way into your dream job through the back door,” she writes. “Kind of like being a spy, I thought. Cool.”
What I didn’t take into account was how singularly ill-suited I was for a secretarial job, let alone assistant to the head honcho…. Apparently executive secretaries need exceptional executive functioning, as both are responsible for organization, prioritizing tasks, time management, and just about every other skill required for the job. If there had ever been an executive in my brain’s boardroom, she’d long since run off to live the life of a bohemian poet.
Kessler then explores her self-discovery process as she moved from job to job before finding her niche as a freelance writer. The key to success for women with ADHD, Kessler writes, is to discover their passion, and to live it through their work. Pre-diagnosis, Kessler admits, she was incompatible with people, didn’t like being told what to do or how to do it, lost interest in her work quickly, and couldn’t sit still — all ADHD traits.
“These traits are what earn women with ADHD labels such as difficult, lazy or flighty,” Kessler writes. “On the other hand, when a woman with ADHD matches her strengths to her workplace, look out! Our level of commitment, loyalty, hard work, and attention to detail is tough to beat.” She then gives tips on how to wrangle yourself into a well-fitting job that will make you happy and not clash with your disorder.
This book is — really — one of a kind in the ADHD literature. As the title promises, it is certainly ADHD according to Zoë Kessler. The experiences shared, conclusions drawn, and advice given are all based directly on her unique story, and the quantity and specificity of the tips she offers is impressive.
Kessler’s work exhibits a seldom-seen degree of honesty and intimacy. My guess is that some readers will feel that it goes a little too far, or gives TMI—too much information. (For instance, Kessler recommends masturbation as coping skill.) Other readers, however, will accept Kessler’s forthright discussion of her sexuality and sexual experiences as she intended: as a way to illustrate how ADHD can impact decision-making and relationships.
Be sure to read the book’s foreword, written by psychiatrist Patricia Quinn, a well-known and respected expert on ADD and ADHD in women and girls. Quinn provides valuable context for Kessler’s story by giving a brief overview of our lagging, still-evolving understanding of the disorder through a gendered lens.
Kessler is an excellent writer with a witty style, which makes reading her both easy and pleasurable. Women with ADHD will finish her book feeling truly understood, connected, and, perhaps best of all, whole-heartedly respected.
ADHD According to Zoë: The Real Deal on Relationships, Finding Your Focus, and Finding Your Keys
New Harbinger Publications, September, 2013
Paperback, 224 pages