Known as Miss ADD, Justine Rutolo has worked as an ADHD life coach for the past 22 years. Guiding us through her story of being labeled as lazy, stupid, and a procrastinator in school, her initial motivation to manage her behaviors, addressing and mending family issues, and the great difference meditation has made for her ADHD, Justine discusses the principals and strategies that have changed her life and allowed her to even see her ADHD as a gift.
About Justine Rutolo:
Justine has been an ADHD life coach for the past 22 years, helping children, adolescents, adults, and couples from her practice in Torrance, California.
Known as Miss ADD, Justine serves on the board of CHADD and runs two adult ADHD support groups.
Also an author and motivational speaker, Justine focuses on ADHD as a gift and works with her clients to highlight their gifts and passions while learning to control their ADHD.
School to Parenthood to Tutoring:
Labeled as lazy, stupid, and a procrastinator throughout her time in Catholic school, Justine reached a point where she didn’t really want to go to college – not because she thought she wasn’t smart, but because she felt unable to complete the work.
Still, she managed to complete college, double majoring in psychology and economics – the latter mainly to move upward in her then-current retail job.
When her boss scolded her for her messy work area, Justine began looking into ways to become more organized.
With the diagnosis of her son with ADHD at age seven, Justine saw the similarities to herself, went to be checked, and subsequently received a diagnosis for ADHD.
The first time Justine took medication, “I cried because I could read and retain for the first time ever in my life. It stayed in.” Eric remembers his similar experience.
Justine remembers meeting her future employer, a man from New Jersey who ran a tutoring center for children with ADHD. He had been a player on the New York Giants, but because he was unable to remember the plays, he had to leave the team.
Initially brought on board to help with business-related tasks, Justine worked so well with the children in the center that her main focus switched to that.
Working with the children at the tutoring center really helped Justine in her own home with her own sons.
Justine: “I wasn’t the perfect parent. I wasn’t emotionally regulated at that time,” so I would sometimes resort to yelling. But, yelling doesn’t help anybody.
Eric: You can’t achieve perfect parenting. It’s doing the best you can and when you screw up you talk about it and you own it.
Moving from New Jersey to Ann Arbor, Michigan, Justine joined a practice where she worked alongside a number of psychologists and a neuropsychologist. Being able to sit in on test results and having easy access to clinicians to whom she could refer her clients if need be was a great experience for her. She also began attending school meetings and assisting with IEPs etc.
After later moving to California, Justine started her own private practice.
Encountering clients with clearly present mental disorders other than ADHD, Justine decided to attend Pepperdine University to earn her degree in Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) in order to be better able to identify them.
Trauma, Control, and Self-awareness:
About seven years ago, Justine went through a rough period in her life, having to deal with her husband, who had narcissistic personality disorder, having an affair alongside attending graduate school and raising her two sons.
Resisting becoming a victim in this situation, Justine tried to assess her part in her marriage and what she could do to better manage her ADHD.
Despite taking medication for her ADHD, Justine still procrastinated a lot, had problems regulating her emotions, would frequently lose belongings, and more. Especially when she realized how upset her sons were with seeing her in disarray, she decided to really delve into finding solutions.
Focusing on improving her self-awareness, she sat down with her sons, now ages 19 and 21, and said to them: “I need you to tell me about me. Can you do that?”
After her honest conversations with her sons, Justine was able to greatly change herself and her behavior to the extent that her sons now comment on how different she used to be.
Being cognizant of how she was acting and speaking around others was like an epiphany to Justine; she has always thought of herself as a positive person, but in reality she came across almost the opposite to others without realizing it.
Eric mentions the concept of a Johari window: a matrix consisting of four quadrants, crossing what people know and don’t know of themselves with what others know and don’t know of them. There are actually tools or surveys people can send to others to receive feedback on themselves.
Remembering back to being fired from an internship in graduate school, Eric points out that not only is there always an opportunity to learn from life events, but we need to be able to live with others and systems who might not be operating on the same set of values as we are.
Justine has a drill she conducts with her clients wherein they rate themselves on various character attributes related to executive functioning behaviors and then ask someone else they know is honest and authentic to fill out the assessment about the client before analyzing the dichotomy between the two.
Eric remembers reading in one of Russell Barkley‘s books how self awareness was an executive function all by itself. “Self awareness isn’t just knowing yourself. It’s knowing how other people see you.”
It really matters what other people hear and perceive, as opposed to what one’s intentions are.
Now, Justine has learned to slow her mind down and think about how she would perceive her words if spoken back to her from another person.
During her traumatic time in graduate school, Justine had a discussion with her best friend there who suggested to her a book called The Untethered Soul. Justine says the book changed her life.
Justine describes the first chapter of the book as “the voice inside your head”. She could barely stand to read it because of how powerful and pervasive her thoughts were during its reading.
Her friend suggested attending meditation. Though she initially balked at the idea, thinking her ADHD would prevent her from sitting still, she tried it and continued to return.
Justine: The mind is like a muscle, and if you don’t exercise that muscle, it will lose its fitness.
“I was experiencing my life for the first time in a completely different way. I was mindful every day.”
When she first started practicing mindfulness and meditation, when a tidal wave of emotion would hit her, Justine would sit and meditate on that single emotion for two days. The tidal wave would then turn into a ripple of water.
Sitting with those emotions of hurt or sadness or anger for a couple days when you’re just starting out can really help someone to feel like they can talk about those emotions without becoming angry or fighting through the process.
After about six months of regular meditation, Justine felt gradually better and noticed she wasn’t losing items like she used to.
Justine had taken 30 mg of medication for the past 15 years. After the six months of consistent meditation, one morning she began to shake after taking her medication. Her psychiatrist suggested lowering her dosage to 20 mg. Four to five months later it happened again and she was told to reduce her dosage again.
Eventually, Justine was able to work down to 5 mg and then wean herself off altogether, though she still carries some with her in case of extreme circumstances.
Justine now teaches these methods to her clients and has seen good results.
She tells her clients that if the need medication, though, to definitely take it. People need the medication to be able to retain the tools and strategies learned in therapy and coaching. Just because it worked for her doesn’t mean it will work for everyone else.
Building the neural pathways and rewiring the brain is what enables us to be in control of the executive function deficits.
Mistakes and Vulnerability:
Justine: Laughter is so important when dealing with these subjects, especially with parents trying to help their children. “Let’s put the fun back in dysfunctional.”
Eric uses his recent email gaffes – sending out repeated corrections emails to make up for errors – as an example of what can be comedic. He notes that his honesty and vulnerability have helped him gain more of an audience and be more successful.
Brené Brown was a major influence for Eric’s ideas and strategies for vulnerability.
Justine, citing Byron Katie: Vulnerability is about you too. You can’t expect the other person to be vulnerable if you’re vulnerable. You just have to do it for you.
In Brené Brown’s book and The Gifts of Imperfection and The Power of Vulnerability, she lists ten guideposts. Number seven is: Cultivating wholeheartedness through letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth. For Eric, this was one of the most important points made – he realized that so much of his perfectionism was him fighting for his self-worth.
In Eric’s ADHD reWired productivity groups, he realized that productivity with ADHD is about so much more than just productivity. It’s about knowing that you are enough – now, and that doesn’t conflict with a desire for self-improvement.
When talking with some top CEOs of major companies, Brené Brown addressed their idea that they had to be willing to fail in order to be vulnerable and dare greatly. She responded, “No, you have to know you’re going to fail.”
Eric, citing Brené Brown: “Failure is such an imprecise word because as soon as we learn from it, it ceases to be a failure.”
We’re a constant work in progress.
Products, Services, and Other Links:
Blab, Eric’s live-streaming platform of choice for broadcasts during ADHD Awareness Month
ADHDexpo, where Eric will be a speaker
MissADD.com, Justine Rutolo’s website
Johari window Wikipedia page
Russell Barkley‘s website
Brené Brown‘s website
Byron Katie‘s webisite
The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael A. Singer
The Surrender Experiment: My Journey into Life’s Perfection by Michael A. Singer
Mindset: The Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck
Find and Contact Justine Rutolo:
Facebook Group: MissADDJustine
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