Nancy A. Ratey

Nancy A. Ratey / Photo by Gretje Ferguson

Nancy Ratey is the quintessential blonde American bombshell. She’s educated, funny, and successful. But I can forgive her all that, because – damn it – I like her.

I first discovered Nancy about a year ago through her book, The Disorganized Mind, coaching your ADHD brain to take control of your time, tasks, and talents.

Recently, while prepping to review her book, I stumbled upon an announcement that she’d be the featured speaker during a live chat hosted by CHADD. I decided to join the conversation to get to know Nancy and her work. I found her to be endearingly kind and disarmingly down-to-earth. One of her first comments to the participants was, “Sorry I’m slow guys! This is new! …and excuse typos! LOL …”  (Nancy was diagnosed with dyslexia at age 19).

A Strategic Life Coach who specializes in coaching professionals with ADHD, and being diagnosed with ADHD at age 29 herself, Nancy’s a person who walks the talk.

Before writing my review, I phoned Nancy to clarify some of the concepts in her book. I felt like I was speaking with myself (blonde bombshell status notwithstanding). We had a good talk. We laughed our asses off.

So, before giving you the book review, I wanted to give you an opportunity to meet Nancy. Here’s an abridged version of our telephone conversation.

Zoë: In your book, you talk about a client who can’t get along without his assistant. Do ADHDers need another person to have a whole brain, to function like a “normal” person?

Nancy: They have to develop self-understanding, know how ADD affects them, and then be forever vigilant in using strategies, whether that’s creating small accountabilities around you, even, let’s say, if you don’t take a lunch break. I used to make lunch commitments with someone. So basically I would set up the situation knowing that I wouldn’t stop for lunch, and asking them to let me know 15 minutes before they were ready to go.

Another example of setting up accountability is when I had roofers put a roof on my house. It was 3 or 4 guys out there. I knew that I had to write this book, but I knew that I would be baking them cookies, taking them lemonade, and so on. So when they came over, I said, “This is the deal: I need to be writing a book. Don’t let me come outside except for these hours. And when I come outside, you need to ask me, ‘Have you completed X?'” And they took me seriously.  Every time I came outside, they said, “Have you finished writing that chapter?”  That’s a way of creating accountability without people knowing that they’re actually coaching you.

Zoë: What are your biggest PERSONAL ADHD challenges?

Nancy: Impulsivity. Just like this thing with us [we talked about boundaries and how we’re both spontaneously generous without thinking] – “Oh you like the couch? Do you want it?” I know that’s never going to go away. I have to create the structure ahead of time. The structure and the strategy around that is to absolutely, 100% know, that that’s going to happen. And constantly, when I’m out there in the world, I have to remind myself, and I have been practicing this: just because someone compliments me on my shirt doesn’t mean I have to give it away. I need to have dialogue rehearsed and situations rehearsed right in the forefront of my mind.

Zoë: Anything else?

Nancy: Probably procrastinating. I hope that if I wait until the last minute to do something that it will be easier. In my weird thought process, the shorter time I give myself to do something, the shorter the time the pain is going to be. I always have a go to list, so I’ll intersperse my priorities with these other things that I need to be doing, so I keep moving forward. I’ll do another part of project A, then pay a bill or something. This helps me to not get overwhelmed.

Zoë: What are your personal “mental health” strategies / breaks?

Nancy: Talk to friends and family. Allow myself to feel the emotions. I was at a funeral recently, and the whole time I was at the funeral I kept on saying, “It’s normal for me to have these emotions, and having ADD, I’m having them really deeply.”

I allowed myself to take a nap, I didn’t burrow into work. I’m really trying to do the self-care better. I think I have a much higher tolerance for stress than most people do because it’s stressful living with this disorder, let’s be real. So I won’t notice that I need rest until it’s beyond the point. Just like my clients. It’s so interesting. I was able to pull back sooner with this funeral. This is going to take a toll on me emotionally and I need to be reminded of that, so I canceled some commitments that I had that night, fool I was to think I was going to be able to make commitments that night. We forget so easily.

Zoë: You talk about exercise as one of the strategies for having a balanced life. What exercise do you do?

Nancy: Box, ride a bike, run, bootcamp [aerobics with weights]. Boxing changed my life. I’m not one to do yoga. Boxing is intense. I mean, my trainer would have me chase him around the gym and then he’d stop and have me hit him. I couldn’t wait for him to stop and turn around and have my gloves hit the white spot [on his gloves] because it’s a certain sound, boom boom boom, thwack, thwack – I loved it. He made it so exciting.

Zoë: In your book you describe a client who has his secretary make sure he does so many minutes of e-mails, then so many minutes of this, then so many minutes of that, every day; if I had to follow a structure like that every single day I think I’d slit my wrists. Do ADHDers have to have a routine to succeed?

Nancy: I would say there’s gotta be certain guideposts put in your life, given whatever your symptomology is. If you forget to go to bed, you know the consequence is to be wrecked the next day because you stayed up on your computer until 3 in the morning. You have to set alarms for yourself and get into the routine of going to bed at the same time. But no – do people have to do it hour by hour or whatever? – no.

I know myself well enough that if I do a strict schedule, there’s no way I’m going to follow it. So I set goals. I’ve learned to work with that. By noon, I will have finished X, by 2, I will have finished Y, by 5, I will have finished Z.

Let’s say I had planned to make calls in the morning. If my head isn’t wrapped around making calls, but I feel like writing out the report, that swaps out. Just as long as I complete what I have to do in the day. My tasks are on post-its so you can swap them around.

For more information about Nancy, check out her website:

www.nancyratey.com

And TUNE IN for next week’s review of  The Disorganized Mind, coaching your ADHD brain to take control of your time, tasks, and talents, by Nancy Ratey, Ed.M., M.C.C., S.C.A.C.