When Cheryl Gigler was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder five years ago at the age of 48, it came only partly as a relief.
ADD impacts how you see yourself, she says. Think of the name. It’s only three letters – attention deficit disorder – and two of them – deficit, disorder – are negative. How about having labels like that attached to your life?
That’s the reason this classically trained church musician from Fort Wayne is leading a class at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church on a recent Monday night. She showed eight others affected by ADD how to use a specially designed daily planner to get some control over their symptoms and gave an overview of treatment strategies.
Gigler, a certified ADD educator and trained as a life coach, sees herself as having a ministry to the adult ADD community.
If you think that the church is to offer hope and healing in Jesus’ name, when all areas of your life, physical and emotional, are affected by something, and people often feel stigmatized, then this certainly is something for the church to be involved with, she says.
Gigler says adults with ADD are a largely overlooked group. Thanks to efforts by educators and psychologists, the condition and its relative, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, have become well recognized among today’s children, she says.
But adults can go undiagnosed for years – or decades – simply because they were born too soon.
Many aren’t diagnosed until they have a child diagnosed, she says.
Gigler says the difficulties in attention and focus, organization and energy and mood regulation associated with ADD have been found to be neurobiological, or based in brain chemistry. Researchers believe they also have a strong genetic component.
For many years, children were thought to grow out of the condition, she notes. But it’s now thought that as many as 30 percent to 70 percent don’t – although ADD looks somewhat different in adults than in kids.
Adults’ symptoms can include forgetfulness, trouble concentrating, chronic lateness, procrastination, angry outbursts, physical restlessness, trouble sleeping and self-medication that can result in addictions.
Symptoms show up in problems on the job, with personal finances and in relationships, she says.
The condition also can affect people’s spiritual lives – something that participants in her current class say is a common thread in their lives.
They say they struggle with reading the Bible, paying attention during church services and being calm enough to pray – even though the activities are important to them.
As a result, some say they’ve felt they’re not good Christians or that they’re disappointing God.
I have trouble reading the Bible. I have too many thoughts while I’m reading it. They go all over the place, says one class participant, a single mother, who asked not to be identified.
Another class participant, who also asked not to be identified, says her church’s many opportunities for social and service activities leave her flustered.
They pull her in too many directions, she says. She wants to participate, but she’s afraid of becoming overwhelmed, and so she avoids taking on organizing or leadership roles.
All of a sudden I’ll have no confidence in myself to follow through. And I’m afraid I’ll get out there and fail. So I won’t commit to anything. For me, that’s huge.
Added another participant: I want to volunteer for everything. I really have to rein myself in at church.
Aspects of their faith can be a comfort to those with ADD, class members say.
One, who struggles with her energy level as well as attention, says she uses her most focused times to nurture her faith.
Like the Bible says, Seek first the kingdom,’ she says. It’s the thing I’m supposed to do first – get in there and be with the Lord. If I don’t do that, there’s a huge impact on my family, on everything.
The welcoming nature of religious congregations and theological concepts – such as God’s unconditional love, forgiveness and grace – also can help those with ADD. They often feel different or out of step with the world and suffer from low self-esteem, Gigler says.
She numbers prayer among ADD coping strategies, although she says the front-line strategies include exercise, behavior modification, life-skills training and medication.
Lots of studies and documentation in these areas suggest that things like prayer and meditation really can change our brain and physical functioning, she says.
The point is to calm your mind, because it’s so stressful just to live with this condition.
Gigler says St. John’s is donating space for the ADD classes. But, she stresses, the classes focus on practical coping methods that would be appropriate for someone of any religion – or no religion.
It’s not specifically Christian, she says of the six-week course, which is offered for a fee and is part of a new emphasis at St. John’s to provide educational programs for the community.
Gigler says she was diagnosed by a physician who had been treating her for depression and suspected something else was going on. He suggested an ADD assessment.
After that, she worked one-on-one with a local therapist, who had started an ADD support group for women that met at the former Anchor Room. The therapist led her to get formal training in coaching.
She is now certified as an ADD educator by Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, is a graduate of the ADD Coach Academy and has done advanced training with Coaching4Clergy.
She also has a bachelor’s degree in music education from Westminster Choir College. She teaches piano part-time and works in church music at Calvary United Methodist Church in Fort Wayne.
Having ADD at first seemed like a dead end, Gigler says, but now she feels God was just opening other doors.
Though I’ve sung for years, it’s through this ADD service that I’ve really found my voice, she says, adding she would like the course to spawn a support group.
Not too many people are working with ADD adults, she says. It’s the church leading the way to meet a need that’s definitely out there.