When Tom Lundberg met Courtney Jellar, he was outfitted as a body double for the recently deceased Muammar Gaddafi (now out of work). She was a mermaid in an emerald green dress with sequins from the waist down.
“He was acting like he was putting on some swagger,” Jellar remembers from the 2011 Halloween party.
She told Lundberg that she’s the group leader of the Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder support group at the University of Oregon’s Accessible Education Center, at which point, she said, Lundberg’s “machismo act dropped.”
“You run at the ADHD group at the university?” he asked her. “I run the one in the community.”
“And I was like, ‘No, you’ve got to be bullshitting me,’” Jellar said.
When Jellar finished recounting the story, she said it seemed like a light shone down on the two of them and a soprano choir of angels sang, “Ahhhhh!”
Three years later, the pair are engaged and working together to shine a new light on ADHD.
Lundberg and Jellar have teamed up with UO graduate student Brittany Smith and undergraduate Reilly Owen – to air a weekly podcast about the trials of living with ADHD, turning something that could be a limitation into a unique strength.
They get together to record their show, Life Divergent, once a week inside Allen Hall.
“I felt that there was a real need for that kind of space and having some honest interaction about (ADHD),” Lundberg said. “A podcast gives you such a different feel than, say, a blog post or a website. You’re really getting an intimate look and feel.”
Lundberg is the information technology consultant for UO’s School of Journalism and Communication and a group leader for a Lane County ADHD support group in Eugene. He was first diagnosed at 26 after his then-girlfriend suggested he might have ADHD.
“It’s not an attention deficit; it’s much more an attention inconsistency,” Lundberg said. “That’s part of the frustration and what leads to not only stigmatizing people, but internalizing that stigma, like ‘Oh, I can’t rely on myself to do what I want to be doing.’”
Jellar was diagnosed at 28, and started the UO’s AEC support group in 2010.
“Everybody would make fun of me in college because I could write a 10-page paper in French on Jean-Paul Sartre and existentialism, but I couldn’t pack a suitcase to save my life,” Jellar said. “It would just stress me out.”
At first it may seem incongruous for four adults with ADHD to decide to host a podcast. Producing one involves sitting around a table and recording for an hour, sometimes longer. Typically, the four of them are tethered to a table with microphones.
Since one of the most prominent symptoms of ADHD is the inability to sit still for long periods (a fundamental element in this case), the traditional format might feel too restrictive. Lundberg supplied Owen and Smith with lavalier microphones clipped to their lapels. Now they can roam freely around the audio booth in Allen Hall.
Jellar was absent during the most recent recording session. She was in Cannon Beach delivering a keynote address on ADHD diagnosis and academic coaching at a conference for Oregon Association for Higher Education and Disability. She was present in the audio booth via speakerphone and represented by proxy on an iPad that displayed her image. It rested on a microphone stand with a green UO hoodie draped over it.
As four adults who have been diagnosed with ADHD, they share some similar symptoms. They’re impulsive. (When he tests his microphone levels, Owen bursts into song without much provocation). They’re prone to distraction. They’re sporadically inattentive (or hyper-focused). Their brains are churning information at a rate that outpaces their mouths. Oftentimes, they paused mid-sentence and struggled to think of a specific word or how to explain something.
Owen learned of his inattention issue in second grade and has developed consistent relationships with psychologists ever since.
“I always wanted to study my ADHD to fix it, and now I just want to explore it to see what I can do with it,” Owen said. “To be able to share related experiences with people is just incredible. It makes all the difference.”
The recording method behind Life Divergent is deliberate, if not forceful, organized madness. White sheets of butcher-block paper are taped to the walls. On one sheet, Tom started to write, “Welcome!” – but this is only a guess, since it was left unfinished after the first three letters.
Another sheet is filled with a list of subjects to address during an episode. This includes critiquing computer programs that they find worthwhile or not, such as apps that set limits and organize one’s Internet usage.
These parameters can help someone susceptible to diversions. As Lundberg explained, it can be easy to get lost in social media or lost in the “Wikipedia rabbitholes.” He added that there is also “black hole software” so that you have to reboot your computer to get back on Reddit.
Another planned segment for Life Divergent is “Ask a Norm.” Lundberg said someone with a “majority brain type” (ADHD free) will be brought in as a guest, such as someone who has proudly finished their Christmas shopping already, and the hosts will probe their guest, “How do you do that? What goes through your mind? How does that work?”
The inordinate, free-flowing ideas for a spontaneous show can be hard to organize, so Lundberg brought in a Bingo cage.
“We have a million things we want to talk about on the podcast because that’s what ADDers are: We’re idea people,” Smith said. “It’s one of our strengths, but we also need to get them all out so we can focus them.”
The four co-hosts are avid podcast listeners and draw inspiration from shows like This American Life, Radiolab, TED Radio Hour, Serial, Mac Power Users and 99% Invisible.
“Podcasts are such a cool alternative format of learning and just conveying information and there’s so much more that can be conveyed in tone than just written words, in my opinion,” Jellar said. “I’m also really verbal. I can verbalize something so much faster than I can write it, so it’s a nice format for me in that way.”
Plenty of radio veterans have made the transition into podcasting. This underground movement in the broadcast industry is an increasingly attractive format for anyone looking to work in radio, but can’t wait for a spot to open up at a local station. Podcasts can be set up, recorded and released to the public with relatively little effort.
Dan Carlin is probably the closest Eugene has to a podcast celebrity. The most popular episodes of his shows, Hardcore History and Common Sense, have been downloaded an average of 2.5 million to 3 million times. Carlin, previously a talk show host on Eugene’s NewsTalk KUGN 590, has been in the podcast business for the past 10 years.
“For me, it was the answer to a lot of my problems,” said Carlin. “How do I get out of that talk show box they’ve got me in? How do I maintain creative control? How do I grow an audience without moving? Even to this day, podcasting is sort of like my dream job.”
In all, the four co-hosts of Life Divergent have recorded five episodes and plan to begin hosting the episodes on its website within the next month.
“Culturally, I would love for there to be a shift, and I would love for this to be a part of it,” Jellar said. “It would be so wonderful for people to feel not alone and people to learn how to value themselves better… as an awesome right-brainer who sometimes needs some strategies to deal with this left-brain dominant world.”
Owen echoed this sentiment: “I think the underlying theme for Life Divergent podcast is we’re talking about is ways in which we can maximize having this commonality of ADHD and how we can maximize our brain to do more awesome things and be more awesome and explore ADHD and have fun with it; see it as a positive, and not a disability.”
This story was originally published in print and online on Thursday, Nov. 13 in The Daily Emerald.
More stories I’ve written for the Emerald can be found here.