ADHD isn’t necessarily something that a person develops. It is a part of who they are throughout their lives. Listen as Consumers Energy’s Sarah Paterson talks about ADHD and how it has made her creative and successful.
Bill Krieger: Hello, everyone, and welcome to “Me You Us,” a well?being podcast. It’s another Well?being Wednesday here at Consumers Energy, and I’m your host, Bill Krieger. Today, my guest is Sarah Paterson. She is the Director of Creative Services and Communications here at Consumers Energy.
She is also the co?executive sponsor of PACE, the Pride Alliance of Consumers Energy, and that is an employee resource group to provide support in allies to the folks in the LGBTQ community. Sarah, if you’ll introduce yourself, we’ll get the conversation started.
Sarah Paterson: Yeah. Thanks, Bill. As he said, I am Sarah Paterson. My pronouns are she, her, hers. I am the director of Creative Services and Communications within the Corporate Communications Department.
I am married. I have two dogs, one of whom is Archer, who is the company’s canine care companion. If you haven’t heard of him, we are back in?person upon demand. If you want to reach out, please let me know if he can come brighten your day.
Other than that, I’ve been here 10 years, started as an intern. I’ve spent my entire career with Consumers Energy in the Corporate Communications Department. Currently, my responsibilities include leading an amazing creative team of videographers, graphic designers, and writers who support all of our external communications that tie into brand and our marketing efforts.
Bill: Sounds like a lot. I got to ask, though, does Archer do home office visits at all?
Sarah: Just ours. My husband also works for Consumers Energy in IT. He’ll pop up in virtual meetings. If we’re going to be in?person, it’s usually at an office or a company event.
Bill: All right. My wife will be really sad to hear that because she’s a big fan of corgis. I tell her about Archer all the time. For anyone who was here through COVID, Archer actually did a little monthly article for the personal well?being committee in their website. The big joke was that Archer was taking a pause from his regular duties.
Sarah: Yes. From his job, which he had only been doing for two months before COVID hit. It was very limited, but it was very impactful for him. He learned a lot of bad habits and a lot of really good habits. We’re back into the good habits space, which is great. One of the skills was teaching him to write because I didn’t do it.
Bill: No. Not at all. I’m sure it wasn’t you. We had a great time reading those in, “Lots of Great Tips and Tricks From Archer.” Glad that he’s back in person. Let’s talk a little bit more about what you do here at Consumers.
When you talk about internal?external communications, for the audience who might not know, I know because I see all this stuff, the great stuff that your team does, what kinds of things do you record and produce for the company?
Sarah: Absolutely. We did have internal communications for about eight years, that was in my responsibility. That has since moved to People and Culture, to align our culture communications with the communications to our coworkers. Now we’re solely doing external communications.
My team specifically does help with digital ads that you might see online. We help do commercials. We cover storm. We support storm response out to our customers. We have a good team of creative marketing, who help develop all of the marketing material.
We’ve been able to actually bring almost all of that work in?house, which was a huge waste elimination effort. We have this team of people who are supporting all of the products that support clean energy.
From the video side of things, they’re running a full range of different things, covering community events, helping with some of the internal videos, especially for ERGs, creating content for board meetings or earnings calls, things like that. It is all over the place. They do an awesome job.
Then we also have storytellers and executive communications within my space, which is for blogs, news articles, stories that you might see on the Connect platform. Then supporting our officers who are speaking about the company externally.
Bill: I know that we have an external blog too. Is it, Force4Change?
Sarah: Force4Michigan and the for is a 4. You’ll see a lot of great content on there. This podcast is one of the great things that is hosted on that platform. We’ve been ramping up our efforts to do more proactive seasonal communications.
Using the blog is one of those channels to communicate. What’s great about the blog is we have a lot of creative freedom to tell our story in a neighborly conversational way.
We’ve started a new series called, Hey, Consumers Energy! Where we take a lot of the common questions or concerns that come up through social media channels or other avenues. We respond to them very clearly, matter?of?factly. We’ve done some great pieces on EIRP, and how that impacts customers and what they should expect.
We did one recently on summer rates, and helping people understand why the rates are a little higher in summer compared to other times of the year. Mostly, we want to educate our own coworkers as well as our customers on these key topics that we know people are asking regularly.
Bill: Many times our coworkers are customers, that’s an intersection right there because I know that I’m a customer. I’m pretty sure you are too.
Sarah: We are as well. We’re electric customers. We have propane for our heat, which is a bummer. We’d love to be connected, whoever’s listening. It’s an interesting perspective as a communicator to know as a customer the types of things you want to receive, the types of information that adds value. Also recognizing that our customer base is so broad, geographically, demographics that there’s a lot of variability that needs to be added.
With our data and analytics and research, we’re getting better and better at that every day. It’s just a matter of tapping into the right audiences in the right way with the information that they need at that time.
Bill: I want to run back to…I don’t want to forget this, while we’re talking. What you said at the beginning, you started out as an intern here at Consumers. This is interesting to me because, as I have done this podcast, and we were talking earlier, as of the recording of this podcast, we’ve released our 150th episode.
I don’t know what the exact number is, but many times the conversation starts out with, “I was an intern here at Consumers Energy.” A lot of times intern programs, I’m not sure that you hear about people getting hired, but here at Consumers, our intern program does an amazing job, apparently, because people come back, and then they come work for us.
What was your experience like?
Sarah: I had made some connections with people in the department that I’m in now and casually outside of the business. I had been talking with them. One of whom is actually Dan Gerstner, who is a great colleague and someone who I’ve had the opportunity to learn a lot from. He’s someone that I would see at different events and talk to and learn about the department.
When I was at a point in my education that I needed to do an internship to graduate, I reached out and was checking to see does Consumers Energy have anything open in this space I want to be. I was lucky to be hired in as an intern part?time for a period. Then, eventually went to full time.
We experienced the BSP while I was an intern, and had a couple of people take that who I was working at closely. I ended up running a lot of the internal communications at that time with myself and another intern, Suzanne McCloskey. We kind of over the summer until we could get those resources and the org in a better place.
We owned it. We said, “Hey, we’re interns, but we know what to do. We love doing it. We’re going to do it.” That started both of our path into this space where we each are today.
One of the great things about our intern program is, it is compensated. It’s compensated well, which makes it appealing to people because you feel you’re contributing and being valued from day one. There are so many internships, especially in the communication space, where you’re not compensated.
Often, if you’re doing it like I did to get college credit, you’re paying to go work for somebody for free…
Sarah: …which is a little hard to swallow sometimes. Because Consumers Energy does such a great job of taking care of the interns, that’s why they look to stay. They don’t always look to move on, or they have that loyalty to the company that you want to see in today’s day and age.
Bill: “Here we are 10 years later,” I think is what you said. It’s funny, you mentioned the internship thing. I won’t mention who this person is I’m talking about, because they might get upset with me. A friend of mine finished up an internship in the education field. I remember that they had to pay for full college credits, so a full term at Michigan State University.
Then, they went to go teach for free for almost a whole year. It seemed like a scam to me. I understand that’s a lot of the internships are, so I’m glad to hear that we are doing it the right way here at Consumers. One thing I do want to talk about, and we talked about this before the podcast, this will be airing in October, which is Disabilities and Employment Month.
Many times we talk about disabilities, we talk about the things that we can see, the very obvious things. A lot of times we don’t talk about hidden disabilities. Sometimes we call things disabilities, when they’re challenges. For instance, I have anxiety and PTSD. I don’t know if I call them as disabilities, but they certainly are challenges for me, especially in the workplace.
One of the things that we talked about is that you went undiagnosed with ADHD for a long time, in fact, weren’t diagnosed until you were 36 years old, which I have got to think is pretty recent because you don’t look like you’re that old to me.
Sarah: It was about a year ago, so I’m not afraid of age. What is it, you’re only as old as you feel? I only feel old when I’m getting up in the morning, and I don’t know how I hurt myself in the middle of the night.
I, like many others, had over the years…This is common with girls and women, your ADHD is usually showing up more in forgetfulness and attentiveness, aloofness, appearance, boredom, things like that. It’s all stemming from this, not being able to fully engage with or focus in on what you need to be doing.
Looking back, now that I know not only how ADHD shows up a lot in women and girls, but also how I was treated as a child, there are a lot of things ?? from as long as I can remember ?? that are now I recognize as symptoms of ADHD.
You don’t develop ADHD. That is who you are. Usually, you won’t be diagnosed with ADHD by a reputable care provider unless you have a significant amount of symptoms or things that you did as a child. That’s something that a lot of people don’t know, or they think you can develop.
Yes, a lot of people are more easily distracted or harder to focus because of technology and things like that. But it isn’t something that just comes on suddenly. Parents of children, I encourage you to learn if you find that that type of stuff is happening with your child, but they’re not necessarily hyperactive.
It might be something to look into or question because I had a great childhood. I had really supportive parents, but they didn’t always understand why I wasn’t remembering to do my chores, or would get so focused in a book that I would completely lose what I was doing, because that was what was hyperfocusing me. That was interesting.
Then, I got diagnosed because I had built over the years all these tools and things that worked for me to manage my life, manage the things I needed to accomplish at some level. When COVID hit, it was a huge change. My job changed. I was promoted.
In April of that year, I was serving as the COVID PIO for the ICS structure. I was trying to figure out how to do all of this, virtually lead this new team of employees that some were peers prior. Some were new employees that I hadn’t even met in person before. It was a lot. These tools and the skills that I had developed over eight years in the office, face to face, no longer were effective.
I felt myself getting anxious, overwhelmed, and having a harder and harder time staying engaged in meetings. I know that there’s a lot of studies that say, “Virtual meetings are just more draining.” We are in more meetings today than we were prior because you don’t get that casual, “Stop by the cube,” “Hey, let’s talk while we walk into our next meeting.”
Everything has to be deliberate in how we get our work done today. That was hard. I started going to therapy. They noticed that I had a lot of characteristics of someone with ADHD.
They encouraged me to get evaluated by a professional. I did and went through all of that. Sure enough, the thing that was a joke about me for a while, became my new understanding of myself.
Bill: Let’s go back a little bit to talk about what it was like to be a young adult or a kid with ADHD and not know it, because you say, you could forget things like, “I forgot to do my chores,” or, “I forgot to do my homework,” or, “I forgot that I even had homework to do,” and all those things.
Coming from a parent’s perspective, because I have three kids, they are all grown out of the house. I think I’ve probably heard it all. We’re very easy as a parent to go, “Why are you lying to me about this?” How did that work for you when you were going through that?
Sarah: It was tough at times, and not in a way that was intentional. I remember my room was in the basement. Their general practice was if there’s things that need to go downstairs, I was the one that needed to do it. They would set it in a basket by the stairs.
I would walk right past it over and over again, up and down, up and down. My mom started throwing my stuff away because I was not even registering that it was there. With school, I was lucky enough to be able to get by with quick studying and cramming sessions.
Still, to this day, I joke that I’ll learn something quickly. I will regurgitate it once, and then it is gone forever.
Sarah: I’ve to start the whole process over again. It’s like that short?term memory that is effective. I don’t have a lot of memories of my childhood. When I did my evaluation, I had to talk with my parents and get clarity on like, “Are my memories accurate?”
I think a lot of that’s because I was doing so many things at once in my head. Even if I was sitting stationary, there was just so much happening unless I could focus in, reading what’s my major outlet.
Homework, I would honestly and genuinely tell my parents, “No, I don’t have homework.” I believed that I didn’t have homework, but then I would go on to school the next day and see all my classmates pulling their homework out. I was like, “Oh no. Ah, shoot.” My school was on a, they called it block schedule. You had longer class periods in high school, but you only met every other day.
That extra day between when you got the assignment, and when you needed to turn in the assignment was always…The expectation was, “You have a whole extra day to get it done.” That whole extra day is what made me forget. That was interesting to look back on today.
Bill: It was not an advantage for you, for sure.
Sarah: It was not. It was probably an advantage for people who were very studious, but that was not me at the time.
Bill: Clearly, you made it through high school. As I think back to high school, which was a long time ago for me. I graduated in 1983, if you can fathom that.
I feel old when people say they were born well after that. When they were born in the ’90s, I’m starting to feel a little bit old. Anyway, I remember people from high school that were like that. They would come to me, and like, “Hey, can I see what you did in your homework?” You had mentioned this.
Sarah: “Can I check my answers against yours?” Then, it’s just a quick scribble. Not technically cheating because I knew the answers. I didn’t have time to go through and do it myself because of my executive dysfunction at the time.
Bill: It worked. It worked for you clearly. You made it through. What about college, because that’s the next level? That’s harder than high school.
Sarah: I was prepared to go to college. All through high school, it was always, like you said, that was the next step. When the time came, I knew that I was not mentally in a place where I was going to do well in college.
I didn’t want to go down a path that I didn’t feel confident about. I’m very glad I didn’t because of things I thought I was going to do. I thought I was going to be a veterinarian. I don’t like science that much. I appreciate science.
Bill: I mean, you like dogs. I know that.
Sarah: I’m not very good at doing the science. I had worked all through high school at a vet. I worked after high school at a vet. At the end of the day, it wasn’t the career path for me. Ironically, it was because I was like, “I want to be able to shut down at 5:00 PM.”
Sarah: I’m glad I didn’t. I’m glad I waited. I didn’t start college until I was 23 because that was when I had matured enough to know that I could buckle down and do the work. I had motivation to do the work and I had inspiration of what I wanted to do.
I had met a friend who now works with the Department of Transportation on sustainability type work, which is incredible. She, funny enough, was a PR person for a utility. I never thought I would end up at a utility. It’s funny how my path managed to follow hers a little bit.
I was able to graduate including my internship in three and a half years because I was in the right place to go. I am a huge proponent that you don’t have to go to college right away if you’re not ready. You don’t have to go to college at all if you have other things, trades and things like that, that you want to pursue. Don’t feel pressured to go to college specifically.
Also, when I’m hiring, I’ll deliberately say, “Degree or equivalent experience,” because I know that people can do great things and not have a college degree.
Bill: I think a lot of college degrees are a product of that timeframe where that’s what we were pushing people to do. We realize now that there’s the trades. I had this conversation with my daughter. She graduated high school and went to college for about 10 minutes and racked up about $5,000 in debt and came to me and said, “Dad, I can’t do this.”
Now my daughter is very intelligent. She likes math and science and all these things. She just wasn’t ready. What it was, was she didn’t want to go to college. She wanted to be a hairstylist. She wanted to go to cosmetology school. She was afraid to say it because of all this pressure to go to college. I had to explain to her, it’s a trade. It’s known for a being a welder. You’re learning a skill that not everyone can do, and you’re going to help people.
That’s the message for people out there. There’s lots of different ways to get to where you need to be. There’s not just one way to do it.
Sarah: Absolutely. Become a line worker, gas?service worker, or any number of incredibly skilled roles that we have in this company that go through trade programs. Trade programs are great, because sometimes in college, you’re not even actually doing the work that you would be doing.
All you’re demonstrating is that you can do assignments, where what’s great about trades is that you can go out and get hands?on pretty much from the very beginning, which is great and why I’m focused on making sure experience is an option for people.
Bill: You said something, too, that you were ready to go to college because you had a goal. You were motivated to go. Do you find that that’s how you are in most things that you do? Like if you’re motivated, boom, you’re going to go get it done?
Sarah: Yeah. With ADHD, you need to have that reward, the carrot at the end of the stick, some feeling of satisfaction to feel motivated, I love to crochet. I love to make gifts for people, but just like homework, I’m usually picking it up, putting it down, picking it up, putting it down until, “Oh, that baby showers tomorrow. I better finish this.”
Then, I’m frantically trying to get through it in very short time because if it’s not in front of your face, you forget that it’s there. Once I pick it up, I’m good to go. The act of starting the task, the thing, can be debilitating. There’s things that they say where if you have something at 1:00 PM, the only thing you’re doing until 1:00 PM is waiting until 1:00 PM for that thing to happen.
There’s a thing that happens, where it’s sometimes hard to get started on something. It’s something I’ve had to overcome with work, especially when you’re in a lot of meetings with this virtual world. There’s so much less time to do work.
I will say I get more done from 5:00 to 6:00, because I can truly focus on not getting as many emails or IMs at that point, or having to do 15 minutes of work and then go to the next meeting.
I build my day around knowing that that’s the case. The majority of my work will be done from 5:00 to 6:00 or so. I’ll go take a little bit longer lunch or start my day a little later if my schedule allows.
Bill: I found that that has been an advantage for me as well. If I know that I’m going to need to work till eight or nine o’clock at night, I can sometimes be able to adjust my schedule. I feel, in a way, I get so much more done.
You talk about getting started and things like that. You talk about being diagnosed late in life. I know outside of the podcast we talked about like how you scored. It was a pretty amazing score. It would be an A+ if it was a college grade. That’s not where we’re at. Let’s talk about, what percentile were you at when it comes to ADHD in those different boxes that you check?
Sarah: ADHD, there’s inattentiveness and then there’s hyperactivity. A lot of times you might be more or dramatically more on one and quite a bit less than the other. Women again tend to be more on the inattentive space.
I got evaluated. I had to fill out four or five, six different really long forms. Do, like I said, these interviews with my family to get background that I didn’t remember clearly. Meeting with a professional evaluator in an organization that specializes in neurodiversity, ADHD, things like that. It wasn’t just a general doctor.
I got my results back. It was shocking even to me who was like, “Yeah, I think I might be.” I was 97th percentile for my age group in the inattentiveness side of things. You can call it the A+ of not being able to focus, or hyperfocusing on something to the point where it becomes self?destructive sometimes.
Bill: Let’s put this all in perspective, because I have worked with you as a client of the services that you provide.
I would say that I never would have guessed. I never felt like I wasn’t being paid attention. I never felt like whatever it was I needed done wasn’t going to get done. Even though you’re in this high percentile, you’re also awesome. You’re awesome at what you do.
Sarah: Thank you.
Bill: People out there, you need to hear this, she is. How do you reconcile that?
Sarah: It’s one of the tools I built, which is that, for one, I mentioned I do have a lot of ownership over my work, and the people that I work with. I think very highly of the people I work with and get to support, including you.
That sense of having this responsibility. The sense of needing to follow through on my commitments is something I started to build a lot more in my early 20s, which is part of what made me feel like I could start my next path of education.
I always used to describe myself as an introvert, which surprised people because, at work, I’m very extroverted. I have to take a lot of notes. If I don’t write it down, I will forget. One of the things that I knew I was doing…Two things I knew I was doing bad and wanted to continue working on was interrupting.
It’s very common because it’s there and you want to say it right now, or else, you know it’ll be gone. I learned to write it down, and wait for space to talk. Still not perfect, but I try. Then, the other thing was talking too long, belaboring the point. Meandering around what it is I want to say, going down what I call rabbit trails.
For my closest co?workers, there was always this, “Well, maybe you’re a little ADHD.” Then, sure enough…In fact, one of my co?workers was [laughs] one of the first people I told, because she and I were the ones that regularly…
She’s very tolerant and a wonderful person. Jodie Solari, who runs the blog that we talked about. A lot of connections here, it was always a funny, little thing. Then, it was like, “Oh, my gosh. I got to tell [laughs] Jodie this,” because she’s going to be like, “I knew it.”
Takes a long time to get to the point sometimes. Those were the things I recognized were probably impacting people at work. I’ve been trying to work at them, especially now that I know why I’m like that.
I shared with you before when we met together, being diagnosed with something like ADHD isn’t an excuse. It doesn’t give you free rein to continue doing the things that you’ve been doing, and just brush it off. It’s an explanation. Now, you have new tools and tricks.
I was reluctant to go on medication, because I think that my ADHD is what has made me creative, and the ability to work quickly. It’s something that I didn’t want to tamper down, because I thought it was what made me good at my job.
Now, with the medication I’ve taken, it’s been nice because I can focus in, and be engaged in a conversation. Have better control over how I’m presenting myself to people while also being able to bring to the table all the things that I thought made me a good employee before.
Bill: I think that some people feel that way about medications when it comes to whether it’s ADHD, anxiety, or whatever that it’s those things that do make us great at what we do. “Gosh, I want to feel better, but I don’t want to lose my mojo. I don’t want it to take my mojo away.”
There’s one thing I want to mention before I forget. It’s off?topic, but you mentioned a lot of great names in there. You mentioned Darren and Dan and Suzanne and Jodie, all amazing people to work with. I have worked with them throughout the production of this podcast. They are a testament to the leadership that you bring to the teams that you have.
I wanted to get that out there. Those names, if I need something, I know I can call them. Even if they’re busy, they will give me a hand, or they’ll at least…I’ll get that call back, or the email back. They’ve been great to work with, and that’s appreciated.
The other thing I wanted is on?topic. You said, “Sometimes, we’ll jokingly say that’s my ADHD, or that’s my OCD, or that’s my PTSD,” or whatever acronym you want to use for what’s going on. How do you feel about that now?
Bill: Does it bother you?
Sarah: It doesn’t bother me, to be honest. There is a level of aspects of ADHD that everyone does have a little bit of. It doesn’t mean that they’re ADHD, OCD, or have the same level of anxiety even. I recognize that my anxiety that I’ve experienced has still been probably not nearly as severe as other people.
Everything’s arranged. We all are incredibly unique people with different experiences. I don’t mind if people think that they have traits or characteristics that would put them in that space. I know a lot of people do. Like any other issue around DE&I, it’s important to talk with the people to understand how do they feel about it.
I always try to ask preferences of things, because everyone’s individual and unique. I want to go back to the shout?out you gave to my team past and present. It’s a much bigger group of people that I’m lucky to work with.
Honestly, they make me look good. They’re some of the most committed, hardest?working, creative, unbelievable people. I have been so, so lucky to have a team throughout my entire career ?? peers included ?? cross?functional groups that we work with who are willing to give it their all.
I know that that’s not always the case, but I can’t take a lot of credit for how they’re doing. They’re empowered. They own it. They care. Honestly, it’s something I’m grateful for.
Bill: Again, an amazing team. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Dave Lingholm in there, too. He has been great to work with as well. I would feel horrible if I got through all this and didn’t mention him.
Sarah: I feel like I have to shout out everybody in CorpComm right now, because they’re all so great. [laughs]
Bill: Everyone’s working hard. As often happens, we are coming up on the end of the podcast. It’s been great sitting here talking with you. I’ve learned a ton talking, and I’m hoping that the audience has as well. Before we go, is there anything that you would like the audience to take away from this conversation we’re having today?
Sarah: That’s a great question. I think that regardless of whether you may think you have some sort of neurodiverse thing, and that’s so much broader than ADHD, or someone you love may, one of the things that’s really important to do is try to understand what that means and what that can look like and the different ways that can show up.
If you believe that there’s something that, if it was diagnosed, would help you interact with people better, do your job better, feel better about yourself, give yourself some more grace, give your loved ones some more grace. Take the time to try to figure that out and don’t be afraid.
I say this to parents, especially, ADHD isn’t something that’s going to hold you back. Sometimes it’s the thing that’s going to drive you forward. If you know, and you understand, you can do a lot more to make their life easier upfront, versus putting expectations on them that are just unrealistic.
I hope that I and others in the company who will be on the podcast or who have openly been coming out saying, “This is who I am,” …our power is flickering, because there’s a big storm going on in Parnall.
Sarah: That’s a good sign. Just give everybody grace. Try to understand. Don’t let this be a limitation, do what you need to do to take care of yourself and your loved ones. Ultimately, everything will be OK, and people reach their potential once they find their purpose.
Bill: All right. Well, thank you for that, it means a lot. Again, thanks for taking this time of this afternoon. For those of you don’t know, it’s kind of late in the day. It’s been a long day, I think, for both of us, but I really appreciate you still being willing to sit here and talk with me, and I look forward to talking with you again.
Sarah: I always appreciate the chance to work with you. Thank you.