Florida: Licensed Mental Health Counselor #11444
Texas Mental Health Counselor (in process)
MA University of South Florida, Tampa (Rehabilitation & Mental Health) 2009
B.A., Midwestern State University, Wichita Falls, Tx (Psychology) 2003
"It's a lot of money to be spending, so I wanted every assurance that it was a polished, professional program!...
I loved it that Jenn could relate to my ADHD issues and had a clear understanding of the stress it causes.
She was warm and empathetic, and we BOTH felt an immediate and sustained connection. She was easy to trust on every level..."
-Couples Retreat Client
Jennifer's clinical experience is broad and includes working with individual, family, and group therapy for children and adolescents at a community mental health agency. She's been group facilitator, child advocate, clinical trainer, and active member of numerous treatment teams.
While she's worked with many presenting problems, including adults and children struggling with depression, anxiety, trauma, family communication issues, Autism, age-related cognitive decline, and problems in social skills, she has one particular passion: Working with ADHD and relationships.
I don’t remember when I was told that I was adopted; it’s just something I’ve always known. I was placed in my parents’ home on St. Patrick’s Day, about a month after I was born.
You wouldn’t guess from looking at our family photos that I was adopted. At the time, adoption agencies placed children in homes where they wouldn’t stand out. But sharing physical characteristics didn’t erase a feeling that I was different from my parents and my little brother.
My brother was a surprise for my parents, and he had something I never would — a sense of belonging.
He belonged, and I felt like I didn’t.
I was a high-achieving student and excelled in academics, something that grew less popular with my friends the older I got. But I continued to strive for perfection and the highest level of achievement in whatever I did, from academics, hobbies, and athletics, to music.
This worked until about junior high when subjects like math became exponentially challenging, homework became increasingly more involved, and tests required more planning, attention, and prolonged mental effort.
As my academic success began to falter, so did my self-confidence. Everything school-related had always been such a breeze for me, and my parents didn’t understand what was happening. The expectations I established in elementary school were not being met. I turned those failures inward.
I began to internalize every single comment I received:
“You're just not applying yourself;”
“There is no excuse for this;”
“You’re being lazy;”
“You have no common sense.”
I thought I was losing it.
But there was one talent I didn’t lose. In fact, it was beginning to blossom — art. I found solace in drawing, sketching, and creating. I’m thankful I discovered this lifelong passion. As I was growing up I still felt isolated and longed for a bigger connection with my family.
Art gave me the first real connection I felt in my whole life, with my grandfather.
I spent precious time at his kitchen table learning about his craft, his profession, and our shared passion. He was a professional painter, but that was just the beginning of his extraordinary talents.
He taught me how to draw, shadow, mix colors, and paint. He taught me how to sing and harmonize, how to find humor in everything, how to crack pecans with my teeth (much to Granny’s dismay), and how to stay optimistic through adversity.
Our connection was formed by something stronger than genetics.
I learned from Grandpa that art is a powerful medium that builds relationships with others, no matter where we come from.
To this day one of my most prized possessions is his box of paint brushes.They sit inside his roll-top desk in our family room.
Every time I see them, I am reminded that I do belong and that I do have a connection, even though he’s gone.
As my brother grew older, we discovered that he had developmental delays, behavioral issues, learning disorders, and physical health concerns that really put him at a major disadvantage. He occupied the majority of my parents’ attention and patience.
I remember having to share my friends and include him in my adventures with the neighborhood kids. His behavior could at times be hyperactive, annoying, impulsive, and lacking in social skills. Sure, this could be a major embarrassment to a young girl, but it would teach me valuable lessons that helped me grow, from an annoyed older sister to a compassionate therapist.
Witnessing his struggles and challenges planted the seeds of compassion, and taught me how to treat others with kindness and empathy.
As a young adult, I had to assume responsibility for the long-term health and care of both of my mother and father as they fell victim to Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes, respectively.
Shakespeare couldn’t have written a sadder tragedy.
As I grew older, I had finally begun to connect with my parents. But just as I did, my mother was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, something she is still in long-term care for.
During her decline, my father’s health rapidly deteriorated, and he passed away. It wasn’t fair. But I know that these struggles only strengthened my resolve to preserve connections with those who mattered most to me. And preserving any connection, whether it’s within your own family or within other relationships, takes work.
Even with the connections I had formed, I still felt like an outsider, a feeling shared by most people with ADHD. Mother Nature pulled a hilarious prank on me. It turns out depression and anxiety can be symptoms of something bigger.
The self-doubt and despair that started in junior high school morphed into something that followed the rest of my life. My parents did take me to get help, but their main focus at that time was ensuring my brother would graduate from high school, not helping their daughter who wasn’t supposed to have problems.
The ADHD was never properly diagnosed by the psychiatrists and therapists I saw. And it wouldn’t be recognized for years to come.
ADHD had been there all along — hindsight is always 20/20 — but had remained an elusive factor, hiding in the shadows.
Turns out, I actually had ADHD my entire life, but what brought me to this discovery was heartbreaking.
In my early thirties, my husband and I were at a crossroads. We had been together for about ten years but found ourselves starting to argue constantly.
We weren’t connecting; we were drifting apart.
-Recent Couples Retreat Client
Even though I didn’t know the culprit was ADHD yet, I knew something was happening to our relationship that was potentially irreparable.
I booked an appointment with a psychiatrist because I thought my depression, my temper, my constant anxiety, and my impulsive behaviors were to blame for the fights between my husband and me. I thought that maybe we had just grown apart. We started thinking about our lives without each other.
It got so bad that we almost decided to separate.
I was sure it was all my fault. I was at the psychiatrist’s office when I was told that I had ADHD… and it could be treated. At first, I was skeptical. All my life, I had been told that I was the problem, that I had clinical depression, an anxiety disorder, and low self-esteem.
How could ADHD account for what I, what we, had been going through?
Imagine the shock when I learned the depression, anxiety, and impulsivity I had known all my life were symptoms associated with untreated ADHD.
I thought I was just nuts.
I thought I wasn’t cut out to be a wife.
I thought I wasn’t cut out to be anything.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that my relationship with my spouse was affected by these things. My self-doubt led to him taking on a parenting role with me, which led to resentment and anger for both of us, and a recipe for miscommunication.
The problems with communication, present in our marriage, are common in couples where one partner has ADHD and the other does not.
For example, we found and read Melissa Orlov’s book The Effects of ADHD on Marriage, where she wrote about the Parent-Child dynamic. We were stunned to learn we had taken on those roles.
My husband assumed the parent role, while I gave into the rebelliousness I thought I had shed as a teenager.
After reading this book, and a few others, we had hope.
We fought furiously to save our marriage, and it was worth the fight.
Last summer we celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary, and as we approach our 11th, I am grateful and proud.
I want to help other couples struggling with ADHD.
My husband and I both learned that a diagnosis does not define a marriage. What it does, is provide a framework to build on. We got the accurate diagnosis for me, but battling ADHD requires tackling a lot of other demons, such as anxiety, depression, impulsivity, low self-esteem, and most importantly, communication.
Anxiety is a bastard.
Such a tiny word can encompass so many things — panic, traumatic stress, obsession, compulsion, and crippling fear about the future. Anxiety disorders are almost synonymous with ADHD. It’s a system of checking, double-checking, and triple-checking we have been forced to develop. We do this to combat the criticisms of being flighty, not paying attention, not listening, or constantly losing and forgetting things.
Jennifer and her husband, Tony.
Would you recommend Jennifer Elkins?
Let me tell you, we are listening. To everything, all at once. We can’t tune things out. We focus on every detail, yet lack the filter to prioritize and categorize the important parts.
Since it seems like everything is a priority to a person with ADHD, simple tasks like going to the grocery store become overwhelming. Normal, “adult” things require sustained mental effort to accomplish. The level of self-doubt grows over the years.
The to-do list becomes a futile scavenger hunt, a grocery list where nothing ever gets marked off.
If anxiety is a bastard, depression is its evil twin. The worry I had about the future was matched by the guilt I had about my own shortcomings, my mistakes, and myself as a person.
I continue to struggle with depression to this day, even though I know where it comes from. It’s another result of untreated and unrecognized ADHD.
This is something that a lot of people who were diagnosed with ADHD later in life go through. It was something that started, for me, back in junior high. Looking back, I know that I was overwhelmed by the demands of school.
There’s a glitch in my attention-span, limiting my planning and organizing abilities. No wonder when things got tough, I hit the self-destruct button, a pattern I remained loyal to well into my adulthood.
The symptoms associated with ADHD have a profound effect on marriage.
My husband and I discovered our communication patterns were problematic and evolved from a direct, undeniable origin. I was living my life with a missing puzzle piece, a very important piece that was crucial for us to succeed as a couple.
We put in a lot of work, and a lot of long nights, learning about each other. We learned how ADHD shaped our marriage, defined our communication, and was the underlying spectre that had crept into almost every corner of our relationship.
Fortunately for our marriage, we found that lost piece.
Communication is how we connect and is the key to rebuilding relationships.
So let’s make sure we’re all speaking the same language.
I work with all couples. But I have a special affinity for helping couples struggling with ADHD. I use the lessons my husband, and I learned, to guide and inspire others.
Poor communication, whether influenced by ADHD or something else, can be disastrous. Financial problems, work stress, trauma, mental health struggles or parenting disagreements can all be all be mended with communication.
Nothing is more satisfying than seeing two people who have been lost in translation come together with a greater understanding of how each other thinks.
What benefits resulted from this retreat?
...understanding the causes, tools to get out of the immediate conflict, renewed commitment." -Recent Couples Retreat Client
Embracing, instead of resisting, my ADHD allowed me to recognize and celebrate my full potential as an individual, a partner, and a therapist. This discovery helped me reconnect with my creative spirit.
I draw from my own experiences to support couples as they reestablish lost connections and flourish as individuals.
It’s a mirror of how I reconnected with my husband.
The connections we build define us. It’s important to double-check, and even sometimes triple-check, before deciding to give up. It may take a lot of work, but in the end, it’s more than worth it. I hope our story offers some insight. ADHD can wreck a marriage if you let it, but the wreckage can be repaired. My husband and I worked to find our happy ending.
I want to help you and your partner find yours as well.