Content creators Kim and Penn Holderness, who soared to internet fame in 2013 with their "Xmas Jammies" video, are on a mission to change the way people think about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
“First of all, the condition has a terrible name: deficit, hyperactivity and deficit are negative words,” Penn tells TODAY.com. “Forget about all of that. If you have ADHD, you’re part of a pretty cool club. Traditionally, we are innovative. We think outside the box, and we’re creative.”
Penn even calls his ADHD “my superpower” and expands upon it in the new book co-written with his wife, “ADHD Is Awesome," that will be released on April 30.
When Penn was finally diagnosed with ADHD while attending college at the University of Virginia, he remembers feeling relief. Suddenly Penn understood why he was struggling with schoolwork. He also had a hard time focusing in large lecture classes.
“It felt good to have answers,” Penn says.
Some people with ADHD manage their symptoms with medications that raise the level of dopamine in a brain. Dopamine is a chemical that promotes focus and concentration. Penn says he uses ADHD hacks to help stay on track.
For instance, Penn keeps a magnet on the top of his car. Its sole purpose is to remind him not to drive off with his coffee mug on the top of the car.
During the summer, Penn says he wears “a lot of cargo pants.” He uses the pockets to store important such as his wallet and phone. At home, in North Carolina, Penn has a special spot devoted to particular items, including, his glasses and keys. He also relies heavily on calendars and lists.
As fans of the Holderness family know, Kim and Penn create original music, song parodies and skits to poke fun of themselves. So it should come as no surprise that before Penn leaves the house, he sings a jingle, set to the tune of “Head Shoulders Knees and Toes.”
“I call it the glasses, wallet, keys and phone song,” he says.
Kim, Penn’s wife and business partner, is proud of how far her husband has come.
“Before I knew how to live with his ADHD, it was tough. I mean, we went to marriage counseling. We wrote a book about arguing,” Kim tells TODAY.com.
The couple share two children, Lola, 17, and Penn Charles, 14. According to Kim, she used to carry the mental load of parenting, which caused her to resent Penn.
“But after he became aware of what was happening, he made changes. He started doing the work and researching ADHD,” Kim says. “Our marriage has improved because of the work he’s doing to manage his ADHD.
“ADHD is an explanation, not an excuse,” Kim adds. “I want to have that put on a pillow.”
Of course, Penn has the occasional slip-ups. Recently, Kim sent Penn a text message reminding him to pick up their son from school. Penn, who was working in his studio, glanced at the message and went back to editing a video.
“I should have written it down. But I was like, ‘Nah. I got this,’” Penn recalls. “A little while later, I get in my car and I go to pick up the wrong child.”
“There were some words,” Kim says, with a laugh. “There was some language.” But Kim is quick to note that she doesn't come down too hard on Penn.
"When he has an ADHD goof, it causes some real shame. He feels deep shame and then I have to realize that I'm no picnic to live with either. I deal with anxiety and depression. So we're just like a soup of neurodiversity over here."
Penn says most of their fights are about Kim feeling that he isn't listening to her.
“It’s the biggest challenge I have,” Penn reveals. “I’m trying to listen, but my brain gets pulled in another direction. So I'll just respond to everything with, 'That's crazy.' And it makes Kim feel like I don’t care about her."
Now, Kim knows that if she needs Penn’s attention, he has to close his laptop and put his phone away.
“He’ll look me directly in the eye and I know he’s listening,” she says.
Kim describes Penn’s brain as “beautiful chaos.”
“He’s so talented. People are drawn to him. We walk into a party and he’s like a wind-up toy. And every single night at dinner — like on a random Tuesday night — he finds some way to make it fun and interesting,” Kim says.
Penn wants recently diagnosed kids to know they will go on to do great things.
"You are not broken," Penn says. "If you take the time to learn about your brain, and people around you take the time to learn about how your brain works, you will live a very successful life. And maybe even an extraordinary life."