ADHD Underdog Public Defender Eliza Orlins Now Contender for Manhattan District Attorney
I want to thank you for listening and for subscribing to Faster Than Normal! I also want to tell you that if you’re listening to this one, you probably listened to other episodes as well. Because of you all, we are the number one ADHD podcast on the internet!! And if you like us, you can sponsor an episode! Head over to shank.mn/sponsor. It is a lot cheaper than you think. You’ll reach… about 25k to 30,000 people in an episode and get your name out there, get your brand out there, your company out there, or just say thanks for all the interviews! We’ve brought you over 230 interviews of CEOs, celebrities, musicians, all kinds of rock stars all around the world from Tony Robbins, Seth Godin, Keith Krach from DocuSign, Danny Meyer, we’ve had Rachel Cotton, we’ve had the band Shinedown, right? Tons and tons of interviews, and we keep bringing in new ones every week so head over to shank.mn/sponsor grab an episode, make it yours, we’d love to have you, thanks so much for listening! Now to this week’s episode, we hope you enjoy it!
Eliza Orlins is a Manhattan public defender — the only public defender running for District Attorney. She is an outspoken advocate for New York city’s most vulnerable. For nearly a dozen years, she has fought courtroom battles representing over 3,000 New Yorkers who otherwise would not have been able to afford a lawyer. Every day, she sees firsthand how Manhattan’s criminal legal system functions one way for the rich and connected, and another way for everyone else. Eliza has earned a reputation as a relentless champion for the underdog. She has taken on the toughest of fights for the very people our system is most rigged against, including our Black and Brown neighbors and those in lower-income communities. In 2020, Eliza announced her candidacy for Manhattan District Attorney, running on a platform designed to take on the inequities in our system — transforming the criminal legal system in New York in order to make our city safer for everyone. And yes, you guessed it, she’s ADHD too! How does she keep it all together? That’s what we’re talking about today. Enjoy! [Eliza’s photo credit: Juan Patino Photography]
In this episode Peter & Eliza Orlins discuss:
1:42 – Intro and welcome Eliza!
3:06 – On what prompted Eliza to take the not-so-easy path of running for office in NYC and championing those unable to afford even basic services that most take for granted
5:58 – On working for the Legal Aid Society and handling the pace of doing 147 different things at any given moment
9:38 – On the secrets and advice of keeping your sanity when you’re being pulled into so many different directions, which for those with ADHD isn’t the most ideal situation
11:35 – On coping mechanisms on a more calm day/downtime. How do you keep sane?
13:11 – On understanding strengths and weaknesses and how that’s a sign of using your ADHD to your advantage
14:08 – On taking control of helpful devices/tools at your disposal, (phone, calendar, Slack, texts), and which routines are helpful in preventing yourself from getting distracted/staying focused.
15:46 – On the advantage of turning off Notifications
17:12 – On whether or not Eliza is getting any sleep..?
19:31 – Thank you so much Eliza! And thank YOU for subscribing, reviewing and listening. Your reviews are working! Even if you’ve reviewed us before, would you please write even a short one for this episode? Each review that you post helps to ensure that word will continue to spread, and that we will all be able to reach & help more people! You can always reach me via firstname.lastname@example.org or @petershankman on all of the socials. You can also find us at @FasterThanNormal on all of the socials. As always, leave us a comment below and please drop us a review on iTunes and of course, subscribe to the podcast if you haven’t already! As you know, the more reviews we get, the more people we can reach. Help us to show the world that ADHD is a gift, not a curse! Do you know of anyone you think should be on the FTN podcast? Shoot us a note, we’d love to hear!
20:02 – Faster Than Normal Podcast info & credits
Hi guys. My name is Peter Shankman. I’m the host of Faster Than Normal, I want to thank you for listening, and I also want to tell you that if you’ve listened to this one, you probably listened to other episodes as well of Faster Than Normal. We are the number one ADHD podcast on the internet and if you like us, you can sponsor an episode! Head over to shank.mn/sponsor – that’s shank.mn/sponsor. It is a lot cheaper than you think. You’ll reach… about 25k to 30,000 people in an episode and get your name out there, get your brand out there, your company out there, or just say, thanks for all the interviews! We’ve brought you over 230 interviews of CEOs, celebrities, musicians, all kinds of rock stars all around the world from we’ve had… God, who have we had…we’ve had Tony Robbins, Seth Godin, Keith Krach from DocuSign, we’ve had Rachel Cotton, we’ve had the band Shinedown, right? Tons and tons of interviews, and we keep bringing in new ones every week, so head over to shank.mn/sponsor grab an episode, make it yours, we’d love to have you, thanks for listening. Here’s this week’s episode, hope you enjoy it.
Hi everyone, Peter Shankman here, another episode of Faster Than Normal is coming your way. Do you remember when we interviewed the mayoral candidate guy who was running for mayor in Boston? Probably in 2016 or 17, totally spacing on his name now, but he was in, like Episode like 5 or 6 or something like that, and he was really awesome, and he talked all about how he handles ADHD and, and, and managed to still mount a successful, almost successful campaign for, um, Mayor and I was shocked. Uh I’m like how can people, uh, who have massive ADHD be in politics? It must be so ridiculously difficult to stay focused and to stay organized, and as such, uh, we have another one. We’re talking to Eliza Orlins who is running for public defender from Manhattan District Attorney. Eliza, thank you for taking the time, I appreciate it.
Oh, thanks for having me, and thanks for talking about these issues.
No, no question about it. So, you know, it’s, it’s fascinating because I was, I was doing my homework on, on, on you as I do on every guest, and you know, you as a public defender, um, you know, you’ve represented countless New Yorkers in a city that, for lack of a better word, and I say this as someone who was born and raised here, isn’t necessarily the kindest and/or the fairest to those who find themselves in the position of being unable to afford the basic services that many of us take for granted. What… so let’s start there. What prompted you to take that track? Cause I know you…. I know you went to Syracuse and you did law school. What prompted you to champion issues like this to begin with?
All I ever wanted to do with my life was to be a public defender. It was the reason I went to law school. It was the only job I applied for, and it really was something that felt like the most important job, you know, to really fight for people who were treated so unfairly by the system who were treated, um, you know, who were de-humanized to were,,,, just really had the least available to them, and these communities that I’ve spent my career representing are people who truly are predominantly black and brown people, lower income people, people who are LGBTQ, people with disabilities, and I’ve seen how the criminal legal system just disenfranchises and marginalizes them and treats them so unfairly, as opposed to those who have wealth and power and connections. And so I’ve always wanted to stand up on behalf of people who couldn’t necessarily afford to hire an attorney or, you know, even afford services or treatment or other things, and really fight to, um, change.
One of the things that I’ve seen, uh, in New York City specifically, and, and then, and I want to get onto the ADHD aspect of this, but one of the things I’ve seen in New York City, uh, you know, growing up here, I remember I was in high school in the 80’s. I went to Performing Arts on 65th street, and I remember getting mugged my freshman year or sophomore year of, of school, and um, It was, you know, it was by the kids next door, right. There was LaGuardia was right next to, or still is right next to a…. a lower income housing community. And it was, we were aware of it. And I remember that…I remember going back into school after it happened and, and, and finding the Dean and, and telling him what happened, and I needed to, they took my bus pass, I needed to get home or my train pass and stuff like that, and I remember saying to him, and that this will always stick in my mind for the rest of my life, his name was Mr. Cooney. He was the Dean at Le LaGuardia. I said to him, I said, you know, why didn’t they just ask me? I would have given him money to get home. And I remember he said to me, he goes, that’s not what they were after. They were doing it because they had nothing else to do. And I thought at the time being 15 years old, he meant they were bored. Oh, you have nothing else to do, right? There’s nothing good on TV. What he meant was that was the only lifestyle they knew, and I realized that years later, and it, that was really when I started taking a look at New York City in the light of I’m lucky to live here. What can I do to improve it for those who don’t have the same fortune that I do. And so I love the fact, I love your background, I love your history. Um, tell me about working for the Legal Aid Society, I imagine, must have been incredible and insane at the same time, because it was probably, you were probably doing, I’m guessing off the top of my head, 147 different things at any given moment.
So your story of helping people, um, and realizing that from a young age and why we kind of have these different privileges, um, was much more coherent than the one I just told, but it’s, it’s really true. It’s like, you know, from a young age, this was something that I did recognize. Like I remember, you know, my Mom, I grew up in Manhattan and my Mom would walk me to elementary school and I would see, you know, this was obviously in the, in the, in the early eighties, and I would see people, um, you know, who were experiencing homelessness on the street? And I would say to my Mom, like, where… where’s their home? I don’t understand, like… why don’t they have a home? And she said that it was something that I would get so upset almost to the point of tears, that I didn’t get why some people just didn’t have a place to live, and it was something that impacted me from a young age, in understanding that even having a roof over your head, was just a massive, massive privilege. Then there were other things in my life, including having an adopted sister, that made me understand the privilege of having white skin, um, and not, you know, my sister experienced a great deal of racism growing up and, and has throughout her life. Um, and so I recognize the privilege of even just being a white person in New York and in society as well. Um, and I’ve seen that throughout my career as a public defender. So yes, working at Legal Aid was, was amazing and has been, um, you know, and that was my dream job, but really, it’s just seeing this system that is cruel, that’s unjust, that’s racist that doesn’t necessarily provide, um, you know, the help and services that people need, but really also doesn’t work for those who are survivors of crimes, it doesn’t do anything to make people whole, again, it doesn’t provide accountability. It doesn’t, you know, all the, the, the system has, is a hammer, and so everything looks like a nail.
It’s funny you say that. That was when COVID started on and the gym’s closed down, II bought two kettlebells and that was my quote. Uh, when all you have is two kettlebells, it’s the same thing. Everything doesn’t look, you know, you start doing exercises just because you have literally have nothing else, nowhere else you can go to do, let me, let me ask you this. My Mother and Father were both public school teachers, um, in New York City schools, my mom spent 30, ah, years, uh, teaching in the South Bronx, um, at a junior high school at a public junior high school, IS139 and from a very young age, he’d take me up there on days that I didn’t have school or whatever and I would watch her and the one thing I always was amazed at was how she was able to do so many things at the same time. She clearly does not have ADHD. Um, she gave birth to someone who does, but she does not. And the one thing that I always noticed about her was she had a black book and she carried it everywhere she went, and this was, you know, pre-Palm Pilot, pre-cellphone, everything. She carried this book, and every time she finished a project, whether it was helping a student or teaching a class or whatever, she’d written it down in her calendar and she crossed it off with a black pen with vigor, like ripped the hell out of that, uh, you know, just crossed it off til there was nothing there, and that I came to learn was her… uh, um, that was how she kept her sanity, right? When she had 50 things to do in a day, plus direct a chorus, plus give a concert, she would cross these things off when they were done, and that was how she kept her sanity. As someone who is self-proclaimed ADHD as we just talked about, um, you are, you have always been in, in, in working for the public good. You are in that same situation, not only where you are doing 150 things, but you probably don’t have all the resources you could need or all the resources you could want, less than you need. What are your secrets? What are your, you know, to our audience? Who are everyone from adults to kids, to students, to, to teachers, to parents with ADHD? What can you tell them? What advice can you give them for how to keep their sanity when they are being pulled in a million different directions, which is not necessarily the best thing for someone with ADHD.
Well, I think I’m…. first of all, I, I would say that as these things go, I’m extremely lucky. I was, um, diagnosed at 16 and that is pretty young. I know a lot of people don’t necessarily find out that they have ADHD until later on in life, and it’s something that they struggle with. But there are still things that I’m learning on a day-to-day basis as to ways in which my ADHD manifests. Um, but I think that one of the most important things that I have found, and that really enables me to, you know, enabled me to do my job as a public defender for the last dozen years and enables me to be a candidate for office, is finding something that you have a passion for, because I think without that drive and desire, any task would be extremely difficult for me. And so really having something that I have, like this deep passion for, that my motivation and focus is there knowing that I’m fighting on behalf of the greater good and that this is urgent, that there are people’s lives at stake. You know, I think I have friends who are, who have ADHD, who are trauma surgeons, who are, you know, who, who are in these high intensity, high paced jobs, but that ones that they feel extremely passionate about, and I think that that’s something that, um, that works well for, you know, at least for me as, as a coping mechanism.
I feel that… that I’ve heard that a lot. We are…ADHD people are the ones you want next to you when the room catches on fire, but when the room is not on fire and it’s just a calm, normal day, sometimes that’s what screws us up. So what is your sort of go-to coping mechanism when you’re not running around? What is, what does your Saturday look like? What does your early morning look like? Are you, uh, are you a workout person? Do you get your dopamine from that? How do you keep yourself sane when you’re not being pulled in a hundred million different directions?
I don’t know… what, what do you mean not being pulled in a hundred directions? Is that a…. I’m not, I don’t, I’m not familiar with that phrase. Um, if you could define, um, no, but I mean, these days, uh, I’m, you know, just over a month out from election day, so I am constantly being pulled in a million directions and the thing that has been so incredible about, uh, being a candidate, is that I don’t have to do the thinking about certain hard things, like figuring out my schedule, Oh, when should I do this? When should I do that? And I have other people who just make my schedule and it’s like, Eliza, do this, do this, having something that’s ultra structured is really helpful for me saying, okay, now it’s time for you to work on this., now it’s time for you to talk to this person, now it’s time for you to do this interview, and I just have to be the person who shows up and does the thing I think is. Really actually, it turns out great for me with these clearly defined tasks, with a specific workflow, with a routine, um, that is, is I think a great way to handle it.
Well, if you notice, you know, I didn’t book you, right? I turned that over to Megan because 14 years ago she took write access away from me, from my calendar, um, literally I went to schedule something and it didn’t work, and I said, hey, it’s not working. She’s no, no it’s working for me and that was the last time I ever was able to put anything in my calendar, but you’re right. Understanding your strengths and weaknesses are the sign of someone who, how, who… who’s able to use their ADHD to their advantage.
Yeah, I completely agree and I think that, you know, being someone who has this creative, you know, my mind is always racing. I’m always thinking of ideas, but having people around who I can just you know, Slack the idea to and they’re like, okay, we’ll take it from here, Eliza. That’s a great idea. But like, we’ll now execute it. um, because I think sometimes the… the challenge that I’ve had is like really, um, like I’ll, I’ll, I’ll have a great idea. It’ll take it to a certain level and then, It’s that procrastination with actually completing projects.
Last question, because this is… actually brings up an interesting point. You mentioned I’ll Slack it to them and they’ll take care of it. Do you find that the, how, how do you let, how should I phrase this? How do you let the tools you have at your disposal with phone, your calendar, your Slack communications, texts. How do you make sure that you are controlling those devices as opposed to letting those devices control you? For instance, you know, when I am sitting at my desk and working my notifications on almost everything are off, the only people who can get to me are my daughter’s, Mom and my parents, right or, you know, at my daughter’s school, um, I don’t allow the dings and the, and the, and the beeps because I’ll never get anything done. So in, in a completely on… 24/7 world that we are in, what’s your, what’s the routine that you use to prevent yourself from, you know, okay, I’m writing this piece, I’m doing this, I’m having this interview. It’s great, oh look, something shiny. How do you prevent the shiny?
Well, thankfully I have an amazing team and they, they are very protective of my time and they schedule it and they say, okay, you know, between this time and this time you can do X, but yeah, it’s, it’s completely true. There are things that pop up and I get distracted easily and, and, you know, really think about, I’m like, oh wait, I should, I really want to do this, or, oh, this message came in, and, um, so yeah, I do have the, I have all social media notifications off, um, on my phone, on my computer, I check plenty. Um, so I’m not actually going to miss something and I find that those notifications, even if it’s a dopamine hit in the moment, are incredibly distracting., so I don’t have any of those notifications on, um, and if people need to reach me, they can reach me. I’m still always checking everything, but, um, but really making sure that the time is protected, um, so that I can get the tasks done that I need to get done.
And I would suggest if someone running for Manhattan District Attorney can do that… to my audience, there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t shut off your notifications.
I know I, no, but listen, it is, it’s certainly a challenge in being controlled by your device. I mean, this is something that now that it’s work now that like being on social media sometimes is part of the, you know, being a candidate and making sure that things do get up and that they’re posted and that I’m engaging, etc., is part of the job, it actually has become less, um, of something that’s like a temptation to just sit there and waste an hour scrolling through Instagram, for example. That used to be something that I found myself doing mindlessly, and now, because it’s work, it’s, it’s like I don’t have time to do that, and it doesn’t tempt me as much, if that makes sense.
No, it makes… it makes perfect sense, and I think that at the end of the day, you know, we have to set our own parameters because if we don’t have those, we just, you know, there’s…. there’s too many it’s, it’s elimination of choice in a lot of ways. There’s, there’s, you know, I have, um, uh, two, two sides in my closet, right? One says office and they’re literally labeled one, says ‘Office/Travel” and it’s T-shirts and jeans, and the other says “Speaking /TV, and it’s a button down shirt, jacket, and jeans, and that’s it, right? Everything else is in my daughter’s closet, cause if I had to go every day, Oh, that sweater. I remember that sweater, I wonder….Michelle gave me that, how is she doing? I should look her up. Three hours later I’m on Face., looking on Facebook, naked, and I haven’t left the house. So you have to sort of put those rules into play. So you’re a month out. Let me ask you the final question then we’ll cut it. Are you getting enough sleep?
No, no, definitely not, that’s always been a challenge for me. And, um, now even moreso, and so I don’t have good advice, you know, everyone says, don’t sleep with your phone in your room. I’ve done that, but I’ve never stuck with it. Um, they say, you know, don’t be on the screens for the hour leading up to bedtime. Obviously I don’t stick with that. Um, you know, there are a lot of things that I think I could be doing, which I am not. Um, so I am not the model on that. Uh, but I do think that, you know, for, especially in these short periods, um, even though I’ve been doing this for the last year or so, it’s, uh, it’s been very intense, but I do think that there are ways to, um, to do this for a short period of time, and then hopefully, uh, post-election, I’ll get a little bit of rest, um,, before the general, but you know, after, after spending my entire career as a public defender and representing thousands of people charged with crimes, and I’m really seeing the way in which that.. who your District Attorney is, impacts the lives of so many people, I know just how important this is, and so, you know, I’m, I’m more than willing to forego sleep. Um, and I, you know, a lot of other things to make sure that we don’t end up with another career prosecutor who’s going to continue to lock people up with reckless abandon, um, and destroy families and ruin lives, uh, and just perpetuate this cruel unjust system. Uh, so that’s, that’s what I’m fighting for and I know how important it is.
So yeah, this last, this last little push is, is so critical.
Understood listen, Eliza Orlins for Manhattan attorney. Best of luck in, in the last few weeks remaining. I do hope you’re able to get a little sleep and, uh, we will be following. We’d love to have you, regardless of what happens, we’d love to have you back on after the election and talk about what you learned.
Of course, of course, and people can, can, you know, make a contribution if they can, every dollar matters, we’re running a grassroots campaign. Um, they can go to https://elizaorlins.com and if not monetary, they can donate their time. We need volunteers, we need phone bankers and tax bankers and people to join us, and we’re doing virtual and in-person volunteering.
Looking at the website right now. Eliza, thank you again so much for taking the time. I appreciate it.
Of course, thank you!
Guys…Peter Shankman, Faster Than Normal… as always another episode every week, we appreciate all of our guests. We’ll be making a donation to a charity… in, on her behalf, of the New York City Mayor’s office for, uh, animal, uh, protection and help get some homeless pets off of the street. So thank you for that Eliza, and have a wonderful day everyone, we will see you all next week, very soon. ADHD is a gift, not a curse as is all neuro-diversity, try to remember that, see you soon.
Credits: You’ve been listening to the Faster Than Normal podcast. We’re available on iTunes, Stitcher and Google play and of course at www.FasterThanNormal.com I’m your host, Peter Shankman and you can find me at petershankman.com and @petershankman on all of the socials. If you like what you’ve heard, why not head over to your favorite podcast platform of choice and leave us a review, come more people who leave positive reviews, the more the podcast has shown, and the more people we can help understand that ADHD is a gift, not a curse. Opening and closing themes were composed and produced by Steven Byrom who also produces this podcast, and the opening introduction was recorded by Bernie Wagenblast. Thank you so much for listening. We’ll see you next week. [Eliza Orlins photo credit: Juan Patino Photography]