Last month, along with posting to Medium on a regular basis, I was also answering questions on Quora. My first answer received 99 upvotes and Views, the most popular response to the query. Here is that question and answer:
Q: How can I treat my ADHD without drugs?
I’ve never been on meds. I was diagnosed in my early 20s after my formal education was complete. Up until then, here’s how I coped:
- I observed that I wasn’t like everyone else, and I attempted to be.
- When I did school assignments, it helped to write about a topic that I was interested in. If I had a choice of topic or could take an angle/point of view that interested me, I performed better. When I did English assignments about books that I enjoyed, I got better grades.
- When studying for tests and exams, I highlighted, took notes, drew asterisks and got colourful with my notations. Having highlighters in all colours and those 4-colour pens made a difference in remembering information. I took notes in margins and annotated those. (I was in high school as the internet was coming of age and when few people had laptops. Laptops were made by Apple.)
Photo by William Iven on Unsplash
After I got diagnosed, I was recommended the book The ADD Nutrition Solution by Marcia Zimmerman. 20 years later I’m still suggesting that book. It changed my life. Two months into following the plan I noticed myself maintaining eye contact during an interview and thought, “Huh, I can maintain eye contact now.”
Everybody’s needs are different, but there are some basics for ADD management, some of which I had in memory and some of which I pulled off my bookshelf. Starting with nutrition and nutrients:
Nutrition and nutrients
- Consume lots of good fat. I cannot emphasize high-quality fats enough. Most of the brain is made of fat. It’s essential. Omega 3 essential fatty acids are important for everyone and were probably the biggest game changer for me. This is why food lifestyles such as the ketogenic diet are good for brain health issues. Don’t think that it’s a silly weight loss fat. Keto has been helping people with seizures for decades. Its popularity has recently soared because it works, and then food faddists starting following it.
- Probiotics. A healthy gut is necessary for a healthy brain. The gut microbiome is sometimes referred to as the “second brain.” 95% of the body's serotonin is produced by the gut nerve cells, and every class of neurotransmitters found in the brain is also found in the gut. Microbiota and nerve cells in the gut products more than 40 neurotransmitters. Also, most of your immune system resides in your gut. I recently wrote a detailed blog post about it.
- Zinc. Zinc nourishes the entire brain. It also helps create a lot of the neurotransmitters that help relay messages between neurons. The production of melatonin depends on zinc. It also helps with immune function. Lots of us with brain health issues have problems with inflammation of the brain and inflammation is an immune response. In studies of children, those with the lowest blood levels of zinc had the highest levels of inattention, distractability, hyperactivity, impulsivity and other symptoms.
- Vitamin B6. It helps form dopamine. In one study of children with ADHD that was done in 1979, vitamin B6 was as effective as Ritalin at controlling symptoms. (Source: A study published in Biological Psychiatry and referenced in James Greenblatt’s recent book Finally Focused). In other studies on adults cited in that book, vitamin B6 improved attention and decreased other symptoms. This said, if you’re already taking Ritalin do not stop just because someone on the internet (me) told you about vitamin B6. If you’re interested in stopping meds, talk to your doctor. I am not a doctor.
- Carnitine may help regulate dopamine and ADHD.
- Vitamin D is a neurotransmitter precursor that helps produce serotonin.
- Depending on symptoms and type of ADHD, different neurotransmitter precursors might help. Studies show that the ADHD brain blocks tryptophan and that low levels of GABA cause impulsivity. So, GABA might help people who are impulsive and hyperactive. L-tryptophan helps with sleep problems and anxiety.
- Watch the sugar and caffeine. Low sugar or no sugar. Be honest with yourself about whether or not you can tolerate caffeine. Caffeine helps some people with ADD, providing better focus and clarity. Some people find that caffeine causes anxiety. Some go through periods of each. Some coffee drinkers can have it at night and still fall asleep easily. Caffeine is a drug. If it helps you, go for it.
- Physical activity. Years ago, a gym teacher in the U.S. initiated a program in which students elevated their heart rate before the start of school. As a result, it increased attention and learning. Other schools and school districts followed.
- Adequate sleep. Our brains need the recovery time.
- Routine. Try to keep your necessary items in homes (e.g., keys always in the same place) and try to stick to a schedule. If you have a list of activities that you do every morning, you’ll be more likely to remember if it’s routine.
- Environment: Determine the best environment for you and try to maintain it. You might need absolute quiet or a bit of background noise.
- Mental exercises: Puzzles, meditation, anything that teaches focus.
- Self-compassion. It’s easy to hate ourselves for certain qualities. Also, we tend to be more emotional, and our brains amplify situations. Not everyone with ADD will do this. There are different types of ADD that affect different parts of the brain. Every human on the planet benefits from self-compassion and love.
I have a whole system that I called PRIMED for bringing ADD into balance. I created it based on my own needs, and I’ve helped others. (Contact me to learn more!)
Remember, ADHD is a brain health issue. A healthy brain is vital. Medications work on the symptoms, but you need to keep your brain healthy, just like your body. Keep yourself healthy rather than deal with it when you already feel like crap. Furthermore, a healthy body helps maintain a healthy brain.
Seek out the two books I mentioned above. Also, check out Daniel Amen’s website and his books about ADD. These are the three resources that have had the most significant impact on me.
Bonus tip for my blogs: I find that my most focused, productive days begin with a morning run, followed by a big glass of water (at least a half litre), and then a coffee blended with coconut milk (good fat) and Four Sigmatic Lion's Mane Elixer. The tagline for this product: “Like a hug for your brain”. Sometimes I double-fist coffee and a protein-packed smoothie. Want to try the Lion's Mane Elixer? Click that link and you'll be given 10% off. If you don't see the 10% off at checkout, enter code loveyourbrain. (Affiliate link.)
(or, why I am not a liability)
I talk a lot about my upcoming programs, but what I've never mentioned is that I'm also looking for a job for stable income. If I have stable income I can be a better coach because I'll have the income to invest in myself and my business, and I'll be able to give back by investing in other peoples' programs so I can keep learning and helping. I only apply to roles that appear to be a cultural fit with pay that matches my experience and cost of living. I want a position that's engaging with the right amount of challenge, where I'll be able to get feedback but also have autonomy. I like working with teams and collaborating, but also being able to do my part on my own. I want to be a rock star. I want to shine. I want to help. I recently posted this to LinkedIn:
I want a space where I either have cubicle walls OR a space I can go when I need to work alone if I'm in an open-concept office. A window seat for natural light would be nice, but not necessary. I need these things because I'm easily distracted, and I experience sensory issues. I prefer a physical barrier between myself and co-workers. I like to put calendars and other visual aids up on walls. It helps my productivity. I'm capable of hot-desking if my laptop is lightweight.
Something like this looks nice but can cause me anxiety:
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
One of the reasons for this post is that I've directed potential employers to this site as a writing example. It could be a risky move. I don't want potential employers – or clients – to worry that I'm a liability. ADHD isn't a red flag. It has benefits!
Here are some of the benefits of ADHD
One common characteristic of people with ADD/ADHD is the ability to hyperfocus. Many scientists, artists, writers and entrepreneurs have been very successful because of their ability to focus for hours. See examples below.
Bright and creative with different perspective
We tend to be intelligent and creative. We look at things differently than others do. We spend a lot of time in our heads. We're persistent. I think entrepreneurship appeals to people with ADD/ADHD because we're full of ideas and prefer to create our ideal work environment without burdening employers. I suspect that writing is often a career choice because of our creativity. We spend a lot of time in our heads. We create stories. We work out problems.
Albert Einstein is said to have had ADD, although this label that didn't exist during his lifetime.
Compassion and empathy
We tend to be compassionate and empathetic. These are useful when collaborating with co-workers or stakeholders and when communicating with clients. I'm certainly empathetic.
Hard work to maximize potential
We work hard to compensate for our “weaknesses,” and we've found ways to do so. For example, while “attention to detail” is one such weakness, people whom I've worked with and for have observed that I have an eagle eye for editing. I notice when the font face is inconsistent and when there's an extra space. As long as I take my editing work to a quiet place with no distraction, I edit well. To me, editing is like a fun puzzle. Find all of the errors! I'm extremely organized because I need to be. Everything gets written down. If it's not on my calendar, it doesn't exist. I have friends with ADD who share this experience.
We're self-aware. We're aware that we're different than others. Some of us understand that we're neurodiverse, even if we don't know that word (I only recently learned it).
In the last year, I stopped fearing being a burden. I've taken it upon myself to help fight the stigma. Creating awareness is why I changed the mission of this website. When my previous full-time job made my ADHD flare up after it had laid dormant for months, I discussed it with my manager. It was the first time I had ever raised the issue with a manager. In the past, I chose to “suck it up.” My manager was sympathetic and unsuccessfully advocated for me. Because I was under contract with an agency, the system wasn't on my side. I accepted the job offer because I was qualified and needed income, but I quickly discovered that it was a poor fit.
Lessons learned while working for that company are helping me in my current job search. I have a better understanding of my own needs, which allows me to maximize my productivity and value. I'm an asset because I know what works for me and what doesn't. Being honest about it benefits my (future) employer and me.
I also picked up some new experience and skills. For example, I learned how to plan and host a Twitter chat.
Famous people with ADD or ADHD
In addition to Albert Einstein, famous, successful people with ADHD include:
Richard Branson, journalist Lisa Ling, winning athletes Michael Phelps and Terry Bradshaw, several musicians and politicians, plus more entrepreneurs.
It seems that people choose careers for reasons related to ADD (or, their careers choose them).
On side-gigs, side-hustles and the like
I am fully confident that I can support a small (4-6) roster of 1:1 clients and/or a couple of client groups while managing a 40-hour/week job. SO many people have side hustles these days, and if anyone can do it, it's someone with Attention Deficit Disorder. I have systems in place. I have multiple calendars. I can prioritize. For years I freelanced as a social media specialist while I had a full-time job. I collaborated with one or two clients at a time. I always preferred to keep my client roster small so that I could devote more attention to each. I think that that's beneficial for relationship management, ADD or not.
So, if you're here because I've applied for a job at your company, let's chat! I determined that you and I were a good fit based on what I knew about the role and the company. I'm a good judge of such things. If you're here without me having applied to your company, let me know if you've got anything. I'm looking for either a transit-friendly job in Toronto or remote work.
Featured image on homepage by Nick Morrison on Unsplash
“I am not neurotypical.”
If my memory is correct, I first heard the term “neurotypical” while watching the TV show Atypical*, about a family with a teenage some who has Asperger's. Although I understood what the word meant, I looked up the definition for the sake of this post.
Google said, “not displaying or characterized by autistic or other neurologically atypical patterns of thought or behavior.”
Urban Dictionary told me that it's a word “used to describe a person who has a typical brain. This not only includes non-autistic people, but also people without mental illnesses, intellectual disabilities or any other neurological illness or disorder such as epilepsy or brain tumours.”
Between first being exposed to the term “neurotypical” and googling it, I saw it used in older articles about ADD and ADHD and other brain health conditions.
I quickly decided that I don't like the word. To me, classifying people as “neurotypical” or “atypical” indicates individuals either have a “normal” (neurotypical) brain or an abnormal one. While there is such a thing as a “healthy brain” and brain health is one of my primary areas of focus these days, I've always been bothered by classifying people in ways that marginalize them. We are all different, yes, and I believe in embracing those differences, but “neurotypical” and “atypical” make me uncomfortable.
However, humans see the world through words and classification, and I understand that it's easier to make sense of the world that way.
If a healthy brain is neurotypical and AD(H)D, depression, Alzheimer's, dementia, anxiety are all brain health issues, then people with those conditions are atypical.
Mental health=brain health
Mental health and brain health are not the same, but they are interconnected, and people often miss the “brain health” part of the picture.
I created this image in May 2017:
Labels and self-identifying
Perception is interesting. I was contacted, twice, by someone who noted that I write about disabilities. My reaction was to recoil and think, “Has this person read my website? I don't write about disabilities.” It's possible that she didn't read my website (as a longtime blogger I can tell you that it's common to receive offers from people who haven't). However, it's also possible that some people could perceive it that way.
It's not how I define myself. I don't consider myself disabled because I have ADHD. I have a different brain. That said, if I had a brain scan that was compared to the scans of others, my brain activity would differ. Of this, I have no doubt.
I was born this way, and symptoms may have been intensified by activities such as antibiotic use when I was a child (though antibiotics were probably necessary, we didn't know about probiotics), eating foods that aren't good for my gut, and other factors. The mind and body are one, which I'll discuss in my next post.
I have what I call ADD “flare-ups” when the symptoms are predominantly active, and then there are times when the symptoms are dormant. I created my PRIMED system of AD(H)D management based on what makes mine flare up and what keeps it dormant.
My different brain also contributes to anxiety and depression as well as candida flare-ups, which are common in people with AD(H)D. Fungal infections and yeast overgrowth affect the brain. Clearing that stuff up can go a long way to reduce or eliminate symptoms of ADD, depression, anxiety and other brain/mental health issues. Again, brain-body connection.
When I use the phrase “brain health” I'm talking about the physical brain. It's neurological. It involves neurotransmitters. When I talk about “mental health” it's less tangible. It's more the affect of stress, which can be environmental, social or physical.
A healthy brain relies on the right nutrition, feeding it what it needs both in the form of whole foods and supplements, and water. It relies on physical exercise. A healthy mind is aided by thoughts, brain exercises, meditation, routines and the right environment. Both a healthy brain and a healthy mind rely on downtime and rest.
You'll learn more about this from me over time. Without intending to, I've just described my PRIMED system for bringing your life into balance so that you can achieve harmony.
There's more to come.
Taking it back to the term “neurotypical”
As I was finishing this post I came across a term that I do like. I will save that for another day.
(Here is that post.)
*Find it. Watch it. I don't know how realistic it portrays Asperger's because I don't have experience with it, but by the end, I saw it as a show about a family. Asperger's was secondary.
This is a slightly modified version of a status message that I put on Facebook earlier this evening:
I have mixed feelings during awareness days & months such as today's World Mental Health Awareness Day. An awareness day is good – I enjoy the decision – but you know what's better? Ongoing discussion, year-round. When I see companies using awareness hashtags it often feels disingenuous, like they're doing it for the sentiment metrics. Awareness days are good, as long as the discussion is ongoing beyond the campaign. Awareness days are a conversation starter. It's up to us to keep that discussion going.
According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, in any given year, 1 in 5 Canadians experiences a mental health or addiction problem and by the time Canadians reach 40 years of age, 1 in 2 have – or have had – a mental illness.
Here's how my mental health affected me today: The noisy team that I sit next to were extra noisy, with phone meetings and chatter among themselves. I have sensory issues (related to ADHD). I stayed at work an extra hour and a half to get something done and emailed by “end of day”, because my brain wasn't working in top form because SENSORY OVERLOAD. I did spend an hour in a “focus pod” until my laptop battery died (I didn't think I'd need to bring the charger in with me for a couple of hours), but even in the absence of noise, the pods are small rooms with fluorescent lighting. I get anxious and claustrophobic. I get distracted when people walk past.
By the end of the day, I felt that I was losing my shit. I left work feeling exhausted. I was mentally and emotionally spent.
And now I want to hide in bed, but laundry must be done and I want to do some writing.
(P.S. This is the writing.)
I teach (or will teach – it's in beta testing) an ADHD management tool that I created called PRIME – the PRIME ADHD Management System. Each letter stands for an element of wellness. If one if out of balance it can derail you. The more in balance you are, the more letters in PRIME describe your lifestyle, the more managed your ADHD is.
The “E” stands for environment, as in physical environment.
My sensory issues, related to ADHD, make me sensitive to light and noise and sound. The sound of boisterous laughter, while joyful and making my heart happy, can irritate me a lot.
I don't know if it's a coincidence or not that World Mental Health Awareness Day happens during ADHD Awareness Month, but both are brain health issues.
Hello, friends, and happy October!
Hope you had a great summer.
As my summer business goes on hiatus, I'm gearing up to add much more content to this website, and finally get to those coaching programs. Watch for more blog posts this month.
And please, if you're an adult with ADD/ADHD, let me know what I can help you with. It will help me put together my coaching programs.
Send me a quick message and let me know what your challenges are and whether you prefer group coaching or 1:1 coaching, a short 5-6 week program, something mid-range like 3-4 months, or a long-term/year-round program. I'll set up a survey in the next couple of days but at this moment it's late and I'm tired.
Be well, and keep in touch.
1. “Just tune it/her/him/them out”
If only it were that easy. Those of us with ADD/ADHD can tune people out when we're hyperfocusing (those of us who hyperfocus) but day-to-day, chatty people are a distraction. I get anxious and frustrated when multiple conversations are going on around me or more than one person is talking to me at the same time.
Another trigger: The sound of people speaking with vocal fry. You know, that croaky, vibrating voice that makes it easy to imagine the speaker's larynx vibrating. Sometimes I speak in vocal fry, and then immediately feel the need to apologize, even though not everyone is triggered by it.
This is the photo I'm using because it's licensed for reuse.
This is the photo I wanted to use, but I don't have a Shutterstock account.
2. “Just focus” or “Just do it”
(“It” being the task.)
Focus is not the result of willpower. You can't simply tell yourself to focus and be done with it. Focus is controlled by brain chemistry. The brain of a person with ADD or ADHD triggers fewer neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, which control focus and mood. ADD is a neurological disorder.
3. “Think positively”
Positive thinking and talking it out are only parts of the solution. It's way more complex than that. There are neurotransmitters and brain health involved in those automatic negative thoughts. You don't tell an obese person to “eat less”. You don't tell a person with ADD or depression to “be happy”. I have done a shitload of meditating. I've talked to angels. I've had heart-to-heart conversations with the child version of myself as if I've time-travelled to see her. I've interrogated my inner guide, who's one smart woman, by the way. Your inner guide is too. “Think happy thoughts” may have worked for Wendy in Peter Pan, but it's not enough. Those inner gremlins are evil sons of bitches and although it is necessary to squash them, it's not as easy as flipping a switch. It takes patience, training (sometimes), time and conscious self-love.
4.”You'd hate [place + environmental trigger]”
- “You'd hate that restaurant. It's always crowded”.
- “You'd hate that store. It's so loud.”
- “You'd hate my office. There's no privacy.”
There's an element of hate in there – yes, people hate crowds – but the word misses the point because it's not about hate, it's about discomfort.
I am sometimes physically unable to function in a way that feels normal when I'm overstimulated. Sometimes loud bars trigger me. Sometimes I'm triggered when the music – or talk radio – is just quiet enough that it sounds like a whisper. Sometimes it's a crowded subway. Or the music that a store is playing. When I used to go to clubs I hated when people touched me with their sweaty bodies. When smoking was allowed in clubs and bars (and everywhere else) I was less bothered by the smell if I lit up too.
Sensory overload is real. I hate the feeling. Loud sneezes startle me. One time, my partner woke me up by turning on the light and the TV. The light and sound sent me into sensory overload. I ran to the bathroom, closed the door (which I never do when it's just us at home) and sat on the floor in the dark hyperventilating and trying to catch my breath. I felt like a child having a freakout. He never did it again.
The above refers to autism but sometimes people with ADD experience this.
5. “Must be able to multitask”
Even in non-ADDers, multitasking results in poor productivity. Employers are finally realizing this.
Some multitasking can be done but it needs to be active and passive, like reading while listening to wordless music. Some passive activities can be combined with active activities, but I don't recommend combining active activities.
Interestingly, it recently occurred to me that one of the reasons I don't like to drive is that I don't like the focus it takes or the multitasking.
I eagerly got my drivers license at the age of 16 and renew it every time I get a renewal notice, but I mostly stopped driving a few years later, except when it was required by a job. After a few minor scrapes (I knocked the mirror off a Jaguar and left a note, for starters) I thought I was a bad driver. I didn't really need to drive because I've only lived in cities with good public transit.
I've been learning to drive stick shift. Remembering to press the clutch while shifting or remembering which pedal to use when (I'm not talking break vs. gas) takes practice. I think that ADDers can make poor drivers or excellent ones. It is amazing how muscle memory kicked in on my second lesson. I had a few panicked moments (“OMG we're coming up to a steep hill, WHAT DO I DO??”) but I was fine. Until I stalled getting into a parking spot. 🙂 I appreciate the focus it takes. It takes a lot of focus. Because my muscle memory isn't fluent yet, I have to focus on the inside of the car as well as the outside. With an automatic transmission, it's mostly the outside you have to think about.
What would you add to this list?