Photo by Romain Vignes on Unsplash
Someone asked an ADHD-related question on Quora today and requested my answer. It’s something that I suspect others are curious about too.
Here is this person’s question and my response
Why do people act like ADD and ADHD are the same things when they’re not?
Answer – ADD vs. ADHD
I understand where you’re coming from if you’re looking at it from the perspective that ADHD includes hyperactivity ADD doesn’t. Yes, the two are used interchangeably despite differences.
ADD used to refer to someone who had trouble focusing but was not hyperactive. However, ADD no longer exists as a medical term.
Doctors have been using the term ADHD to describe both the hyperactive and inattentive subtypes since 1994. When the American Psychiatric Association released the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) in May 2013, they changed the criteria to diagnose someone with ADHD.
Many parents, teachers, and adults continue to use the term ADD when referring to inattentive symptoms and presentations of attention deficit disorder.
There are several types of ADD and ADHD. Symptoms vary from person to person. The presence of an “H” in the term doesn’t mean that hyperactivity is present in a person any more than it means that this person is disorganized, forgetful or has anger issues (all symptoms but again, not everyone has every characteristic).
While you might self-identify as one or the other, technically speaking, ADD doesn’t exist.
Personally, I sometimes write “AD(H)D” to account for people with any of the symptoms and to be inclusive but I also use “ADHD” to account for the current terminology. I like to be correct.
I hope this helps.
Here’s how another person answered:
[Her personal experience followed.]
Because they’re misinformed or being lazy with their use of terminology. It doesn’t help that, like Aspergers being absorbed into the ASD diagnosis, ADD has been combined with ADHD to form the diagnosis of either ADHD or the sub-type ADHD-Primarily Inattentive. Whoever made that call may have been educated but apparently was also ignorant of the different experiences of those with ADD & ADHD.
It’s aggravating, because…
I can’t speak for ASD and Aspergers, but I can say that this is incorrect. Maybe there’s some laziness (or lack of caring about being precise), but the differences are irrelevant considering what I presented in my answer. That said, the writer of that answer identifies as having ADD and ASD, so that’s where she’s coming from. I understand that. We bring our own experiences into our perspectives. I try to answer based on facts and research and sometimes also include my personal story.
The reasons I use the term ADHD on this website and my business cards are twofold:
1. As I mentioned in my answer above, ADHD is currently the correct name for the condition. Technically speaking, ADD doesn’t exist. Using the word that technically does exist helps me look credible.
2. I like to refer to things by their correct name. It annoys me when people mispronounce words because it triggers my sensory perception anxiety. Something about a word sounding wrong. It’s also a little bit anal retentive, I suppose. Calling things by their correct name makes me feel the same way that using proper grammar makes me feel.
Furthemore, using two terms in the same piece of writing sometimes looks clunky.
Admittedly, I occasionally use both words in blog posts for search optimization purposes (this is, to increase the likelihood of people finding my post). Using both “ADD” and “ADHD” helps others get the information they need, and helps me get discovered. It’s beneficial both ways.
As I said above in my answer, sometimes I do type “AD(H)D”, but that term technically doesn’t exist either.
I’d prefer to be inclusive. I also acknowledge, as I said above, that not everyone with ADHD has “hyperactivity” or other common issues. No two people are the same. I have one friend with ADHD who loves to run and hates yoga. I prefer yoga and brisk walking. Some people I know with ADHD are better at focusing than others. Every person is unique. This is one of the dangers of labelling people, ADHD or not. Neurodivergence or not. We all have different genes and environments and experiences.
Questions like this also make me wonder why people ask questions on Quora rather than hitting Google for answers, but I’m happy to answer and happy to help.* Sometimes I google the answers and present facts based on research, sometimes I look to resources I already have, or do blog posts that I’ve written, and sometimes I use the ol’ knowledge bank in my brain.
*(Partly because a need for validation is one of my things.)
When starting your journey of learning about ADHD, you probably head to the internet first, and books second. Here you are on the internet, and here are my ADHD book recommendations.
Below, I include three ADHD-specific books that have influenced me most plus some other influential books about brain health. There are several books about ADHD that I haven’t read but are on my reading list.
The book list below is in the order that I discovered and read them.
ADHD book recommendations
The ADD Nutrition Solution
The book The A.D.D. Nutrition Solution by Marcia Zimmerman (published in 1999) was suggested to me along with my ADHD recognition. 20 years later I’m still recommending that book to other people. This book 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.”
The description from Amazon (slightly edited):
The first scientifically proven, effective, all-natural nutritional alternative to the much-prescribed drug Ritalin. Attention Deficit Disorder is a nutritional deficiency, not a psychological condition.
This is the revolutionary discovery Marcia Zimmerman made during her ten years of research as a nutritional biochemist. That conclusion led her to develop a diet that addresses the specific needs of the 17 million adults and children suffering from ADD. Her easy-to-follow thirty-day plan has been proven just as effective as Ritalin in relieving the symptoms of ADD.
– How women should boost their nutrition before conception to prevent ADD in their newborn children.
– Why boys are much likelier to be tagged as ADD than girls
– How to get a reliable ADD diagnosis
– The effects of brain allergies on attention span
– Foods to avoid that may exacerbate ADD
– The dangers of artificial food ingredients
– and much more
This important book will help us curb the epidemic growth of ADD in this country and change the way we treat those who have it now by addressing its source instead of merely treating its symptoms.
From the back of the book:
“The A.D.D. Nutrition Solution provides groundbreaking information on the nutritional deficits, food allergies, and hereditary and environmental factors that can cause attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD), a condition that affects more than 17 million people in this country today.”
Before I learned of this book, every book about ADD that I found seemed to be written for parents with ADD-identified children. ADHD awareness came around 2000/2001.
You never forget your first
I used to recommend this book a lot. I loaned it to a couple of people – including a parent. However, I recommend it less frequently now because the books below came into my life. As I said up top, The A.D.D. Nutrition Solution changed my life. It introduced me to eating fat for brain health (before people were doing it for weight loss) as well as other nutritional protocols.
The A.D.D. Nutrition Solution came into my life when I needed it, and it changed my life.
Isn’t it great when that happens? It makes me feel warm and fuzzy to think that maybe sometimes I enter someone’s life when they need me.
I think that it’s always good to read the newer books (e.g. the third one on this list) regardless because new research happens and old research gets debunked.
Healing ADD (2013)
Full title: Healing ADD Revised Edition: The Breakthrough Program that Allows You to See and Heal the 7 Types of ADD
I love this book. That photo to the left is my copy, with its many bookmarks of pages that I might want to reference later. I found this book fascinating because it gets into the actual physical brain. It talks neuroscience, which has long been an interest of mine.
Healing ADD discusses different types of AD(H)D and how different areas of the brain are affected. If you had AD(H)D you’ll be able to identify which type you have and what’s going on in your brain – how different brain activity is causing symptoms.
The publisher’s description
Attention deficit disorder (ADD) is a national health crisis that continues to grow—yet it remains one of the most misunderstood and incorrectly treated illnesses today. Neuropsychiatrist Daniel G. Amen, MD was one of the first to identify that there are multiple types beyond just purely hyperactive or inattentive ADD, each requiring a different treatment. Now, in this all-new, revised edition, Dr. Amen again employs the latest medical advances in the field, including the largest brain imaging study ever completed on patients with ADD, to identify, examine, and demystify the 7 distinct types of ADD and their specific treatments.
With updated recommendations for nutraceuticals and/or medications targeted to brain type, diet, exercise, lifestyle interventions, cognitive reprogramming, parenting and educational strategies, neurofeedback, and more, Dr. Amen’s revolutionary approach provides a treatment program that can lead sufferers of ADD to a normal, peaceful, and fully functional life.
Sufferers from ADD often say, “The harder I try, the worse it gets.” Dr. Amen tells them, for the first time, why, and more importantly how to heal ADD.
Breaking it down
In Part 1 of the book, Dr. Amen presents symptoms of ADD and methodology for assessment, and he introduces the 7 types. Part 2 takes a deeper dive into those 7 types and offers case studies of people of all ages who Dr. Amen has helped. Many individuals assessed for ADHD after their grandchildren get help for symptoms. (ADHD can be hereditary.)
Part 3 discusses interventions that can help ADHD overall and presents strategies for each type of ADHD. Part 4 is about optimization, with the first two chapters about ADHD in children. There’s also a chapter in there about killing Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs), or as I’ve been calling them for years, “inner gremlins” (sometimes I call them my “inner assholes”).
Before there was a bandwagon…
It’s worth mentioning that his dietary protocol for 6 of the 7 types of ADHD calls for “higher protein, lower carb” with one of those mentioning “ketogenic diet”. I often point out the that keto diet was used for brain health long before it was embraced as a weight loss program.
Daniel Amen is a physician, neuroscientist, psychiatrist and a teacher. He is a ten-time New York Times best-selling author who has written over 30 books and authored or coauthored 70 professional articles. Dr. Amen is a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. He is Founder of Amen Clinics. He and his wife Tana, host a podcast called The Brain Warrior’s Way. (Search for it wherever you listen to podcasts, be it iTunes, Stitcher or someplace else.)
Reading his books make me want to get a SPECT (brain) scan so that I can see inside my own brain and also to get a better sense of my type. Sometimes I think I have what Dr. Amen calls Classic ADD. Sometimes I think I have what he calls Limbic ADD because it includes symptoms of depression. Sometimes it feels like Anxious ADD.
Regardless, I try to be self-aware and adjust my life according to whatever symptoms arise. This approach is one of the ways I came up with the PRIMED System for ADHD Management, which I teach. (Contact me if you’d like to work with me.)
If you were to only read one book on this Top 3 list of ADHD book recommendations, I’d recommend this one because it’s so comprehensive.
(Finally Focused: The Breakthrough Natural Treatment Plan for ADHD That Restores Attention, Minimizes Hyperactivity, and Helps Eliminate Drug Side Effects)
[👈That’s not the best photo, but I’m using my old phone while I wait for a new one after losing my phone. The point of posting it is to show you all the tape flags and Post-It notes.]
The most recently published book on this list, Finally Focused by James Greenblatt, M.D. is for parents of children with ADHD and adults with ADHD, though somewhat more the former. As I wrote in May 2017, my mom told me about this book after she discovered it via her inbox.
The book description:
Dr. James Greenblatt has seen thousands of children and adults struggling with the symptoms of ADHD – hyperactivity, inattentiveness, impulsiveness, and often irritability and combativeness. Rather than simply prescribing medication for their ADHD symptoms, he tailors remedies to his patients’ individual needs, detecting and treating the underlying causes of the disorder.
Finally Focused provides proven natural and medical methods to easily treat problems such as nutritional deficiencies or excesses, dysbiosis (a microbial imbalance inside the body), sleeping difficulties, and food allergies, all of which surprisingly can cause or worsen the symptoms of ADHD. Using Dr. Greenblatt’s effective Plus-Minus Healing Plan, parents will first understand the reasons behind their child’s symptoms, and then be able to eliminate them by addressing the child’s unique pattern of biological weakness. Adults with ADHD can do the same for themselves. And if conventional medication is still necessary, this integrative approach will minimize or even eliminate troublesome side effects. Using Dr. Greenblatt’s expert advice, millions of children and adults with ADHD finally will get the help they need to achieve true wellness.
This book helped me tweak my diet and supplements.
Brain health begins in the gut
Like Dr. Amen in his book, Greenblatt discusses the role of the gut in ADHD. There’s a section of Dr. Greenblatt’s book about candida overgrowth, which I have often experienced. I keep antifungal supplements on hand for candida outbreaks and take probiotics daily for overall health, increasing dosage when needed. Dr. Greenblatt also recommends eating low-carb, high protein. He talks neurotransmitters and their role in ADHD, which is crucial knowledge.
[If you want to read more about the brain-gut connection without leaving this website, I also wrote this seven months ago.]
As these authors agree, ADHD is not a Ritalin deficiency. It’s not an Adderall or Concerta deficiency. It’s also not a weakness nor laziness. There’s real stuff going on in your brain. If you have ADHD, you’re neurodivergent.
Overall, it is a very good book.
Those are my ADHD book recommendations.
Other books about brain health
I posted this follow up to Medium 10 days ago as a follow-up to a story that I published both here and there in August:
I was doing so well. I was driving a short distance, mostly, but knew it was time to go run errands and do stuff.
So I agreed to take a trip to Costco on my own, with a stop along the way.
11km (7 miles) to Costco and back.
First mistake: I turned into what I thought was a ground level parking lot and discovered the steep ramp up to the upper level. I avoid hills. I fear hills. I don’t have much experience with hills. Did I mention that I avoid hills?
First thought: “I’ll reverse… oh shit, there’s someone behind me.” So, I ran for it, so to speak. I accelerated in 2nd gear. OMFG. Up I went, made a circle, back down. The smell: Metal.
Next to Costco. I made two mistakes on the way: 1. I thought I was getting into the left turn lane as the GPS had instructed. It turns out that the painted lines weren’t for the street I needed to turn on. 2. Again left turning, I thought I could make a yellow. I couldn’t. I stopped too far into the crossing area. I apologized to a bunch of high school kids.
I have this habit of letting each mistake eat away at me, and that stress accumulates. I have to be mindful of this. I have to practice non-attachment (or practice practicing it). I practice forgiving myself and letting it go so that I can keep literally moving forward.
By the time I got to Costco, I was tired. By the time I left, I was exhausted. Just spent. I felt defeated. All I wanted to do was get home and sleep.
I don’t know how common this is, or if it’s more common in people who are “neurodivergent”/”atypical”. I think it’s common in people with ADHD. What I’m talking about is this:
Exhaustion after lots of focus. Exhaustion after learning something new, studying, reading dense material. Exhaustion after concentrating hard on driving well — both the stick shift stuff and the regular attention. As I said in my last Adventures in Stick Shift story, published nearly two months ago, I think that stick shift makes sense for people with ADHD because it does force focus. It does create a situation where you can’t go into autopilot mode, especially at the beginning. (My partner claims that it’s second nature to him now, that he doesn’t have to work at it, but he’s been driving stick for decades.)
Mental & emotional exhaustion.
So, on the way back I might have missed an advanced green light to make a left turn (I spaced out for a moment and was only aware of the honk from behind and a long traffic light). I did okay but the rush hour made the traffic stop and go, and it was a bit overwhelming. There were times when I was stuck at the same red light for a couple of cycles.
Around 3 km (1.86 miles) from my final destination, it got harder to shift. I began smelling metal. Then, I began to lose control of the car. I panicked, “Oh shit, what do I do? The car is breaking. Oh my god, I think I broke the car.” With my window open and waving a cyclist by, I called, “I think my car is broken!” She indicated that I was safe to go ahead.
I had to pull over under a bridge, during rush hour. Then, it an attempt to find a safer place to park, I managed to pull up in front of a school just up ahead, slightly on the sidewalk (I attempted to make a righthand turn into their driveway). I was 2 km (1.24 miles) from my final destination. I turned on my hazard lights. I called my partner.
“I broke the car.”
I told him where I was. He dropped everything — much to his inconvenience — and came without complaint, blame or shame. That’s love. We called CAA (the Canadian arm of AAA). We waited. Some drivers who were turning into the driver honked at us with impatience. Some yelled, “You can’t park there!” or “You can’t block the driveway!” each time we called back, “The car is broken!” One female passenger responded by calling out, “Oh, sorry!”
40 minutes after the call to CAA, the car was towed to our usual mechanic nearby. (There could have been more inconvenient places for me — I mean, the car — to break down.)
My immediate reaction to this situation was a combination of fear and panic, and guilt and some shame.
I’d pulled my partner away from work. I’d made the car unusable.
My inner tormentors had fun taunting me from their little circle of judgment:
“See? You’re a bad driver,” whispered the Automatic Negative Thoughts, aka my inner gremlins. -Shut the fuck up.
My ego raged, “It’s all [boyfriend’s] fault. If he hadn’t nudged you to drive, and wore you down until you took lessons, and if he hadn’t asked you to run this errand, you wouldn’t have broken the car.” -Please, ego. Driving is part of being an adult. Sometimes we need to get over our fears. Fuck you, ego. I mean, I love you. Thank you for looking out for me, but I don’t need you right now.*
The Guilt Demon** said, “You offered to run this one errand because that’s what adults do, then you pulled him away from his work and now he has to get up extra early tomorrow to catch up.”
[Observe, I keep saying “I broke the car.” I know I should be saying, “The car broke, while I drove it.” — it might have broken regardless of who was driving.
Also, observe I twice mention being an adult. “Adulting”, and my resistance to it, is a common theme in my life.]
While waiting for the tow truck, I posted a plea to Facebook (“friends” filtered) asking for support, acknowledging that I know that these feelings will pass but “right now” I need supportive words and encouragement. I said that I currently felt like I never wanted to drive again but acknowledged that I probably would. I expressed gratitude that I’m okay, the dog is okay, everyone is safe, and that the car is just a thing that can be fixed.
I got some great encouragement. A friend from University who I occasionally speak to (he used to be one of my closest friends) left a few comments that reminded me that he’s good at talking me down most of the time when I reach out with that need. So often my attitude is positive and I remain optimistic but sometimes I need to reach out for comfort, and I’m not afraid to ask. I do make sure that I post positive things and gratitude as well.
The diagnosis, from what I remember:
Broken clutch, shattered flywheel and (something) with gears. The flywheel would have happened after the clutch, which means that it would have shattered when I was trying to get me (and my dog) to safety. Initially, the mechanic thought that he could send the flywheel for resurfacing but then determined that it needs replacing.
Of course, I’ll drive again. We knew that I’d accelerate the wear and tear on the car, no pun intended. This is why I learned on an old car instead of waiting to get a new one.
This situation taught me that I still need some supervised driving practice.
I’ll get out on the road again. More practice with shorter drives. Letting go of the need to try to concentrate and focus, and allow it to be effortless.
As a P.S. a couple of weeks after I originally posted this story: After getting the car back from the mechanic and driving it around for half a day, my partner acknowledged that he could tell the difference in how it was driving now and had been before and acknowledged that he now realizes that the clutch had been going for a while.
*[Boyfriend] has been nothing but supportive, by the way. It’s my own inner bullshit. Nudging is sometimes necessary.
**Not necessarily my final term for it. I’ve been using “Gremlin” for years, but Guilt doesn’t really have a character name yet.
October is ADHD Awareness Month & now that I’ve got some time, I want to tell my story. Although a lot of this is in the About page of this website and elsewhere, I wanted to create a blog post to share my ADHD journey & what lead me here, and I want to talk about why I created a program to help people with ADHD. I’ll share a modified version of this on Medium.
(And yes, I realize that this 16-minute read isn’t ADHD-friendly.)
I was a hyperactive child, always bouncing around. I couldn’t sit still. When my parents bought a mini trampoline for the basement, I bounced while I watched TV. I bounced when I needed to focus. I bounced when I needed to relax. Bouncing was stress relief. Bouncing seemed to have a positive effect on my nervous system. Years later (in the last two, in fact), I’d learn that exercise is proven to improve focus and concentration. Anecdotally, a lot of runners say that running helps them relax.
I kept breaking springs on those trampolines, and my parents kept exchanging them at Consumers Distributing.
[An aside: If you’re above a certain age, you know Consumers Distributing. A quick Google search tells me that the company was founded in Toronto but at some point had stores across Canada, and the U.S. What I remember most is one particular location, and the catalogue. Wikipedia reveals what my memory doesn’t: There were two main catalogue launches per year, with seasonal mini-catalogues issued more frequently to highlight specific items. The entire line changed twice a year with few exceptions. New products were introduced only with a new catalogue.
Every time I found a new catalogue on my doorstep, I’d thumb through it and make a mental wishlist as if there was a Jewish Santa who would fulfill it. It was like a vision board for 8-year-old me – or however old I was.]
My trampoline bouncing habit didn’t end when I left childhood. I used that thing until I moved out of their house at the age of 19. My parents have managed to keep a mini trampoline intact for several years now.
My natural state was to bounce, even in place. Some people called me “Mexican jumping bean.”
At a family gathering, last winter after the funeral of my 98-year-old grandmother (98 is a great age, sad but not tragic), an older relative that I hadn’t seen in a long time exclaimed, “I still remember when you used to bounce around all the time!”
As an adult, there are times when I need to bounce, or dance it out, or run. I drum on things when a song comes on. I chair dance and car dance. (Doesn’t everyone? I don’t think that the last three are ADHD-specific.) The weird thing is, running isn’t my preferred activity. I’ve been doing it on and off for years, but I don’t like the feeling of my chest tightening with effort. I do enjoy running with beautiful scenery and moving my body. I love the sense of accomplishment after a run. It feels great to make progress and acknowledge, “Today I ran # minutes without stopping!”
I started running again last spring after many years off and progressed quickly. I’m more into long walks. Fresh air and moving my body helps give me ideas and clarity. It’s as if I’m in conversation with God, or my inner self when I walk. Having a dog makes walking a requirement.
I wasn’t the best student but found that I did best in subjects I was interested in – which is a common ADHD trait. In grade 7, I got the best grade in the class on an assignment that I enjoyed a lot. After handing me back the project, my teacher suggested that I consider a career in writing. Writing has been a near-constant for me ever since.
All through school, I waited until the last minute to work on projects. I was a procrastinator. Sound familiar?
With undiagnosed ADD I developed coping strategies based on how I saw people around me act and based on intuition. I think that on some level I thought I wasn’t “normal,” so I looked for “normal” models.
Before anyone had laptops – not everyone had a desktop PC in the 80s and early to mid-90s either – I developed studying strategies that worked for me. I still use these strategies to this day.
I remember sitting in the public library next to my high school taking notes from textbooks and rewriting some of my class notes. I would highlight with different coloured highlighters. I’d annotate and use those multicoloured Bic pens. I’d put asterisks in margins. Those studying methods helped me retain information. When I needed to avoid the distraction that often comes with communal library tables, I’d go into those little cubicles with walls.
I continued this strategy in University, also using my desktop computer. (Again, no laptop to take notes with in class. Kids, our hands cramped up a lot.)
I did ace some tests based on those strategies.
Walls are still essential to me as you’ll read further down where I talk about my ideal environment for working.
I was also a highly emotionally sensitive child with sensory issues. I can better regulate my emotions now unless I’m tired or hungry, then I sometimes act like an overtired four-year-old having a tantrum. People with neurological conditions tend to have sensory perception issues.
Examples of sensory sensitivity:
I can’t handle hearing more than one conversation at a time. Some people can simultaneously listen to music and watch TV. Doing so causes me anxiety. If two people are talking at me at once, I ask them both two stop and take turns.
For years during childhood, I lived in sweatpants because the waistband of regular pants bothered me. I didn’t like tights, and I’m still not a fan. To this day, I’m most comfortable in yoga pants and a t-shirt. Bras with underwire make me physically uncomfortable, always jabbing at me. I live in sports bras. When I have to “dress up”, I wear bras from Knix.
I’m an empath. I feel other people’s emotions. And when I think I’ve hurt someone, offended someone, or pissed someone off, it stays with me. THAT is the ADHD way.
My early 20s & natural treatment
When I was around 20 years old (I’m in my 40s now) it was suggested to me by a medical professional that I had ADHD. I’d heard the word before and had vaguely considered it, but at this point, it all suddenly became clear.
After my ADHD came to light, my aunt subsequently advised me to read the book The A.D.D. Nutrition Solution: A Drug-Free 30 Day Plan by Marcia Zimmerman.
It changed my life.
I remember a moment after I’d been following the advice of the book for a month or two: I was in a job interview and held eye contact with the interviewer. Maintaining eye contact was a significant achievement for me. My life changed when I started on a regiment of essential fatty acids and started eating more fish (among other recommendations).
Once I solved the nutrition piece of the puzzle I gained an awareness of the connect between mental health, brain health and body health. We are one unit, separate body parts and systems functioning together.
Along with ADD, I experience bouts of depression. My brain health is a constant challenge, and I need to stay on top of it.
My ADD and depression are worse when I’m not consuming enough fat. These days I eat based on a modified ketogenic diet. I called it “modified” because I focus on the principles without counting macronutrients and allow myself the occasional piece of cake or challah. I’ve been stricter on the keto diet since my partner went keto back in early summer.
When I was at a family gathering where there were bagels, I ate half of a bagel instead of three whole bagels. This is significant. While I’m hardly a carb addict nor will I seek out bagels on a regular basis I usually can’t resist fresh bagels if they are in front of me. I’m a Jew. I take bagels seriously. The warmth and softness of a soft bagel, sometimes with a slight crunch on the outside – depending on which bakery they came from – is magical. The battle between Toronto, Montreal and New York bagels is real, people.
(And can send me on a substantial tangent.)
Eating lots of good fats and minimizing sugar and other inflammatory foods is crucial for brain health.
I have a whole keto series that have planned for my blog, but there’s so much to it that I keep getting overwhelmed. (Seriously, I want to write a book about the keto diet and brain health and probably have enough material for an outline. So much of the “keto” material out there is about weight loss.)
Most recently – the job that inspired me
I started a new employment contract in March 2017, four months after my previous contract ended. Both my ADHD & depression flared up in this job, and quickly. After I’d been in the role for three days my boss left for a week without providing information about the company, stakeholders or processes. I knew the technology, but I didn’t know the people or systems. It wasn’t fair, and I messed up because I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I was still learning. No boss should put an employee in that position. I hit the ground running the best I could but not knowing to whom I was accountable and who my colleagues on other teams were (who do I contact and for what?) made things difficult. I made decisions based on the information I had. I asked questions to people who were available to answer them.
By the end of the first week, I knew that the job wasn’t going to work out, and this realization resulted in stress that contributed to poor mental health.
I stayed, and that’s my responsibility. As you read below I don’t want you to think that I didn’t take responsibility for my happiness or that I’m playing the victim. I felt that I was doing the best with what I had. However, it’s not simply a matter of thinking positively. Taking it day-by-day takes courage and energy and I made it through.
Until that first week of employment, I’d felt “normal” for some time. Quickly, past mental health issues returned. My depression had been around recently enough for me to remember it, but I had forgotten about ADHD symptoms that were under control. Sometimes it’s easy to forget about an injury in the absence of pain, and then you put pressure on that part of the body again, and “ouch.”
It got so bad that I told my boss and my contact at the staffing agency that recruited me. I’d never addressed it at a job before. I’d always managed using my tools, and my symptoms lay mostly or entirely dormant. My ADHD had rarely been an issue. I coped, privately. It was a job in my early 20s that lead to my diagnosis.
It wasn’t just the stress of the job; it was that I wasn’t taking care of myself.
Nutrition (lack thereof)
I’d been off work for four months, and so I lacked income. With a lack of funds, I wasn’t taking care of myself. My supply of supplements ran out, bottle by bottle. I wasn’t eating a healthy amount or taking in enough of the nutrients I needed. Without a regular schedule, I forgot to eat. I was stressed out mentally and emotionally and not eating was stressing out my body more. I may have been malnourished.
So, I started a job with a health deficit, one that stressed my body. Had I begun the contract with a healthy body and a healthy mind, other work-related issues may have been more manageable, and I might not have found myself crying in the morning before I went to work, really not wanting to go in.
Yeah, that happened. I remember sobbing while walking the dog, hoping that I wouldn’t run into other dog owners I knew.
I had a boss who was a lovely man in many ways but had that “kick the puppy” thing going on, taking his stress out on his direct reports. I never knew what sort of day I was in for.
I later realized that he gaslit me. A friend made that observation to me after I made a filtered Facebook post about one incident, but I didn’t believe her. The realization came later.
He would sometimes ask me, “Don’t you think that…?” as if I was supposed to agree with him and as if he was trying to teach me a lesson. Sometimes his question might have been asked out of genuine curiosity. Maybe this is an incorrect perception, but it often felt like a trap. For example:
During an email interaction that I had with a U.S.-based colleague one late afternoon, a conversation that my boss was a part of, my boss privately messaged me and asked, “Don’t you think you’re being culturally insensitive?” Maybe he was truly curious about what I thought, but I interpreted it as the observation, “You’re being culturally insensitive.” It sounded like an assault. I felt that there was no “right” answer here. I felt that the man who tried to keep me from being steamrolled by others was steamrolling me and did so on multiple occasions. It wasn’t always “for my own good.”
That question from him – interpreted as a negative judgment – sent me on a downward spiral of anxiety, panic and obsessive thoughts that lasted through the evening and the next day. During this incident, he demanded that I apologize to our colleague as if I was a young child whose father learned that she’d stolen a chocolate bar from a store. It turns out that the colleague who I’d potentially offended thought that my comment was harmless and amusing. The colleague was confused by my apology, issued through multiple emails that I scrambled to write in my panicked state while my boss scolded me.
Sometimes when he asked “Don’t you think…?” my ego wanted to yell, “Fuck you, I’m in my 40s and have been working for over 20 years.” One time I provided an answer that he didn’t like and my response was, “I considered telling you what I think you want to hear, but decided to be honest,” hoping that he’d value honesty. Sometimes I told him what I thought he wanted to hear because honesty isn’t always best and as adults, we hopefully have the good judgment and awareness to know when to be 100% honest and when not to be.
Another time, he questioned my grammar. I’m a grammar nerd. When I’m not sure if my grammar is correct I look it up. I also use Grammarly with every single piece of writing. I think it was the tone of his query that bothered me. It wasn’t genuine curiosity (such as, “Are you sure that’s written correctly?”). He directly told me that I was wrong. I disagreed and offered resources to support it.
On the other hand, after I told my manager that I had ADHD and that it was affecting me, he tried to advocate on my behalf. He claimed that he wanted to help me succeed, to be the “rockstar” he knew I could be. It seemed strange that he claimed to want me to succeed but sometimes made me feel like shit.
The fact that I recall all of these details indicates the strength of their impression.
But, I often didn’t get the information I needed to succeed. For example, an email that I thought was an “FYI” because it lacked details or a request of me was revealed three weeks later as something on which I was to take action. This reveal happened after the action was to be taken. I knew nothing about the context. One of my boss’s colleagues came down on him. He claimed that her irritation was my fault.
A colleague directly involved with the project assured me that it was not my fault because no one kept me informed, and she apologized repeatedly for not adding my name to a particular email list and connecting me with the people who would have kept me in the loop. Big corporations, you know. She agreed that the aforementioned email had no indication that I was to take action. (My boss continued to insist that it was my “fault”.)
I often disagreed with my boss. He hired me to be an expert – my job title had “manager” in it. I’m a subject matter expert and in the past had mostly been given respect as one. My recruiter once asked me, “Well, why can’t you do things the way he tells you to do them?” The answer, which I didn’t give: “Because I want to do what’s best for the company. I’m an expert, and they need to trust me. He’s wrong.” I felt that they should have hired a new grad with little experience that they could train, not someone with decades of experience.
Other people have disagreed with him, but their foot down, and had him concede. I didn’t seem to have that fight in me.
I remember during one 1:1 meeting being asked in an exasperated tone, “Is this a part-time job to you??” I have a physical memory of my response. I recoiled at the suggestion and shot back, “No!”
Right now I can recreate the neck movement, the eyebrow furrow and the slightly pursed lips.
My entrepreneurial work was part-time. The corporation got me from 9-5. Sometimes 9-6. Once, 9-8. (Though on multiple occasions it was pointed out to me that I wasn’t getting paid for those extra hours and that therefore my extra hours were voluntary, and I should be able to get all of my work done within a regular work day, but there’s nothing that could be done to encourage that.)
But at times he could be so supportive.
Environment — or surroundings — plays a significant role in ADHD symptoms.
Picture it: An open-concept office. Fluorescent lights. A neighbouring team whose job function requires phone meetings several times a day, but additionally, a lot of them had personal conversations with each other while I was trying to work. I once sat unfocused for 45 minutes while a group of young women discussed The Bachelor. It might have bothered me less if they were discussing … say… Game of Thrones, but it might have bothered me the same.
Furthermore, two interns spoke with vocal fry, and they had regular conversations about non-work things, all the time. As someone with sensory perception issues, vocal fry drives me nuts. While I wanted to yell at them to shut the fuck up, I once asked them politely to please take their conversations elsewhere because they were distracting me.
You can read about one such incident here.
The environment was hell for me, and because it manifested in depression, I didn’t have the energy to look for alternative forms of employment.
On open concept offices
I don’t mind open-concept offices as long as I have at least one wall. Not having a wall even in front of my computer to pin things up messes with my organizational system. A lack of walls makes me feel so exposed. I have nothing to hide, but I need to screen myself from co-workers to be productive.
Remember way up this article when I said that when I was a student, I needed to work in a cubicle? Some form of physical barrier is essential to me. I like cubicles, but I’ll accept one wall at a minimum. Let me hang a calendar with visual reminders. Let me hang important information. I don’t need to personalize my space; I need to organize it.
People with ADHD require organizational systems. Just yesterday I (briefly) got irritated because some boxes at my restaurant were labelled “random glassware”. There was no specific way to know the contents each box without opening each one and looking.
I took a Sharpie and a piece of tape to one of the boxes to remedy that.
But I digress…
There are many studies against open-concept offices, and I’m sure that there are many cases for it, but due to my own confirmation bias, which I fully acknowledge, I tend to look for, read and share articles and studies that present evidence against them. A while back I highlighted the following in a Medium story called, “The open-plan office is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea“:
The absolute worst is when you have dozens of people from all different departments in the same room. Sales, marketing, support, administration, programmers, designers, what have you. These departments have very different needs for quiet or concentration or use of phones or open conversation. Mixing them together is peak bad open office design.
Here’s a snippet from an article called “Why open offices are bad for us” on the BBC website:
There’s one big reason we’d all love a space with four walls and a door that shuts: focus. The truth is, we can’t multitask and small distractions can cause us to lose focus for upwards of 20 minutes.
Twenty minutes! Imagine lots of small distractions. Imagine 45 minutes of Bachelor talk. Imagine the resulting anxiety. In the paragraph above the Environment heading above I mentioned that sometimes I worked late. A lack of productivity from distractions contributed. Distractions weren’t the only reason I worked late, but they often were the reason.
Everything happens for us, not to us
It’s been ten months since I left my 2017 role and just thinking about it pisses me off because there’s a part of me that feels like I was set up to fail. Had I been a permanent employee, I’d have had access to mental health programs. As a contractor, I did not. You can read more about it in a blog post I wrote in January on Bell’s Let’s Talk Day, a mental health awareness day.
However, it was a good experience because it happened. I was grateful to be there, and I’m grateful that I survived. I’m grateful that it inspired me. I’m aware that my experience could have been worse. Not that my anxieties at the time were any less valid than someone in a “worse” situation (one of my regular sayings is, “negative experiences aren’t a pissing contest”) but I did some productive work. I satisfied requirements. I gave solid advice. I did the best with what I had. I made a couple of friends. I developed more skills and experience in one of my fields. (I’m a social media & content manager, and a restaurant owner and an ADHD Coach.)
Except for the loss of income, leaving that place was a massive weight off my shoulders.
During those difficult months, the mornings after I worked on my business and my system I went into work feeling good, and strong, even if I’d worked late into the night.
Not a business pitch, but sort of a business pitch
Those good feelings lasted until I was triggered again. I tried to start each day positive, but there were imbalances in my internal and external life.
Those imbalances formed the basis of the PRIMED system for ADHD management that I created. I looked back on previous office jobs and compared them to where I was now. I realized that if I could make changes to rebalance things, I’d feel normal again and be able to cope and thrive.
In other words, when I realized that I was having a terrible ADHD flare up, and I realized why, and I realized what I could do to manage it, it inspired me to create a program to help others like me. There are things we can control and things that we can’t. Some things are easier to control than others. There are internal factors and external factors.
If it worked for me, and it had in the past, I should be teaching it to others. I should be shouting it. As a natural helper and nurturer, I want to help others help themselves. I want to empower people.
The inspiration to become a coach/mentor is an example of things happening for us, and not to us. This is making lemonade out of lemons, baby. When I persued certification as a Transformational Nutritionist, I thought I’d use it to give credentials to my writing. The idea of coaching others 1:1 didn’t appeal to me – until it did. I even had a vision of myself up on stage giving a talk about my system, and I hate public speaking.
I’ve helped some people through coaching but haven’t been focusing much on it recently. My attention has been elsewhere. I have some ideas for the business, but I think they will take a couple of years to execute fully. The business idea came to me when I needed it. It helped me.
If you have ADHD, reach out to me. Comment below. Ask about working with me, or don’t, but share your experience instead. We’re all in this world together, trying our best, bringing our heart into the world. We all have gifts to unleash on the world.
Wishing you all lots of goodness.
That’s not me, but it could be. The stock image model is not driving a stick shift, either. Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash
This post is an excerpt from a story that I published on Medium. The original was called, “Adventures in Stick Shift Driving: An ADHD story”. The original is a 14-minute read and is about my history of driving; the decades that I avoided driving due to fear doubt and lack of confidence and about recently learning to drive a car with a manual transmission, aka stick shift.
The ADHD brain and driving
People with ADHD could have a higher risk of getting into an accident.
There are some things that I’ve realized during my adventures in learning to drive. I probably should have recognized these years ago, given that I didn’t know that I had ADHD until I was in my early 20s.
- My ADD contributed to my driving anxiety in many ways. My spacial awareness and executive function made driving a challenge.
- The ADHD brain tends to get stuck on stories. I make one driving mistake, and I obsess over it rather than move on so that I can focus on the rest of the drive.
- The anxiety makes me forget things. I panic. When I first started my post-lesson practice, I forgot how to specific steps. My stick shift driving instructor warned me this could happen.
I’ve read a bunch about ADHD and driving, mostly articles for which the parents of teenagers are the target audience.
A lot of the advice makes sense. Some of the usual advice:
Limit distraction. —
- Don’t listen to music or the radio
- Don’t make or receive phone calls, even hands-free
- No texting (it could be against the law where you live anyway)
- Keep your hands off the GPS.
Limit the number of passengers in the car. —
- One person can be a helpful co-pilot, but more can be a distraction
Enroll in a defensive driving course. —
- I’ve now done this twice (age 16 and recently) and honestly, I think that everyone should take one every decade or so as a refresher.
Use cruise control —
- Use cruise control when driving above a certain speed. I think it makes the most sense on long stretches of highway.
I want to add this piece of advice:
Make sure you’re adequately rested before you drive. If you have an early day, go to bed early. Being tired is a risk to all drivers whether they’re neurodivergent or neurotypical. There’s a reason that rest stops for truckers exist. Tiredness increases the likelihood of losing focus and making mistakes – for anyone.
Driving stick shift
In the months before I got behind the wheel for my formal stick shift driving education and before I decided to take the lessons, I listened to an ADDitude magazine podcast about teaching teenagers to drive.
It was an interview with a psychologist. He advised that people with ADHD shouldn’t drive cars with manual transmission and should only buy cars that are automatic. Although I’d been resisting driving my boyfriend’s car, this statement felt like poor advice. I read this expert’s advice two more times in two different articles. It never felt right.
I’ve known a small number of people who drive stick. A few of those have ADHD and love driving stick shift. I can see why, and I can see how driving stick is better for the driver with ADHD after lots of practice. Several articles that I read after I started driving again (all anecdotal) support this. Here are my observations:
The ADHD brain and driving stick
You need to pay attention. Some might refer to this as a reason to not drive manual. I think it’s a reason to.
It’s too easy to tune out and go on “autopilot” when you’re driving a car with an automatic transmission.
It’s too easy to allow distraction.
Stick shift cars require focus at every moment and every action. It’s not just that you need to watch out for pedestrians and vehicles. You need to learn to drive with two feet. You need to shift up and down, finding the right gears without looking. You stop on hills (even gentle slopes) and maintain the stop by finding the right friction point on the clutch while also lightly pressing the gas.
It’s a lot to remember.
Not listening to the radio is an attention issue; as in, don’t let your attention drift to where it doesn’t need to be.
Silence in the car also makes it easier to hear the engine. With a manual transmission, the engine “talks” to you and helps you drive. It tells you when you need to change gears, when you’re in the correct gear, and when you need to press on or lift the clutch.
I listen to the gear shift: Without looking, I can hear when the shifter has clicked into the gear as opposed to not entirely being locked in. There’s a specific sound that the gear shift makes when it clicks into Reverse, and that sound confirms that I’ve clicked into Reverse gear rather than 4th gear or 1st, depending on where Reverse is located in that car. (In my Honda Fit it’s bottom right, in my instructor’s Mazda it was bottom left.
In a small study conducted in 2006, participants in a simulation study reported that they were more attentive while driving in manual transmission mode but real studies are hard to find.
About a month after completing five lessons (two per week) and then practicing a small handful of times with my boyfriend in the passenger seat, I still tend to turn the wheel to the right a little when I shift as if I’m trying to change gears with the steering wheel. It’s a lot to remember.
I’m retraining my brain. In doing so, I’m giving my brain exercise it needs.
I’ve read in many books that learning a new skill creates new neuro-pathways. Here’s a quote from an article in Fast Company. It refers to Tara Swart, a senior lecturer at MIT, and her book Neuroscience for Leadership:
If you want to keep your brain agile, you’re going to have to hone in on parts of the brain that you use less frequently, says Swart. And this new task has to be so challenging that you’ll feel mentally and physically exhausted after practicing the task because you’re forcing your brain to work in ways it’s unaccustomed to. This is the only way you’ll actually grow new neurons strong enough to connect with existing neurons, forming new pathways.
Mentally exhausted? Yep. Working in a way that my brain is unaccustomed to? Yep.
I’ve experienced these while learning to drive and practicing. After each initial lesson, those in years past, I was done and drained. It’s one of the reasons that I wasn’t keen on more lessons.
I’ve been writing Facebook status updates called “Adventures in Stick Shift Driving.” I share them below.
Read the entire story on Medium to read those status updates and more.