If you have ADHD then you don’t need me to tell you what its like to feel so scattered or overwhelmed, chaotic yet perfectionist, perhaps utterly fixated on something one minute then thrown way off course by the merest distraction the next. Perhaps you become hyperfocused on topics that fill you with anxiety or are hypersensitive to the environment or the things other people do (and don’t do) or say. Our thoughts tend to ruminate yet other things slip through our minds like confetti, hardly able to remember what we did five minutes ago and oh those little (or not so little) addictions, the search for quick fixes, the tendency to binge…and I don’t just mean on food.
I’ve developed my own methods for coping with all this on a daily basis (more hacks than I realised until I started writing them down) but, I also realise, I have a few other herbal and supplement “tricks” up my sleeve to add on the end, also the topics I cover get deeper as I go on. So here’s a rundown of what I find most helpful, making for quite a long post but you can navigate by heading to find the smaller bits that are most relevant. I hope some of these help.
Yoga is great but qigong is superb for ADHD, I find…perhaps because I have to concentrate on the different movements more and the transitions move more slowly, so I can’t just turn this into another automatic thing that I do “on speed”. It also energies me, but in a positive, manageable way; in fact, it helps me to manage the high-energy that I already embody so that it becomes useable, translatable energy that I can actually steer, not just a lightning bolt that shoots out of my head! It also engages me fully and soothes my nervous system and the feeling that lingers in the body is just lovely. I highly recommend Steve Washington‘s sessions online, for beautiful content and delivery.
When the acute feeling comes up, when I am (for instance) most compulsive, anxious, ruminatory, irritable, unfocused, over-stimulated, even panicked, I try to interrupt the building momentum. It helps to have a pre-prepared list of tasks or things to focus on that I can turn to, for instance my Calm app for a ten minute mindfulness moment, a cup of lemon balm in the window seat watching the birds, five minutes of dance to a prepared playlist, various absorbing yet routine tasks I can perform on my art website maintenance, and so on. I use creative cooking, sometimes, as an outlet but only when its meal times, otherwise I have certain preordained snacks that are OK during the day, otherwise I migth choose something unsuitable, fuelled by emotions!
If you are out and about when you feel compulsive or overwhelmed feelings building-up, take a long bathroom break or find a park, even a church to step into. Looking back, I used to do that a lot, not because I was religious but because it interrupted the frenetic feeling of being in shops and shopping malls surrounded by so many things calling my attention. I would side-step into St Mary’s in my town, light a candle and just sit there or strike up a conversation with the guy in the little shop, who got to know me over the years, and after a while I would be able to resume what I was doing…only, not feeling the same as I did before (as in, dragged into everything I saw, confused, tempted and overwhelmed). Having cleared my head, I would often just decide I had had enough and head home instead of circling around town for another few hours; it was like waking up from a trance.
Walk in nature, or just get outside into a garden or balcony
Nature has an almost instant therapeutic effect on the worst symptoms fo ADHD, so much so that some studies have focused on a lack of outside time on the worsening symptoms of teenagers. Even five minutes outdoors can reset the brain, getting you into a different groove.
Another entirely portable interruption is to focus on the breath. Close the eyes (if appropriate) and do square box breathing (breathe in to a count of 4, hold the breath for 4, breathe out for 4, hold again for 4, repeat) or count the breath in to a count to 3 and out again for 6. Take big, deep mindful breaths in to full capacity and even slower ones out, through the mouth with a constricted throat noise so that you feel the pressure as it leaves. Notice all the accumulated heat coming out of you as you do that. Place your hand on your heart to steady yourself as you do these things. Open the eyes and take in all the details of the space around you, including the energy moving inside you from toes to the top of your head, becoming fully present with every minutest thing that you notice, inside and out of your body and smile, before resuming your day.
I love the Calm app because it is portable and all those entirely manageable 10 minute breathers it offers, to meditate or become more mindful for a short while, bring me right back to the present moment, and out of my dopamine trance. Its not about being “spiritual” (if that doesn’t appeal) so much as stopping myself in my tracks, changing the tempo, recalibrating the brain. I love also that the tracks are different every day as I loathe repetition.
I don’t meditate to learn how to stay present (here in the “now” and not thinking about past or future events) all of the time but to get better at returning to presence, over and over again. Its important to say this because so many people (ADHD people can be the worst for this) approach meditation with an “I have to become a zen master at this” approach when its not about that at all. We are expected to go off track in our every day lives, being human, but the frequency of making these little returns, back to our centre, are what strength the muscle of our everyday calm.
I also don’t expect any bells or whistles to go off when I meditate, no such ideals! Its not about achieving the perfect practice (this isn’t yet another place for my ADHD to run riot!!) but just showing up to be there, warts and all. It’s the place where I fully accept that I am allowed to be me, to take up space, exactly as I am.
Watch the birds (or spend time with animals)
One of the best ADHD devices I have ever added to my environment is a clear window box stuck to the window. With my chair pulled next to it, I can be both stimulated yet calm, watching all the birds flit in and out at close proximity. Truly one of the best distractions and most affordable, least harmful, entertainments!
In the past, both dogs and cats, and even donkeys, have provided this therapy to me, which is why pets are such a blessing.
Go low-tech for a while
The “get more, now, FASTER” attraction of he internet will suck me in, lose me and spit me out the other end almost more than any other addiction I can imagine if I am having a dopamine craving episode. If this is you, go back to the slow route, the “by hand” methods for a few hours or even days, if you can. For instance, writing by hand, using an old fashioned diary or notebook, doing some art or craft. This can interrupt a “splurge” of ADHD behaviours and allow you to rein the feeling in while it’s galloping around the room.
Other times, finding something engaging out harmless to do online can help keep me safe from “worse” compulsions, for instance making music playlists or window shopping for an item (no transactions allowed…I can come back to decisions later), looking at arts of crafts, etc. I have to be on my guard with the shopping one, incase I suddenly find I’ve purchased 5 pairs of sunglasses because I couldn’t decide (this has happened to me…).
Don’t, I mean really don’t rely on social media for your rewards. If you are ADHD, I recommend cultivating an air of take-it-or-leave-it detachment from SM…use it if you have to use it but don’t care too much about the feedback!
Sleep on it
If its an impulsive purchase of a regretful email I am about to send, the best antidote is to hold fire…and sleep on it! Thankfully, these days I have the circumspection to notice these danger zones. There was a time, not too long ago, when buyer’s remorse or the cringe of having said too much, in entirely the wrong tone of voice to the wrong person in some extremely impassioned, self-righteous or jump-the-gun email I “just had” to fire off would haunt me for days or weeks, and on a regular basis. Blogging or social media can be another hot zone, heavily pitted with the landmines of over-sharing opinions that are too subjective, emotional or close to the bone. I continue to struggle with expensive online courses that dazzle me and try, very hard these days, to sit on these for as long as possible before deciding to hand over my payment details as they are seldom refundable at the point I decide I am no longer interested in attending a workshop on whatever it is (such are the passing whims of my impulses). Similarly, I take pause before invesing heavily in all the equipment required to start some brand new shiny hobby!
A useful ploy is to act as though you have gone ahead and see how that feels for a few days; are you excited or at least comfortable, or do you feel cringey and hot under the collar at the thought of whatever you did? If genuine excitement or calm persists after a predesignated cooling-off phase then, just maybe, you can go safely ahead.
Journal your thoughts and feelings
When it comes to writing, if it helps you to write out your feelings and thoughts (and I would recommend you explore this because its so helpful for ADHD) but start with a personal journal. Begin each day with a few uncensored lines in a notebook on how you feel, before your critical mind starts to try and sensor whatever comes up. This can be a powerful way of developing self-awareness of the way your consciousness ticks, including your ADHD traits and the impact they have on behaviour.
If you feel fired-up to share any of your writing with “the world” then wait a few days, letting the dust settle on the prospect as you consider how that feels. There is no hurry and don’t always rush at the temporary thrill of gaining an audience to something you have to share. Sometimes the best feelings come from what we savour for ourselves.
Exercise seems to be universally important for the management of ADHD symptoms and I would concur. Over the years, I’ve come to understand that its the one non-negotiable and that I do better when I start my day with it, before I get carted off down some ADHD track. It’s also a great release from intense feelings of any kind, a sort of magic wand, so find you preference, whether its walking or something more vigorous and do it, often. Also, get up and move around the house or office, do some movement to wake up and shift the energy in other parts of your body, beyond all that energy stuck in your head! When I don’t get enough exercise, I become noticeably head-centric and my mind feels like a mouse trapped in a maze.
When things get intense, or too exciting, or very very flat, just stand up, step away from what you were doing and try dancing around the room! It was almost two years ago now that I had the impulse to try dancing around to music once a day and I’m still going strong, gaining so much daily benefit from it. In the context of ADHD, I now see how that has worked for my particular kind of brain, offering the stimulation I crave whilst redirecting it towards something harmless and positive. Looking back, its how I coped with my ADHD symptoms in my early adulthood, when I would take myself off to the dance floor at every opportunity, not to be “social” but to work through or wind-out of some sort of stuck feeling I had, enabling me to resume my life feeling far better afterwards. Reinstating that pracice into my life has been transformative, as I have written about before.
If your thing is over-stimulation, work on building a “kit” of things you can take around with you to soften the effects. Earplugs, noise-cancelling earphones, favourite clothes, herbal teas and supplements, certain scents or essential oils to create a familiar environment wherever you go. Have everything you are likely to need in a pouch you can drop into your bag as you go out the door, or have one of each thing in every bag/room/vehicle so you are never without it (since, if you are a typical ADHD, you are likely to forget, especially if you are in a fluster).
Running it through in your head and scheduling it
Factor-in pauses to every routine, don’t make tight timetables…ever! It seems to be an ADHD thing that we leave everything to the last moment and leave “just enough” time to get to where we are going, with no room for bad traffic or losing our keys. We might hate diaries but we do need to rehearse what we are about to do and imagine any variables in advance because lack of linear thinking makes us very poor at thinking things through on the spot. Self-advocate for leisurely timetables with people you collaborate with; tell them you can’t rush around all day and need pauses to recalibrate.
Having my favourite music, pre-pared in a variety of portable playlists (with noise-cancelling headphones, one my best purchases ever), has been a lifesaver to me in countless situations but also, if this is you, don’t forget to use your music at home as well and here’s why.
Sometimes, when I think I am enjoying a quiet morning at home working on some delicious project or other, I notice myself becoming aggravated or overwhelmed “for no reason” and its because I have subliminally tuned into the sound of traffic or a neighbour hammering or mowing their lawn…and there is just something about the ADHD brain that hooks into these things like a missile headed for target. The same with “ear-worms” (undesirable ditties set in motion in our heads by other people’s dubious taste in music). So, when I set my own scene before I even start, I protect myself from going down that route to aggravation and (sometimes) full blown body tension and pain caused by fixation on the wrong things!
On a similar theme, switch off notifications on your phone (unless they are important reminders for things you really have to do); they are a terrible distraction for an ADHD mind!
Become more body conscious
It’s not only external distractions that can split our attention. I used to be rubbish at noticing my own body, but ignoring physical symptoms can have a similar effect of dividing attention (sometimes in more than one direction, which is why complex health issues can worsen ADHD traits in those who have them, which then exacerbates the health condition itself, as studies are showing, example below), utterly overwhelming the ADHD brain, even before we try to attend to other things. Brain fog and executive function collapse are common symptoms of various chronic health conditions. Now, when I notice a physical symptom (even if I can’t “turn it off” or treat it effectively) the very act of paying it attention defuses some of its power. Meanwhile, I get to consciously reassess whether the task I am trying so hard to push on with today is helpful or making it worse, which helps avert the kind of overwhelm that only feeds back into more ADHD symptoms.
Another thing to be aware of is that when the brain feels overloaded, it can start to send out erratic pain signals. Whether this is in response to emotional, physical or environmental pain, all you keep getting is the pain sensation stuck on loop (chronic pain in a nutshell). If you override that with even more activity, driven by your ADHD personality, the system continues in this faulty loop. Something has to give, which takes becoming more aware of how your ADHD plays out and prioritising important tasks versus impulsive/compulsive ones driven by ADHD itself.
I think one of the reasons for that last phenomenon I described is that we aren’t generally good multitaskers, even though (perhaps more than other people) we keep trying to do that very thing. So, when our attention is split, it depletes energy and spreads us thinly…forcing the brain to have to work much harder, resulting in irritation and overwhelm.
As if i needed to demonstrate the very weakness in myself have when it comes to multitasking, I noticed it in action last week during my qigong session (and again on subsequent days). Whenever I am supposed to do two tasks at the same time, particularly shaking out my arms and pulsing through the legs simultaneously, my hypermobile knees go extremely weak like they are about to give way (which feels alarming) and then my neck becomes extremely tense and painful as though it is trying to overcompensate. That kind of tension, if left, is the exact-same tension that leads to my frequent migraines and occipital neuralgia. It was a light-bulb moment for me because, working the logic backwards, next time I get pain in my neck and head, should I be asking “have I been trying to multitask again?!” and, if so, what are the odds I am right? What I see from my qigong, like some sort of kinesiology test, is that multitasking “depletes my energy”, to a very high degree and is accompanied by an increase in compensatory behaviours that result in increased tension.
Put another way, I go weak, and then my head tries to overcompensate, leading to tension, immobilisation, overwhelm and pain!
Frankly, its just not worth it…put multitasking to one side and concentrate on one thing at a time, enjoying the process!
Get good sleep
Lack of sleep makes it all worse!! Pulling all-nighters is a no-no if you have ADHD as sleep needs to be consistent and for a good 7 to 8 hours, even if you think you are getting away with less. With lack of sleep comes more impulsiveness, even more erratic behaviour and rumination on things that aren’t nearly as serious as we make them, along with overlooking things that are. It also increases sensitivity and pain, as countless studies have shown. I lived off adrenalin for a great many years but have learned, the hard way, I just can’t do that stuff.
Where’s the fire? Slow right down!
On a related theme, we do better when we slow right down. If working for a genuine deadline, see what you can do to make best use of the time with good forethought and communication. If its not a real deadline, more like some pressure target you set for yourself (for which us ADHDs are renowned!), see if you can’t pull some or all of the urgency out of it…and still get the same thrill of progressing towards a goal.
I know, I “get off” on that feeling of pressure too. It’s the reason I have always tended to leave all my work to the last moment, not to mention flying out the door when I have to be somewhere five minutes ago. Some little part of me (not so little, I now realise) always got a kick out of that sense of urgency and pressure…its an ADHD thing…but it also breaks us in the end, about which we then complain (oh the paradox).
With increasing age and wisdom, I know that kind of pressure is no good for me anymore; I just can’t take it, so I avoid pressure deadlines and (work in progress…) try to void manufacturing my own out of circumstances that really aren’t meant to be so serious. Its a long, slow, cold-turkey thing to recognise this trait in yourself and then you have to replace one reward with another, as in, find the joy in having the space to take longer, to be more detail oriented, to pause for breath and come back after a break with fresh eyes to see what really needs to be done. Its like becoming an artisan of your own life instead of an apprentice, and it gets better with practice!
Use joy and passion to self-motivate (instead of a “quick fix”)
Its like developing a taste for the more refined things in life. As a younger person with ADHD, I got kicks out of fixes that were temporary and intense, often regretful. Now, I go after experiences that are more like a fine wine…complex, multilayered, refined things, rather than manufactured thrills, such as “joy” and “passion” reached via experiences that are quite unique to me, as they are to each of us, since we are are all so individual in what brings us true enjoyment. It takes experience and experiment to find out what this level of enjoyment comes from in our own paricular case…and it won’t look the same as for the next guy.
I learned at least a decade ago that the best motivation comes from these things…and that I am rubbish at doing what I don’t enjoy. Most people would press on with those things anyway, if they felt they had to, but the gift of being ADHD is that I simply can’t put down seeking my fix, thus I will do that to the end. Having changed it to more meaningful pursuits, this can work in my favour and this is how people with ADHD make up some of the most successful, accomplished people on the world (from Richard Branson to Emma Watson and Einstein). We go after the dream, whatever that looks like for us, and we’re prepared to make changes, to wrestle down the status quo, in order to do that.
Notice what else underpins your relationship with ADHD
Something I have come notice is how my body has stepped in to keep my ADHD in check, repeatedly. Every time my ADHD traits have gone a little off the rails, my body has kicked back by grounding me with just so many symptoms that its like being under house arrest! To work better with my ADHD, I need to convince my body that I can get more busy and motivated without overdoing it, or getting myself into ADHD scrapes (like all those other times) or biting off more than I can chew. I need to bring my executive functions up to scratch so that I’m not relying on adrenalin and “a wing and a prayer” to make things happen against the odds of endless, self-created, time pressures and inner turmoil. I need to crack my aversion to scheduling and stick to robust daily routines that are designed to support me and keep me mindful and present (not running amok, as I did last time I had any surplus energy). As a visual thinker, I really need that planner to keep me in order but it may need to be a different kind of diary to the one on my laptop since my challenge is that I forget to look at it the moment I add the appoitment or reminder (am about to look at this one, designed specifically for ADHD).
Conversely, a belief that you can only ever do well in your life, or be a big personality that other people find fascinating, if you let your ADHD run wild, creating the kind of pressure-zone that forces you to pull all-nighters and live right on the edge of a crazy kind of genius, can get to become way be too much for the body, in the long term, and likely needs reigning in before burnout happens!
These underlying motivations tying you, in an unhealthy way, to your traits, can be like an invisible third wheeler at the table of your life, powerfully influencing how much ADHD rules your life instead of being used as a gift (as it can be, when more balanced). So, get to know any underlying agendas and rengotiate your own terms in this oh-so important relationship you have with your own ADHD “wiring”.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew
Another foible of my ADHD (similar to firing off regretful emails or making knee-jerk purchases) is that I set up expectations that I can’t fulfil. Especially when it comes to social events or art collaborations. In a gung-ho moment, with all my dopamine receptors firing off like well-oiled pistons because of the rare excitement of speaking to an old friend or being contacted by someone interested in my work, I will suddenly find myself agreeing to meet up or take part in something…never mind that I am still pretty housebound with health issues or haven’t checked in “do I want this”?
Seeming flakey, disorganised or downright unfriendly are then added into the dubious track record I already have as a friend or “joiner-in-er” because I almost inevitably have to pull out or reschedule. In the passion of the moment, I seem to forget all about my limitations, so no wonder people tend not to take my health challenges seriously, given my mixed messages. Hopefully, these limits of mine will naturally recede as my health improves, but they are a prime example of how I set myslf up for “failure” through my own lack of realism when I get too enthusiastic or carried away with a desire to be friendly, popular or helpful.
You may not have my health challenges but we all have limits and boundaries which, when crossed, clash with our priorites, capabilites or preferences; like when we agree to extra things asked by our boss that mean working at the weekend rather than preserving the recovery time we need (I used to do that too). We have to know our limits, ingrain them in our mind for such conversations (where we get so easily swayed!) and firmly set those realistic expectations when it comes to dealing with other people.
Notice also whether you always set your bar way too high. For instance, I couldn’t just do art, I had to take it all the way, become a pro, go international. I couldn’t just explore spirituality but had to sell my soul to it, make it into almost the only thing I put full attention on for years, until I could hardly remember what my feet looked like anymore. When I learn a new skill, I think I have to be the best at it or fantasise about training as a coach (which quickly wears off…but I always seem to do that at the very first session). When I complete a piece of work, I go back into it, minutely perfecting it and spend way longer on it than it deserves; its exhausting. Its an inbuilt trait but recognising it, even laughing at it, can take the sting out of its tail.
Substitute one “high” for another
I can get a real “high” from deep researching something! However, what I happen to be researching can alter everything about how well this goes…am I researching what’s happening in “the news”, a new pair of shoes I don’t really need or a topic such as how can I live better with ADHD, for instance. Some of these can lose me down a deep-dark rabbit hole for hours or days, others raise me to the light…so, its time to choose carefully!
If I notice the base urge to “get into” something, can I flip it sideways into a more positive version of the same pursuit? Is there a course I’ve wanted to do, or some routine housekeeping on my website that will attract more people to it, for instance? Or, can I flip the thrill of internet shopping into the thrill of saving money and watching myself grow a nest egg for a passion project later in the year? Also, setting time limits…I will do this for no more than 2 hours…and then stop for the day!
If you have a trusted person you spend time with who recognises the signs of when you have got sucked down a rabbit hole, especially if it seems to be getting you down or you are becoming short and snippy, ask them to dare to point out to you when this happens, to help you to pull out before you derail yourself.
Be aware of Rejection Sensitive Dysmorphia (RSD)
RSD is a well covered topic in ADHD communities and, these days, an accepted trait of it. When you have RSD, you are wired to be more prone to hear criticism and judgement , or to feel rejected, than the average person and not in such a way that can be tackled by some simple corrective therapy because its hardwired into the brain, not just a wound from the past, although past experiences can certainly feed the bias if real-life experiences have provided hard evidence of exclusion or fault-picking behaviours aimed at that individual.
It can also take more subtle forms. I heard someone with ADHD vehemently deny they have RSD the other day but then, on another occassion, they devoted a half-hour of their time to their upset over some passing comments people had made on their website, which they had obviously thought into very deeply and taken very personally. Our robustness in any situation involving other people, even the way we feel “left out” by a lack of friendship opportunities in our life (a sort of “negative space” hurt because no one is doing the hurting to us) or not even trying to make friends because we think we “know it would only go wrong” can be a form of RSD
I am fully aware that I suffer from this and am hypersensitive to criticism, which I then over-react to, sending me into a tail spin that can be agonising and far-reaching in my health. So, for me, the perception of feeling excluded, judged, not fitting in, criticised or targeted can send me into an ADHD frenzy, cascading into some of its other worst symptoms, such as obsessive or addictive behaviours including rumination. Knowing about this potential snowball effect can help us spot the times when RSD is active because it can be behind random flare-ups of ADHD issues or even “mystery” physical pain.
Interruption and redirection can be useful, as always with ADHD, but also, the key to the door for me is to, self-sooth with behaviours that nurture and protect the inner child that is feeling so wounded and vulnerable. Run a bath, play calming or good-association music, watch a gentle movie, spend time with animals or birds (they are wholly unconditional in their affections!), turn to sensory pleasures such as soft clothes, massage, self-care rituals, qigong and, above all, the kindest possible self-dialogue, in your head or write it all down in an affirmatory way. Absolute self-acceptance at these times can cancel out the sense that others have let you down with the opposite.
Worth mentioning is that we all have negativity bias (whether we have ADHD or not) and it takes 5x more positive thoughts to neutralise a single negative thought, so guess where we need to direct ourselves!
Just knowing that you tend to over-react, combined with pausing everything (thoughts and reactions especially) can help you to gain circumspection; give that hurtful person or situation the benefit of the doubt and allow a new version of reality to arise.
Need for excitement
I think it’s fair to say that excitement is so core to my personality that I become drab and dysfunctional without it. I’ve spent counteless misguided years trying to be more low-key, in the name of stabilising my health, but the real tonic has always come in the form of the excitement of life, as long as its the right kind of excitement (I can get excited by a sunset or a beautiful view). Its a mistake to try and dampen down the excitement of someone with ADHD and can quickly lead to depression (my experience).
I keep it alive through my passions and that can be hard…if almost nobody else seems to share the same interests as you (try to find them if you can, blogging and internet friendships have helped enormously with this and having a close friend or life partner who relates is so important, if you can find one). The more excited you are for your life, the less you need the injection of fake or externalised excitement to help you feel like who you are as a neurodiverse person with exceptional wiring.
A close relative of excitement is enthusiasm and I am an excessively enthusiastic person, as I suspect a lot of people with ADHD are. The world really needs this quality, it opens things up and gets them done, breaking out of routines and “meh”ness to make things happen. Unfortunately, a big part of my RSD is that, when met with lack of enthusiasm or flatness, even with silence (a pitfall of both art and blogging is that many people take in what you do without bothering to feed back), my enthusiasm recoils and I flip so easily to feeling dejected, ignored, not heard, shut down.
The key is to find others who share your enthusiasms (one person is enough) but, mostly, to learn how to whip up that enthusiasm for your interests without such reliance on positive feedback, as I do when I create art. The biproducts of this tend to speak for themselves, radiating the quality of enthusiasm for life as a frequency that shines out. Stopping all that worry about how what we put out into the world will be met can allow us to stop faltering over our motivations ready to open up our gifts wide, regardless of audience (which is a powerful place to be in a world so hooked on positive feedback and validation). When we get to live our enthusiasm, that energy feeds back into our next projects and becomes a resilient support to ourselves through the harder times (as I found during lockdown, when my enthusiasm for life didn’t falter because I had my interests).
Know that organised chaos is our brand of genius
News flash, we don’t think like other people. Our brains are not linear. We don’t just tick things off a list as we are going along, we have to be open and permeable to other influences, keeping the lid off our project until we are done. It can look as though we are juggling everything, all at once (will it ever come together? oh, the suspense!), till the very last moment. That was pretty much paraphrasing my ADHD daughter in our conversation just now; she and I work pretty much the same and what we produce generally comes together with a certain kind of creative elegance or finesse, though we can’t explain the steps that got us there. We feel it is all going wrong when something seems too easy, too straightforward, like working through a process, handed on a plate. The joy and genius goes out of it and we get supicious…unless there is that feeling of intensity and “too much” going on to valdate our creative process. Even our most inspired conversations feel like this; like we are reaching tentacles of thought in all direction, which is why we often overtalk, with urgency, and any kind of intruption throws us off our flow.
Embrace this; it will deliver your highest, most creative, likely most successful moments of your life. Cease trying to work the way others do; its a drag-factor that holds you back all the way, when all you want to do is feel the excitement and take off!
Ride out the big emotions
When the big emotions come, ride them out like being swept by a wave that will eventually deposit you on the beach (but don’t necessarily jump onbard, daring them to do their worst, like you are on a surfboard). Know that they will settle after 90 seconds if you only stay present with them; don’t try to match them in their energy or fight them but watch with curiosity. Feel the swell inside, like a strong tide and then, as sure as the moon pulls that tide in to the shore, the feeling will subside and you will still be standing there. Breathe.
Know its not always “us” doing this to ourselves
As well as being ADHD, I am extremely highly sensitive and all kinds of external things, whether environmental things or other people, can trigger me because I am aware of them at a very subtle level. They feel like they are inside me because I lack the same boundaries that other people seem to have. So when my feelings such as agitation or overwhelm, excitability or even abject depletion and brain fog step-up, I don’t have to resort to assuming its something I have done…yet I can still draw on the same helpful methods I’ve listed above to help me navigate the territory.
Looking back at my first marriage through ADHD eyes, I realise this (and I borrow here from a wonderful summary on an ADHD forum): ADHD lays some of us wide open to abuse. Our working memory is poor and lacks confidence, so we are easy to gaslight. As children, we receive substantially more negative feedback which chisels away at our confidence and makes us prone to accepting any-old scraps of affection that come our way. We are prone to oversharing, so its easy for another person to work out our weak spots. Many ADHD behaviours are easy for that abusive person to target as points of criticism or “signs of disrespect” (being scattered, interrupting/talking over, emotional dis-regulation, oversharing, being too loud, “not remembering” things…I was routinely shamed for these things after almost every social engagement). Finally, we are more prone to forgiveness and compassion and will do almost anything to get back into that small pool of favourable light and not to be rejected (courtesy of RSD), which is just what a narcissist needs. In other words, we were set up but we can make peace witih this now (more on making peace with the past below).
Accept your ADHD
Its just so important to accept your ADHD, face it (as took me quite a while to do) then look straight into its face and get to know it. But don’t necessarily tell everyone else about it. Some people will understand or at least try to; the best will be interested in finding out more and wanting to learn so they can help support you. However, stigma and misinformation is rife and not everyone should be trusted with this tender information.
To most people, ADHD is something that happens to 11 year-old boys that climb up the walls of classrooms, not to women, least of all to middle aged women who didn’t realise for years. Some may try to take you on, to contradict you and tell you you’re wrong (there’s an excellent podcast about how to handle this very situation – How to Respond when People Tell You Your ADHD Doesn’t Exist). They don’t know, how could they know but just don’t put yourself in the situation of having to defend yourself, it will hit your nervous system much too hard. I am happy to tell the whole world in this post, but am not electing to tell my broader family, outside this house, or most of my friends.
Don’t binge…on anything!
Whether its food, podcasts, shopping, TV episodes or excitement, try not to binge. Set that upper limit…one portion, one hour, a hyper half-hour talking animatedly about your pet project, then break the trend with something else.
Make the unconscious drivers of ADHD conscious
A lot of the above information points at the same thing…make the conscious drivers of ADHD more conscious by bringing them up to the surface where you can see them. Then, you can start to drive them more rather than them driving you!
Journalling really helps you to work through all this. Pull out your patterns, what are you thinking and feeling, get these things jotted down before you are fully awake in the morning and keep that notebook by your side to make onservations during the day. Bring attention to whatever is there, not to name and shame it but to observe from a standpoint of neutrality. Seeing what drives your engine, under the bonnet, is a giant stride towards customising the vehicle of your life for a more comfortable journey.
Shift the stuck points
Use neutralising modalities such as Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) or Havening (which is my preference and, as I keep saying, I will write about this soon). You can use Havening as an incredibly quick and easy system for defusing a feeling that feels stuck, as-in lodged in the body or, equally, in your repeated behaviour patterns. It takes no more than a few minutes, in fact the basics can be learned in this 6 minute video here and the effects are often permanent which is why its gaining quite the reputation for reversing PTSD.
Get down into the sand pit of life and really granular about making these positive changes.
When you notice the signs, preempt the sand storm that is whipping up by slowing down or changing direction, instead of pushing through or riding the intensity like you use to do, you get to ask if ask in advance, “is all that intensity really worth it? Can I get my thrills elsewhere?”
Consider the part played by “spirit” in all of this
When most active, ADHD makes us high-spirited…no coincidence, then, that for me those times have become almost synonymous with my spiritual adventuring (I consider myself deeply spiritual and have always had that sense lurking, even as a child), in hot pursuit of my spiritual self. I am now aware of how I used my spiritual exploration to feed my ADHA urges (after I withdrew so many of the material and emotional addictions of my former life) and also how ADHD bangs at the door of my spiritual awareness, getting me very close to that hinterland territory, where realities begin to get a little abstract and merge together. This kind of spiritual pursuit, if we are open to it (not everyone is), reinvests us in our ADHD excursions and makes spirituality itself into a sort of addiction, in its own right, if we don’t pay attention to the similarities.
It can also, seriously, unground us, detaching us from reality and our bodies, if we take spirituality to that extreme, with dire consequences for our health (borne out by some highly spiritual people I can think of, who channel, and have desperate health issues going on…I can also think of another channeller who seems extremely well balanced and grounded in their physical body, so the problem is not channelling per se). For me, that included (but was not limited to) becoming overly sensitised to everyday stimuli, because as I stretched my awareness “out” further and further towards the abstract, I picked up on ever-more details of the manifest!
More recently, I’ve come to realise that “soul” rather than “spirit” is a more comfortable place for me to reside. It feels more like a comfortable home I have made, in which my spiritual aspect resides and which reflects who I am across all dimensions, borne out by some of its features, rather than trying to fill (and merge with) the entire landscape in which that home stands, if you get the analogy. By investing more in soul, exploring what brings joy and gratitude into the human experience, a transition from a less spirited to a more embodied experience has occurred and is work in progress. Back to focusing on what I really love about the human experience and what brings me joy in that context rather than leaving the body as a “fix”.
Whenever my spiritual aspect is about to become more embodied in my physical body, I seem to have dreams about living in a house in which I suddenly discover there are more rooms than I originally realised. For years, these dreams would always involve discovering unrealised attic rooms with skylight views and so much more space and light than I previously had access to. More recently, I had a dream in which I discovered a whole other lower level in the basement, like an Aladdin’s cave full of colourful and fascinating inventory that I never even realised was there. It felt almost like a giant, fantastical “shop” as I switched on all the lights in this lower level, only, so much more real and meaningful than any of the old retail fixes of my previous ADHD life, because this was all “me” or “my soul” waiting to be explored. This hunger my ADHD has for gathering things feels representative of my general appetite for life, my love of colour and texture and all thing beautiful but I can direct it in other ways, into my quality of life, my output as an artist, my offerings to the world from this inner sense of who I am as an embodied soul with unique gifts to share (as have we all).
Allow yourself time off
Let me say that again…yes, time off, I mean really. Put whatever it is down, stare out the window, walk zig-zags in the woods, watch Netflix, stroke the cat for an hour or two, basically go easy on yourself and allow your mind to go as blank as its able to, because you so seldom do!
Allow yourself to be enough
I know I am always nursing the idea that I need to do more, that there’s another task that I still “need” to perform after this one (to justify my existence), that I need to improve, give more, reach some pinnacle…all the time, like a subplot “taskmaster” in my head.
If you are like this, try focusing fully on the task in hand (without that constant niggle about “the next one” pressing down on you), let today’s achievements be enough, calm that perfectionism, call it a day more often (much sooner in proceedings than you used to), schedule non-urgent things on, accept the occasional shortcut or helping hand, delegate to others, remember that doing what you do whilst having ADHD is a bit like having to walk through sticky mud as you go, when other people are on more level ground. Look in the mirror while you clean your teeth and tell yourself you are pretty darn amazing for keeping things going all these years.
Make peace with your ADHD past
Realising you are ADHD can shed a whole new light on your past, which may have previously bewildered you, or seemed like a graveyard of eratic, inconsistent behaviours and regrets. In my own past, I discover a long trail of addictive behaviours: addictions to alcohol, smoking, retail therapy, risk-taking, living on the edge, over-reaching, perfectionism…
Those that think they know me well may think they don’t recognise this risk-taker person I speak of but that’s because I didn’t show it to most people. It was like a Jakyll and Hyde alter ego to my other persona, which was quiet, conscienscious, anxious, people pleasing. That other version was people pleasing too, but found other kinds of people to hang out with, edgy people, some of whom (I now realise) were probably also ADHD. Two, no three, of my close female friends were probably ADHD, looking back, and two were very probably alcoholic. When I was with them, my ADHD persona became exagerated and I took risks that my other self found hard to live with. One was the person I went travelled with in my early 20s and we got into scrapes that I wonder we ever got out of from hanging out with people we should probably have avoided in alien cities.
It has been enough to make my toes curl to look back at some of those things I did right up to my mid 30s (all kinds of risks), because my post divorce phase was also a time of edge-living, including playing so hard and free with spending when there was nothing left to spend. “Close to the edge” was a feeling I was compelled to go after all the time, during those phases when I felt most lost, as though having that intense feeling of a fireball spinning inside my body was the only way I could sense where I ended and the uncaring outside world began. My confusion was a version of that same sense of “limitlessness” that led me to spirituality but, in these circumstances, it led me very close to self-harming because I had to feel out where my outer limits were to know I was still alive. I have tended to shove all those uncomfortable experiences out of sight as part of my irreconcilable past; but now I can make peace with them and have compassion for myself for experiencing them…yet not forgive them exactly as I realise there is nothing there to forgive. I was ADHD and, though no one is given a handbook to life, the peril of this is multiplied several times over when you are, unknowingly, autistic and ADHD in a neurotypical world.
Find the sweet spot
Managing ADHD is all about finding your personal sweet spot. Some of us are hyperactive-impulsive, some are inattentive and some are both but we can modify where we are on those extremes. I recognise myself as a touch of both extremes (and this has varied at different times of my life) but I can see how my happy place comes not from eradicate the traits but landing in a middle ground that has the best of all qualities mixed up as “me”.
So, the level of “stimulation” that is optimum for claiming more clarity, more focus on our tasks, and also the amount of calming-down that is optimum for reducing excitotoxic effects, getting us out of addiction and rumination or worry without going so far as to spiral down into depression, is going to be different for each of us. Many people approach this using meds.
I know I have a “feel” for where my sweet spot lies and I have kind-of thrown my anchor there, though my boat drifts around in the sea and sometimes loses its coordinates or gets rocked around by the waves (its apparently a very long chain). As with meditation, I am getting better at coming back to this point.
Meds for ADHD is a tricky subject, far too controversial for me to bite into. All I know is that, given my own track record of reacting adversely to medications, I don’t want to go there and I have heard numerous women either say the same or that they tried but it wasn’t for them. Many more people swear by them so it’s up to you to feel into it yourselves. Instead, these are the help-mates I lean into for my ADHD symptoms.
Many people with ADHD seem to swear by valerian but I really struggle with it as it causes heart palpitations and a severely groggy head the next day if I take at night. You could try it to see if it works for you. One young woman I heard on a podcast said it worked for her, better than the meds she didn’t get on with.
My go-to is lemon balm and I swear by it as a natural means of calming, or smoothing down, the nervous system and brain. As soon as I feel that overstimulated or over busy, hyperactive, ruminatory mind come over me, I reach for my lemon balm tea and it strokes down the effect, bringing it into proportion. On a “bad” day I can drink two or three cups in a row and enjoy significant downgrade of the worst symptoms, also calmer mind, clearer thoughts and more productivity. It doesn’t stimulate so I can drink it all the way up to bedtime as I please. I always carry a few teabags with me wherever I go (and you can also get in capsule form). I’ve been using lemon balm like this for more years than I can count.
GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid)
My favourite thing for balancing dopamine is GABA (there are various studies out there, take your pick). I spent a lot of years researching glutamates and their bizarre effect on the brain before I hit upon my own ADHD. Certain food additives, often the kinds that are quite addictive, such as “flavour enhancers” contain a modified version of glutamate and can send my brain whack-a-do! They also give me the worst kind of splitting headaches that can last for days and leave me feeling hyper-sensitive to everything. This was how I got introduced to the effects of too much glutamate (known as excitotoxicity)!
So, it was a no-brainer for me to study what would dampen down the excess glutamate effect all those years ago, which is how I cam across the brain’s natural antidote, GABA. Then much later, I learned about studies indicating that GABA may be helpful for autistic people, calming them down and enabling them to perform executive function tasks much better (see my post referring to the benefits of GABA oolong tea). Then, I read numerous reviews of GABA supplementation on Trudy Scott’s excellent website, Every Woman Over 29.
Initially, I tried a capsule format but it almost knocked me out as it was way too much GABA for me in one dose (many capsules are 500 or 600mg). That was when, with Trudy’s help, I landed on GABAcalm lozenges which are 125mg per dose. Since starting those a year ago, I have enjoyed remarkable results when it comes to calming down the nervous system, mitigating over-stimulation effects from the environment or my ruminator or obsessive thoughts and finding a new kind of equilibrium. More recently, I have come to see how its specifically my ADHD they are addressing!
Now, I take them every day, up to a max of 625mg (but never in one dose!) and mostly around 250-375mg per day spread out. I simply wouldn’t be without them and carry them everywhere, especially useful for car journeys and crowded places, or transitions between quiet and busy places or different paces of activity, which I tend to struggle with. It’s as though they oil the receptors of my brain and keep things ticking over smoothly; also, mopping up any fall-out effects after a startle response or sudden exposure to one of my triggers (great before and straight after the dentist or if a migraine is coming on and I also use if I am on a zoom call as I find those highly overstimulating).
Combined with lemon balm, saffron and NAC, I feel I have a winning team and these kind-of are my daily meds (along with good supplementation of magnesium, omega 3s, zinc and a few other things).
I began taking saffron as the standardised supplement Affron over a year ago to address mid-winter blues related to seratonin levels and based on promising research I had read. Again, as with GABA, I didn’t initially choose it with ADHD in mind but I later came across research that implied its usefulness. Saffron has an antidepressant action, inhibiting the re-uptake of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, meaning it increases these two chemicals in the brain, which helps combat ADHD symptoms. In fact, a double blind placebo found it to be as effective as Ritalin, without the side-effects (see study below). I noticed I felt brighter and more robust in my mood within a few weeks of starting to take 30mg per day, as recommended, and I continue to take that dose more than 12 months later.
NAC is a powerful antioxidant with astonishing known benefits and potentials across multiple areas of health. Its the synthetic form of the amino acid cysteine which is used to make glutathione in the body, which is a powerful antioxidant itself; one which our cells manufacture but which is known to be in short supply in certain situations, including when under (or after prolonged) stress and in the case of autism. It is involved in regulating cellular activities, keeping the immune system in check and neutralising that damage cells and tissues, so you can imagine its relationship with chronic conditions.
A sign that glutathione is depleted can be when hair turns utterly white, as in extreme old age or following a shock. My long brown hair turned snow white when I was in my mid-40s, around the same time I was dealing with the health fall-out of removing my mercury containing dental amalgams, including that I became electrohypersensitive and experienced intense migaines and other environmental triggers. My first “shock” of white appeared as a white stripe in my hair in my late 20s, when I first showed signs of chronic health issues. Interestingly, glutathione is hugely involved in clearing heavy metals out of the body. Its absence can leave the body overly-sensitive due to a build-up of glutamates in the brain and free radicals at left atlarge in the cells, thus increased acidity built up in tissues (metabolic acidosis), an issue I have battled with for years, and one that is well known to be associated with fibromyalgia and migraine.
I began taking 600mg of NAC per day last month as it was mentioned as a possible cofactor to support the mega-dose B1 therapy I am undertaking (see my post on that). The effects have been startling. In just a week, the “quick-setting concrete” feeling has left the muscles of my legs (I’ve had it non-stop for months) and I feel light and agile in my body, all apart from my hypermobile joints, in way I don’t recall for over a decade. My energy levels have also increased and I managed longer walks for two days together on the weekend, instead of needing several days recovery. I’ve been able to drive my car for the first time in months, have taken up a new daily qigong practice that involves being on my feet for 45 per day and I’ve managed it all without problem. I’m even back to two dancing sessions per day, on top of the yoga, qigong and walking. This is all astonishing.
Yet I’ve also noticed its helped with my ADHD symptoms, so much so I searched the internet to find out if NAC is a stimulant.
What I learned is that it has been found to stimulate, in a balanced kind-of way, and is known to be useful for ADHD and autism, an effect that is, presumably, because it is such a powerful antioxidant. What it actually does, via increased glutathione levels, is support GABA levels by transporting excess glutamates out of the brain. As above, I struggle with excess glutamate build up and am doing what I can to support GABA levels.
Addictive traits are such a big part of ADHD. Well, NAC is also known to help support recovery from cocaine and heroin addiction, presumed to be because it seems to somehow fill the gap of the addictive substance, not by stimulating just as much but by reducing the risk that the addictive behaviour will be returned to in the way of a lapse. I guess it restores glutamate tansporter function while boosting the recovery process with antioxidants. Anecdotally, I just found on a forum someone complaining that they took Adderall (an amphetamine) for a fun “high” but because they also took NAC they didn’t hit the “euphoria”, though they were still stimulated but all the manic parts of the high were gone and there was none of the “depressed shitty feeling afterward either”. I would say that makes it ideal for ADHD use since finding that gentle stimulation without that swing back and forth from mania to depression is exactly the challenge we face, and the benefits for breaking addictive impulses speak for themselves!
Its still early days in fully understanding the role NAC and glutathione play in the brain but positive uses are already being speculated, to do with ADHD, autism, addictive and compulsive behaviours, PTSD, a whole range of psychiatric disorders and even chronic illnesses such as lupus, chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. Such studies are stating to throw up data suggesting that ADHD can predispose certain people to developing chronic illness and then deteriorating further into ADHD symptoms as a result (see the study on lupus below). If NAC can help address this cycle, the effects look promising.
So, its all interesting stuff and all I can say (which is all my own experience and very early days) is that I am noticing very positive effects and a noticable difference in how I am processing energy and even thoughts through my brain in the last few days. I can’t seem to push too much though my brain at once right now, I can only focus on one task at a time, in a very hyperfocused way, with no room for accidental multitasking (for a change!), which is a good fault and I get a lot done, like writing this post in a day. I then get very tired at the end of the day, and sleep like a log. I found myself smiling contentedly right before I went to sleep last night; believe me, this was unusual. After exercise today, my body feels smooth and beautifully neutral. I don’t know when my legs felt this light; no quick-setting concrete in sight. I feel so much calmer, almost oddly so, and the sense I get is that a certain amount of positive neuroplasticity is taking place, so its my role to just get out of the way without too much analysis and let good stuff happen while not pushing too hard. Being able to exercise more and cope with things like driving again is opening up my days and I am quietly confident I have found another helpmate in this ADHD journey of mine, to add to all the others I didn’t even know I had until I sat down to write them for this post. I hope some of them help or encourage.
Disclaimer: This blog, it’s content and any material linked to it are presented for autobiographical, general interest and anecdotal purposes only. They are not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or prescribing. This article does not constitute a recommendation or lifestyle advice, nor do I profess to have medical knowlege or training. Opinions are my own based on personal experience. Please seek medical advice from a professional if you are experiencing any symptoms or before you change your diet, your nutrients, your supplements, your habits or anything else.