adventureswiththepooh

An honest take on life and parenthood

Management: Life with ADD, Part 3

on July 6, 2015

One of my high school classmates used to call me “Scatter.” I ignored her teasing in spite of the sting of its truth. Over 25 years later, I would see how prophetic that nickname was.

When I received a long overdue diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (Predominantly inattentive type) ten months ago, I was determined to shed the persona of Scatter.

I was tired of feeling stuck, and tired of sabotaging myself without understanding why. I knew I was smart and talented, but my self-esteem had taken a walloping for decades as I angered and disappointed others and myself. My forgetfulness, lack of attention to detail, and inability to deal with seemingly simple tasks convinced everyone, including me, that I was a deeply flawed person who didn’t care enough to try harder.

In this third and final post, I will share what I have learned about managing this disorder, which I will refer to here as ADD for the sake of brevity. I also invite you to share any helpful resources or tips of your own in the comments.

Before I share what I have learned, I’d like to emphasize that I am just setting out on this journey.  I don’t know everything, nor am I a doctor or ADD professional. I am a lay person, like you. Also, remember that ADD is a spectrum disorder. Each person with ADD will experience it with different severity.

Now, on to what I have learned.

Here is the good news: ADD is not fatal.

Here is the bad news: ADD is a pesky, annoying disorder that will poke ugly holes in your life if you don’t know how to manage it.

Here is the good news: There are ways to treat it.

Here is the bad news: There is no silver bullet. It takes a holistic approach to manage it, along with constant tweaking.

Once I received my three page diagnosis last fall, I swung into action. I went to the library and checked out every relevant book I could find, made doctor’s appointments, found a coach, found local support groups, looked online for resources, and learned as much as I could.

Although I was relieved to finally have an explanation for my memory lapses and disorganization, my feeling of hope and optimism quickly faded as I realized how much work lay ahead of me. A pill was not going to make ADD go away, or fix my brain. Even if medication worked, it was a temporary fix for a few hours at best.

After doing all of this work and research, I was happy to find that self-care is the cornerstone of ADD management. It’s important for all of us, don’t get me wrong. But it is absolutely critical to manage the symptoms of ADD.

If you have ADD, it can be tempting to stay up late, to not plan your day productively, to not eat well or exercise, and to exhaust yourself in a single-minded activity. For anyone, this will cost them, but for someone with ADD, the price is much steeper.

Self-care, combined with developing new behaviors and educating yourself on ADD, will improve your life with ADD. If you do not take medication, then they become even more important.

Following, in no particular order, are all of the things and techniques I have used to manage my ADD.

Medication

Credit: Google images

Credit: Google images

Ah, medication. It is not for everyone, and I respect that. Personally, I am grateful to live in modern medical times. If there is something out there to help me, I’m going to give it a shot.

The right medication can transform your life. Many people liken it to putting on glasses and seeing clearly for the first time. However, it does require a process of trial and error, since a doctor can’t look at you or run tests to prescribe a medication that will work.

I turned into my own lab rat for several months as I tried everything out there, and even had success with a few of them for a period of time. I first tried Adderall, then Vyvanse, which are in the same family of stimulants. I also tried Ritalin, Strattera, and Wellbutrin.

When Vyvanse was working, I was productive, organized, and focused. I made it through the Christmas season with calm and sanity. Unfortunately, after about two months, my body started to process it differently. It did not work anymore, and it began to exacerbate my ADD. I stopped taking it.

I tried Ritalin. No luck.

I then tried Strattera.

Strattera is a newer medication that is not a stimulant, and takes time to build up in your system. I enjoyed a beautiful honeymoon with Strattera that lasted about ten weeks. I organized the Pooh’s playroom, knocked down my to-do list like a champ, and felt energetic and clear.

Then, like Vyvanse, my body decided that it had enough of Strattera. I started to experience frequent days of extreme tiredness and lack of focus, and I could not get enough sleep.

No more Strattera.

My last ditch effort was Wellbutrin, which is usually prescribed for depression. I had taken it in my 30’s for about a year, and it pulled me out of the crippling depression I was suffering at the time. However, when I took it this time around, it immediately addled my brain and also made me paranoid.

So much for Wellbutrin.

My doctor and I talked. He identified me as one of the small percentage of people who cannot take medication, so he set me free, with a recommendation to focus on behavior modification to manage my ADD. I am back to losing things, but it is nice to not feel the side effects of medication anymore.

If you do decide to try medication, I recommend that you shop around for the right physician. The first person I saw was judgmental and stern. She actually told me to stop reading so many books about ADD, which stunned me.

I switched doctors and found someone who was respectful and informative. This physician also worked in cooperation with my ADD coach. Although I am no longer taking medication, I was relieved to find a doctor who was honest and helpful, and who also did not string me along indefinitely. The right doctor is important, so take the time to find a good one.

Sleep

Credit: Google images

Credit: Google images

We all need our sleep, but I now know that lack of sleep aggravates ADD.

If I don’t get enough sleep, I am an angry zombie version of myself. I am crabby and impatient, and everyone around me pays the price. Lack of sleep also exacerbates my forgetfulness and I find it difficult to focus. I feel depression nibbling at my edges when I am tired. My thoughts become dark. I become weepy and more sensitive to noise. The sleep deprivation I experienced during the Pooh’s early years did not do me any favors.

Now that she is five, and past the short sleep cycles of a tiny human, I now make it a priority to get to bed at an earlier hour. It’s tough to give up the quiet time in the evening once the Pooh goes to bed, but since I am useless anyway, I might as well get the restorative sleep that my brain and body need. I also try to get off of my computer and smartphone at least 30 minutes before I go to bed so that my brain is not humming as I try to drift off.

I keep a notepad and pen in my nightstand drawer so I can jot down any ideas or to-dos that are interfering with my desire to sleep. If I am still too wound up, I will take melatonin, a natural sleep aid, to help me sleep more quickly and more deeply.

Exercise

The natural endorphins released during exercise are the best natural medication you can get for ADD. They relax you, make you feel happier, and help tire you out so you can get the best rest.

I make it as easy as possible to exercise. During the school year, I go for a walk immediately after dropping the Pooh off at school. I rarely change my clothes into workout gear, since it is just a walk, though I may change my shoes. Heck, I even leave my dark day socks on when I change to my sneakers. I know, I’m a dork.

Dark socks and sneakers

I also belong to an online exercise group on Facebook, comprised mostly of my business school classmates. We report to each other on the exercise we do each day or week, and set goals for each other. It is an easy way to stay accountable on exercise, and it is fun and low pressure.

Because I am a do-gooder, I like to use the Charity Miles app as a way to record my exercise for the day. You can choose one of twenty charities, and once you finish your workout, a corporation will donate money per fraction of a mile that you have biked, run, or walked. It is not buckets of money, but it is something, and makes you feel as if you have done a small good deed for the day.

My next goal is to find easy ways to do yoga at home. I went to a couple of classes with a yoga instructor friend, and after both classes, I slept like a fat cat on a warm mat. Win-win all around.

Meditation

Credit: Google images

Credit: Google images

“Monkey mind” is an expression that must have been invented for an ADD person learning to meditate. My brain is a three ring circus much of the time. For this reason, I’ve learned that meditation is important to calm my mind and settle all of the thoughts flying around in my head.

Meditation does not cost anything, nor does it require special skills. All you have to do is sit quietly.

Right now, I aim for a five minute meditation once a day. Sometimes I get to it, sometimes I don’t, but when I do, my day feels calmer and more orderly. It helps me get my to-do list on paper for the day, and helps me remember things both big and small that I need to tackle.  I try to do it when I come in from my morning walk, or when I have a few minutes alone, even if I am waiting in the car.

I recommend checking out The Mindfulness Prescription for Adult ADHD by Lidia Zylowska, MD, a book and CD set. It features easy mindfulness exercises specifically geared to people with ADD, aimed at training your brain to become more focused.

There are many free videos on YouTube as well as free apps to download onto your computer, smartphone, and iPad. I like the apps called Simply Being and Take A Break, since they are short and uncomplicated, but if you look around, you are sure to find more.

Choose the most simple ones you can find. Complicated is not for ADD people!

Coaching

I highly recommend coaching. Search for someone who knows how to work with ADD clients. Otherwise, you may waste your time and money.

Coaching might not be as expensive as you think, nor is it a luxury. It is part of your treatment plan.  You can ask an accountant if you can include ADD coaching services as part of your healthcare expenses for tax purposes. I do.

A good coach can help you develop new habits and organizational skills, and help you structure your days more productively. Not every coach knows how to work with the quirky mind of an ADD’er, which is reptilian, childish, and emotional. I would rather do things I find interesting and fun, while procrastinating endlessly around the things that must be done. A good coach will rein you in and teach you new ways to go about your business.

I found a great coach who specializes in working with people with ADD and their families. She has helped me find ways to manage my time more effectively, and helped me change behaviors, bit by tiny bit. She has also helped me identify my triggers – both good and bad – so that I can head off a potential problem, and reward myself for a job well done.

The ADHD Coaches Organization (ACO), is a great resource to help you find a coach certified to work with you.

http://www.adhdcoaches.org/

This directory, on the Totally ADD site, includes coaches in Canada as well as the U.S.

http://totallyadd.com/coaching-directory-search/

Diet

I make it a point to eat protein at every meal, even a simple one like an egg or peanut butter on bread. This simple change has made a difference in my energy and alertness. Foods rich in omega-3’s, such as salmon and flaxseed, are consistently recommended for people with ADD, so now I am always working to eat a diet that is lighter and healthier which incorporates more omega 3’s and fresh foods.

Some people believe that sugar, gluten, and processed foods should be eliminated for people with ADD. I haven’t seen the science to back that up yet, nor have I noticed any changes for me when I have tweaked my diet, but if it works for you, then do it.

Education

Over the past twenty years, there has been an explosion of books on ADD, touching on a variety of topics, ranging from general overviews to organizing, parenting, women with ADD, careers and job searches, impacts on marriage, and much, much more.

Not everyone with ADD can make it through a book. I happen to be one of those people who loves books, and I devour them, provided that I find them interesting. The library is a great free resource for books on ADD, and I recommend that you start there. Ask the reference librarian to direct you.

Driven to Distraction and Delivered from Distraction, by Edward Hallowell, are classics in ADD literature. I found them to be compassionate and informative. Driven to Distraction was one of the very first books out that addressed ADD in adults, and although it is over 20 years old, I found it to be easy to read, helpful, and comforting. Delivered from Distraction, the more recent of the two, has fresher information on treatment, including alternatives to medication.

In addition to the library, be sure to explore resources online.

You can check out the Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA) at www.add.org, which is a national support and advocacy group. There is simple, easy-to-understand information on the site, along with links to resources, ADD professionals, and local support groups. They also host a popular annual conference.

The ADDA has lots of great information available for free on the site. If you sign up for their newsletter, you will be able to listen to free recordings of ADD experts, access handy cheat sheets of information, and learn about the services they offer, including tackling workplace issues.

For an annual fee of $50, you can become a member. Membership gives you full access to webinar and newsletter archives, access to online communities, additional resources, and discounts on their annual conference. They even will connect you to ADD ambassadors, people who volunteer to help others with ADD by providing a listening ear and connecting you to useful information.

Additude Magazine provides strategies and tips on how to manage ADD.

http://www.additudemag.com/

ADD Warehouse provides a one-stop shop for books and resources related to ADD.

http://addwarehouse.com/shopsite_sc/store/html/index.html

CHADD, or Children and Adults with Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder, is a well-known national organization with particular focus on children and parental support. They run many local chapters and their website is another great resource for information.

http://www.chadd.org/

Support

Part of the reason that I decided to share this diagnosis so publicly is that I need human contact.

I feel many confusing emotions around having ADD. How do I manage the bad days, when I am unfocused and forgetful and going in inexplicable circles? What do you mean this is a disability?! What kind of help do I need, and how do I go about getting it? Who should I tell, and how do I tell them?

Talking to other people who have ADD, or who have family members who do, helps to alleviate the feelings of being strange and alone with a frustrating disorder that I am just learning to manage.

I also want to eliminate the stigma and shame around ADD. By talking about it openly and sharing my experience, people from my past and present are opening up to me in surprising ways. I have been moved to tears by some of the stories these people have shared, and I am so grateful to learn from them.

So far, I have only made it to one local support group meeting, run by the Rhode Island chapter of CHADD. It was enlightening and everyone was friendly, and I hope to attend more. Local ADD support groups will usually feature a guest speaker with particular expertise in managing ADD, so it is an excellent way to put some new tools in your kit and develop connections with others who understand.

Lastly, it is important to find people who will help you learn to laugh at your ADD quirks, instead of beating yourself up. I am used to retreating into misery and self-recrimination when I experience an ADD flub. My husband and the Pooh remind me to lighten up and forgive myself. A small giggle from the Pooh is all it takes sometimes to remember that it really isn’t my fault, and I start laughing too.

Giggling Pooh

Giggling Pooh

Do what you are good at

Perhaps I am a masochist, but I spent decades working on my weaknesses in an attempt to correct them and strengthen them. This also contributed to feeling less-than and defective.

I spent too much time with spreadsheets and data analysis and linear thinking, along with classes in statistics and economics and econometrics. My entry-level jobs were full of administrative tasks and repetitive projects.  I took on work assignments that “stretched” me. Some of it was the prevailing philosophy in certain workplaces that employees had to be well-rounded.

Those days are over. I now know what my strengths are, and I play to them when I present my skills to someone. It’s a relief, because now I have a much lower chance of disappointing myself or someone else. I can even enjoy my work now, because I don’t see it as tedious.

Structure

I admit it. I hate structure. I love loosey-goosey days where I can do anything I want. Unfortunately, I need structure to be productive. It explains why school, with its structure of classes and deadlines and organized calendars, has always been a productive place for me, as well as a regular office work schedule.

If you are a stay-at-home mom like me, find someone, like a coach or naturally organized friend, to help you develop a friendly time block calendar to manage your day. Planning out your day in a small notebook, either the night before or first thing in the morning, also helps prevent you from frittering away your time.

Clutter busting

This comes down to slowly developing new habits, and finding bite size ways to tackle clutter on a regular basis. It also involves creating organizational systems that are simple and easy to use. An intricate system with subcategories may work for some people, but not for someone with ADD.

Bit by bit, I’m creating habits to manage my piles and keep them from growing into intimidating mountains that seem impossible to dismantle.

For example, although my desk gets gnarly, it is no longer the disaster area it once was. My coach has taught me to use the growing mound of paper and detritus as a sign to clear it. We also developed a simple folder system for managing receipts, bills, and actionable paperwork so that things do not get lost. It has taken tweaking and it is not perfect, but it is so much better than the random heaps that used to sit all over my desk.

ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life by Judith Kolberg is one of the only organizing books that has ever made sense to me. It helped me develop new ways of organizing my house and workspace so that I could tackle my piles (of clothes, dishes, mail, whatnot) with less trepidation. It’s all about breaking jobs down into small tasks and creating simple systems so that it becomes easy to put things away.

Many people also like Fly Lady (www.flylady.net). The site coaches ADD people online with tips and tricks to manage clutter and mess. Fly Lady takes a baby steps approach, knowing that ADD people get overwhelmed easily, and keeps her lessons short.

Sometimes, I set my phone timer for five minutes, and I do all I can to straighten up an area in the house in that time frame. It’s exciting and a challenge, and it is over before I get bored. I also do laundry in small loads, and run small loads in the dishwasher. It’s all about keeping things manageable and bite-sized.

I also have learned to use square, clear containers for everything I can. I know that sounds OCD, but it makes a big difference when you are trying to put belongings away or find things. It is so much easier to fit square containers together, and they use space more efficiently. I look out for inexpensive square and rectangular containers in the SPOT dollar bins at Target and at dollar stores. I also repurpose berry containers as storage for my junk drawer, the Pooh’s small toys and craft supplies, my art supplies, and my toiletries. I do love The Container Store, but they only get my moola if their special storage tool is the only thing that will do.

20150706_112615

Finally, if you can possibly find a way to afford it, hiring cleaning help can make a big difference. Before you roll your eyes and say, “Fine for you to say, Ms. Fancy Pants Money Bags,” stay with me.

First, there is the issue of cost. It may not be in your budget. Believe me, I understand. I have been cleaning since I was a kid and never hired someone to clean until recent years. But if you earn more on an hourly basis (say, $30/hour) than what it costs to clean on an hourly basis (say, $20/hour or less), then it is a better use of your resources to hire someone else to do it if you can find a way to swing it financially.

Secondly, I know it can feel strange to have someone else in your house cleaning. It may feel uncomfortable or like an invasion of privacy. Maybe you don’t want others to see your mess. But let me tell you – having cleaning help can be the difference between sanity and living in permanent squalor with ADD.

Cleaning takes me forever and I’m not even good at it. I get distracted and bored, and I leave behind dirty spots. A lovely woman comes to help me twice a month, and her help is worth every penny. In between her visits, I do all of my housework and I’m now teaching the Pooh how to help out, but it is a boon and a blessing when someone else comes in periodically to clean things more thoroughly than I can.

Wrap up

A couple of years ago, my friend Priscilla Stephan, an intuitive business coach (sweetpathwellness.com), introduced me to a book called The Dark Side of the Light Chasers by Debbie Ford. In the book, Ford reminded us that we all have negative or dark qualities, but that each of those also has a positive side.

There is no question that undiagnosed ADD has thrown hurdles in my life path. But here, I will take a moment to reflect on the positives that ADD has given me.

Those positives are creativity, spontaneity, a wide ranging curiosity, flexibility, and a mad ability to improvise on a dime.

The diagnosis itself has given me a roadmap to a happier future that I have longed for, and solved the mystery of my father’s illness. Finally, it has given me more compassion for myself and others.

So thank you, ADD. You are not an easy companion, but you have made me who I am today.

This was an unusually long post for me, and I appreciate it if you have read this far. In the comments below, you are welcome to share any tips or resources you have found helpful. The more information we have, the more we all benefit.

To your health and happy future!

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