Robert Wilford, Ph.D. and Sarah Ferman, Psy.D., L.M.F.T.
Having treated thousands of people with ADHD, I find one question that comes up over and over again. That question is “Doc, why is my ADHD life so damn hard?” Now there are variations of this question, such as “I thought the medication would take care of all of this ADHD stuff” or “Shouldn’t I have outgrown all this?” This is when I remind my patients that ADHD is a life long condition. It requires a lifetime of learning and managing from many different angles in order to be successful. Just because we get some relief from our medication, we still will always have to battle against those three primary traits of ADHD we have been dealing with all of our lives.
The good news is you’re probably familiar with the “Big 3” ADHD traits. You have just probably forgotten how they look when you are older. Remember those of us with ADHD tend to be: 1) Impulsive, 2) Inattentive and/or 3) Hyperactive
If you think you are going to outgrow these traits, or they are going to disappear now that you are taking medication, that just is not the case for most of us with ADHD. I usually find that most of what is making ADHD life hard falls into three categories:
Being too impulsive:
“The Inability to Hold back, or think before making a decision…”
-We tend to make quick decisions. Later those quick decisions only come back to “haunt” us.
-We make quick decisions without giving ourselves adequate time to carefully consider the possible effects or results of our actions.
-We sometimes don’t think about the possible alternatives which could serve us better.
Inattentiveness or Zoning out of life:
“Difficulty staying present and focused on what is right in front of us…”
-Inattentiveness can cause us to act on a quick decision without taking adequate time to look at possible negative results of our quick decisions.
-To some people it looks like we “just don’t learn from our mistakes.”
-We tend to operate on the principle: Ready – Fire – Aim!
If, all your life, you have been told that you underachieve, sometimes it just feels better to shoot the gun now and aim later. This is akin to “acting without thinking”. So, we miss our designated target and set in motion, a series of results that we did not foresee and do not want. This is where our impulsivity, not paying attention to what is around us or thinking about other positive possibilities or options becomes really clear. Often those of us with ADHD prefer to just spring into action without thinking. This causes us to miss out on other aspects of the situation. Not taking a minute to think about those other possibilities means we miss out on many less obvious options. That is the rub about ADHD. We may have wished we could have taken the time to think things through, but without some sort of assistance, like that which medication and proper nutrition provide, that option is simply not a possibility.
Battling our own inner Hyperactivity
“That feeling that we just need to keep moving, or are driven by our own motor that just won’t turn off. “
-As kids, we ADHD hyperactive kids got into heaps of trouble for being so hyper and impulsive. We did not see ourselves as others saw us. We felt excessively criticized and put down for just being who we were. Inside we felt happy and “normal’, and in a rush. The constant criticism took its toll on our self-esteem. We saw others as “too slow”. We felt very unique, loving and happy, but often our teachers and parents did not appreciate us for who we felt we were.
-We tend to grow out of the gross, physical, hyperactivity. This obvious hyperactivity changes into more fine motor hyperactivity: i.e., jiggling our legs, swinging one leg over the other, tapping or drumming etc. Adult hyperactivity can evolve and make an appearance in a more subtle way such as blinking, raising eyebrows, shrugging our shoulders, etc. It’s as if the childlike hyperactivity moves more into a feeling of inner restlessness.
This is what I remind myself and my patients to be reminded of anytime they ask the question “Doc, why is my life so hard?” These core traits are part of the hardwiring of the ADHD brain. They require monitoring and management even when you just want to give in and let everything in your already overwhelmed brain just fall apart. Resist that urge, as it usually just makes things worse. Instead, there are things that we can do to offset these “Big 3” ADHD traits. Here are just a few suggestions to help get your ADHD life back in control:
- Give yourself a break and expect to feel overwhelmed and plan for it. The question is not if you get overwhelmed, but when you get overwhelmed. If you know that it is just a natural part of a brain that is built like a Ferrari, then you can go easy on yourself. Setbacks and misfires are just a part of what makes us human. Even people without ADHD feel overwhelmed sometimes. Give yourself a “get out of jail free card” every own and again. You might find it is just what the doctor ordered to help you stay on track.
- Get enough rest. Sounds simple, but those of us with ADHD know just how difficult this can be. Your ADHD brain just needs all the energy it can get. A sleepy ADHD brain is a useless ADHD brain. Try to limit the amount of stimulation you have the 2 hours before you go to bed. This means no heavy talks, no super activating television shows, or thought provoking discussions two (2) hours before bedtime.
- Eat enough protein!! The same chemicals that your ADHD brain craves and gets in medication are made from the building blocks found in the protein you eat. Without enough protein in your diet, all the medication in the world won’t help.
- Drink enough water. Did you know that people who are dehydrated actually look a lot like those of us with ADHD? Dehydration can really cause you to not be able to think clearly. If you find yourself heating up during the day, or have a dry mouth, reach for the H2O. As much as soda and coffee may taste good, soda leaches precious calcium from your body and coffee actually dehydrates you. So remember to drink two waters for every soda or coffee you drink.
- Take your medication and your supplements. Many of us with ADHD think we are better or more free when we are off our medication. That may be how we “feel”, but that’s not usually the time when we make our best decisions and are in fact least effective. If you are supposed to take medication or you are able to take supplements like Omega-3 fatty acids, do it! Omega -3 fatty acids really do impact the way in which our brains work. Anything that we can do to improve our ADHD brains is usually a good thing.
Next time you find yourself chasing after a life of what feels like out of control ADHD, remember that you can get control of your mind, and you can get control of your ADHD. Take a minute and remember to keep an open mind. If something feels too extreme and out of balance—move on and look elsewhere. Find that place where your mind and your heart guide you to your best choices.
Take a moment to post a comment and tell me about how hard your ADHD life is and share any tips or strategies you found that have worked for you.
Till then—God bless.