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TotallyADD Blog / Rick Archives - TotallyADD.com | Adult ADD | ADHD in Adults

Welcome to the TotallyADD Blog.

EMOTIONAL SENSITIVITY – OMG!!! MEEEEE!?!?!

Rick Green Adult ADHDBy Rick Green

After convincing a television network to commission an upbeat and humorous documentary about writer/actor Patrick McKenna getting diagnosed with ADHD in adulthood I was thrilled.

When my co-producer/editor/wife Ava managed to line up interviews with a slew of the top ADHD specialists in North America I was beside myself.

Oh No. Oh, Yay!!!

When we went to New York to interview Dr. Ned Hallowell and he had to cancel because Oprah had called at the last minute and wanted him to appear on her show, I was despondent.

When we were able to interview him at a later date, I was beyond excited.

When the first edit of the interviews came in at over 2 hours, instead of 44 minutes, I was beyond upset.

Every sequence or line that had to be cut was painful. I bemoaned each trim, “But that’s so good! People need to know that!”

Once Ava had reduced it to the right length, 44 minutes, I was over the moon.

When the network said the program had to be 42 minutes long to allow for an introduction, I was furious and despairing.
(Can you sense a pattern here? An endless, high-frequency sine wave of highs and lows.)

The Calm Before the Storm

With the documentary, Add & Loving It?!, delivered we assumed we were done. There was no air date, but the network assured us they’d provide 4 months’ advance warning to do publicity and promotion.

Out of the blue they called to say it would air in a few weeks. With such short notice I was devastated.

But then a slew of media outlets were eager to interview Patrick and me. Wow! I was over the moon.

When the program debuted I was incredibly nervous.

When the reviews came in I was ecstatic and relieved. A job well done…

That sense of accomplishment lasted 2 days.

The Tidal Wave Hits

The network started forwarding emails from Emotion Sensitivity OMG 325 X 325dozens, hundreds, and eventually thousands of viewers clamoring for more information, sharing their personal stories, and thanking us for saving their marriage, career, or even their life.

That roller coaster of emotions I was experiencing went into overdrive.

Other people were in crisis and we felt overwhelmed and unqualified.

TotallyADD.com Goes Live! Phew!

The launch of our website, which we assumed would provide everyone with the resources they needed, became an ongoing enterprise full of highs and lows, frustrations and thrills. (Who knew learning 10 types of software to run a website could be frustrating?)

Once PBS picked up the documentary, traffic to the website skyrocketed. Success!!

8 Funerals and No Weddings

In the middle of all this came eight funerals and four house moves.

Oddly enough, those big things were less stressful than smaller setbacks and frustrations.

It was often small things, unexpected glitches or mistakes, or people helping with unexpected acts of generosity that sent my emotions ricocheting up and down.

From panic to euphoria to hopelessness to giddiness. One minute disheartened and ready to quit. The next energized. It was rewarding, fulfilling, and great fun. But emotionally exhausting.

Somewhere in the middle of this, as we were interviewing dozens and dozens of doctors, specialists, researchers, authors, and adults who live with ADHD, the subject of ADHD and emotional sensitivity came up.

Or rather, over-sensitivity. Over-reacting to situations or just to our thoughts on what the situation was.

Very…Very…Very…Emotional

Dr Kathleen NadeauAs Dr. Kathleen Nadeau told me when we interviewed her, “I often describe girls and women with ADHD struggling with…being hyper-reactive. I don’t mean hyper-reactive in a physical sense. They’re not going around punching people in the nose. They’re hyper-reactive in that they may get very excited, very hurt, very upset, very disappointed….

Many young girls have even less control over their emotional reactions. You can sort of put ‘very’ in front of every emotion that they feel.”

I didn’t say anything at the time, but a thought flashed through my mind, “Maybe it’s not just young girls.”

ADHD and emotional sensitivity came up again and again. It popped up when I interviewed Dr. Ari Tuckman, Dr. Stephanie Sarkis Dr. Roberto Olivardia, Dr. Tony Rostain and authors Gina Pera and Linda Roggli.

All talked about emotional sensitivity, over-reacting, the waves of despair or bursts of anxiety that suddenly knock us flat, and then just as quickly pass…

Eventually, other ADHD experts — Terry Matlen and Barbara Luther — talked about physical sensitivities. The aversion to loud noises, bring lights, unexpected or light touches, and strong tastes or smells.

This is big! Very, very big!

It was clear that emotional sensitivity is a real problem for many adults with ADHD.
Gradually, tentatively at first, I began to sense it might also be a problem for me. The more the experts talked about how it shows up, the more I recognized myself.

The odd thing was, I didn’t over-react. I found it interesting and saw a whole new area where I’d been struggling without knowing it.

When coach and trainer Barbara Luther revealed that she relies on friends to tell her whether a new movie will be ‘safe’ for her to see, as in not too scary, violent, or gory, it began to come together.

I’d always disliked horror films. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to add to their own anxiety. Why would you find people being stabbed anything less than horrifying?

Was I missing something? Or just overly-sensitive…

We need to do a video about this… 

ADHD Emotional Sensitivity logoEventually, the subject came together in one of our most popular videos, ADHD & Emotional Sensitivity.

It starts by showing why we can have as much trouble managing our emotions as we do managing our focus, and what we can do to create calmness in a world that seems increasingly tumultuous.

The most surprising part of the program may be the discussion of physical sensitivities, which are easier to manage. Like Barbara Luther, I don’t watch horror movies.

If you or a loved one tends to over-react, if everything is extreme, dramatic, and ‘OMG’, you’ll love this video. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll scream. You’ll shout. You’ll be angry. Relieved. Empowered. Hopeful. Sad. And glad.

Very, very, very glad.

Rick Green Smiling

May 10, 2017 driddles

Holistic Solutions to ADHD? What Does That Even Mean?

By Rick GreenADHD Focus

Right from the beginning the experts I’ve had the privilege to interview for our videos have been clear about one thing.

The only ‘solution’ to ADHD has to be a ‘holistic approach.’

In other words…

To succeed in life when you have ADHD demands a multi-modal approach.

Or still other words…

You can’t just pop a pill and expect it to magically make you organized, productive, balanced, able to relax, emotionally stable and a good listener who has everything in hand.

I know this because when I first tried medication and was suddenly able to sit and focus on and actually finish stuff I found boring, routine, or overwhelming…I thought, “Yay! Saved!”

It Helped Me to Focus…But Focus on What?

Medication allowed me to finish my taxes on time. (If you’re late filing yours this year, yet again, know you are not alone.)

But medication didn’t tell me I needed to set up a system for my income and expenditures… It didn’t tell me to schedule a regular time every month or two to gather and sort receipts… It didn’t help me find a bookkeeper who could sort through all my papers and add everything up so my accountant was able to quickly file my taxes. A key message in our comprehensive Medication series is that even the best medication has its limits.

Leveling the Playing Field

In my one-man show, I explain that medication leveled the playing field for me. But that was it. All I had was a level playing field. I still had to go out on the playing field and play the game. And know the rules. And be clear about the goals. And develop the playing skills. And of course, play the game to win.

The only difference was now I had a way better chance of succeeding because for the first time I was playing on a level field, the one everyone else took for granted. (By everyone else I mean people who don’t have ADHD/ADD. You know those people, right? There’s a lot of ‘em out there.)

Playing to Win

Yes No Maybe Signpost Showing Voting Decision Or EvaluationMedication doesn’t work for everyone.

It did for me. The side effects were…actually, I never noticed any. Not that I’m particularly aware at the best of times. (Or maybe I did have side effects, but that was 15 years ago and my memory is spotty at best. I think. Someone said it was. Or did they?)

The only side effect was a headache for a day or two when I stopped taking the pills. It was almost as severe as the headaches I’d get whenever I’d cut caffeine out of my diet.

But even if medication works, it’s often not enough.

ADHD impacted my ability to plan, follow through, stay on task, do the drudge work, check details, pause and evaluate and make better decisions, and much more. It impacted my ability to manage my finances, workload, parenting, relationships, promises and commitments, and, well, every area of life to some degree.

Just being a poor listener with a poor working memory is bound to affect everything you do or want to do. Or forget that thing you promised your spouse you’d do before they got home… (Sigh)

Holistic Sounds ‘Flakey’

I must admit it was strange at first to hear psychiatrists, psychologists, and brain researchers being so emphatic on the value of a ‘holistic approach.’

I thought ‘holistic’ meant ‘New-Age Alternative Organic Gluten-Free Pseudo-Science-Based Witchcraft’ (no offense to my Wiccan friends).

Finally someone explained that ‘holistic’ meant treating the whole person, their mind and body. And I thought, “That’s flakey. The problem isn’t in my body. It’s a problem with some neurotransmitters in my mind… Or rather a lack of them…”

Which is why I mistakenly assumed medication was all I needed to be Mr. Super Achiever with the perfect life and spare time to…spare.

Only to realize that this brand new ‘level playing field’ was just lying there, waiting. Expectantly. And I had work to do.

A Holistic Solution Means…

Dr David Pomeroy What does Holistic mean…having an adaptable, ever-changing arsenal of weapons to manage the different areas of life and the different ways ADHD messes with your good intentions. (If an arsenal sounds a bit ‘life and death’, then you could think of it as a collection of tools. ADHD-friendly tools.)

In fact, I now rely less on medication and more on Mindfulness, yoga, Coaching, and a number of simple tools and strategies to get through the day.

Other adults with ADHD swear by particular apps, ADHD support groups, online forums, and more. There’s a whole list of options in our video The Holistic Solution to ADHD. And when one tool no longer works, for whatever reason, I’m okay with replacing it with something else.

It’s reassuring to know I have a selection of reliable tools that work for me and my version of ADHD.

I have to say, ‘holistic’ no longer sounds flakey. It feels sensible. Logical. Because I’ve come to see that for me, ADHD is a holistic’ problem, affecting my mind, body, emotions, and every aspect of life.

By the same token, getting my ADHD handled, which is always ongoing, improves my mind, body, emotions, and every aspect of life.

Rick Signature 2-Small

 

Rick-Holistic

May 3, 2017 driddles

ADHD & Anger – I’m frustrated & overwhelmed

By Rick Green,

Rick Green BBQ FireWhen I was first diagnosed with ADHD, I wanted help with time management, organizing, clutter, scheduling, and so on. The ‘logistics of life.’

Mastering these ADHD challenges is an ongoing project. Always improving. Never perfect.   My success requires an arsenal of mutually supporting tools.   However when one strategy stopped working well for me, I would ‘try harder.’ And we know how that works.

I kept thinking that the problem was me. Not the particular strategy. It took a while to realize that not every tool, tip, or trick will work for me.

Eventually, I simply replaced a tool or strategy that wasn’t working well with something else. If that worked, great! If not, I’d try another.

Letting go of what has worked to find what will work NOW

Sometimes I outgrow a particular strategy. It got me to a certain point and then wasn’t needed. Like a road map you used to drive through North Dakota, but then you need a new map that covers South Dakota. (In the age of GPS many younger folks have never used the road maps the gas stations sold. Road Maps were like Google Maps only on very thin mobile devices called paper. You would unfold the map until it filled half the car and then when you arrived you refolded it into a crumpled ball and jammed it into the glove compartment.)

ADHD Strategies seem to work well for me, or they don’t. Most require a little creative re-jigging. But whatever the trick or technique, the truth is all progress is ultimately dependent upon something intangible. My emotions.

My emotions are key to successes or failure

It’s true that no strategy is foolproof. And very few are easy or automatic. They require something of me. Which is fine. I can afford to give. But even the simplest and most powerful strategies in the world are of no use if I’m stuck in upset, anger, frustration, or overwhelm.

It took a long time to realize my emotions are a huge challenge. And they are exacerbated by my ADHD.

For the first decade after my diagnosis my emotions and the impact of ADHD on my emotional sensitivity and reactivity was not on my radar at all.

I was all about being ‘more productive’ and having everything ‘organized and up to date’ so it was ready when I needed it.

But it was never enough. I’d try something, it would work for a while, then it wouldn’t, and I’d be upset with myself, overwhelmed, disheartened, and angry. Mostly at myself. Sometimes at the world. Rarely at someone else.

I’m angry. But you’d never know It

I didn’t lash out at people or throw things. No one called the cops. It was internalized. Madly pacing around the office, muttering like a bitter, paranoid, self-loathing victim. Then I’d get an idea for a solution and in short order bounce right back to my usual busy self.

In fact, I would never have said I was angry. I wasn’t screaming. Okay, I was screaming in my head. But it didn’t feel like anger. (Did I mention myself self-assessment skills are less than stellar?)

Those sudden shifts are exhausting.

These bouts of anger or upset came on suddenly. The worst possible outcomes. In seconds. Like fast forwarding through the first 20 minutes of the movie Psycho and starting at the shower scene.

The mood would pass just as quickly. Mostly the upset lasted a few hours. Often less. Sometimes erupting and then evaporating over the course of 3 minutes.

In fact, at one point I wondered if I was also dealing with BiPolar Disorder. (A common mistake. BiPolar is different.)

Then when we were making ADD & Loving It?! the star of the program, Patrick McKenna, talked about his own struggles with explosive anger. His wife Janis offered a hilarious counter-point to Patrick’s sheepish confessions.

I started to look at my own emotions. And my emotional sensitivity. My anxiety level. How easily I was alarmed, upset, or panicked.   I did a lot of reading about how our bodies react to violence in movies, TV shows, or the nightly news.

The biggest surprise?

Rick Green surpriseWhat was most astonishing getting that I can do things to manage my emotions before they spiral out of control. Just as I can prevent those waves of overwhelm by using simple organizing strategies. Emotions are basically floods of chemicals in the body. And what triggers those floods?

It can be one thought, one comment, one mistake.

I thought my emotions just happened and it was up to me to experience them, survive them, and recover.

But stopping the roller coaster ride? Especially the negative stuff?

Sure, I could see that I could create a great mood by doing something fun and creative…being with friends, performing onstage… But upset? Anger? Those were natural reactions and totally out of my control.

But our emotions are always the result of our thoughts. Good news arrives, I’m happy. Bad news arrives, I’m alarmed. But what if I could pause and ask, “Is this really bad news? Or is it actually a sign that I need to do something different?” Or, “What the worst that can happen?”

Emotions Aren’t Random.

In fact, our emotions are often logical responses to a situation. Or rather, our perception of a situation. To have my Power Point crash just before my one-man show was a disaster. To me. The audience didn’t know what they were missing and simply enjoyed the show. In fact, I was so pumped up with adrenaline over the disaster the show was terrific that night.

Who knew?!

So much of our emotional state is actually in our control. This has been a complete revelation to me. Even dramatic emotions, like the short explosions of anger so common to people with ADHD, can be tamed, and perhaps even nipped in the bud.

Our video on ADD & Anger offers are a ton of simple ways to decrease the severity and the frequency of angry outbursts.

Seeing the triggers and understanding the warning signs and solutions has been astonishing. For example Dr. Kathleen Nadeau talks about, among many other things, the need for protein in the afternoon. Dr. Ned Hallowell explains the power of being able to express feelings rather than simply feel them in managing his own anger.

Once I began to appreciate how mercurial my emotions were compared to most people, and why a big part of that was my ADHD, I started making changes in how I spent my day.   (No more violent, scary entertainment. Lots more Yoga and Mindfulness.)

My level of ‘self-awareness’ was never all that high, but I can sense the roller coaster ride is a lot tamer. My wife can confirm I’m much calmer. Cooler. More in control. (Easier to live with.)

The payoff?   I can conserve my limited supply of energy and attention for dealing with what I was trying to cope with when I was first diagnosed: time management, organizing, clutter, scheduling, and so on.

You know, the ‘logistics of life.’

Rick Green Smiling

April 27, 2017 driddles

Talking About ADHD Triggers Tears

By Rick Green

RickTalksA few years ago, I gave a two-hour presentation on ADHD to about 200 people that was quite memorable! Unique actually! You see I only ran a few minutes long. That is not like me. What’s more surprising is that I completely ignored my notes and simply spoke from the heart. When I had done that before, and since, the talk can go wayyyyyy long.

Not that people are restless. Usually they’re riveted. But they’re no longer making much sense of what I’m saying. Their brains are overflowing.

Alas, I keep going, on and on. The Energizer Bunny of blabbering. This is my biggest ADHD challenge… ‘Motor-Mouthing.’

The audience for this particular talk was a mixed group. Some were desperately seeking help for themselves or their child, or partner. Others who were pretty sure they had ADHD, but wanted to know more. And some were dragged there by angry spouses or family members.

There were definitely laughs. Even tears of laughter. Especially from the wonderful mom of an ADHD boy who sat in the front row. She became my go-to-gal when I’d notice someone frowning or looking bored. (My friend, comedian Patrick McKenna, taught me a trick: Find one person who is laughing the hardest, and play to them. It works in a comedy show. And when I’m talking about ADHD.)

Did I Say Something Wrong

Talking to audience members at the ‘meet and greet’ after a live event is always the best. People are glad to have solid information, but they are profoundly grateful for the laughter.

Which I totally understand.   Who doesn’t love to laugh?! Humor is liberating.

I learned the power of laughter during my career in television and radio, but when I’m giving a keynote talk or performing my one-man show about ADHD, I’m also surprised to see many people in tears. Sometimes it’s tears of laughter and relief.

But it took me a while to get used to seeing tears of sadness; faces grimacing to suppress sobs.

‘Oh Dear! Did I Say Something Wrong?’

Unless it’s a dark theatre with bright stage lights, I can see everyone’s face. At first, seeing people crying quietly, or a loved one slipping an arm around them to comfort, them was alarming. Knowing how I sometimes go off topic, I was worried, ‘Uh oh! Did I say something stupid? Or mean? Or dismissive?’ (All faux pas I do regularly in conversations with friends and family.)

Tears? Pain? Sorrow? That’s never a good audience reaction for a comedian. My job is to help people forget that stuff, right?

Not when I’m talking about ADHD.

It was tricky, trying not to let those tears throw me.

Make ‘Em Laugh

Normally, it’s pretty clear if people are enjoying my talk. People laugh. Many nod. Some madly scribble notes. Clearly they’re getting something good.

But tears? Heartbreak? Faces crumpled in pain?

The first time this happened I panicked, ‘This is bad. You’re upsetting people. You’re making things worse for them! What if I push someone over the edge?!’

I was alarmed. Afterwards I called up a couple of ADHD specialists for advice, ‘Is there a danger I’m doing damage?’ Knowing that people with ADHD also have much higher rates of Depression, and having been through a few bouts of it myself when I was younger, and undiagnosed, I was worried, ‘I’m afraid I might push someone over the edge.’

The doctors assured me crying was a good sign.   Letting tears flow is cathartic.

Then I started to check in with the audience. During that talk where I went off topic, when I saw one woman was weeping, I paused to ask, ‘Are you okay?’ She nodded. And smiled through her tears.

So, I continued talking. But now I had tears as well.

In fact, the real challenge when I see someone getting misty is not to lose it myself. The first time I did break down onstage, talking about my son, I was embarrassed. But then I saw that my tears triggered many others to become misty.

Letting Go

Again, it took a doctor to explain that I was giving people permission to cry. Sharing what I’d learned created a ‘safe space.’ Though the details of each audience members life was different, the emotional experience was familiar to all of us: fear, suffering, pain, regret… Grieving.

Sometimes I see tears being triggered when I confess about a time I messed up, or a regret, or fear. Mostly I had no idea what it was that hit home for someone. Which is good, otherwise I might try and do it on purpose, as a technique. And stop speaking from the heart.

One thing I’ve learned is that if you want people to understand ADHD, you have to speak from the heart. We made our original documentary, ADD & Loving It?!, to create lightness and freedom around a scary, stigma-filled subject.

It has indeed created millions of tears of laughter. And tears of grieving.

And though I used to think of them as polar opposites, now I see both kinds of tears are really the same thing—a release of pent up fear. We ‘let go’ and cry. That is what allows each of us to move forward.

And that is the best. The absolute best.

[Blog revised – Original Date Sept 2013]

March 16, 2017 Rick Green

Medicating My ADHD Without Medication

By Rick Green,

I don’t want to take ADHD medication. adhd medication, self-medicating

I don’t want to have to take a pill every morning.

I don’t want you, or your child or a loved one, to have to take ADHD medication.

And guess what? Good news! You actually do NOT have to take medication.

No one does. Yes millions of people have used ADHD medication and many still do. Because they have found the upsides outweighs any downsides.

So, to be clear, I’m not Pro-Medication. Which is why TotallyADD.com isn’t sponsored by Pharma companies. It is maintained through sales in our shop. (When people tell me, ‘You’ve saved my family and made a huge difference in my life. I don’t know how I can ever repay you,’ I want to shout, ‘Go to our shops and purchase our videos. That way we can make a difference for other people like us.’ But that sounds needy, doesn’t it? )

One ADHD specialist said, ‘I’m not Pro-Medication. I’m Anti-Suffering.’

DEALING WITH ADHD

It’s estimated perhaps 20% of adults who are suffering with ADHD have been diagnosed. And perhaps half of them are doing something about it.

Doctors would say they have a ‘treatment plan.’ Medication can be one aspect of treatment. Exercise, diet, mindfulness, coaching, etc.. are other strategies that makeup a balanced, holistic approach.

Unfortunately, the majority of adults who qualify as having ADHD don’t understand why they struggle with organization, emotional sensitivity, overwhelm, procrastination, motivation, anger, and so on.

Lacking a good explanation, they invent bad ones. ‘I’m lazy. Weak-willed. Hopeless. Dumb. Flakey. Unreliable. Bad.’ And what’s the treatment for being Dumb? Or Bad? Or Hopeless? Nothing. Because this is who you are. (Rather than something you have that adds an extra layer of challenges to everything you do.)

Unaware of what’s going on, they have no hope of overcoming it. They are not dealing with it, getting it treated, or figuring out ways to manage it.

Or are they?

Actually, I’m going to suggest that the vast majority of people with undiagnosed ADHD have found ways to ‘treat it.’ It’s very haphazard. It’s not a conscious plan. But they’ve stumbled upon strategies that actually seem to help them, unfortunately some have appalling side-effects and long-term costs.

WHAT’S YOUR MEDICATION?

In our video series, ADHD Medication: Straight Answers to Big Questions, a number of specialists outline many of these ‘unconscious strategies’ that we adults with undiagnosed ADHD use to wake up our brains.

In fact, I’m going to suggest that every adult with undiagnosed ADHD has finds ways to ‘medicate’ themselves.

I came to this conclusion after interviewing 18 adults from two local ADHD support groups They spanned a wide range of ages and experiences. Almost all of them mentioned how they managed to get by before finally being diagnosed: Caffeine. Nicotine. Cannabis. Extreme sports. Alcohol. High-risk careers. Constantly changing jobs, homes, and relationships.

It sounds outrageous, but I’m going to suggest… Pretty much EVERY SINGLE ADULT WITH UNDIAGNOSED ADHD IS MEDICATING THEMSELVES.

No wonder.

We want to feel calm and clear and in control.  We find things that help us focus. In other words, things that give us the blast of neurotransmitters that we’re lacking. The stimulants we use may be sex, gambling, shopping, drugs, or any risky activity that gives us that blast of adrenaline.

I speak from experience.

MY NAME IS RICK AND I’M A COLA-HOLIC

Fifteen years ago I was undiagnosed. As I read over the results of the ADHD Screener Tests the school had given my 12 year old son my mind was racing. Until I saw that list of ‘symptoms’, I had no inkling I might qualify as having this ‘disorder.’

Gradually, over the next few months, as I worked with Dr. John Fleming, and devoured book after book, I began to see hundreds of ways ADHD had undermined every aspect of my life. And in some ways it had propelled my life forward. Certainly my ADHD wasn’t a disaster for my career in comedy.

As for my first marriage? Failed friendships? Disastrous finances? That’s where the damage lay.

‘Sorry, Doc. I Don’t Do Drugs!’

At first I was terrified of the idea of taking an ADHD medication. Then my doctor mentioned a phrase invented by addiction researcher Dr. Edward Khantzian.

The term was ‘Self-Medicating‘.

We ingest or inhale or sign up for something that wakes up the brain.

We treat ourselves. With substances or behaviors. Or misbehaviors.

No wonder I crave 5 or 6 cola drinks a day. It’s not the sugar, it’s the caffeine. The stimulant.

If you’d asked me, I would have said, ‘It helps me focus. Makes me more productive.’ It was ‘a help.’

My Unplanned Treatment Plan.

ADHD explained why I always had 1,000 things on the go. One year I co-wrote, acted in & directed 22 episodes of The Red Green Show, and also wrote, and hosted 26 episodes of another TV series, Prisoners of Gravity. Oh, and I co-wrote a play and a number of newspaper articles. And a stage play.

ADHD explains why I was totally alert and alive on stage in front of thousands of people. I was relying on Adrenaline to make up for the lack of Dopamine.

You may well know that feeling of having a shortage of neurotransmitters. It’s like running the appliances in your house on 63 volts instead of 120. That’s how the routine tasks of life felt to me. Doing ‘normal life’ felt draining and disheartening. I thought I was just lazy. But even the best appliances struggle to run on 63 volts.

This is why I believe almost every single adult with undiagnosed ADHD is medicating themselves. (And if you consider ‘Avoiding’ a form of self-medicating, well, I’d argue it’s all of us. For example: ‘I don’t like going to loud concerts.’ Or, ‘I can’t talk to my sister, I get too angry.’ Or, ‘I turned down a promotion because it meant way more paperwork.’)

Until we are diagnosed, and even after that, we are ALL relying on something, usually several strategies or crutches, to manage our symptoms. (If you dislike the term ‘symptoms,’ call them your traits, quirks, mindset, or challenges. Whatever works for you.

The problem is that these ‘crutches’ are not conscious, informed choices.

STUMBLING UPON RELIEF

Once I was diagnosed, I worked up the courage (or the desperation) to try a stimulant medication. It was Ritalin. It was not an easy decision, as I explain in the Straight Answers to Big Question series.

Like some of the 18 adults who share their medication experiences, I was lucky. The change was immediate. With few if any side-effects. Or none that I noticed. The shift was so dramatic a whole bunch of emotional stuff came up for me. That’s pretty common when you get the diagnosis and especially when things quickly improve. If you’re trapped in that process of grieving, our video Now You Tell Me!, will help you get through this emotional tornado.

It’s so common. And almost inevitable.

The Upside of Self-Medication

I do want to acknowledge that yes, some forms of self-medicating may be positive or productive. Being addicted to exercise is probably better than being a shop-a-holic. Finding a career that works with my ADHD has been a blessing for me. The problem was that eventually it was the only thing in my life that gave me any joy.

At that point it wasn’t something I loved, it was all I had. The adrenaline from overwork and caffeine were my strategies for ‘undiagnosed ADHD. For others, it may be gambling, alcohol, substance abuse, extreme sports, addiction to drama, explosive anger… All viable ways to wake up the brain. But not particularly sustainable.

Once I understood what was going on and recognized how I was self-medicating, I was able to replace the massive doses of caffeine and ‘overwork’ with Yoga, Mindfulness, a coach, and a number of different strategies…. Including medication on days when I have to manage a ton of stuff.

How about you?

What was your form of ‘self-medicating’ before you knew what was going on? And what strategies and practices do you use now?

[Originally published Feb 25, 2016 – Revised March 2, 2017]

March 1, 2017 Rick Green
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