When I first received my diagnosis, about 1.5 years ago, I decided not to try medication. For a few reasons: I was already taking pills for depression/anxiety; I wanted to look into a more self-sustaining method to cope, and partly because the psychiatrist said that he didn't "just give out pills to people" and that made me feel bad about asking...
However, recently I decided that maybe it is time to give them a try and I'm in the process of getting another psychiatry referral. This change of heart has come about after speaking to people, both in person and through ADHD Twitter, about their experiences with medication and through lots of reading and research and realising that I am probably medicating the wrong thing. I feel that there is a good chance that if my ADHD was medicated then I wouldn't need the antidepressants.
Despite not yet having medication, I have recently made some positive changes to my life and I do feel better for them and my husband has commented on how much better I am in certain ways. So for this blog post, I wanted to talk about the changes I've made that have had a positive effect on my mental health in the hope that they may also help others.
I have always been terrible at maintaining any type of consistent exercise routine and have become more and more sedentary as the years go by. However, as we got a few months into lockdown I started using our old cross-trainer (mainly out of sheer boredom). I started at 5 minutes and with the help of loud music, I gradually upped it to 30 minutes. I felt great after every session and the more I did it the easier it was to talk myself into doing it again. However, once the lockdown eased and I could get out a bit more it fell by the wayside again, until recently.
About a month ago I joined ADHD Unlocked. This is an online programme run by two women with ADHD, both of whom have extensive experience working with people with ADHD. They offer an online support system - consisting of live webinars at least 3 times a week, a weekly Zoom group chat for members, a weekly Smash It! session where people get together to achieve things they have been putting off whilst also talking to and taking encouragement from others. There is a private Facebook group and a member's portal full of all the webinars and resources.
This membership has been incredibly helpful to me for many reasons, some of which I shall go into further on. However, on the topic of exercise - ADHD Unlocked did a whole week on the benefits of exercise to the ADHD mind and said that we should view exercise as medication. This really struck a chord with me, partly because I'm not currently on medication and partly because I remembered just how good I had felt after my lockdown exercise sessions.
So, for the past few weeks, I have maintained a pretty consistent exercise regime. At least 5 days a week I do 16 minutes of high-intensity cross-training with the assistance of some loud music. I have discovered that by counting down the time by the number of songs rather than in minutes the workout is so much more manageable to my ADHD mind (which doesn't cope well with the concept of time) so, for example, my 16-minute workout lasts approximately 4 or 5 songs - this feels so much more doable and enjoyable. I have created a Spotify playlist of old songs that are filled with happy memories and it is totally uplifting to hear them and be flooded with memories. I have actually come off the cross-trainer feeling pretty euphoric at times!! It has made me realise that music is incredibly important to my mental health too, so instead of just using it for exercising I have also been using music to get me through housework or just to give me a boost throughout the day.
As well as the cross-trainer I am also doing some yoga and meditation, which I am actually really enjoying this time around (I have tried both many times over the years). I think the main difference this time is that I've turned it into a special time for me rather than a chore and I'm doing it in small manageable chunks. For example, I start the session off by making myself a cup of tea, walking down to our yurt, lighting the wood burner and just sitting there in front of the fire heating myself up and maybe listening to music. I then find a guided meditation on Spotify (I have been using The Yoga Bunny and Mindful) and doing that for approximately 15 minutes. I'm pretty rubbish at meditating but this time I'm not giving myself a hard time about that, I just go with the flow and always feel better for having done it, regardless of how much my mind wandered.
After meditating I feel ready to do some yoga. I have been using the Down Dog app and I really love it. It is fully customizable to length of workout, speed, type, music etc. So far I have just been doing 15 minutes of Sun Salutation A and it has been great. I always feel so good and my shoulders less tense afterwards. It is a great way to start the day and if I don't manage it in the morning I know that it will be fairly easy to fit in a few minutes (even just 5) at some point during the day.
This leads on to the next important change I have made. In the past, I would quite often start my day with some toast and jam. I always craved something sweet when I woke up. However, I have cut way down on sugar, wheat and dairy and cut out meat completely because I really don't think any of these things are good for me. Instead, I have been starting my day with something cooked, usually, fish or eggs and I've noticed that by doing this I am fuller for longer and have no need to snack throughout the day. I am eating more fruit and veg and have actually stopped craving refined sugar. When I feel like something quick and sweet I have been eating dates, Nakd bars and bananas.
As a result of this change in diet, I have started losing weight, which has had a great effect on my mental health too. I have always been slim but about 10 years ago I was prescribed Mirtazapine for depression. In addition to making me manic, I also put on 2 stone in a relatively short space of time. Due to the manic state, I didn't really care I was so ridiculously happy and productive. Who needed sleep?! Fortunately, my mum and husband both stepped in and made me aware of just how unhealthy this all was and I swapped medication. However, most of the weight stayed. I was by no means fat but I just wasn't me. I didn't feel good about my body and this did my mental state no good. However, with this new change of diet and increased exercise, I am slowly getting my body back and I feel great about it.
I mentioned before that ADHD Unlocked had benefitted me in more than just the exercise aspect. It has also been really wonderful to connect with others with ADHD. To feel amongst 'my people'. People who just totally get one another. I have felt the same connection with ADHD Twitter. Just seeing so many people echo your own thoughts and feelings is very comforting. It has also been a really useful learning resource and I have had lots of good book recommendations from it. Reading and learning more about neurodivergent minds is essential to properly understanding yourself. A couple I have read recently and really enjoyed are - Divergent Mind: Thriving in a World that Wasn't Designed for You by Jenara Nerenberg and The Power of Different: The Link Between Disorder and Genius by Dr Gail Saltz.
In addition, ADHD Unlocked has been fantastic for giving my almost daily motivation boosts. It is great to start off the week with a webinar and then know that I can check in again on Tuesday and/or Wednesday to chat with group members and then see another follow up Zoom call on Thursday and Friday. These little check-ins mean that I am constantly reminded (which I really need otherwise I just float off into something else) about all the things I need to be doing for myself and my mental health.
I have also started a Daily Plans notebook and each evening I write in it what I want or need to achieve the next day. Just being able to tick stuff off gives me a little dopamine hit and makes things seem more manageable and I never overwhelm myself with trying to get too much done in a single day and subsequently failing to achieve anything.
Lastly, I have to mention the magazine subscription that I have found really beneficial. Nothing to do with ADHD but so so good for my mental well being. It is called The Simple Things and it is beautiful. Full of great photography and recipe suggestions and ideas of things to get up to and positive news. It is such a much needed breathe of fresh air and positivity, particularly through a pandemic. I really relax when I settle down with a copy and give myself permission to just be with it and enjoy it. And my family get to try out the great recipes. I generally hate cooking but I really enjoy making the recipes from here, as it feels like a special, wholesome and nourishing treat.
Oh, and also before I forget - writing has been really helpful too. Whether it's a blog post here or writing in my Penzu online diary, just getting my thoughts down and out of my head has been really beneficial. However, I have done more than enough of that for now so I'd better end there. Although, I've just remembered another important step I have made recently - taking time to be creative. I'll write a separate blog post about that...