Not gonna try covering “what is ADHD” here — there’s tons of google-able info out there. If you’re not sure you have ADHD, this screener is the typical way to assess patients: https://adhduk.co.uk/adult-adhd-screening-survey/ — along with one key factor: the symptoms must have been present your whole life (albeit not generally noticeable until you’re around 6; until then you’re not really put in situations where the symptoms cause problems). ADHD isn’t something you develop; it was always there. The way the symptoms present themselves does vary with age, however; physical hyperactivity tends to die down as you hit adulthood, with the hyperactivity becoming more a mental thing instead. I never really exhibited any physical hyperactivity even as a kid; everything seemed normal until I started being given unattended work to do (homework). No problem focussing in class, but without that external interaction, my brain just went into freewheeling everything is interesting and distracting mode, and I’d lose an hour considering how the pencil in my hand must have been constructed, rather than spending 5 minutes completing the task.
OK: Here’s how I deal with things.
Medication vs behavioural changes
While I take meds (Methylphenidate) and they certainly help, they’d be useless without the behavioural changes I’ve made, and without the insights I’ve learned into which aspects of my personality are “wrong”. The biggest positive impact on my life came from realising I had ADHD. Just that. Just knowing “It’s not my fault, it’s not just laziness”. I mean, I’m lazy too — but that’s not why I crashed through jobs and relationships and life.
The meds help but they don’t cure ADHD. If I don’t make an effort to recognise when I’m losing focus, I can still lose hours / days, even on the meds, and without the “get stuff outta your brain” stuff I’ve learned, the meds would just make me more efficient at not doing things, at getting lost in a sea of intrusive thoughts.
I wouldn’t want to be without the meds now, but if couldn’t get hold of them, it wouldn’t be the end of the world: it’s the behavioural stuff that’s really given me the key to breaking out of the fugues.
These are the main symptoms I seem to have, and how I deal with them:
Absent-mindedness, and how it ruins everything
This is a two-fold problem:
- I forget dates, appointments, shopping list items, tasks.
- My brain constantly interrupts me to try reminding me of these things, meaning I lose focus on the thing I’m trying to do right now.
Solution: the key is to remove the need for me to remember these things.
This is an insanely important approach to living happily. Your brain does two vital things for you – processing stuff (thinking / doing), and remembering stuff. Seems like the brain is a little like dynamic RAM, in that memories fade if you don’t think about them now and again: but that means your brain will tend to interrupt whatever you’re doing to pop thoughts in like “so-and-so’s birthday is in two weeks – better remember to buy a card”. If you’re not near a shop right then, there’s nothing you can do with that thought: but the chances are it’s stopped you processing the task you were trying to do… you’ve lost focus.
If you can remove the need to remember things, you can focus on the processing / doing / actioning. As long as the things you need to remember are stored somewhere safe, in some way that’ll trigger you to be reminded when you actually have to action them, you can safely forget about them. When your brain tries to interrupt you to refresh a memory, you can safely ignore it.
There’s a whole book on this, called Getting Things Done, by Dave Allen. It’s a life changer: but the core principles are quick and easy to explain. The crux is that “remove the need for me to remember” thing. But you can only safely forget things if you have a robust / reliable / trustable place to store those things. Dave Allen’s book sets out a fairly complicated approach which, once set up and once you’ve got into the habit of using, is really effective — but it’s too complex for me, and I struggled with the routines you need to follow to make it work properly. I use a much simpler approach:
- Anything I have to do on a certain date (eg a week before someone’s birthday, buy a card), I set a Reminder for on my phone. “Siri, at 8am on June 10th please remind me to buy Susan a birthday card”.
- Anything I can’t deal with right now but that needs dealing with by a certain date, I treat the same way: I set a reminder.
- Everything else goes into to-do lists (again, on my phone, but synced to my Macs/PCs) tied to the place I have to do them. So I have a Shopping list, a Car list (for maintenance jobs), a House list, an “Amazon” list etc. Rather than flat lists, an outliner – where you can break down things into smaller to-do lists – really helps.
- Anything physical I need to remember, eg “don’t forget to take this book with me tomorrow”, I physically place somewhere I can’t miss it. The book I have to take doesn’t go next to the front door, it goes on the floor leaning against the door where I can’t avoid tripping over it. If it’s the day after tomorrow instead, I set a reminder for the night before: “Siri, tomorrow night at 7pm, remind me I need to take that book with me the next day”.
- Ideas, whether they’re for a song, an electronics project, a new way to organise cat food, whatever – goes in a to-do list of its own “Future / rainy day stuff”. That way I don’t lose the idea, but I don’t need to remember it: and if my brain disagrees and tries interrupting me, I can ignore it.
OK I’m stopping here for now but am gonna add to this.
- turning big projects from a dark overwhelming spaghetti of ideas you can’t get started on, into a breezy and fun actionable list
- how to reframe boring stuff into exciting stuff to help get over “leave it to the last minute” problems
- how to deal with mood / depression
- how to recognise the signs that ADHD is causing a particular problem you’re facing, so you can deal with it in a more precise way