ADHD without medication?
May 13, 2010 5:56 AM   Subscribe

Uninsured, unemployed and in the middle of nowhere without transportation means that for the moment, I can't just go get screening and medication. What non-medical means can I use to deal with adult ADHD long enough to get employment/insurance and proper treatment?

I haven't been officially screened but I'm not at all unsure of this one. I'm pretty sure it was childhood ADHD, too, from the fact that I should by all rights have flunked out of high school for not doing homework. I'm extremely high IQ, which I say not to brag but to explain that I got all the way through school and college without it being noticed because studying was something I just didn't have to do. Employment turns out not to work that way. I lost my job. I burned through my unemployment without being able to get a new job. I can't get my laundry done, even read a whole chapter in a novel at this point in a sitting. I have to do something about this.

I've tried to do some reading online but I have a lot of trouble determining what sources are legitimate, and most of them involve kids, which I'm not. In terms of non-medication non-therapy sources of help, what are my best options for as much improvement as I can get as quickly as possible? Drastic lifestyle changes are fine, I've got nothing to lose. I don't have much money to spend, though, but small quantities for something very helpful could be managed.

Please, no discussion of how I can really get medication. No, really, I have exhausted those avenues, I cannot at this point get to or afford medical help. Also, not to go into long elaborations of why, but I do not have friends/family who can help me at the moment. Personal stories of how things worked for you or someone you know are fine, I don't necessarily need everything to be backed up by tons of citations, but anything with real scientific basis is also great.

Thank you all for your help.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Binaural Audio. Trial of Mind Workstation or gnaural.
posted by Lord_Pall at 6:07 AM on May 13, 2010

I have ADHD and procrastination is one of my biggest problems. This thread from yesterday had some really great advice on overcoming procrastination. I particularly liked this list of tactics linked by Eshkol in that thread.

Beyond those procrastination hacks, I find that regular exercise and keeping a constant log of where my time is going are the best ways to get on track and stay there. Make yourself a little excel chart. Log what you are doing every 30 minutes or so. Set a timer to remind yourself if necessary. Do this for a few days and it starts to become a habit. Look back at where your time is going at the end of the week. There's nothing like having a concrete log of all the hours you pissed away to get your to stop screwing around and get things done.
posted by c lion at 6:08 AM on May 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

Came here to also suggest exercise. I have ADD (and, like you, was diagnosed as an adult, having been able to compensate for a while). I have found that exercise focuses me like almost nothing else. It has to be a certain type of exercise, though: violent and hitty. I can't tell if that part is me or the ADD, but I think it's the ADD; the subjective experience is of wanting huge amounts of external stimulation, and "hitting"-type exercise is one of the best ways to get it. Probably anything that gets your adrenaline going would work pretty well, though. I have had great luck with rugby and boxing. The nice thing about exercise is that the effects last through the day.

Another suggestion is to try to be really varied in your activities. Again, it probably depends a bit on how your ADD manifests, but for me I have found that my brain's continuous desire for novelty makes me really good at juggling lots of balls at once. (I think that's the other reason I did well in college -- I had so many things going that I could switch my attention once every 10 minutes, and was smart enough to actually get stuff done in that 10 minutes). Was the job you lost one where you couldn't do that anymore? If so, then perhaps you could find something (or, more accurately, lots of somethings) to do where your task-switching brain helps you rather than hurts. For instance, I started needing medication in grad school, when you basically have to focus on one thing for five years; once I started as a professor, where you always have about 15 projects and students and classes clamoring for your time, I found I didn't need it anymore (at least not mostly). I'm not saying you should become a professor, but think about what kinds of jobs or activities you could do where your ADD isn't a detriment.

One other weird aspect of my ADD is that the louder and more varied the background behind me, the better I can concentrate. I think it's about stimulation, again. Most classrooms and offices are too quiet. Libraries kill me. Cafes are better, but still not great. The best thing I found was actually working in the subway station, because the continuous roar of the trains and all the people was great. Point being, if you're at all like this, you might really benefit from surrounding yourself with noise when you really need to get things done.

One last point: having neat surroundings helps. It's of course hard to get them neat in the first place, but I can concentrate so much better when there aren't a ton of things out of their "proper" place clamouring for my attention out of the corner of my eye.
posted by forza at 6:37 AM on May 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Read Delivered from Distraction, particularly the chapter "The Skinny on ADD: Read This if You Can't Read the Whole Book." In that chapter, focus on the question "What are the most important lifestyle changes?" You can read it right now by searching inside the book on Amazon.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:39 AM on May 13, 2010

Your question itself is diagnostic, by which I mean that you are approaching this problem exactly the way you've done everything else, namely by ignoring it until it's too late to actually solve it, secure in the faith that you and the others like you who will respond here can do magic (e.g. get through school without studying). What do you do about it? Step one is to give up your faith in magic, especially that kind of magic often seen in the movies wherein a special snowflake defies all odds and triumphs against all adversity. Those movies are popular because we all enjoy thinking of ourselves that way, but the time has come for you to start doing things you don't enjoy.

Step one (and I don't expect this to be popular around these parts) is to stop thinking of yourself as a genius with a brain disease. Most often this is just a trick to disown your problem. "It's not really me, it's my disease!" It's no coincidence that ADD drugs are often abused because they make you feel good when doing the kinds of things that would otherwise make you feel, if not bad, then bad enough to rather be doing something else. The drastic lifestyle changes (they're "fine" because you can do anything, right?) you need to make is tolerating the unpleasantness of living life like the ordinary people. You'll need to get that kind of job, where you're underpaid and resentful until you dig yourself out of the hole you're in.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:41 AM on May 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

Oh, man. I feel you. I have ADD as well and have run into periods of time where I wasn't able to afford medication.

Some things that have helped me:

Lists of things to do, even if you think you'll remember them

Exercise--wear yourself out, don't just trot around the block

Essential fatty acids supplements


The books Driven to Distraction and Delivered From Distraction by Edward Halloran

Eating a relatively low-glycemic-index diet. It took me awhile in my youth to figure out why I felt so crummy when my diet was comprised primarily of pasta.

All the very best to you.
posted by corey flood at 6:43 AM on May 13, 2010

It's no coincidence that ADD drugs are often abused because they make you feel good when doing the kinds of things that would otherwise make you feel, if not bad, then bad enough to rather be doing something else.

Obscure Reference, just so you know, for people with ADD, stimulants have a dramatically different effect than they do on the general population. It's because it's an actual physical disorder, not just an excuse to whine, although some people certainly treat the label as such.
posted by corey flood at 6:55 AM on May 13, 2010 [12 favorites]

I bike to work to get the intense exercise I need to deal with my ADHD. Perhaps this can solve your transportation problem, too--get a cheap bicycle?

The cheapest form of caffeine I've found is generic caffeine pills. $3 for 90 200 mg pills (a can of soda has about 35 mg) They help. Also, no sugar. Drink plenty of water with them.

You mention you've exhausted medical help; I don't know if you've exhausted counseling options (which you may or may not consider as "medical help"). Often counseling is available in situations where a prescription would not be, and can also be helpful.

I find electronic music helps me focus; I use Podrunner which has convenient one hour chunks which are long enough to get something done but give me natural breaks to come up for air and see what the world is doing.

Frequent updates with friends to help you stay on task.

Mindfulness. This sounds fancy, but it's not. In the same vein that you learn to check for your wallet in your pocket, you want to get in the habit of second guessing yourself. Me, I end up distracted when I have to wait for something. So before I wander off and do something else, I ask myself "Am I going to be able to stop in 60 seconds or so after this is done? How am I going to remind myself of that? Is there something more productive and less "sticky" I can do for the next 60 seconds while I wait?" Turns out there's almost always something I could be doing that's productive and won't turn into a two hour rabbit hole with nothing to show. If you can get yourself asking that question you're *much* better off. It gets exhausting because you're fighting yourself, saying "no" to opening that browser tab hundreds of times an hour. But each one is a victory, and every time you say no it makes it that much easier to do it again. It's kinda like that feeling you get when you're pushing yourself physically.

Finally, don't give up on medication/medical intervention. I fought myself for over 10 years before I decided that I should at least *try* something different because I sure as hell wasn't getting better doing what I was doing.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 7:35 AM on May 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

I feel you. Don't listen to the naysayers. Adult ADD is real.

Enthusiastically second these:
Exercise! Getting the right chemicals coursing through your brain is a must and exercise is the best single step you can take.
High protein, low carb diet is also great.
Foods like fatty fish (salmon, herring, anchovies, sardines, tuna) help and can be relatively cheap. A good source of the essential fatty acids.

I also recommend:
Meditation, which is essentially about maintaining presence of mind amidst distractions neither clinging to them nor pushing them away. You can learn mental skills that will help you conpensate for your heightened sensitivity to distractions.
A Wall of Sound. At the height of the coding phase of my career I got really into trance and deep house music because it had a strong beat and was very repetitive. I could put on noise-cancelling headphones, look at my terminal, and shut out just about every other thing except the task, at least for a few hours.
Compartmentalization. If you can afford it, have two computers. One for productive work and another for everything else. Email, web browsing, games, etc. go on the other computer. If you have only one workstation, maybe have a productivity logon and a logon for everything else. If you have the space, have one room that is just for productivity with as few extras and distractions as possible.
Soft ramp up. It helps me to shift into productive mode by doing something that is varied, yet productive and physical. When I need to shift gears into productivity, I clean my desk/office/room. That helps me transition from 'fun brain' to 'work brain' more easily.
Attention-Hack your Schedule. I schedule meetings and less-focus tasks for my least productive times of the day (afternoons since I am a morning person).I schedule my highest focus tasks (like writing, coding, etc) for times when my mind and body are at peak capacity (for me, mornings from 7-11)
Set Up Accountability for interim milsteones as well as the final product. I build accountability into my tasks that are inportant. I let a co-worker or mentor know about when I should be done and have them bug me. I will commit to deadlines that make me accountable for interim progress (for instance, schedule a review of the section of my document draft about simulation control to the users who care about it.)
Work with it. And if you have the option, gravitate toward tasks and roles for which ADD is actually a plus. ADD is a liability for focused and detailed work, but it actually helps make you a pretty darn good facilitator because you can integrate all the social and emotional cues in a room so much better. Within your job role, how can you move closer to tasks and roles that capitalize on your ability to accept and integrate multiple streams of sensory and thought input at the same time? For me, I moved from development to integration, analysis to facilitation, detail to big picture stuff. I would imagine some role that requires you to monitor realtime streams of complex information would make your ADD an advantage.

I lived all my childhood and twenty or so years of adult life with pretty severe ADD. What saved me, in a manner of speaking, was my inordinate fear of conflict and my need for approval. Essentially, fear motivated me to keep my ADD from getting out of hand. Not a healthy way to deal, but it got me through. Along the way I learned compensation strategies that helped.

But don't give up on the idea of getting medicine. It was like the difference between squinting and a proper pair of glasses. If you have a choice, get the kinds of medications that allow you to take or not take the medicine as you need it from day to day rather than ones that might need to build up a blood level to be effective. I don't wear my glasses if I don't have to.
posted by cross_impact at 8:23 AM on May 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

Apologies for the length! Feel free to read in chunks :)

don't have ADHD, but I do have focus and procrasstination issues. My partner has similar issues and has both been dx with and without ADHD. Since you are looking for behavioral, environmental support mechanisms, our experiences might help you.

Issues focusing and procrastinating do not just impact me at work, as you have noted. Also of note, some of the focus issues you mention can be exacerbated by stress and depression. Losing a job is hard and can really be a blow to your self esteem. Add to that mess money stressors and you have a recipe for the struggles you are facing. Go easy on yourself and don't blame yourself. Recognize you are going through a hard time and set your expectations accordingly. I know it is easier said than done. Do you have friends, roommates, partner, anyone that can help you have some fun and get out of the stress for a little bit? Even if it's going for a walk or excercising together. I sometimes still need help if I am in the mire of being overwhelmed. My partner just reminds me that I don't have to do *everything* that is racing through my mind. Do you have someone who can give you a wake up call like that? Support helps! There are online support groups that might help if you don't have anyone in real life to help you right now.

I have found that to stay focused, I often need some non-engaging stimulation. I focus on my work better if I have music in the background for example. It is as though the music engages the part of my brain that would get bored and start wandering. Note that that any semi-distraction needs to be non-engaging. I don't have an official reasoning for why it works, but you might try it.

We both do well with reward systems. For example, I really really want to play a video game to escape what I am doing (laundry)? I can do that for x time after I do x task. If it is a game that will draw me in for hours, I cannot get that reward until I've done multiple steps. In the meantime I can take smaller breaks of fun. Play with my dog, go outside, read MeFi :)

When I'm at work , reducing visual stimulation of having people walk by when at work helps (cubes can be helpful). Find out if you can use an mp3 player while doing desk work. Aagin, I have no idea what type of work you do, these things won't workk if you don't work at a desk.

Both procrastination and focus issues can lead to time management issues. I have found organization systems that allow me to focus on each project. I use Outlook apointments as reminders -- make sure the reminder is far enough in advance that you can finish the task or get ready for the meeting. I try to underpromise and overestimate the ammount of time I need because I have an awful sense of time.

Try to stay to a regular schedule, it is easier to remember to do things if you always do tham at a specific time of day. Even if I'm not using a clock, I have a schedule. After I finish x, I always do y. After I brush my teeth, I always feed the dog.

Above all else, take care of yourself. Getting run down from lack of sleep and/or not eating properly will not help you manage stress. Stress is making it harder for you to deal with your ADHD symptoms.

Some resources that might help:

ADDitude is an online magazine for ADD/ADHD adults, parents and partners. You might find it helpful. They have an adult ADD section of the website.

The Attention Deficite Disorder Assocaition has a webpage of resource links that you might find helpful.

Take care.
posted by Librarygeek at 8:23 AM on May 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh! And I forgot about reading! I can't get through a whole book either. That's why I got into reading poetry and short stories. There are even books of "Sudden" and "Flash" fiction in which the stories are a few pages at most. taht's how I can enjoy some fiction.

One of the most useful things I ever learned was how to do an "80/20 Scan" of a book. And my ADD makes me pretty darn good at it. Basically there are a set of techniques that will enable you to get 80% of the information in 20% of the reading time. (For instance, always read the preface, because that's where the author tells you how to read the book, which chapters you can skip, etc.) The idea is not to skim over everything, but to prioritize where you invest your precious "focused reading" time within a book. I don't have room here, but you can memail me and I can share some of that with you.
posted by cross_impact at 8:36 AM on May 13, 2010

After 13 years on ADD meds, I stopped taking them 3 years ago and have been managing my ADD naturally. I want to wholeheartedly agree with the exercise recommendation. Also being careful with diet; sugar / simple carbs make me lose focus, protein and veggies seem to be the best thing for helping the ADD.

I want to also add, because I don't think I saw anything about it up there, that depression and ADD can often intermingle and it's hard to tell if you're not getting things done because of your ADD or because you're depressed. So you might want to try things with an eye toward that as well.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:51 AM on May 13, 2010

Really good website, with a fairly active forum, experts who participate, and lots of videos and other goodies:
posted by purlgurly at 9:05 AM on May 13, 2010

A lot of people self-medicate for ADD with nicotine. While smoking does, of course, have negative health effects, you may be able to take advantage of the benefits of nicotine through e-cigarettes or the patch. That may get you through until you can see a doctor.
posted by decathecting at 9:27 AM on May 13, 2010

Work with it.

in conjunction with this, i would say also that it is important not to try to force yourself into something because you think it should work. if you try some strategy and it's just not something you can connect with, move on to a different strategy. not everything works for everybody, and the world accommodates more variation than you might believe.

and it's a general procrastination rule, but: don't let perfect be the enemy of good. perfectionism, adhd, and procrastination cross paths often, and the combination can be paralyzing.

i respond well to medication, and i was diagnosed late, but it wasn't until after that i realized how much, up to that point, i had used caffeine to get me closer to where the medication gets me--i think having to do with the paradoxical effect of stimulants in those with adhd. so depending on your caffeine intake now, and what level you are comfortable with, you might try to increase it during potentially productive periods.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 12:26 PM on May 13, 2010

Obscure Reference, just so you know, for people with ADD, stimulants have a dramatically different effect

At the risk of derailing, I'd just like to point out that just because there are physical correlates to mental states, it doesn't follow that the former are the cause of the latter. People change their brains with their consciousness all the time.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:17 PM on May 13, 2010

I'd just like to point out that just because there are physical correlates to mental states, it doesn't follow that the former are the cause of the latter.

the consistency of the correlation is what matters, therapeutically speaking.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 4:56 PM on May 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

My bad, non-professional, socially unacceptable solution:

Abuse caffiene. It's somewhat likely you already are, but it will help immensely. Up to six cups a day isn't a problem, and more... Well, that's your call. IANAD.
posted by Quadlex at 7:13 PM on May 13, 2010

I know you said you didn't want a way to "how to really get medication". But I don't think you realize that how many of the people on Concerta/Ritalin/whatever are non-compliant. I don't know if you live anywhere near a college campus, but if you do it should not be overly difficult to buy some meds from a broke college student.
posted by Coffer at 3:18 AM on May 14, 2010

Exercise, no joke. I have struggled with ADD & depression for more than 10 years, and last summer, I had a run of about two months where I was just getting tons and tons of physical activity, and it was literally life-changing. My brain felt so much better, better than it does on any of the medications I take. Not to say that you'd feel the same, just stressing that exercise is more than just being fit for people like us.

Also, get a timer and set yourself tasks in small time windows. Start at ten mintues. "Okay, I'm going to do dishes for ten minutes." When the timer goes off, do something rewarding for the next ten minutes. Then back to a task. Try to work your way up to larger chunks of time on-task. Sometimes the timer is a useful tool in breaking things down into tiny steps when my brain refuses to do so.
posted by Fui Non Sum at 1:12 PM on May 14, 2010

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