How do I ADHD
June 2, 2015 9:55 AM   Subscribe

So it seems I have ADHD. 1. Yay, this explains so much! 2. Oh geez, what do I do now?

So: I have a therapist and a psychiatrist. Just a few weeks ago, after discussing it with my therapist and then talking to my psych, we all decided that very likely I had untreated ADHD, and I went onto Adderall. (I am 27, female.)

And IT IS AMAZING. But also I am realizing, having read up a little more on ADHD, that it is really really not a panacea and that, instead, what it will do is make it easier for me to make things happen for myself - but I still have to start the process. So for example, since I've been on it, I have gotten a lot of work done when I decided to do it, but I have also continued to fuck around online a lot, just like, with incredible efficiency. And I sat down and paid all my bills in one go without getting distracted midway, practically a first... but not after still letting them sit around and almost get past due. Etc.

So now, what I need to do is work out some systems and methods for myself for managing my daily life.

I am really excited to do this, because having a diagnosis makes me feel like it is actually ok to need these things. Organizing my life with lists and charts and methods is something I have tried to do a lot in the past, before I thought there was something diagnostically wrong with me. But I was embarrassed that I needed these things, I sort of felt like they made me look crazy, so I would hide them and try not to rely on them and not follow them for more than a week or two at a time, even when they were really helping me.

Reading up on ADHD made me tear up, because all these people were discussing these things where I thought I was the only person on earth who did them. Like checklists for mundane daily life activities that I always thought I should just be able to do without even thinking. I would always worry about hiding such lists, thinking "oh god no they'll think I'm gross and weird because I need a daily reminder to brush my teeth." But now I feel like I can just say "oh yeah, that, I have ADHD and it helps me focus." It's a revelation.

So, to the actual question part:

My therapist, while she is good, doesn't seem to particularly be an expert on ADHD. That's fine, but I feel like I need more resources that can help me understand this better, and come up with ways to cope (or even thrive?) that will work in concert with the medication. Googling around gets me big lists of books and blogs, but I don't really know where to begin.

I'd love any advice on resources for dealing with adult ADHD, especially for people who figured it out relatively late, or any advice you guys can give me. Specific techniques are great. I don't really want anything mushy about how my brain is so special and different and magical.
posted by showbiz_liz to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
I am a person who was diagnosed at 19, but had to go off of all ADD meds in my early thirties. Doing ADHD med-free has meant coming up with coping skills like whoa. So here are the things that help me:

1. Calendar and smartphone app. I put EVERYTHING on my Google calendar and I set reminders (sometimes a LOT of reminders) for things that need to get done. So my phone reminds me to take out the trash, pick up cat food, change out my contact lenses, you name it. I have an Android so I can just say "OK google, set calendar tomorrow noon grocery shopping". And it's on my calendar with a default 15-minute reminder. I set up weekly, monthly, yearly reminders for things that happen regularly. I review my calendar every morning so I know what I need to do that day and when. And then I'm reminded! Magical. ADD in the 21st century is seriously so much easier than ADD in the 20th century. Schedule even work tasks. So if you have to prep for a 3pm meeting from 2-3, you put it down. If you have a deliverable due next week that needs 10 hours of work this week, schedule those hours.

2. Auto-pay. Seriously. Auto-pay on everything that can be auto-paid. The only thing I don't have on autopay is my electric bill and I would have that too if they'd let me. No missed bills ever, no need to do anything other than enter it in my budget software. When you get the bills just enter that they're going to be paid in your checkbook or budget software. (And I guess budget software is also huge -- I recommend YNAB.)

3. Diet. Eat clean. Meat and veggies. As little sugar and simple carbs as you can stand. Sugar in particular makes me not able to focus.

4. Sleep. Get enough of it. This is true for everybody, but I think ADD exaggerates the brain-fuzziness and can't-get-things-done problem of not enough sleep. If I get less than 8 hours per night I am completely unproductive at work.

5. Exercise. This is the one that's hard for me, and I'm not doing enough of it right now, but it's hugely helpful. I am so much more focused and productive after a workout. Even if you just take a brisk walk at lunch, it helps.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:14 AM on June 2, 2015 [13 favorites]

Congrats! Fixing ADHD is awesome and life-changing and generally really great. And, from personal experience, organizing your life is gonna be a lot easier now. None of that "make a list!" stuff made sense/felt right/etc. before I started getting treatment but now it's basically second nature.

A few things that helped me out that didn't work before ADHD medication (and that in a lot of ways are compensating for shitty life skills acquired because of having to deal with ADHD):

-(Recurring) calendar reminders for everything: bills, pharmacy trips, Metrocard, etc. Basically, my own calendar has a stack of events every Friday corresponding to bills that need to be paid that week, and monthly reminders to get new prescription for my doctor. Because, like you said, medication is not a panacea, I have all the reminders set a week early.

-Itemized cleaning checklists. You'll eventually internalize them, but sit down and make a list of the things that need to be cleaned in every room (e.g. "Bathroom: sink, tub, toilet, floor".) When you clean, knock things off the list. You can also do the same thing for hygiene or whatever else that you need to do that has a lot of steps that are a pain to keep track of in your head.

-"Stuff I'll Need Soon" lists: this could be household supplies, food, whatever. When you run out of a thing, put it on the list. Keep the lists either in a centralized place, or near the stuff (under the sink/on the fridge/etc.)

-Meal planning: plan out a week's worth of meals on Saturday or Sunday, buy the stuff for them and try to stick to it as best you can. If you get anxious at the supermarket because too many goddamn things, this helps out a lot.

-Get one of those little 7-day medication boxes in a bright color and leave it out somewhere you often pass by in the morning so you don't forget your meds. This will also help you keep track of when you need a refill b/c you'll fill it for 7 days and realize you have two pills left then and there rather than two days before you need the refill. Also keep a few pills in your drawer at work (or in your purse) in case you do forget.

-Try going a low-pressure weekend day or two without the medication and see what happens. Personally, I completely stopped taking ADHD meds during the weekend unless there was something attention-intensive I needed to do because having the medication in me and not having anything to do but wanting to just relax drove me bonkers. As an added bonus, this will also help you put a few pills to the side in case you run out and can't get more as soon as you need to.

-If the extended release doesn't last long enough, ask your doctor about an additional low-dosage non-extended release prescription. I've heard it called a "homework pill" before and it's really super useful if you are for instance stuck at work for 12 hours and your medication lasts only for 8.
posted by griphus at 10:14 AM on June 2, 2015 [5 favorites]

Auto-pay. Seriously. Auto-pay on everything that can be auto-paid.

If you choose to auto-pay, please make sure to keep alerts on to regularly monitor your bank account to make sure the payment actually went through. I've had a few friends end up screwed because they thought they were paying Verizon every month and it turned out they were like four months behind because they just spaced on the fact that there should have been a recurring "Verizon" charge on their bill. I def. fall into the category of such a person, so I pay all my bills manually online.
posted by griphus at 10:16 AM on June 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Regarding the autopay and bills in general, I guess I don't even think about how much YNAB has changed my financial life but it really has. YNAB enables you to get out in front of your bills so you have enough to cover everything before you even get the bills (and allows you to have everything on autopay because you don't have to time bills to paychecks). And if you have each bill as a separate line in your budget and you enter the bills as you get them, it is clear very quickly what has been paid and what hasn't because the things that haven't been paid still have money in them. At the end of the month all your bill lines should be zero. I think YNAB is great for anybody looking to get a better handle on their finances, but as someone with ADD it has been a total game-changer.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:32 AM on June 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Hmm, I typically use an Excel spreadsheet for budgeting because once I tried Mint and was utterly infuriated by how it worked. It always categorized my gym as a restaurant, it somehow double-counted my student loan payments every time, etc. Plus I like to use cash and it didn't seem compatible with that. Is YNAB very different from Mint?
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:37 AM on June 2, 2015

I use an iPhone and the apps I've found easiest to work with have been PocketMoney for just tracking what I spend and the various accounts.

Most accounting apps drive me batshit and I don't find them even remotely usable. For the exact same reasons you seem to experience. If an Excel spreadsheet works for you, use that. I just write down everything I spend the moment I spend it and that's easiest with a smartphone.

In general, just automate everything you can. Do Autopay and then once a month on payday, check your records against your bank statements.


Handle your mail IMMEDIATELY. Somewhere that you can easily get to after coming in the door, have a recycle bin and a shredding bin. Also have an in-out- and current-tray because there will in fact be things you can't action immediately. For those things, figure out when you will have your first opportunity to action them, and set a reminder.


There's more... really no space to list it all. This could go on forever. But I use the Pomodoro technique with 20/10s and my break is over. Feel free to MeMail me.
posted by tel3path at 10:44 AM on June 2, 2015

YNAB is very different from Mint. I can't stand Mint either. You can use whatever form of payment you like. There's a smartphone app so you can enter transactions right when they happen, and you can pay via card, or cash, or whatever. There's a 34-day free trial, and if you like it the software goes on sale on June 11, so now is a really good time to try it. There's a great reddit community that will answer and questions you have.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:51 AM on June 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I get the daily emails from Additude website and there is usually a little tip or trick in them that helps me add to my arsenal of tools. And a hack for daily emails: I don't let them pile up. If I have time to read one that day then I do, otherwise, it gets cleaned out the next day in my morning inbox purge.
posted by dawkins_7 at 11:03 AM on June 2, 2015

The Amen Clinic books / DVDs / etc are pretty good and include helpful info on all aspects right down to diet. The first time I saw one of their Public TV segments, I cried because it reminded me of someone I knew SO MUCH.

Best of luck to you, you SHOULD be excited! Identifying ADHD will help to answer / explain so many things.
posted by davidvanb at 11:05 AM on June 2, 2015

Make multiple calendars, and sync them across all of your devices. A social calendar. A work calendar. A holidays calendar. A chores calendar. Color code, and stick with it.
posted by oceanjesse at 11:59 AM on June 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I read this tip on the green:

When you first buy a thing, buy two.

When you get down to one, buy another.

Then you won't run out of that thing.

I prefer the really simple shopping list apps so I use ShopShop. It's just a plain list, no funny business.
posted by tel3path at 12:17 PM on June 2, 2015 [7 favorites]

I was also diagnosed with ADD (inattentive-type) as an adult, a couple years ago. Weird experience to have so many of your struggles summed up and delivered to you in a package, isn't it? I decided to try some group-discussion style classes offered on my health plan, and found them so helpful I haven't really felt a strong need to experiment with medication, though I remain curious. Maybe there's something like that in your area?

Advice above is all good. Diet, exercise, and sleep do strongly effect my presence of mind. The app store awash in time management tools. Google Calendar is my favorite because of how it can be categorized and integrates with their other tools, I use the whole suite. I've also heard good things about EverNote.

I would also caution about automating finances too much. Autopay is a super useful tool but I've had serious problems both with missing payments due to changing account info and forgetting to take recurring payments into account in budgeting myself. I have found email reminders keep me more aware and involved in it.

I have a To Do list style that I've adopted for work and personal projects that I find helpful. It's binder paper folded in a 9 square grid, with tasks organized in the columns and rows by importance and time sensitivity. Writing a fresh one is part of my morning routine every day. It's probably indecipherable to anyone but myself, but it's always in my pocket, folded around my phone so I see it before I see my phone screen, and I keep it updated, even before my Calendar and an Excel docs, because a lot of the time I find I'll take a reminder more seriously if it's a physical thing, and I'm more likely to remember if I wrote it longhand.

In my case, an efficient reminder system isn't necessarily the best system. The best system is the one I'll stick with and keep me on-point. I need mine to be clunky and a little bit obtrusive because if I don't have to invest thought into managing it, I'll forget it's there and start trusting myself to remember the big things. Then progressively smaller things. Then I haven't done my laundry in a month and all the plants are dead.

Avoid post-it notes, though. That way lies madness.
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 12:21 PM on June 2, 2015 [8 favorites]

Autopay works for me but I have to check my bank statements every payday. There's no getting around that chore. But I find it sufficient.

It is normal in the UK to do things by direct debit instead of busting out the checkbook or whatever. Maybe it's a cultural difference.

Autopay will of course not work if you don't keep your own record of what you think is going out of your account each month and if you don't routinely check that it's happening the way you expect.

You can't let your bank balance your checkbook, you have to keep your own records and believe your own records over your bank statements. Otherwise you'll go through life thinking you have way more money than you do. I realized this in my early twenties. Do you know how many months of keeping separate records it took for me to finally know how much was really in my account? Ten months. Ten months of having EVEN less money than I thought I had. Yowza.

But forgetting to pay bills is just not an issue for me at all, never has been.
posted by tel3path at 2:19 PM on June 2, 2015

I like to say I don't like to think of myself as disorganized, it's that I'm differently-organized.

I was diagnosed a year and a half ago at age 29, and yes, huge lightbulb! Best day ever! But the first and very best advice I can give you: things are going to get worse temporarily. Well, that's not true. They are going to feel worse. Once I had a name for what was going on all I could see was my symptoms and my failures. That still happens more than I would like, and I have gotten incredibly hard on myself as a result.

Second: If a system does not work for you, don't use it. It could work for hundreds, millions of people, but if it doesn't work for you it's worthless. For me: Apple or Google Calendars? Bullshit. Evernote? More like EverNever. Handle your mail once? LOL maybe with a flamethrower. I make my own day planner by hand because I needed a paper planner that displayed my schedule in a way I could process it and had fields that I would actually use. Also, same thing with autopay: the number of overdrafts on my account went up when I switched to autopay because as soon as I automated it my brain decided I didn't need to think about money ever.

Tacking on to that, I have a handful of systems I employ because sometimes my brain pulls the football out from under me and a system that has worked for months won't anymore. Sometimes the pomodoro technique works for me when I'm doing homework, other times I will completely lose focus if I leave my desk. Sometimes I need to write things down by hand and other times I don't.

To that end: I have a super awesome wallet with a notebook and a pen.

What I use:
Fantastical (Apple only): reminders and calendar in plain language - want to have lunch with your mother every Tuesday at noon? Just type "lunch with mom every tuesday at noon" and you have a recurring noon lunch date on Tuesdays. Need to bring your capybara to work? "reminder bring capybara to work monday 7am" and you will get a reminder at 7am Monday.

OmniFocus (also Apple only). OMG. OmniFocus has saved my life. It's what I use for bills, chores, anything. I have recurring chores, some as frequent as every other day and some as far away as changing my toothbrush. Today I need to clean my living room, go through my mail pile ('handle your mail immediately' LOL did not work for me, so I do it every four days), vacuum, and clean the cat litter. I'm moving over the course of the next two weeks while working full time and studying for the bar exam, and my brain is in 500 places but OmniFocus lets me select one project - let's say Moving - and I know that today I am going to put five items into a box to take to Goodwill. That's all I have to think about today regarding my move. Each thing that will go in the box is its own task so that I can be sure I got everything. It has Contexts - the place or thing you need to do a task - so I have contexts for stores. I need cheese at the co-op, Adderall at Target, five thousand things at IKEA and all I have to do is click the context button corresponding to where I am and all of it comes up. Omni has a whole bunch of other products too.

I have timed myself doing tasks. Everything takes a lot longer than I think it will, so I time myself from my bed to my car, from my car to my job, from my parking space to my desk. I *know* it takes me four minutes to get to my desk. I *know* it takes me about 54 minutes to get out the door. I'm not yet in a place where I'm taking action based on this information, but I do have the data.

I have a retractable key chain that clips to my belt were I keep my keys. You know, the kind where you pull on it and they slide back again if you let go? I look like a dork, but nobody knows because I'm in my house instead of being locked out.

One other thing: redundancy of calendars. Not synced, but totally separate, like backing up your computer. I slid the wrong slider on my phone once and all three apps that sync with my calendar got overwritten by another calendar? I have no idea how it happened, it was an accident, and so now I have three calendars. "But geez, that's annoying as hell!" On the contrary, sitting down and making sure they match every five days (recurring chore!) actually helps me absorb my upcoming schedule better.
posted by good lorneing at 2:51 PM on June 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

Don't get too obsessed about organization systems, go as simple and sustainable as possible, and add more if you need help for something new. Sometimes a simple notebook with a list is helpful. I use Google Calendar for my life, and Evernote to capture everything all at once. Pomodoro Timer for working, and I set alarm reminders for myself. That's it!

Also, never put off a small task. If you can finish it in 5 minutes, do it now!
posted by yueliang at 7:50 PM on June 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Perhaps one of the most important things, for me, and one of the hardest to learn, has been giving myself permission to make small mistakes.

Before diagnosis, I was incredibly hard on myself. Every distraction, every moment of forgetfulness was an opportunity to get mad at myself. Now, I try to tell myself, "You have ADHD. Distraction and forgetfulness are going to happen," and to be kinder to myself about it. If something inconveniences only me, it's no big deal. There are some times when I acknowledge, "Yes, I'm zoning out on my phone, but that's okay for right now."

Giving myself this leeway makes it easier to interrupt distraction when I really need to. (Like right now. I've got to go pick up laundry.)
posted by ocherdraco at 6:06 AM on June 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

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