Unmedicated ADHD - resources and suggestions for getting stuff done
January 2, 2023 8:10 AM   Subscribe

I was diagnosed with ADHD (primarily inattentive) and RSD two years ago and have tried stimulant and non-stimulant medication. These have not worked for me so I am looking for strategies to GSD.

I work but apart from that I cannot get things done. Because of difficulties making decisions and throwing things away, I have two rooms in the house I can't use or in one case actually get into the room. I am failing at a non-work project to which I have committed, which affects other people. I am overfeeding my cat to the point it will affect her health, and have not been able to keep her to a diet. I am not good at getting financial tasks and admin done. I know that stuff like a better sleep routine or meditation would probably help me to GSD, but I have not been able to do these things. I feel in a bit of a spiral at the moment where my own guilt about not GSD is leading to me feeling criticised by friends and family and affecting my relationships with them.

The ADHD diagnosis has made me more aware of my behaviour around procrastination, distraction, avoidance and difficulties in relationships and increased my self-loathing about this. I find it difficult to look at ADHD information online because people so often say what a difference medication has made for them, and that makes me feel abnormal and a failure.

I think I've tried all the basics about planning, list-making, accountability, strategising, "just do one thing" et cetera. What else is there that I can try, or what resources can I read? Has anyone used an ADHD coach, and did that work for you?

I had therapy and CBT some years ago. I've had mixed experiences and probably won't try it again immediately. I am considering going back on anti-depressants, though these have also not been successful for me previously, but have a medical issue I need to resolve before I can have that conversation with my GP.

I have seen previous questions: Managing ADHD without medication about short-time lack of medication (caffeine doesn't make a difference for me), ADHD and structure (I do set a timer and make lists, but the effects of this are limited) and ADHD hacks (have tried some of these organisational techniques; most seem overwhelming at present).
posted by paduasoy to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
I’ve had 8 sessions with an occupational therapist and she’s helped me identify some beliefs I had that were holding me back (that my living room needed to be tidy when it also is where my kids play- I spent a lot of time trying to solve that unsolvable problem) so we identified ONE room for me to work on. She helped me work through what reasonable functioning people regularly do at a minimum. My health insurance paid for the OT and I prefer that to a coach because coaches seem to need to work with you for a LONG time and you spend a lot of time talking and they are happy to keep taking your money, which is great, because I am also lonely but I don’t want to talk to a coach about my household tasks and paperwork… ffs I have 2 coaches for other things)
posted by catspajammies at 8:35 AM on January 2 [3 favorites]

I should add: I didn’t know what reasonable functioning people did at a minimum and it helped to work that out with a trained professional. I also gave up on cooking and now do huge frozen food orders because she helped me see that sometimes the easy way is better, it doesn’t matter what you think everyone else is doing. As far as therapy, I went to therapy for years and it didn’t help because it wasn’t trauma therapy, I am also looking at the workbook DBT for non neurotypicals… that looks good. You have a disability, a hidden disability, be kind to yourself.

You are SO not a failure. This is so so hard.

I would write down the most important things to you, like the admin, feeding your cat, and basically eat protein a couple times a day, do your laundry, take a walk, stretch, and just go from there. Use the OT to get you hacks for doing those basic things.
posted by catspajammies at 8:42 AM on January 2 [4 favorites]

It sounds like you just need help. I have posted before (probably in some of those threads) about timers and about using food as a reward, but when that fails, I use body doubling. You can do it in person or virtually. (If in-person works better for you, it can be a really understanding friend but there is also value in a stranger you never have to see again.)

Body doubling is not ADHD coaching, don't read up on body doubling from people trying to use it to sell their coaching services!

Also it is 100% okay to call in the pros. A professional organizer or de-hoarder or assistant can help give you forward momentum in just a few hours. As I have mentioned before, I have previously hired someone to answer my email while I lay on the sofa and cried through dictating replies.

ADHD is tough and I don't know how old you are but peri-menopause makes it worse for a lot of us. If that's you, talk to your GP or OB/GYN about HRT!
posted by DarlingBri at 8:44 AM on January 2 [5 favorites]

“I feel in a bit of a spiral at the moment where my own guilt about not GSD is leading to me feeling criticised by friends and family and affecting my relationships with them.”

Sorry for so many answers but I just feel for you so much because of what I’ve gone through the last year. My husband made me feel like a complete SLOB about my house, when, in my mind- he is supposed to be my biggest support and he could easily have said “you seem to be struggling. Shall we get a cleaning professional for a while?” We could afford it… so wtf is that about? I mean? I have chronic migraine and 2 special needs kids. Why make me feel bad?

Some people will NEVER understand the barriers you face in executive function (as you say, GSD) and people who are uneducated and for personal reasons maybe like to judge, will make you feel bad- you must reject that and reject the criticism. What’s stopping them from offering to come and help? If they aren’t offering to help, then ignore them. Keep trying to find your own solutions, but do it free of their judgement.
posted by catspajammies at 8:59 AM on January 2 [1 favorite]

I saw a link to this Metafilter post on self compassion the other day.
No matter what else you decide to try or do, it may help you to find ways to be kinder to yourself in all of it.
posted by hilaryjade at 9:21 AM on January 2 [5 favorites]

Regardless of your gender, you might find this episode of the Neurodivergent Woman podcast on ADHD helpful. It's got quite a lot of practical advice.
posted by Zumbador at 9:40 AM on January 2 [2 favorites]

Potentially off beat suggestion here - what would happen if you just stop trying to get things done and forgive yourself for struggling with it? Decide that all of the above problems you described are understandable and okay? And spend a bit of time working on self-compassion and emotional regulation?

I find that my getting stuff done efforts are most severely hampered by the emotional struggles around it. Any new strategy becomes tainted by my mental habit of constantly guilting myself, gets avoided, and consequently fails to succeed and becomes a source of shame in itself. Working on breaking the guilt/shame cycle can lead to more results, counter-intuitively.
posted by lookoutbelow at 9:52 AM on January 2 [11 favorites]

You might also find the answers to my previous question, How to do the thing when you're afraid of the thing and also feel okay, helpful.
posted by lookoutbelow at 9:54 AM on January 2

Automatic, timed cat food dispensers
I have seen previous questions: Managing ADHD without medication [...] (caffeine doesn't make a difference for me)
Have you tried the nicotine gum/lozenge/patch suggestion in the AskMe you link to?
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:02 AM on January 2 [2 favorites]

Have you tried medication to help regulate your sleep schedule? I have ADHD (unmedicated) and a lot of insomnia/nervous energy at bedtime. A few years ago I started taking benedryl with a nightly timer set up to remind me to take it, and it honestly changed my life. Having a strict rule for myself about it has been really helpful for me. You could talk to a psychiatrist about other sleep aid options. For me, the timer-benedryl has been the ticket but everyone's sleep issues are different.

How do you feel about audiobooks? I listened to a lot of audiobooks about ADHD last year and found them affirming, informative, and full of suggestions for getting stuff done. Lots of suggestions I didn't take, but some have stuck around. Audiobooks are great for me because they leave my hands unoccupied and I can often clean, work on house projects, or just go for a nice walk while I read. I like to keep a note in my phone where I write down new ideas from them that might work for me. I liked 'smart but scattered guide to success' 'ADHD 2.0' and 'Radical Women's Guide to ADHD' (I am not a woman but it was a great book for me). All three were available through my local library's Libby. I found online resources generally unhelpful because they are so scattered, it often felt like I was getting random bit of information that I struggled to integrate into a more positive bigger-picture view of myself as a productive adult with ADHD. Each gave me ideas for how to tap into the special point of view I have as a person with ADHD and see it as a difference in experience but not necessarily a worse one.

I ended up not going for ongoing ADHD coaching, but I found it helpful to reach out to coaches and talk to them about the kinds of help they offer. I made a spreadsheet to keep track of who I talked to and how I contacted them. I would be happy to share it if you would like to see it. I found the coaches I contacted through ACO International . They let you filter by gender and lots of other fields. For me it was prohibitatively expensive when I weighed it against the benefits, but YMMV. I found just seeing what was available helpful.

Do you have friends who can relate and provide accountability support? I will sometimes have a friend over, provide snacks, and we will just talk and catch up while I clean my house. You could also try talking on the phone with a friend while you both independently get stuff done, or tell your friend that you can talk on the phone after spending half an hour or whatever getting stuff done. I have found that having friends with ADHD has been the biggest help for accepting myself and my habits with ADHD. They just get it, regardless of whether they take meds, and it's a huge relief. The guilt becomes much less with a sympathetic friend to tell you how hard you're being on yourself.

Feel free to memail me if you want to see my coach spreadsheet. It's tailored for my specific needs (mostly queer coaches) but it might help you get rolling. This is so hard! It's a lot of extra work and doing it sucks but also just starting is the first step. The more you can let go of what you "should" do and focus instead on what you can or want to do, the better you will feel, I think. You are a capable and valuable person and I'm sure you have a lot to bring to any table you approach, no matter how much clutter it has on it.
posted by Summers at 11:37 AM on January 2 [1 favorite]

I have similar issues and while maybe there's some way to resolve them, I've spent almost all my life trying and failing. So lately I've been starting to understand that the way I am - and have consistently been - is the actual reality I have to work with, instead of just constantly trying and failing to fight it. Which means thinking ahead about my very predictable limitations; finding ways to arrange my life such that my inability to do various things is less of a problem; and finding ways to set up help or automation for some of those things. Getting used to not thinking "well, but maybe this time I'll manage it" or "it's such an easy thing, everyone else can do it" is not easy, but I guess living in reality is an important life skill.

Also, you mentioned ADHD and depression, but not anxiety. Is there any chance that's part of the mix for you too?

And finally, the fact that you're able to work is legitimately impressive and you should be proud of it.
posted by trig at 12:04 PM on January 2 [2 favorites]

I am failing at a non-work project to which I have committed, which affects other people.

Holding down a full-time job while managing basic survival-level adulting is already a huge reach for unmedicated ADHD if you don't have a homemaker spouse to help you.

You should probably stop taking on any other commitments unless you truly consider these projects to be important enough to sacrifice your health, your cat's health, your financial wellbeing, your home's livability, etc. for.

You can't just think or organize your way out of a neurotransmitter deficiency, and expecting yourself to achieve as much or more than most neurotypicals can when you're at such an inherent disadvantage is just setting yourself up for repetitive failures and misery.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:23 PM on January 2 [2 favorites]

"I work but apart from that..."

Wait - let's go back to that.

So, you've got a bunch of things that you know haven't worked for you, no point focusing on things that don't work.
And can we just take a moment to appreciate that you can hold down a job? That's good - of all the priorities to have, that is a good one!

Ok, so, work is different. Let's focus on what makes it 'workable' for you.
I'm guessing that a big part is the external motivation - look, often internal motivation is just an executive function that uh, doesn't work great for some adhd people, but *external* motivation does work. Don't get caught up in how we 'should' all be motivated self-starters, we're not, and instead, can you set up a system so you get the same kind of accountability for your home projects?

Another aspect to work is that you have to be there at certain times to do the work. And you don't have to do it when you leave work, and there's a whole work-environment to prime you to do work.
Whereas with a non-work project you can kind of start feeling like you 'could' do it any hour of the day, and that means you have a constant overwhelming weight of feeling like you're avoiding it, all week long. It's a trap!
So even for home project, can you arrange to say, meet someone who has their own study or work to do, for 2-3 hours on the weekend at say, a library.
Then, can *that* be the time you work on this non-work project, and the only time you work on it, so you're actually making progress and don't have to think about it outside of work?

Next, often people hire Adhd life coaches etc as essentially a manager for their own life. Accountability.
Each catch up, they want a status report on your projects, and how it's going, what the cat weighs etc, so you get the same kind of structure you need in your home life as your work life.

But mostly, if you think of something that you know would *work* for you, but you're like - other people don't have to hire someone to micromanage their home life or hobbies etc - screw that. You're allowed to do the thing that works for you. Particularly when you *need it*.

Meds help a bit for me, but they've never been the wonder cure, and they're at a lower than ideal dose because of setting off other side effects.
Yeah it's frustrating that they just 'work' for many other people (but not all! They really don't work for about 10% of people with Adhd!), but the most useful thing I get from adhd resources and other people, is all the other accommodations and supports that make it possible for us to do stuff.
If the advice was just 'take meds', the books and videos would be a lot shorter.

I found "Add friendly ways to organise your life" by Judith Kolberg, to have a lot of potential ideas I could use, and it is not focused on medication at all.

Good luck!
posted by Elysum at 4:12 PM on January 2 [3 favorites]

1) You describe some depression along with your ADHD which is really tricky because depression can both be caused by and present as ADHD. I would encourage you not to overlook the role it could be playing here.
2) It is so normal to have ADHD and not be able to use stimulant medication. This is not another failure. In places outside the U.S. medication for ADHD is a last resort, not the first line of defense.
3) The real kicker here seems to be that you're having trouble getting started tackling this ADHD... possibly because you have ADHD. As someone with ADHD, I sometimes find it helpful to tell myself that "I'm just having trouble getting started," knowing that once I start - in whatever way - the knot will start coming apart.
4) While I believe it is absolutely possible to manage ADHD without medication, I think it's really hard to manage without medication and also without other support. If it's financially feasible, I would see a psychiatrist, therapist, or coach who specializes in this area. Not forever, but as a first step.
posted by Viola Swamp at 7:27 PM on January 2

I wonder if you're "using up" all your executive function (and/or energy) at work, and are too mentally exhausted by the time you get home to do the other things that you're trying to do. Would it be possible to set up reasonable accommodations for your documented disability at your workplace? That might make the rest of your life easier to manage, and reduce your risk of burnout.
posted by heatherlogan at 7:39 PM on January 2 [2 favorites]

My kid and my partner both use up all the focus and executive function at work/school. And are definitely on the 'visual thesaurus' side of ADHD home making. I likely have ADHD too but my anxiety likes things in boxes so we clash a bit on that. But what both respond really really well to is body doubling.

Now it does require a nonjudgmental person to do it with you, whatever the 'it' may be. I often potter around organising things at my partner's house while he does other chores. He sets up a playlist to listen to that cycles through music and short videos etc, does some chores, and I make large messes into neat piles of less mess. For my kid that might be washing up while they do homework, although I once literally lay down and they used my legs as a desk. When it comes to chores we have a variety of reminders and alarms across both our devices and also in my paper calendars and a whiteboard. They don't all get used but there are multiple failsafes.

We also habit stack. I didn't realise that's what I was doing but the ADHD is likely from my mother and that's just how she did things. So if there's already a habit, and I want to add another habit, I try stack them together. It makes for a bigger mess if I get off track but mostly it works out - I take my psych med with coffee. I put dishes away while waiting for kettle to boil or pan to heat up. I brush my teeth when I pee just before bed. It takes time - I still have to remind my kid to brush their teeth (over ten years!) and I suspect I will only stop that when it gets stacked onto a different habit somehow. They do wash their face now at least!

Putting aside the judgement helps. It's one of the reasons it took me so long to realise all the symptoms of ADHD in my kid were things I had, and my mother, because my mother refused to be ashamed of being 'weird'. None of the work about ND women of her age describes her properly because yeah the house is a mess but...she doesn't really care. She actively made a point to refuse judgement about it. Does it mean I never learned house skills - no, but I still don't keep house to expectations for my gender and class. She never had a schedule if there was any way to avoid it. We never learned study habits. All things I am struggling with learning but I'm not also unlearning shame about them at the same time. Well there's some but mostly? It's learning to make my brain work for me.

So sure my paperwork is a mess. But I also went through several years of it while packing to move last year. Just suddenly and for no good reason. Sure I do t always meal prep every week, but I usually have remnants in the freezer from the last time I did. I dont work on the same wavelength and schedule as expected, and the ways others fix it don't work for me, but what does work for me isn't always possible for them either.

The shame will set you back. Who cares if meditation doesn't work for you? Try half a dozen different styles, make a game of it, learn a physical moving form of it, or ignore that concept entirely and find something else for your big beautiful brain to chew on. Right now all it's doing is eating away at your own self.
posted by geek anachronism at 9:43 PM on January 2 [6 favorites]

I don't have ADHD but I do have executive dysfunction and a lot of shame over my inability to get shit done. Recently I've found a lot of help from KC Davis. Her book How To Keep House While Drowning helped me decide which stuff really matters (and therefore is worth putting my limited executive skills into) and what stuff I can just throw on the "never gonna happen" pile. This was particularly good for me because I grew up in a chaotic environment so I was never really sure what a liveable home looks like when you're not a sitcom character. Her stuff helps me figure out what I'm even aiming for. Her Tik Tok shows her approach if you want to check that before you buy anything. She's compassionate and funny, and will never shame you for having a messy home, body or life, whether you take meds or not, or why things are the way they are for you. She also wrote the book to be ADHD friendly - short, snappy sections with useful headings, doesn't have to be read in order from cover to cover, etc.

I'll also second the suggestion for an OT rather than an ADHD coach. OTs are trained problem solvers, and as long as you work with one who understands executive dysfunction you'll be able to get some immediate fixes for your most pressing problems. Maybe once you've got those done a coach might be better for long-term goals.
posted by harriet vane at 8:09 PM on January 3

Jumping on the Body Doubling theme, there's FocusMate - you jump on a virtual call with someone else, and do your separate tasks, together. And there's a free option if you want to test it out.
posted by BekahVee at 1:38 PM on January 4 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. I have read your responses several times and will continue to read them and think about where to go next. I very much appreciate your collective kindness and thoughtfulness.
posted by paduasoy at 9:33 PM on January 7

Response by poster: I've booked an introductory call with a virtual organiser for this week. She also offers ADHD coaching but I think for the moment I'm just going to try to sort one thing, ie the two rooms I can't use. (I don't think private OTs are a thing over here - I know a couple but they both work for the local authority / Health.) Thanks again for all your ideas and support.
posted by paduasoy at 9:41 AM on January 8

Good luck! (And well done for booking a call so fast - I'd probably spend hours stressing over it over the course of months!)
posted by trig at 11:20 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]

I'm so impressed, that's great!

Also, years ago, at a point where there weren't any organisers etc around me, but it seemed like having someone to help would be a great idea, I advertised for a student to come help me organise and clean with me. Had three paid trials, and went with the person who seemed most take charge.
I actually managed to throw stuff out and donate stuff. Seemed silly to pay someone a living wage to have them watch me *not* ger rid of things. Gave me a slightly more objective view on day the boring tshirt I never wore, but 'it was still good'.
I got my space sorted.

Crap, I have whole shed of junk, I should do it again. Might do what you're doing!
posted by Elysum at 4:07 AM on January 9 [1 favorite]

« Older A5 loose-leaf paper in Toronto   |   Mailing Dutch prescriptions to US expat currently... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments