I was diagnosed with ADD when I was in high school (at least I think I was, maybe earlier). All I remember is that I saw a few psychiatrists, took a handful of written tests about myself and all of a sudden I was granted more time to take my tests. The whole “more time on tests” thing was always funny to me because having an even LONGER time for me to not focus is my worst fear. I actually do my best work when I’m pressed for time because I have no choice but to focus…but that’s going down an entirely different road.
I was on and off variations of ADD meds until after college and after I graduated college I stopped taking them. Back then ADD wasn’t talked about as much for adults as it was for getting kids through school, so I just kind of assumed I was fine without it…and I was just fine. Not great, but fine.
My mid-twenties were really hard for me and I saw a psychiatrist who medicated me for anxiety and got me back on ADD medication. I’m a big believer that medicine can change lives. Not always and to each their own (you do you), but medication made my life SO MUCH EASIER and made me a great, more time efficient version of myself. I say that I took medication as though I took a pill and it just worked…not the case. Over the course of nearly a decade I tried Adderall, Concerta, Dexedrine, Focalin, Ritalin and Strattera before I finally found Vyvance and that’s what worked the best for me.
About 9 months after I found my perfect dose of Vyvance and Wellbutrin, I had a doctors appointment and my blood pressure was so high, I was at risk of a stroke. They had me come back 3 more times and each time there was no improvement so they told me to immediately stop taking the meds. I was in my late 20’s and wanted a family eventually so I figured I should just learn to live without meds. I didn’t realize how quickly ADHD (that’s what we’re calling it now that ADD isn’t a term anymore) medication leaves your system so in reality, not trying new medication was a giant mistake but SHOULDA WOULDA COULDA, I went off them completely. I’m still off of them because we’re trying to get pregnant and the medication process isn’t something I want to start now and have to immediately go off of. SO, until we are done having kids, no ADHD meds for me.
I’ve been off ADHD medication for a solid 6 years and while my life is way harder without meds, I am surviving mostly because I have SO MANY SYSTEMS. My life is easier when I stick to my systems and I’m going to share with you some of the tricks that have helped me stay organized among the chaos that lives inside my head.
1. Set timers and reminders for EVERYTHING. A lot of my brain space is taken up by constantly trying to remember everything EVER because I am so worried and paranoid that I’ll forget something. When I set calendar reminders (yes, I even have one for watering my plants), I can free up my brain from having to remember because I have it written down. This has been so freeing for me.
2. Either do things the moment you think of them or write them down on ONE to do list. ONLY ONE. I have a notes folder in my phone for my to do list when I think of things randomly during the day. If I’m sitting at home and realize I need to put something away or schedule something or take care of a bill, I do it right then while I’m thinking about it, or it goes into my overwhelmed “I’ll get to that later” pile that never gets done. Once that bill is paid, I can throw it away and take it off the list and it becomes one less thing to stress about. If I don’t take action on something when I think about it (even if the action is just writing it down), it is likely I will forget. When I don’t handle something right away after I think it, I almost ALWAYS find myself thinking later in the day “I know I had something I wanted to do today but I can’t remember what”. My brain cannot be trusted. If I don’t replace my eyeliner that’s about to run out when I notice it’s running out, I’ll be getting ready for work one day and run out and be SOL. I have unlimited free shipping with Sephora and I order that sucker while I’m still in a towel.
3. Create routines. I do the same things every single day in order, not because it feels good but because it’s easier to remember. When I wake up I have the same AM routine. When I get to work in the morning I prepare for my day in the same way. When I do things out of order, I have a higher likelihood of forgetting a step. Steps are good on the brain! In high school I would frequently lose my place in math problems unless teachers gave us steps of solving problems. This makes so much sense to me now as to why I was always better at things in school that had steps.
4. Put your things in the same place all the time. Medications are always in the same place. Keys are always in the same place. This is a survival tip because if I didn’t put my keys in the same place every day they would wind up in the fridge. If you have ADHD you know that I’m being totally serious about that. You get me. This literally happens. I wouldn’t find them for hours and wouldn’t realize I had even put them in there until I opened the fridge to get something else.
5. Pair down distractions. This is a new thing I’m currently trying and so far, it’s fantastic. My bathroom has a ton of stuff in it and on the counter. Every night I take everything off the counter except for what I need to use in the morning. Here’s why: I have day and night beauty products, I have hair ties I need to find a home for and I have products I only use sometimes. Here’s my thought process when I see this stuff on my counter: Oh crap, I’m almost out of night cream, I need to remember to order more of that>I really should find a home for those hair ties>I think the bag my serums in needs to be cleaned out…you get the picture. All of a sudden I’ve realized that I’ve now taken 7 minutes of my morning thinking about crap that doesn’t pertain to the next 8 hours of my life IN ANY WAY. Morning time is precious, friends. Now, I lay out only what I need to get ready in the morning the night before and everything else goes in a basket under my sink. So tonight I’ll have on my counter: 4 face products, my makeup (only what I need, I have a separate makeup bag for non-everyday makeup), q-tips, my hair clip for the shower and my brush. I also have a little dish for pills I take in the morning (I am currently a mess when I don’t remember Claritin)…but THAT’S IT! That cuts what I can be distracted with by about half.
6. Put things on your calendar that you want to get done, not just appointments and meetings. I schedule workouts, walks around my neighborhood, time to go check our P.O. Box, time to fold laundry and literally ANYTHING ELSE ON THAT TO-DO list that I want to get done. I schedule appropriate amounts of time to get things done. It would take Jeff 25 minutes to run to Home Depot but it will take me one hour and I schedule it that way. If I happen to have 2 “to-do” list items on my calendar for that day and I finish them quickly, maybe I tackle another, maybe I enjoy the down time for myself…but it all goes on a schedule or I avoid it like the plague. My to-do list that seems impossible for me to start gets a little bit easier when it’s a part of my schedule. I even put it on my schedule the night before so it just becomes part of my schedule for the day as though doing laundry was a business meeting.
Maybe you aren’t ADHD but you’re living or loving someone who is and it’s hard to understand. I get that too. Early on in my diagnosis I read THIS BOOK and it turned on so many light bulbs for me. It brought to my attention things that were tied to ADHD that I didn’t even know were related in any way. It’s pretty old but I really love it and if you’re feeling like you don’t even know where to start with the ADHD brain (managing your own or loving someone else’s), that was a great place for me to start. Jeff hasn’t read it but I am VERY open and honest with him about how I need his help and patience since I can now identify things that are harder for me than people without it. I have found that “faking it” isn’t really a help to me in my adult life but telling people how they can best help me or approach me, especially at work has been life changing!