Your ADHD Questions Answered

Your ADHD Questions Answered

Not everyone sees their ADHD as a gift, as one listener wrote in a recent email. Dr. H responds and covers a lot of other ground answering your questions about ADHD and medication, depression, anxiety, struggles with executive function skills and more. Thank you to our listeners who sent in emails for this episode!

Watch A Stressful Simulation of ADHD by Gabrian Raphael, a Landmark College student, HERE.

Dr. H loves answering your questions so please keep ’em coming! Write an email, or record a message using the voice memo app on your phone and send it to [email protected]

Distraction is created by Sounds Great Media. Our producer is Sarah Guertin (@sarahguertin) and our recording engineer/editor is Pat Keogh.

Learn more about our newest sponsor, OmegaBrite CBD! Dr. Hallowell takes the supplement every day because it’s safe, 3rd party tested, and it works. Shop OmegaBrite CBD online at OmegaBriteWellness.com.

Do you know a high school or college student with ADHD or other learning difference? Tell them about our sponsor, Landmark College, in Putney, Vermont. It’s the college of choice for students who learn differently. Find out more HERE.

Check out this episode!

Or if you prefer, a transcript of this episode is below:

Dr. Hallowell:

This episode of Distraction is sponsored by OmegaBrite CBD, formulated by OmegaBrite Wellness, creators of the number-one Omega-3 supplements for the past 20 years. OmegaBrite CBD; safe, third-party tested, and it works. Shop online at omegabritewellness.com. And by Landmark College, offering comprehensive support for students with ADHD and other learning differences. Learn more at lcdistraction.org. Landmark College, the college of choice for students who learn differently.

Dr. Hallowell:

Hello, and welcome to Distraction. I’m your host, Dr. Ned Hallowell. We’ve got one of my favorite activities lined up for today’s episode, listener email. And I do love it so much. Please, keep feeding us emails. Email to us at [email protected]. We’ll read it on the air, and I will do my best to answer it. And by the way, I don’t read these in advance, so what you get is spontaneous, off the cuff, which is the best way for me. And we’re going to do it this time, instead of me reading the question, my wonderful producer, Sarah Guertin, will read the question. I will do my best to listen to it without daydreaming. And then I will try to focus down and give you my version of an answer. All right, the wonderful Sarah is joining me now. She will be reading your emails. Let’s dive in. What’s the first question?

Sarah Guertin:

Okay. We’ve got some great emails. The first one was a lengthy one, so I’m going to abbreviate it. But the listener wrote in part, “Dear Dr. Hallowell. I take medication for major depression and anxiety. 16 years ago at aged 43, I was also diagnosed with ADD and started on Adderall. I see a therapist every other week when I hear you and others say, what a gift our ADD is, I don’t understand. I get so angry, and then so sad, and depressed. ADD has been nothing but a curse for me. It is the reason my administrators forced me out of my teaching position four and a half years ago. The harder I tried to do my job, the higher my anxiety level rose. I couldn’t think straight. I made mistakes. I couldn’t remember the questions I had planned, find the media clip I had set on the computer, or meet deadlines. It’s February, 2020 and I am still unemployed. I’ve done a lot of research and I want to start my own small business as an artist and fine art photographer. I have so much information, but I don’t know how or where to start. This is where my ADD really hurts. The lack of executive function skills. I’m sorry, I just don’t see how something that puts so many roadblocks in the way, can be a gift. Sincerely, Catherine.”

Dr. Hallowell:

Well, Catherine you’re absolutely right. This condition can be a terrible curse. And I’ve had people say to me, “Gee, if ADD is such a gift, where do I return it?” And if you can’t manage the ADD properly, it is indeed a curse. And Russell Barkley has shown that, it’s one of the most disabling of all conditions there is. And his calculations, just actuarial tables show that it can knock around 15 years off a person’s life. Hardly a gift, if it’s getting you fired from jobs, and breaking up relationships, and landing you into debt if not bankruptcy, and leading you to drug abuse, and traffic accidents, and criminal behavior, and unemployment. The list goes on and on of every bad thing. Pretty much every bad thing is higher in the world of ADHD.

So for anyone who thinks that I call it a gift, I don’t. I qualify it. I say my job is to help you unwrap your gift, turn this condition into an asset. With no guidance or intervention that can be difficult, if not impossible to do. And Catherine, you’ve found that it’s impossible. Not for one of effort. And the thing is, you can’t overpower this condition. You can’t just effort your way through it. You do need special help. And I don’t know what kind of help you got, but obviously whatever it was didn’t work.

Dr. Hallowell:

The key elements of a plan that stands the best chance of working are number one, education. And of course, I recommend my books. Delivered From Distraction is the most recent, and it has all in it that you possibly need to know. Medication, which works about 80% of the time. 20% of the time it does not work. In my own case, it does not work. My medication is caffeine, which is a good second choice. But prescription stimulant medication can be a godsend if you give it a try, and work with a doctor who knows what he or she is doing. So you can get on the various combinations or single-dose medications that are out there. We have quite a few now. So it’s not just a matter of trying one and then giving up on it. And then working with a coach. I don’t know what you’re doing with your therapist, but I think if you can afford it, add to that a coach which can be more important than a therapist. Really someone to help you organize, plan, act as your supplemental executive function. That’s the kind of team you’re looking for. And then of course, my old standby is, marry the right person, and find the right job. There’s no help that’s going to take you to where you want to get to.

So yes, I completely understand for you. This is a curse. For you the problems with executive function have been all but unovercomeable. The only hope I would say is have you gotten the right help, and have you gotten full help? It’s not just medication. It’s not just one coach or one intervention. It’s always, particularly with more difficult cases, a comprehensive plan that includes exercise, sleep, nutrition, meditation, coaching, job consideration, all of those tools in the toolbox. And then some of the new ones. We’ve talked on this podcast several times about the Zing program, and these special exercises. Now they don’t work right away. But you’re 59 years old, and it’s certainly not too late to start exercises that stimulate the cerebellum.

And if you want to learn more about that, just go to distraction.zingperformance.com. That’s another possible intervention that could unwrap the gift, as I like to say. But I truly understand. You’re feeling resentful of anyone like me who says there’s something good about this condition. It can be just a terrible thing to wrestle with, just an absolute curse. But if you follow the suggestions I’ve just made, there’s a darn good chance that you could turn it into more of a blessing than a curse.

In any case, thank you so much for writing in and please follow up. Let us know what happens as you continue to try to turn this curse into something better than that. Thank you so much, Catherine.

Sarah Guertin:

Okay. The next one, this listener wrote in part, this was another lengthy email, which we love, but we can only read part of it. Anyway, she says, “Hi, Dr. Hallowell. Just wanted to share with you this beautiful letter my daughter gave me yesterday after school. ‘To mommy. Thank you for helping me at school. It has been much easier now that I have the medication. It’s so much easier. Thank you so, so much. I had so much free time I could do this. I love you.’ With a little heart emoji. Ellie has just started grade-four this year. And wrote this on her third day on Vyvanse for ADHD. She’s finished every single piece of work since being on it and it’s neat and all right. She shot to like the top of her class. It’s completely insane. She was struggling more than I realized. I’m so glad I persisted with the whole process. The pride in her face is all I need to know I made the right decision. Thanks for all the great information and support. I have ADHD myself, so it’s rare that I feel like I’ve truly succeeded as a mom. This makes every bit of the work I’ve done to help myself and my own ADHD absolutely worth it. Kind regards, Nicole,” and she puts in parentheses currently feeling like supermom.

Dr. Hallowell:

That’s wonderful. That’s really, really wonderful And thank you so much Nicole for sending that in. So much of the publicity, what you read in the press, is about the downside of medication. And sure, that if you don’t use medication properly it can be dangerous, if not useless. But if you do use it properly then you can get the results like Ellie got and starting out fourth-grade going to the top of the class. Just imagine what a difference in how she feels about herself, about life, about school. And to get that at age, I assume she’s a nine or 10 years old, to get that so early that means you’re not getting year, after year, after year of frustration and failure. People talking about the side effects of taking medication, which you really ought to worry about are the side effects of not taking medication. Because medication properly used has no side effects other than appetite suppression without weight loss. That’s the one side effect I’ll allow. But all the other side effects can be controlled by changing the medication, or changing the dose. And if that’s not possible, you shouldn’t take the medication. You should not take the medication in the face of other side effects.

So 80% of the time that’s an achievable goal. You can get a medication regimen that produces target symptom improvement with no side effects other than appetite suppression without unwanted weight loss. And gosh, it’s a shame to see people turn away from it because of the misinformation they’ve received. If you really know the medical facts, there’s no reason not to give medication a try unless it’s against your religion. It really couldn’t be more simple. If it helps and doesn’t cause side effects, you continue it. If it doesn’t help or it does cause side effects, you discontinue it. That’s pretty simple, straightforward, applied common sense. And the reason that it really matters is, it’s by far the easiest intervention we’ve got. It makes all the other interventions, all the non-medication interventions that much simpler to implement.

And as this mom says, very beautifully and succinctly in her note, what a difference it makes for her daughter, for herself, for the family, for the school, the whole world smiles when you get a good result like this. Well, thank you Nicole. And please, you are a super mom in deed. Please, stay in touch and give us follow-up.

Dr. Hallowell:

Well, since we’re all kind of stressed out these days with the pandemic and the uncertainty that comes with it, I’d like to tell you about a new product that I’ve started taking myself. It’s manufactured by the people who make OmegaBrite, Omega-3 supplements. They’ve been around for some 20 years. And I take that product myself as does my wife. Well, their new product, OmegaBrite CBD is really terrific. I’ve been taking it for about a month now. And it does create a feeling of calm without being sedating. It’s a really good natural anxiety reducer. I recommend it to you. Try it and see for yourself. Go to Omegabritewellness.com and order OmegaBrite CBD.

Okay. Do we have another question, Sarah?

Sarah Guertin:

Yes, we do. This one says, “Hi, Dr. Hallowell. I enjoy your podcast and books, finding them very affirming and hopeful. However, I would like to hear you address the topic of children and adults of color. While ADHD is a medical condition, it has huge social and cultural implications. I’m wondering if there’s any research on specific challenges people of color face in terms of stigmatism, educational opportunities, and access to services. I’ve heard and read quite a bit about ADD/ADHD, but I’ve never heard this aspect of social justice addressed or specifically researched. Is there anyone working in this field? Thank you. Elizabeth.”

Dr. Hallowell:

Elizabeth, to tell you the truth, I don’t know. I imagine there is. I can tell you who would know for sure, Russell Barkley. And if you just Google Dr. Russell Barkley. That he’s very accessible, and would answer your question for sure. My hunch is that the same problems apply to people of color who have ADHD that apply to people of color in general; which is racism, stigmatism, things that go with the mistreatment and misunderstanding of people of color, for that matter, people of different religion, or ethnic background. ADHD itself is often a discriminating factor. I’ve spent most of my career championing ADHD as a possible asset and trying to fight the stigma that surrounds itself. So the very condition ADHD can be a source of stigma and a reduced opportunity.

So when you throw in another possible reason to be treated unfairly, with bigotry and ignorance such as being of color or of foreign origin, or of a different religion, or for that matter, a different stature, body habitus, physiognomy. Any of the ways people judge other people in a negative and unfair prejudging way. It’s hurtful, and it’s wrong, and it’s in many instances illegal. So you do even have the law on your side. But you shouldn’t have to get an attorney to get the right medical treatment. That would be a shame. I wish I could give you hard, fast statistics. But I’m pretty sure what I just speculated on is the case. And it’s up to all of us to fight stigma in all its forms, prejudice, bigotry, ignorance in all its many different forms. And certainly ADHD itself can be a reason for stigma and prejudice, just as being of a different color, a different religion, a different ethnicity, a different look, all the reasons people are excluded so unjustly and unfairly because they are often the most talented people among us. Thank you for your note, Elizabeth. Do we have another question, Sarah?

Sarah Guertin:

We do. We have a few more here. This one says, “Hello, Dr. Hallowell. I am a mom of three. And my middle child an eight-year-old boy has ADHD. This is new information for our family. And I would love to hear you speak about how to break the news to siblings about their brother having ADHD, and how that has been affecting their relationships. For years, the eldest and youngest have been forming an alliance and have excluded my middle one experiencing him as annoying, sensitive, and quote ‘disruptive.’ I am hopeful that their relationships will heal as we all come to understand ADHD better and how it has been affecting our family life. I loved your book Driven To Distraction, which saved my life as a frustrated and confused mom. Now my goal is to understand not correct. Thank you so much. Carol.”

Dr. Hallowell:

Oh, what a lovely email. And now my goal is to understand not correct. There’s a famous saying to understand all is to forgive all. And if only we could build an understanding, we could get rid of the ignorance and stigma that persists. As to how to explain it in the family. I would just sit down with everyone and block out enough time –I.E –.more than 10 minutes to explain what this is. And the analogy I use really does work well, especially for boys. Having ADHD is like having a Ferrari engine for a brain. You have a very powerful brain. But you have bicycle brakes. So you have trouble controlling the power of your brain. So you can bump into things, overturn things, misspeak, forget. But at the same time when you’re on track, you can win races. So my job as someone who helps people with this condition is to strengthen brakes.

And you can explain to your son’s sibs that they can help. And they may not want to help. They may think it’s a lame excuse. But you can tell them it is not an excuse any more than nearsightedness is an excuse for not being able to see. One of the brothers wouldn’t say, ‘Well, squint harder instead of getting eyeglasses.” Well the same with ADHD. Keep the simple, make sure they understand it’s not an excuse, but that it is a powerful explanation. Ferrari engine with bicycle brakes, race car brain with bicycle brakes. Anyone can understand that. And it happens to be very accurate. And then what you want to do is build up that understanding. So it takes repetition. Talk about it at family dinner, talk about it when your eight-year-old flubs up. Instead of saying you’re a jerk, say “No, his brakes failed him. That’s part of how he’s put together.” And we all need understanding in terms of how we’re put together. Thank you, Carol. Thank you so much for your question because it affects an awful lot of families.

Dr. Hallowell:

On the phone with me now is Gabrian Raphael, a student at Landmark College, our wonderful sponsor in beautiful Putney, Vermont. Hello Gabriel, and thank you so much for joining us.

Gabrian Raphael:

Hi Ned. How are you?

Dr. Hallowell:

I’m doing well, thanks. I want to hear you tell our listeners about your experience at Landmark.

Gabrian Raphael:

Well, before I came to Landmark, I really wished I was more normal. I didn’t have a good image of my learning difference. Coming to Landmark has done a lot to make me feel more normal, to feel intimate in detail, and on what my disability is, and how it works and how I work. And just being in this atmosphere has really helped me form a new sense of identity and just being comfortable with who I am.

Dr. Hallowell:

Wonderful. So they’ve showed you that you have talents and strengths.

Gabrian Raphael:

Yeah.

Dr. Hallowell:

That’s wonderful. And they’ve helped you tap into them.

Gabrian Raphael:

Yeah.

Dr. Hallowell:

I know firsthand how talented you are. Because I just watched a video you made about what it’s like to have ADD And it’s brilliant. It’s absolutely brilliant. It’s at the same time entertaining and chilling because you show how completely misunderstood people with ADD can be. As you’re trying to pay attention, you’re just being bombarded with stimuli and you show this in the video beautifully.

Gabrian Raphael:

Thank you.

Dr. Hallowell:

If people want to watch it, where do they go to see it?

Gabrian Raphael:

YouTube. Type in A Stressful Simulation of ADHD. My channel is my name, Gabrian Raphael.

Dr. Hallowell:

Great. Okay, so on YouTube, Gabrian Raphael. And then the title of the video is-

Gabrian Raphael:

A Stressful Simulation of ADHD.

Dr. Hallowell:

Well, it’s brilliant. And so Landmark welcomed you and showed you far from being impaired and damaged goods, that you are quite the opposite. You have super talents, and they helped you unlock them. Correct?

Gabrian Raphael:

Well, I don’t know about super talent, but yeah.

Dr. Hallowell:

Well, you see. Now you’re like most people with ADD. You’re chuckling because you’re modest, and you’re not used to hearing terms like that. But I just watched that video, and I can tell you have super talents. You just plain do. And what you got to do is learn how to metabolize that, and not think that I’m speaking Chinese. Because you do. But the talents will emerge all the more easily the less you fight it and say, “I don’t have any talent.”

Gabrian Raphael:

Okay, I’ll try that.

Dr. Hallowell:

Call me every morning and I’ll say, “Gabrian, you’re a really talented guy with super talent.” If we do that for about 45 days, you’ll start believing it.

Gabrian Raphael:

Okay.

Dr. Hallowell:

I honestly mean it. But Landmark really has opened up a whole new world for you. Is that fair to say?

Gabrian Raphael:

Yeah, it really has.

Dr. Hallowell:

And you feel more confident?

Gabrian Raphael:

Definitely. Helped me form routines and habits that just helped me grow. Like they have free exercises classes, and I go to those every week. And that’s helped me go beyond and just exercise on my own. Like just I’ve formed the habits and routines that helped me.

Dr. Hallowell:

And that’s so important for us to have ADD. I have it as well myself as you know. We really need structure in order to unwrap our gifts. Well, thank you. Thank you so much for joining me for this brief interlude. As I said, you’re a super talented guy. And Landmark College is showing you how. You listeners, if you’d like to learn more about the college of choice for students who learn differently, go to Lcdistraction.org. Now let’s get back to today’s topic.

Okay. Sarah, do we have another?

Sarah Guertin:

Yes. “Hi, Dr. Hallowell. I currently work as a learning specialist in an elementary school. I’ve recently been hearing about DNA testing to help determine the correct ADHD medication for an individual. What is your opinion on this process? Will it help eliminate the trial and error I often see my parents and students suffer through? Thank you for your response. I’ve been reading your books and following your work for over 20 years. I love listening to your podcast, and recommend it regularly to friends and parents. Warmest regards. Paula.”

Dr. Hallowell:

Thank you so much Paula. This question comes up all the time. And I have consulted, and I do regularly consult with the best experts I know, the people over at Mass General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Russ Barkley, other leading authorities. And the word I get consistently is these tests are not there yet. They’re very seductive. Wouldn’t it be nice to just pay a fee? And it’s usually between 500 and $1000 to find out what medication will work best. Unfortunately it doesn’t usually work. You pay the money and you will get some results. So it’s not going to do any harm. But those results are usually no better than you’d get by using trial and error, which is free.

Now you don’t have to suffer through trial and error. Because these meds are in and out of your system pretty quickly. So you can try four or five medications over the span of a couple of weeks, if you’re working with a doctor who can turn things around quickly. So you don’t want to make the trial and error a period of suffering. You get lucky sometimes and the first medicine you try works. And in my experience, that happens about 50% of the time. But that leaves the other 50% of the time when you go to a trial and error. And remember there are those cases where no medication is going to work.

It is true that medication is the quickest, producing the most immediate results. But over the long haul you certainly want to have a robust non-medication plan that does include education, exercise, sometimes specialized exercise, nutrition, sleep, coaching, the toolbox, the Zing program that I’ve mentioned before. All of those are possible adjuncts. So if meds don’t work, don’t despair. If you want to spend the money on this test, and if it increases your level of confidence, then go ahead. I’m not saying don’t do it. I’m just saying the people I know and trust in terms of their expert knowledge on these tests say it’s not worth it. The testing is not there yet. It may come, but we’re not there yet.

On the other hand, if you want to try it, it’s not going to do any harm. And it will give you certain medications to try first. And you may be guided by that and discover right off the bat the best medication. I’m certainly not saying don’t do it. But in terms of a cost-benefit analysis, the cost does seem to exceed the benefit. You can get the same benefit, namely finding the right medication, by trial and error.

Okay. Paula, thank you for writing in with your question. And Sarah, do we have another one?

Sarah Guertin:

Yes. This one comes all the way from Sweden.

Dr. Hallowell:

Wow.

Sarah Guertin:

Yeah, right? This says, “Dear Dr. Hallowell, I’m currently undergoing an ADHD evaluation which is, at nearly 45 years of age, a complete and utter blessing to begin to understand why my life has been the way it has imbues me with a great sense of freedom, hope, and a dawning sense of self acceptance, and ability to care for myself. The emphasis on dawning here, LOL. So I’m wondering about meditation. Is it even possible to move towards a mindful state with an ADHD brain? I find it extremely hard to be still physically with myself, you see. Not to mention my beloved racing creative brain, which is also prone to judging, focusing on achieving for others, and finding it very hard to accept all sorts of things. So I’m wondering if you know of any meditations which are specifically for people with ADHD? Any meditations in motion? I’m at my calmest when I’m moving. Or is the answer just sit with it as it were. Many thanks. YJ from Sweden.”

Dr. Hallowell:

Well, YJ? Thank you for writing in all the way from Sweden. Please tell your friends about this podcast, and tell them I’d welcome other questions from Sweden. Meditation. Yes. It’s wonderful if you’ll do it. Now, I did something called Kundalini yoga some years ago, and I found it very helpful. Kundalini yoga is what you just said, you’re in motion. You’re walking, you’re punching the air. It’s movement. And yet it is a kind of meditation. So go and read about Kundalini yoga. That is a kind of meditation that does involve moving, and moving very vigorously in fact. But at the same time, don’t give up on the sit-still-and-don’t-focus-on-anything kind of meditation. The sit still and empty your mind and imagine your mind is a river flowing by and you just watch it without interrupting and evaluating it. You know it’s not our normal state. But that doesn’t mean it’s not something we can try to do. And it is the trying to do it that confers the benefit.

You may not achieve the state of a experienced meditator or a Buddhist, but you can experience the benefit of stopping, slowing down, suspending judgment, and letting your mind flow past you as a river would flow, and perhaps focusing on the leaf, and just watching that leaf drift by and not allowing the thoughts that pester us to take you away from that leaf. And if your mind does leave the leaf, come back to it. Don’t beat yourself up for being bad at meditating. It’s a wonderful tool to use. There are apps now for meditating. You can sample those and see which work best for you. And then of course, keep in mind the possibility of Kundalini yoga. I pray in the shower. I happen to be an Episcopalian, and I have a strong sort of affinity for prayer. And so that’s my form of meditation now. I don’t do the Kundalini yoga anymore. Thank you very much for reaching out to us all the way from Sweden.

Dr. Hallowell:

And I think we have another, is that correct?

Sarah Guertin:

We do. One more. It says, “I am an adult with ADHD. I feel like I can never get on top of keeping my home clean and orderly. Do you have any suggestions? What works for you? Tina.”

Dr. Hallowell:

Well, Tina. This is a common issue. And my reply is to try to change your expectations. What you want to do is not aspire to be Martha Stewart. You don’t want to aspire to have House Beautiful. You don’t want to aspire to perfection. What you want to do is get well enough organized that disorganization does not prevent you from reaching your goals. That’s it. And if you can’t do that, then hire a coach. There are any number of coaches who will come into your home and just give you some tips on how to straighten things out and keep them that way. Again, the goal is not to be a perfect office, not to be completely spiffy and spit polished and that kind of thing. But rather to be well enough organized so the disorganization does not keep you from reaching your goals. That, for almost all of us, is an achievable end. Thank you, Tina. Thank you for writing in. That’s a really eternal question in the world of ADHD. And I think the answer I gave you is the best one that I’ve come up with over my many years.

Well, that’s all the time we have for today. We went through quite a few questions. I love going through questions. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for sending those questions in. And please, if you have a question or comment for me or for anyone else on our team, record a voice memo on your phone, or write an email and send it to us at [email protected]. We will try to answer as many as we can. And as you saw today, it’s a wonderful way of staying in touch with the show and us staying in touch with you.

Well, that’s it. I’m Dr. Ned Hallowell. Thank you so, so much for listening. Distraction is a production of the marvelous Sounds Great Media. Our producer is the oh so marvelous and fantastic Sarah Guertin, and our recording engineer and editor is the princely and brilliant Pat Keogh.

The episode of Distraction you just heard was sponsored by OmegaBrite CBD formulated by OmegaBrite Wellness, creators of the number-one Omega-3 supplements for the past 20 years. OmegaBrite CBD; safe, third-party tested, and it works. Shop online at omegabritewellness.com.

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