Are you on the path of managing your ADHD symptoms naturally, without taking medication? Do you prefer, like me, to have a holistic approach to the Wandering Mind? Then this article is for you. I'm José, a 35-year-old Dutchie that was diagnosed with ADD (that is now called ADHD, inattentive type) when I was 28. At that time, I was suffering from burn-out. Years later, being 35 as I am writing this, I found ways to manage my symptoms naturally. I don't see myself as someone with a disorder anymore. I call our neurodiverse brain a Wandering Mind. And that mind is awesome!
Here I'll share with you what I have done in the past years to learn to manage my ADHD symptoms, without being dependent on medication. Nutrition, supplements and lifestyle are important factors, among many others.
Naturally managing ADHD: not easy, but worth it!
I warn you: the path I chose is not the easiest one. In my experience, there is no sustainable ‘quick fix' for ADHD. But continuously working on ourselves to find more balance, is definitely worth it. Here I'll share with you all the things that I have done in the last 8 years. I'll take you all the way through my process, from diagnosis to the present moment, hoping my story can inspire you or give you some ideas 🙂
If you are on a similar path, I'd love to hear from you! Please share your experience in the comments below this article.
1. Self knowledge & ADHD books
Without sharing this with anyone, I had known for years that I suffered from something that looks like ADD. The characteristics were clearly visible in me. I always felt different, and I was always looking for reasons why certain things were more difficult for me, than it seems to be for others.
The diagnosis came as a relief. Finally, there was an explanation for how I felt. After being diagnosed, I immediately paid a visit to the library, looking for ADD and ADHD books with positive angles. I wanted to understand myself better, and thought these books might help. Tears ran down my cheeks from recognition, sometimes while crying and sometimes while laughing. In the first months after the diagnosis, I read a lot, and slowly I started to understand how my mind was working differently.
One book that helped me a lot in understanding my neurodiverse brain, is Scattered Minds, by Gabor Maté.
2. ADHD therapy
I was luckily that, in spite of all the waiting lists, treatment was available immediately after I got diagnosed. I got treatment at PsyQ ADHD for Adults in The Hague, the city I grew up in. The treatment was a combination of coaching, group coaching, workshops and medication.
Coaching at PsyQ, ADHD Adults
I was very happy with my coach, who was specifically trained to help adults with ADHD. She was about the same age as me, and I felt she was the first one who actually got me. At the same time, she could see through my bullshit, and she was very firm with me. I had to take control over my life and my Wandering Mind. Change was needed, on many levels, and the only one who could do it, was me.
She was the one who helped me to see many of my conditionings. For example, I always told myself I had to work full time, climb the corporate ladder and use my intelligence in my professional life. My path should be the path that everyone else is following: having a career, buying a house and have a family. “WHY?”, she kept asking me. I didn't have the answer.
During our weekly coaching sessions, she shook me well, every time. She also taught me how I could bring more structure and peace into my life.
ADD medication at PsyQ ADHD for Adults
I have never been an enthusiast for medication. Maybe I'll take a paracetamol once a year, but I can't even remember the last time I had one. As I’m writing this, I didn't see my doctor for over 8 years. I prefer to stay away from antibiotics, painkillers and other forms of medication. If I can, I prefer to support my body to heal itself. To find the cause, instead of treat a symptom.
Unfortunately, I was only allowed to receive treatment at PsyQ if I would try medication. Being kind of desperate at that time, I decided to give it a try. For a year I tried different kinds of medication, from Ritalin to Dexamfetamine and Methylphenidate Retard. Unfortunately, the side effects did not outweigh the positive effects.
ADHD medication: I suffered from extreme side effects
Using medication, I suffered from weight loss, dry skin, extreme rebounds in where the symptoms were worse than ever. On top of that, I suffered from a high heart rate and complete blackouts and blood in my stool. My spontaneity, creativity and zest for life disappeared and there were times when I just drove through a red traffic light without looking sideways. I felt very flattened. It's not that I wanted to die, I just didn't care. I also sometimes ended up in the wrong city on the train, because I forgot to get off. Afterwards, I didn't remember anything.
After a year of trying, I decided to stop my search for the right ADHD medication (and dosage). Fortunately, I gained more and more knowledge about nutrition, lifestyle and supplements for ADHD.
Group therapy and themed workshops at PsyQ ADHD Adults
What I found very valuable at PsyQ were the group workshops. They all covered a specific theme. I participated in (1) planning and structure, (2) CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), and (3) medication. All group members were peers, which was amazing. We laughed a lot! But we also cried a lot, and I learned a lot about myself. I can especially recommend the CBT, where we got into the relation between thoughts, feelings and behavior. This type of therapy gives us a lot of insight into ourselves, our emotional life and our (negative) beliefs and thoughts.
3. Mindfulness for ADHD
I learned a lot at PsyQ, but what was essential for me to learn to manage my Unique Brain, was Mindfulness. Before I started treatment at PsyQ, I followed an 8-week Mindfulness training in The Hague, the city where I lived. ‘Mindfulness is very difficult for someone with AD(H)D', someone told me. But being so desperate, I was ready to take on any challenge to feel better.
And I'm glad I persevered! During the Mindfulness course, I learned everything about meditation, but also about automatic thoughts and reactions we have. This is a perfect thing to learn about for our impulsive, Wandering Minds! A lot of our thoughts are not helpful, and our reactions are unconscious. In Mindfulness, you learn to observe your thoughts, so you can react consciously instead of impulsively.
Mindfulness gives us so much insight into ourselves; in what we need, how we feel and how we can stay or become more balanced. ‘It is as it is. There's nothing we can do right now. It's completely okay as it is', is what we learn. We learn to look at our thoughts without judging them. They just are there. We don't have to react on them. They might nog even be true.
Mindfulness: a must for anyone with ADHD
I am convinced that Mindfulness will help anyone with ADHD. But: only if you take it seriously and practice daily. At first, you may think ‘this is not for me'. I felt the same. I remember laughing a lot during the first practices, because it all seemed so weird to me. We had to, for example, eat a raisin very slowly and consciously. ‘Why am I doing this?', I thought. Even being silence made me very uncomfortable. Now I know it is essential.
After two weeks, I already noticed a huge difference in me. Crazy! My mind was much calmer, and my body felt calmer as well. I still meditate every day, or I at least try ;-).
4. I declared myself as healed and went on a trip to New Zealand
During my last concluding conversation with the coach at PsyQ, I declared myself as healed. My coach thought that was a good idea, and I agreed. This (the burn-out and ADHD troubles) was going on for too long. For over a year, I was focused on my ‘illness', and I decided that this was done. Because whatever you focus your attention on, grows. There has to come a point where we decide that we've got this.
For years, I've wanted to travel to New Zealand. So I decided to go, to rediscover myself in this beautiful country on the other side of the world. My coach was as excited as me: ‘Go follow your dreams!', she said.
“I just have a Unique Brain” and this Wandering Mind longs to travel!
‘I am not someone with a disorder and problems', I told myself, ‘but I am someone with a unique brain. I'm going to find a way to fully balance that unique brain so that I can harness the power of an ADD brain and not suffer from the negative symptoms anymore.'.
I soon came to believe this.
Then I left for New Zealand to travel around there for a year in a self-built camper van. My family and friends thought I was crazy. ‘What about your career? Your house?'. Fortunately, I found the strength to follow my own path. I felt it deeply: I just HAD to do this.
Have I rediscovered myself? For sure!
When we travel, we have to depend completely on ourselves. But in addition, when we travel, we can tell our own story, and perhaps a new story about ourselves. Nobody knows us, so nobody judges. I felt free to be who I really was for the first time in a long time.
5. Food for the ADHD brain
In New Zealand, I first discovered the effect food has on my ADHD symptoms. When I stayed with a gluten-free person for several weeks, in Christchurch, I noticed how good I felt. Then, when I jumped back into my van and started happily baking pancakes and eating bread, I immediately noticed that I shouldn't do that. I felt angry, irritated, and I was suffering from brain fog. Even my friend noticed the difference. The frustration was so high, that I immediately decided to stop eating gluten. It wasn't easy, because I used to be a huge fan of bread. But I felt so much better, and there are so many other good things to eat.
Years later, I noticed that I can digest sourdough bread.
The influence of food on the wandering mind
In the years that followed, I learned more and more about the influence of our diet on our body and mind. I came into contact with an orthomolecular therapist who taught me more about ADHD and nutrition. To manage my ADHD symptoms, I now avoid or limit:
- Gluten : Bread, pasta, cookies, etc.
- Dairy. I should especially avoid cow milk products. I prefer to eat completely vegan, but I occasionally eat goat or sheep cheese.
- Refined sugar
- Coffee: I drink one cup a day
- Soy (very occasionally I use soy sauce or tempeh)
In The Kid-Friendly ADHD and Autism Cookbook we find a lot of information about the influence of food on ADHD. It also contains delicious (child-friendly) recipes.
In addition to the list above, I try to eat as much as possible from the Ayurvedic principle of doshas. I will not get deep into that topic here, but my type is clearly Vata and I find that I feel most balanced when I eat and drink Vata-lowering products. Reading the vata type characteristics, I recognize many ADHD characteristics.
Getting used to an ADHD diet
Eating gluten-free and (mainly) vegan may seem difficult, but I found out that we easily get used to new habits. We just need to know new delicious recipes and products to eat. There are plenty!
5. Dietary Supplements for ADHD
In recent years I have tried many different nutritional supplements and more and more research is being done into the influence of certain vitamins and minerals on the brain. In New Zealand I first came across a study that showed that magnesium, folic acid and fish oil, among other things, have a positive effect on your our.
Just like the world of medication, the world of nutritional supplements is quite complicated. Unfortunately there is no ‘one size fits all'. What is a miracle cure for one person has no effect on another. A well-known supplement that works well for many adults and children with ADHD is LTO-3, but many children and adults with ADHD take omega-3 and L-theanine (both ingredients of LTO3). Another popular supplement is 5-HTP (Griffonia).
I currently use L-glutamine, an easily absorbable form of Magnesium, algae oil (the vegan variant of fish oil) and Ashwagandha on the advice of an orthomolecular therapist. This advice came as a result of an examination of my neurotransmitters. Wandering Minds (or people with ADHD) often have an imbalance in neurotransmitters such as Serotonin. Where one person has a shortage (or surplus) of dopamine, the other makes too little GAB, for example. Therefore, one supplement may work well for you, but not for someone else.
Read more about dietary supplements for AD(H)D here.
6. Core Values
In New Zealand, I decided to rediscover myself; this was an important part of my quest for balance with ADHD. Among many other things, I went in search of my core values, in short, the things that I find most important in life. I did this by listening to podcasts, journaling daily, reading books and doing various (writing) exercises. Afterwards, I chose 9 core values and wrote down what those core values mean to me in daily life. Occasionally, I refine these core values, but overall they remain the same.
For example, what I find important are freedom, connection, creativity and (natural) health. I care less about security and prestige. I also think it is important to contribute something positive to the world, and to cause as little damage as possible to the environment.
Every choice I make is based on my core values
I try to weave these core values into my life on a daily basis. With every choice I make, I think, ‘does this correspond with my core values?'
Before this process, I always thought I should just act and be ‘normal', whatever that may be. I thought I needed to have a full-time job, a house, a family and a cat. Living life means settling down, making a career, finding a partner. Besides that, I thought I needed to be a good daughter, sister and friend. I thought I needed to do what everyone else does: work, watch Netflix, shop, and spend the weekend chilling, going to birthday parties and sleeping.
Now I know this is not for me. I want to travel, keep meeting new people, start creative projects, play music, sing, write, dance and create a passive income as a digital nomad. I take for granted that this life offers less security. Freedom is worth more to me than security. I also know that I can only go through life happily if I can contribute something positive.
7. From employee to being self-employed
What is essential for me, is that I work for myself and not (full time) for someone else. This choice fits in nicely with one of my most important core values; freedom. Being self-employed allows me to set my own times, take rest when needed, meditate when I want and go out when I feel like it. In addition, I can use my creativity, have variety in my work and do what I like. Because I like to travel, I thought it was important that I could take my work with me and not be tied to holidays. ‘The digital nomad life' fits in nicely with this.
I therefore work as an SEO specialist and copywriter, and I also do affiliate marketing and offer an online SEO course on Udemy. For the past few years, I've been working hard to generate some passive income. This gives me peace of mind and removes the stress of ‘having to perform daily'.
Most of the clients I work with, live abroad. My work has not only resulted in being able to do nice jobs and projects, but I also made good friends! :-).
Now you may be thinking ‘how can someone with ADHD be self-employed, with all that chaos in their Wandering Mind?' Fortunately, I have found a balance with that ‘chaotic mind' and I outsource certain things, such as administration and accountancy.
Have you already read the article about David Kellerman, a successful ‘Forbes 40 under 40' entrepreneur with ADHD?
8. Passive income & minimalistic life for ADHD
Being self-employed means that I am 100% responsible for my income. This also meant that I didn't earn so much when I started. Because it was so clear for me that I wanted freedom, I accepted that I had to live with less for a while. The first 1.5 years, my income was also around the social minimum. I could have chosen to attract more customers, but I wanted to build passive income; something I'm still working on. This choice led to me doing a lot of work for months or even years, without immediately getting the return. But now an important part of my income arrives in my bank account ‘by itself', and this was exactly the goal.
The solution for my low income was: minimalist living ! We need much less than we think, I found out. And besides that; minimalistic living brings us peace of mind. Owning less means worrying less.
Second-hand shopping, less incentives, more (free) time
During these years, I only bought what I needed, mostly second-hand. I cut back on the craziest things, like deodorant (I use baking soda for that, which is also more environmentally friendly, and it might be better for the body). Instead of going out for dinner, I were having picnics in the park. I drank a coffee from a thermos on the beach, and I lived in a cheap house on a farm in Portugal for a while.
Minimalist living is really great, and besides saving money, it offers many other benefits for people with ADHD. Think for example about fewer incentives, having to work less, being able to enjoy more quality time with friends and family, less tidying and cleaning, less stress about things (that can break or that we can lose) and more time to rest.
9. Work-life balance
To live a happy and healthy life with a Wandering Mind or ADHD-brain, it is essential to have a balance between work and leisure. “You may never be able to work full-time again,” my ADHD coach once told me. She clearly said this to trigger me, because I was a perfectionist, I grew up with the idea of having a career, and not working full-time was never an option. ‘I studied at the university, I'm not stupid, so I have to work full-time', was my belief.
I have left this conditioning in the past. Why should we work full-time (for an employer) if this doesn't make us happy? We are young, fit, and we also want to enjoy our life, right? And what about quality time with our family, friends and neighbors? Of course, it is important that we contribute something to the world. But why does this have to be in the form of a full-time career? And why should we commit ourselves to a high mortgage for 30 years, if we can also live freely?
I believe that everyone can decide for themselves whether to work full-time or not. There's nothing wrong with any of the choices, as long as it corresponds to the things you find important in life.
Sometimes I work many hours, other times, I suddenly take a holiday
It's so liberating to be able to decide our own work hours. Sometimes I work full time, but other days I only work 2 hours and spend the rest of the day outside or with friends. I might suddenly take a ‘weekend day' on a Monday, but on weekends I sometimes work because I feel like it. I enjoy my job because I do what I like. This makes it a lot easier to sometimes make some extra hours.
I listen to my body and my mind to determine what I need at that moment. Following my own rhythm works perfectly for the ADHD-brain. I regularly spontaneously decide to go for a walk in the afternoon with a friend. But there are also days when I'm still at work at 8 p.m. A good work-life balance is essential for me.
Spirituality is a very important part of my life. But it wasn't always like that. I grew up without any spirituality, besides going to church with my grandparents when I was having a sleepover. Before my burnout and ADD diagnosis, I thought it was all just ‘woowoo' and ‘goat wool socks‘ as we call it in the Netherlands. Meditation was just for people in Tibet and the horoscopes in the magazines are just trying to fool people. I was very uncomfortable with affirmations, mindfulness and even yoga.
At the same time, as a child, I always felt there was more than we can see and experience through our senses. My intuition was strong, but people told me intuition is ‘not true'.
Dark night of the soul led to self knowledge and healing
When I was in a dark place during my burn-out, I was willing to try anything. So I followed Healing Tao, Qi Gong, Tai Chi, a Mindfulness course, yoga classes and I read Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now. It was a hard book to get through, especially the word God triggered me. But I kept reading, because I felt I could benefit from the knowledge and practices.
When I got more and more into different spiritual practices, I realized how big of an impact it was making on my life. I was getting to know myself better and getting more and more connected to myself, others and the world around me.
Where I grew up, we are mainly concerned with performance, (economic) growth, hard work, gaining possessions and other materialistic matters. ‘But does this really make us happy?', I thought more and more often.
In New Zealand I stayed in a Buddhist center and another retreat center that received groups of people ‘from all walks of life' (and thus different views, religions, etc.). These were eye-opening experiences. Here I learned that you find and believe certain things because you were raised that way, but this does not mean that this is the truth, or has to be your truth. It is our conditioning.
I'm learning that the truth can only be found in one place: within.
Spirituality taught me that everything is connected, that we create our own reality, and that it's awesome to enjoy this human life we are gifted. I learned to be grateful, to trust and to surrender. Shortly summarized: spirituality makes life easier, more bearable and more fun for me.
Spiritual practices for the Wandering Mind
Spirituality is becoming more and more important in my life. For example, yoga is a regular part of my day, or at least my week. But in recent years I have also learned how important gratitude is, and I meditate (almost) daily, even if it is only for 5 minutes. Affirmations help me a lot when I feel my mood goes down. I'm learning about conscious language, manifestation, and the planets (astrology) are telling me a lot about me. And I don't mean that silly horoscope in the magazines, but real astrology, which is actually a science. I also like to learn about magic, the female and male archetypes and I sometimes take tarot or oracle cards.
What is also very interesting to me, is Human Design. I am a splenic projector in Human Design, with a 3/5 profile. Everything I read about this resonates tremendously, and this gives me so much insight and understanding of myself!
Some random tips for the ADHD-brain
Hopefully, this article gave you some ideas on how to manage your unique, Wandering Mind in a natural way, whether you have an ADHD diagnosis or not.
My intention was to give a short summary, but this did not quite work out. This sometimes happens, with a Wandering Mind. If you are still reading with your ADHD-brain, your concentration is better than you think 😉.
I'm going to finish the story here, when I could write a lot more. Here are a few more random tips from my experience:
- You are who you are… own it ! Forget being ‘normal'. Be yourself, choose your own path.
- Step out of the victim mentality. You are not sick, you do not have a disorder, but your brain just works differently, and you can learn to deal with this.
- Take responsibility for your own life.
- Take any kind of help you can get from established institutions, but also actively look for things that can help you.
- Never expect someone else to solve your problem, you can only do it yourself.
- Ask for help!
- Never take blind advice (not even from me ;)). Listen & read, then decide if this is right for you. You know yourself best, so you know best what you need.
- Never say ‘this really isn't for me' too quickly. Have an open mind, because you can get something out of anything. You don't have to agree with everything to be able to learn from it.
- Create your own life, walk your own path. Don't do things “the way they should” if that doesn't make you happy.
- Learn to listen to your intuition. Wandering Minds usually have a well developed intuition.
- Take personal development and self knowledge seriously. Happiness and balance (usually) do not come naturally. Every day or every moment you work on your personal development will benefit you for the rest of your life.
- Take care of yourself, learn to love yourself.
- Calm your nervous system when you are overstimulated
- Buy noise canceling headphones if you are bothered by sounds
Okay, I could go on for hours, but I'll stop. On this website you will find plenty of tips from me and from other Wandering Minds.
I hope this article has given you ideas, inspiration or some insights.
I'd love to hear from you! Please share your thoughts or tips in the comments 🙂
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