No. No I had never ever considered that. I was completely blindsided by her suggestion. But as I paused to consider this and I took what I knew about ADD as a psychiatric nurse practitioner and applied it to my symptoms, my lifelong struggles, it actually made perfect sense. The irony was that I regularly diagnosed and treated patients with ADD—but I had never considered that I suffered with all of the symptoms myself. I guess this is because the story in my head was “I have depression” and I was sticking to it because it was comfortable and familiar. Really the story was “ I am depressed and anxious because I have untreated symptoms of ADD that make me feel incompetent, overwhelmed, paralyzed, and like I can’t cut it…”.
I started on medication for ADD and it completely changed my life. I remember the first time I took the little red capsule and about 20 minutes later my mind was quiet. I distinctly remember thinking to myself “this is what normal people must feel like”—no more incessant chatter, no more inability to finish a thought before I was on to the next one, no more feelings of overwhelm. After a few days of taking the medication and continuing to feel better I thought to myself “I might actually be able to like myself again.” I had mistakenly taken these untreated symptoms of ADD to just be deep personal character flaws—I run late all the time, I make people wait for me all the time, I can’t keep my house or my office neat or organized, I avoid tasks that take a lot of thought because I’m lazy, etc. etc.
So many things got easier for me on the stimulant and I was able to soon taper off of the antidepressant.
A few months later it was time for me to fly to Arizona for the week-long introductory course to my functional medicine training. That week also changed my life personally and professionally. I learned so much- and when I started to think about how the information presented pertained to me specifically I realized how much healing my body needed. I realized that I had chronic heartburn not because I produced too much stomach acid but because I actually didn’t produce enough. I did my first elimination diet at that same time and learned that I am sensitive to gluten and dairy and that sugar and caffeine were serious addictions for me. I was able to look at genetic testing I had done in the past and as I interpreted through a functional medicine lens I could see that I had SNPs that impacted my ability to detoxify as well as other people. The more I delved into my training the more I learned about how to heal myself and how much healing I actually needed.
Fast-forward 5 years later to now. I still take a stimulant to manage my symptoms of ADD as I have come to learn that my quality of life is better when I take it. However, I have also learned that I can keep my dose of medication low and my symptoms under better control when I prioritize the following things:
- Eating a gluten-free/dairy-free/sugar-free diet
- Good quality sleep and sleep hygiene (which means I have to greatly limit my alcohol intake because even 1 glass of wine will affect my sleep). I was also diagnosed with sleep apnea this year so using my CPAP machine every night is non-negotiable
- Exercise 4-5 times per week
- Meditation twice a day for 20 minutes each time
- Intermittent fasting most days of the week and then every 6-8 weeks the Prolon fasting mimicking diet for 5 days
- Keeping my home and work environment decluttered
- Letting go of the things, thoughts, beliefs, and relationships that no longer serve me.
Following-through consistently with these lifestyle habits is a constant challenge and I am not always checking all of these boxes on a daily or weekly basis. However I have learned that the more self-compassion I can have the easier it is to continue committing to them. We are all works in progress and I remind myself of that every day.
Would I like to be able to come off of my ADD medication? Yes, absolutely. But I know that for now, with what my personal and professional life demand of me, it is not the right time nor is it realistic. The medication helps with my symptoms to a certain point, but if it weren’t were for the drastic changes in my nutrition, my exercise, and my mindset over the last 5 years I wouldn’t be able to get by on the low dose that I am on.
My personal journey with mental health, functional medicine, and self-compassion has profoundly shaped my approach to working with my patients. I empower them to make the best decisions for themselves as they are their own best healers—for some of them it means coming off of their psychiatric medications, for others it means decreasing doses or changing regimens altogether—but for everyone it means addressing and rebalancing all of the underlying causes that are contributing to their symptoms through advanced functional lab testing, optimizing nutrition, moving their bodies, managing stress, and re-establishing their mind-body connection. All the while reminding them to be kind to themselves.