A 6 minute read
Living with ADHD by Tracy O'Connell
Many of you know me as ”Coach Tracy” or the “Crossfit Athlete”. But, what many of you don’t know about me is that I have ADHD. Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder is a term that is used in conversations loosely. Kinda like when people say they are starving or are OCD. I often hear adults say, “I forgot my keys, my ADHD is kicking in.” Its strange how these terms have crept into everyday life to cover ourselves in a jokey way, but in all honesty, living with ADHD is no joke.
ADHD is a neurological condition that impacts executive function, working memory, impulsivity, focus, distractibility, and emotional health.
If you meet me in person, on the outside it appears that I am just a high energy kinda gal. But, what is really going on is that I feel like I have a motor running from the time I wake up in the morning until I collapse in my bed. It is the only way I can function. Sometimes I hear my colleagues, friends, and family say “you just never stop and why can’t you just relax?” This often puzzles me too. I want to sit and watch TV or a movie or read a book for a long period of time, but it is really hard to do that.
You see there are three types of ADHD.
I like to describe ADHD like this. If you were to look inside my brain it would be like opening up a very disorganized filing cabinet. There are plenty of files in there, but the pages are scattered everywhere and though some get in the right slots some are just lost and don’t know where to go. This makes being organized difficult. NOT impossible just probably way more effort than for the average person. It is helpful with technology, I have found ways to keep myself organized with google calendar, Siri reminders, and notes. Before that I had to write in a spiral notebook calendar which was great until I lost it then bought another one then found the old one and well which one should I use now? Yea, that is how it is. So while I have some inattentive ADHD, it's not my primary diagnosis. Mine is weighted heavily on the “hyperactive-impulsive type”.
Some people see me as a lucky person to have such high energy and one that is gifted and can workout and never get tired. Well, that is not true. I do get tired, it just looks different. The side you don’t see is when I totally exhaust myself to the point when I collapse in a heap, tears streaming down my face, and just wanting to give up. Sometimes stopping is ok too. I get it, you have to slow down, but then I begin to beat myself up. My mind plays tricks on me. If I am not moving I have way too much time to think about what I need to do better. I am my own worst enemy as my Dad would say. So many negative thoughts enter and it becomes debilitating.
Another difficult thing are conversations. I try to be a good listener, but if I didn’t work out and burn off some energy, forget it I have very little ability to settle and focus. I can’t sit still, and my mind is finishing your sentences and growing impatient with what you have to say. Over time I have had to learn to really focus on what people are saying. I remind myself to stay calm, breath slowly and listen. So what seems to be a simple task for most, for those of us with ADHD is exhausting.
My ADHD was pretty much in check as a child. I grew up in a family that athletics was the usual. So it was no surprise that I found a sport that I loved and that kept my ADHD hidden for the most part. I mean in the 70’s it wasn’t really a thing in girls to be diagnosed with ADHD. As a kid, my parents didn’t know what to do with me. So they put me in gymnastics. I started at the age of six. By the time I was nine years old I was training twenty hours a week. It worked. They could tolerate me, and I was happy to be in motion. Gymnastics saved me. It was when I would take a break that I drove my mom and dad nuts. I did gymnastics until I was twenty-one years old.
But then… I stopped doing gymnastics. I was completely lost. So…
I tried to do different things like bodybuilding which was ok, but wasn’t quite intense enough. Then I ran a few marathons, but quickly lost interest, I also become distracted easily while running and would find myself falling off my pace due to random thoughts.
Once I had my children I was very busy and there was no time for exercise. For ten years I was focused on keeping my youngest daughter alive (she has Down Syndrome and had seven open heart surgeries by the age of eleven) and keeping my oldest daughter focused on achieving her dreams as an elite figure skater.
As a wife, mom, and teacher I was no longer living for me. I was frustrated with my lack of ability to focus, and I became depressed. Then something happened, my husband and I decided to try Crossfit.It changed my life, who knew that exercise was just the prescription I needed for my ADHD? As a child, I didn’t know that gymnastics was the key to keeping me mentally and physically healthy. I started Crossfit in January of 2014 and never looked back. It keeps me active and focused. Being fit has so many benefits, for me, it is far better than having to take medication for my hyperactivity and inability to focus. As I became more involved in Crossfit it lead me to have a need for better nutrition.
When I started tracking my nutrition it was solely for looking fit and improving my performance. But then…I learned that when I reduced my sugar intake, decreased the amount of gluten I was eating and increased my fiber intake I could focus better. I truly gained control on so many levels. Tracking food is a game changer for people with ADHD. Finding out how you react to certain foods can be life-altering. I had no idea that gluten and sugar increased my anxiety and decreased my attention.
Life is full of ups and downs that is for sure. Finding a way to cope through diet and exercise can allow us to be physically and emotionally fit for life.
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I'm Paul Leonard, CEO & founder of PLT Nutrition.