How Well Are You Navigating Menopause and ADHD - 074May 25, 2020
The topic of menopause and ADHD is an important one and not often talked about. It’s important if you’re pre-menopause, peri-menopause, going through menopause or post-menopause, and wondering at any point what hit you! And it’s important even if you’re a male listener, since you most likely live with or work with such women.
In this episode Dr B talks about:
- Drops in estrogen and cognitive functioning
- Importance of gut health for brain health
- Not turning your behaviors into your identity
- The importance of celebrating your wins
Developing your Executive Function Skills and shifting your limiting beliefs is the fastest and most effective way to overcome ADHD limitations, find focus, gain confidence, and newfound freedom in your life!
My mission is to put an end to the worldwide needless suffering of adults with ADHD and those with under-developed Executive Function Skills - whether from ADHD, chronic depression or anxiety, trauma, addictions, or chronic illnesses. And, you don't need a formal diagnosis to know you need help developing these executive function skills in order to greatly reduce your suffering.
Full Episode Transcript How Well Are You Navigating Menopause and ADHD?
Monday, May 25, 2020
Today is Episode 74 with Dr B
Hey ADDers! The topic of menopause and ADHD is an important one and not often talked about. It’s important if you’re pre-menopause, peri- menopause, going through menopause or post-menopause, and wondering at any point what hit you! And it’s important even if you’re a male listener, since you most likely live with or work with such women.
If you’d like a space to discuss this topic or ask your own questions about menopause, I suggest you join the Living Beyond ADHD Facebook Group. The one thing about podcasting is that I don’t get to meet you all unless you show up in my Facebook group. It’s a great community to connect with; fun posts, polls and ways to interact plus Facebook lives on topics I’ve chosen or topics you’ve requested.
Speaking of questions - do you a question you’d like to ask me? I bet you do; probably lots of questions that you’d like answered about adult ADHD or executive functioning. I’d love to answer your questions and have made it easy for you to get your questions to me. Just click the link in the episode notes and ask your questions privately. They come directly to me. Click: https://www.drbarbaracohen.com/ask-dr-b and ask your question. I can’t wait to read your questions and start answering them!
Before I get to today’s question and answer, I have a question for you. It’s about your state of mind and WINS. I can’t emphasize this enough and will continue to ask you about your WINS and encourage you to celebrate them in the Facebook group. There’s a weekly post, Wednesday WINS, where you can share your WINS, big and small!! I’d love to know about your WINS and celebrate with you! Plus, if you don’t have others to share your WINS with who really “get it” – then the Facebook group is the perfect place to celebrate with others who “get it” and understand what a big deal each WIN is.
Having a WINS mindset can transform how you experience your life, even during very challenging times, like now. And how you experience your life and the meanings you give the events of your life contribute greatly to the quality of your life. Since we know that what you focus on grows and that it’s important to stand guard at the doorway to your mind and not let in things that don’t serve you - why focus on anything but WINS? That way, you can continue to attract more and more WINS into your life all leading you to the life you want.
It’s really important that you celebrate a WIN today, even if you are feeling bad about yourself because your ADHD has taken your life to an all-time low. I get it, and yet it doesn’t take away from the fact that at least one thing has gone right today or is right with you. You are a precious child of the universe; and are called a “human being” not a “human doing” for good reason. You don’t have to earn your value; you were born with it. You’re value comes from “who” you are; not what you do. Got it? I hope so because you’re going to keep hearing me say it, because it’s so important to your self-esteem and quality of life.
A WIN can be just about anything. It’s those little things that happen every day that are good things, positive things in the bigger picture of your life, and yet probably go unnoticed, unacknowledged and uncelebrated by you. Please don’t be the person that continues to tell yourself that it’s pointless to reward yourself for what you’re “supposed to do.” That couldn’t be further from the truth!! Those are the very things that deserve to be celebrated so they become easier to do them consistently and more enjoyably each and every time.
So, what’s it going to be for you today? If you’ve recently joined our Facebook Group, that’s a WIN. If you intend to join the group this week, that’s certainly a WIN. Perhaps you’ve started working on your decision- making abilities and it’s getting easier; that’s a huge WIN since you make decisions every day. And maybe you’ve purchased some analog clocks so you can actually see the passing of time; a great WIN. You get the point; celebrate all of them. And none of this “half-hearted celebrating”; you’ve got to mean it. Exaggerate your emotions. YES!!! WOW!!! AWESOME!!! Be sure to celebrate your WINS – big and small – because celebrating daily makes a difference faster in your life.
Shifting gears now…
Today’s episode was inspired by a question from a listener in Illinois on how menopause affects ADHD. I’ll be sharing her situation, some actions steps and a favorite quote of mine.
How much time do we have? Not much. So let’s get to it.
Now back to being an adult with ADHD in today’s world.
I want to thank Tanera in Illinois for today’s topic about the impact of menopause on ADHD.
• She asked and shared – “How does menopause affect ADHD? I am menopausal and not taking hormone therapy but think I have ADHD. I struggle with self-esteem because my mind doesn't work as well as it used to and I feel like a failure. During the coronavirus lockdown, working from home and having a second grader learning from home is overwhelming. It takes me forever to focus, and with distractions, work seems impossible. I am 45 years old. I actually started menopause at 42. I think I struggle with executive function, moving from one task to another. My brain has been high jacked. I am not functioning at the level that I used to. I am not on medication. I have hypothyroidism as well. I was never officially diagnosed. I struggle with anxiety and depression.”
Thanks for your question about menopause Tanera, and for giving me permission to share your story with others.
I need to remind you all that I am not an M.D. and do not have the medical understanding or training that an M.D. has to explain what happens with menopause.
Here’s what I’ve learned from my own journey through menopause and my work with many women over the years. I hope it will shed some light and be of benefit.
I didn’t know about the impact of menopause on women with ADHD until I went into peri-menopause around age 52. What a shock it was. For the majority of my life I had created criteria, structures, rituals, strategies, rules and guidelines that had supported me or provided the scaffolding I needed to successfully go to college and complete all of my degrees, as well as successfully start and grow my business. So prior to age 52, I didn’t really feel that my ADHD was a huge challenge. Perhaps this is your story as well. When peri-menopause set in, it was as if I had inherited an alien brain in place of the one I previously had. None of the well thought out structures and such were working anymore; it was crazy.
What I learned is that when women go into menopause, their estrogen levels begin to decline, and that cognitive function is affected by the decline in estrogen, and so ADHD symptoms appear much more pronounced and troublesome. And that’s putting it mildly.
My first thought was about hormone replacement therapy, but given my family’s history, that wasn’t an option for me. So, my next consideration was medication, which was the first time I considered that option. I researched the various medications, given my years of working in medical offices while in college, and decided on what I felt would be the best option for me. I sought out a prescriber, discussed my decision and started with medication. I feel very fortunate in terms of absolutely no side effects and only benefits from the medication. The plan was to utilize the medication until I felt that I had a solid foundation of new skills, abilities and strategies onboard and solidly in place, and then titrate off of the medication.
Clearly there are no skills in pills and so there’s been a lot of new learning and studying of myself needed in order to construct a new way of living that works well moving forward. I am grateful I took all the time I’ve needed to do this for myself; it’s been quite the gift of self-love, and I encourage you all to do the same.
Here’s some interesting information for you to consider:
• Both the brain and the gut share much of the same tissue
• You’ve probably heard of the neurotransmitter Serotonin, which is responsible for regulating things in the body like mood, appetite and sleep. The right amount of Serotonin in the brain produces a relaxed and positive feeling.
• As it turns out, approximately 90% of the Serotonin in the body is located in the gut. The remaining 10% is synthesized in the central nervous system (CNS).
• So, when your gut is a mess, like with leaky gut syndrome or other imbalances, it can have a huge impact on your mood and cognitive functioning. For that reason, my gut health has become a priority for my increased health and well being.
• Gut bacteria significantly influence the communication between the brain and the gut. When the gut is full of healthy bacteria, it has the potential to regulate mood and positive feelings. When it doesn’t, we are at risk for depression and less effective cognitive functioning, which to me is possibly what is also happening to women who enter peri-menopause and menopause and get hit with such a radical shift in functioning.
• Plus, for medications and other nutrients to be absorbed effectively, your gut needs to be clean and functioning well. If it’s all coated over with gunk from years of poor eating habits, it just can’t do the job it was designed to do for you.
• As to how can doctors in general give women with ADHD the support they need and deserve if they aren’t trained to identify ADHD in women? The short answer is, they can’t. And it isn’t just the medical doctors. The lack of training across the board for professionals with regard to adult ADHD and more specifically adult women with ADHD is staggering. It seems like it’s up to us women to become educated ourselves so we can advocate and seek the best care available once we know what we need to be looking for. Not a perfect solution, and yet it’s what we seem to face. The diagnostic criterion for ADHD is male-based, not based on females, so that just adds to the challenges we experience. However, there are professionals out there who are well trained and can help us; it just takes some looking.
Responding specifically to your issues Tanera:
• Comparing your pre-menopause mind to your mind now is not a good idea. You mind is going through lots of changes that need to be addressed as you pass through menopause. And feeling like a failure, if it’s coming from the comparison of before and now doesn’t serve you at all. I get it that you aren’t producing at the level you are used to and that can change.
• Plus, when you say you feel like “a failure” – a failure is an identity statement about you, and not what you are doing. It is a statement about you, the human being, not you the human doing, who isn’t doing so well at the moment.
• First action step - let’s get you to shift what you are saying about yourself or to yourself to something like “I am not producing the level of work I am used to producing” or “I am more challenged to stay on top of all the things that used to be much easier for me to stay on top of.” These are all statements about behaviors, not identity. And they are also the truth. You are still the “human being” you were before menopause, and it’s how you are able to behave and respond that is different (the “human doing” part of the deal.) So, let’s keep things at the behavior level rather than the identity level.
• Second action step - if you have attached your self-esteem to how well you produce in life, then of course your self-esteem is taking a hit. However, if you attach your self-esteem to you as a “human being” then your value is 100% and intact every moment of every day.
• Given the coronavirus lockdown, if your focusing was challenged before, (which you didn’t mention and perhaps didn’t notice too much) it would definitely be more challenging now. Not only do you need to focus, you need to shift your focus back and forth from work tasks to second grader learning to home tasks and back and forth all day long. This means you have to make a lot more decisions than usual, shift more than usual and regulate your emotions more than usual – all of these are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of executive function skills that need to be in good shape to weather this challenging time. And add to that you going through menopause and having your executive functioning taking a hit, it’s no wonder you are overwhelmed and exhausted.
• Third action step - being able to get started without distractions is a much more complex process than most people know. To get started, stay with a task and follow through to the finish, you need to know what you need for the task, have everything you need in front of you, know the steps of the task you need to start and finish; basically you need to know everything it will take to successfully start and finish BEFORE you even get started. And healthy getting started means you stay on task and don’t get derailed or distracted by getting up over and over again to get something to drink or go to the bathroom or to take a phone call or answer an email. Whatever you are booked to do at that specific time is what you are doing and that’s it. You take care of everything else before you sit down to work on the task, including whatever your child might need for the next hour or two, so you can work uninterrupted and effectively. This means setting healthy boundaries and limits in the home so that it respects the needs of Everyone.
• Fourth action step - You mentioned you struggle with anxiety and depression and have hypothyroidism. Again, I am not an M.D., however I do know that an improperly treated under-active thyroid can cause a host of problems such as depression, impaired memory, and overall fatigue. These can mimic executive function challenges. Add to this the impact of your anxiety, depression and menopause on your executive functioning, it’s not hard to understand why you are finding life so challenging right now. There are many tests to consider with an under-active thyroid that are often not run. To learn more about these tests, see “Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms Why My Lab Tests Are Normal” by Datis Kharrazian, DHSc, DC, MS and to learn more about the relationship between depression and thyroid, see “Depression & Your Thyroid” by Gary S. Ross, MD and Peter J. Bieling, Ph.D.
• Fifth action step - you don’t need to be officially diagnosed with ADHD to develop your executive function skills. Many people who don’t have ADHD have executive function challenges because the source of the challenge comes when the energy and focus that is supposed to be going to the development of these skills is going elsewhere due to things like depression, anxiety, addictions, trauma, and more.
Tanera, please know that there is real hope for resolving the challenges you are experiencing. It seems that going through menopause brings to light executive function challenges that many women may not have been aware of without it. And knowing that it’s skills and not something worse, you have the power to learn the skills to turn your life around, even without a diagnosis.
I hope this episode has given you all some ideas about the impact of menopause on women with ADHD and the many options to consider when moving forward with your own health plan. It’s definitely important to attend to your gut health, if you haven’t already done so. And for those of you who aren’t yet of menopause age, I highly recommend that you take preventative steps for your gut health starting today. You’ll be glad you did.
I get that this may sound overwhelming and like too much to tackle alone, and that's why I created the Facebook group, Living Beyond ADHD so we can take these kinds of steps together as a community.
Under-developed executive function skills are reaching epidemic proportions no matter what the underlying source of the derailment is. These essential skills are what we all need to thrive as adults in today’s world. If we can’t plan, organize, prioritize, get started and keep going until the end, or regulate states of overwhelm and analysis paralysis so we can make a solid decision, it’s going to cost us dearly.
Similarly, we are told that ADHD cannot be cured. Why would we even think of “curing” a configuration of brain that is amazing? Rather, by becoming a student of your own life, understanding what you need to succeed with the multi-faceted brain you have, and how to learn the essential executive function skills and strategies, you will be able to engage the strengths that your unique mind possesses.
There is still way too much stigma attached to adult ADHD and under- developed executive function skills. Some adults talk about their struggles openly, while others feel such shame that it’s their "best-kept secret."
I am on a mission to put an end to the needless suffering of adults everywhere, whether this suffering comes as a result of ADHD, chronic depression, chronic anxiety, addictions, trauma, chronic illnesses – all of these conditions can contribute to the under-development of executive function skills and hence lead to needless suffering. Two things here are really important – one, there is a real solution because these are skills and can be learned, no matter your age or stage of life, and two, you don’t need a diagnosis to build up your executive functioning.
A Favorite Quote:
From the character Socrates in the movie Peaceful Warrior: "I call myself a Peaceful Warrior because the battles we fight are on the inside. This moment is the only thing that matters." I love this quote; it’s so powerful. This moment is the only thing that matters; it’s the only time that we can make a change that will impact how the future unfolds for each of us. And we have this power in every moment of our lives. If you believe you can or you believe you can’t, you are right either way. Are you willing to compassionately challenge your beliefs and peacefully tackle your insides?
Whether you’re learning from my podcast episodes or live videos or working with me directly, you are in my world and I’m here to serve your needs. So be sure to reach out and get your needs met. It’s up to you to take action so things can change for you.
Be sure to check out the show notes to learn about all the great resources I’ve made available to you. And definitely make it a priority to join the Facebook group – Living Beyond ADHD – you won’t regret it.
I appreciate you showing up to listen today and in the future.
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It means a lot to me to know your life is getting a little bit better every time we get together. Be sure to check out the show notes for free content and ways we can work together. You will find solutions to the challenges you are experiencing, and I would love to help you realize a new freedom, that is…if that’s of interest to you. Thanks for listening… Until the next time… Bye for now…
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