Change is coming, whether we like it or not! If you thought ADHD was running the show, it ain't got nothing on our hormones but it doesn’t have to be chaos all round. It turns out it’s not so mysterious or unpredictable, even in perimenopause. Moira shares in detail the process she used to better understand her daily experiences—moods, energy, medication side effects, and both her ADHD and menstrual symptoms and then what might be done with that self-understanding. Her first step was to do nothing. The goal is to increase life satisfaction and taking a few steps at a time, with any changes being ones that fit for you.
Moira Maybin 00:00 Some of us love spontaneity, others fear it. And it depends on the day where I land on that spectrum. What version of me awakes from slumber is not as unpredictable as I thought. If you thought ADHD was running the show, it ain't got nothing on our hormones. A few months back in Episode 10, the one about medication, I suggested tracking menstrual cycles and ADHD symptoms for three months to learn about and take away some of the monthly mysteries. On today's episode, we're discussing how I and my ADHD consistently, but differently show up each week of my cycle.
Welcome to the ADHD Friendly Lifestyle, part of the ADHD reWired Podcast Network. I'm your host, Moira Maybin a woman mom, educator, and I have late diagnosed ADHD. This is the place to practice getting rid of guilt or shame and spending more time with our strengths and passions. There are things that I wish I had known about my ADHD sooner that are allowing me to make different decisions to make my life more ADHD friendly, and I want to share them with you. For show notes, including next steps, resources and articles on this topic, visit ADHDfriendlylifestyle.com.
Before we go any further, we live in a multicultural nonbinary world. And I want to recognize that in gender diversity, there's no one phrase that will capture everyone's experience. I am trying to be as inclusive as possible on this podcast, it's important for all of us to understand one another. And for us to have the information we need for our well-being. Anyone experiencing hormonal changes like those produced by ovaries can expect changes in their ADHD symptoms to hormonal changes can be experienced when undergoing fertility treatment, hormonal treatments, and caused by certain illnesses. A way to make sure everyone feels seen and heard when discussing hormones, is inclusive language. Language that is continuing to evolve and change. It is important to know the right language when we talk about things like this. And I won't always get that right. I want to acknowledge that and ask for your forgiveness. And for your feedback. If I say things in a way that is not inclusive or is offensive, that's not my intention I'm passionate about and truly believe in this. My hope is we can support and help each other by treating all our experiences delicately and respectfully. There's still much for me to learn. I am human, and I most certainly will mess up and I want you to know that.
Moira Maybin 02:27 Okay, let's get started. 50% of people with ADHD have a cycle that varies and influences ADHD symptoms and daily life. If you are human, then your life is impacted by monthly hormonal cycles. Hormones may be powerful, but they can also be boringly predictable. Even in perimenopause, so we can use that to learn what predictably happens with our cycle and our ADHD each month. With knowledge comes power to accept what is and how to make it work for us, not against us with some ADHD friendly ideas. In the previous episode number 21, The one about looking back, I share how I use what I learned about myself from the three months of tracking to reframe my view of the summer, life is getting much easier now that I'm using that knowledge to create both an ADHD and menstruating friendly lifestyle.
Moira Maybin 03:29 I started off with the Clue app to track my mood, energy, and menstrual symptoms daily. Well, I did also have a daily paper tracker for menstrual symptoms, and like how I could customize and add things, but I only use that for about two and a half weeks. So not that useful for me. Remember me talking about tracking my temperature? Well, I've done that five times in about five months. Even with a thermometer beside my bed. I never remember to use it before I get up. After using the Clue app for a while, I realized that there were some limitations to it. For someone who is frequently having headaches, tiredness and perimenopausal symptoms. I love the idea of taking this brief snapshot daily and then being able to look for and have it tell me patterns and predict things for me. I wondered what other brilliant tracking apps there were. Over time, I ended up adding in more trackers one for headaches, menopause, and sleep. Pro tip I completed my digital daily tracking in the bathroom, a quiet place that I'm in daily and I'm usually undisturbed and a little less distracted to track my ADHD symptoms and medication side effects. Once a week I was using checklists that are still posted on my web page for Episode Number 10 at ADHDfriendlylifestyle.com. I printed out four copies of each, put them in a folder, set reminders on my phone and in my schedule. To be able to tell each week apart, I would use the initial of the phase I was in. So on caring week when I was menstruating, I'd use a C or an M. Honestly, things varied. But I was able to know what I meant at the end. That's the key. I already had the week I was on in my digital calendar. So I see that every day, but I could have also checked my Clue app. If I wasn't sure, I take five minutes to put the letter in the boxes and put it away. I didn't look for any results or patterns. When three months were complete, then I tallied the results on the fourth set of sheets.
Doing this daily check in and being able to see those results made it easier for me to feel the bodily messages that quite honestly, I've spent a lifetime ignoring. I learned I was getting one to two hours less sleep a night than I thought, no wonder I was tired a lot of the time. Even last night, if you would ask me, I would have said oh, I probably got eight, eight and a half hours. Well, I got less than seven. I started to recognize what situations, emotions, or activities, were likely to trigger a hot flash and do things to try to avoid or lessen them. When talking to health care professionals, I've been more able to share the things like when the headaches started, how long it lasts, and what treatments I had tried. This reinforced me to keep up with the tracking because I felt more competent. These are experiences I have frequently that have impacted my life for three decades. I don't want them to control my life anymore. That's a strong enough why that helps me remember to take that phone into the bathroom with me once a day.
Moira Maybin 06:41 It turns out that the two areas that I'm struggling with the most are occurring across all weeks of my cycle. I have confessed to my hermit like existence. So, it's no surprise that having fun and doing things with other people are my biggest challenges. Besides the pandemic, my physical pain and surgery last year required me to take a step back, and I'm still rebuilding. The bigger issue is the one I spoke of in Episode 21. Changing from my former pre-ADHD diagnosis of fun and friends only coming after everything else is done. But by then I'm completely spent, and I don't have enough left in the tank to manage social time. Up to very recently, the time in my head for fun and friends was in whitespace. But that was also contingency time, buffer time, downtime, and free time, all competing. And you can see what's the last on the list. I am aware of this and I'm working on it. Once it's a regular part of my life again, I will need to check in on how it looks related to my cycle.
One obvious trend to me is a premenstrual drop in my self-concept. When I was a teenager, I can remember feeling paranoid that I have no friends. And nobody liked me. All the week before my period, I figured out what it was and just would ignore the message. And then my 20s 30s and most of my 40s I don't remember feeling that way. How it is now showing up when I'm premenstrual is I feel discouraged and competent, bad, frustrated with myself or my life for three or four days leading up to my period. Sometimes it continues into caring week. But not always.
Both when I'm premenstrual and into caring week, I also experienced greater challenges with my family, my responsibilities, and my self-care. It's just harder to do the things to take care of myself, like getting to bed, eating well, exercising, and getting things done. It's harder to get along with my kids and husband. And that might be in part because it's harder to balance my needs against theirs. For me, responsibilities to the outside world seem to get prioritized and the mask stays on. And I attempt to struggle through which leaves less capacity for all the things I just mentioned. How well I take care of myself each month seems to have an impact on the severity of my ADHD symptoms, both premenstrual and menstrual every month, the same things were harder pre mentally and during caring week. But if the month was hard, caring week, and my pms was harder. And when I'd had a better month overall, those things were still harder, but not as hard as in the tough months.
Stress, depression and lack of food or sleep have been shown to reduce the effectiveness of stimulant medication for anyone with ADHD. Having gone through this very passive observational and information gathering process meant I paid attention without doing anything about it. And a great byproduct is that I do feel like I have more wisdom and insight to recognize how I am doing and what Phase I am likely to be in. So, I also tracked each week possible medication side effects, checking in regularly did helped me pay attention to things regarding my health and well-being that I had been ignoring. I know that I do need to discuss a booster dose for afternoons and evening, and I'm hoping to see a prescriber soon. But other than that, was about tuning into myself some more. I know that my tummy and digestive system is really connected to my emotional state, and I do best not to ignore it. Understanding how predictable my changes and functioning are due to my hormonal changes, I've started tracking my headaches more in depth. I'd love to learn if there are things that I can understand about my own experience to help me navigate it. I only have one area of my body that is still consistently in pain and seeing that come up day after day. And actually, last week, having a brief period 36 hours that was pain free motivates me to do the things to help fix that. And finally, I need some more help with perimenopausal symptoms, the variability in my body temperature day and night along with the funky sweat, nope, not accepting that one. With all these there is still only so much time and energy in a day. I can't focus on this 24 seven. So I'm just going to take the time to figure out what ones are more important for me to deal with. We must put up with enough things that that's not going to be my starting point anymore.
Moira Maybin 11:24 Now that I had all this information, what do I do? Well, absolutely nothing for about a month, for a few reasons. The main one was I didn't have the time. I also needed to filter through some things and information I had gathered to see what would be helpful here. Having that time to let my thoughts percolate was helpful. I found it so powerful that I learned so much about myself doing nothing. I'm also learning to prioritize what we learn from our own lived experiences. That's contrary to the message we get told as ADHD years and women repeatedly. I've also been mulling over this question. If I am different in the second half of the month, how can I take care of myself my responsibilities and make that time feel valuable? If I'm taking care of myself? Does that mean I get to curl up on the couch with a good book or show? Over time, I realized the question really was, how do I want to be really? How do I want to exist in the world? I often thought that what I want is to not feel stressed by having enough time to do all the things. Well, there will never be enough time for me to do that. So that's not a goal. Then I thought it was related to that whitespace having enough time and space to have all the types of time. So I don't want to feel rushed or late. I want free time so I can be spontaneous. I need downtime so I can be rested and relaxed. And social time will coast Come on a girl's got to have fun. I want to go from thing to thing without feeling pressured, overwhelmed, frustrated, overburdened. Wait, time is not the answer here. I'm looking for a state of mind and being in which, I feel grounded, centered, and calm in my head.
Okay, then how can I work towards that, over the course of the month, complete with ADHD, and predictable cyclical changes in my functioning. Try saying that 10 times fast. So thanks to Google, there are many recommendations on how we can plan our lives around the cycle, usually made by people without ADHD. for funding curiosity, I looked at many on how to align my life with my flow. And my reaction ranged from bursting out laughing to shaking my head. One list had a different type of exercise and vegetable to include each week. I think what we can take from that is it might reflect where energy and digestive systems are at. But with vegetables or exercise, I'm gonna go with what I feel like at that time. My lived experiences are that I always preferred cooked or baked vegetables to raw.
I'll share some of these anyway in case they interest you. From more credible sources. I have also included some themes and how I'm using them. I find it easier to explain and think about each of the four phases of our menstrual cycle like they are the four seasons that the earth cycles through. In my calendar and planner, I now color code each phase to match the season. I use black or red for winter, which is caring week. It occurs the week of our period. It can be thought of as a dormant time before spring to give the body what it needs. By conserving energy, resting, gentle movement and time to think reflect and set intentions. What I like during this time is to do more things on my own quietly and slowly plug away at them. They feel like the right fit now and are things I do want to do. But at other times, I wouldn't give them the time and attention they need. They aren't tasks I find hard because my thinking isn't added sharpest. In an ideal world. This is when I would do my researching, reading, watching webinars, taking notes and organizing ideas. To others, this could be hard. So it's about what finding fits for you. So, I take that as an opportunity to book fewer appointments and meetings that week, I'm also trying to either do things earlier, or after caring week that don't fit my energy for these three to five days. I still try to take it easier for the whole week, but usually I can feel my energy growing.
Moira Maybin 15:39 I discovered while trying this out, it felt freeing to have time to consider things without feeling like I had to or should take the next step. It was also great when caring we coincided with the beginning of a new month to not feel like I had to do planning because I really didn't want to. So I got to wait until my energy began to rise. As I began to leave caring week and my own springtime arrived. This is the only phase that I'm considering suggestions found online. One was to have an at home spa day. I like it in theory, but I have yet to remember to try it. And I'm not sure how I would dedicate a whole day. The other two that are favorites hearty soup and journaling feelings. I've never journaled regularly. But this year, I started doing this weekly. As I find it helps me process my thoughts and feelings that otherwise show up in my body. When spring arrives, the second part of the follicular phase, its color is green, we have an increase in dopamine levels and higher estrogen levels to and begin to experience a greater response to stimulant medication. I can now literally feel my wellbeing improving, I start to feel like I can get more done, that meetings or appointments won't take as much out of me. I also like to use this time to connect collaborate, set goals, plan my month, and determine what action steps I will take this month. I consider the reality of how I will be over the month to determine what could happen when
Energy and mood continue to grow during the yellow summertime, the time around ovulation. biologically speaking, this is when we are primed for procreation, then it's no surprise that sex is recommended on many lists, even going so far to remind us to make that sex passionate. other suggestions I'm less likely to plan include high impact training, eating fresh salads, and attending online events. These four or five days are the ones I feel most energized, humorous, social, and capable. So if I'm going to eat a fresh salad, now's the time to do it.
Fall arrives after ovulation, and we enter the first part of the luteal phase followed by the premenstrual phase. For me, this feels like a gradual descent. I notice feeling more tiredness and a desire to slow down. It's a time when I'm practicing saying no to conserve energy. If I feel more solitary, then I go with it. As I'm prioritizing listening to and giving myself what I need. I like this time certain detailed tasks flow more easily. And I also like to close loops then, especially on the things that aren't exciting are involved enough to hold my interest at other times. This is the time to prioritize what works for you. I did see one suggestion for the luteal phase to do administrative work, accounting, and invoices. Clearly someone missed the memo. (Does anyone still get those?) that my executive function mood and emotions are heading south at that time, not the time for those tasks at the best of time that are challenging for me.
During our luteal phase is also when we are most in tune with ourselves. There's solid evidence that there are strong connections between our gut and our minds, and that trusting our gut, the butterflies are knots in our stomach is reliable evidence. We can feel more raw or vulnerable during this premenstrual time. And our emotions may get heightened. We may be more likely to cry. Yet there is strong evidence that these painful or uncomfortable things that come up premenstrually, do you have some basis and are worth exploring? We can have thoughts and feelings that are positive and creative. We may not want to act on any of these at this time. But it might serve us to note our thoughts and come back to them later. Because to be honest, in comparison to the follicular phase, I feel irritable and unmotivated. And it's also been shown to be the worst week for medication effectiveness. Clinically, it's also been shown that symptoms Yeah, they get worse premenstrually and it's due to the rise in progesterone. Thanks for that double whammy.
Coming back to the acceptance piece. We can rage against something out of our control, or we can try to come up with a workable solution. That's where having each other comes in. Sometimes we can't see possibilities or solutions but trusted like-minded people can. Here's some suggestions I found online, that may give you pleasure when experiencing PMS. For me, four out of the five of these things are ones that I like regularly in my life, I don't have to wait for PMS. They are decluttering. Write a gratitude list, self-pleasure sessions, strength training, and eating baked root vegetables. I don't know about you, but I have never been able to get into writing gratitude list.
Moira Maybin 20:39 So what's next? Why do this? Well, after reviewing what might work for me, how does it go from nice ideas to an actual experiment to try. That's also what I've been mulling over for a month. If you are at the beginning, then tracking and logging what you notice is the first step. Each body can be very different in how, what and when things happen. And then in three months, you can go looking for patterns. I use this last month to also look back to what has worked before, really, this entire year has involved me trying to figure out a new weekly rhythm. I no longer have the school day and year to shape my life. It's been a lot longer process than I thought, because I am looking to feel satisfied with my days. And that can seem like a big ask. But it does slowly keep getting better. But it's not there yet. The pattern that has evolved is a very busy start to the week, mostly at the computer. So much so that I recently realized that nothing more could get added to those days. By Thursdays, I want to get out of my office and take care of different things. My energy is waning. And by Friday, when I want to be closing loops and resetting for the next week, the day ends up somehow to full to get much finished up before the weekend, which means it spills into the weekend. And it's often spent catching up or trying to figure out what is coming. And you know, parenting. when my kids were very small, and I taught part time I was home on Mondays, I remember enjoying that space without adults between the weekend and work to catch up. Prioritize, plan, and prepare for the week ahead. If I tried that, again, it might save energy for later in the week. And I wouldn't have to do those things on the weekend. Hey, that's worth a try. It set a less fierce pace out of those first three days. Tuesday's have always been a very busy day, with lots of things going on. So that might be alright, if Monday is kind of like a warmup to that. The other experience I had for a few years when my kids were older, was not teaching on Wednesdays and I was able to focus on other responsibilities, get outside brief ground and reorient for the rest of the week. I wonder if I can still have that approach and how I shaped the day. I'm realizing it is about how I feel going through my day more than what I'm doing. I still like the ideas of Thursday, being a day less in the office. That could mean Friday might be a closing loop day. One without starting new things. I have some ideas for the weekend to the way I'd like them to be.
This framework is open enough that for each week of my cycle, I can determine responsibilities that tie into my mood and energy. For example, I'm going to try a podcast schedule that mirrors the energy of my cycle. If I put out three episodes every month, that might relieve the self-imposed pressure to produce something for caring week. Now that's putting myself at the top of the list. And you know what? I physically felt my stress go down a notch. Thanks for the idea, Marisol. I could use caring week to do researching and writing. And then maybe I could have one week be recording and do the editing on a different week, I have a list of things that I would like to experiment and try for myself. I'm not going to try them all at once or start with the hardest ones. I feel like I'm close to figuring out a rhythm for my week. And for the podcast. I'm only 10 months into trying this out. I'm also trying to prioritize getting a minimum amount of sleep, the rest of the things are on pause because you know life. Lastly, but so importantly, I'm going to surround myself with people who are speaking a similar message to what I'm trying to do and be because that helps me do what I want. And I hope I can be that for you. I don't want to fit myself into a reality made of people who don't have a cycle. What could be possible if we were able to set up our lives, our workspaces our world in a way that those of us who have fluctuating hormones could manage Not only manage, but be well enough to function in a way that supports how we're feeling physically, emotionally and cognitively, and be able to give ourselves what we need. I wish it didn't sound so radical. It's a new idea and practice for many, myself included. I'm going to take what works for me in this process and start to try them out in my life. If you are fortunate to live or work someplace that supports this, I would love to hear about it.
Moira Maybin 25:44 Okay, you've done the hard work by staying to the end, your reward. Here are the main takeaways from today's episode. Number one, by tracking our menstrual and ADHD symptoms for three months, we can learn a lot about our own lived experiences. Number two, on the web page for today's episode, you can find show notes, transcript, and links to the tools that detail how I gathered this information. Number three, once you have that information for you, take some time to think about how it might help you tweak the things to have a more satisfying life. Number four, think back on what it has worked for you in the past. Number five, anything we try, or tweak is an experiment. We can practice and we need to expect that things won't work. We can use that information to figure out what could.
Next week's episode is going to be a special one for ADHD Awareness Month. It's all of October, I'll be featuring a recent report put out by the Center of ADHD Awareness Canada, known as CADDAC that highlights how girls and women with ADHD remain missed forgotten, and vulnerable. Please join with me and stay with me. So we can change that story not only for ourselves, but for everyone with ADHD.
I hope you enjoyed today's show and would love to hear your thoughts. To get in touch you can write me an email at [email protected], connect with me on my website, Instagram, and Facebook, @ADHDfriendlylifestyle or twitter @adhdfl. Every Episode has a website page with show notes, transcript, next steps, resources, and articles related to the topic. To get these visit adhdfriendlylifestyle.com. If you’d like to support the podcast, the best way is to subscribe on the podcast player of your choice, and by taking the time rate and review it there too.
The ADHD reWired Podcast Network has four other podcasts for your listening pleasure—On Hacking your ADHD Will Curb gives tips, tools and insights, Brendan Mahan(d) hosts ADHD Essentials focusing on parenting and education. MJ is expanding the conversation around ADHD, diversity and mental health on ADHD Diversified. And Eric Tivers hosts ADHD reWired with in depth stories and interviews.
If you have never been in a room either personally, or virtually with a group of ADHDers, you are missing out on a special treasure. I invite you to join all of us on the second Tuesday of every month at 10:30am Pacific for our live Q&A. To sign up go to ADHDfriendlylifestyle.com/about and scroll down to the green register button. So that's the second Tuesday of every month, you can join us for a live Q&A. Go to my website, ADHDfriendlylifestyle.com/about. And when you are at the Live Q&A be sure to let me know, you are there because of the podcast. Thanks for listening! See you later.