Hello and welcome to my first blog post! I wanted to share something honest and raw for my first post. Only a few of my close friends know this, but I was diagnosed with ADHD and anxiety a few years ago. Here is my story- I will share some solutions that I tried over the years, and share what didn't work well for me (meds). Enjoy!
Do you remember those parent teacher conference meeting in elementary/middle school?
We would get a little comment sheet at the end of the semester, where the teacher would write down whatever problem we were having in class. Every single teacher of mine would write something like, 'doesn't pay attention in class' or 'has trouble focusing and grades are suffering'.
Meanwhile, I'm just drawing pictures of flowers and cats like usual.
My parents would always ask me, 'Why don't you get straight A's anymore?' (I only got all A's in 1st grad...) and I didn't know the answer. I knew that I had trouble on tests, and I wouldn't remember learning most of the information. It was very frustrating. They suggested I get tested for ADHD, but my parents didn't want me on medicine.
I struggled through school my whole life. I did okay, but even getting A's and B's was a huge struggle, and I always felt that I had to work harder than everyone else.
Anyway, fast forward a few years to when I was in Undergrad at Duquesne. I still wasn't on meds, still struggling with my grades, and now it was worse because all I cared about was practicing.
I failed Music Theory my first year. Yup! I had never failed a class before, and I was so embarrassed.
I never paid attention, didn't understand the material, and was too embarrassed to ask for help.
I took the class again my sophomore year and still got a C. My other classes weren't going well, either. I struggled with time management A LOT. I was constantly forgetting things, losing things, forgetting about assignments, missing entrances in orchestra. This had been my whole life, so it was 'normal' for me, but every day was extremely frustrating, and it was much more obvious that this was a problem once I got to college.
I would practice for 5 minutes at a time, then go on Facebook or site read random music instead of working on the music for my lessons.
After not doing well in school my first year, struggling to practice and keep up with my responsibilities, in addition to constantly getting distracted in rehearsals and missing entrances, I convinced my parents to let me take the ADHD test.
I had to go to a psychologist first- I told him everything that was going on, and the issues I've always struggled with. I told him how I was anxious all the time- constantly running to class or rehearsals only to arrive 15 minutes early. My entire life was just a race. I was always on edge, worried, etc.
After his recommendation, I took the ADHD exam. This is a test that is literally 6 hours long with one small break. I remember having to do math, remember details from stories they told me hours ago, recite a list of items after hearing it once, etc. etc. etc.
The test was EXTREMELY difficult for me- especially trying to stay focused that long (guess that's the point).
Needless to say, I didn't do well, and they diagnosed me with ADHD and anxiety.
I was prescribed Ritalin.
Over the course of 6 months, I had lost 20 lbs and had no idea. I didn't much weight to lose, so I was extremely unhealthy.
I was practicing 6-8 hours every day, developed tendonitis, and never wanted to eat. I had no appetite. I just wanted to practice.
Now, I'm not saying it was all bad- I did do well musically this year- I won a few competitions and improved a lot. BUT it did not help me with the main problem-other classes...or my anxiety.
I also wanted to be a well-rounded college student, who excelled in music, friends, and academics. Not just a practicing machine.
It actually made me do WORSE in school. In my classes, I would just write down my practice schedule for the day, draft a list of schools I wanted to audition at, competitions, etc.
I still wasn't really in the classroom.
Every morning after taking my meds and drinking coffee, if I walked even a little briskly, my heart was pounding so quickly that I thought I might have a heart attack. I felt like this ALLLLL day- constantly just thinking about practicing.
I got another D in a core class that semester and had to retake it.
The worst part was that I had no idea I had lost weight... I went in for a physical and the Dr. weighed me. I was shocked.
She refused to let me continue taking Ritalin, and I thank her for that today.
So, I stopped taking it, and things calmed down a lot.
Now, for some tips. I recommend trying some more natural approaches before going the medicine route. I have been off of them for years now, and I'm fine! It just takes a lot of self control, planning, and forcing myself to organize things to stay on top of everything.
Here are some things I tried over the years that helped me a lot with my focus and organizational issues. Yes, I am now a functioning, semi- organized, working musician :)
I started meditating- every time I feel my mind start to wonder, I start back at the beginning. It's very difficult, but the brain is a muscle that you have to train.
I started recording my classes and lessons (make sure you ask first). I was amazed at how many things I missed! Yes, it took extra time, but it helped me a lot.
Every night before I went to bed, I put everything I needed for the next day in my backpack.
No more forgetting essays, assignments, music. Before I left, I did a mental checklist to make sure I had everything.
I still do this! I try to take 10 minutes every night to make my lunch/breakfast, fill up my water bottle, etc. Makes me way less stressed in the mornings.
Honestly, I just had to force myself to pay attention in orchestra. I made sure I knew the music like the back of my hand, so if I got lost counting, I still knew where to come in. I would listen to it nonstop when I was studying or working out, and it really helped me know the music well enough that I would still make my entrances no matter what.
Writing in cues helped me a lot. It really took me a few years to be able to pay attention in the whole rehearsal.
During college, instead of writing out my practice plan, etc. during class, I did it beforehand so there was nothing else for me to plan.
I cleaned up my diet A LOT. In undergrad, I was eating Ramen, chicken nuggets, beer, and ice cream. No wonder I was unfocused. I was feeding my body and brain with garbage.
I switched to pretty healthy diet with a lot of grass fed chicken and salmon, vegetables every day, smoothies with fruit, flax seed, chia seed, protein powder, super food blends, etc. etc. (I can send you the recipe).
And healthy snacks!!! If I eat sugar or processed food during the day, I instantly crash. I needed to fuel my body and brain with healthy things to help with my focusing.
I got a calendar! What!!! Yeah, I was literally FORGETTING ABOUT GIGS. Oh maybe because I never wrote them down??
Now, every Saturday and Sunday, I allow myself time to meal prep, clean, and do laundry.
I write to-do lists so that I won't forget, well, what I have to do!
Every time I get an email with a date, I immediately transfer that to my calendar.
When I have a gig or something else that is in a new area, I always plan to arrive 20 minutes early. At least. I'm super anxious still, so I usually get there early.
Waze is an awesome app that allows you to choose what time you need to arrive on a certain day. No more being surprised by traffic.
Especially if it's a gig, you NEED to be there early. Don't be that person running in the door 2 minutes beforehand. Chances are, that will be your last gig with them.
When practicing, I set a timer for 15 minutes or so, and then take a break. I'm not a person who can practice for 3 hours straight. In that 15 minutes, I don't give myself any time to think about anything else. I know that when the timer goes off, I can do whatever. I am very focused for 15 minutes.
I also always start with what I need to practice. If I have time later, then great, I can play other things.
These are some of the things that have made my life a little easier. Yes, you might have to work harder than some people. But, instead of feeling sorry for yourself, find a solution!!!
Most people diagnosed with ADHD have the rare gift of being able to hyper-focus on one thing, even if everything else falls behind.
I hope that some of these tips will help you, and please feel free to reach out.
Thanks for letting me share my story.