Getting to know yourself – the new alternative drug for ADHD
Por Raquel Vieira
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is commonly diagnosed during childhood, with a combination of persistent symptoms such as hyperactivity, difficulty paying attention and keeping focus, accompanied by tendencies to engage in impulsive behaviour. A person may not be diagnosed with ADHD until adulthood because their family or teachers haven’t been able to recognize their condition or perhaps they had a mild form of ADHD where their symptoms were slightly less evident. An adult with ADHD might not be so hyperactive, but other symptoms like inattention, a struggle to keep organised and maintain a coherent conversion, restlessness, and engagement in reckless behaviour, as well as impulsivity, start to really affect the intrapersonal (which is the relationship you have with yourself) and interpersonal (between you and others) relationships in your life both at home or at work, which can lead to instability, frustration and separation.
Although it is common to think people with ADHD can’t control their thoughts, what is really happening is that people can’t control the restlessness in their body which affects their brain. The trigger being a deficiency of the hormone dopamine, which is the hormone responsible for feeling happiness and pleasure – vital to the brain functions that regulate our mood, sleep, memory, and concentration – thus, because of this condition, the body will communicate this information to the brain and so the brain will constantly be seeking activities that bring pleasure and satisfaction to increase the production of dopamine in order to restore this chemical unbalance. This insatiable urge to pleasure can lead to anxiety, feelings of loneliness and loss of control, which in worse cases can culminate in depression.
An estimated 8.4% of children and 2.5% of adults have ADHD. The treatment for ADHD in the western world, tends to be a combination of behavioural psychotherapy, medication or both. The medicines administered are stimulants which increase the patient’s level of stimulation, through the release of the hormone dopamine and formation of new neurotransmitters that will facilitate communication between neurons, leading to a relief of the patient’ symptoms.
This means that children and adults are being heavily prescribed stimulant drugs to keep their bodies in balance throughout the day, as well as sedatives and antidepressants to help them sleep at night. This chemical cocktail might be a short-term solution but it can bring complications and a feeling of not being in control for one’s body.
The odd fact about common ADHD prescribed medicines is that they are made of molecules which are chemically similar to Methamphetamine. The difference between the two, is that ADHD medicines help to release the dopamine in the brain in a slow manner, in opposition to illicit drugs, which release dopamine at a fast speed, causing impairment of speech and brain function. The commonality here is that ADHD medication and illicit drugs create a sense of extreme euphoria, and the reason why both substances are incredibly addictive and cause dependence.
Therefore, medication alone as a possible route treatment for ADHD, will keep patients in an eternal loop of chemical stabilisers that will take away their responsibility for their own health, and consequently will hinder their innate power to self-regulate and heal their bodies, mind and spirit. When patients are taught how to have routines, we are empowering them to have better time management and organisational skills to gain control over their lives. The reward that comes from engaging in these activities plays an important role in the production of dopamine. An example of this could be a simple task of making a list of things that need to be done during the day and tick them off as they get completed. It might seem like a small task, but this act of self-love will give a sense of structure, clarity and meaning to the life of an ADHD patient.
When it comes to ADHD, it is of extreme importance that patients investigate their own behaviours and get to know their internal system, most specifically their bodies and how they feel, as well as
their minds and how these two systems are working together in shaping their behavioural patterns: how they react, perceive and interact with the world and others.
In the eastern world, most specifically within the ayurvedic medicinal system – which originated in India more than 3000 years ago – the body and mind are interconnected, and a holistic approach is taken when it comes to health matters. In ayurveda medicine, the journey is as important as the destination, and ADHD is not seen as something we have to treat, hide or even chemically change, but rather to embrace as part of our special nature. The holistic view on this shows us that, when we know ourselves, we know how our nature shapes us to act and react in a certain manner, so with knowledge, love and understanding we can restore balance through a conscious act of self-love. Think with the brain, feel with the heart. Our actions should aim to be sattvic (harmonious, balanced and steady) and so this conscious knowledge becomes the most incredible drug that we will ever have access to. By knowing ourselves, we can also heal. Most of all, we adopt a different kind of perspective that will empower us to see things differently, which will send us on a journey of self discovery to become the best possible version of ourselves.
For a person with ADHD who starts this journey of self development, the dopamine reward strategy could be the experience of a heightened sense of self esteem through engagement in movement practises such as yoga, dance or running. Both meditation and pranayamas – which are breathing techniques taught in yoga philosophy – are also a great approach to reprogram the autonomic nervous system, more specifically the parasympathetic system – which is responsible for the fight or flight response. If successful, this method will help the body return to its balanced state of homeostasis.
Studies have proven that meditation can really benefit children as well as adults with ADHD. By doing this, they are learning how to observe their thoughts and reduce their inner judgement and by consequence, they are decreasing the urge to engage in impulsive behaviour, and thus learning how to take a moment of thought before acting, or even, in the case of ADHD, reacting. Interestingly, most adults with ADHD are aware of their damaging behaviour but can’t grasp how to fully control it, therefore feelings of guilt and shame tend to play a big role in their lives.
Why are some people more affected and sensitive to stress, anxiety and the environment, where others seem to be in a smooth balanced performance of constant flow, some might ask?
Here I defend the need to take responsibility for how we humans behave in this world and how much we know about ourselves and our brain, behaviours, impulses, triggers and physical and emotional traumas. The brain is a very powerful and fascinating muscle that we often (metaphorically speaking) seem not to know how to exercise. Whenever one decides to start an exercise routine, it all might feel really hard. We might even experience laziness and weakness before we even start, or extreme fatigue and outrageous pains right after engaging in the exercise itself. But we are patient, we recover, we do it over and over – and so we come back stronger – knowing that perseverance will lead to the outcome we wish for. We also know that by making a conscious or unconscious decision to stop, our muscles will get weaker, our mobility and control over our body gets empared as it deteriorates, and so we experience a regression in our progress and growth. The same happens with the brain.
As adults, we tend to get on with our daily lives with a lack of conscience in regards to our thoughts and actions. Life gets in the way, they say. We have jobs, bills to pay, children to feed and educate, friends to entertain, and things to consume and take care of. We don’t create time for ourselves and so self-care (psychological or physical) gets thrown at the back of our to-do list. The pain we neglect, the emotions we disregard, and impatiently we shout, and in an unconscious act, we hold each other as we would hold mirrors to see ourselves. We deny each other love, as we deny love for ourservels, and in others we see the things we despise about our own selves – neglecting our shadow side, which is the unknown side or aspect of our personality that the ego does not identify in itself .
This narrative inside our heads that says “I haven’t been allowed to express myself in this way all my life, so can’t you”, is ultimately damaging. The normative behaviours and narratives we tell ourselves become strict rules to follow and everything that is of importance in life – which is to feel, to be honest, to follow our gut and trust our instincts. We dismiss and forget the importance of vibrating at the highest frequency on earth which comes from love and empathy. This is the frequency of mother earth – our planet and home – who so much gives us every day, without ceasing. Nature has this quality, it grows and expands no matter how much humans try to change or even harm. With all its qualities and ways of being – ADHD or not – nature will always keep adapting and thriving at its own pace, with or without us. We don’t dare to call it imperfect, we don’t judge it like we judge ourselves or people around us, instead, we feel its grounding quality by staying present with it. Nature is breathing, it is moving, and so are we. As my dearest and incredible mentor would say ‘all trees without wind wouldn’t grow. They need the stress of the wind to keep them firm to the ground, and it is with this quality of dancing back and forth that they grow stronger’.
So what is our purpose if not to act as a tree? To communicate through its roots – building communities – to feed from the environment and grow with every beam of sunlight and kiss of the rain – sometimes soft and romantic, sometimes powerful as a storm. Life is like the environment that feeds us, it’s always taking us both ways, high and low, light and heavy, bright and dark, day and night. There’s time to rest, and time to create balance.
In ayurveda philosophy, we would say that patients with ADHD are like air in space, like a baby tree in Autumn, or start of Spring. They seem fragile as they lose their leaves, but their branches swing wildly. People with ADHD are just beings made of different percentages of a different element in their nature, like air floating in space, for example. Like so, they might think faster than what they can verbally express – changing topics in an exciting manner – but they are also the most expressive and creative beings, the ones you will want in any brainstorm room session, thinking and talking euphorically about the world. With a scattered natural personality, it takes them ages to concentrate, but when they do, they will blow your mind with their hyper-focused skills. They are a maverick connecting dots, concepts and thoughts. Because they see things from a myriad of perspectives, they might achieve a greater connection to deeper realms of consciousness.
So how can we celebrate our own ADHD self? We can practice meditation to balance the external factors that we don’t have control over. It might feel like we are being thrown around by life, but we don’t have to give our power away. Our leaves might float around, but our roots are holding us firmly to the ground. We must amusingly enjoy the ride of your mind, because we now understand ourselves, constantly holding the belief that we are growing stronger.
Thoughts are meant to be taken as waves in the ocean. We let them come to us as a source of replenishment, and we let them go to the source without judgement, trusting they will be back. And with every deep breath in, we take in everything that we need, which is air – life – the cells regenerate. When we breathe out, the body gets rid of everything that it doesn’t need, we let go. Everything is as it should be, and everything keeps flowing. Let the prana, life force energy, bathe you in this wave of great inner completeness, almost like you are coming out from the sea on a perfect summer day. Everything you need you already have within you, and that is all, that is consciousness. Knowing you aren’t your thoughts, but who you choose to be.
Perfect as you are, you are the air that mother earth breathes. You are loved, you are love.
The Supreme divine personality said: Arjun, The persons who are transcendental to the three gunas neither hate illumination (which is born of sattva), nor activity (which is born of Rajas), nor even delusion (which is born of tamas)”. When these are abundantly present, nor do they long for them when they are absent. They remain neutral to the modes of nature and are not distrubed by them. Knowing it is only the gunas that act, they stay established in the self, without wavering.” Bhagavad Gita 14.22
Aluna da Formação de Terapeuta de Medicina Ayurveda 2021