Don Baker from Unpacking ADHD joins Eric to discuss both the story of how he came from excessive alcohol and marijuana use to being a therapist and his goals for developing the Unpacking ADHD community. Along the way, Don discusses the effects of dietary change and marijuana on treatment of ADHD symptoms, the role emotion plays in the lives of those with ADHD, and how inspiration, energy, and enthusiasm make a better therapist.
About Don Baker:
Don is a licensed therapist based out of Seattle, Washington, having practiced now for seventeen years.
UnpackingADHD.com, Don’s website and community, focuses on helping adults with ADHD understand the disorder, manage it, and work toward their strengths.
Specializing in ADHD, Don draws on his own experiences with the disorder.
Diagnosed with ADHD in 1997, Don wasn’t sure quite what to do about it.
There were extremely sparse resources for those with ADHD where he lived, so Don decided to take on the challenge of creating the resources he would have wanted when he was diagnosed.
Prior to his diagnosis, Don had been heavily involved with marijuana and binge drinking alcohol. He attributes those problems to a desire to find a way to calm an internal restlessness resulting from his ADHD. Following a twelve-step program, Don has remained sober since 1989.
Marijuana and Alternative Treatments:
While the available research shows virtually no helpful effects from the use of marijuana, both Don and Eric have encountered patients using it to help manage their ADHD symptoms.
Especially in light of recent legalizations of marijuana, Don finds it unfeasible to take a hard-line approach and tell his clients that they cannot or should not be using it.
Instead of obstructing their use of marijuana and alcohol, Don tries to suggest to his clients a number of other treatments and management strategies.
“Rather than ‘don’t do it,’ say ‘Why don’t you try something else too – see how you feel with that?'”
Eric will ask clients to assess the impact of substances like marijuana through having them rate their productivity or anxiety during a period of a few weeks. Then, he will ask them to refrain from the substance for the same period of time and assess the differences, if any.
At the 2014 CHADD conference, Eric remembers a research symposium on “Mindfulness and Marijuana” that discussed how those with ADHD (primarily inattentive presentation) are using marijuana to calm themselves and reduce anxiety. However, those people begin to use more as its time goes on, and in the end have a larger anxiety problem than beforehand.
Don thinks it’s important for his clients to understand at least a little bit of the biology of ADHD and why certain treatments work. This gives the client a good baseline on which to build and structure their treatments and responses to ADHD symptoms.
Over years of hosting life strategy and traction groups, Don has developed materials that he now has fine-tuned into online courses available on the Unpacking ADHD website.
An upcoming e-book from Unpacking ADHD will explore the impact food has on the brain.
The e-book will be followed by an online class to promote and teach sustainable dietary changes to support better brain function.
Don has a goal of creating a helpful, free question-and-answer community, which is now open on the website.
When Don was younger, he would sometimes just forget to eat, which would be especially bad for his hypoglycemia symptoms. He began to take a look at what foods he could eat to sustain his blood sugar.
After taking a course on nutrition and progressing through an elimination diet, he found which foods he was sensitive to and which ones he could eat a lot of to optimize his focus and attention.
For Don, he keeps a large bag of walnuts as well as some avocados in his office and snacks on them throughout the day.
Eric used to eat a fairly healthy bowl of cereal with fruit for breakfast, but would fall asleep afterward, despite also consuming a pot of coffee.
After looking over the research and science available, though what Eric found wasn’t adequate, he decided to try different strategies with his diet. Switching to a specific protein shake recipe, Eric noticed an almost immediate change.
In ADHD reWired Episode 82: Nutrition for the ADHD Brain, Eric talks with Karl Pilz, who runs a website and podcast related to nutrition for busy people and entrepreneurs. Eric liked the way he explained the mechanics of nutrition and how different elements work together.
Especially when it comes to food, with how different and unique everyone’s ADHD is, Don feels it’s valuable to try different strategies.
Don can tell his medication is wearing off when his mind starts to strategize sneaky ways to eat chocolate.
A lot of the research on dopamine and response to rewards shows that most of the drive toward a reward is focused on the anticipation of receiving that award rather than the award itself.
Inspiring the Question “Why?”:
In particular, Don was inspired to start his practice, classes, and educational efforts after being first motivated to learn more about his own ADHD.
In talking with his clients, Don was told his energy and motivation toward his own curiosity – his own “why?” – to learn about the science and treatment methods that then, in turn, inspires his clients to move forward in a similar way themselves and to pursue their own “why?”.
Overloading and Walls:
In his life, Don will tend to take on too many tasks at once. Don tries to manage this by being cognizant of what has his attention in any given moment and assessing whether that topic or task is a productive or ultimately useful one.
Eric applies a similar mentality both in the short term and long term, though still ends up “running into the wall” occasionally.
Eric: Running into a wall hurts.
One of the challenges with ADHD is that those with it don’t tend to integrate the lessons they learned into their day-to-day behaviors.
Don cites Russell Barkley in saying that it’s not that we don’t know what to do, it’s accessing what we know when we need it.
When Don read the book Smart but Stuck by Thomas Brown, he felt it really spoke well about the significant role emotions play in the lives of those with ADHD.
Driven by positive emotion and enthusiasm, Don will sometimes find himself momentarily motivated to take on a new and enticing task, but upon leaving the room in which he thought of that task, he will suddenly remember all the other commitments and obligations preventing him from working on it right now. He’s conditioned himself to watch out for the effects of those sudden bursts of positive emotion.
Persevering through a difficult project or difficult times, emotions can be helpful. On the other hand, becoming stuck on problems and misunderstandings with others, one’s brain can become hijacked by emotion.
Mindfulness is what Eric has found to be the best solution for assessing the situation and practicing self-awareness.
Eric uses Evernote to write down notes of important thoughts or lessons he’s learned and then schedules those notes to be sent to him as reminders to make sure he re-assesses the thoughts he had.
Learning and Inspiration:
Eric feels humbled by the fact that so many have allowed him and this podcast to be the venue for their stories. At his point, he couldn’t imagine not doing this podcast. Knowing that he has made a difference in others’ lives fuels and fulfills him.
The core purpose of Don’s career is to connect others with facts about ADHD and to bring together a community.
A big lesson for both Don and Eric was that by just being themselves and being vulnerable with others they can be helping people.
Don is motivated to be a therapist through the stories of the people he works with and watching them challenge themselves with improvement and change.
Sometimes Eric will refer people he works with out to others if he isn’t somewhat motivated by them. He feels it’s a disservice to continue to work with someone if he isn’t excited about working with them.
Random Word Association Round:
A leg rest
Products, Services, and Other Links:
ADHD reWired Episode 80: Idea Hopping – Success and Mindset, with Maria Billing
ADHD reWired Episode 82: Nutrition for the ADHD Brain, with Karl Pilz
Smart but Stuck: Emotions in Teens and Adults with ADHD by Thomas E. Brown
Find and Contact Don Baker:
Eric has set September 14th as the start date of the Fall 2015 session of the ADHD reWired Coaching and Accountability Group. If you are interested in reserving a spot in the group, visit coachingrewired.com.
Eric is collecting videos describing people’s experiences with CHADD. If you are currently involved with CHADD, record a video however you wish (horizontally, please!) of you describing your relationship to ADHD and what CHADD does for you. Send it to Eric via Facebook, Twitter, or email here: email@example.com.
Help CHADD, an ADHD organization dedicated to improving the lives of those with ADHD through useful research and support, by donating to their fundraising campaign here: gofundme.com/oneof15m.
Visit erictivers.com/audible for Carolyn D’Argenio’s list of her top Audible.com audio-book picks, complete with preview links.
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