I was having dinner with one of my kids the other day, and when I say kids I mean an alumnus who I keep in touch with, when we had a conversation about ADHD. She is twenty-five and newly diagnosed as having it. She explained what some of the symptoms were, and as she was talking I thought “my gosh she’s describing me.”
I went home that evening and started to do some research. I know I was thinking it would be great to get a diagnosis like that because it would explain so much. I’ve always been preternaturally lazy among other things, as I’d been told since being a kid, so a diagnosis with a label would be great considering how deeply unmotivated and burnt-out I’ve been. If it were my brain’s lame executive function I would finally have something to blame for my bad habits and seeming irreversible stagnation .
Unfortunately, all the online tests I took basically pointed to a mild problem at best. And really who doesn’t have issues focusing and getting things done? But I’ve had a lot more issues in recent years, so it was game on to figure out if there was really something more to it.
As I began researching in earnest the ADHD jumping off point led me to my research into neurotransmitters, which led me to dopamine, which circled back towards menopause, histamine, and my unmotivated self.
So before I go on, let me ask you: is your peri or post menopausal self lacking in motivation? Or are you unhappy? Or both?
I’m going to go into more of the science of motivation and happiness in part two of this post. But right now I want to give a little background into my story. I think it helps because it will give my research context and it helps when others see themselves in the story.
As I said before, I can be really lazy and unmotivated. But I’m going to actually put that in perspective. If I have something to do, I am very focused. I have a great work ethic and miss almost no work. I cannot remember the last time I took a day off because I didn’t feel well. I’ll usually take a day here or there for fun reasons like I stayed out late at a concert the night before. I like to have fun and will do anything or go anywhere if it’s something worth while. I get up early every morning to run two miles (which is key to the conversation and will be discussed at length later) and I ride my bike Saturdays and Sundays pretty much without fail.
The flip side is when I have nothing to do, I can lay on the floor and watch Netflix for hours at a time. I had the summer off, (remember I’m a teacher) and waited until last week to get all my big things done. I do tend to beat myself up for not going out to save the world with those few extra weeks I have to actually accomplish something. I have a half written book of poetry waiting for me, and a play I started is shriveling up on the writer’s vine, not to mention all the art that didn’t get made. But moreover, I feel like I just can’t get up and do anything. Like I’m weighted down. It’s not a good feeling.
The logical part of my brain understands that I do work really hard in a profession that chews me up physically and mentally, but I also feel badly that so many projects get back burnered for HBO.
I wrote (on August 2, 2014) about being a struggling artist with a lack of creativity when I was nearing the end of the transition to full menopause, but funny enough I never used the word motivation. A lot of what I wrote is what I just re-wrote about running and being physically active, but some of the ideas of what the problem might be are different. Or maybe better yet unformed. I blamed my lack of creativity on dropping estrogen. I never did any more research about it.
What changed from four years ago is what I did to change how I feel and where that is leading me in my research. A lot of this is based on my new running regimen.
Now don’t panic. I am not going to suggest everyone must go out and run two miles a day. This is my thing. There are other things that I can suggest to help motivate your stagnant soul. I just want to explain how I’ve gotten to this moment of writing about how to help fix a lack of motivation and maybe, for some, a lack of happiness.
At the end of the school year I was probably more run down than any other year. The Sunday after the last day of school I had a scratchy throat that turned into a cold; one that lingered in some form for a couple of weeks. In that time I had a lot of time to think about what I was doing wrong with my fitness. I always thought I was keeping fit running and riding my bike, but honestly I was hardly running from about April and I was riding only on Sundays at that point. I was exhausted after school every day. It was also way too hot to run in the early evenings. I don’t even know what I was eating anymore. Nothing good I’m sure. I was a big mess with many reasons to not feel good about myself.
While recovering from my cold and getting some much needed rest, I decided that what I really needed to do was run in the mornings. It would be cooler. I can make it a habit. I’ll feel good about myself, and I could do it before school when we go back. Mind you, I’ll have to get up at 5 to do this, but let’s not focus on that detail right now.
Once I put my mind to something and decide than that’s it. I do it. So I started running a mile a day. I have to say from day one I felt great. I remembered that when I was in high school I used to run in the mornings. I guess I forgot how good it feels.
I ran a mile a day for a week and upped it to two. I gotta say, I felt really good. I started getting up earlier and earlier to beat the Miami sun and heat, and I never minded. I just had to go to bed a little earlier.
Now, about two months later, I can say I still feel really good. I look forward to my morning runs. Some mornings I lay in bed and think wow, I’m not sure I can do this, maybe I’ll just run a mile, but when I get out of bed I get ready and dressed and just go. They say once you do something for two weeks it’s a habit.
So how does the ADHD, menopause, lack of motivation, and running all link? It all lead me to research neurotransmitters. Especially dopamine.
See, before I read about ADHD and followed the neurotransmitters down the rabbit hole I thought, like everyone else, runners high was endorphins. But there is much more to it than that. It’s an increase in dopamine that makes you feel good after a run. And when I started to take a good look at dopamine I found it is linked directly to motivation and happiness. I started to then look for a link to menopause and found dopamine drops when estrogen drops. And then I found a link between histamine and dopamine. Mast cells carry dopamine. When mast cells break open they spill histamine and dopamine.
I started suffering from teacher burn-out about three or four years ago. I always thought it was one of the major reasons I became unmotivated across many avenues of my life. But now I’m thinking my teacher burn-out is directly related to menopause, histamine intolerance, and the loss of dopamine.
The good news is I’ve seen a change in myself. I still can spend a day laying around watching Netflix, but hey, who can’t. But the very fact that this is the third post in a month after not writing anything for this blog in an entire year is proof enough. I also have a sketchbook filled with new work. You can follow me on Instagram @theartofbroox. Lastly, teachers go back to school next week and I’m not completely horrified, so that’s a good sign… All in all I see changes in my mood and feel better about a lot of things.
I’m going to end Part 1 here and let you chew on it. Part 2 will be more of the science and the technical results of my research. Until I finish it, if you see yourself in any of this, take a look at dopamine and what you can do to increase it. Besides running there are aromatherapy oils that have real merit (clary sage) and many foods. Or exercise might be an alternative you can exploit. Whatever works for you.
At this point, I hope I’ve given you something to think about. I’ll be working on Part 2 while you’re busy mulling it over. Keep in mind that I spoke a lot about motivation or lack there of, but feeling happy is a big part of dopamine’s job too so if you’re feeling unhappy about things or don’t feel a lot of joy in the things you do maybe you should also be looking to increase your dopamine.
As always, leave a comment below if you’d like. I always like to hear what people are thinking.
Now go make some dopamine!