Thursday, January 22, 2015

ADD & Me: How I Focus, Write, AND Exercise

For all you writers wondering how to get in exercise to avoid the spread that hours of sitting at a computer can bring (also called Writer's Butt), here's the best thing I've found for me. It may be useful for you, too.

Some history: About a year ago, at the end of 2013, I posted about my ADHD-I, and how it has grown worse and worse with age, making it hard (if not impossible) to be productive and keep my life in balance.

In the last year, I've come a long way. I did get onto medication, which has made a world of difference. It's not that I can't get distracted (I still can, and I am, often), or that I've stopped using coping tools (I rely on them like oxygen). But for me, medication has been one more tool that's helped me immensely.

You may recall that I did just fine in high school and college. I did really well, in fact. And that's one reason that diagnosing me took so long. I have a lot of theories as to why I was able to do well, but among them is the fact that I could hyper-focus to the exclusion of all else. I might have forgotten the pot of water on the stove until it's boiled dry and ruined, but by golly, check out the paper I just wrote. But the ability to hyper-focus faded with age, and that became a huge problem for me as a writer.

The more I've researched ADHD and ADHD-I, the more tools I've learned, and the more I've experimented. I'd seen in my ADHD-I son that movement helped him focus. Sometimes that meant drawing circles, over and over, in a corner of a notebook during a lecture. Other times, when he could  move more, he'd puzzle out a math problem at home by pacing.

So I decided to experiment with whether I could focus better at the computer while walking. The experiment required a tread-desk of some sort. Even the cheapest ones out there are at least $600--not an amount I have just lying around. But we do have a treadmill. So I decided to search Pinterest, and I found a set-up another writer created for her treadmill. If memory serves, in her case, it was just to get in some exercise and be less sedentary. For me, if it worked, it could be a game changer.

I read up on her treadmill attachment and headed over to Home Depot, where I spent $12.42. Here's what I bought: a ready-made shelf (about $7), foam pipe insulation (about $3), and some hardware, which I didn't end up actually using (not pictured).

In the photo below, you'll note a full length of pipe insulation and then two smaller pieces of the same insulation, cut up, which have been used a lot over the last few months. Below them are my husband's wood clamps, which we already had, and which I'll get to in a second.  

The original concept had dryer clamps screwed onto both sides of the shelf. The shelf then rested over the arms of the treadmill, sitting on the insulation pipe, which had been cut in half and protected the arms. Then the dyer clamps were tightened around the treadmill arms and screwed tight.

I opted for a slightly different method, but one which works wonderfully anyway. I needed something that was easily removable, so that any time other family members (or I) want to use the treadmill for an actual workout, we can. And as for easily removable, screws, well, aren't.

I will probably find something a tad smaller to use down the road, but for now, I'm borrowing those two wood clamps from my husband's tools in the garage.

The only insulation I could find had a pretty narrow diameter, so I settled on what I could get. I cut one length of insulation in half and then sliced each piece down the middle so it opened up and can hug the treadmill arm. See the cut (and now flattened) pieces in the picture above.

The next step was simply putting it all together: insulation pieces on the treadmill's arms for protection, balancing the shelf on top, and putting the clamps on to hold the shelf in place.

Here's what it looks like:

And a closer look:

Putting it together takes maybe sixty seconds. Taking it off even less time, if the shelf is empty, more if I have to remove my laptop, notebook, water bottle, etc.

Seriously, it couldn't be easier to set up and take down.

I've had the setup since October. Family members often do take it down to workout. And one of my daughters (who also has ADHD-I) often uses it after school while doing homework or even just reading a book. It helps her focus too.

I get a ton more done while walking and working and the same time (I find that 1.5 to 1.7 mph is optimal for me), and on days I use it, I easily get in my 10,000 steps with my FitBit. In fact, tread-desk days are typically around 13,000 steps, often many more. And I've hit my FitBit record for a day  on it with 28,300 steps.

Unexpected bonus #1:
If I've used the tread desk in the morning, I can focus OFF it longer that afternoon than I could before I had it. So on days when my feet or hips or knees get tired, I can move my laptop to the table beside the treadmill and keep working, and I know that chances are, I'll still be able to focus.

Unexpected bonus #2: 
Moving for literally hours a day has helped me stave off a lot of depression, anxiety, and even panic attacks. My moods are more even, and I manage stress better. I'm not cured by any means, but I'm doing much better on the mental-health front.

Unexpected bonus #3: 
I get many of the benefits of exercise without triggering heinous migraines. Granted, I still have chronic migraines. That hasn't changed. But for years, I'd battled with two realities: Exercise relieves stress and releases endorphins, two things that help my headaches. But if I get my heart rate up with a regular workout, there's a very good chance I'll overheat and click over into hideous pain. And there's no telling which workouts will do it and which won't. The very same workout would be fine one day but would trigger something awful the next. Now, with my tread-desk setup, I'm not at risk of overheating, yet I'm still getting regular exercise. Huzzah!

So there's my solution to several problems. If you're a writer struggling with the typical writer's sedentary lifestyle, maybe you can create your own tread desk too. 

It's been a lifesaver for me!


Marsha Ward said...

Excellent post, Annette! I'm glad you've found something that helps. If I had a piece of exercise equipment, it would probably be a recumbent bike or eliptical machine. I'm not sure a bike would work for writing. :-( Fortunately, I can still hyper-focus.

Eileen Davis said...

I have bipolar so I struggle with the focus too. However, my little ones still come sit in my lamp and bang on the keyboard. Don't know if there's much luck.

Glad that you found a solution. Always takes creativity.

RKIrvine said...

Love this! I've been wanting a treadmill (AZ summer heat makes exercising lousy) with a desk option.


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