Diagnosed with ADHD in menopause, Lucy Macnamara, founder of Aspiga, shares her toolkit for coping
The penny dropped for Lucy Macnamara - founder of Aspiga, the hugely successful, ethical fashion brand known for its pretty dresses - last year when she read a newspaper story about midlife women with ADHD.
“I thought, ‘Oh my god, that’s me!” she says. “The notion that you’re a successful businesswoman but your personal life is chaos. I’m like a swan, swimming along fine, but my legs underneath are all over the place, going around in circles. I’m forever losing keys, scratching the car, missing appointments.”
After seeking help from ADHD life coach Amber Macintosh, Lucy, who lives in London and Hampshire, was then diagnosed by a private psychiatrist last year, at the age of 54.
She recognizes that the condition has, in some part, contributed to her professional success - Aspiga made £8m in sales last year, is one of the few fashion brands to be awarded B-Corp status for its sustainable and ethical practices, and is a favourite with celebrities such as Mariella Frostrup: Dr Zoe Williams, Georgia Toffolo and Kate Garraway “I have the drive and energy to push ideas forward and I can make decisions quickly from my gut,” she says. But she wishes she’d known she had ADHD earlier in life.
She scraped through at school, with the adjectives “distracting and distracted” featuring regularly on her reports. “People with ADHD are five times more likely not to get married or to get divorced - I am not married, despite some lovely offers, as I always thought the grass was greener and was afraid of being bored,” she says.
Like many other women diagnosed with ADHD in mid-life, Lucy has struggled to unpick where menopause symptoms end and ADHD symptoms begin. “My big menopause symptom was I’d be standing making my cup of tea first thing, and my heart would be racing. I’d think, ‘How can I fit everything in today? I have so much to do,’” says Lucy, now 55. “That’s what you go through daily with ADHD – that sense of always wanting to do too much.”
Her psychiatrist prescribed methylphenidate, the most commonly used ADHD medicine. Lucy managed just three days. Feeling sick and dizzy, she gave up.
“With ADHD, you are impatient and intolerant, so rather than persevere, I put it to one side,” she admits. Instead, she has researched and tried out various alternative supplements and lifestyle changes, which, she says, have hugely helped with symptoms such as lack of focus, a racing mind, overwhelm, anxiety and insomnia. “I’m calmer, my mind is sharper and sleeping better now,” she says. “And when I’ve slept well, I don’t get into a panic about being too tired to face the day.”
(It is our duty to say, however, that if you are worried you have ADHD, please seek professional medical help (a good start is the NHS web page on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) in the first instance. Your GP is unable to make a diagnosis, but they can refer you to a specialist psychiatrist for assessment. Equally, if you have a confirmed diagnosis but are struggling to manage your symptoms, speak to your specialist before making changes to your treatment plan.)
Lucy hasn’t ruled out trying again with medication in the future, but here is what is currently helping her manage her ADHD.
My sleep aid: Vitabright Magnesium Citrate, £18.99
“Magnesium supplements help calm my mind so I sleep better. My sleep used to be very interrupted but I’ve noticed a huge improvement. I sleep longer and deeper, and wake up feeling refreshed.”
To improve focus: Eskimo 3 Pure Omega-3 Fish Oil, £33.95
“I am the kind of person who’ll be on a Zoom call while also trying to do emails at the same time, and not focusing properly on either. This omega 3 fish oil helps with concentration. I’ve definitely noticed I feel sharper.”
For stress relief on extra busy days: Holland & Barrett Rhodiola Stress Relief, £12.99
“This herbal supplement helps relieve stress and anxiety and is helpful on those days when I go into overdrive when I’ve got so much packed in that I feel I can’t cope."
Instant calm in my handbag: Green Stem Wild Strawberry CBD oil, £13.92
“I use this CBD oil when I’m travelling, especially when I’m going to the airport, which is somewhere you must be on time. It’s always in my handbag and I’ll take it as and when I need it. It calms me down on high stress days.”
My alternative to a glass of wine: Trip Elderflower Mint CBD Drink, £1.50
“When I have a drink in the evening, the next day I’m a bit of a car crash and I forget things. Drinking alcohol doesn’t mix with trying to run a business. I have actually cut back massively on drinking over the last ten years because I started getting headaches from menopausal hormone changes. I like a Trip because it feels a bit more special than having a glass of water.”
Making exercise a daily non-negotiable
“Finding out I had ADHD made me realise I have to be much more disciplined about exercise. It’s very important that I fit in 45 to 60 minutes of exercise before work and I don’t feel bad now if I turn up a bit later to the office because everyone – myself, my staff – benefits from me being calmer after exercise. I vary it.
"I walk the dogs, I do yoga [with GTG editorial director and yoga teacher Victoria Woodhall], I do weights, I walk to the office. I also ride at the weekend when I’m in Hampshire. I struggle to sit still; I’ve always got jittering legs or I’m biting my nails. Getting rid of some of that energy by exercising really helps.”
Eating for my brain
“I’m trying to eat better, not for my weight (which is fine) but for my brain. I am impatient so don’t take the time to cook healthy things, which means I often end up eating rubbish. But I’m trying get more organized by doing slow cooking – well, I’ve bought a slow cooker but it hasn’t been unwrapped yet! The plan is to have a veggie curry ready in the slow cooker when I’m really hungry at lunchtime, rather than having to grab toast, which is what happened every day last week. It’s a work in progress!”