(That “work harder” image is a little ADHD joke. “You just need to work harder!”)
Way back in the day—you know, when I was an expert on all things child-related because I didn’t have kids—I thought ADHD was a bullshit notion, and medicating children was horrible. “They just need to get outside more!” I said… like everyone without kids or knowledge of ADHD says.
I knew f*ck all about what it was to raise a kid, let alone a kid with ADHD. I knew even less about ADHD overall. (Ironic, isn’t it? I’ve had it all this time.)
When I’d been misdiagnosed with bipolar and other “disorders,” including anxiety and depression, it was a no-brainer to accept all the prescriptions I was given. I have, at some point in my life, been on: Prozac, Buspar, Imipramine, was asked to go on Lithum once (I refused), Xanax briefly, and a few others that I forget the name of. I had a nervous breakdown when I lived in Prague (due to an emotionally and psychologially abusive relationship that culminated in my then-boyfriend rushing in to our apartment to throw me down and choke me till I almost blacked out), and that got me a pile of prescriptions for depression, anxiety, and sleep.
I’ve got some wild stories from that time. Would you believe I still didn’t leave that relationship? (I was sure I deserved everything he’d done to me) He moved out of our apartment in Prague to live in another city, and we dragged it out long-distance for a while. We still saw each other frequently and texted daily. I wish I had a copy of all the wacky text messages I sent him when I was on all the prescription pills at night. They were disturbing but funny AF.
I was on a lot of prescription pills for a couple of months, plus marijuana and buckets of booze. Ironically, my Czech therapist had sent me to a psychiatrist to get pills to “stabilize me,” because I was in such bad shape at the time. They did not stabilize me, but they did probably keep me knocked out enough to prevent me from getting black out drunk every other night and fucking every hot European who crossed my path. (I was an English teacher then, and taught EFL to professional adults in big corporations. I did have some fun times with some male students… an American kid who wrote horrible poetry, a Czech-Canadian, and oh… oh, the green-eyed Croatian DJ who I actually sort of fell in love with. I’ve got this thing about green-eyed musically inclined types. In case you’re unaware, my husband falls under that category.)
Woah, major digression there. That’s my ADHD brain, for you.
I was on a lot of pills that sent me spiraling down the blackest hole I’ve ever seen but that also kept me from (bigger) harm’s way. One day I woke up and thought, “I can’t do this anymore.” I quit everything I was on, even my birth control pill. When I went off the pill, I suddenly found that my anxiety had gone way, way down. From that point, I decided I would never take another goddamn medication again. For over a decade, I didn’t take so much as an aspirin. (Notice I said “medication.” Recreational drugs and “self-medication” were another story.) I had breast reduction surgery and was given pain killers for afterwards. I told them that I probably wouldn’t need them because one, I don’t take prescription drugs and two, I have a freakishly high pain tolerance… they almost forcefully insisted I at least get the prescription filled beforehand. I dutifully did so, but never even opened the bottle.
So once my son was diagnosed with ADHD, and I could no longer deny the fact that I’ve had it all this time, too, we had decisions to make. For my son, the idea of giving meds like this to such a tiny little brain that’s still developing… nope. It scares me too much. Do I think it’s wrong? No. Do I judge other parents for doing it now? ABSOLUTELY NOT. We homeschool, and because we homeschool, the ADHD isn’t a major issue just yet. He’s doing far better at home in creating a structure and routine that works really well for him. He’s FAR more disciplined at home than he was during his time in a brick and mortar school. So as he gets older, we’ll continue to revisit how he’s doing and the goals he hopes to achieve. If he decides he’d like to try medication, when he’s old enough to understand how the ADHD impacts him and what taking medication means, I will fully support him in doing so.
As for me. I first thought, no way. I made it this far without meds, why bother now, right?
But I haven’t really “made it this far.” What I’ve done is mastered the art of adapting, overcompensating, rationalizing, giving things up, and masking. I overachieve to compensate for my failures. I graduated Magna cum Laude with a degree that, yes, I really enjoyed but wasn’t what I really wanted. I couldn’t focus enough to pass written exams in the field I wanted, even though I guarantee you I knew the material and concepts better than anyone. I’ve given up a lot, I’ve not gone after things I really want, I struggle with the day-to-day, most of my days are spent berating myself and feeling like loser who can’t get her shit together. I upset people off with my flightiness and inability to stick to plans. I have something called “rejection sensitive dysphoria” (common with ADHD) which, in simple terms means that I perceive everyone as thinking I’m “weird” or being angry with or disappointed in me all the time. If I see an email from someone I haven’t heard from in a while, I’ll put off opening it because I’m afraid it’s an email detailing something I’ve done to upset them. If I have to cancel plans with someone, I’m terrified they’ll never speak to me again (and will then avoid the follow-up text from them for days because I’m so sure it’s something angry.) If I get an A- instead of an A+, I feel like a failure. If I get an A+, I feel like a fake. Every time I’ve contributed to discussions in classes, I’ve spent the next few hours berating myself for talking too much and thinking I’ll be mocked later. After spending time with friends, I obsess over everything I said, wondering if I said something “stupid,” weird, or just TMI. (Like this entire post. I will wake up in the middle of the night tonight, think of this immediately, and remind myself to take it down when I wake up… but I will not take it down because I’m making a concerted effort to let this freak flag fly.)
I’ve realized that I’ve spent the last decade, especially the last five years, withdrawing socially. It was all well and good when I was an often-drunk party girl, but can I tell you the truth? I fucking hate the parent socializing thing. Dealing with school obligations, teachers, and other parents my age-ish is what really put the nail in my social coffin. That’s not so say they aren’t nice, or that there aren’t other parent-adults my age that I like. It just means that I feel so horrifically out of place with “adults” and other parents. I mean, I feel out of place with everyone, but the parent-types even more so. (Most people don’t get my very dark, very warped and often rambling sense of humor… those of you who do are GOLD.)
Oh, hell… where was I?
MEDICATION. That’s right.
I’ve had a real “come to Jesus” moment (but not really “Jesus” because I’m an atheist) a couple months ago. I’ve tracked all the ways the ADHD has prevented me from functioning and from doing the things I really want to do. I’ve also tracked the ways that the “ADHD anger” and inability to regulate has impeded forward progress in some areas of my life. And I’ve tried. For decades, I have tried to make changes. I’ve been seeing therapists since I was sixteen. I’ve tried cognitive behavioral therapy. I’ve tried elimination diets, meditation and yoga (for years), accountability-buddy systems, overpriced “health habits” courses (the yoga version of “life coaching”), alarms, schedules, vitamins, diet changes…
I have tried everything. And I feel like a fucking failure every single time.
Though the first couple of days were rough, these four days on ADHD medication have done more for me than decades of trying everything else. I’ve completed tasks quickly and without anxiety. I’ve been writing again. I’ve picked back up on studying for the Spanish DELE exam and been able to read texts completely. I’ve been staying on task. I’m on task but not so hyperfocused that I lose all sense of time and forget to eat. Like, the fact that I can just get up to go to the bathroom when I need to and then come right back to what I was doing is HUUUUUUUUUUUGE. When I take the meds, I’m calmer, my thoughts are slowed down to a manageable pace, I can think clearly, and I’m not as upset by noises and distractions. I’ve been able to parse my annoyance at little things out from my valid anger related to bigger issues that are being worked on. I can use the time ON the meds to build new neural pathways that help me stay regulated on my “days off” from the meds.
I don’t know if I’ll take these for the rest of my life. The good and really weird thing about ADHD medication is that you take it whenever you want to. Meaning, I can take it one day a week, two days, three days, four, etc… I don’t plan on taking it every day. Unlike SSRIs and the like, they don’t need time to build up in your system.
I’m not even thinking about “the rest of my life,” because that kind of looking ahead gives me panic attacks. One of my learned coping mechanisms has been to look no further than the present moment, but with the long term in mind.
So in this present moment, I feel really fucking hopeful. I feel hopeful in a way that nothing else I’ve tried has made me feel.