I know I already posted on Instagram but I got my medication adjusted and holy fuck it’s helped so much.
I have ADHD. Not the insouciantly trivialized version you may find on a verse of a 2000’s pop song, but the real thing. The severe kind, I might add. My mom and my teachers first noticed the signs when I was three years old, but once I received my autism diagnosis, the ADHD piece became overshadowed by it.
Things got pretty bad, halfway into my high school years. I couldn’t focus, no matter how hard I tried. My analytical knack carried me through my classes, even a couple of APs and Honors, but I wasn’t really learning. I couldn’t get through a book, though I fooled everyone into thinking I did my assigned readings by waiting for my classmates to speak and then inserting my opinion. I remember several instances where I went a week straight without doing my homework. I routinely joked about BSing my classes, but I wasn’t proud of it.
Despite only doing the bare minimum, I was always tired. I struggled to shower and brush my teeth. One time, my mom had to blot my head with a paper towel, because my hair was so greasy. Another time, my mom was driving me home from school, and my sister said that she could smell my breath from the backseat. That year, my dentist found several cavities in my teeth.
It felt impossible to build habits and reach goals when my brain defied me at every turn. It took me a day to complete a single item in my to-do-list, because I couldn’t concentrate. I spent a lot of time mindlessly scrolling on social media. Instead of living in the moment, I lived for the scarce days where the fog inside my head thinned. Being patient with myself could only go so far.
This fog inside my head made me a stranger to the perfectionism, rivalry, and fixation on academic performance that so many of my classmates espoused. I was honest with my limitations, and I attended to my own needs, which was something many of my friends were afraid to do. It rarely occurred to me to compare myself to other people. But the fog also estranged me from my own needs, desires, and aspirations. I can’t count all the times I badly wanted to do something, but couldn’t bring myself to do so. I knew that I had a thoughtful, creative mind, but I barely used it.
Some people say that ADHD is a burden on civilization because it makes you a less efficient member of the workforce; others say that ADHD only exists because of the way society is set up, that in an alternate universe, it would just be a personality trait, not a disorder. I don’t think any of these people could fathom that my inattention prevented me from exercising agency over my own life; everything else was collateral damage.
At one point in high school, I consulted my psychiatrist about starting ADHD medications. She told me that she won’t prescribe Adderall or Ritalin, as stimulants can worsen cardiovascular problems. She said that there were other medications, but that there were possible risks. My father discouraged me from investigating further.
I knew that medication wasn’t the only way to manage ADHD, but I could see that the adults around me were running out of ways to help me. My inability to focus was chalked up as a part of anxiety, whether it meant that the constant brain fog was psychosomatic and could be soothed away, or simply that my complaints were exaggerated. Everyone liked the idea of working with me, but they couldn’t handle the realities of me. They liked me, because I always asked for help, unlike other kids who waited until the last minute to tell a teacher they’ve been struggling. They liked me, because I took my problems seriously, unlike other kids who say oh well and shrug it all away. They put me on a pedestal for being motivated, proactive and self-aware, saying that other kids need to be more like me, until I presented them with something too scary. The second shit hit the fan, they ran for the hills. They dodged the subject and deflected the question, falling back on the same bullshit explanations: it’s her anxiety talking — again. The adults were just as lost as I was, and that was scary.
I made it into college and somehow got by, until I experienced a traumatic event. As I found myself in the midst of chaos and destruction caused by someone who claimed to love me, I knew that I needed to get my own life together. Or else, I feared, I’d get lost in the shattered pieces; I’d never move on and choose my own fate. Addressing my ADHD was one of my top priorities, so I decided to revisit my treatment options. I directly reached out to my cardiologist and got her in touch with my psychiatrist. Luckily, they found a medication that would be safe for me to try.
I started my first dose on January 1st, 2020. It was below the recommended minimum dose, but it did something. I was able to get off my ass, even though I couldn’t stay on task for too long. Though I still felt lethargic, I no longer felt paralyzed in inaction. I finally got around to exploring all the coping skills that were recommended to me left and right. I set up to-do-lists and guided timers on my devices. I re-taught myself to bathe daily and repair my skin, which displayed the strain of an unhealthy lifestyle. My grades improved. I was able to write more, and that’s when I started publishing stuff.
I resumed in-person learning for sophomore year. I loved being on campus and I was happier than ever, but I couldn't keep up. Even after I learned to cut out distractions, I couldn’t read and write for more than an hour per day, and I ended up dropping a class from my already reduced course load, making me a part-time student. I started to worry about holding down a job, once I lose the safety net of college. I also wondered if I was being naive for expecting anything beyond. I felt robbed, dispossessed: So you’re telling me I have to shrink my big dreams to fit my miniscule bandwidth. You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. My case manager suggested I could speak to a doctor about it. Maybe, she said, there was something that could be done to improve my stamina.
I spoke to my psychiatrist, and we decided to try increasing my dose. After a few days, I began to notice changes. I felt more in control of my own actions. I still felt tempted to procrastinate (WHO DOESN’T?), but I was able to talk myself out of it. In other words, the ability to think clearly helped me act in alignment with my values. Not to mention, I was able to concentrate for a longer period of time without becoming completely wiped out. I finished a paper early, while drafting an article. I couldn’t believe it! For once, my life felt manageable.
I know that I come across rather skittish. Rest assured, I’m not becoming high or manic because of the meds. My ADHD was utterly debilitating before, and I’m elated that this is no longer the case.
I’ve previously spoken about my disability in neutral — and at times, vague — terms, as I believe disability is a part of who I am and not just something wrong with my brain, but I must elaborate: there are parts of my ADHD that feels less like a different way of navigating, and more like a thick fog obfuscating me from the rest of the world. My unevenly meted IQ points, and the strange ways my brain organizes information, are things I could work with, and have come to embrace; on the other hand, the constant sluggishness and inability to concentrate have caused me immeasurable distress, regardless of the great lengths I have gone to I accommodate it. Pursuing treatment has given me freedom, and even within the 2 weeks I’ve been on my new dose, I’ve overcome so much, to the point I began to reconsider aspirations that I’d previously concluded to be infeasible.
I don’t take any of this for granted. The medication I speak of isn’t considered a first-in-line treatment for ADHD. It’s an off-label prescription with mixed results. I just hit the jackpot.
Being medicated for ADHD has helped my mood more than any antidepressant has. There is no doubt that the demons of dissociation and existential anguish thrived on my inability to apply myself to everyday, practical things. On ADHD medication, I feel more grounded. I don’t feel like the same person I was when I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. I still have fears and worries, but they don’t feel irrational or extreme.
Sometimes, I can’t help but to hypothesize. What if I’d started meds earlier? Would I have gotten better grades? Would I have gotten into a better college? Would I have more opportunities now? What if my meds stop working? What if my physical health gets bad and I have to stop taking it? I’m going to be devastated, won’t I? But I know it’s not helpful or constructive to think like that. My past is not wasted time, but a source of wisdom and proof of how strong I am. And of course I can’t predict the future — that’s what makes life thrilling, isn’t it? All I can do to make things easier for the future me is to cultivate the present me.
I’m not done processing — not that I’m in any sort of rush. You know, I’m a writer. I talk about real things that have happened in my life or other people’s lives, and with that comes feelings, opinions, and colorful (in every sense of the word) descriptions. Being medicated gave me a new outlook on life and I’m still figuring out how to talk about all this.
Before I started medication myself, I came across a bunch of online posts discussing ADHD medication. A lot of people depicted their pre-medicated life as a sort of purgatory, warning people that ADHD ruins lives and that they should be medicated before it’s too late. It was discouraging to hear that my current life was other people’s worst nightmares; they may as well have looked me in the eyes and told me, “I can’t believe you live like this. HOW???” People tried to reassure me that my ADHD wasn’t as severe as theirs, but how could they have known, when they only saw a small glimpse of my life? I knew damn well that my life looked more like a “before” than an “after” in these vignettes. I’m now medicated (obviously), but I still think about people out there who cannot or chooses not to take medication, and what this means. No one is wrong for telling their story, but I know that it can evoke difficult emotions. I will do my best to tell mine honestly, but responsibly… as always.
Also — I’ve never used the word illness when talking about ADHD because it didn’t feel right. You might be wondering: now that I'm on a pill for it and felt better right away, does that mean that I consider ADHD an illness? Maybe. I’m medicated, but I’m still far from neurotypical. I think my disability, like myself, contains multitudes, that it’s both a different way of being and sickness. Make whatever you will. I’m too busy going out and doing all the shit I thought I could never do.
Until next time,