Reflections #2: A Weird Relationship with ADHD Medication

Because of my ADHD, I’m supposed to have a tendency to be late to everything. I actually have the opposite problem – I’m early everywhere. I chalk that up to having been a band geek in high school. I think I carved the phrase “Fifteen minutes early is on time, on time is late,” into my soul. Also, I hate being late. I hate missing things (although doctor’s appointments aren’t really exciting enough for me to miss anything).

I’ve been thinking about the way ADHD impacts me, as well as the way it impacts everyone around me. Most people, when they hear the term “ADHD” think “Oh, she’s just got an attention problem, a focus problem.” The condition deals with a lot more than an inability to focus properly, although it does center around that. Or, more precisely, it centers around the inability to prioritize our focus, to sort out the things that matter against the vivid background of noise and attention-grabbing scenery the world provides.

I spent 25 years without a diagnosis, without medication, and then I spent one year on Adderall. I combined that with therapy. And I did well. Incredibly well – I got my priorities in life straightened out, figured out what I wanted to do with my life in terms of going back to school, and I stopped ruining relationships. Then, after I’d been successfully using the medication for a year, I decided I had learned enough about myself while on the medication to be able to handle going off of it.

So I’ve spent the last 1.5 years without medication. And I thought I was doing fine – at least, in terms of relationships, I’ve managed to get to a point where I don’t wreck them. But I was going back over my semester grades over the past 2.5 years, and I realized something that staggered me – when I was taking my medicine, I was making straight A’s. As soon as I stopped taking it, my grades started dropping. Not because Adderall makes you smarter (anyone who thinks that doesn’t understand the way the medication works at all), but because I stopped being able to properly focus on my classwork. I stopped being able to see it as a priority in my life, and I started focusing all of my time on my social life. In other words, I wasn’t handling being off medication as well as I thought I was.

And that was a stark realization for me. I’ve always been afraid of becoming too dependent on medication, becoming addicted because my mother was an alcoholic and addictive personalities are common in my family. Before I even agreed to a first script, I spent four months obsessively researching the dangers of Adderall addiction, the likelihood of it happening with prescribed doses, and the side effects of the medication. I became as much as an expert on Adderall as I became an expert on ADHD (once I had my diagnosis, I obsessively read every book I could get my hands on about the condition…at this point, I’ve easily read at least 15 books on the subject, if not more.

Adderall isn’t a cure-all, though. It doesn’t eliminate the conditions of the disorder, just like how insulin doesn’t cure diabetes. What the medicine does, however, is make the condition manageable. Lessens the severity of the symptoms, allows for a bit of quiet in a restless mind to be able to get things done. Balances out emotions so that you don’t always feel like you’re ping-ponging back and forth – which, by the way, is why ADHD is often misdiagnosed as Bipolar Disorder. Emotional dysregulation is a huge component of the condition, as is an inability to experience time properly.

Time management is a weird concept to those of us with ADHD because we don’t really experience it, so we don’t have any idea how long it actually takes us to do things. Which leads us to putting things off because we think they are going to take longer than they do (case in point, I tend to put washing off a handful of dishes because I think it’s going to take me around an hour to do them, and then I time myself when I do them and find it only takes about ten minutes). Or we get super involved in something we’re interested in and forget that we have an appointment or a class at a certain time. “Surely ten more minutes won’t interfere with my ability to get there on time.” An hour later, you’ve missed the entire class. Also, note I said I hate being late…if I’m going to be late, I will generally just skip the entire thing. I’m working on that, as skipping classes is not conducive to making good grades.

Anyway, ADHD and the medication used to treat it are topics that are much more complex than most people realize. It’s a legitimate neurobiological disorder that can, and does, destroy people’s lives. So if you’re one of those who thinks that ADHD is just a fad, just an excuse, or just a way to make hyper kids behave… do us all a favor and do some real research. You just might learn something.

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10 thoughts on “Reflections #2: A Weird Relationship with ADHD Medication

  1. In Clearwater FL, I couldn’t fill my Adderall prescription for weeks at a time. People (college students) abuse this drug so much, no pharmacy in the area carried it. I finally asked my psychiatrist for the non-addictive Vyvanse, just so I can have my medication available and not go without. Any of you had similar experiences?

    • A lot of college students do abuse the drug, making it harder to get – especially in larger areas. Clearwater is a much bigger place than where I live with a population of ~109,000. In comparison, Todd (my location) has ~2,400 people, Boone (where I go to school) has ~18,400 people, and Jefferson (where I get my medication) has ~1,600 people.

      Due to the lower population in these areas, the only difficulty I’ve ever had in obtaining Adderall has occurred when pharmacies run out of it, and then I usually have to wait 2-3 days for them to order it.

      I’ve heard of plenty of people who have had serious issues with getting Adderall because of the rampant abuse of it on college campuses. I have also heard professors talk about the medication in very disparaging tones, which is also upsetting because it diminishes the reality of the severity of the condition.

  2. Thank You, Kyaza. I have struggled myself for so long, diagnosed so many freakin times. It has been almost a year myself with Medication and Therapy.
    Time management..Wow you spoke right to me! As for the this current moment and past few months.. I can honestly say. Things are a lot calmer.. For once looking/observing from the outside 🙂 and just not stuck or involved as much. Allowed me to heal for once and be ok. Guess this is my best way to portray…
    Yes the outsiders made opinions isn’t that addictive? Sell it on the streets? LOL..
    These same close people have said nothing since…
    Perhaps they see change? or perhaps forgot? Honestly don’t care
    This is my very first time speaking about this or writing. I have been searching for someone or something with a sense of “empathy” or in the “know” … Thanks again

    • I think it depends on how severe the ADHD is when it comes to people noticing change in someone who has started on medication. I know, for me, I started taking medication when I was working, and my manager took me aside one day and was like “What’s going on? You’re not bouncing off walls anymore. It’s nice, but what happened?” So I explained it to her, and she was understanding.

      I typically don’t give others a chance to say anything back when I tell them I have ADHD. I do try to mention it when I think it’s relevant, but when I do, I do so in a way where I mention it, then move on immediately to something else. I treat it like it’s not a big deal – a fact of life – and, in my experience, most people respond in the same way.

      I had a harder time getting my family to understand. I grew up hearing from my dad that “ADD doesn’t exist, it’s just an excuse.” From my mom, “It can be controlled without medication.” From my grandmother: “You’re too smart to have that.”

      All damaging messages, of sorts, and it took awhile to push past them. But, in my overall experience…most of the people I talk to about it are more understanding than lacking in compassion.

  3. @kyaza
    Have you ever tried strattera? It’s a non stimulant med for adhd. I am a female with adhd also. It’s the only thing that’s really worked for me. Also , reboxetine (an antidepressant ) is also another medication used off lable for adhd. I’m trying reboxetine now because strattera is too expensive at $115 per box here in Australia.

    • I haven’t tried a non-stimulant medication, as the research done on all ADHD meds indicates that if a stimulant works for someone with ADHD, it is nearly always the best choice. Non-stimulant medication works, certainly, but it doesn’t treat the condition as effectively as stimulant medication has proven to do. I have friends who take Vyvanse, Concerta, and Adderall. I have yet to meet in-person someone with ADHD who uses non-stimulant medication, but I am aware that quite a bit of research has been done into both types. Everyone’s body responds differently, which is why there are so many medications for doctors to choose from. I’m glad that you found a medication that works for you!

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