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.