A white room.
The day I was diagnosed, they brought me into a (not kidding) white room with a metal table. There was a machine at the head of the table. The machine kind of reminded me of a shrunken MRI scanner, but I didn’t have much of a chance to study it.
I laid down, and they put wires all over my head and my chest. The wires were gooey (“How am I going to get that out of my hair?”). Mom had kept me awake for most of the night, so when they told me to go to sleep, and I was out like a light. I was eight years old.
Mom had resisted getting me tested, despite my teachers pushing for it. I was easily distracted, day-dreamed, and (let’s face it) I was a weird kid. Mom didn’t want to try to “diagnose” what she believed was simply boredom. Yet, my behavior didn’t change.
I began disliking school, and had a hard time keeping up. I would go to the back of the classroom to read for undetermined amounts of time. Whoops, I just missed a good chunk of the math lesson. Again. It turns out, when they put those wires all over my head, they were actually testing me for petit mal seizures.
Instead, it was good ‘ole ADHD.
Medication merry-go-round, or The Joy of Side-Effects.
They began medicating me when I was 10. I wanted the meds, because I thought that taking this pill would make me a good student. I started on Adderall. I immediately felt motivated and productive. For a few days.
Then the side effects came in: anorexia, insomnia, mood swings. I was in a fog. The most I ate in one sitting was a slice of cold pizza. It seemed like an enormous amount. I gained a mere pound that year. I could suck my stomach all the way to my spine; that was pretty cool, even if it did upset my pediatrician. Still, I was so exhausted that I crawled up the stairs at home.
I was switched to Concerta, which was fine, I guess. I didn’t feel like myself. My teachers claimed they saw improvement in me, but I felt like I was seeing everything through a film.
Lastly, I was moved to Strattera. I saw commercials for Strattera on TV, so I was excited to try it. Once on it, though, I felt the same as I did on Concerta. At the age of 16, I made the executive decision to stop taking my meds.
What happened next?
Other than feeling like myself again, nothing. I worked at a daycare during high school. After graduating, I worked part-time as a receptionist throughout college. I graduated with my Bachelor’s Cum Laude. I got a good job two weeks after graduation. I’m married, and now work in the city while balancing side gigs and hobbies.
Was the diagnosis wrong? I wondered for years. For some time, I thought that the teachers just wanted me zonked out on meds so I would be less of an annoyance. The memories of the side-effects are still vivid. But so are the symptoms.
I leave the oven on when I leave the house. I don’t hear important instructions at work. I always have a million tabs open on my browser. I get so involved in my day-dreams that I don’t even register that someone is speaking to me (not even after repeated attempts). Even if I resolve to complete a task, I’ll look up to realize that I’ve wasted 30 minutes just putting stickers on my hands. I’ve resigned that I have ADHD.
Holding it together.
I have a coworker who also has ADHD. She says she wishes she was diagnosed at a young age like I was. For years, she didn’t know what was wrong with her. She medicates, and it has transformed her productivity and focus. I guess we all need to find our magic bullet.
I’ll admit, some days my symptoms are so bad that I consider medicating. But there’s a block there. I just can’t. I’ve even tried the natural stuff: herbal remedies, dietary adjustments, caffeine… no change.
At my worst, I often don’t realize that I’ve made a mistake until it’s revealed later. Sometimes my mind feels like a minefield. I’m wandering through, wondering when I’m going to step on a bomb, e.g. a mistake that I’ve made that I didn’t know about. It’s a terrible feeling, but I’d rather have that than go back on medication. Perhaps it’s irresponsible of me. Ok, then. I’ll own that label.
A plus side
Having ADHD definitely has its drawbacks. Missing the obvious all the time can be dangerous. However, for all that I miss, I balance myself out. When I’m interested in something, I can lock-in and absorb for hours. Yes, actual hours. And that kind of laser-focus can last for days, weeks, maybe months. When I’m engrossed like that, I feel like Neo in the Matrix: “I know Kung Fu”. I call it my superpower.
Without medication, I can take ownership of my life and my mis-wired brain. I write down thoughts as they pop into my head so I can remember them later, instead of getting distracted at work. I try to be kind to myself; I’m as kind to myself as my environment allows.
My husband is sympathetic, and I’m grateful for that. I’m afraid that my kids will struggle like I have. If they do, and they want a prescription, we will consider it. Finally, I use a planner — just the kind Mom tried to get me to use in school.