My Year on ADHD Drugs
My Year on ADHD Drugs
Note: This is part three of my series on procrastination and attention deficit disorder (ADD). If you’re wondering why I’m calling it ADD instead of ADHD, please see the last post.
This post was started back in 2016. It has been sitting in my draft folder, nearly ready to go out, for three years. That is entirely normal for my life.
However, since so much time has passed, I’ve rewritten much of this piece … let’s dive in, shall we?
Here’s the joke about trying to fix procrastination if you have ADD or ADHD: You keep forgetting to do the thing you were supposed to do in order to stop procrastinating.
Apps, lists, systems, schedules … whatever. I have tried all of them. I will spend hours organizing this thing that I just know is going to get me on track. And then I use the thing for a day, maybe two. Often less than a day. And then … it just disappears from my mind.
I don’t know what happens.
Or maybe I do. My mind pulls a fast one.
It’s like, my mind reasons that I just spent SO MUCH TIME doing the set up of the thing that I think I have everything internalized. That means I don’t need to look at the app/system/spreadsheet RIGHT NOW. I can look later, when I need it.
And then I forget about it.
Or I set calendar reminders that it’s time to change tasks and I ignore them because I need 5 more minutes or 20 more minutes or 3 more hours to finish what I’m doing … and then that pushes everything else back to the point that the calendar reminders are useless. Then I decide to start tomorrow with a clean slate. And then I continue to ignore them the next day, too.
So in 2014, I decided that it was time to try some other methods. Like pharmaceutical ones.
Dr. Trish hits the Internet
I wasn’t entirely sold on the idea of drugs. I’m not anti-drug, I just wasn’t sure that I wanted to take them myself. Because if I was smart and not a total mess, I should be able to fix this myself, right? Yes!
But no. Because I had never been able to.
So I googled things like “holistic remedies for attention deficit disorder.” I ended up using something called Focus Addult, which looks like it’s now only sold as part of a three-pack with some other remedies. Did it help? Maybe a little. I didn’t really feel any different on it, but I did have the experience a few times of going “Wow, I got a lot done today,” and then realizing “Oh yeah … I took that stuff.” Or I may have just been on deadline. I’m a powerhouse of productivity when the clock is ticking.
I wondered if a real, actual prescription would help.
I knew a girl in college who had mega ADHD. She was normally talkative and excitable, but always interesting and sharp and hilarious. Then one day she would not shut the hell up at all. Even to breathe. It was like trying to corral a puppy. She finally mentioned that she’d sold her Ritalin to someone in her dorm to make some money.
That was when I saw the power of what drugs could do.
That was on my mind when I started my online research. I read a whole lot of terrible things about what college kids do with Adderrall. It’s a controlled substance. An amphetamine. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to go that route.
Then I found something called Stattera that seemed like it might be a good fit for me. I went to my doc and asked for it.
She had been my doctor for more than a decade and knew me pretty well. We had a discussion about my symptoms and the effect they were having on my life. She agreed to write me a prescription.
You have to ramp up on Strattera. There’s a bigger dose every few days until you hit the 30-day mark. I felt a little spacey the first day or two, but then I didn’t feel much for a while.
Somewhere around week two or three, things started to feel just a bit sharper. I was maybe 1% more productive… and then 2% more productive … and then 5% more productive.
Then one day I was driving and all of a sudden I felt my whole brain shift. Like some gears that hadn’t been quite syncing up all of a sudden slipped into place. If you’ve ever had the experience of needing glasses or having an outdated prescription and then getting the right one … Oh! I didn’t realize I was missing so much! It was like that. But in my brain.
As I was driving, I thought, “Oh my god … is this how other people feel all the time?”
After that, I started to feel pretty productive. It wasn’t always on the right things, but I got stuff done. For example, I had an extra five minutes to kill one Saturday while waiting for a mom to come pick up her daughter … so I decided to just go ahead and wash down all of my kitchen cabinets.
I liked being able to get things done. The problem was that my personality sort of … went away.
My whole life, I have moved through the world in a state of goofy wonder. I love to ponder Life’s Big Questions, all while looking for the punchline. I’m deep, but weird, and I generally find myself pretty entertaining.
With Strattera, all that went away. I became very serious. Everything became very linear. It was like the Trish filter through which I normally viewed the world had been turned off. I felt a little robotic. I wondered if the payoff might be worth it, if it meant that I could behave more like a “normal” human being and get through my days easier.
And then one day my mom told me that I didn’t seem like myself anymore.
That was it for me. I decided to be done with Strattera.
When I got the prescription, I had asked my doc what to do if I didn’t like it. She said I could just stop, because I shouldn’t experience withdrawal if I had only been on less than a month.
And now, let’s explore the most terrifying 12 hours of my life.
I always think of brain connections like one of those old-timey phone switchboards. During withdrawal from Strattera, it was like someone yanked out all the cords for happiness, joy, hope, or any kind of positive emotion. All at once.
If you’re a Harry Potter fan, think of the Dementors and how they make it seem as if you’ll never fear cheerful again. That’s how I felt.
I had about 12 hours of complete despair. Thank God it happened when my kids were at their dad’s. (Seriously, God, thankyouthankyouthankyou for this.)
When I first started feeling bad, I didn’t know what was happening. I just knew I felt awful and I wanted to escape from it so I decided to leave the house. I went to a movie at the old timey movie theater in my town. I sat in the balcony and cried through the entirety of The Theory of Everything.
After the movie it was dusk and lightly snowing. I decided to walk. I walked all over the downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods, so thankful that no one was out because I couldn’t get the tears to stop coming out of my face.
I finally went home and sat on the couch and cried and cried and cried. I felt like there was no point to anything in life at all. I made a plan. I decided that I would just have to maintain a brave face until my kids grew up … and then I would become a recluse until I died.
Real, but not
What was weird about all of this, was that while it was happening and I was feeling all of it very intensely, there was another part of my brain that was talking me through it. “Trish, you know this is not you. This is withdrawal. Just hang on. Get through this part and you’ll be fine on the other side. None of this is real.”
Another thing: I knew I should probably call someone. I had people in my life I could’ve called. I didn’t. I couldn’t. I could not put words together to explain what was happening to me. I was afraid that I would just pick up the phone and start sobbing and scare the shit out of whoever answered and then that person would always wonder if I was just a little bit psychotic. Also, I felt like such a worthless wretch that I just knew everyone had better things to do than deal with me.
I have never considered suicide in my life and I didn’t consider it during that episode either … but it made me understand why someone would think about it. I walked away with a new perspective on what people with clinical depression may feel like.
Finally, a few weeks later, I decided to go ahead and try everyone’s favorite drug, Adderall. The doc started me on the same dose that my friend’s skinny little 6-year old was on.
That didn’t seem to do anything, so she increased my dose.
The first day I took the new dose, I was like “Wow! I’m in such a great mood! Everything is awesome!” But that was just that one morning, and I never felt like that from it again.
Aside: I saw an an Internet discussion where someone said that if you really have ADHD, you can’t catch a buzz from Adderall. Something about Adderall causing a dopamine overflow in people who don’t have ADHD and since ADHD-people are dopamine deficient they don’t get the same effect. BUT, I read all of that a long time ago and I can’t find the source and it’s the Internet so there was probably no more medical knowledge behind that than there is on this blog.
Anyway, with the new dose, I felt a little more focused, but not super-focused. The procrastination was certainly still in effect.
The doc said I could increase my dose again.
I don’t know if the higher dose was effective or not, because I was distracted by the fact that my heart was pounding so hard that I thought it was going to break through my rib cage and land on the floor.
I did not take a second dose at that strength.
I stayed on the lower dose for a while, but I didn’t see enough of a benefit to remain on it.
I haven’t tried any ADHD meds since then. I’ve continued to struggle.
And here we are, five years later. Not much has changed, other than the fact that I’ve piled five more years of self loathing and shame onto my shoulders. Carrying all of this around is making me tired. I’m ready for some real solutions, but I also don’t know if they exist.
More on that next time. And now, a prayer.
Hi. So, as you know, this month has been an ass kicker for many reasons. To use some corporate-speak, we’ll deal with all that stuff offline, mmmkay? But here, I would just like to ask for your assistance to get one more blog post out the door before March is over. I need an extra shove on this one, because this topic is so shameful for me that it’s really hard to write about. My procrastination is having a field day with this. Please make me brave and please give me the power I need to finish this.
Also, please do not let me poo my pants at the Indigo Girls concert tonight. I have the suspicion that this colon cleanse I’m doing may kick into high gear today.
I have the honor to be your obedient servant,
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