“What is it like to be on ADHD medication?” a friend asked me the day I started.
For me? It was a huge mental difference. Not a “high,” but a zen calm. It’s the feeling you would get after sitting down after a long hike up a mountain to visit a sub-tropical rainforest spring. But that’s only part of it, because it’s hard to describe without also understanding what living without medication is like. Until I started, I had no idea either. I mean, I had read about the external symptoms and I’d ticked enough boxes to get myself to a specialist. But I didn’t really understand.
In fact, when I asked the specialist, in my usual worried way, “How will I know if it’s working?” he smiled at me and said, “You will know.” I swear, I heard a Yoda-like cadence there, too. This was not reassuring at the time. But of course he was right.
What does it feel like to be on ADHD medication? For me, it feels like being a person without ADHD. I get up and I can do things. The visual buzz quietens – I can actually focus on things without needing to deploy visualization minimization strategies, such as looking down when I walk, or finding material to occupy my mind, like reading. I can walk without a hat and look up instead of at my feet and still be able to do things like cross a street safely. The visual noise is gone.
I have a lot of strategies I’ve developed over the years to get things done. Hell, most days I look and act functional. I thought this was what everyone did, but I was in awe of people who could remember other people’s names, or be able to remember an appointment and get there on time without multiple loud buzzers as reminders. I didn’t understand how someone could always remember to bring essential stuff like wallets and handbags without carefully planned and practiced mindfulness techniques.
If you’ve ever seen me worriedly scanning a seat after I get up, or doing a quick once-over of a room before I leave it, that’s why. But if the routine is interrupted? Boom. Lost stuff. Forgetting glasses, or expensive musical instruments. Yes, that happened. Twice. Thank goodness for honest people. Actually that could be my mantra – thank goodness for honest people, as I have left many important things over the years. In fact, despite all my careful groundwork, it still happens at least once a month.
I also have zero organizational capacity, something I mention to people when I meet them. Usually it’s met with, “Oh yes, I’m terrible at that too.” But they don’t really understand. I’m not going to pick up a phone and organize a meetup. That’s two steps. I can’t do that without a lot of mental gymnastics. And the more stuff I have to organize, the worse it all gets. I was pretty functional before I had two kids who also have the organizational ability of goldfish. Now, I can get us to medical appointments mostly on-time, and with most of the stuff we need. Going beyond that? Flying pigs all the way.
When I was 9, my brother dubbed me the absent-minded professor. It was his nickname for me for years. If you’ve ever read “Tintin,” you’ll remember Professor Calculus, who shows up and talks high-level physics and math before accidentally eating his shoe. Well, imagine Professor Calculus is a she, and she settled down and had two mini-Calculuses, who might also accidentally eat their own shoes, but are probably going to wander up to mummy’s chalk-board and correct her math.
I can’t pay bills. I can’t use the phone to organize stuff if I have to look up a number and dial first. (And yes, my husband has on occasion looked up the number, dialed it and then handed me the phone.) I’m probably going to forget organized meetups, or get the date wrong if I don’t write it down and set an alarm straight away. And I mean straight away. A minute later? It’s gone.
Also, that worry-face? Had that since before puberty. I’ve had permanent worry-lines since then as well. My wonderful husband finds it amusing when when I tell him bemused stories about random strangers asking me if I need help or directions almost every time I go out. I’ve even been asked at my local train station, when I was traveling through there four to five times a week. By the staff.
In my life, there was a borderline-panic that was so familiar it became background noise. On medication? That voice just stopped. It’s like living with Mr Chatterbox for so long you don’t realize they are there. And then suddenly… silence.
My brain had to scream over that noise to be heard. Now, I don’t have to do the internal yell at myself to kick in the adrenaline so I go into a mini-panic to break my concentration. On medication, my brain doesn’t need to recreate every horror imaginable in order to get my butt into gear, from dying in a ditch of starvation through to the sacrifice of my first-born. Suddenly, there’s enough quiet to be able to say, “Hey, you’re bit hungry. Maybe you should get breakfast now.” And then my brain goes, “Yeah, OK, let’s do that.” So I get up, and have breakfast.
That’s a bloody miracle. All praise the medical science gods. Really.
It kind of makes me a bit weepy – but thankfully only a bit (and that’s the medication too, by the way). I don’t need to keep going over and over and over the same scenario in my head. I practiced for years to redirect my mind and find ways to break out of those cycles. It took years until I reached the point where I would only have to mull on things a few dozen times a day. Even though I knew it was pointless. Even on really trivial stuff.
I built mental muscles to heave that darn boulder up the hill. I got used to the weight of fighting my own brain. In fact, I’ve always had to do this – I didn’t know other people don’t do this every day. I got used to the weight of that thing.
And then it was gone.
That first day? You couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.
It felt like a holiday. It feels like freedom.
Editor’s note: Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.
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