What My ADHD Is Like With and Without Medication


I often get asked why I take medication for my ADHD. This is often followed by an anecdote about someone they know who was magically “cured” of their ADHD through exercise, acupuncture or some other non-medication based method of treatment. The best way for me to answer this question is to provide an example of a day with meds and a day without them. The following are two such examples:

A day without meds: 

I set the alarm for 7:30 A.M. and then hit snooze 5-7 times before I realize it is already 8:30 A.M. I left my mom’s dogs last night at 11:00 P.M. and now they have been inside without a potty break for 9 and a half hours. I get up and quickly get dressed, only to realize I put my spandex on backward.

I did not pack my bag last night, so I try to remember what my plans are for the day. I also forgot to plan the day out; luckily, I have no firm plans. I throw together a gym bag and go through a list of workout necessities in my head: sneakers, headphones, inhaler, boxing gloves, water bottle. I also throw in a granola bar for good measure. I later realize that I forget to pack my pre-workout, my hand wraps and my socks.

I stop at a coffee shop on the way and grab a latte and a bagel. The latte is to self-medicate, the bagel is because I didn’t grab my yogurt and fruit out of the fridge as I rushed out.

I get to my mom’s house and the poor pups have been alone for way too long, but luckily they were both very good boys and had no accidents. I let them out so they can pee and then grab their breakfast. Meanwhile I forgot my dog was in the garage waiting in my car… luckily it’s a cool day. I let him out and bring the other two pups in for breakfast and they eat while I rummage through the cabinets trying to locate the toaster. Halfway through eating my bagel I realize that the cats have not been fed yet, so I put my bagel down and I go fill their bowls.

When I return to my bagel I realize my coffee is still full. I take a sip and it’s lukewarm; I down it before it gets cold. I look at my phone and it’s now 11:00 and I had planned to be at the gym before 10:00. It’s noon when I finally pull into the parking lot.

I get through the lifting portion of my workout and go to get my boxing gloves. This is when I realize I have not packed my hand wraps, which are used to prevent injury in the hands and wrists. I put the gloves on anyway because who needs wraps? I sprain my wrist when my glove slips off the heavy bag, but I keep going anyway because working out is helping me calm down.

It’s 2:00 when I finish and I have no food with me, so I go to the grocery store next door and quickly get a salad and some chicken. I head back to my mom’s house to prepare my food. While I eat lunch, my dog groans and barks at me. I didn’t bring food for him, “Sorry, little guy.”

By 4:00 I am heading home, which is when I remember I have to refill my meds. I stop at the pharmacy and go in. They ask for an ID and I shuffle through the old receipts and the loose cards in my wallet without any success. I don’t know where it is or when I last used it.

I go home and search my house, but it is nowhere to be found. I decide to take a trash bag to my car and empty out a week’s worth of clutter to see if I can find it. I clean up and still no ID, so I give up the hunt, but decide to clean out my wallet anyway. As I am removing old receipts, I find a folded up paper in my walllet. I wonder what it is, I open it up and my ID falls out. I look at the time. “Shit!” The pharmacy closes in 45 minutes.

At the pharmacy I hand the tech my ID and my script. I ask to refill my other ADHD medication as well. She says something that sounds like we need a refill, and I insist I brought in multiple copies in September. She seems mad and repeats that it has been filled already; she means it is ready for pickup.

I wait for my other med to be filled and head back home. It’s 6:00 P.M. and I haven’t done any work today on my thesis. I make dinner and turn on the TV while I eat. I get caught up in a binge watching session and when I look at the time, it’s 11:00 P.M. “How did this happen?” I study some Japanese vocabulary in an effort to feel mildly productive, and then head for bed. My thoughts are spinning and it takes me longer than normal to fall asleep.

A day with meds:

I set my alarm for 8:00 and I take my meds in bed. I goof around on my phone and wait for them to kick in. By 9:00, I am up and dressed. I go to the kitchen and clean up last night’s dinner before making myself breakfast.

By 11:00 I have cleaned up the backyard a bit, picked up trash in my living room and put my dismembered vacuum back together (no, I do not know why it was dismembered). I turn on the essential oil diffuser in my office, which emits a citrus blend called focus. I cannot say if it truly improves my focus, but I can hope for placebo effect, right? I turn on my desktop and open the windows to get air moving through the room. I go back to my kitchen, fill the kettle with water, and pick a decaf tea to brew. Once the tea is ready, I head back to my office and begin work on my thesis.

I realize about an hour into research that I have not had lunch yet, so I quickly make a peanut butter sandwich and cut up an apple. I eat while I work. I work for several hours with small breaks as I go. I make dinner and do a little more work. At 9:00 P.M., I stop my work and go watch my favorite TV show, “Scorpion.” I also schedule out the rest of my week on my favorite app, glass (I 100 percent recommend this for anyone with ADHD… and everyone in general).

After enjoying the show, I organize my bags for the next day, and by midnight I am tucked into my bed. I am unconscious within 20 minutes of laying down.

The stark difference between these two days is why I take medication. It doesn’t make me more productive than your average person, but it does make my brain function in a way that allows me to keep track of my life. With medication, I forget fewer things, I don’t self-medicate with coffee, and my brain slows down enough that I can clean and organize. I also have better impulse control, my focus is consistent, and my emotions are less erratic. I feel like I am in control of my day!

This may not seem like much to someone without executive dysfunction, but for me it’s huge. It’s the difference between being effective and productive, and losing my s*** altogether. If you have a kid with ADHD or if you have it yourself, do not fall into the trap of thinking meds are a security blanket, a sign of weakness or aren’t necessary. Some people cope without them, and can manage with exercise, diet and learned skills. But some of us need medication to function. Don’t judge people who choose medication for themselves or their child. Medication is just that, medication and it can be as essential to someone with ADHD as insulin is essential for someone with diabetes.

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Thinkstock photo by Banana Stock.

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