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My ADHD Is Still Valid Even If I'm Not on Medication

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“You don’t have this diagnosis because you can survive unmedicated.”

When I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety about 10 years ago, I immediately started medication. It was a long and hard road, filled with horrible side effects, various doses, different cocktails and mixes of pills, terrifying withdrawal and a roller coaster of physical and mental impacts. Ultimately, I ended up deciding not to continue with further medication trials after some truly traumatizing experiences.

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A few years ago, when I was finally diagnosed with ADHD, I was faced with the medication question again. I decided to try medication because my doctor seemed to think it was the only option. Again, I really struggled with side effects — I was focusing on the wrong things, lost my appetite completely, lost my sleep and struggled with jitters. The doctor suggested switching medications, but I just didn’t have it in me. I figured I’d somehow dealt with my symptoms before being diagnosed for this long, I could probably try some other strategies to cope and live with my ADHD. I immediately noticed that with ADHD, people questioned the validity of my diagnosis because I chose not to take medication. People, medical professionals included, came to the conclusion that because I didn’t take medication, I couldn’t actually have ADHD.

The assumption that people make is that if I don’t take medication, I must not have ADHD or it must not be that bad. Trust me, it’s still that bad — the negative impacts of medication were just worse and didn’t seem worth it. There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t struggle with ADHD, yet I still survive unmedicated. Just because I’m surviving, doesn’t mean I’m not struggling. Medication shouldn’t be the determinant if someone’s health struggle, in my case ADHD, is real.

There are a ton of reasons why people may not medicate, and not one of them is because they don’t truly have ADHD. Medication is expensive and inaccessible for a lot of people, and that could be one reason why people don’t take medication for their ADHD. Another reason could be that the side effects or interactions with other medications make it difficult to find a good option. I also found that when I was taking medication, I would face a ton of scrutiny and judgment from the pharmacy I went to. It was like they thought I was selling the medication on the street or something because they were stimulants. I hated the way they looked at me, and the way they asked their questions that I dreaded going to the pharmacy to pick up medication. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a factor in my decision to discontinue ADHD medication.

Medication is a tool — it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, and my choice to not medicate shouldn’t say anything about how bad my ADHD is. I do my best to cope in other ways, whether it’s finding workarounds and routines, getting lots of sleep and limiting sugar or allowing myself grace to live in my neurodivergent way. I’m not saying that people don’t need medication — many people do and that’s totally OK (if I’m being honest, I probably need medication too). But someone’s ADHD status is not determined by their medication status, and to suggest otherwise is unfair to folks like me who genuinely struggle but often have our issues overlooked or invalidated because we don’t medicate.

I should have the autonomy and right to determine what treatment is the best for me, and should not have to justify my struggles because of the choices I’ve made. It’s so frustrating to have people not believe I have ADHD solely because I don’t take medication — they don’t know what I deal with on a daily basis, they don’t understand how much I still struggle and it’s not fair to have to feel like I have to prove how bad it is.

Many people think not needing medication means something isn’t “that bad” or that a person is making up their diagnosis because they can manage without pharmaceuticals. If I have a stomach ache or a headache and don’t take an over the counter medication for it, it doesn’t mean that pain doesn’t exist. It’s the same with ADHD and prescription medications. My ADHD exists and is very real with or without medication.

While I’m not against medication, and may revisit it in the future, my hope for now is that people learn to respect that you don’t need medication to justify your struggle. Medication does not make your condition any more valid or real. Your diagnosis exists entirely independently of your treatment plan. If you’re not comfortable with the treatment options presented by your doctor or outside observers, speak up. You’re the expert on how you feel, and that should be respected without invalidating your experiences. If you’re struggling with feeling like your experiences aren’t “that bad” because you can get by without medication, I see you and I’m with you.

Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash

Originally published: August 27, 2021
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