It’s another weekday morning and I need to get up. I have 30 minutes to attend a lecture at 8 am, and I’m still snoozing. I know I need to get up, but on one hand I just can’t give one fuck. If I dare show up even 1 minute late, my name goes into the infamous ‘log book of shame’ for the 4th time in the month. This was actual data that the medical school kept, to keep track of students who arrive late, or missed scheduled events. Again I couldn’t give one fuck about that either. I finally gather up strength to get up and miraculously, I arrive on time.
So I’m now listening to a 50 min lecture struggling for attention. For the 1st 10 minutes, it’s going ok, I’m attentive and soaking it in. I know it’s important because someone’s life may depend on that information some day. 16 minutes later, I’m on an Island 5,000 miles away in Nicaragua, feeding bananas to monkeys. How, just how? So I snap back into it and get my mind back into the lecture. I do my hardest to stay focused, and just 5 minutes later, I’m in Ford Field watching football. This cycle goes on the entire lecture. 50 minutes is up and I got 15 minutes worth of information max. I was present the entire time, wasn’t I? So I would do this for 4 more lectures in the day and at some point wonder why I bother wake up for this.
So the lectures are done and it’s now time to go and study. I begin enthusiastically and make a little progress, until I get that facebook message. Two hrs later into my studying time I realize I haven’t done crap. It’s like being present in body form only. My mind has a will of it’s own. A will too powerful for me.
I learnt that society in general and medical school in particular hates people like me. We are the epitome of imperfectness. We are ‘lazy’ and ‘unmotivated’. I had to remind myself that I’m not stupid, I just have ADD. I knew I needed to do something to manage or rather”mask” this trait of mine a little better.
I opted for big pharma’s solution for everything; medicate!! Started with very tiny doses of Ritalin, which seemed appealing at the time. The 1st time I took the stimulants, I felt such an amazing high in mood and energy. It was like a powerful cup of coffee except just ten times as good. The feeling was addictive and I wanted more. Slowly but surely I was building tolerance to this and in no time I was taking 6 times the initial dose. I realized that I needed to be drugged up to function, making me no different than a cocaine addict. My sense of self and self-reliance was disappearing into this drug dependent person. Not forgetting the lows after the drug effects wane away, the feeling is brutal. There was the problem of depressed appetite, abdominal symptoms, the jitters and the mare dependency on the pills. I couldn’t bare the idea of doing anything that required thinking, without taking the drug. This wasn’t me. Besides, the entire time I was dependent on these drugs, I didn’t learn any ADD copying skills.
The drugs had to go. In some good old fashioned cold turkey version, I walked into an exam room and took a 9 hr exam without having taken the medication…and passed. That was it, and I had never looked back since then. I resolved that my understanding of this condition should be enough for me to get around it. That and constant coaching. As Clint Eastwood once said, “a man must know his limits.” I’m definitely a man with well defined attention limits and I know it. That doesn’t mean I need to be medicated. Resolving to medication for me was like giving up on myself.
I learnt I had I had ADD in my mid 20’s, which I thought was strange until I realized that people in their 60’s can be found with this. More research is now showing that ADD or rather ADHD can be inherited. A lot of times, Adults learn they have it after a diagnosis is made in their child. That’s great for someone who has always straggled like me, with problems streaming from a lack of attention, and inability to focus through out life and can finally get some closure. What I don’t understand is the management.
We have a problem in the medical world and that is with over-prescription of medication. I’m ok with medicating children to an extent if everything else has failed but there’s got to be efforts to try something else. Under the current system, these drugs might as well just be chemical restraints to help teachers deal with kids better.
As for adults, the justification for medication just doesn’t add up. The kind of problems that adults have are different from that of children with ADHD. These are problems to do with managing many aspects of one’s life. They typically include financial issues like not paying bills on time, poor debt management, bankruptcies, or inability to keep a job, or show up on time etc. Now, unless you are going to be medicated 24/7, there is no practical pharmaceutical solution here. The problem here is that medication, no matter how good, cannot fix these issues because they stem from a lack of personal structure and you cannot magically get that from a pill. Adult ADHD is a real problem and I get it, but it’s one that can only be solved with real, non pharmaceutical help.
The saying goes ‘a problem well stated is a problem half solved’. Getting the diagnosis is a relief for most people, because you finally understand why you act the way they do. So I do not in any way trivialize the diagnosis. ADHD is a manageable condition whose management does not only require drugs. There are issues of cost, dependency and tolerance with all ADHD medication and these are real problems too. These meds are not harmless either. These are stimulants not too different from cocaine and meth and have been known to be abused too. There are side effects that can affect heart function and blood pressure and drug interactions in patients on multiple medication. Simply stated, there are no magic pills out there. Medication can help but it doesn’t teach skills. There’s plenty of resources on ways to cope besides medication, and that is not emphasized enough. Alternatives range from dietary changes, to coaching and onto exercise. In fact, exercise alone can be effective against ADHD, anxiety, stress and depression.
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