Last year my diagnosing psychologist said there wasn’t a place ADHD ended and I began, but in the year since, I’ve learned that’s not entirely true. While I didn’t see her until last year, I knew the time had come nearly a year prior.
For the third time in as many months, I hit my head badly enough to break the skin. I parked my car and looked at my phone. I saw something that triggered my anger. When I stepped out of the car, I thought I’d forgotten my purse (it was already slung over my shoulder.) I quickly turned, smacked my head less than an inch from my temple, and saw stars. I had to sit for several minutes. The pain was so intense, it radiated to my shoulder. Just a week later I managed to get a goose egg on the other side of my head from my locker at the gym. Again. Anyway, my first step was mentioning the possibility of ADHD to my husband. As expected, he looked at me like I was crazy. Then I could see something click into place. He finally had an explanation for at least some of my quirks that confounded him since the beginning: my impatience, aimless wandering, random outbursts, spacing out, procrastination... ...It only took several months later to seek help. I worried she would say nothing was wrong with me; I was just crazy. Even when she confirmed my diagnosis, I still asked if I was crazy. She assured me I was sane. Given her profit model, I felt safe taking it to heart. Besides, it’s not in my nature to sugarcoat personal failings; what would be the point?
"She generally gave herself very good advice (though she very seldom followed it), and sometimes she scolded herself so severely as to bring tears to her eyes..." - Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll
Then I saw my physician and started taking 40 mg of a non-stimulant proven to ease ADHD symptoms. Even if it worked, it would never be as effective as a stimulant and it would take longer to have a noticeable effect, but it would work 24/7 once it did. The only side effects I’ve experienced were temporary. Synthetic food tasted bad, and I didn’t crave sweets and salty foods as much (Kraft Mac ‘n Cheese still tastes sugary and gross.) I have a theory it’s not so much that our medication kills our appetites; rather, so many of us eat for the wrong reasons, like boredom and sadness, we have to learn how to eat to live instead of living to eat when the compulsion is gone. After a couple weeks, I was driving to the gym with nothing on my mind except the next lyric of the song I was listening to, and anything directly related to the drive. It freaked me out. I told my husband, and he just looked at me like, “and?” It turns out everybody else doesn’t have three or four trains of thought at all times, even and especially while driving. “Y’all don’t do a lot of thinking, do you?” I asked, at once envious and horrified.
"We sleepwalk through our lives, because how could we live if we were always this awake?”
- Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men
I worried the medication was doing what so many naysayers claim it does, and robbing me of my personality. As it turns out, I can still juggle multiple trains of thought; I just have control over when I do instead of being at my brain’s mercy when I should focus on driving or working, or when I want to sleep.
I felt better rested, and even though I still loathed chores and the daily minutiae, they became more tolerable. I almost never lost my keys, sunglasses, or phone anymore.
Everything was great, until late summer. My husband noticed a decline, too. Normally the dosage is increased from 40 mg to 80 mg after a few weeks if there’s no concerning side effects because 40 mg isn’t enough for most. I’d been fine at 40 mg for several months, but part of me was scared. What if increasing it made no difference?
After months of enjoying a sense of normalcy I never knew I was missing, I couldn’t go back. I kept thinking about the novel Flowers for Algernon. Yeah, it was about a guy that went from an IQ in the 60s to a genius before his treatment started to wear off, not someone who just had ADHD and an above average IQ to compensate, but his loneliness resonated with me.
"I just want to be smart like other pepul so I can have lots of frends."
- Daniel Keyes, Flowers for Algernon
Fortunately the increase helped. My husband worried I was slipping again in December, but I was confident it was just the holiday excitement. One day I came home on a lunch break and watched my favorite YouTuber talk about ADHD and accidents. I realized the last time I hurt myself was breaking my toe in karate a couple months before, a totally normal sports injury. I was excited to share my progress, but then I realized I was running late, so I ran out the door and hit my head getting into the car. Not hard, but I was embarrassed and didn’t want my husband to know. I can be increased to 100 mg, but that’s the highest allowable dosage. The alternative is trying stimulants. They are called stimulants because they stimulate production of chemicals we don’t produce as well as people who are neurotypical (stimulants function very differently in NTs who abuse them.) The downside is they only last so long and we can still be plagued by problems like insomnia, which exacerbate symptoms. I’m not a zombie. Medication didn’t change my personality. If anything, I have a better sense of who I am. I’m still very much go, go, go, and I want to do all the things - but I’m actually competent and stick with them. My abilities are starting to match my ambitions. Who knows what I could have accomplished had I done something sooner.
"That's the thing about human life--there is no control group, no way to ever know how any of us would have turned out if any variables had been changed.”
- Daniel Keyes, Flowers for Algernon
I’m also less of a danger to myself and others.
No, we aren’t ALL a little ADHD any more than anyone who is sad now and then can be said to suffer from actual depression (that was one of those short term side effects - holy crap! - glad it was temporary.) And it’s not just whimsical personality quirks to be celebrated and embraced either (though understanding from others certainly helps.)
Depending on severity, we’re at greater risk for injury (including car accidents and self harm) and death. Emotional dis-regulation, inattention, and impulsiveness can be dangerous. Who knew? I don’t even have legs riddled with mystery bruises from bumping into stationary objects (in my own home!) anymore. All my life I thought I was clumsy and uncoordinated, but maybe that’s one place where the line between ADHD and me can be drawn.
"Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle.”
- Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll
I also have a clearer sense of where I fit in my problems, and while ADHD poses challenges to maintaining friendships, it’s not always my fault when things go wrong, though it does make me a convenient scapegoat just as I sometimes observe happening to my son or others with neurological differences. The biggest disappointment about medication is that while it can help what’s wrong with me, it can’t do anything about anyone else. I foolishly imagined I’d suddenly know all the right things to say at exactly the right time to fix...well, everything, but I have to settle for being less of a walking disaster. As originally posted on social media spring 2019