Me and ADD: A life out of focus
This past August, my blogging buddy Lex posted an article on Lies Our Parents Told Us entitled “Becoming A.D.D. Positive.” It’s actually a two-part series that describes her Attention Deficit Disorder diagnosis, her reliance on Adderall and her attempt to control this condition on her own. Aside from being very well written and interesting, the article also strikes a personal chord with me. You see, I have also been diagnosed with ADD. And like Lex, I have struggled with and without medication, so I figured what the hell. Why not add to the discussion by sharing my own ADD experiences?
Unlike Lex, I was diagnosed with ADD as an adult—I think I was 37 or 38 at the time. I’m currently 41 years old, so it wasn’t all that long ago. In addition to ADD, I suffer from a mild to moderate case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, so I stay as organized and detailed as possible at all times. The medication just makes this easier, but I can function okay without it. Don’t let me fool you, though. The meds really motivate me. They’re amphetamine-based, after all, so I get a lot of shit done when I’m on them.
I know what you’re thinking: ADD for adults is total bullshit. And in at least one way, I agree. You see, I believe we are all suffering from ADD in one form or another. Think about all the fleeting images and messages that bombard us daily through computers, cell phones, televisions, tablet PCs, laptops and every other technological device we allow to steal our attention and rule our lives. Advertisers understand that quick snippets of appealing pictures and memorable “copy” are all our puny attention spans can handle, so they inundate us at every turn. Eventually we start losing focus, half-assing projects, daydreaming and expecting things to change more rapidly in every aspect of our lives.
In other words, we all become ADD-positive, some more than others. I just happen to be one of the “some” who deal with more than the occasional distraction. And yes, medication can sometimes help, but it comes at a price—and I’m not talking about its financial cost, either. More on that later.
Before I was officially diagnosed with ADD, I always suspected something was up. In college, I majored in English and always enjoyed writing short stories, screenplays and poems. The only problem was that I never actually finished anything. I would be all gung-ho to start a new project, but before it was complete, I would find something different to work on. I had notebooks filled with ideas, computer files of unfinished work and really nothing to show for it. This became a pattern well into graduate school and by the time I started my current career, the ADD was in full effect. Sure, I used my organizational skills, daily routines and OCD to help control it, but it was always there waiting to pull me in another direction.
As much as I hate to admit it, I did try both Ritalin and Adderall before either was prescribed for me. A friend who had a prescription for each—at one time or another—once shared a few pills with me. I was safe and took a standard dose, of course. And then I sat down to write. And let me tell you, the floodgates opened and the ideas came pouring out. Before I knew it, I had the rough draft of a complete short story in hand. I also ended up doing some cleaning or something and getting things really spick-and-span.
It was easy to see how people could get addicted to this feeling. The medicine gave me a deep and sustained rush of energy, allowed me to focus on single tasks until they were done and basically made me as productive as a child laborer in any “respectable” third world sweat shop.
It’s safe to say that I loved it. Unfortunately, it didn’t last because my “generous” friend with the prescriptions moved away. Again I found myself simply coping with this condition, medicine-free, and the years passed before I finally took action.
As it turned out, an old high school friend of mine—now a psychologist—started working part-time hours on campus to help our students, so one day I paid her a visit. We had a discussion about my challenges, habits, issues… basically all my problems. Go figure, right? Then she gave me an assessment to take and return to her later. Not only that, but she gave me similar assessments for my wife and a colleague, both of which would need to be returned in a sealed envelope to ensure confidentiality. Obviously the people closest to me might have some useful information to offer, as well.
I did as I was told, collected the assessments from everyone—sign, sealed, delivered, if you will—and took them back to my friend. Later that afternoon, she called to tell me it was clear: I definitely had adult ADD. Since she couldn’t prescribe anything for me, she referred me to a psychiatrist. He was a nice Indian fellow and I spent several hours answering all kinds of questions before he finally coughed up the prescription.
The next day, I started taking 30-milligram extended-release Adderall capsules and continued to take them for about a year. And yes, I started to get shit done, but it came at a cost. The side effects were to be expected: loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, irritability, hallucinations and a laundry list of other potential issues. I was happy to learn that rectal bleeding and uncontrollable bowel movements were not on the menu. Of course, I did turn into a completely impatient asshole, too. The “getting shit done” blinders were always on and I simply didn’t have time for people who refused to speak, act or move with lightning speed. Couldn’t they see they were standing in the way of progress? I should have known there was trouble when people started avoiding me, but I was way too busy… you guessed it… getting shit done.
The loss of appetite thing was no picnic, either. I skipped breakfast and lunch most days, finally eating something at dinner and even then, I sometimes felt I was forcing it down. I did it because I knew I needed it, but eventually all those skipped meals caught up to me. I won’t share the grisly details because honestly, some of it is pretty gross. Suffice it to say there was significant pain involved.
A year or so later, I gave up the Adderall because I was tired of being “that guy.” My friends and family tolerated as much as they could and I’m sure my colleagues at work suffered. Everyone deserved a break, including me. And to be honest, the recession hit hard and I needed to save some money, so Adderall was expendable. It wasn’t like I needed it to stay alive or anything. I lived for years without medication and did just fine. Now I would simply have to do it again. And I did for quite a while.
Until recently, that is.
Last week, amidst an almost endless pile of work, blog posts and other responsibilities—and despite my coping strategies—I decided it was time to consider medication again. I needed to focus and hoped there had been some innovation in the field; I did not want to be on Adderall again. So I spoke with my doctor and switched to Vyvanse, which supposedly has milder side effects. Thankfully, this is true and I have been taking it for several days now. I’m getting things done, but I can slow down anytime someone comes around and genuinely focus my attention on them. I sometimes rush to get things done, and then take some time to ease off and breathe for a spell. The Vyvanse is smoother than Adderall and I definitely don’t feel as antsy. The appetite suppression is there, of course, but it’s less pronounced. I can eat anytime, but skipping lunch occasionally is still a danger—I just did it today for the first time in months.
If you’re one of those people who think adult ADD doesn’t exist, so be it. We all exhibit symptoms from time to time due to our fast-paced, media-driven culture, in my opinion, but we are also entitled to our own opinions. What matters is that I believe and have taken steps to control my ADD. Whether I’m taking the meds or experimenting with different coping strategies, I know it will always be a challenge.
Like my good friend Lex wrote in part two of her ADD series, I someday hope to “run on my own” without the medication. But for now, I embrace it because of one important benefit: I am once again getting shit done. And that includes writing this verbose post, which now seems like a perfect example of what can happen when blogging and ADD meet. Be warned!
I just hate that any readers suffering from ADD may never read this entire post. Could some more medication be in order?
Posted on September 11, 2012, in Perspectives, Life and tagged writing, life, health, humor, personal, musings, perspectives, medicine, Adderall, Adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Vyvanse, Ritalin, ADHD In Teenagers. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.