This post is going to be quite a story but it’s one that I feel compelled to write about. There’s a lot going on in my mind but here’s the TL;DR:
I started taking medication for my ADHD this week. My current job created struggles that I didn’t have before, due to the responsibilities that I wanted to take on. The medication is helping a lot and I feel like I can start to win the battles that I’ve been waging with my impulses.
I was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 5. My teachers expressed to my mom that they just couldn’t handle me anymore when everyone is sitting down for story time and I’m running around the circle playing duck, duck, goose.
So my mom took me to a mental health facility and asked them to diagnose me. I was diagnosed with ADHD. At the time ADD and ADHD were still called different things so the distinction there is that I really was the hyperactive type.
For those not in the know, ADHD medication comes in two branches. The first is a relaxant-type medication. These are usually based on methylphenidate. The second is a stimulant-type medication. These are usually based on amphetamine. I was given the relaxant-type medication with brand name Ritalin.
I took this medication until I was 14 years old. By that time I had hit puberty and my physical hyperactivity had diminished quite a bit. The medication was affecting me differently. Instead of the happy-go-lucky boy that I was usually, I would be a zombie and at times very moody. I wasn’t feeling well, so when I turned 14, my mom asked me if I wanted to continue medication. I said no.
I also had the option to try a different medication, but I didn’t even want to try that. I ended up having 6 months of minor depression and at some point even attempted suicide by trying to overdose on the remaining ritalin I had. Nobody told me it couldn’t kill you, so I just ended up staying up all night as a result.
Fast-forward 6 years and I’m researching ADHD to learn more about my condition. When I was 14, I didn’t know that there were two branches of medication for dealing with ADHD and when I found out, I was elated. I could make up for my ADHD without feeling like a zombie? That’s great news!
At the time I no longer had a family doctor (that should have been gotten sooner) so I had to wait almost a year to get one. The list for folks waiting for a family doctor here in the province of Québec in Canada. Better than not having social health care though! Once I got a family doctor, I scheduled an appointment immediately.
I expressed to the doctor that I had ADHD and that I wanted to start on medication, specifically something in the stimulant branch. My doctor then asked all the regular questions about my ADHD experience and I explained myself. But then they asked me if I could get the place that diagnosed me to forward over the diagnosis papers and then I could get a prescription. Fair enough, these are regulated medications that the doctor could get audited on (at least in Canada).
Once I got on the medication, I couldn’t really feel much of a difference. My doctor asked if I was willing to try upping the dose a bit, and I was. At this new dosage, I was starting to feel it, but the effects weren’t to level where I felt like I was at…I don’t even really know what I was looking for. I just knew it wasn’t enough. So we upped the dose once more, and that’s when things started to actually feel wonky.
I was stuttering a bit more than I was comfortable with, I was feeling shaky, but I also got this weird head fog. I stopped taking the meds entirely not long before my prescription was due for renewal.
Something that I wasn’t aware of at the time was that caffeine could interact with the medication in a negative way. While caffeine consumption in tandem with the medication isn’t strictly incompatible, consuming large amounts of caffeine can strongly destabilize a person while taking higher doses of this medication. They’re both stimulants and if they’re both trying to stimulate similar parts of the brain, the effects can become unknown.
I was drinking a total of 48oz of coffee in a day. Obviously that’s a terribly high amount and I’ve since drastically reduced my caffeine consumption by more than half, but this adverse interaction between the drugs didn’t become clear to me until I was doing more research over the past 6 months. Two other things contributed to a failure in effective treatment, however.
The first is that I didn’t really have a clear need for taking the medication. The job I was doing at the time was cold-callling people on the phone to sell some bullshit product to companies. (This was something that was fixed to basically extort money out of customers. That was what Sekure Merchant Solutions was. I’ll maybe write a little more on what kind of trickery they pull on their customers. ) So I wasn’t taxed with a lot of responsibility. All I had to do was show up, sit down, and read a script while an autodialer brought me my next potential customer. I had nothing to strive towards.
That brings me to the second reason that the treatment failed: I didn’t even know what I wanted out of the treatment. I figured that because I had ADHD, that I would probably benefit from being on medication. Why not try it out and see what happens? I had nothing to benchmark my experience against. I had a beginning without an end.
That brings to about a year and a few months ago. The responsibilities that I have on me for my job since then have really brought to light how much my ADHD symptoms interfere with my goals, professionally and personally.
For context, I work in the IT department for my employer. When I started I was simply a helpdesk specialist, but about a year into my job, I was offered a position where my duties would soon be split between taking care of tickets and also taking care of coordination for any IT-related matters for office-related projects.
As a helpdesk specialist, your job consists mostly of taking care of tickets that come in from your fellow colleagues, fixing their problems and then writing documentation for recurring problems where necessary. You do the tickets from earliest to most recent, taking into account the urgency and impact of the ticket if there’s something that needs to be taken care of sooner than later.
As you can see, there’s not much organizational skills required aside from being procedural in your troubleshooting and noting down what’s been done. There’s little prioritization needed to be done by you. There’s very little time management aside from making sure you make it on time to the daily scrum.
A year into my job I got those aforementioned responsibilities. Now I’m responsible for following up with third parties for a wide variety of things, communicating with our procurement department, making sure that we have proper stock of computer equipment, and working on the quarterly projects. All of this means that the time-management, prioritization, organization, and focusing skills that ADHD folks lack are now required of me.
I Saw the Sign
So over the past year and some, I had been struggling with the same things that so many with ADHD struggle with. I had poor impulse control, I couldn’t keep on task, I would be chronically late to meetings that I knew I had to be present for, and I would not be prioritizing the right things as urgencies would come up. As much as my knowledge of ADHD was in the back of my brain, I ignored it.
I figured that I could power through the ADHD. If I would just put a little more effort into maintaining discipline on myself, I (thought I) knew that I could meet the demands. So I pushed myself harder, and I kept pushing harder over a year’s time. Yet every time I would push hard, I would come up against a wall, and fall back into old habits. I foolishly thought that I could will away the symptoms that should have been so clear to me.
It wasn’t until 2-3 months ago that something clicked. Brace yourself, this may sound a little silly.
Ted Lasso is a television show and the main character (Ted) is this very optimistic, happy-go-lucky, and seemingly resilient person. No matter how tough the going gets, he just keeps going. The inflexion moment for me, however, was when Ted broke down over the death of his father (which had happened when he was 16) and reached out to his therapist, no matter how much he believed that he could be okay on his own.
It was that moment that I realized that I needed to reach out. I couldn’t push myself harder and harder until the point of breaking. What I didn’t realize (and hindsight is 20/20) is that while I pushed myself harder and harder, I was pushing myself closer and closer to depression. The whole time, I was battling against myself. Trying to combat my impulses. Knowing better but choosing to chow down on another piece of cake anyway, among other impulses.
So I decided to seek treatment. I wanted to start about where I left off 6 years ago and that’s what I’m doing now, to a degree. My doctor said that I should start on a lower dose than I stopped at and ramp up over the next 3 weeks to the same original dose, and see how I feel. They also gave me the power (by marking in the prescription) to change back down to a lower dose if I felt it was necessary.
At the moment I’m still on the lowest dose as I only started taking the medication. I can tell, however, that this has been the right decision for me. I noticed a drastic difference in the control that I have over my thoughts. I can more easily take my mind away from an impulse or intrusive thought. I can focus for longer periods of time. It’s easier for me to tell when I’m simply trying to “fill time” and distract myself from the task at hand.
This, however, is only the beginning. As much as I feel like I’m in the right place, I still have a lot of work to start molding my routines and habits around this “new normal.” One example of something I have to modify is when I eat with friends, I have to be cognizant of the quantity of food that I order.
With my medication I have a loss of appetite which can mean that either I could feel nauseous if I eat too much, or the sight of how much I have to eat can also feel daunting and push me further away from eating something altogether. Other side effects that I’ve observed are a dry mouth from time to time (though that’s getting better), as well as increased blood pressure and sweating.
The side effects are manageable but I’m hoping that at the very least the sweating can go back to a normal level. My hands sometimes feel clammy and it makes me uncomfortable.
Thank you for reading. If you’ve been on the fence about starting ADHD medication or you think you may have ADHD and want to get more information before seeing a doctor, feel free to check out the resources below:
- Information on ADHD medication for children and adults
- Information on ADHD diagnosis
- What are common ADHD symptoms?
- If you’ve already been diagnosed: How to ADHD - How to explain ADHD