I wrote a while back, about our firstborn’s ADD and the decision to medicate. In this article, I made reference to the fact that I’d been diagnosed with ADD myself, but didn’t venture into what this meant for me. So I’m writing about it now. Because it’s so closely linked to our Kid’s story, I won’t be able to tell the two separately.
We’d been dealing with the possibility that The Kid might have attention/concentration issues for more than a year and we’d tried every alternative to medication. Omega oils, special ADD vitamin supplements, diet changes and the like. We’d first thought that he was simply much younger than the rest of his classmates, and that all he needed was some extra “help” to catch up. So we did occupational therapy, extra reading lessons, extra English lessons (this one struck me as particularly bizarre, as my Kid has an extensive vocabulary and absolutely no problem communicating verbally), a reward system and the like. None of it helped (much).
From the outset we were determined not to medicate. When we eventually got to see an ADD/ADHD specialist in July 2014, our stance on medication had changed. We’d tried everything else, our son (in Grade 1 at the time) wasn’t showing sufficient improvement. We couldn’t let him battle any longer, so we’d decided to go through with the ADD/ADHD assessments. Once it was confirmed (and yes, an ADD diagnosis is a subjective thing, fair enough), we could start dealing with the one fix we hadn’t tried. Medication.
The funny thing, the psychiatrist said, was that if the child is ADD, there’s a good chance that one of the parents is ADD, too. And if one of the parents is, it’s likely that both are. ADD/ADHD people have a tendency to attract one another. It was at this point that a little red flag went up in my mind. I thought back over my school career. Over my childhood. Suddenly everything made sense.
I’d always known I was different to everyone else in my class, but didn’t know that ADD was the label that should be applied to it. I didn’t thrive in a classroom environment. I didn’t pay attention and I didn’t take notes in class. I just wasn’t interested in what the teachers had to say, and they could not hold my attention. I taught myself each subject syllabus, not from the class notes or handouts from the teacher, but from books in the library and study guides. I was smart enough that my ADD didn’t put me at much of a disadvantage.
I aced my matric exams, and my lowest mark was 79%. I did just as well at university, even more so, because it was more of a self-study kind of vibe anyway. The thing was, I could only study or do assignments, homework or whatever it was, after a massive dose of Bioplus. Bioplus was my way of self-medicating my concentration issues. If I’d had Bioplus, my ability to hyperfocus (an ADD thing) was excellent. If I hadn’t had any Bioplus, there was no way any work/studying was getting done.
I’d developed other ways of coping, without realising what I was doing. Uni-tasking instead of multi-tasking was one of them. But there were still other things that I was failing at, without knowing why. I was always badly organised, everything got left to the last minute, I procrastinated excessively (with the excuse that I performed better under pressure) and I often forgot to do things. I was self-involved, inconsiderate and didn’t really consider the consequences of my actions, until it was too late. My husband pointed out (as one does in arguments) that I am a terrible woman because I cannot multi-task. Easily distracted, no sense of time and a steep learning curve for life lessons. My husband was frustrated with how many times we’d have to have the same argument about something, before it actually sank in and I did something to fix it.
Honestly? In my mind once an argument is over, I’ve moved on and forgotten what we were fighting about. As if it never happened. In truth, that’s exactly the way it is, for ADD people. There’s a tendency to live in the moment and forget what came 5 minutes earlier. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said “I just didn’t think it would be that big a deal”, when something I did, turned out to have serious consequences.
I can’t tell you what a relief it was to know that all of my failings weren’t because I was a shit human being (Well, I was, but there was a reason why). So began the medication experiment. I tried Ritalin, I tried different doses of Concerta and a combination of both. I have since settled on one 36mg Concerta tablet daily, with a Ritalin 30mg on those days that are particularly demanding, or when I have a late night of work ahead of me. The difference has been immense.
Initially I’d asked my psychiatrist for something to help me with my moodiness. I was constantly grumpy and easily angered. Lacking in patience and always tired. He advised me against taking any medication other than the Concerta. Once my concentration issues were being dealt with, I would find that my mood would improve, as would my ability to deal with life. The doctor was right. Although every time I catch myself in a good mood or notice myself smiling, I’m still surprised. But it makes sense. Treat the cause of the problem, instead of the symptoms.
Now that I am aware of what I am, and what I have, I try to make a better effort to be more organised, and to plan better. It doesn’t always work, but I try. The medication helps me to focus on what I need to do, without being distracted by everything else, and gives me what I need to get through the day, without feeling like I need to have a meltdown. I’m less forgetful (it’s not a wonder drug, I still drop balls, just not as often), I don’t procrastinate as much and I generally feel more in control and able to deal.
The side effects aren’t all wonderful. There’s the occasional anxiety attack, for no apparent reason. I’ve learned to identify these for what they are, which makes it easier to hang on until it passes. I’ve had to (mostly) give up caffeine, which is hard, because I love a good cappuccino and went from drinking 5-7 cups of coffee a day, to only drinking 1-2. But the caffeine gives me severe muscle tension, which builds up in my shoulders, neck and arms. There’s also been killer headaches and intense thirst. I drink up to 3 litres of water a day, sometimes. Giving up caffeine was hard, but I’ve had to tell myself that the medication I take is enough of a stimulant without piling on more. There’s been sleeplessness, inability to stay asleep and intense dreams. Some weird skin irritations and dry eyeballs.
But then there’s also been good stuff. Like the fact that I lost 12kg without actually trying. Every time someone makes a remark about how much weight I’ve lost, or asks how I did it, I feel a bit ashamed. I didn’t make an effort, I didn’t diet, I didn’t exercise. I just didn’t eat. ADD medication has completely killed my appetite and I skip meals because I literally forget to eat. I’m working on that.
I’m still working on the rest of everything, too. But finding it a lot less overwhelming. So what’s it like to have adult ADD? It’s been life-changing, knowing what it’s called. Knowing what to look out for, being able to identify behaviour traits and work on them. It’s been liberating. Not all ADD-stuff is bad, there are perks. Taking medication hasn’t changed my personality (in a bad way) or made me any less of a person. It’s opened my eyes to the good stuff that was there, and cleared away (most) of the clutter that I let myself get bogged down in, because I had no way of filtering it out.
And that’s really what it was all about – the inability to filter leads to an inability to prioritise, which leads to trying to do all the things, all at once. That just leaves you exhausted, with nothing (complete) to show for your efforts.
Every day is a challenge, but I’ve made peace with the way I am. I might have a defect. A deficit, or a disorder. Whatever you want to call it, it’s what I am. I’m different, but I’m no more broken than anyone else. And that’s what I’ve learned. Different is sometimes better. And if I don’t fit in, because of it, I’m cool with that.