Last week I went to the shops to buy some groceries. I came back with a few boxes of packing styrofoam, a fern and some coloured plastic I had found on the side of the road… but no groceries. I didn’t realise that I’d forgotten to actually go shopping until a few hours later, when I was telling a friend about an artwork I wanted to make out of plastic cups and a sofa, which triggered some obscure connection to supermarkets in my brain and subsequently reminded me of the empty fridge at home. The next day, I accidently made plans with three different people to have coffee at the same time and spent the morning re-planning and apologising. I got locked out of my house four times in one day and I missed almost all my classes because I started two new paintings and decided to learn piano.
By the end of the week I wasn’t only frustrated, exhausted and overwhelmed – I was distraught.
The week had been a test – a trial to see if after almost a year I could take a full week off my ADHD medication and manage to get by. I figured that if I had made it through my teenage years without medication, surely I could get through one week at university. Maybe I’d even be able to be one of those seemingly perfect ADHD spokespeople who talk with conviction about how, through sheer willpower and motivation, they were able to control their inattentive brains and use their medication only for the most pressing of tasks!
The problem is, it’s the willpower and motivation part that I have a problem with. That and the impulse control, lack of focus, forgetfulness, inability to finish a task… the list goes on.
This is why I found myself in the fire brigade office on Friday afternoon, convinced that since I’d never be able to finish any of the three degrees I’d started, or succeed in a 9-5 job even if I did, that I might as well use my ADHD to some advantage in a job where I could do well – I was going to throw away nearly two years at university and become a firewoman.
When asked why I thought I’d be suitable for the job I started to list some of my better traits; I’m good in a crisis, I don’t panic, I’m a creative and quick thinker, I’m resilient, I’m compassionate, I’m good at problem solving, and when I’m under pressure I’m incredibly single minded and determined.
All thanks to my ADHD.
For all of its negative implications on my life, I can’t help but think that given the choice I wouldn’t swap a normal brain for my ADHD one. It’s something that takes a lot of hard work to convince myself of sometimes, but it is nevertheless true when I remember that without ADHD I’d be a very different person.
In light of that, the medication I use to manage my symptoms just seems all the more damaging to my life. Yes, it helps me function better, and yes, it has improved things in so many ways, but it is no cure – it’s somewhat like giving a band aid and a stick of morphine to a person with a gunshot wound. It’s helpful in the immediate moment, but not all that useful in the long run. What’s more, and for the effects of what is virtually a numbing agent, ADHD medication comes with a steep price tag.
For starters there are the side effects – the nausea for an hour or two after my first dose, the shakes, the headaches, the inability to eat, and the crashes which make my day feel like I’m riding a rollercoaster blindfolded. They almost rule my life.
I can deal with that though. I’ve learnt to schedule my day around when I know I will feel good between my second and third dose, and to avoid problem times like early morning and mid afternoon. I’ve learnt to take time away from people, and not feel pressured to perform the same way they do. I’ve learnt to let things go and cut myself slack when I need to, but to not use ADHD as an excuse for all my behaviour.
I’ve learnt that post-it notes are worth their weight in gold.
What I still can’t quite get my head around, and what I still can’t be completely ok with though, is the way the medication makes me feel about myself. I can’t seem to get away from the feeling that the person on medication is not really me.
People often say they feel their personalities are dulled, that they feel slower and less creative, that they aren’t really all there.
Maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up with ADHD as a central part of my identity, but for me, it’s like being two different people – there is me, and then there is medicated me. The two are often worlds apart. Take away my high energy enthusiasm for everything new and exciting around me, take away all the unrestrained creative ideas and interest in the world, remove the bubbly and social aspects, and you’ve cut out a pretty big chunk of my personality.
I’m quieter and calmer. I don’t bounce ideas around constantly. I’m not jumping out of my seat to tell you about some interesting thing I saw or did.
I can sit through a lecture though, and write an essay or finish a reading. I can remember orders at work and I won’t forget to call you back if I say I will. That’s what counts as successful in this world, right?
So I’ll keep taking my medication – because then I’ll fit in with that cardboard cut out of the 21st century girl. I’ll stay at uni and tick the box because I know I can – I just have to work a little harder than most people. Most importantly, I won’t let my ADHD be an excuse for me not to succeed.
I can look in the mirror and tell myself I love me for me, because I do. I wouldn’t change myself, even at the worst points. Despite all that, there are still moments when it is all just too much, when I feel like I am drowning in my own head, when I’m exhausted and frustrated, when I can’t stop crying because I just can’t seem to make myself do anything right, and when ADHD starts ruining relationships with the people in my life.
It is not because I don’t love them enough. It is because I’m hard wired to lose interest quickly, not just with tasks, but with the people I care about most as well. That’s hard, and it hurts – me as much as them. I can’t help but feel at those moments that maybe I am just inherently flawed – inadequate – because why else can’t I just do what everyone else does with such ease?
At times like that, all I can do is step back and remind myself that I can’t, because I’m not like everyone else. I am a little different. There is nothing wrong with me, but there is something wrong with the world for making me feel like there is.
What is in my head is not a disorder, it’s just an alternative way of thinking – a way of thinking that doesn’t, and shouldn’t, have to be synonymous with ‘bad’. That is an uphill battle though. A battle I am reminded of everytime I’m criticised at work for mixing up tables, everytime that I’m criticised for asking the same question too many times, or when I am criticised for littering the living room with the remnants of 15 different projects.
I suppose there isn’t really a solution to that, except to keep talking about it. If I keep the conversation open, hopefully people will eventually see ADHD the way I do, as strange and confusing, but ultimately just a part of a much bigger personality that isn’t defined by 4 letters.