let's talk about meds, baby

this post is sponsored by adderall

Disclaimer: while the subheading is something to laugh at, it isn’t a joke. I take Adderall for my ADHD. It isn’t something to be ashamed of or secretive about, despite what some may think. CBD oil and organic teas don’t “fix” everything. Ask yourself why you’re so against people taking medication for their mental health, but have much less to say about people who self-medicate with weed and/or booze. Remember that you can, and should, keep your negative opinions to yourself.

Anyway.

I was trying to do other things today, like continue my revisions on my manuscript. But ADHD had other plans for me, as it often does. (Also, I saw that image above and was like okay, this is begging to be in my newsletter.) To be fair, I’ve been meaning to write about my ADHD and my treatment for a while now. I pitched a few articles that never solicited a response so here I am, about a month later, writing it for me and for you, my dear readers.

Where do I begin?

Every day I wake up and I take my little pill and I sit in my little chair at my little desk and I stare at my little Macbook screen and try to write and edit and sometimes I succeed but sometimes I don’t. Perhaps a normal person would be like, oh well, c’est la vie! But I am not such a person, so if I don’t accomplish what I wanted to accomplish, I wonder why I have to be such a failure and why I have to keep telling myself that tomorrow is a new day where I can try again and what am I going to do when there are no more tomorrows? What will I have accomplished? How many tomorrows have I already wasted? This is my ADHD brain at work. It holds me back from accomplishing the tasks I hope to accomplish and then burdens me with negative self-talk. How fun.

I think I’ve known I had ADHD for a long time, maybe a few years now. But I didn’t always think about it. I don’t know if I would have self-diagnosed (then got an official diagnosis) myself with ADHD if it weren’t for the stories I read on social media. Comics from ADHD Alien mirrored my own experiences so vividly, it made me cry. The comment section on each comic she posts on Twitter is full of resonant stories that make me feel less alone. I read all of writer Anna Borges’ coverage on ADHD on Self and checked out the resources she suggested. I found a Facebook group for people with ADHD to vent and support each other. And I started treatment.

A lot of people still don’t understand what having ADHD is really like, and it’s especially different for adult women. I took dozens of assessments online and with psychiatrists and therapists, and the questions weren’t always reflective of my experience. For instance, people with ADHD are believed to be restless. Whenever a psychiatrist or an assessment would ask if I’m restless and if I have a hard time staying in one place I’d answer “no,” because I can sit in the same spot all day. But my brain doesn’t rest. And I adjust my legs every 2 minutes. And grind my teeth. And I need to be constantly stimulated, by my computer or my phone or the TV and usually two at the same time. So yes, I am restless. But not in the way assessments describe.

Getting my official diagnosis a year ago was a long time coming. It was a journey full of lots of suggestions that maybe I’m just depressed and anxious and that causes my inability to focus, maybe I should take Lexapro? I never did. I knew that ADHD was the root of a lot of my problems. My restless brain makes me anxious, plaguing me with intrusive thoughts. My inability to focus and therefore accomplish things make me feel useless which makes me feel down and depressed. I kept fighting to be heard by my therapist and psychiatrist. Finally, they gave me an official diagnosis. Even though it was just confirmation of what I already knew, the validation it allowed me made me emotional. To have an answer to why I am not the person I want to be - the person who finishes everything she starts, the person who can schedule her day into blocks of time to get certain things done, the person who can go to bed at night knowing she made the most out of the day - was freeing. ADHD is a disability, an invisible one, but a disability nonetheless. Recognizing and admitting that has helped me see myself differently, in a more forgiving light.

With my official diagnosis, the psychiatrist prescribed me Ritalin. Only 5 mg. I was weary about taking medication, because I come from a family riddled with (recovering) addicts. I’ve never had a drug problem, I stopped smoking weed in my first year of college because it made me both increasingly anxious and lazy. I get drunk maybe three times a year. I decided I really didn’t have anything to worry about because I don’t have an addictive personality and my likelihood of abusing pills was very low. But it was hard to come to that conclusion. People make you feel like taking stimulants is dirty. Suggesting I wanted to seek medical treatment for my ADHD felt like something I had to whisper to my therapist. Assessment with the psychiatrist made my hands clammy, nervous I would come off as someone desperate to score some kind of drugs to get high on or sell. To be fair, people act like taking antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication is terrible, too. People have these misconceptions that being medicated equals being a zombie, devoid of original thought and emotion, a victim to “Big Pharma.” I wish these people would grow the fuck up.

Anway, I was to take the 5mg Ritalin twice a day for two weeks and report how it made me feel. By the end of the first week, all it had done was give me dull headaches that made my head feel like it was an empty tin can with a pebble ricocheting back and forth across the top of my skull. My therapist told me to stop taking it. Then she moved out of state and I was left with no therapist and no treatment, back at square one. I tried to seek out a new therapist, which was not easy in the midst of a global pandemic! And really not easy when you have Medicaid, but that’s a story for another time. I found one and we -did not vibe- at all. So I gave up for a bit. But then I got a call from the office my old therapist used to work that, saying they’d finally found her replacement and would I like an appointment? Yes, immediately, please. I started working with my current therapist a few months ago, and she got straight to the point, asking where me and my last therapist had left off, which was easy to confirm on her side, since she had access to all my files. I told her about my ADHD and how me and the last therapist left off, leaving me untreated. She said she’d have my PCP call me to discuss. The main doctor at my PCP’s office did call me, but he was a doctor I’d never seen or even met, not the doctor I actually see as my PCP. He rambled on about “Big Pharma,” and how stimulants are bad and natural holistic healing is better and said I probably didn’t even have ADHD, no one can focus nowadays because of our phones. He didn’t take a second to listen to my concerns or try to ask me about what kind of treatment I’d be interested in. When we hung up, I felt so small. I cried for the rest of the day, ready to give up again. But the next day, I called my new therapist and told her what happened and asked her to talk to my actual doctor instead. She was apologetic and it wasn’t her fault. She was new. She recommended Adderall to me, then called it into my actual primary care doctor, who spoke to me about it normally, like a doctor should. Then he called it in for me. It is indeed as complicated as it sounds. Once again, they started me at 5 mg, twice a day. Just to see how it affected me. I noticed a few things, like a loss of appetite and an unquenchable thirst which was really a dry mouth. But I noticed something else, too. My brain, usually a tangled mess of intertwining thoughts speeding through each other so fast that they never manage to reach a conclusion, seemed to quiet. It was like someone covered it with a weighted blanket, pushing away the intrusive thoughts and leaving me calm. I was washing the dishes when I noticed the quiet. It was such a relief, I almost cried.

It’s been a couple of months now, and I have been bumped up twice: from 10mg twice a day, to my recent dosage of 15mg twice a day (today is only my second day on this dosage), which is still considered quite low. It’s high enough to make a difference for me. I’m still adjusting, which definitely takes time. By adjusting, I mean, finding out how to make it work for me in the best way.

Does Adderall help me focus? Yes, absolutely. Do I always focus on the right thing? Nope, absolutely not.

For me, Adderall quiets my brain and lowers my desire for constant stimulation from multiple sources. It makes me want to sit in my chair at my desk and get shit done. Which is great. To be fair, I always want to sit in my chair and get shit done, but ADHD makes it difficult to actually do what I set out to do. But if I’m sitting in my chair, Google Docs open, ready to go - and I quickly pick up my phone and answer a text, I might start to focus on that conversation. And then I can’t pull my focus away to write, or read, or do whatever else I came to my chair to do. It’s annoying. Now, I do LOVE that it gives me the ability to focus wholly on a conversation with a friend, something that has always been embarrassingly difficult for me. But I hate that it pulls me out of the tasks I set to accomplish that day and leaves me sitting in the same spot an hour later with no work to show. No new words, no edits. When I’m on my best behavior, I leave my phone in the other room to minimize distractions. Adderall can’t physically take my distractions away, only I can do that. It can help me ignore things and focus on one thing at a time, but if my distracting phone is next to me, the urge to pick it up is hard to ignore, and once I start texting or scrolling Twitter or TikTok, it’s so hard to stop because I get sucked in. I’m working on it. I recently turned most of my conversations in iMessage on my Macbook to DND, so that I don’t get notifications while I’m writing and away from my phone. But I do see the number of unread messages go up and I get curious. Resisting these urges is part of the battle.

Another thing about the hyperfocusing and motivation I get from taking Adderall: it makes me not want to leave this damn chair until I have finished something I set out to finish. Which is obviously unrealistic, unless the only thing on my to do list is “write a tweet.” Writing things takes time. It’s normal to take breaks. But the ADHD negative self-talk part of my brain combines with the hyperfocus granted by the Adderall and makes me want to just sit here and write so I can feel accomplished. Combine that desire to stay put and accomplish my goals with the appetite suppression side effect, and I go hours without eating. Lunch doesn’t exist in my world anymore. I barely snack, either. Just two meals, usually a small breakfast of some kind of bread and a fruit or yogurt, and dinner whenever Elliott comes home because then we eat together. Today, I didn’t eat until 1 pm even though I was up since 8:45 am, and what I ate was a Clif bar. I also made a smoothie that I ended up drinking at 4pm. If this sounds unhealthy to you, that’s because it absolutely is. But my brain convinces me that if I get up and make a real lunch before I finish the editing the pages I was working on, I’ll never return to them, and I’ll never finish anything. To get up to eat is to fail. And because my appetite is minimal when I’m on Adderall, I don’t often have such a strong hunger pang that I can’t ignore, forcing me to get up and eat something. Still, when I do - it’s something quick, like a granola bar. I don’t want to “waste time” making food. I was initially pretty concerned about this triggering disordered eating thoughts, and I will admit that at first I kind of appreciated this aspect of losing my appetite. I used to be jealous of people who would say things like, “I forgot to eat today,” since food was almost always on my mind. I love to eat, I love food. As I should. I’m no longer enticed by this side effect, in fact, I hate it. Refusing to eat so I can try to maintain my focus always bites me in the ass when I finally stand up to go grab something from the kitchen and realize how weak and wobbly I am. And sometimes, at the end of the day, when it’s fully worn off, I am absolutely ravished and want to eat everything I can get my hands on, which results in a major stomach ache, something I’m always prone to as is because of my influx of gastrointestinal problems. Adderall doesn’t help that at all. And it makes me constipated. Also, sitting in my chair all day never goes the way I want it to because Adderall also makes me pee 20 times a day. No exaggeration.

But you know what else Adderall has done for me? It’s calmed me down. It has taken away the gnawing feeling that something is very wrong (aka my unfounded anxiety.) I no longer panic whenever I leave the house to run to the store, convinced that I left the kettle on, or a stovetop burner, or my straightener. My heart doesn’t race as I rush back to my apartment, quietly praying that everything is as I left it and not burned down. I don’t have to check for my keys a dozen times before I leave the house. Just once or twice. And when I successfully minimize my distractions? I can actually focus on my writing without intrusive thoughts taking over, without having to pick up my phone get sucked into whichever phone game I’m currently hyper-fixating on as a means to self-soothe my anxiety and fulfills my need for external stimulation. Btw, here’s a useful video to describe the difference between hyperfocusing and hyperfixating.

It also helps me clean! So often, I’ll ignore or put off cleaning something, or picking up something that fell, because I worry that I’ll get too sucked in to cleaning that I’ll ignore everything else I need to do. Or I do start cleaning, but stop to take a sip of water, which leads to me checking my phone, which leads to me being sucked into a hole of scrolling, which leads to the cleaning job going unfinished, which leads to me feeling like a failure. In the morning, after I take my first dose, I start to clean the kitchen. I focus much better when I’m in a clean environment and my focus on cleaning is much better when I’m medicated.

While the focus that Adderall grants me can sometimes go in a different direction than intended, the positive outweighs the negative. One of my main struggles with ADHD is finding it hard to stay motivated without an external source or external validation. Being medicated gives me the motivation I need - it’s as if the medication is acting as that external source. After I take my medicine, I feel like I have something to prove to myself, something to prove to my medicine, as bizarre as that may sound.

I don’t take Adderall every day, and on the days that I don’t, I let myself self soothe and give into all my impulses. It’s been kind of hard to make the decision on how often to take it. I’m currently unemployed and freelancing, and my main focus is working on my book, so I don’t have a set schedule to follow, something others who are prescribed Adderall do have. Some people suggest that you should take off on the weekends, assuming you have a 9-5 job and that your job is the only time you need the help to focus. It really stung the first couple of times I heard people recommend this method: my therapist telling me I shouldn’t take Ritalin if I don’t have anything specific to work on, and my pharmacist simply saying that you don’t have to take Adderall every day, as if the idea of doing that is ludicrous. I’m a writer and I always need focus. Not to mention, the best effect of Adderall is that is ALLEVIATES MY ANXIETY! This is a reason to take it consistently, for me. When I checked in with my psychiatrist recently, I told him about how calm it makes me feel. He was genuinely happy for me, noting that I am clearly one of the people who has anxiety and depression as a result of ADHD and not the other way around, which was validating since that’s what I’d been trying to tell him from the first time we spoke a year ago.

Talk therapy has helped with my ADHD a lot, too, but in a different way: through acceptance. When I check in with my therapist, I tell her about all of the things I’m working on and she tells me how ambitious it all sounds. I never feel like I’m doing enough, so that’s always comforting to hear. When I confess that I haven’t been able to keep up with my own expectations, she reminds me that writing requires creative energy and it’s unrealistic to expect that I’ll be brimming with it all the time, that I can write something I’m proud of on command. She also reminds me that we are living through an actual global pandemic and that we are all under unprecedented amounts of stress and that it’s okay if all I did that day was make it through. Of course, I know this, and I tell this to other people all the time, but hearing it from her always makes it feel more real for me and makes me feel better, if only for a moment.

There is so much more I have to say about ADHD, specifically on being an unemployed writer with ADHD, but I’ve given you enough to sit with for now. I do hope to make this a more consistent topic of conversation in my newsletters. I hope that interests you, or if you think it would interest someone you know, please pass it along.

If any of my readers want to talk about ADHD or medication or therapy or anything related, please reach out! I am always happy to validate your feelings. I am not one of those people who rolls my eyes when someone says, I think I might have ADHD, too, I am someone who wants to listen to you and help you, if I can.

Here are all the links I referenced earlier in the newsletter, in case you don’t want to scroll back up:

ADHD Alien Comics

Anna Borges’ Coverage on ADHD for Self + Compilation of Resources

ADHD Actually Facebook Group

Hyperfocus v. Hyperfixation


What have I been hyperfixating on lately?

Reading:

Listening:

  • I discovered V.E. Schwab’s podcast, No Write Way, today and am currently listening to the 4th episode of the day. She is a brilliant writer and I love her for always saying things like she can’t wait to get stories over with, and that her favorite part of writing is whatever part she currently isn’t doing. It’s nice to listen to a writer not pretend that magic happens overnight and that every step of the way to being published is a breeze.

  • Christmas Wrapping by the Waitresses on repeat, which is the best Christmas song for 2020, despite coming out 40 (!!) years ago. The sentiment is so relevant, I quoted it on an Instagram caption last week and I’m pretty sure no one realized it was song lyrics.

Watching:

  • I started rewatching Gossip Girl about a month or so ago and Elliott got really into it, and social media has proven that we are far from alone in this current rewatch. I started watching because I missed seeing New York, and while the Upper East Side isn’t exactly my New York, it was for a couple of years when I went to Hunter, and I miss those days a lot. Now, we’re watching for the absolutely ridiculous drama. (Netflix)

  • I watched through Glee for the first time ever recently. It isn’t a guilty pleasure. I am proudly enjoying my new title of “Certified Gleek.” I was kind of rewatching my favorite episodes last week, and even listening to some of the soundtracks, but I really overdid it to the point that I became kind of sick of it. So I’m taking a much needed break. (Netflix)

And…

  • I’ve been half-paying attention when Elliott watches The Mandalorian because Baby Yoda (or I guess I should say, Grogu, since he isn’t actually Baby Yoda) is undeniably the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. (Disney+)

  • I fully expect to watch the Kacey Musgraves Christmas Special next week. I am very excited for Christmas. (Prime)


Coming up…

  • I plan to make a gift guide of small businesses to support this holiday season. If you have any to recommend, let me know!

  • More musings on ADHD and the grueling process of revision, and how it makes me question all of my life choices.

Thank you so much for reading. Your support means the world to me, and I hope to give you lots more to read soon. If you liked this edition of my newsletter, please consider sharing it to your social feeds or with a friend or two.

Remember that COVID cases are spiking and that we need to be as careful as possible.

Stay safe and warm and all that good stuff.

Love,

Kaitlin