This is a very sensitive topic for many people, and also a very controversial topic. I want to preface this post with the fact that I’m not a doctor and I do not have a medical degree. I’m just someone who is telling their experiences to share their own view.
Until about this time last year, I would have said that I had no real position on taking medication for ADHD or autism or any other brain difference that is no direct threat to your health (I do not feel medication for anxiety and depression should be seen in this same way, as those two do severely impact a person’s health and future life). I didn’t feel that it was for me, and I also had no real feelings either way about other people. People should do what they feel is best for their own situation.
I was diagnosed with ADD (ADHD-Inattentive) and autism when I was 19 years old, I was severely depressed and suffered from PTSD-like symptoms. At that time, my psych said that I could consider taking medication for my ADD, but as I’d gotten a grip back on my life by then, I never took her up on it. She put in my doctor’s notes that I could take it if I wanted it, because she did believe it would be beneficial for me.
I started taking Methylphenidate, which is basically a generic form of Ritalin, earlier this year, nine years after I was originally diagnosed. In the meantime I’d worked, I’d finished my bachelor degree, I’d finished my master degree and I’d started a successful career as an author. All without medication, all without any help from mental health services. Just on my own, with my own mind.
I also suffered from depressive episodes almost yearly, some bad, others worse. And each successive episode I felt that I lost more of myself. I felt that I lost more actual life skills that I never really regained before the next episode. And the worst part… When I started my writing career, that depression would reset my career. That depression hit me so hard that I wasn’t able to write, and if I can’t write I can’t publish, and if I don’t publish… I have no income.
Around this time last year, I was in my worst depressive episode since my diagnosis. I could feel it, I could sense it, I could even see it in my planning. And, not for the first time, I considered trying medication. Because I wasn’t able to pull myself out of it after a couple of months, as I had before, I was three months into the depression and still hadn’t been able to pull myself out of it. My income was plummeting, I was seeing my career go down the drain, and that definitely didn’t help my recovery. But I was also in no state to go out and find work elsewhere, because my depression was so severe that I was barely able to go outside, let alone talk to people.
There was one thing stopping me from trying medication, I was afraid that I’d lose my creativity if I’d try medication. I was afraid I’d lose what made me successful as an author. But at the end of Dec in 2016, I knew I had to get help. I did everything that people said to try, plan, stick to the plans, get into a rhythm, everything. But nothing was working. I felt like I had nothing to lose anymore.
So, I went to my GP, who then had to refer me to an ADHD specialist. This took months. I saw my GP in Jan, in March I finally saw the ADHD specialist, who agreed that they had no real other ideas as I was already applying all the tricks that they’d teach people with ADHD, and finally, in June, I got my first prescription. At this point, I’d finally been able to pull myself out of that depression around the end of March and the start of April. I was back into the swing of things and I’d just started publishing the first couple of episodes of Second Chance Mates.
But, because of my chats with the ADHD specialist, I also started looking at how I worked, what I did to make things work, and how my systems were set in place. I started having this sense that while I appeared to be doing fine, while everything seemed to be going well, things just never really seemed to hit full speed. I started to realise that I was living my life at 60-70% of my potential. There was more in me, but it just never really came out. I planned right, and the plans were sensible, but I never really succeeded at them even though there seemed to be no reason as to why. Working at that speed had been fine for all my life, but now I had not only me to look after, but also had other people and a set of cats who depended on me, I realised that while 60-70% during the good times of the year was fine, I was only working at 20-30% of my potential during depressions, and that was while I would be fighting the hardest to get anything done at all. I was able to work at 80-90% of my potential, but that was only for short bursts and would almost always trigger a low depressive episode right after, I’d have a burnout. Not really a strategy I could count on for the rest of my life.
So, medication it was. I tried it, and while I had no real physical effects, I didn’t get less of a need to stim or other things like that, I also didn’t feel different. The results in other areas were measurable. And I don’t exaggerate when I say measurable, because I could suddenly follow my planning, I could finish tasks and I could actually do things I’d planned to do. I was able to put my mind to things and succeed.
I could suddenly what would be described in Dutch as ‘doorpakken’, I was able to put my mind to things and actually do them. I didn’t have as much time starting tasks, or if I did get distracted, I wouldn’t have as hard a time getting back to it. But where I felt it most of all was when I had to make decisions, or in one extreme case when I guy on a bike nearly ran me over and I was actually able to respond to him and yell at him, which had never happened before for me. It was like the step between my ‘thinking’ and my ‘doing’ had been lifted. I am much less patient when people are dawdling or when they’re having a hard time deciding. I’m much more likely to actually make decisions, because my brain is able to make those decisions easier. It even requires me to make those decisions.
Where I felt like I was working at 60-70% of my ability before, I’m working at 80-90% now and even hit 95% on a regular base. And this has been going for months. In the last couple of months, I’ve stopped running after deadlines, I’m on track and regularly a day or more early. I’ve added new projects to my schedule, projects I’d been wanting to work on for years in some cases, and they’re fitting in very well suddenly. I feel like I’m much more working at the speed I can work at. I feel like I’m working at my ability level and it’s so freeing. I’ve become less annoyed with myself, I’ve become a lot more calmer because I’m not constantly stressing about deadlines anymore. Suddenly I’m feeling like I found a missing piece for my brain.
The planning. The making schedules. All those things I did before, they were important. They’re still super important, if I don’t do them, I don’t get things done. But now I’m taking medication, suddenly everything seems to just reach full potential. It’s like it was the last piece of the puzzle that is my brain at the moment.
Do I ever regret not starting the medication sooner? NO. In no way do I feel like I should have started at a different time, or that my life would have been better if I did. No. I was able to get through life, I was functioning well, I was in a place where all those things worked. Would it have been easier if I had? Potentially. But I won’t know. The planning and the scheduling, those things have helped me through nearly 3 decades now, and they will still help me in the future. Those things are my systems to keep my life in order, the medication is to help my brain itself in those last few things that it struggles with.
Medication, for me, is not to cure something, or to solve something, medication is to help my brain reach the full potential that it can without fully draining myself and pushing me into burnouts. I can feel that I can now use everything that I can, and it’s given me so much freedom, and, interestingly, it’s made my life so much calmer.