As an Adult with ADHD, Adderall is Magical (try saying that ten times fast)

I've been chronicling my adventures on Facebook for some time, so I decided to instead put them here with the full backstory.

Growing up, I knew I wasn't normal. Normal people didn't stutter over their words because their mouths couldn't keep up with their thoughts. Normal people seemed good at telling a one-train-of-thought, coherent story. Normal people spoke evenly and at a normal pace (something I still struggle with a lot). Normal people could put down a book and read some more of it later. Normal people didn't get so excited about other people and their lives that they'd narrow in on everything they said even in a crowd. Normal people didn't obsess over their shortcomings of things they just conceived and haven't acted upon yet. Normal people didn't fidget their legs or hands constantly. I just thought I was destined to be a weird, energetic, excited kid.  That's not so bad.

Except there were shortcomings of this kind of behavior despite my determined, constantly-curious mind. As a little kid, my mom told me "You just would say things that seemed so random!" It was so bad that I was put into speech therapy and taken out of classes in kindergarten. I did two years of kindergarten and then more speech therapy in first grade. They thought I might have a mental disability.  But then when they did cognitive testing, it turned out I was actually quite bright... so they put me back into normal classes.  I did well enough in classes even if I struggled to pay attention all the time. By the time I hit middle school I wasn't really interested in classes as much but I also would forget about assignments even if I had written them down in the planners that they made us write things in (and I hadn't developed the mental autonomy to think I should try to remember things a different way from what they were telling us to).

Sometime in high school, I got things under control because I was in a happier environment. Or more, I should say I got removed from the environment I was conditioned into and put in a private school environment. I think I would have been okay in any environment as long as it didn't remind me of the one that I had shortcomings in before.  But either way, I did well in that environment. Not super-crazy-amazing, but well.

But my mind never stopped racing, and it manifested in a common symptom of ADHD: depression. Yeah, depression can be a symptom for another mental health disorder.  Of course, my mind moved too fast for me to keep track of my racing thoughts (which I began to describe as "ten thoughts at once" and I would get frustrated because I couldn't keep up with them.  I didn't even know that was why I was depressed, but looking back it's so obvious to me now: I was depressed because my mind had so many ambitions and I was acting upon none of them.

I would walk through the halls, aware that people were looking at me as I sulked through. They probably think I'm weird, I think I remember thinking. That's when I got into my "quick, make them think about themselves!" mode: I'd find something to compliment someone on.  I figured if they were going to look at me and judge me, I might as well make them feel good about themselves.  In a way, my compulsive compliments came from my insecurity of people paying attention to me: I didn't  want attention because I was so sure that if I did get attention people were judging me, even if they didn't say things that were particularly negative! This all said, I feel comfortable making people feel comfortable, and I have found inadvertently giving compliments is a good way to talk to people and have them on your own team.

I remember days coming home from all the sports I did and just sitting in my bed, unable to move and feeling frozen. I thought I was depressed. When I went on my first birth control pill (because my period was so irregular, sometimes it would only come every three months), that attitude got worse. I became aggressive and hated myself. It got to the point where I wanted to physically hurt myself over it. I never did though. I just internally beat myself up more until my mom and I decided that this pill was making me too much into someone I didn't want to be.

All through this-- and trust me, I blame no one for this one, not my family, friends of anyone-- my sister was going through some intense mental health treatments.  She had hit a breaking point.  I remember thinking that since I wasn't at that point, my mental health and my problems were nothing. It's okay. I'm just overreacting.

(Spoiler: I was not)

Then college. Oh dear God, college.  I wish I had known something was wrong then.  If I had, college would have been much easier. But at this point and through engineering school, I had only known one way to deal with work: hyperfocus.

Hyperfocusing can come in handy, but it can also backfire. Hyperfocusing can be incredible for getting a great amount of work done or simply just sitting down and doing the work.  The problem I developed with it was that I could not do anything else while I hyperfocused. I didn't regulate eating. I didn't regulate sleeping.  I didn't regulate bathing (yeah, really).  I could not regulate my basic functions for the life of me and there was no one around to keep me accountable to it. I despised anyone that tried to break my hyperfocus because that was the only way I could see myself finishing college on time.  I developed these awful lack of self-care habits while hyperfocusing that followed me into my adult years.

But low points happened in the winter... I thought it was just because I hated winter until my senior year when I finally started seeking help from the school counselor and I discovered that seasonal depression was a thing.  I started going there and using their sun lamp.  I got my first letter from the counselor for a professor to excuse NRing (aka failing) a course I needed to graduate.  He accepted and let me retake the class. I still NR'd because I hyperfocused on my studying so much I forgot to eat for 48 hours.

Roughly four years ago when I was about six months into work, I went through a pivotal moment that made me realize I needed help which I wrote about on Medium.  I had to get treatment. There was no way I could keep going like this; my livelihood was at stake at this point. I went to my doctor, and she said two of the most life-changing things to me that I really value:

"Let's get you on some starting medication, but tell me if it's not working. You don't have to suffer through this."

I nearly cried. I don't have to suffer through this. I'd been so used to minimizing my problems, thinking they weren't a big deal, that there's worse problems in the world that this should be bearable.  I just got dealt a bad hand and I should suck it up and get the work done.  And some of that may have been true, but it was the first time someone told me I don't have to live like this.  Then she said this key thing that helped me for years to come:

"I'm going to give you this medication, but what you really need is a counselor so that you can develop the mindset so you don't get in this place again."

I loved and believed in my doctor a lot. She had listened to me carefully many times before with what may be some of the silliest health woes to some, so having her listen to me and take this so seriously AND recommend advice I've taken to heart.

I got lucky. I found my therapist almost immediately. It wasn't the one I got referred to by my doctor (she left that practice), but it was someone in the same practice. And to think I found her for a really superficial reason: she mentioned that she does ballroom dancing. Ballroom was my hyperfocus hobby of choice, so I felt like I could relate to her.  I've continued to see her up until she went on maternity leave in November roughly every other week on average, and I learned so much.

At one point, I joined a direct sales company (which many people would say was a bad idea and a scam.  I'd agree on some level just because at one point you have to decide if you're going to pursue it or not, and I didn't really want to). I learned a lot about rejection, not taking things personally, dealing with people that interpret what you say and do to the worst sense of self, communicating what you do and want better, and whatnot. This was really helpful not just for the business I created later (another controversial kind of business, probably moreso than direct sales), but for my overall mindset. This work actually encouraged me to find my first life coach, whom was previously in the direct sales company I was in and guided me to a better place of work lifestyle and some life challenges that I wanted to go pursue instead about a year and a half later.

But in the meantime, I was implementing pieces to prevent hyperfocusing as much, but no real progress. I still felt awful. In fact, I felt myself getting BORED.  So I started to seek out adventure however I could.

When I told my therapist, she sparked a little bit and said, "Can I stop you right there?" I stopped. "I think we should get you a test for ADHD."

It hit me. ADHD? The thought had crossed my mind a handful of times, and I jokingly said to friends that I am the result of undiagnosed ADHD, but I never really gave it much thought beyond that. People with ADHD can barely function without meds, right? That's not me. I can function. It's not perfect, but I could function.

"Most people doing the level of work you've been putting in see more results than this by now." She said.  Oh, I thought. So this is progress, but it isn't normal?

So I went in for testing three months later, in November 2015. Looking back after the fact, I wondered if the diagnosis was necessary since I forgot my wallet, lost directions to the place, and talked with the psychologist for a half hour at top energetic speed before doing testing... honestly, this should have been enough to work with to say "Yep, she sure has ADHD."

But the diagnosis was really useful. It helped me understand myself a lot. It made it clear why I did things impulsively often, it showed that while my mind might be a bit scattered with the various thoughts in my head (that manifests in me rushing to talk my thoughts out because I want to not forget the other thought that's running in the background), there's other parts of ADHD that manifested, such as my hyperfousing on tasks at hand (duh), my really high verbal cognitive processing ability (I'm in the top 7% of my age group according to my test results, which is funny because I used to suck at speaking remember), and my weaknesses that come out when I don't have routine in certain respects.  Tons of recomendations came out, including medications.

I looked at the list. "I want to do meds last." I said. "I'd like to not use a drug if I can help it." So I tried everything else: drinking tea/ a small amount of caffeine, regular exercise (which helped a LOT), more lifecoaching and CBT-based therapy (which my therapist was already incorporating and decided to add more into it), meditation exercises, a new calendar app that I'd actually use, a voice recorder, ONE notebook (my bad habit is to have like ten on me at once), and various other things. I spoke about these openly and encouraged other friends to do these as well to help them. Some went ahead and got meds, some did not. I did these treatments I could do for myself up until July 2017. I saw marginal improvements, but I still was hyperfocusing unhealthily and missing key important things like eating and sleeping properly.

That's when I met up with my friend Matt, whom had just been prescribed Ritalin.

Now, here's a few things to know about Matt: he has various mental health situations that needed to be addressed. He's also one of the most determined people I know of right now that is so focused on improving his life. ADHD is one of those things he was worried about was affecting him, and his doctor gave him Ritalin.  I saw him later that night after I witnessed and took action to authorities on a public display of domestic violence (yes, I'm not joking when I say my life is never boring, and that's a totally different story).

Matt sat down, and he was a completely different person when I last talked to him. As I talked and drank my beer, he seemed bright and hopeful in himself, something I hadn't seen in him since I first met him. But he also looked... different. What was it? I asked him out loud. "I shaved?" he said. No, that wasn't it. Wait a minute...

Matt had two characteristics about him I had noticed: he would not usually look people in the eye and he often retreated to his phone impulsively in social situations. Here we were at this cafe and he had not picked up his phone once in twenty minutes, and he was looking directly at me.  Once I made the realization, I was astounded.

As we continued talking, I also noticed that he brought up things that people had been saying to him about hopeful future life stuff for himself. None of what he was saying was new (hell, I had told him some of these things!), but the fact that he was the one saying these solutions with confidence and composure that I had never seen in him in the four months I've known him blew me away.

This got me thinking: I have been diagnosed with ADHD. My life is going well now, but what would happen if I got prescribed something for ADHD too? I talked to my counselor and she suggested a psychiatrist to go see.

And here we go: the parts that start our journey from October 2017 to now:

I talked to the psychiatrist and she had me answer some forms for closer diagnosis. It turns out that there's this belief that there's different types of ADHD, and the kind that I have is a combination of deep limbic ADHD (meaning deep emotional parts of my brain were highly affected) and combination ADHD (meaning I can go into parts of hyperactivity [duh] and inattentiveness, though for me I tend to go more into hyperactivity than inattentiveness).  The first steps were simple: exercise more, have some green tea for a small amount of caffeine, meditate, drink more water, up my vitamin D dosage, etc...

I was a bit annoyed because those first recommendations were the shit I've been doing for two years and they haven't helped me, but I went ahead. After all, if going back to the basics can help me without meds, I wouldn't have to pay for them.

But then the day of my appointment I got seriously depressed. I could barely get myself out of bed. I felt this sense of hopelessness that I couldn't pinpoint why. Normally I'm very excited about the possibilities of a day, especially on a sunny day like this. I have been taking my depression medication and whatnot. But I felt... dreary and stuck.

My psychiatrist saw me that day and noticed how much I looked depressed. We had a real conversation about my concerns. Depression was never gone, and at this point I had known that depression could be a symptom of ADHD rather than a standalone problem for me. We talked intensively about options, and she decided that Adderall might be a good first starting point. She wrote me a prescription to take the next day, and I'd take it for two weeks straight (though she cautioned that most people don't take it every day and I should feel out what works for me). The first two days would be a half dose to make sure my body agreed with the drug and didn't make me sick in other ways, and then I'd go to a full 10 mg.

So that morning, I took the pill and went for a walk. I was walking, listening to music, taking in all the scenery, texting my best friend, looking at Facebook on my phone... and then, it was a like a switch got turned and SUDDENLY I WAS VERY INTO TYPING A RESPONSE TO MY FRIEND ELISSA AND WAS REALLY INTENT ON WHAT SHE WAS ABOUT TO SAY BACK.

But it wasn't a hyperfocusing. It was just... focusing. I didn't feel like I couldn't do anything else (okay, maybe a little. I didn't have any background thoughts for some reason which was really weird to me), but I felt like this was the thing I wanted to focus on right now.  I was blown away.

I was supposed to call someone to meet up and work out with them, and when I called twice he didn't answer.  I recalled a time when I was in college where I would have felt like it was a disrespect to me and left a scathing message on their voicemail, but this time I noticed my thoughts go like this:

"Oh, he must not have his phone in his hand. I'll go there anyways."

I paused for a second. This is weird. I never noticed this before, but I would normally be really self-conscious about not getting the person to pick up right away. I'd feel like they were avoiding me because they actually secretly hated me and were too nice to tell me. Sure, my therapy and life coaching gave me skill sets to fall back on and reason out these fears, and I believed in the reasoning and had used it to fight that secret thought in the back of my head that thought everyone actually hated me.

But my mind at that moment? Nope. The thought that people actually hated me was not even a possibility. That's totally not what's going on. The reasons I had learned over time were 100% believable and there was nothing fighting it back. I was a little weirded out by it actually.

The next month and a half continued to blow my mind. I've made the stories on Facebook, so let me give the list forms of what I've learned for me on Adderall (disclosure: this is me on Adderall with a doctor-given prescription of Adderall. Your results may vary, and taken without a prescription is not advised or condoned by me):

1. Coffee after Adderall is not a good idea for me. I found out biologically why: Adderall stimulates neuroreceptors whereas coffee suppresses neuroreceptors. The result is I'm up at 2:30am wide awake because the dopamine rushing through my system has me going on high alert. For some reason though, drinking coffee THEN taking Adderall is fine and I have no idea why.

2. Without Adderall, I have a lot of things I want to focus on all at once and nothing gets done. With Adderall, that can still happen, but I tend to focus on whatever is easiest for me to do right then and there. So I have to set myself up so that whatever it is that I want to do is right in front of me and really easy to pick up or it's not going to get done... I'll instead focus on something else.

3. I used to lose keys and wallets ALL THE TIME before taking Adderall--funny thing, I didn't take my Adderall when I went home for Thanksgiving one day and that's the day I left my wallet in my friend's car when we went to the bar. I notice that I'm more aware of what I'm doing with Adderall. Mindfulness is so much easier with it.

4. On the note of drinking: I have to be really careful. My alcohol tolerance is very high normally, but I went to a party and didn't feel the effects of drinking until way later. It wasn't until I was 10 drinks in that I realized that I hadn't had any water, and on my walk to the sink to get a glass of water it suddenly all hit me at once. I don't know the science of this, so if someone can tell me why this is that would be awesome.

5. Again, no nagging voice in my head. My depression virtually disappeared once I started taking Adderall. I really do think that my depression was a result of my ADHD because of all the thoughts and harsh critics that were egging me on because I wasn't doing all the ideas I had right when I had them. I can think clearer and be kinder to myself on this. There was actually a point where I thought I was going to be stuck on not paying my bills for a day, and instead of freaking out (which I did a little bit of before I took my Adderall) I was completely focused and logical about why freaking out isn't helpful and just went to work (which I would normally do anyways, but I felt like I was fighting with myself much less with the Adderall. #efficiency).

6. But the days I don't take Adderall can be AWFUL. The first time I came off of it, it felt like the depression that was being suppressed came out all at once and it was really debilitating. I learned that I need to pay attention to how many days on and how many days off works for me personally.

7. Knowing that I could get depressed off of Adderall, why would I ever not take it? For a few reasons, but the biggest one is that my psychiatrist recommended that I don't. After I looked into it and experimented for myself, I noticed it helps after three days on to take a day off of it so that I can still get the intended effects of Adderall. Also, though I like myself on Adderall, I feel like I'm a much better manager of existing ideas and projects on Adderall but less great at coming up with new ideas and new connections to existing ideas on Adderall.

Example: I can write a ton on Adderall for thoughts I've said I should write down for a while, such as this. I've been meaning to write this for weeks and I'm finally doing it now... on Adderall!  But ask me to come up with new ideas on Adderall? It's really hard. I'm a creative person, and the idea that I can't come up with new and exciting thoughts on it is scary to me. ADHD is correlated with creativity, and there are times I want to bring that out and use that.

8. So since I'm a business owner now, this also means that I can shape my days around when I take my medicine. Time to take Adderall the next few days? Get some emails and blogs done you've had in your head a while, update your CRM, organize your schedule, and re-listen to some podcasts that you really liked so you can get the message in your head again, etc. Time to take a day off of Adderall? Stay home, talk more with friends, get on the phone with clients, let my mind wander to a few new ideas, get some housework done (and take pressure off of me to do all the chores as I used to do that to myself) while listening to new podcasts, take a lesson in your online course database, write up a brain dump, do some adult coloring, play a game or watch an episode of anime, etc. I'm really glad I own my own business so I can shape my work around this. If I ever go back as an employee again, this awareness is really useful so I can be a more effective worker in the workplace too (which admittedly looking back to being an employee, I forced myself into hyperfocus and then got into periods of inattentiveness because of it. It averaged out to be productive, but it was so stressful to do it that way).

9. Directions are easier to follow on Adderall. Even with my gig economy work, I feel like I do it better and faster, and my metrics show it. I started off as an Instacart shopper with 200+ seconds per item. That's way below average. Now I regularly do between 50-120 seconds per item when I do my shifts.  In addition, I tend to find my way around places easier on my Adderall whereas I find myself distracted more easily in new places.

10. I can't listen to two things at once for the life of me.  I've had two people say the same thing in different words at the same time and I tried to focus on both of them like I normally would, and I was frazzled as all hell.  Granted, I couldn't do this very well normally anyways, but I noticed I feel super overwhelmed when I'm faced with this. So basically don't make me focus on two things at once on Adderall. It's so clear to me that multitasking is a bad idea on Adderall whereas without it I do it instinctively (even though so much research says it's a bad idea).

11. I honestly think I did this right by holding off on medication for this up until now.  Though I do wonder what would have happened if I went on Adderall or another ADHD medication sooner rather than later, I'm noticing that the thoughts I have while on Adderall were developed from my life experiences, therapists, life coaches, training from various conferences, lessons on productivity, etc. and it's been key to my Adderall use.  The thoughts that I believed but still had doubts about or trouble implementing into action are in the forefront of my mind when I'm on Adderall, and they're way more believable, and it's improved my life tenfold.

Because this is the mother of all posts, I'll hold off on more Adventures with Adderall posts on Facebook (for those that follow me), but I'll happily talk to anyone that wants to discuss this (knowing I'm not a doctor and can't tell you what's right for you but can speak to my own experiences).  Shoot me an email at samantha@mylifeisneverboring.com