Aside from the obvious, which is to be generally awesome , there are many things that the commercials don’t tell you about living with Attention Deficit Disorder. Although I do believe it is extremely over-diagnosed, there are people like me who become almost non-functioning without their meds. I hope to enlighten people of what it’s really like; the things I struggle with, the perks of medication, and the pitfalls of being constantly medicated.
When I was first diagnosed with ADD I was about ten years old. I was a hellion in class although I don’t remember exactly what it was I seemed to be doing wrong all the time. My teacher actually had to come up with a secret hand signal, pulling on her earlobe, to notify me that I needed to stop doing whatever I was doing. This was nondescript enough that no one else would notice – especially because she often played with her earrings (which is why she chose that as the signal). Unfortunately for me, because she played with her earrings a lot, I would think that eating my lunch was causing me to misbehave or that doing the math problems on the board was somehow disruptive.
After seeing many psychiatrists and taking a lot of tests that involved memorizing the order of words and saying them back in reverse or talking about my ‘feelings’ it was decided that I had the dreaded ADD and must be medicated at once. My father didn’t want to try to band-aid the problem with medication. So my family had basically shelled out a ton of money to find out what was wrong only to say “Eh, we don’t like your answer so we’re not going to listen.” Honestly, I would probably have the same reaction if I were in their position. I do admire that they see medication as a band-aid and not a solution.
The years went on and, like most tweens and teens, I eventually grew out of my need to be the class clown. In fact, I went so far in the other direction that some people thought I had died in high school – even though I sat right behind them*. It was right around my Freshman year that I went from social butterfly to mute zombie. No matter how much I slept the night before I would fall asleep in all of my classes. My grades were dropping, I couldn’t focus on lessons, and I almost never had homework done on time. I would still socialize and had a good circle of friends (none of whom would have ever thought of me as a mute zombie), but I had no discipline or motivation for anything else. Discipline is probably what is most important for people with ADD and the lack thereof is probably the biggest reason for misdiagnosis.
For people with ADD, having discipline is more than just a great character trait endowed by your parents. It’s a chore. It’s literally draining. My father had the discipline to get a master’s degree in Electrical Engineering while simultaneously raising me as a single parent – it’s not as if it was a foreign idea in our household. When he would tell me I couldn’t leave the kitchen table until I finished my homework I would sit there for 4 hours, eventually bawling my eyes out because I just couldn’t do it anymore. Or I would fall asleep at the table. In both scenarios I had probably only finished a quarter of the work.
During summer breaks I was sent to Columbia to stay with my Grandparents so I wasn’t home alone all the time. This consisted of doing two pages of math work a day, no more than two hours of TV, and walking the neighborhood dogs for a buck each. As if doing math work during the summer wasn’t bad enough, it had to be done exactly to my Grandfathers specifications. Neat and orderly, showing all my work, and in a very specific format. Did it wrong? Tough shit, do it again. Looking back I’m glad that I had to do all of that but at the time I hated it with a passion.
Even with all of this my grades were still horrible, adding to the fact that (like most teenagers) I had become defiant and argumentative with my Dad. So, back to counseling! Over the next year and a half my Dad and I cycled through three to five different counselors on and off eventually finding one who wanted to re-test me for ADD. My poor Dad was probably at the point of “I’ll do anything” and obliged. The test was extremely stupid, in my opinion, and I have no idea how they gauge it. I was sat at a computer with random letters of the alphabet flashing on screen one by one. I was told to click the mouse only when I saw the letters X and Z. It took 30 minutes and I wanted to shoot myself in the head because it was so boring. I’m sure anyone put through that test would be diagnosed with ADD as it’s nearly impossible to resist the urge to just start clicking constantly. At least for me it was, but maybe I’m just a dick.
Wouldn’t you know it, I was diagnosed with ADD again, only this time my Dad wanted to see if medication would help. Thus I was prescribed Adderall and my entire life changed drastically.
To be continued (tomorrow).