Are You Even Listening?

I was diagnosed with ADHD when I was around 6 or 7. My teachers had noticed that I seemed to have difficulty focusing during class time and that I tended to act out by being disruptive to the classroom. Back then, doctors had enough information on ADHD to know that medications such as Ritalin could help to assist with focus and hyperactivity in persons diagnosed with the disorder. Shortly after being put onto this medication, I suffered a psychotic breakdown accompanied by paranoid delusions. As a result, I was promptly taken off of the medication and it was decided that I did not, in fact, have ADHD.

Fast-forward 18 years, and I was a normal college student with a steady job. I attended classes full-time, and worked around 40 hours a week in the fast-food industry. About halfway through my second quarter, I suddenly started failing to show up to class, and frequently arrived late to work. I ended up both quitting work, and failing the majority of my classes. Aside from this, I had begun to notice that something was just not quite right with my memory. I could be in a conversation, hear everything that was said, agree to do something, and then forget everything as soon as I walked away. When I went in to a psychiatrist and explained my symptoms, they immediately suggested I be put on Adderall. The doctor also told me that, in her mind, it was clear that I was suffering from ADHD, and had simply found ways to cope with it up until now.

Coping

Adderall changed everything for me. I had honestly never realized just how much I was being effected by my disorder until I looked around my room and thought, “My God, who lives here?” I began to notice improvement in other areas of my life as well, primarily involving my ability to communicate with others. Rather than thinking about what I was going to say when someone stopped talking and focusing on that, I found that I was able to listen as well as respond. I think the most radical change, however, was in the difference in motivation that I felt. I used to put off projects such as homework assignments indefinitely, telling myself that I would start them later. I also used to begin projects that I was actually interested in with vigor, only to run out of steam after a couple of hours. This resulted in dozens of unfinished ideas, and provided a source of great frustration for me.

With life being what it is, this story doesn’t have a tidy ending wrapped up in a bow. I still struggle with my ADHD, even on the medication. Focusing is possible now, but it requires an immense amount of conscious effort, and I find it very easy to become overwhelmed. My life is divided into multiple scenarios of give and take, where for every situation, I consider how much mental energy something will require. I suppose normal folk could randomly decide to go out for drinks after work with a group of friends, but for me, all I can focus on is how much energy it is going to take for me to be able to function while I am there. Paradoxically, I often get random urges and make plans off the cuff, such as calling up a friend out of the blue, asking if they want to hang out in fifteen minutes. I have found that the more time that I have between the forming of a plan and the actual date of the plan itself, the more I form reasons why I shouldn’t follow through.

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It is often hard for those without ADHD to imagine how it feels for those that have it. Sure, they understand what the disorder does to people. Hell, they might even joke around about having it themselves, since they feel so hyper sometimes. But, understanding something has nothing to do with feeling it, and ADHD is considered by the vast majority of people to be nothing more than an annoyance; Like a nervous tic or something. Furthermore, the assumption exists that since someone is on a medication for something, they should be just like normal. I wish that this were the case, but, I can tell you with utmost certainty that it is not.

I think a lot of the exaggerated belief in the effects of Adderall come from all of the people that have taken it that didn’t actually need it. Adderall is incredibly close to methamphetamine, and someone without ADHD that takes it will experience a high, or Euphoria. They might even feel as though their cognitive performance has been increased, although numerous studies have proven that this is not the case. I cannot blame people, though. If I had taken a prescription drug recreationally and felt like I could focus with immense clarity, I would probably assume that everyone who took the drug would also feel the same way.

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The farther I get in this article, the more I start to question its purpose. I’m sure that everyone reading this already knows about ADHD and Adderall. I am also sure that there is nobody out there so interested in my life that they want to read nearly 1,000 words about it. But, I suppose the point here is to grant some clarity and understanding to what I, and other people that share my disorder, have to deal with on a daily basis.

Having ADHD as an adult feels like you are trapped in a room with a crowd of people that all shout at you in a different language. You hurt the ones you love without ever knowing it, because while you were forgetting everything they said to you, or asked you to do, they were deciding that you really must not care about them enough to listen. You are seen as lazy, by others, and by yourself, and you hate it. You know you can do better; You have so many good ideas. But every time you try to put your mind to the task, your mind floods with so much data, and so many images, that you can’t even touch the pencil to the paper. You find solace in activities that interest you, but even this has its pitfalls: You focus so much on what you are doing that you drown out everything else around you. You could waste an entire day on a single thing, and never even notice.

Meeting people is easy for you. You are seen as energetic, quirky, and intelligent. None of the expectation is there, no responsibility to remember what someone has said. Over the course of time, however, you lose your friends. You cancel arrangements frequently, or forget them entirely. You rarely text back, because every time you think about what to say, you get distracted by something else. On the few times you actually do follow through with your plans, you feel so exhausted afterwards that you need to spend a week or two as a hermit just to recover all of the energy you used.

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You sometimes think that you are crazy. You know for a fact that you remembered to call your dad on Father’s day, even though when you check your phone you haven’t actually called anyone for a week. Sometimes you get depressed, you blame yourself, and even start to hate yourself for not being able to just change. You resolve to work harder, but just like all of the plans you start, you do well for a week and then slips right back into the old.

Oh, and when you are formally diagnosed and tell people that you have ADHD, they won’t even bat an eye. “You’ve got that hyper disease, must be nice to have so much energy.” “I think my dog has ADHD, he won’t focus for shit.” And, after they know, nothing will change. Employers are the main offender, but the expectation for you from everyone remains the same. Quietly, you think that you should have told them you were Schizophrenic, at least that elicits some kind of reaction or understanding.

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In short, having ADHD is hell, and it is truly sad that most people don’t understand its severity and impact to living a normal life. Much has changed in the past couple years regarding the awareness and accommodation of  neurological disorders, but until those with ADHD are afforded a certain amount of consideration, I will continue to stew about it.

I am a proud result of genetic abnormality, and Goddamn it, I want some accommodations

Thanks for reading.

-More to follow

 

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