If you went back in time fifteen years and told me I’d end up swallowing pills daily as an adult, I might have just offed myself on the spot, no kidding.
At age nine I was diagnosed with a chronic autoimmune condition. My mom was terrified for her baby (understandably, considering the mortality rate), but as far as I knew, the bad part was taking the medicine.
I never could take pills as a kid. They’d get stuck going down, or I’d throw them back up. So I ended up spending a few years swallowing liquid steroids, mixed in with chocolate syrup. And while I didn’t mention this in my post on hoarding, I eventually got fed up with the taste enough to start peeling back a corner of my bedroom carpet and dumping my daily dose there.
After that, I called it quits on medication. I wouldn’t even take an Advil unless I was in too much pain to function. And I stayed that way, until early this year, when I managed to render myself regularly nonfunctional.
I thought I was taking a positive step when I started therapy, and I guess I was, but it also kicked off a serious months-long drinking habit. Despite all those stirred-up memories, alcohol kept me calm and focused, as long as I started drinking early. It also gave me miserable headaches every single afternoon. Between learning to swallow pills and cutting back on drinking, I chose the pills.
Long story short, a few months later I found myself sitting in a doctor’s office with this weird, throbbing pain in my side, half-convinced that I’ve given myself pancreatitis. He told me I didn’t, but he did say I should quit it with the daily alcohol just in case. (He never did figure out what was up with me, but it went away.)
I happened to mention to him that I felt like I had to drink in order to stay focused and accomplish anything, and he said, “Oh. You have ADD.”
It was as simple as that. I left his office with a prescription for my little blue pills. I’ve taken them for not quite thirty days now, and I can’t imagine how I got through life before this.
Reading through a list of symptoms is like going down a checklist of my flaws: forgetfulness, trouble meeting deadlines, excessive dreaming, inability to honor commitments, chronic lateness, procrastination, anger. That’s all gone from my life now. I keep looking over my past in total awe that I’ve spent my whole life beating myself up over a chemical imbalance that isn’t my fault.
It’s not all sunshine and roses. If I overestimate what I can do in a day, I get anxious and irritable, because in the past I’ve faced such harsh consequences for failing to follow through. I spent much of my first medicated week glued to the computer, in shock that I was finally able to set and achieve goals in my favorite video games, the way other players always did. I’m starting from scratch when it comes to organizational skills, and it shows.
Still. I’ve cleaned my house and kept it that way. I’ve written thousands of words of fiction and made important progress on the work I hope to publish. I’ve begun to learn how to network with authors online, and I’ve made a few friends in the process. I no longer shy away from phone calls or family events. I was accepted into a volunteer program and have poured hours of work into it already. This is my ninth blog post in twenty days, and on top of it all, I’ve made more progress in my video games than I would have during any other month.
I never fully realized how much my prescription does for me until I skipped a few days. I started off feeling confident, but I found that I could barely drag myself out of bed, even with an alarm. Nothing motivated me but food, and I wanted to binge eat so badly that there was no way for me to feel satisfied with healthy choices. The simplest tasks, like brushing my teeth or scooping the cat litter, seemed insurmountable.
That’s what every day looked like for me, for about twenty-six and a half years. Once, before I knew there was a name for the problems with my brain, I tried to explain them to my partner by saying I could not choose to get things done. I could do something because I’d been drinking, or I’d rewarded myself with food, or I was afraid of the consequences. I was not able to just decide to do something — even something fun, like going shopping or playing a game — and then do it. Instead, I’d go on desperate get-your-shit-together kicks once or twice a year, fueled mostly by shame, and I’d burn out.
I’m afraid of becoming dependent on these pills. What if one day I can’t access them? What if I adjust to the dose?
But I read somewhere not long ago that what ADD medication does for you is fix the broken pathway between making an accomplishment and feeling proud. I can’t cite a source here, but I know that for the first time in my life, I can value myself for the hard work I’ve done, even though I know lots of others out there do more and better than me. I feel happy when I reach a goal, instead of just feeling deprived of all the time I spent working.
Pills are still tough to swallow in more ways than one, but for a shot at an actual fulfilling life, I’ll take my risks.