Breaking Up With Adderall

Crazy Good Parent is thrilled to present our first contributing author, Emily of The Waiting. Emily states:  “I write about my own experiences in parenthood on my blog, along with stories about how my mom accidentally packed a beer in my lunch bag when I was in seventh grade.” Emily is far too humble to also state that hers is a WordPress recommended family blog and that The Waiting has been featured on Freshly Pressed, The Daily Post and BlogHer. Following is one woman’s experience with medication to regulate ADD. It is in no way intended as medical advice. Contact your prescribing medical professional prior to changing or stopping any medication.

This is the story of Adderall and me. I guess it’s *technically* the story of ADD and me, but we live in a time when the drugs we take to treat our symptoms often become as much a part of our lives as the disorders themselves.

And Adderall? It’s a doozy of a drug and a hell of an ex-lover. It took becoming a parent for me to finally realize I had outgrown my relationship with it. I realize “relationship” may be a tad dramatic of a word to use, but when it comes to these meds, drama is par for the course.

First, the back story.

A Beautiful Mind?

This was definitely not me. Source

This was definitely not me. Source

I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder when I was sixteen. The friends who I let in on my diagnoses were just as surprised as I was to learn that I had an ADD mind, likely because the general populous is more familiar with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and its symptoms than it is with the symptoms of ADD. I was decidedly not hyper, and I didn’t have a proclivity to act out in school. My grades were average all through elementary and middle school, and by the time I got to high school, I tested into several honors classes. I did not look like someone whose mind was inhibiting her.

That is, until I went to high school. Most teens are known for their jumbo-sized sleep requirements. However, I was exhausted all.the.time. I started noticing it in middle school. Around 10:30 and 1:30 each day, I could not keep my eyes open at school, even after getting eight to nine hours of sleep the night before. My brain was on overdrive to compensate for its shortcomings (for lack of better words), and I was left overworked and exhausted to just meet the status quo, which, up until a point, I not only met but managed to exceed. But the feverish pitch of my determination and drive to excel could not have possibly been sustained, so my grades started slipping when I was a freshman. By the time sophomore year hit, I started failing arts and English classes, which I used to excel in. Something was up.

After going through a battery of tests, the results were in: I had ADD, and Adderall was going to be the drug to help me cope with it.

A Rocky Start

It seems like everyone who has been prescribed Adderall has a story about the trial to get their dosage just right. My story is like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, except instead of porridge, I was dealing with a powerful, habit-forming stimulant. I was started out on five milligrams twice a day, and this dosage was – if you pardon my storybook metaphor – too cold. I was still exhausted and taking hours to get through homework that should have only taken me fifteen to twenty minutes to complete. My dosage was increased to something like fifteen milligrams twice a day. I will never forget the first day of that dosage. It was cool and sunny, and I felt like the world was giving its bounty to me and me only. The entire morning I was flying like a kite, inspired by everything I saw. I sat in class and took down every single word my teachers said and felt energized that I was able to not only listen but ask questions that showed a real depth of understanding. I wrote poems in my notebooks between classes about the hugeness of the world and how I had a place in it. The intensity of my happiness that morning was like nothing I had ever felt. Whatever was in that little pill was making me smart, happy, and energetic.

By lunchtime, though, I was coming down hard, thus indicating my “too hot” phase of Adderall. In the space of several hours, I had gone from feeling the best I had felt since I was a little kid to experiencing a level of depression I was completely unprepared for. I spent much of the afternoon crying in the girls’ bathroom and writing poetry in the handicap stall that reflected the despondent sadness that had suddenly seized me. The world was ending, and I was the only person who knew it.

Needless to say, that was the one and only day that I took that high of a dosage. I soon found that ten milligrams twice a day was just right. All I had to do was cut my pill in half and I was good to go.

Falling in Love

Adderall suited me well. I loved it and the way it made me feel. My grades went up and I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel each time I sat down to read a book or do my homework. I didn’t crash around the middle of each day because I was overexerting myself to stay focused at school, and I started taking a more mature pleasure in learning just for the sake of learning. But to be completely honest, what I really loved about Adderall was its ability to totally squelch my appetite. Within five months of taking it, I had lost twenty-five pounds, so when I returned to school the fall of my junior year, I was suddenly the hot chick.

My life was moving fast, and while I didn’t put all the positive things happening to me at the time on the drug, I did give that little tablet a ton of credence. It had opened a window in my mind and allowed fresh air and light in where there was very little before. It was helping me be a better me, and so it was a no-brainer that I would continue taking it when I went on to college. And at the end of those four years, I awoke one morning and popped my pill then drove to the arena where the graduation ceremony was to be held. I finished cum laude, a member of the history honor society and the president of the English honor society, and I received an award for Outstanding Academic Achievement in my major. If there was ever any doubt I’d continue taking Adderall the following fall when I went to graduate school, it was obliterated the moment I had my diploma and my accolades presented to me in front of so many people.

Take a pill, win at life. If only it were that easy.

The Seven Year Itch

I remained medicated the year I went to graduate school. Grad school was the first time that I began to question whether I actually needed to continue my use of the drug I had been on for nearly six years. I wanted to show myself that I could flourish without it, but my first semester was such an intense challenge even with the Adderall that the idea of going off of it was akin to a game of educational Russian Roulette. If I couldn’t make anything above a B- even with the meds, then the idea of going off of them just to prove something to myself was simply not worth it. I’d hang on until graduation and then reevaluate my need for Adderall again.

And then that graduation came, and along with it a decision that I think a lot of people who are medicated as kids have a hard time making when they enter a world where they will no longer be students:

Are you going to be OK if you leave behind the drug that helped you through school as you enter the real world? You have found that it helps with so many other facets of your non-scholarly life, so do you really want to give up those benefits just because you graduated?

I was just so used to taking it, and while I never used it as a crutch, Adderall had become something that I just took without question. It was an extension of the ADD I had been diagnosed with as a teenager, and just because I chose not to use it anymore did not mean that my ADD would go away too. ADD still existed. It would follow me to my first job writing copy at an industrial supply firm. It would follow me during the stressful months it took me to plan my wedding. It would follow me to my job at an upscale restaurant where I could literally not afford to make careless mistakes.

I convinced myself that I couldn’t leave it behind. I needed it. Adderall was there, so I would have it.

Babies Change Everything

But then, just as suddenly as Adderall had entered my life, it left. My husband and I had just moved back to the United States after teaching in Korea for a couple years when we decided that it was time to start seriously thinking about having a baby. And – I don’t know – the instant babies were on the horizon, I just knew that it was time to break up with Adderall. I didn’t quit it out of fear, as I never even googled whether it was shown to be unsafe during pregnancy until five minutes ago while I was writing this*. I quit it because I knew it was time for me to grow up and leave Adderall and my insecurities about who I’d be without it behind. I had been putting it off for years because I didn’t know if I could function without it. That’s the thing with Adderall, at least for me: it ingrained itself so seamlessly into my life and my personality that I was afraid that the person I’d be without it would be less successful and not nearly as productive.

*The jury is still out on that one. No trials have been conducted testing the affects of Adderall on human fetuses, but adverse affects such as miscarriage and birth defects have occurred in lab mice and rats. And do you know what? That’s good enough for me to say no thanks.

In my case, though, life after Adderall has been remarkably similar to life with it. I’m tired a lot still, but I owe that to the fact that I am now parenting a toddler who likes to go go go all the time. It’s often difficult for me to balance the time I devote to my daughter, my husband, myself, and all the activities that are specific to each of us individually but also as a whole, but guess what? It’s hard for everyone to do that, and admitting it and being upfront about the overwhelming nature of stay-at-home-momness is far more freeing for me than taking a pill and trucking on through without giving voice to those very legitimate struggles.

I like myself without Adderall, and I have confidence in the things I have created without it. Only a few months after I quit taking it, I started writing again, and I am more shocked than anyone else that the words I have written without any chemical stimulant (other than coffee; as long as it continues tasting so damn good, it will not be going anywhere) have resonated with people. Blogging suits my ADD mind well. Short pieces don’t exhaust me and I can write them during the hours of the day when my attention is most attuned to sitting down and composing posts and articles. I’ve achieved a lot with my writing, and I’ve done it all without being medicated. My fear that I would stop taking Adderall and find that I was still the struggling teenager I was before being prescribed the drug were just that: fears. I grew up and grew out of my need for Adderall.

More importantly, though, I parent well without the drug. We all have doubts about our abilities to give our children the best of the world and to not totally screw them up, but the one thing I know is that if when I do screw my daughter up, it will not be because I quit taking Adderall. It will be because I am a human. I am imperfect and neurotic, probably too lax about cleaning the toilet but paradoxically too anal about putting the damn toys away the second we’re done playing with them. That’s just me. And those things, backed by the fervency with which I adore my child and allow that love to fuel my decision-making, make me the best mother for her.

I am so grateful for my motherhood because it has helped me to accept me for me. I parent with ADD, I do it without drugs, and, surprisingly, I am not horrible. Motherhood has given me the bravery to finally listen to that voice in my head (no, not that one; the other one) that was telling me to go out on a limb and cut the cord with Adderall.

And for that, I think I am one crazy good parent.

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26 responses to “Breaking Up With Adderall

  1. Your story will speak well to young adults managing similar diagnoses who seek genuine understanding as they navigate their experiences with and without medication.

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    • Thanks, Marie! It’s so funny because I never knew how normal my life with ADD and my relationship with Adderall was until I started opening up to other people who had similar issues. We all have a lot to learn from each other. Thanks for reading!

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  2. It’s amazing the courage parenthood can bring…and sometimes you’re not even aware you’re being courageous. You just do what you know needs to be done. I’m sure your story can resonate with SO many people, as ADD has become such a common thing to deal with. My brother struggled with it in high school as well, and Adderall was also a godsend for him. And like you, he found that eventually he didn’t need it. But for the period of time he did take it, it was able to get him to the place he is today: a confident, successful man. That couldn’t have happened had ADD had its way with him.

    And P.S. I think you’re amazing…Adderall or no.

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    • Awwww, thank you, m’friend. It’s weird for me because at the time I was taking Adderall, I never really questioned it and so I didn’t seek to learn how it impacted the lives of other people who took it. Now, it’s wonderful to hear that it helped others in the same way that it helped me because it helps me remember that I never took it because I was broken. It’s a lot easier to recognize excellence in other people before you recognize it in yourself (if that even makes any sense.)

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  3. Excellent post! I would have never thought you were ADD either – and I commend you for your courage to ‘shake it up’. I don’t know if you ever watched ADD and Loving it – it’s typically on during PBS Pledge (it might not be in rights anymore) – but see if you can catch it on YouTube – it’s quite interesting.

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  4. Nice to see a non-mental-health blogger blogging about how mental illness has affected her life. Breaking down stigma, little by little. Yay! 😀

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  5. YEA you! I’ve seen kids-now adults struggle with this. There is a danger of teaching kids they need a pill to be “normal” instead of trying other things/ teaching coping skill/tricks.
    There is no doubt my husband is ADHD – but he grew up when they didn’t label everyone – he was just a kid who couldn’t sit still or pay attention. Somehow he managed to grow up just fine – and found a career works with his skill set. He does get upset at his lack of focus sometimes – but it’s just who he is and that’s fine. You’ve got to work with the cards you’re dealt and accept who you are.
    You sound like a perfect mom to me…bet kids adore you.
    Totally wonderful post

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    • My dad had many of the same struggles. He was incredibly ADHD, and his behaviors were always just written off as him goofing off in school. He went undiagnosed until my younger brother was a toddler and my parents took him in for testing because he wasn’t developing as he should have been. Long story short, finding out that my brother was on the autism spectrum helped give him the lexicon he needed to ask for help to compensate for his own mental stumbling blocks. It was a blessing in disguise.

      Thank you for reading!

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  6. Wow, great and inspiring post. Always interesting to hear both sides of the medication debate and realize as always, there are no easy solutions and no correct solutions.The best solution is the one that is made with knowledge of the facts and consideration of the individual circumstances. My daughter made the decision to go off her ADHD medication a few months ago, and she is quite stressed and exhausted in her first year of university, but…it’s her life and her body and she knows her options. Doesn’t stop me from worrying though. 🙂

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  7. Very nice & so insightful! I occasionally question my need for various meds, which has led to some positive changes, but Adderall is the one I wouldn’t consider going without.

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