Yesterday, I published the first part of a guest post from a young woman, now 20 years old, who had spent the majority of her life – pretty much as long as she can remember, she says – taking medications for ADHD.
After working hard in high school and getting into her top-choice college, she decided she wanted to see what she was like without medication. She wanted to prove to her parents – and to herself – that she could function well in school and in life without the drugs she’d been taking for so long.
The summer before beginning college, she stopped taking her medication. Here, in her words, is what happened afterwards, and how it changed her view of herself and her need for the drugs.
My first three semesters of college were a blur. A blur of lowered inhibitions and lack of motivations. The summer before my freshman year, the first three months off of the meds, I gained 15 pounds. Then, the first three semesters (until second semester of my sophomore year), I gained an additional 30 pounds.
I don’t even remember doing any work. I wanted to, but it never got done. But I still claimed to my parents that I was trying as hard as I could. I remember going to my psychiatrist and it was the first time he seemed genuinely worried about what I had become.
At the beginning of this past semester (second semester of sophomore year) I made the decision to go back on the meds. 30 miligrams of Focalin XR every morning and 20 miligrams of Ritalin at 4 PM, as needed.
And now, it’s so difficult for me to even look at pictures of myself from that time. Without the appetite-suppressing effects of the meds, I was a blob, physically. But now, I’m a blob mentally. I pulled my grades up (not to where I hope to get them, but a start), lost 30 pounds instantly and was working around the clock again.
But my mind began to swirl: what’s the point of a social life, aren’t we living just to die, and why do people act the way they do? Still, I was able to put on a façade of a cool exterior: the hardworking, funny and dependable girl that no one at college had seen yet, but the one everyone wanted around them. I’m doing the whole fake-it-til-I-make-it thing.
With the weight loss and motivation come a huge question: who the hell am I? It seems impossible to me that the girl who smoked pot and went out every night is me. I can’t accept that. Was that just me adapting to college? Or is that me off of the medication for an extended time?
Yes, ADHD is misdiagnosed, I tell people, but regardless of whether or not I actually had a problem when I was younger, I was medicated. I was medicated for 18 years and I became psychologically dependent on it. I can’t function in society without it now. I don’t want to be on this medication in another 10 years, but if I can’t function normally without it, how can I stop?
Other problems I’ve encountered are insomnia, anxiety whenever I’m not working (which leads me to compulsive behaviors like obsessive cleaning, breakdowns, and scratching myself), and serious depression. I think these problems have sprung from going back on the medication and not knowing which is the “real” me, which leads me to question just about everything in my life.
I work around the clock to keep my mind off of thinking about that. The only thing that calms me down is sitting at my desk and working for hours on end, or cleaning until the walls are sparkling. What else can I do but work? It keeps my mind off of the depression, my medication wakes me up in the morning, and cleaning isn’t such a bad habit.
But I still cannot cope with the idea of my double identity. How could that unmotivated, unmedicated girl be me? I’m a put together, driven and intelligent woman: I want my parents and everyone to see me that way. But how can I see myself clearly if I can’t accept the possibility that the unmedicated blob is truly who I am?
Please feel free to write in with thoughts, comments or questions. How can and should young people decide whether they still need medication – and how are they to know which version of themselves, the medicated or unmedicated version, feels more authentic?
And if you’d like to share your own experience taking medication, or your observations of a sibling, child or friend’s experience, you can post in the comments section or email me at kaitlin.b.barnett [at] gmail.com