So often when we talk about psychiatric meds, we discuss it only on the most superficial level. But when people have a chance to really open up about the ways they think long-term medication has impacted them, I believe they can share some valuable insights and lessons.
I try to provide that kind of in-depth storytelling in my new book, Dosed: The Medication Generation Grows Up, but with so many medications, so many psychiatric disorders, and infinite life experiences accompanying them, there are many more stories out there to tell.
I was intrigued and pleased, then, when a young woman, a 20-year-old incoming college junior who grew up in Georgia, wrote me to say that she wanted to tell her story of taking medications for ADHD “for as long as I can remember.”
In her post, she describes her decision to quit the drugs just before going off to college, and then discusses the subsequent fallout when the meds she’d come to rely on were no longer a part of her life or her identity.
I found it to be a truly compelling and instructive story about the way that taking psychiatric medications from a young age can have a profound effect on one’s sense of self.
I wanted to make sure I did the story justice, so I’ve broken it up into two parts. Tune in tomorrow for Part Two.
And now, in her own words:
I don’t exactly know when I started taking the medications. I think it was around first grade when the little mysterious pills began appearing next to my cup of apple juice at breakfast. I had what my parents called “ADHD.”
I recognized in myself everything that they and the doctors told me about myself: I was hyper, easily distracted, and persistently bugging just about everyone in my vicinity.
But the medications never seemed to be enough. I had a hard time in elementary school. The other kids didn’t like me, and I was easily the weirdest girl in the grade, so I never really had close friends. In fifth grade, I started realizing that I did have an attention problem: for the first time, a teacher pulled me out into the hall and pointed out my inability to sit still and keep myself from talking over her.
In high school, the meds had simply become a way for me to appease my parents: they wanted me to take them, so I did. To my understanding, before I first started the medications as a young child, they had consulted a number of child behavior specialists who told them I had severe hyperactivity and behavioral problems.
These symptoms seemed to improve with the meds, and whenever I forgot to take the pills, it was unbearable. I threw tantrums, disagreed with everything and got nothing done.
By this point, however, I was (I thought, at least) smart enough to know that most people diagnosed with ADHD didn’t really have a serious problem, or what my parents called a “learning disability.” But taking the meds got my parents off my back for a bit.
My first year of high school was my first year ever at a public school, and I was mildly intimidated. But, I knew what college I wanted to go to, I knew what I had to do to go there and I did it, by working harder than I ever had in my life.
I got into my dream school, a very prestigious liberal arts school far from home, and made a decision. This decision changed my concept of identity: I decided to go off of the ADHD medication.
I had been on everything…literally. You name an ADHD drug, I’ve taken it: Concerta, Strattera, Ritalin, Focalin, Adderall, Vyvanse…all of them.
Not all of them worked, and when that happened, I had just switched over without really batting an eye. But now I wanted to quit the meds to prove to my parents that, no, I didn’t have a problem, and that, yes, I can do things on my own.
I also knew how a lot of people feel about ADHD medications – that they’re useless, it’s over-diagnosed etc. – and I didn’t want to be that girl who was taking medication like Ritalin to simply give me “an edge” in college.
Above all, I wanted to prove to myself that my behavioral problems weren’t anything I couldn’t control without my meds.
Man, was I wrong.
As I said, Part Two is coming tomorrow, but in the meantime, feel free to weigh in with comments and questions about this young woman’s experience – or with your own stories of how and why you decided to stop your meds.
As always, if you’d like to expand those stories into a guest post, post in the comments section, and I’ll get in touch! You can write a free-form account of your experiences, or respond to some standard questions I have prepared that explore some of the major themes having to do with taking meds from a young age.