TW: Discussion of Depression and Suicidal Ideation, descriptions of self-harm.
Just getting diagnosed with ADHD was a struggle. I remember the doctor I was seeing at the time giving me a lecture about drug seeking behaviour. When I pointed out that there were easier ways to get drugs than trying to get an appointment with a psychiatrist she relented but asked me why I wanted to be diagnosed if I wasn’t in school anymore.
The cultural perception of ADHD is that it is just a matter of too much energy. You hear all sorts of people extolling the virtues of good old fashioned exercise, or warning people about the dangers of giving children drugs similar to amphetamines. No one takes the time to think about how medications work. This is evident when they start talking about Ritalin or Concerta being the sit down and shut up drug.
ADHD changes the way you think. Not what you think, but rather how you think. It falls into the category of brain conditions that are considered neurodivergent. It also has a high rate of comorbidity with autism. It’s not just “undisciplined” or “lazy” kids who need more exercise, it causes structural changes in the brain and can even impact how you react to different medications.
Most people however still have a hard time believing that the condition even exists.
When I was finally given my prescription, it was suggested that maybe I didn’t need to take medication regularly, but should rather save it for those times when I really needed it. Others suggested I take the weekend off so that I wouldn’t become too accustomed to it. Everywhere I went, the recommendation seemed to be to avoid taking it consistently.
So that’s what I did.
I would go months between taking them, especially once I started working from home and for myself. In the meantime, I struggled with depression. I did my best to take my anti-depressants regularly. I did what I could to address my depression with artistic expression and other means. But still I found myself caught in these depressive spirals.
Then in the last few months I started experiencing a persistent Crohn’s flare that seems determined not to respond my Remicade. The added stress set me into one of the worst depressive episodes I had faced in a while: sleeping 16 hours, and feeling constantly tired. Just trying to clean myself became a chore. When Crohn’s made the prospect of eating unpleasant, I practically stopped eating altogether. The only reason I still ate at all was that I had to feed Alex and since I already made the food, I figured I might as well eat. Still, I picked at my food, and ate miniscule portions.
Then came a day when I was caught in a particularly bad spiral. Everything seemed terrible, my anxiety was out of control, and I started picking fights with Alex. When we got home, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I collapsed in bed crying, desperately wishing for some outlet from how I was feeling. I went to the bathroom, feeling like I had to be sick. When I got there, I sat in the dark, without the lights. I wondered if pain might make me feel better and so considered cutting myself with a razor and I came perilously close to trying.
I forced myself out of the bathroom and for a walk, hoping sitting by the river and under some trees would let nature soothe me away from the brink. It helped calm me, but my mind was quick to point out branched that could sustain a rope, and being less careful than I should have been while climbing the rocks. I think I was half hoping I would slip, fall, hit my head on a rock, and solve my problems.
Things were bad.
I doubled my effort to make sure I wasn’t skipping any of my anti-depressants, and to take a step back from taking on more than I could handle. Still, it didn’t seem to be helping. Then I found out that in patients with ADHD, medication that is used to treat ADHD is necessary to treat depression. That not medicating regularly has been linked to depressive episodes in patients with ADHD even when treated with anti-depressants.
I started taking them daily, regardless of whether I had a dedicated task to work on that day. It worked. While not completely out of the woods yet, I feel better and more stable emotionally than I have in a long time. Even my anxiety levels are down.
I treated ADHD like a learning disability only, like something that was just about how productive I could be rather than a real thing that affects every part of my life. I let society convince me that medicating was something I should avoid, even as I spoke out against that very same mindset. And the result was almost my death.
In all the times that I’ve seen doctors, counselors, and even psychiatrist, not one mentioned this to me. Not one warned me of this when I mentioned my irregular use. Instead they praised me for not risking addiction. When asking for help for my depression, my ADHD did not come up once.
Keeping people from receiving treatment for ADHD doesn’t just prevent them from accessing treatment to improve the way we concentrate and facilitate finishing tasks, it affects quality of life, and leaves us vulnerable to other brain related concerns. When I think of all the children who are kept from access to proper care regarding ADHD, either due to inefficient diagnoses of anyone who isn’t a white male, or due to fear-mongering and misinformation.