Here is what I have heard from people at one point or another when, through casual conversation or out of necessity, they learn that I take stimulant medication for my ADHD:
- “What are you, 12?”
- “ADD isn’t real. I mean, not really real.”
- “Have you tried cutting red dyes out of your diet? Here’s a long-winded, unsolicited rant about how kids in the UK don’t have ADD because red food dye is illegal or something, I’m not really sure of the details because of course I didn’t actually read the study, but I did read a rant about it on my favorite whole foods blog. Get ready for a really boring story!”
- “Can I have some?”
I used to not know what to say in these situations. Obviously, I’m 12. Yesterday I drew a poo on my husband’s car in the condensation. It’s still there, and still hilarious. I have tried explaining that yes, it’s very real, it’s not particularly pleasant to have or fun to treat, but the alternative is not treating it, and that’s not an option for me.
I’ve tried explaining that I have done literally everything I can think of to not medicate, out of some misplaced desire to not be one of those people — the pill poppers.
I have tried explaining that I won’t be giving out my Schedule II uppers to anyone just because they think it will get them high. I don’t take them to get high, and I don’t fancy being arrested.
So I’ve started just telling the truth: Medication makes me a better mom.
I didn’t take the pills when I was younger. I didn’t even bother to ask for a diagnosis, because when my brothers came home with twin scripts for Ritalin and Prozac, respectively, my mother tossed both in the garbage and wrote her own: For one brother she prescribed “chill pills” and for the other, “prayer and a cup of smiles.” It didn’t go well for either brother, and when I reached the age where I was well underwater in my own self-loathing over my inability to do even the simplest of tasks in less than an hour, I knew that I shouldn’t bother asking to talk to someone.
I was OK in grade school, with tiny class sizes and dedicated teachers. I fared terribly in college, where I dropped out and failed so many classes that one semester was a total wash. And when I became a mother?
For a while, I struggled along. I was so busy that there was rarely even time to consider that things might be going badly, despite late bills and missed assignments. I assumed it was part and parcel of new motherhood. When I stayed at home with my toddler, things were fantastic, probably because our attention spans were practically identical.
But as she began to get older, to mellow out, go to school and demand more extended lengths of my time, I faltered. Very badly. Nothing was getting done at home; every night I stayed up late to clean, hyperfocusing on the unimportant: dusty blinds and speckled light switches. I started projects and never finished them. I have the beginnings of no less than 28 novels sitting in a folder on my computer, and I abandoned the PTA, room mothering and being a Girl Scout leader within a week of taking them on. The bills, still always late despite having the money in the accounts to pay them, piled up. I could not hold a job for longer than a few months, and then the kicker came:
My daughter, miserable and crying, asked me one night why I never had any time for her anymore.
“I do!” I protested. “We hang out all the time after school.”
“Yeah,” she admitted. “But I still don’t feel like you’re here.” It was a profound and heartbreaking thing to hear her say, and it shook me up enough to send me to a doctor, which is where I got my diagnosis.
Reluctantly, I took the first pill a full two weeks after I got the prescription filled, terrified that I would transform into a drug-crazed Stepford wife. That didn’t happen. Instead, for the first time in my life, I was able to filter things out, to not assign every single thing as having equal importance. At the top of that hierarchy was my daughter. The phrase “a weight lifted from my shoulders” is cliché, but apt.
Bills get paid. I’ve had a steady stream of clients for three years, and most of all, best of all, when my daughter asks for my time I can give it to her, and really be there, not miles away dreaming up another novel I’ll never write, fretting about baseboard dust, or staring out into space, paralyzed by the overwhelming feeling that with so much to get done, I shouldn’t even bother starting.
Despite the fact that some people will tell me I don’t need medication, that my diagnosis is the result of lazy doctoring, that I could easily “fix” myself with the right breathing exercises and essential oils that they conveniently happen to sell, despite being mocked and being questioned on what I know to be true about my own body and wellness…
I am a better mother when I’m medicated.
That doesn’t mean that I think stimulant medication is a one-size-fits-all solution to all of your ADHD needs. They’re no joke — and for them to work you need to develop the habits that will help them be as effective as possible, so that you aren’t taking them just to get through the day.
Recently, my daughter got her own diagnosis for ADHD, something my husband and I saw coming from a mile away but blanched at discussing, mostly because we feared that people would think we were attempting to shoehorn normal “kid stuff” into a convenient little box.
For now, we aren’t talking about medication, but this time it isn’t because I doubt the very smart doctor when she tells me that my child’s inattention and wildly disproportionate internalized frustration at herself goes beyond “just being a kid.”
It’s because there is a middle ground between deciding never to medicate and taking strong stimulants before you’re 10 years old. I want my daughter to have what I didn’t when I was struggling at her age: adults who trust her experience, an arsenal of strategies to keep her on this side of academic and social catastrophe and above all, options.
If one day she feels she needs the help that medication can give her, I will give her my nonjudgmental support and understanding.