Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: Jorinde Berben
Disclaimer: Methylphenidate (aka Ritalin, Concerta, Medikinet, Methylin, Daytrana, a.o.) is a drug that can be dangerous when taken in high doses, and can have adverse effects on a neurotypical brain (much like other stimulants, such as speed would have.) It is a prescription drug and should always be taken under the supervision of a qualified medical professional. I am not a medical professional and my experiences are personal.
After I got my ADHD diagnosis at the beginning of March, the psychologist suggested trying medication to see if it would help. The suggestion made me feel both hesitant and hopeful. On the one hand, I was worried about what it might do to my brain, on the other hand, I hoped it would help solve all of my issues.
Now that I’ve had time to experiment a bit with the medication (methylphenidate), I have a clearer idea of what its benefits and drawbacks are, and what it can and can’t do for me. It’s not a miracle drug. It doesn’t make me a hyper organized achiever who suddenly reaches goals by the dozens, but it does help me in some ways. My partner, who also recognized the ADHD aspects in himself after my diagnosis, has similar experiences, though slightly different from mine. The way we respond to medication is highly individual, as is the way our brains work (even if I recognize most of what other people with ADHD struggle with).
The dose I take so far is the lowest dose possible, and I only take it when I am looking for the benefits it gives me.
This is what it can do for me:
1. Quiet my head.
When I took my first dose, I suddenly noticed a sort of quiet in my head. I remember thinking ‘this is what meditation is supposed to give me’. The quiet made it really clear how much noise usually fills my head, and how much energy that takes. It gives me a calmer, more zen-like state of mind.
2. Less impulsive and distracted
This is probably the most useful aspect of the medication for me. When I’m working without meds, I get distracted really easily. So easily that I somethings completely forget what I was supposed to be doing. Every thought that comes along feels like I have to do that thing right away or I’ll forget about it. Medication helps me stay on task and say no to distractions, even tempting ones (the Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard trial, anyone?).
3. Easier to put things in perspective
I can get panicky easily. Sometimes the fact that I left a dirty spoon on the table can be the trigger to me panicking about the state of my entire house. On medication, it’s easier to see things for what they really are and it takes the sense of urgency off things that aren’t urgent by any objective measure.
4. Single focus
My mind finds it much easier to focus on one thing and one thing only when I’ve taken my medication. It’s like I can put up screens on either side of my head, allowing me to see only what’s right in front of me for the times that I choose.
5. Perception of time
Time goes in a much more linear fashion when I’ve taken medication. It actually makes sense. I’m not surprised by hours that go by unnoticed, or by how fast some things go.
6. Emotional regulation
I’m pretty anxious pretty often, mostly due to the idea that I’m constantly running behind, can’t get organized and am forgetting something. When those thoughts are gone, the fear goes with them, so I feel more emotionally stable.
That all sounds really wonderful if you have ADHD, I know, and I’m very grateful for what medication can help me with. I have, however, also found things that it can’t help me with (and that I still struggle with, even when I’m on medication). These are things that I had hoped my medication would help with.
1. Prioritizing and planning
Deciding what is and what isn’t important is tricky, whether I’ve taken medication or not. I know the key for me is to actually take a few minutes, do a brain dump where I write down everything that comes into my mind, and then project into the future to see what is and what isn’t important. This takes cognitive functioning that has little to do with how distracted I can get. There are days when I take my meds and I’m very focused on doing research on something that doesn’t really matter at all.
2. Setting healthy habits
My medication doesn’t necessarily make me take care of myself any better if I didn’t plan in. Today, I skipped lunch again because, even though I’d taken my meds, I hadn’t actually planned the day. I’m now suffering from a bit of a headache stemming from not having eaten much and having had even less water. Reminder: plan in meals!
3. Give me energy
Turns out my energy is actually limited, and I’ll just have to learn to deal with it. My partner mentioned that for him the medication masks his tiredness, which means he forgets to rest when he really needs to and then ends up paying for it afterwards. In that way, it is similar to coffee, which I still use often as well.
I’m lucky in that my medication doesn’t give me a lot of side-effects, I’m guessing this is also due to the low dose I take. I get a bit of physical tension, jaw clenching and dry mouth, but no real issues with heart rate or other physical ailments.
I have found, though, that sometimes I want my ADHD traits to stand out. I like being able to connect a million different ideas when I’m walking around a furniture store, and when I’m painting, I really enjoy the hyperfocus that lets me lose track of time completely (that is, until the painting is done and I realise I still have to make dinner. Enter panic mode!)
I’m still experimenten with how close I take my doses together, and at what times of the day. I’m still working on creating planning I can rely on.
It’s nice to know, though, that when I need a boost in productivity or a moment of calm, there’s something that I can turn to to help my brain function just a little more like the average brain does.