Meds: Yup, Still No Disney Spirits, But I Think I’m Okay With That

In my most recent post about medication, I mentioned that Disney Spirits did not magically apparate and undo all my recent mistakes as soon as I took my first dose of Adderall.

Well, I can confirm that they still haven’t, so it looks like that really is definitely not how things work — but that’s okay. I didn’t actually expect that*.

*Though, you know, if all you birds and and your friends from Cinderella want to come over and help…

I have, however, gained a couple of insights.

One of the things that finally made me not just willing to get back on ADHD meds, but willing enough to do something about it, was completely missing an assignment in my entomology class. I switched its due date with that of an online exam, and since it was a short assignment, when I logged into OnCourse (IU’s legacy online-class system; we’re currently using Canvas as well) to hand it in, I discovered that I was one day too late.

Oy vey.

At least I got the exam done early?

Fortunately, the assignment in question was only a 10-point jobber, and since I’m otherwise doing really well in that class, I decided that I would just take it for the wake-up call that it was and opt not to grovel to my professor about it (especially since this was only a few weeks into the semester).

I immediately created an assignments note (two, actually — one for Entomology; one for Buddhism) in Google Keep, thinking that would solve the problem.

Our most recent assignment, meanwhile, spanned two weeks from initiation to completion — which is to say that I recorded the due date in my assignments note before I started taking Adderall. Have I mentioned that Adderally dramatically increases my capacity for attention to detail?

You can probably see where this is going.

This time, fortunately, my initial misunderstanding was only off by a few hours — the assignment — a PowerPoint presentation and a brief Word document — was due at 5 PM, but I wrote down 8 PM. I was done with it well before 5, then decided to make a couple of structural changes to the PowerPoint and add an audio track. When I logged in to submit it at 6 PM, I discovered my mistake. The online assignment inbox was closed.

Since I’d worked really hard on this assignment and was really proud of it, I overmastered my Immense and Crushing Feelings of Woe (apparently, Adderall does not eliminate the nauseous sensation that comes with discovering I’ve missed an assignment deadline), emailed my files to my prof, Dr. Hunt, and explained the situation. He graciously accepted* my assignment.

*By the way, kids: if you’re looking for another sound reason to be a good student, work hard, and develop good relationships with your professors, this is a it. If you’re a good student, you demonstrate that you’re making an effort, and you treat your professors with respect, they are much more likely to be forgiving if and when something like this happens.

The cool part isn’t so much that I found a solution, though. I usually do … sooner or later.

The cool part is that I was able to keep my head together and make decisions about how to handle this without first having an Epic Meltdown of Self-Directed Rage (you guys, I might be just a little overcommitted to this whole Best Student Evar thing). I mean, I wasn’t happy with myself, but I wasn’t flagellating myself, either. I was upset, but able to function. I didn’t have to go Be Angry In The Kitchen for an hour before I figured out what to do.

So while Disney Spirits did not go back and undo that whole thing where I spent two whole weeks being convinced that the assignment was due three hours later than it was, I do think the meds played a role in helping me to make good decisions in a more-timely-and-less-exhausting way than usual.

That has, perhaps, been the surprising part of this experience for me. You guys, I seriously didn’t expect taking, like, amphetamines to improve my frustration tolerance and help me stay more level-headed about things. However, the meds do seem to be doing exactly that.

To some extent, I feel that as a student of neuroscience, I should “grok” this more than I do. Frustration tolerance and emotional volatility are mediated by some of the same processes and structures responsible for reducing impulsivity and increasing focus — all that fancy frontal-lobe stuff. This (well, this and relative inexperience) is why teenagers are worse at all these things than adults.

The fact that medication makes it easier for me to hold a thought in my head, think about things before I do them, and have a conversation with … okay, well, with less interrupting (interrupting is a cultural norm where I’m from, so that’s gonna take some time and work) means it should also help me not asplode when I reach frustration saturation.

Here’s the thing: most of the time, without medication, I experience the emotion of frustration very physically and as a sudden, immense explosion that I really can’t seem to stop — and it happens suddenly, like sublimation in chemistry.

After the explosion, I can eventually make decisions about how to respond to the problem at hand. Sometimes way after; sometimes so long after that making a decision is no longer relevant or even possible.

Medication seems to kind of grant me some wiggle room — it’s like a catalyst that changes the process so now, instead of sublimating straight from solid to gas, I pass through a liquid phase first. Frustrating things happen, but I don’t immediately blow a fuse. It’s like medication provides a buffer that preserves my ability to make decisions when I’m frustrated (in addition to simply making it easier to make them in the first place).

So my meds aren’t going to undo my past mistakes for me, but they can help me make decisions about how to fix things. They also allow me to actually sit still for a while and to read course materials without having to re-read every paragraph fifteen times because my mind went walkabout in the midst of sentence 3 but I didn’t notice until sentence 5 of the next-plus-one paragraph. They allow me to do a better job at weighing the pros and cons related to the decision at hand, and maybe allow me to do so for a little longer (so I maybe won’t just weigh the factors for one minute and then go, “Screw it, this is too hard, I’mma go do the fun option!”).

This isn’t to say that there’s not room in the world for impulsivity. I take risks that I otherwise might not because I’m usually already halfway in before my brain has a chance to say, “This might not be a good idea!” And since the human brain is great at thinking things are dangerous when they aren’t (like jumping into the front group in ballet class), this means many of the risks I take pan out pretty well.

I don’t want to lose that spontaneity entirely. Fortunately, I don’t think I will: at the current dose, my meds don’t make me not me, they just kind of turn the volume down a little bit. The idea is to balance my impulsiveness with a shade more restraint; my creativity with a little more follow-through.

So that’s it for now. I’m not saying that medication is a miracle cure, but it does seem to be helping in ways that years of immense effort haven’t. I have great coping mechanisms, but there are gigantic holes in them that no amount of effort seems to fix. Medication helps to patch those holes.

This isn’t to say there aren’t side-effects — my ADHD meds do kill my appetite (scheduled eating helps), and I do get dry mouth — but at this dose, the side-effects are tolerable.

So the Disney Spirits aren’t waiting in the wings, but so far this little experiment is working out pretty well.

Anyway, that’s it for now. More soon. I’m out of class tonight in an effort to make one last push at finihsing last year’s finances so I can get back to focusing on the important stuff, like turnout and plies and brisees and cabrioles 😀

About asher

Me in a nutshell: Standard uptight ballet boy. Trapeze junkie. Half-baked choreographer. Budding researcher. Transit cyclist. Terrible homemaker. Getting along pretty well with bipolar disorder. Fabulous. Married to a very patient man. Bachelor of Science in Psychology (2015). Proto-foodie, but lazy about it. Cat owner ... or, should I say, cat own-ee? ... dog lover. Equestrian.

Posted on 2015/03/09, in adhd, life management, school and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. Hmm. If those Disney Spirits do show up and start dancing around you it might be time to cut back the Adderall a bit. Or try something stronger.

    More seriously though, neuroscientific reductionism needs to be taken with a big grain of salt. Demonstrating reduced blood flow or electrical activity in the frontal lobes of people with compromised executive functioning ain’t the same as saying executive functions live in the forebrain. Neuroscientists seem to have a deficiency in the part of the brain that distinguishes correlation from causation.

  2. I took Adderall for a year and it helped me stay on task, tremendously, then our family lost two close members three weeks apart. The Adderall began to work against me, but the traumatic change of events surely added stressors that I was having difficulty with. I was given an anxiety med and we added a second SSRI, while stopping the Adderall. They were a God send with the exception of weight gain. As I prepared to drop the Xanax we learned my father-in-law is suffering Stage 4 lung cancer. For now we are not changing anything. We will work on that as life gets a bit stronger, or rather, me for it.

    Thanks for sharing your journey.

    • Wow, that’s an awful lot to live through in a short span. It sounds like you have excellent insight into finding solutions that help with surviving, and a keen sense of what will help you through the difficult times ahead.

      • Thank you Asher, but I am blessed to have a doctor that I’ve been working with for over 17 years. We openly discuss medication options, side effects and efficacy.
        Wishing you well. Keep dancing and smiling. ❤️

  3. I’m really glad the meds are helping. Your analysis of all this is really interesting and insightful. Thanks for posting this.

    • You’re most welcome ^—^ I find it helpful to wrote about what I’m experiencing, but I admit, sometimes I feel like lot of this blog of mine amounts to so much navel-gazing. I’m glad that it actually serves a purpose for other people as well!

      • No, it’s not navel-gazing at all. A lot of folks struggle with this stuff, and hearing your perspective and experience is really helpful. As you’ve said, meds are a tool. Sharing information and experiences is another. 🙂

  4. I enjoy reading deep thoughts when it comes to mental illness particularly. I was diagnosed three months ago with ADD at 35. Even though I completed college and have added more classes onto it, it is mind boggling to think of all the reasons why I acted the way I did when it concerned coursework. Falling asleep reading a book for a business class. Re-reading paragraph after paragraph because it was like I did not read it at all? Putting off classwork to go party often. Needed that fun stimulation just to get through college weekly or even daily. I did take adderall for a month, the four hour doses which worked remarkable well. But it does not last all day and for me had a big withdrawal effect once it wore off and then to take another does and wait for feeling normal again was big toll. I am now on Vysean or however you spell it which works for 14 hours and it does me well. My writing has improved, my guitar playing improved, my ability to job search in greater lengths of time has improved greatly. I always found the job searching process an insufferable experience. I am glad the meds have helped you.

    • Thank you for all of your thoughtful replies. It’s helpful to hear how other people experience all this stuff.

      It sort of amazes me both how significantly meds can help and how differently each person responds!

      My best friend also has ADHD, but is much more the “inattentive” type, where as I’m definitely way out on the hyperactive/impulsive end of things. Interestingly, when he takes Adderall, he feels very much like I do without it! He takes Nuvigil now, which seems to work pretty well for him. I wonder whether Nuvigil would, in turn, be a less-effective tool for me. It definitely reveals how slight or understanding of all this neurochemistry stuff remains!

      I’ve heard good things about Vyvanse. It’s excellent that it doesn’t interfere with your music (interference with creative endeavours seems to be a common difficulty; one I’m hoping to avoid!). For me, at least, music is a great solace (when I wasn’t dancing, I used to say, “Piano is my drug of choice,” though now it’s ballet!) , and losing that would be unthinkable.

    • PS: amen to the insufferability of the job search!

  5. There’s a book by Thomas Brown called “Smart But Stuck: Emotions in Teens and Adults with ADHD” that’s about this very idea of emotional regulation as part of executive functioning. Before I read the book, I thought the emotional stuff I’d read about ADHD didn’t apply to me, because I’m not hyperactive and not very impulsive, and I don’t have outbursts or anything. But boy do emotions take over my brain! It’s just that it’s an inward thing, not an outward thing. I am often totally paralyzed by anxiety, fear, anger, or sadness; and even happiness can take over and distract me from what I need to do. Brown compares this to a computer virus taking up all the space on a hard drive.

    • I’m going to have to check out that book! I think that’s very true of me and probably also of my best friend. I have found it much easier to transition out of difficult emotions since I started taking meds. Fascinating insights!

      • Wow, that’s really exciting (about transitioning about of difficult emotions). I’m about to start meds for the first time; I’ll have to try to take notice of that. The Brown book is available as an audiobook (as every ADD-related book ought to be).

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