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*.
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.
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.
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 😀