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"Flowers for Algernon" and Me

An LJ friend's post about forgetting to take his meds prompted this disclosure and discussion:

Over the last few days, I've forgotten to refill the pill-box on my desk so I can take my afternoon Adderal before class. I tell you what, I won't be doing that anymore. I've been feeling like Charlie Gordon from Flowers for Algernon.

I haven't talked about this here before, because I felt uncomfortable doing so in public. For a long time, I'd been suspecting I might have ADD - not the hyperactive part, but the fragmented-attention part, so I was uncertain and avoidant. But I certainly suffered many of the symptoms, the worst of which was having great trouble focusing on one task (especially when I had many things to do, as I always do!), difficulty concentrating on things, and serious impairment in listening to one person talking in a noisy room, and so on. What I didn't realize that many of my anxiety issues also stemmed from the ADD, and overcoming this is perhaps my favorite result of the new meds: Even though I'm a light sleeper now, I used to startle awake at the slightest sound; I used to experience near-panic-attack levels of stress when I had too many things on my plate - and I've always been exceptionally good at putting too many things there. Brilliant. Imagine how emotionally straining it was for me when I was working full-time for both Microsoft and KU, plus trying to maintain my writing career, plus trying to stay in relationships. Since childhood, I've always been prepped for attacks whenever walking past people.

Are these things normal? I think not. They certainly weren't doing me any good. Of course, most of these symptoms - by nature of only existing inside my head - no one knew about, but they constantly plagued me.

Yet I felt that an ADD diagnosis would be problematic, a dirty label. Even now, I'm going back and forth whether to post this publicly or friends-only. How will the professional world, my co-workers, view me if they knew? I didn't want to be "one of those people," and I certainly didn't want to see myself like [insert names of people who are barely functional]. I despised having to admit that I have even more problems. As my suspicions rose, I asked myself, Why shouldn't I just be able to overcome this on my own? I actively avoided reading about ADHD. I mean, I lived through childhood. I've been successful in adult life. I'm smart, quick, capable of dealing with lots of crap all at once. Except I wasn't. Sure, I've always managed to deal with things. Except not very well, and it took a serious toll on me, my life, my writing, my career, my relationships... you get the idea.

So these broken-in-half little blue dextroamphetamine-amphetamine pills have transformed my life. I can now pay attention to a single conversation at parties. I can work on single projects until I'm done or reach a stopping-point. My stress level has dropped at least 90%. In class, I stay on track so well - even if a student's question redirects the discussion for several minutes - that I can return to what I was saying before. I'm WAY better at tracking time in a linear fashion. I'm more patient and less prone to frustration. When I have a dozen things to do and only time to deal with half of them, I can now tactically or strategically determine which needs to be dealt with first without the Beast Anxiety rearing up and trampling my ability to decide. And so on.

Strange that forgetting to take my pill - even at such a minimal dose - causes me so much trouble now, when I didn't even start taking them until last winter. How did I ever teach so many classes or get anything done before I started the stuff? How did I ever finish writing projects as long as novels? Most of all, how did I ever live with such stress before?

Thank you, modern medicine. Thank you for your patience, everyone who had to put up with me before. And thank you, everyone who not only supported me in pursuing a solution but also didn't think less of me when I acquired a new label.

I don't feel more broken now, bearing new scarlet letters. I feel more human. In fact, I feel superhuman at times, in control of a newly freed mind, able to focus while still retaining the hypervigilance that once wore me out. Simply taking these meds, I feel much more capable of taking control of this oft-quarrelsome mind. I mean, who doesn't have some kind of issues, right? Plus, ADD and ADHD no longer bear quite the stigma they used to. Though I'm still troubled by children getting the diagnosis, I waited too long before addressing this.

This much is certain: I won't be forgetting to refill my office pillbox anymore.

Chris

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Comments

( 25 comments — Leave a comment )
carmy_w
Sep. 27th, 2012 06:33 pm (UTC)
*applause*

Well said, Chris!
mckitterick
Sep. 27th, 2012 08:14 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
clevermanka
Sep. 27th, 2012 06:34 pm (UTC)
Very brave of you to go ahead and share this. Go, you!
mckitterick
Sep. 27th, 2012 08:15 pm (UTC)
It was really tough to post without making it "friends-only," but I figure others out there suffer similarly, and everyone gets braver once people start outing themselves.
clevermanka
Sep. 27th, 2012 08:20 pm (UTC)
That's one of the reasons I make public posts about my health issues, and the physical/psychological stuff that goes along with 'em. Knowledge is power, and shame (of that sort) doesn't help anyone.
j_cheney
Sep. 27th, 2012 06:45 pm (UTC)
I've had students with both ADD or ADHD (which are quite different things), and medication truly can work wonders!
mckitterick
Sep. 27th, 2012 08:16 pm (UTC)
They really are, and the meds DO work wonders. Interesting that you could tell with your students.
j_cheney
Sep. 27th, 2012 08:21 pm (UTC)
I had one guy with ADD who would sit in my room for two hours after school most days trying to complete his homework assignment (I had after-school tutoring 4 days a week). Not dumb...he just couldn't keep focused on the math for more than a minute at a time. Once they put him on meds, it made a huge difference....
mckitterick
Sep. 27th, 2012 08:26 pm (UTC)
Wow, I'm so glad mine was never that severe. But I can imagine, and it sounds horrifying.
j_cheney
Sep. 27th, 2012 08:33 pm (UTC)
He was the worst case of ADD I've -ever- seen.

I had my worst ADHD kid the same year, but -he- kept getting sent to the alternative school (for 5 weeks at a pop), never attempted homework much less after-school tutoring, and most of the time was in ISS. (ETA: I should add that he and I got along okay. Not so much with other teachers, though.)

It was a clear lesson in the difference between the two. ;o)

Edited at 2012-09-27 08:35 pm (UTC)
theoneinblue
Sep. 27th, 2012 07:18 pm (UTC)
Thank you for sharing this.
mckitterick
Sep. 27th, 2012 08:17 pm (UTC)
I figured I was ready to be more open about it. There's still a part of me that's ashamed, honestly, but I know that's silly. Still....
professormass
Sep. 27th, 2012 07:25 pm (UTC)
Your admission doesn't just help you, it probably helps someone reading this who is in a similar boat. We needn't be ashamed of our differences, and you've proven this. I certainly don't think less of you; quite the opposite. Thank you, sir!
mckitterick
Sep. 27th, 2012 08:18 pm (UTC)
Thank you - that's exactly why I decided to "come out."
dsgood
Sep. 27th, 2012 07:27 pm (UTC)
I have ADHD. I take sertraline (generic equivalent of Zoloft); an off-label use. Makes a big difference.

One difference which is probably not that common is that my synesthesia is stronger thanks to the sertraline.

I used to lie awake worrying about my insomnia.
mckitterick
Sep. 27th, 2012 08:19 pm (UTC)
Glad you're also enjoying the benefits of modern medicine. Really, I wish I'd started years ago.

I know! Interestingly, I can take the Adderal right up until a few hours before bed, and it actually helps me fall asleep. A stimulant. Whoah.
carmy_w
Sep. 27th, 2012 09:10 pm (UTC)
It's sort of odd that you mention this; my husband reacts to Sudafed in reverse, and also to Nyquil in reverse. I've often wondered if he should go find some sort of a test for ADD/ADHD.

On the other hand, he's almost scarily focused sometimes, to the exclusion of everything else. Get him working on an engine/machinery, and he'll come in with blood on his hands, a cut on his nose; ask him what happened? "I dunno, I was working on that engine and didn't pay attention." Thankfully enough, it stops at the point of actual injury; if it needs stitches, he WILL stop!
mckitterick
Sep. 28th, 2012 12:01 am (UTC)
That kind of ultra-focus is another ADD symptom (for some people). In fact, I've known people who stop their meds when, say, going into a long bout of programming, so they can become mono-focused for hours on end. Not even starvation will stop them until they're done.
(Deleted comment)
mckitterick
Sep. 28th, 2012 12:01 am (UTC)
So true!
countrycousin
Sep. 28th, 2012 02:33 pm (UTC)
I'll add to the applause. Recently (as more information surfaces) I've wondered if I was in that category, but since I've been retired for over a decade, I haven't bothered to investigate. Maybe I should before next tax season, though - I seem to need help sticking with that task. :-)

I think not shame, but caution about going public is warranted. Therefore the applause. I'm sure this post will help some people investigate needed help.

[And I definitely sympathize with the difficulty of ensuring proper pill taking, although mine are quite different. :-) ]
mckitterick
Sep. 28th, 2012 03:24 pm (UTC)
Thank you. I suspect a lot of people - especially those born before the 1990s - have been living with this or other things all their lives, but it wasn't until recently that people even knew about it or started giving medication for it.

I weighed the risks and dangers of going public, but I figured how it might help others is more important than... and here I couldn't really figure out what the danger might be. Work? Well, can't get fired for such things, though maybe some folks would think less of someone using meds to overcome challenges rather than "bucking up" or something. And probably half of my students have been diagnosed such, so they wouldn't think less of me.
tully01
Sep. 28th, 2012 05:01 pm (UTC)
Been there, with my son. God bless modern pharmacology.
mckitterick
Sep. 28th, 2012 05:09 pm (UTC)
Abso-tutin-lutely.
lingster1
Sep. 29th, 2012 03:02 am (UTC)
Thanks for posting that, Chris. One of my grandsons has ADD. He was a mess as a little boy, too hyper in class to learn, too energized to cooperate with siblings, a real problem for his parents -- and it became obvious that he was unhappy with himself but couldn't stop. Once the problem was diagnosed, and he started the meds, he began to shine. He's really an extremely intelligent kid who dreams of being an astrophysicist. I try taking him places by himself (he still doesn't completely manage the patience bit with his siblings) and he's a mile a minute questions. But they're not dumb questions, and he listens to the answers. Without the meds he might have been assigned to the slow-learners classes or worse.
mckitterick
Sep. 29th, 2012 03:12 am (UTC)
I'm really glad to hear that, Sheila! I wish I'd known about this years ago.
( 25 comments — Leave a comment )

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