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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.




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....
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.
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)