When I found out that I had ADHD, a lot of things changed. Struggles I’d been so ashamed of my entire life suddenly had an explanation, a reason that wasn’t my fault, and one that – hopefully – I would be able to receive treatment for. I was anxious to start – in both meanings of the word – desperate for life to become manageable, but also terrified of taking something that seemed so… extreme. I made a vlog on TikTok of my first day on the medication, documenting how scared I was in the morning, and how, by the afternoon, my life had changed. But that was only the first day, and I knew I had a long road ahead of me. So now, two months later, I’m back to share an update of all the things that I’ve experienced since starting treatment for my ADHD.
Please note, that this is not intended as a promotion of any medication. This is simply my personal experience, and it will not be universal at all – medication may not be suitable for other people, or it may not work the same way. I just think it’s very important to share, because the whole idea of AFAB adults being diagnosed with ADHD is still a new concept, and the more we understand how much the treatment for it improves our quality of life, the better off so many of us will be.
So anyway, let’s get on with it!
I know, this doesn’t sound right. I’m taking a stimulant medication, and sleeping better?! I was dreading the effect it would have on my sleep, but instead it’s been fantastic – when it gets to bedtime I feel relaxed and happy, because I know I’m going to sleep instead of being about to spend 4 hours tossing and turning and worrying about stuff.
This was another thing I was really concerned about before starting medication. I was an extremely anxious person, mainly because I have a phobia that affects my every waking moment. So I was terrified that it would be intensified by taking a stimulant medication, especially when a lot of people I’ve seen say that it makes them very anxious. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I have truly never been so calm in my life. I can fully relax, I can sit back and enjoy things completely without the anxiety still nagging at my below the surface. Yes I still have big issues, but they were insurmountable before. Now when I think about the future, I no longer feel dread about how much anxiety and fear I am going to have to live with.
There are several reasons why I’ve been eating more. Firstly, you have to take ADHD medication with food, ideally a balanced breakfast with fat, fibre and protein in it. This helps the medication to kick in more gradually, allowing you to ease into the day and experience the longest-lasting effects. So the fact that I have to eat breakfast has meant that I start the day off with food, something I have struggled to do for long stretches of my life. Another reason is that I used to forget to eat constantly but I can actually remember mealtimes now. And lastly, the reduction in my anxiety levels has, I think, allowed my appetite to come back to what it should be.
A QUIET MIND
Before ADHD medication, I would be having 3, 4, 5 or more conversations in my head. Thoughts would leapfrog over each other, racing, fighting for dominance, everything was so damn loud in my brain ALL the time and I couldn’t stand it. I had no escape, I just had to hang on for dear life as my brain rocketed around at full pelt in every direction. Non-ADHDers might think this is hyperbole, but it isn’t. Being in my brain was pure torture. And I know how bad it was now, because ADHD medication stopped it from happening. I have a proper train of thought now, and if it diverges onto something else, I can save that thought and come back to it, or even remember to write a physical note to think about it later. It’s hard to describe how this worked, but in the cacophonous din of my pre-medication mind, that thought would have carried on being thought simultaneously. I wouldn’t have been able to stop it or put a pin in it. So everything I thought about just snowballed into more and more things.
CHOOSING WHAT TO FOCUS ON
This leads on from the previous one, because when there’s that much going on, it’s really hard to get control of anything. I was pretty much at the mercy of my own thoughts – will they let me concentrate on the things I need to do today? Or is it going to be yet another battle? Now, I don’t have to fight my brain anywhere near as hard to get it to do something it needs to do. This has made such a huge difference to me, because it was utterly exhausting going to war with my brain whenever I needed to get something done.
LISTENING TO MUSIC
For a long time, I had become completely unable to focus while listening to music, apart from an ADHD ‘focus beats’ track on youtube. But then even that became too distracting, and I had to listen to brown noise in order to have any chance of concentrating. Pure silence was preferable to all of these, but that’s a rare thing to find and so brown noise became my go to. But now, I can concentrate while listening to anything as long as it doesn’t have words! It might sound silly, but it’s so enriching. Brown noise has its benefits, but it’s hardly music.
LISTENING TO PEOPLE
Probably a little bit more important than music! But yeah, before meds I had to be doing something physical in order to be able to pay attention to what someone was saying. Conversations were like trying to pull a completely taught elastic band into another direction – my brain was desperate to get away and do something else, and I was desperate to pull it back to the person talking to me. This inability to listen was one of my biggest sources of shame, and I cannot tell you what a relief it was when I started to realise that it was getting easier.
Now, let’s be reasonable. Procrastination still happens. I have been wanting to write this for ADHD awareness month and at this rate I’ll be lucky if I get it out before November starts! But when it comes to things that NEED to be done, like laundry, self care, cleaning, working etc, it has become so much easier to just go get it done. If we boil it down into a statistic, I would say I’d overcome procrastination about 10% of the time before meds, and now it’s about 70%. Beforehand, I would have had to employ the ‘wait until it becomes urgent’ tactic to finally get myself to do it, and that really is not a good system if you don’t handle stress well.
There are two different types of distraction. Firstly, losing concentration and going off and doing something else, what I’d call internal distraction. Secondly, something happening in your surroundings that cuts into your concentration, what I’d call external distraction. For me, both of these have massively improved. Internal distraction still happens, but so SO much less. Like I can focus for 20 minutes on one thing now, which unless I was fully hyperfocused on something, would never happen before. External distractions also don’t affect me the way they used to – previously they’d completely derail me, I wouldn’t be able to get back to whatever I was doing, and the threat of that made be unwilling to start things, because the feeling of being pulled away when I had actually managed to concentrate was almost painful. But now, I can stop cleaning to answer the door, stop studying to put out laundry, stop talking to answer a text, and go straight back to what I was doing after I’ve finished with the distraction.
As you can imagine, the lifelong struggles I was experiencing before I was diagnosed had a pretty negative impact on the way I saw myself. I believed that everyone else’s brain worked the same way mine did, but that they were capable of so much more than I was. So what did that make me?! Even after I was diagnosed, part of me still didn’t trust it – I truly believed I was lazy, selfish, with no self-control or discipline. I couldn’t follow my dreams because I didn’t believe I could work hard enough to achieve them. I couldn’t pursue meaningful or important careers, because I didn’t trust myself to be able to perform well enough to actually be helpful. I felt guilty every time a new interest popped up, I felt ashamed by how hard it was to listen to people. It wasn’t really until I started medication and felt all these differences that I realised how much I had been struggling every second of every day, and I was genuinely able to start learning how to believe in myself again.
So those are a few of the ways that my life has improved since starting ADHD medication. I hope this sheds some light on why it’s so important for adults who need it to be assessed for ADHD. No one should have to fight their way through life with an undiagnosed, untreated disability.