Adderall. That’s it…
Just kidding! I really wish it were that simple. As a college student diagnosed with ADHD, I have spent plenty of time wishing there was an actual solution for my mind’s hyperactivity and inability to really focus and complete a task at hand. Sometimes it’s funny how easily distracted I am and how I jump from topic to topic with seemingly no connection or segue, yet other times, it is one of my most frustrating attributes. While I am prescribed Adderall, I can promise you that it’s not a miraculous study aid that helps you grind really hard and get all of your sh*t done. If there is a drug that does that, please someone let me know (but not actually because I’m a good kid and don’t do drugs of course!).
My meds certainly aid my concentration, but unfortunately, there is no medicine that is an end all be all solution or cure, and even those that help have some serious drawbacks. For me, the worst one is the loss of appetite. I eat breakfast every morning, but sometimes I’ll find myself in such a groove, that the thought of having a snack or another meal does not cross my mind again until 7:00 PM. I jeopardize my health. Your body does not function optimally without fuel, so the headache sets in, my focus drifts, I’m overly fatigued, and I know I should eat but literally, nothing sounds appealing, and oh crap I’ve spent thirty minutes contemplating how I am tired, probably hungry, and am not as far as I would like to be on whatever the task at hand is. Oh, and not to mention, once that focus is broken, there is no way I’m getting back on track any time soon. This is a struggle that I face pretty much daily.
The elevated heart rate and nervousness is another one that sometimes gets to me. I like caffeine… the Dunkin’ Donuts near my house knows me by name. Addiction might be a strong word, actually no screw it, I am most definitely addicted, and in my opinion, that’s okay. Just don’t talk to me before I’ve had my coffee; I’m not really awake until then. Clearly, I LOVE my caffeine, so what’s the issue?
Well, I’m going to get a little sciency for a second. Adderall - like a lot of drugs prescribed for ADHD management - is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant. Caffeine is also a CNS stimulant, but it works to block adenosine action (the chemical in your brain that usually promotes sleep). Adderall on the other hand raises dopamine (creating a feeling of motivation to achieve goals) and norepinephrine (the stress hormone that affects attention and response) levels. If you saw big sciency words and said f*** it, I’m not reading that, don’t worry it’s over, you may continue here.
You often have to meet with a cardiologist before going on Adderall because of the added stimulation, and then you have to further evaluate with them if any added caffeine is safe to introduce. Evidently, my body knows me well and my heart held it together during the EKG - I was cleared to have my coffee whilst on Adderall - however, I’ve learned the hard way that this is not always the best combination. With so much stimulation, sometimes I go into overdrive. I cannot stop bouncing my knee, my hands grow incredibly shaky, so much excess energy pulses through my body that I simply cannot sit still. In this state, I would be better off running laps than trying to focus or do something legitimately productive. My friends know this state of mine well because that energy tends to materialize as aggressiveness or aggravation. Other times, the coffee works to help wake me up, and Adderall does its part in helping me focus. The problem is: you never really know which one you’re going to get, so it’s kind of a toss-up.
The good days can make you feel great - you get so much done and managed to stay on task! It can be almost refreshing to feel such accomplishment because that type of drive is not easy to muster with ADHD. It’s the days like that that inspire and push me because on those days I allow myself to feel smart. I think it’s really easy to let ADHD define me and drag me down. Let’s look at what happened first semester. To an extent, it’s important to acknowledge that because ADHD is a legitimate mental health condition and it would be unfair to me to neglect the ways that it poses an additional challenge. There are things that I struggle with more than others and that is hard and unpleasant. Statistically, young people with ADHD are at a greater risk for academic failure. They also drop out of college at a significantly higher rate. That said, it is crucial to frame that fact. Yes, it is hard, but look at how smart and strong I must be to persevere. I log into school every day knowing that it is going to be difficult, I am going to take longer to process than my peers, and it will probably take more energy from me to stay engaged. I knowingly make the choice to push on and that’s pretty badass.
Everyone reading this is actually pretty badass because you are choosing to read an additional piece of writing beyond what is required for work or school and you are probing your mind to think deeper and offer your peers the benefit of the doubt. You don’t know how someone else’s brain functions. You don’t know what obstacles stand in the way of their learning and success. I wish I had the ability and authority to give you some “real ADHD solutions” but what I can tell you is that you’re not alone, you will still succeed, and (hehe here comes a classic cliche Mia note) you have character traits, qualities, and experiences beyond the box that ADHD creates for you.