Date: April 27, 2021

Hey Gen X - Go Easy on Yourself When You Start Taking ADHD Medication

As the research surrounding ADHD grows and as awareness of the disorder grows, so too do the number of people being diagnosed later in life. Finding out that you have had a neurodevelopmental disorder all of your life is a fundamentally life-changing moment and it takes some time for the enormity of this to sink in and for the reality of the situation to catch up.

Along with the diagnosis, you're highly likely to be prescribed some medication to try and offset the more problematic symptoms of ADHD. Assuming you don't have any reactions to the medication you've been prescribed, then you can begin taking them everyday and hopefully become a 'better' and perhaps more productive person as a result of it.

However there's such a weight of expectation around the effects of ADHD medication, particularly the famous stimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin, that those of us with ADHD are suddenly expected to be 'normal' now. And while the aforementioned stimulants can and do have a dramatic effect on our brain processes, we still need to take baby steps and not expect too much of ourselves straight out of the blocks.

brown concrete building during daytime

The problem is that we've had ADHD all of our lives, have grown up with its symptoms and we have, over several decades, put our own coping strategies in place to deal with them. Most of these coping strategies are, of course, completely useless but you aren't going to be able to dismantle them instantly the first time you chuck two Adderall down your throat.

We have constructed a whole set of principles, actions, modes of operation and expectations for ourselves over the course of our lives and you are expecting far too much of yourself if you think that they're going to disappear as soon as you start on medication. Family, loved ones, friends and co-workers might have similar expectations and it's important that you stress to them that being diagnosed and starting on medication is just the first step on a long road, not the end destination.

There are so many learned behaviours that we have to work our way around and these, in combination with the chronically low self-esteem that all people with ADHD suffer from, mean that some people give up before they even start. The first time an adult takes a stimulant like Ritalin they might be expecting some 'red pill' Matrix-like moment and they are going to be bitterly disappointed when that doesn't happen. The effects of stimulants serve only to raise our neurotransmitter levels to something approaching the standard human baseline and so what we actually feel is the same as everyone else - not suddenly hot-wired into the Matrix and blazing with the white-hot passion of a thousand suns.

It takes a long time to unlearn the shitty processes we adult ADHDers have developed over the years. You are not going to be suddenly able to power your way through your to-do list like some Goldman Sachs intern just because you've taken 30mg of Adderall. We expect ourselves to fuck up, to fail, to fall at the first hurdle, to give in and give up and having sufficient dopamine in our brains to motivate ourselves is just one small part of the jigsaw puzzle.

close-up photo of heart-shape stones

So lower your expectations. Start with simple stuff. Maybe begin by just setting a time of the day when you aim to do stuff. Take your medication at the same time each day, perhaps with a nice mug of coffee, settle yourself in and then start. Remember that it takes between 45 minutes and an hour for stimulant drugs to kick in, so if you plan to start work at 9am, dose up at 8am. Other non-stimulant drugs work differently and often have about a week's lead time before starting to have any significant effect. The drugs do work, but they are not miracles and you need to put in place the right sort of framework to better leverage the temporary boost you're giving your brain's executive functions.

It's also worth remembering that while stimulant medication can have a dramatic effect on many of the core symptoms of ADHD, such as inattention, hyperactivity, impulsiveness, focus, forgetfulness and fidgeting, it doesn't fix everything. If you have ADHD then it is highly unlikely that you have ADHD only. If you have ADHD then it is highly likely that you have a number of common comorbid disorders, such as ASD, ODD, anxiety or perhaps bipolar and your medication may not have any effect on those comorbidities, let alone the learned behaviours you constructed around them.

Don't expect a lifetime's learned behaviours to disappear overnight, don't expect the pills to fix everything, remember that the pills only work when you take them and understand that it takes time to get dosage levels right. Simply knowing that you have ADHD is a huge benefit for how you conduct your life moving forwards, but if you're an adult and you only found out recently, then please cut yourself some slack.

2 comments on “Hey Gen X - Go Easy on Yourself When You Start Taking ADHD Medication”

  1. Very timely! This was written literally the day before I received my diagnosis. I will keep a lot of these things to heart. Thank you.

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