The Very Distracting Elephant Has All Of My Attention

I almost never think about this because I kind of don’t really care, but it comes up now and then, at which point I’m forced to think about it, which often leads me to the conclusion that I still don’t really care.

I have ADHD as well as bipolar, which is pretty common. I often forget I have ADHD even though I’ve been diagnosed with it twice and treated for it twice, and I feel like maybe there’s a joke hiding in the fact that I generally don’t remember that I have ADHD. I guess part of it is that my ADHD is really mild and treating it with meds ended up exacerbating my bipolar symptoms a whole lot more than it alleviated my ADHD symptoms, so it’s really not worth it. Most of the time (but not all of the time), the meds you get for ADHD are stimulants, usually methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta) or amphetamine salts (Adderall). I tend to think of these drugs as “legal speed” much the same way that oxycodone is arguably “legal heroin,” because prescription stimulants can be a little intense and cause a person to behave in ways that are similar to their illicit, street-dwelling cousins.

Way back in April, 2006, a few months before she turned 19 and after an inexplicable plummet in academic performance at the beginning of college, Laura’s well-meaning dad brought her to a specialist to get tested for ADHD. Currently, Laura isn’t 100% sure why she’s speaking in the third person, but she’s gonna keep doing it for a sec, so deal. The nice doctor (he really was super nice) prescribed Laura 18mgs of long-acting methylphenidate a day. Upon beginning treatment with the methylphenidate, Laura did not sleep more than 4 hours a night for about 6 weeks (“night” meaning between the hours of 7:00 and 11:00 a.m., after the sun was up). During the day, Laura spent hours and hours playing guitar in her room and doing little else. She…fuck it, I’m done with the third person thing…I couldn’t bring myself to close my eyes while it was still dark out because I was afraid of this or that faceless, gloomy specter, likely a shifting amalgamation of horror movie previews, posters, photos, and fucked up memories. So, I was almost 19 and so afraid of the boogeyman that I kept every light in my room on all night and tried to keep blinking to a minimum. Once the sun came up and I heard my parents moving around the house, I felt Ok to close my eyes and get some sleep, but I still usually kept the lights on. The point is that I got bizarrely paranoid of shit I don’t and didn’t actually believe in (demons, ghosts, the remaining peppery flakes of my gothic-ass Catholic upbringing – side point: I posit that growing up Catholic predisposes nervous people to deeply intense but irrational fears, or at least that’s what happened to me).

So I was getting by on 4 hours of sleep, hyper-focused on creative projects, and immensely paranoid of the dark. It was a weird time. Through those long nights, I watched a lot of shitty romance movies and replayed the sex scenes over and over (bonus points If the DVD had a cache of scenes deleted from the film for being TOO HOT FOR THEATERS!), because, at 18, I had done most of the sex things I was then interested in doing, but not all of the sex things I was interested in doing, and I wanted to make sure my orgasming visage would be the right combination of sexy and cultivated* when said visage would smear itself all over my face.** Pro tip: don’t explore your own sexuality by watching adaptations of Nicholas Sparks books, you won’t have any fun. DO masturbate more.

Shit calmed down a lot after that first 6 weeks, but the paranoia stuck around, kinda shapeshifting. I felt I could sleep with the lights off, but I was convinced people were watching me from their windows when I walked around outside. It should go without saying that by “watching” I also mean “judging” which is a little funny to think about, when I root around in that notion a bit more and realize how important I must’ve felt. I went back to school for my sophomore year of college (which, for like a dozen reasons was a total blast, despite the really bad cockroach problem in my apartment), but over the course of that year, my paranoias got worse. In quiet elevators or train cars, I was never sure if I was talking or thinking, so my brain would go off the rails, whipping up waltzing cyclones of hateful language that I never use in real life, like just to fuck with me. Did I really just call that woman standing next to me a [blank-ity blank blank]??? I would never call a person that! She has to know I don’t think she or anyone is a [nope-ity nope nope]!!! So my solution to this was to bite my lips. Like real hard. ‘Cause if I was chomping down on my lips, I couldn’t be also using them to hurl obscene epithets at elevator strangers, right?

In a moment of clarity, I realized that the shit that was happening to me re: this paranoia nonsense and the things I was doing to cope with it were stupid and making my life needlessly stressful. So I called my doctor and told him I was gonna stop taking the methylphenidate and he said Ok. Fun thing (and my psychiatrist has told me this more than once): sometimes when you stop taking a medication, the side-effects you experienced when you were first taking it that went away after your body adjusted can come back. And mine did SO HARD. I became completely hypomanic (which I didn’t know was a thing at the time). I may have told this anecdote before but for like about 2 weeks, my poor, poor roommates had to deal with my assertion, nay, my insistence that the floor was a trampoline. Thusly, I would often start screaming, “THE FLOOR IS A TRAMPOLINE!” while jumping up and down in the living room (which should’ve scared the roaches at least a little, but totally didn’t, those fuckers are hardy as hell). I was bathed in awe, and the object of my awe was skyscrapers, which was pretty convenient since I live(d) in a major city. I haven’t had a hypomanic episode with that awe component in it for a really long time, but it’s not unusual for a person experiencing mania or hypomania to feel an intense reverence for X thing. People often land on stuff like trees or mountains or bodies of water, but it can really be almost anything. I considered skyscrapers to be these magnificent testaments to human ingenuity – from the minds of the architects who envisioned them to the hands of the workers who made their integrity incarnate. It was all very poetic, etc.

Then my dad died. I was reaching this unbelievable psychic climax when, without warning, my dad was felled in seconds by a faulty heart. I was still hypomanic during the first week or so of grieving my dad, which may be the most surreal thing that’s ever happened to me, if you don’t count psychedelics.

All this weirdness ’cause of some ADHD pills. When I returned to college post-graduation to study more Philosophy, I was put on Adderall, but this time, I was also taking mood stabilizers, so I didn’t have any significant episodes, none that I can readily recall, anyway.

So, it comes up in therapy now and then. The ADHD. My doc will occasionally remind me that I have it by suggesting it may have a minor role to play in such-and-such event/feeling/endeavor. My response is usually along the lines of, “Well, whatever,” and then I just move on. I don’t know exactly how to express the fact that I don’t really care whether or not I have ADHD…except, I guess, by saying that I don’t really care whether or not I have ADHD. But it’s probably fair enough to say that it has me sometimes, as in, by the short hairs but so what? Is it Ok to say “so what?” here? It doesn’t feel especially un-Ok. Plus, ADHD seems to fall into that category of Silver Lining Disorders where people who have it may experience some trouble, like in school maybe, but that trouble is often (sometimes tremendously) offset by the facets of the illness that are fucking great. People with ADHD are often more adventurous and creative than the average bear, and, I’ve been told, more easily think outside the box (sorry…) than their unaffected peers. There’s also a theory that ADHD may be the result of an evolutionary advantage re: hunting vs. farming, essentially making people with ADHD traits better suited to certain scenarios and more prone to hyperfocus, which, when aimed at the right target, can be really fucking fun. Look it up, it’s cool.

So, 1,500 words say that I have an illness about which I don’t really care. But maybe that I’m better than you (I am…on some days, on other days I’m less preferable than hemorrhoids, but this whole parenthetical is pretty typical of what I know and feel about myself as a person with bipolar, not as a person with ADHD). So, long story short, uh, comorbidity is a thing, it can lead you to some weird crossroads and…maybe not all disorders need treatment. I think I’m getting along Ok. The hand I drew doesn’t allow a ton of room for perfect, functional normalcy, so why try to force it? In this case, I insist for myself, that it’s better not to.

-LB

*This doesn’t exist. Humans, with little exception, look ridiculous when we come. That doesn’t make it any less hot, though.

**Yes, that phrasing was intentional, thanks for noticing!

Tagged: ADHD, bipolar disorder, Catholicism, comorbidity, dad, death, drugs, hypomania, masturbation, meds, paranoia, sexuality, side effects, therapy, treatment

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