Editor’s note…Dr. Oren Mason is serving as our guest blogger today. We’re delighted to share a first-person account from a highly respected physician and author of his personal experience with taking medication for ADHD.
Those who have ADHD were born with it. You learn everything with an ADHD brain and never know what learning, living or executing a plan are like for folks without ADHD. When you figure out that others have better emotional and executive self-control than you, you can’t really imagine what it’s like to be them. Imagining better self-control is about as easy as imagining living on the other side of the world. You can guess dozens of details, but thousands never occur to you, till you get there.
When I held the very first ADHD pill I took in my hand, I tried to imagine what I would be feeling in an hour. An hour later, the answer was ‘nothing’. By the end of the day, the answer was still ‘nothing’. I felt no joy, no elation, no energy, no buzz, no euphoria, no calm, no peace and no different. But looking back on the day, there were a thousand differences from the patterns of the previous forty years that were all small, but collectively stunning.
I learned a lot about ADHD in the first few days after I started medication for it by what changed and what stayed the same. I found myself able to do things that I had never been able to do before. It was far more exciting for me in some ways, than for my wife.
“Guess what I can do?” I prodded her excitedly. “I can simultaneously talk to patients AND keep mental track of the time!” This was very new and different. I could think of a world of useful things that could be done with such a super-power. Not get an hour behind my schedule every day for example.
Her response couldn’t have been more deflating. “Yeah, hon, everybody can do that.” She didn’t even look up from the book she was reading.
“Well I couldn’t before the meds, and I can now,” I replied.
She looked at me with utter incredulity, like I had just told her I’m Martian and need to catch a shuttle back there now. Her concept of ADHD was changing just as fast as mine. The surprise in her eyes relaxed, and she grew more reflective.
“I never imagined you couldn’t do that,” she said. “I thought you were choosing not to.”
We had been married almost 20 years, and she had never known this stunningly basic fact about me. She assumed that I wanted to come home late every night more than I wanted to be with the family. There were plenty more surprises those first few days.
I drove home from work one night (an hour earlier than usual) in crowded, but fast-moving traffic. The driver in front of me was very erratic and irritating. I felt the manly impulse to drive right up her rusty tailpipe, flashing my lights and generally intimidating her into driving less erratically. (“Great plan with a high chance of success!” you’re probably thinking.) The thought of arriving home safely and calmly also flashed through my mind, and I backed off a couple car lengths.
“Does this pill make me a driving wimp?” crossed my mind. The only answer I could think of to my own question was “No, given the choice, I’d rather relax and think my own thoughts than to be a butt-head.” Once again, it was a brand new thought for me that I had a choice of reactions to this annoyance, and the simplest choice was to relax and not be obnoxious.
The most remarkable thing, though–and it occurred time and time again–was how simple small work tasks became. I could look at several necessary jobs, pick the top priority and start working on it with less effort than it takes to read this sentence. People who don’t have ADHD probably never imagine how much effort goes into the smallest task, the simplest morning routine, nor do they know how frustrating it is to spend that much effort and still do it badly.
With ADHD, the amount of internal wrestling you go through to start a mundane task is many times the work of the task itself. If you’ve ever spent 10 minutes getting your teenager to spend 2 minutes taking out the trash, you know what I mean. People with ADHD cajole and plead with their inner teenager to finish every item of the morning routine, to start every simple task of the work day, to pick up every piece of clutter.
Experts refer to this as “motivational impairment”, but it really deserves a much more descriptive name, such as “the soul-wrenching effort to shame yourself into doing small, mundane tasks, by imagining that God and your ancestors will hate and disown you if you don’t”. “Motivational impairment” is the short-cut the experts use to save time in their busy research labs.
The need to start a task occurs hundreds of times in a day. People who do hundreds of tasks in a day deserve to feel tired, and they deserve their rest at the end of the day. People with ADHD may only accomplish dozens of tasks, because of the exhausting inefficiency of wrestling our minds from task to task. We may be working harder than anyone knows behind the scenes, but only get credit for the work accomplished. There is no credit for the motivational “pre-work”.
Being able to do a full day of simple work is the most amazing thing I experienced after starting medication. It’s like waking up and taking a deep, delicious breath of the morning air, and realizing that—as far back as you can remember—all you’ve ever known is breathing through a straw.
Dr. Oren Mason lectures and teaches about ADD/ADHD to professionals, educators, patients and families across North America. He serves as Associate Professor in the Department of Family Practice at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and Clinical Associate Instructor at Wayne State University School of Medicine’s Grand Rapids Medical Education Consortium.
He lives in Grand Rapids, MI with his wife, Christine, co-owner and operations manager of his private practice, Attention MD. They have two sons and five Sudanese foster children.
Dr. Mason’s first book, Reaching For A New Potential: A Life Guide for Adults With ADD From a Fellow Traveler is available through Amazon.
Thank you so much for this great post. It is good peek behind the wall of someone’s mind and get a tiny glimpse of the course of thoughts. Thanks for helping me better understand my own children 🙂
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I am just not sure that medication is right for my son…but I have never heard it explained this way
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Trust me, if administered correctly, and titrated slowly, you will see an amazing difference. We’re just conditioned as a society to believe these kids are TRYING to drive us crazy. ❤
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Do lots and lots of research. And find a great doctor who is willing to not just sell a product or job of medicating someone. If you decide to medicate your son, your son and you will need to know that medication does not solve the concern it assists the concern. You don’t work for the medication, it works for you.Your son will still show his adhd, and will still have adhd, yet, like the article shares, there may be things when medication is used that will change… better focus, better time awareness, etc.. Plenty of exercise, outdoor exposure, and a good diet will help. Lots of good home structure and regular proper maturing of growing up.
I was first medicated with and only with Ritalin at the age of 13. I took it appropriately with no abuse for 18 years, until the ageneral of 31, when I moved to a new state and ran out of medication because I didn’t have a doctor. I have not been on medication for 2 1/2 years, and looking back in hindsight, I see where the Med helped, but also see where it became undesirable for me. I remember a little of what my life was like before Ritalin, and I remember the 18 years on it. I am currently enjoying not being on it, and that being medicated was good for a season in my life (while in my school years through college). I still have ADHD, and it shows itself full everyday. However, I have learned about it, still am learning about it and myself, and I’ve learned what my strengths are and how to utilize them in just the 2 years I’ve been off the medication.
It’s hard work. It will always be. That’s why I sincerely recommend a healthy diet mentally and physically, and to develop ones own structured home life with stability.
It’s different for everyone maybe, I dunno. I just know what I’ve learned from personal experience in the past and am learning every day.
I swear,this sounds like some of my husband’s complaints! He just turned 70 yrs old in Dec.. I’m almost in tears thinking that he could have spent his whole life with ADHD!
Going to get your book. Thx!
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I’m hugging you from a distance in Ashland Ohio!!!! This is our life!! Now just multiply it by a marriage, and w/ two of four kids also having it, and you have the chaos that is our home. Hubby and I are medicated, the kids are not.
And you’re an educated professional too!! You also broke the mold of “ADHD is a learning disability; you had great grades, so you must not have had it.”
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as an adult with ADHD, I’m pleased a medical professional who also is ADHD to share what life is like post medication. Concerts greatly changed my life, my relationships, my focus.
It’s been 10 years now having taken medication, and I not only accomplish more, I also enjoy more! I’m 67, and last week I took my first drawing class. I CAN draw because I am able to stay focused!! Bully for you Dr. Mason!!
Dotty…glad you were encouraged by Dr. Mason’s post!
I feel like crying when i read this. I’ve never read anything like this. I have felt lazy all my life and have a terrible time keeping track of how fast time is passing when I’m busy doing things. So I’ve spent a lifetime trying to prove I’m not lazy and irresponsible. I’ve been hounding myself continuously for as long as i can remember. Always trying to get more done. But usually feeling, at the end of the day, that no matter how much I get done, I’ve fallen short again. I have had a hard time accepting my recent ADD diagnosis (at 50). This blog post reflects so much of my life though.
Thanks for sharing Dr. Mason!
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There’s a reason why one book about adult ADHD is called, “You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid, or Crazy?!?!” Welcome to the reality that you have a treatable brain condition that can be helped. ❤
Thanks to you for sharing!
Thanks, Dr. Grcevich, for posting things from all sides of the ADHD debate. Dr. Mason is an amazing perspective, and has said and done so much to help us all understand our brains -and the brains of our loved ones- better. We at CLC Network love his book. I heard him say once, “if a pill gives you access to parts of your brain you could never use before, why would you not take it?” and better yet, “why would you deny your children access to parts of their brains?” -hence why my kids are getting medication, when and how its intended effects outweigh it’s side effects.
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Medication makes such a big difference for me. The problem is they all have side effects that I can’t deal with. Very sore, dry mouth and fatigue.
Thank you for sharing this–I can’t wait to share with my husband. I’m still crying from when you described accomplishing mundane tasks. I was diagnosed at 33 (a quiet one, college grad with Honors) and started meds a couple weeks ago–over a year after diagnosis. The effect from meds seemed non-existent, like I was psyching myself into placebo effect. Today as I changed sheets, vacuumed, did dishes the SEVENTH DAY in a row (people do that daily their entire lives?!) without bribing myself with an art project or guilting. Reading this tells me it this IS what working medsvfeel like. I’ve just heard the ranting naysayers so long I expected something else.
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Wish I had the$ to get my son on these
This is amazing reading this article make me want to cry, I was thinking that medication will make my kid feel different in a bad way and he will become a different child. He has deficit of attention and they are testing him for HDAD but the doctor said the medicine will help him concentrate better.any advice will be apreciate.
ADHD*** sorry spell check
I read this and couldn’t believe he was putting my experience into words so well! I did well at school and have never fit the mould for childhood ADHD, so it never occured to me that this internal wrestling I go through, pushing myself to get tasks done, putting so much effort into just organising my thoughts to choose one task, finish it then move to the next, without starting the next while I’m halfway through the first, having to run through what I’ve done over and over because it’s all in bits and pieces and needs to be organised, which takes much longer than just doing it once from start to finish, could be ADHD. I thought it was just stress. Maybe the stress is a consequence of this internal wrestling, instead of the cause? Thanks for sharing!!
well said. I had the same experience when I started meds. it was like I had moved to a new planet where there was plenty of time to get everything done.
Thank you so much for sharing this. Our oldest son has ADHD and is on medication. He is often misunderstood, and can be quite challenging to those who do not understand ADHD. However, he is also incredibly bright, loving, and a gifted gymnast! Medication has been a game-changer for him and I’m so thankful for that. It helps to hear from adults who have it. It gives us parents a glimpse of what life is like for the children we love. Thank you, again!
I’m sitting here crying because reading your comments makes me feel like I’ve “found my people.” I am a teacher with a 4.0 GPA in my M. Ed. degree, so my relatives thought I was looking for “reasons” for my disorganized home when I suggested that I might have ADD. I have struggled my whole life, but as I now know, girls with ADD often demonstrate completely different symptoms than boys. I remember one teacher, Mrs. Mayes from Cloverdale Elementary School in Little Rock, Arkansas, who told me that she wanted me to sit in the back of the room so that I could stand up, rock back and forth, and write with my paper up against the wall or floor if I desired. She told me that I was being moved, not because I was a “bad” child, but because she wanted me to be comfortable. That was much better than being put in an art storage closet alone to study because “that’s the only way you’ll focus.” I’ve learned to cope with all my focus issues in areas of absolute need, but of course, other areas of my life can be messy. I’m late unintentionally and habitually; I forget to perform roles that I’ve volunteered for and really wanted to do; I cannot rid my home of piles because they are too exhausting to think about; I am a last-minute shopper/planner for birthdays, anniversaries, etc. I’ve actually suffered from bouts of depression, letting Satan tell me how worthless I was because my life was so filled with chaos.
Several years ago, I had a school counselor ask me what medication I was taking for my ADD. I told her that I didn’t have ADD. She shared a diagnostic journal with me, and low and behold…she was right on target. What a relief. But, I’m 48 and yet to be medicated. Just last week my 21 year old son was diagnosed and placed on medication. I realize now that I have neglected to open up my own life to a potential help. I will make an appointment now. Thank you all.
this made me cry. I’m 65. Every day has been a struggle to get things done. To finish things.
I am a big proponent of the Brain Balance program with whom my daughter went through for short term memory loss and CAPD. They are very successful with ADHD children as well as other disorders. This is what they had to say – A study from The University of California–Davis Center for Mind and Brain shows that children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder have areas within their brains that fail to connect when they attempt a task that measures attention. This connectivity issue is called functional disconnection syndrome, an imbalance in hemispheric brain communication that causes developmentally inappropriate behaviors.
Since the right hemisphere of the brain regulates impulsivity, attention, and socially appropriate behavior, a child with decreased right brain activity may be hyperactive, oppositional, disruptive, and even aggressive. The Brain Balance Program® combines individually customized sensory-motor and cognitive activities that improve right brain connectivity leading to a reduction or elimination of behavioral symptoms. In addition, our nutritional guidelines are supported by recent research that stresses the importance of a healthy diet in decreasing symptoms of the disorder.
I have personally seen great results with this program and know of many other frustrated parents who don’t want to put their kids on medications. Like any program, its best to talk to people who have gone through it. For adults, medications may be needed because their brain has matured too much for the program to be as affective as with a child or teen or even young adult. I only mention this program because of going through it with my daughter who no longer has short term memory loss and her CAPD (central auditory processing disorder) has changed so much for the better that it will only be a matter of time where she will no longer have this either.
Can’t wait to buy your book to share with my older son(35). Before you went into ADHD practice we were your patients. We see your former nurse Sally at church and speak of you often . All good things.:) You are a very kind, patient and through doctor. Hope all is well with your family.
Dr Mason’s book Reaching for a New Potential is a treasure. If you enjoyed his blog post please order this book. I have recommended this book hundreds of times and have yet to find a single reader who has not been incredibly pleased. Check out http://www.attentionality.wordpress.com for more blog posts by Oren Mason, M.D.
Having lived with a husband w/ADHD for over 30 years & not knowing what it was until a few years ago I can relate. Watching him and his boys who all are affected is extremely difficult. I have always had frustration with them being the “NORMAL” one who could organize 4+ boys schedules, cook, clean,work, get lunches ready for the next day & know what I was going to wear every day for the next week at the same time wondering why when I asked 4 times to put the milk away & hang up their coat & neither ever got done.
The things you described were exactly the things I struggle with but didn’t really know how to tell people with what I go through on a daily basis! Vyvanse has helped me tremendously but I feel I need a stronger dose. I’m on 30 mg right now but still feel scatter brained a lot of the time. Thank you for the words I lacked to describe my inner feelings.
After much thought, prayer, and a thorough physical, psychological, and educational assessment, my husband and I put our youngest child on Ritalin. He was 6 years old. From day one, we told him that his pill would not make him behave, it would make him think clearly so that he would be able to complete tasks he was given. I put his “lunchtime pill” in his lunchbox every day. It was his responsibility to take it. I made this very clear to school administration.He did not take it on weekends or during the summer When he was 13, he decided that he could compensate for his ADHD without medication and stopped taking it. He is now a college graduate, manages a business, and has a son who is just like him (parental karma)!
Wow thank you. This helps me under my son a bit more and what it’s like to be him.