How quitting Adderall helped me write a better book
Four months ago, I quit Adderall cold turkey. I do not recommend quitting this way--unless, of course, you enjoy feeling like you're going insane. I felt like I was crawling out of my skin. I itched, I trembled, I had headaches. For two weeks, I was in withdrawal and it was--excuse my language--effing miserable. But I was desperate. The promised benefits of Adderall had never materialized for me--at least, not in the long-term. Instead, I was experiencing increasingly severe side-effects.
I recently read a WSJ article about how ADHD drugs don't boost kids' grades and this paragraph stunned me--because it was exactly what I'd experienced:
Martha Farah, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania who sits on the American Academy of Neurology committee that is drafting new treatment guidelines, recalls a student saying that after she takes her medication, she heads to the library. If she keeps her head down and studies, she gets very absorbed in her work and accomplishes a tremendous amount. But if a friend stops by, she becomes equally engrossed in the chat. Many students report they find themselves absorbed in cleaning their rooms rather than studying.
In other words, when I take Adderall, yeah I can FOCUS. But I don't get to choose what I focus on. A fly buzzing on my window? Hyper-focus ON THE FLY. Someone texts me? Texting, texting, texting. A problem in my day? OMG--I CAN STOP FOCUSING ON MY PROBLEMS! MY PROBLEMS!!
I began taking ADHD medication while writing my book. My ADD manifests as an inability to sit still for more than an hour. Sitting, in fact, has always been fairly uncomfortable for me. I prefer movement. I sometimes write my best stuff while running, pacing or washing dishes. I suck at finishing big projects. I'm great at blog posts--ha ha. But writing a whole book? Yeah, whole different ball game.
I believed I needed something to help me complete the long-term project of book writing. And at first, the medication felt like magic. I could FOCUS! For HOURS!
But even then I noticed I didn't get to CHOOSE what I focused on.
I also noticed that while I could produce MORE, I wasn't producing BETTER. In other words, I could pound out a full chapter in a few hours but it wasn't better writing. It was just more writing.
Which is to say, I had over 500 pages of draft material and only about 100 of those pages were worth using in the book.
Something else started happening, too: I lost my guilt.
Adderall numbed my guilt. I felt more impulsive. I'm already an emotional person so you can imagine how Adderall combined with loss of guilt and increased impulsiveness wreaked havoc on my life.
I did and said things in the last year that are So Not Me. At least, not healthy me.
It took about two full weeks for the Adderall withdrawal to fade. The first thing that came back to me was guilty feelings. I know this may sound odd but I actually started crying with gratitude the first time I felt guilt again.
[IMPORTANT NOTE: Guilt is different from shame. Guilt is the feeling of remorse for wrong behavior. Guilt motivates us to make changes. Shame is all about judgment and condemnation. Shame paralyzes. I was feeling guilt and it was positively freeing!]
When I was on Adderall, I would yell at my kids and not feel guilty about it. It was this surreal experience where I could hear myself yelling and think: huh, this is weird, I totally just yelled at my kids and I really don't care.
Of course, I can't blame everything on the Adderall--I take full responsibility for my behavior and have been actively making amends--but let's just say the ADHD medication made everything worse.
What also came back was the weight. I've gained five pounds. But you know what? I don't mind. I feel happier and calmer. I don't feel fraught, wigged out and constantly hyper-focused.
I also don't miss the 4:30pm Adderall crashes. It has taken two months, but my brain doesn't feel overheated anymore. I'm sleeping better. I'm journaling. I'm even sewing again. Best of all, I have patience again.
And my book? Well, I finished it without Adderall's help, thankyouverymuch. I've discovered I don't need help finishing long-term projects, I just need to break up the project into tiny, bite-sized pieces and slowly work at it each day.
Actually, I wrote the most important parts of my book AFTER quitting Adderall and the quality of my writing is SO MUCH BETTER. I'm proud of my book. It's a solid piece of writing that I'll be happy to place in your hands.
There might be a time when I go back on ADD meds because ADD does negatively impact my life (I am chronically disorganized, I suck at finishing things, I don't see messes and I'm always behind on my emails and paperwork--please forgive me if I haven't replied to your email, it's not personal, I promise!) but for now, I'm happy with my flighty, creative brain.
Yes, I'm disorganized. But I'm also deeply sensitive and creative. I can connect with people on a deep level and make them feel truly seen and heard. This is not an excuse for being disorganized, but for now, I'm so very grateful that my brain doesn't feel overheated and HYPER-FOCUSED every damn minute.
And yes, maybe I've missed my book deadline--TWICE--but I can promise you that the book I'm turning in now is WAY, WAY better.
Lastly, I went back to my psychiatrist for a full evaluation and we've ascertained that most of my underlying issues are rooted in anxiety. I started some new medication for anxiety--instead of ADD--and I'm feeling much, much better. For me, the lesson here is NOT that medication is BAD. The lesson is that the first or second try may not be a good fit. The key is to keep trying and tweaking and figuring it out. I'm committed to my mental health and well-being. I won't give up.
I'll keep working my recovery AND my working on my health because I'm worth it!