I talk about suicide and depression in this post.
1. The Beginning
I was 6 years old, in first grade. My teacher told my mom that I couldn’t sit still and was disruptive. My mom is a special educator and takes me to the doctor at which point I am diagnosed with ADHD and put on Ritalin.
ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It is a medical condition. A person with ADHD has differences in brain development and brain activity that affect attention, the ability to sit still, and self-control. ADHD can affect a child at school, at home, and in friendships.
The Ritalin helps with the focus and gives me a lot of energy! Being 6 years old, I don’t really understand what this ADHD is all about, I just want to play outside and run around with all this energy. I mean sure, I have to go to the principal’s office every day at 2pm to get another Ritalin, but I feel like I’m a normal kid.
My mom, being the special educator that she is and knowing the system like she does, gets my school to carve out little accommodations for me. At the time, I didn’t think things like taking standardized tests outside of the normal classroom was helpful. I feel like I would have been fine taking those tests in the classroom, but whatever, I’m told that people with ADHD have trouble taking tests if things like doors open unexpectedly?
Every couple of years, I switch medications. Ritalin was fine through elementary school but we switched to Adderall (I think that gave me some weird heart beats), back to an extended release Ritalin (longer release means I don’t need a pick me up in the afternoon), before settling on Concerta (extended release and no heart issues).
In middle school, I’m at Boy Scout camp. There is an older kid in my camp that has ADHD but he proudly proclaims that he went off medication and distraction is something that can be conquered with will power. He’s a cool guy and I internalize that my ADHD can’t be blamed for anything and that I need to power through it.
It goes on like this through high school. I’m told that I’m smart and put in the gifted classes but my GPA is always around 3.0. I get a computer when I’m 15 and it’s off to the races. I could sit in front of that box for hours devouring information. Tech blogs, gaming sites, and the old StumbleUpon extension opened my mind to so many possibilities in the world. I end up going to a vocational school to learn how to do video editing / graphic design / web design and fall in love with making websites.
2. Early Adulthood
I turn 18 and realize that I’m extremely unhappy. Thoughts of suicide unhappy. I decided that needed to change and started going to a therapist/psychiatrist. Talk therapy was (and continues to be) very helpful and they put me on an anti-depressant called Celexa. The sadness goes away somewhat but I’m still stressed.
I start attending a technical school that was associated with the vocational school for web development. The first semester there, I do great! I’m balancing a full course load with a part time job at RadioShack. But then the job at RadioShack goes away and I have get a job doing computer repair for internet cafes. That job is a lot more demanding and it’s paying me money so I let school slide and fail all my classes.
Next fall, I enroll in an actual college and get an internship doing web development and the cycle repeats itself. I prioritize work over school, I flunk my classes, get extremely stressed and angry at myself for not being able to do both. And this cycle repeats itself for 5 years! I was constantly employed that entire time, often not making enough money to survive, and flunking classes.
Along with being poor came bouts of food insecurity and homelessness. Those bouts were short but how have they stuck with me over the years. The only solution I have found to those problems is having a bunch of money. Without money, I would still be freaking out about those problems. I know that I’m not alone in this knowledge and if you don’t know, now you know.
How did I deal with this stress? I started smoking (did not help the money situation one bit) and drinking a bunch. On both of those vices, the ADHD medication only made things worse. ADHD medications are speed and speed goes great with beer and cigarettes. I have since noticed that when I was on them, I would drink and chain smoke like I wouldn’t when I was off.
After 4 years of this, I hit my rock bottom. I was working in a computer repair shop and sometimes going to classes during the day and attempting to start a web consulting company with some friends at night. I was burning the candle at both ends and during the weekends, I would literally work 24-48 hours straight for a stretch. I was unbelievably stressed out and one night Tweeted something about jumping off a bridge. My Tweets cross posted to Facebook and my parents saw it.
The next morning, my dad shows up at my apartment and says “Son, we’re going to the hospital”. I hop in the car, go to the ER for a check up before being checked into a weekend stay at the local mental hospital. I’m sure that a lot of people have horror stories about mental hospitals, but I don’t have one. It was a very relaxing stay. I got to wear a gown all weekend and shared a room with a friendly guy that had a drinking problem that seemed to make him a mean drunk. They put me on a nicotine patch because I wasn’t allowed to smoke. You’re not supposed to sleep with those on but I did anyways and had the most vivid and trippiest dreams ever (I fought a giant crab and there were health bars at the top of my vision and I would randomly get iOS notifications over the health bars during the fight. This is how augmented reality glasses should be designed).
Most importantly, during this weekend in the hospital, we adjusted my anti-depressants from Celexa to Wellbutrion and Remeron. We will get to the Wellbutrion in later, but the Remeron ended up being the biggest improvement in my life. I take it at night and in an hour or two, I’m asleep and stay asleep for around 8 hours straight. Before then, my obsessions and stresses could keep me up for hours and this is a pretty natural off switch that keeps me happy.
After my stay in the mental hospital, I had some tough conversations about my workload. I had to quit working on the side business with my friends and started working more hours at the computer repair shop with the hope that I could pay my bills while I try to finish school. Eventually, I switch to a web development job at a local company, but staying in school was too hard for me to swing while working and I drop out.
A big change that I made during this time period is that I started working harder and stopped making excuses for things not getting done. I’ve always been able to do work on a computer, I’ve just been distracted by other tasks or over subscribed to school or other jobs or just being a college student doing a college student things. I have eliminated all of those distractions from my life, all I have is my job and I’m going to do it to the quality that I know I could.
In 2015, I was contacted by a consulting company in NYC offering to move me out there to work for them. I quickly took that offer as it was much more than what I could make in Ohio and NYC is a lot more age appropriate for a 25 year old than a college town. I quickly become one of the better engineers on the team and just thrive at that job.
Mentally, I find a good therapist & psychiatrist and finally go off my ADHD medication. Going off that medication caused me to gain some weight that I haven’t gotten close to shedding, but hey, at least I’m not on speed anymore!
I fall in love with someone special and we move in together in March 2020 and then… COVID happens 😂.
COVID isn’t all bad though. We adopt a cat and I get really good at cooking. You would thinking moving in together and then being trapped in a New York apartment together would be the worst, but we made the most of it and are a lot closer than we were before.
Being inside for most of 2020-2021 led me to spend more time on Twitter. Someone on my feed gets diagnosed with adult ADHD and started posting a bunch of ADHD facts. I start learning a bunch of ADHD facts and a lot of things start making sense. I had literally never looked into what ADHD was nor had anyone explained it super in depth to me.
Let’s take a look at the hits!
Oh man, does this sound familiar? This is the exact process that made me want to kill myself for years when I hit step 4 for years!
Wait, not everyone replays every social interaction in their head after the fact convinced that everyone hates them?
Now it makes a lot of sense why I have trouble thinking about the future and continuously have conversations with my partner about our future. I want to plan longer term, but all I can really stick to is 3 month plans at max before needing to have the conversation again.
Speed round time! 💨
- In order to fall asleep, your exterior body temperature needs to fall 10 degrees. In people with ADHD, this temperature falls much slower than people without. This explains so many sleep issues!
- Children with ADHD are 4x as likely to be rejected or disliked by their peers. This explains so much of my childhood.
- People with ADHD prioritize learning over accomplishments. This is why I guess I don’t care much about the rat race but love to read full Wikipedia articles on a whim.
- We hear hums and ambient noises much louder than neurotypical people do. I can hear TVs when they are off and get annoyed when the bottles on the top of the fridge are not just so and clink around when we walk around the apartment.
- I cannot touch velvet, it makes me cringe and it hurts. Turns out, this sensory aversion is also an ADHD symptom.
This was a lot of information for me to ingest. A lot of my life started making a lot more sense. I have a disability and it is impacting my life. It was impacting my life a lot worse earlier, but there is still an impact.
I bring some of these fun ADHD facts to my psychiatrist and he drops a fun bomb on me: The Wellbutrion I am taking has a therapeutic effect that can be used to treat ADHD. This one that kinda broke me. My upswing in life coincided with going on this medication. This same upswing that I attributed to my hard work, discipline and luck also has a chemical component!? I don’t like this, everything is a lie!
Through all this, I’m coming to acceptance of the fact that I have a lot of internalized ableism. I’m going to fumble through this and expose some of my ugliness, but to me, people with disabilities were “others” to be pitied and cared for. Well, maybe not that extreme, but something close to that. They couldn’t be like me. No, I’m functional, I like to run around, I’m not disabled. This is all a lie when looking at the facts. I very much have a disability and it’s effected every aspect of my life, just like so many others, whether I’ve recognized it or not. The respect and pride I have in myself is the same as how other people with disabilities feel and want to be treated. This was a big pill for me to swallow and I still feel guilt about how I thought.
I spend a few months ruminating on these facts and discoveries before bringing them to my therapist. They hear me out and pose a very simple question:
“Is this actually effecting you? Is your ADHD negatively impacting you in this moment?”
Initially, I felt this question was pretty dismissive and a little disrespectful. But it makes a lot of sense in the context of CBT. Over thinking and over analyzing and over contextualizing the past is only really beneficial if we are doing so to address the present. So, to answer the question, my present is going pretty good, there are some stuff to be learned from the past that can make my present even better, but to dwell on it with this new information doesn’t allow me to change it in the least.
And, to cycle back to the thought that I had in the previous section about my reality being unfairly influenced by chemicals: No fucking shit, dipshit. Everyone’s reality is influenced by chemicals, even neurotypical people, you are not special in that regard. My brain has a couple of chemical imbalances that makes my life more difficult than others, there is no shame in taking some more chemicals to even the playing field.
I brought some of this information to my mom. She was surprised that I knew none of this but she dropped this on me:
“You’ve made ADHD work to your advantage. That’s what intelligent people with ADHD do.”
Moms, they always make you know how to feel good, huh? And she’s right, if I look at my ADHD as a super power, it takes on a whole new light. I literally experience the world differently than others. Some of it is bad, but a lot of it is awesome. If I’m going to re-contextualize the negative aspects of my past with this new ADHD knowledge, I need to do the same for the positive.
For example, one of the hallmarks of ADHD is hyper focus. This isn’t something I realized I had until recently but when I brought it up with my partner they were like “How did you not know that, it’s why you are able to code for hours at time!?” As it turns out, it was one of the first things my mom noticed and brought up to my pediatrician that diagnosed my ADHD.
“I recognized the hyper focus when you were 6 and you could do Legos for hours. It was such a contrast to how active you were”
Without this hyper focus, I would not be the (somewhat) successful developer I am today. I’m only as good as I am because I spent so many hours outside of school teaching myself to code. If I was neurotypical, I probably would not have the focus to have put in enough time to get this good without a degree to get me in the door.
And, from what I’ve gathered, this is one of the core arguments of neurodiversity. By all of us not experiencing the world the same because of chemical imbalances or disabilities, we make the world better with our strengths and it’s in no one’s best interest to define us by what is different. At least that’s my interpretation of the situation.
All I know is that, today, I’m doing okay. Tomorrow might be a struggle, but I have the tools and understanding to at least deal with it. I’m sleeping good, I’m eating good and that’s all I can really ask for. Here’s to now 🥂️