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The Best Thing Anyone Ever Said About ADHD Medication

By Rick Green

I’ve stopped and started taking ADHD medication four times.

The first time I started was nearly 15 years ago.

The fourth time I started medication was yesterday.

In other blogs, I’ll tell the story of each start & stop. In this year’s ADHD Telesummit I actually talk about the most recent time I stopped. (July 17, 2017 6pm PST, 9pm EST playbacks available)

Each time I started taking medication was for the same reason—Overwhelmed and Stuck. Each time I stopped was for a different reason.

But today, I want to reveal why I stopped taking medication the second time, and why I started again. Because it was the only time I succumbed to pressure and other people’s opinions.

She Wasn’t A FanThe Best Thing Anyone Ever Said About ADHD Medication

In this case, it was the only opinion that really mattered to me. My wife’s opinion.

Ava and I had worked together for 15 years on The Red Green Show. In 2007 we married. The caterer told us that in all his years of handling weddings, he had never seen such a happy couple.

At that point I was no longer taking medication. Why had I stopped?

After all, this little pill, this dopamine booster, actually worked for me.

It was much better than my old ADHD medication: 6 cans of caffeinated cola each day, and the adrenaline rush of taking on a thousand things at once, writing and producing television, performing comedy onstage…

On medication, I could stick with tasks that I didn’t want to do. I mean, that I REALLY did not want to do.

As well, interruptions were less disruptive. I could focus on what was important. Prioritize. Not spend too much time hyper-focused on a trivial task. My memory was better. I only had to read things 2 or 3 times to remember them. And it even helped with my motor mouthing and interrupting.

So Why Stop?

Everyone seems normal until you get to know them

You should understand that Ava was vegetarian, sometimes vegan, heavily into yoga, and rarely, if ever took medication for anything. Ava wasn’t pushy about her lifestyle. She was simply into healthy living.

Whereas I… [Awkward clearing of throat.] “Hey, potato chips are made from a vegetable!”

So while Ava didn’t come right out and say it, I knew she was not pleased that I was taking Ritalin every morning. There was always a look, “Do you still need to take that?” Ironically, she had no strong opinion about the thyroid pill I took every morning as well.

It’s Cheating

At this point, our documentary ADD & Loving It?! was just one idea out of dozens that I was developing. So this was before we’d interviewed 75 ADHD experts for Over 30 of the top names address every aspect of medication in our epic series, ADHD Medication: Straight Answers to Big Questions.

But at the time, neither of us knew that ADHD medication had first been used in 1937, or that the long-term effects were fairly well understood. I just trusted the doctor when he said, “If you don’t like how you feel, don’t take the one at lunch.”

Until I learned the facts, there was a nagging feeling that taking medication was kind of cheating. After all, everyone feels overwhelmed at times, right?

And, I was worried that it might have some long-term effect on my liver, brain, heart, or, well, who knows what?! But not really sure where to find reliable answers.   Well, truth be told, I assumed it was safe and Ava was concerned. Vaguely. On principle.

Ava’s vague concerns became my vague concerns. Maybe I didn’t need it. My life was going well. I was managing. Mostly. I convinced myself I didn’t need medication any more. (You know where this is going, don’t you?)

So… I stopped. Cold.

That’s the beauty of stimulant medication. I didn’t have any severe withdrawal symptoms. Perhaps a slight headache for a day. Far less than the ones I’ve had whenever I had cut out caffeine from my daily intake.

And then my wife and I started making ADD & Loving It?!  It was exciting. We’ve never done a documentary before.

The film follows comedian Patrick McKenna, and his fabulous wife Janis, as he went through the diagnostic process. It was mind expanding. We realized early on that this was going to change a few lives. Including our own.

Patrick, Janis, ADD & Loving It

Along the way, Patrick and I were fortunate to meet and interview nine amazing ADHD experts. (We had no idea we’ve eventually sit down with over 70 experts!)

It was exciting, but overwhelming at points. My stress levels rose. There was so much to be done, to think about, to remember…

Near the end of filming, we shot an entire afternoon of Patrick and Janis talking on a very comfy couch. They opened up about everything they had gone through, what they were learning, and what the future might bring

My final question to Patrick was, “How do you feel about medication now that you’ve heard from all of these experts?” Patrick admitted that in the past, he had bought into the myths he’d heard from other people who had no idea themselves.

Opinion vs. Reality

Now that he had the facts, now that we had interviewed so many experts, now that he and Janis had done a great deal of reading, Patrick said that he was looking forward to trying medication.

He said he was looking forward to experiencing that calm that other people talk about, but that he had never known. I smiled and nodded. Been there done that. ‘Good answer,’ I thought.

But for Ava, Patrick’s answer was a bolt of lightning. A revelation.

She was stunned! “Patrick has never experienced the kind of calm that she had regular access to? How is that possible? What is that like?”

Never experiencing calm?

Ava experienced periods of calm at an early age, growing up on a farm, later doing yoga, and mindfulness. But she tried to imagine never being calm while standing in line, listening to a conversation, or doing a boring chore.

Rick Green, Patrick McKenna, ADHD documentary, ADD & Loving It?!That night, she was quiet and thoughtful. Finally she said, “I need to tell you something.” My mind raced? Did I forget her birthday? Anniversary? Bathroom left messy?

After reminding me about what Patrick’s lament around ‘never experiencing calm,’ Ava said, “It made me realize that I have no idea what it’s like for you. I cannot imagine what that must be like to not experience being calm. If you need to take medication, if it helps you, then you should take it.”

“I thought you were against medication on principle.”

She took my hand and said, “My opinion does not trump your experience of life.”

Tears welled up in my eyes.

Here’s what I want you to get: Ava wasn’t saying, “I understand.” She was saying, “I will probably NEVER understand. So I have to respect your choice.”

I started taking medication again. And life got simpler. Calmer. Less scattered.

For me, as for many people who find medication works, the little pill in the morning became the keystone, the catalyst that allowed me to do mindfulness and yoga, build supports and stick with them, create new habits and not completely forget about them. (How is that possible? I still don’t know.)

ADHD Medication Right Dose

Everyone Has An Opinion. Only We Know What It’s Like

“My opinion does not trump your experience of life.”

Think about people you know who have strong negative beliefs about ADHD medication, (That may actually be most people in your life.) Now imagine if they had that same attitude.

Think about the knee-jerk hostility and disdain you’ve confronted. Imagine those people apologizing and admitting, “My opinion does not trump your experience of life. Do what’s right for you. I don’t want you to suffer for no good reason.”

What would that be like?

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11 Responses to “The Best Thing Anyone Ever Said About ADHD Medication”

  1. james9 says:

    U r lucky Rick. My parents got it, but almost everyone else was dissing me and telling me I was being suckered in by a big conspiracy. Sucked big time. Really felt lonely until I found this site and then also went to a meeting of an ADHD support group. They get me. I get them.

  2. Rick says:

    @impoftheyard, love your story. It’s kind of my story as well. A lot of adults have experienced it. I can’t tell you how many people sit down to watch our program, ADD & Loving It?!, when it runs on PBS, because they think someone they know has it. Or they might have a touch of it.

    And they end up in tears (including tears of laughter and relief) as they see their whole life laid out before them.

    It’s amazing. I remember when my son was first diagnosed and I started reading over a long list of symptoms, and thinking, Yup!… Yup! Yup!… No… Yup!… Wow really? That’s ADHD? Wow! Yep… Sort of…Yep… Yep… OMG Yes!…

    And then later, cowriting the book ADD Stole My Car Keys!, specifically to lay out 155 traits, beliefs, and behaviours (Or misbehaviours) so common to folks with ADHD. That book, and our Unofficial ADHD Quiz are so great for people who “think I might have a bit of that…”

    It’s such a powerful moment, isn’t it? And it’s not just one moment. I’m still discovering things that I do or avoid doing because of my ADHD.

  3. impoftheyard says:

    I went to a training session on ADHD two years ago. I knew some of the struggles people had with attention but very little else about ADHD. I knew there was controversy about the diagnosis and didn’t know what I thought about it myself. By the end of a two hour session I knew it existed because I’d just heard my life story. I was diagnosed a year later and have experienced that calm I never knew existed from the medication. I have a living partner who has been learning about all of this with me and the diagnosis has helped us both. I’ve been taking Elvanse (called Vyanse) in the US, for ten months but recently stopped. My experience wasn’t consistent and I was beginning to experience bouts of severe fatigue and depression. I’ve been off medication for over two weeks. I will try to get on without it and work on other things but I’m having doubts. I’ll be following your posts and the comments here. I learn so much.

    In the U.K. we have the NHS which means that there is no cost to diagnosis and prescriptions but it is not easy to have regular access to a psychiatrist and there is not the same awareness of ADHD or information available. Your blog and videos have proved invaluable! Many thanks!

  4. ladygogo says:

    I love your wife’s attitude, Rick. Wolfshades is right.
    My husband wasn’t thrilled about me trying medication but he did the reading and research (which was good because that is just not something I do, thank you! LOL.
    The best part? He was more excited and confident that it was okay than I was. Not sure who benefitted the most from me trying medication, him or me? LOL.

  5. kc5jck says:

    kristinaw’s comment reminded me of when I had a colonoscopy they gave me something which got rid of all the voices – for the first (and only) time – ever. I guess if I ever go back I’ll be the only one they ever had excited about having a telescope shoved up his ass.

  6. Rick says:

    Thanks @wolfshades.She is indeed a keeper.
    I keep thinking I should stop trying to defend or explain ADHD to anyone, but of course that’s what is behind this website, and every video and blog and posting I’ve done for the past 7 years. The thing I’ve learned, and I talk about this in greater detail in one of my favourite videos, ‘Facing The World’ is that arguing and overwhelming people with facts, facts, facts, doesn’t change minds.
    Follow national politics for 3 minutes to see what I mean.

    And @twitsme, it is not a tiny minority who do not find any benefit from medication. The current thinking is that it’s between 70 and 80% of us who do find they work. And that leaves 20 to 30% who don’t get a benefit. And some of those involve people having a negative reaction because they are also taking medication for other ongoing disorders such as Epilepsy or BiPolar. You’ll find a much deeper discussion on this, including 18 adults sharing their ‘medication stories’ in our new video series. (I’m so proud of it. Every doctor who has seen it loves it. Some are now recommending patients see if before they even begin to discuss medication.

  7. wolfshades says:

    I think you’ve got a keeper there, Rick. “My opinion does not trump your experience of life” is filled with everything you need: most importantly it’s a completely unselfish statement.

    I wish those who have a *need* to burden us with the force of their opinion – on medication, on even the existence of ADHD itself – would take a few moments and consider that those of us who have it actually have an experience from which to draw.

    I’ve ceased trying to defend or explain ADHD to anyone. it’s a fruitless exercise if we are only going to talk in generalities or abstract thought. Until you’ve been through some of the horrors that we have faced, while all the time thinking “this is just normal; and I must be stupid or something because I’m the only one who seems to have a problem dealing with it”, that other guy will have no empathetic perception of it.

    Eva’s revelation about Patrick’s hope for calm, is so rare and wonderful.

    Maybe that’s it. Maybe we need to stop talking about statistics and other arguable abstracts. Maybe we need to find better ways to relate our experiences in terms non-ADHDers can appreciate. I’ve got a few under my belt but am still looking (probably in vain) for the perfect descriptor.

  8. twitsme says:

    I was diagnosed with ADD about 8 years ago at 50. So far I have tried every medication going, and every time something new comes out, I try it. Up to this point, I unfortunately have had no results – no changes, no calm. I assume I am one of the fairly small percentage for whom ADHD meds don’t work. I find this frustrating, but accept it, because I can’t change it.

    But oh I long to know what that feeling of “calm” is. To have a quiet brain, to sit down to a task and complete it (not over 18 hours in a fit of hyperfocus!). But mostly, just to feel what it’s like to be “normal” (and I say that tongue-in-cheek).

    At least having a diagnosis helps me understand why I am how I am, why I do (or don’t do) what I do. It helps me find ways to manage it, because I understand it.

    My ex-husband was also diagnosed around the same time (we were still together then). He is not a fan of medication, and wouldn’t give ADHD meds a fair run. Some days he didn’t think he even had ADHD (which I knew he REALLY did!), some days he thought he might have it, but didn’t think he should have to have medication to “fix” it. I found it very frustrating that he could potentially find some relief, or clarity, or help with procrastination, but wouldn’t try.

    I look forward to more on your “On again” journey with ADHD meds. 🙂

  9. playdhd says:

    I love the honesty between the two of you and with your readers. Acceptance of differences in functioning and out experiences in life make for a much better world. Thank you for this gift. I look forward to reading future posts about being on and off meds. Both my son and I go back and forth listening to our internal voices and those around us who have opinions about ADHD and medication. Always good to hear from another tribe member to balance the skeptics who have no idea….

  10. kristinaw says:

    I should say, “painkillers and Valium”. It struck me that he had never felt as calm before.

  11. kristinaw says:

    I had much the same experience as Ava. I was driving my son, who had had shoulder surgeries and was on painkillers for the long trip home. We were on a two day trip and were having various car ttroubles. He calmly leaned back in his passenger seat and said, “oh, Mom, is this how other people feel most of the tme?” It kind of broke my heart.

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