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.
Over the next month, I’ll tell the story of each start & stop. Each time I started was for a different reason. Each time I stopped was for a different reason.
But today, I want to talk about 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 Fan
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 cola per day, and the adrenaline rush of taking on a thousand things at once.
On medication, I could stick with things that I didn’t want to do. Interruptions were less frustrating. I could focus on what was important. Prioritize. My memory was better. I didn’t have to read things 5 times. And it even helped with my motor mouthing and interrupting.
But Ava wasn’t a fan of me taking medication. You should understand that Ava was vegetarian, sometimes vegan, heavily into yoga, and rarely, if ever took medication. 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. “Do you still need to take that?” Ironically, she had no strong opinion about the thyroid pill I took every morning as well.
At this point, our documentary ADD & Loving It?! was just one idea out of 30, that I was developing. So this was before we’d interviewed 75 ADHD experts for TotallyADD.com. This was before we knew that ADHD medication had 1st been used in 1937, and that the long-term effects are pretty well understood.
There was still this feeling that taking medication was kind of cheating. After all, everyone feels overwhelmed at times. And I was worried that it might have some long-term effect on my liver, brain, heart, or, well, who knows what?!
Ava’s vague concerns became my vague concerns. Plus everything was going well.
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’ve stopped drinking coffee.
And then we started making ADD & Loving It?! It was exciting. Mind expanding. We realized early on that this was going to change lives. Including our own.
The film follows comedian Patrick McKenna, and his fabulous wife Janis, as he went through the diagnostic process. Along the way, Patrick and I were fortunate to meet and interview some amazing ADHD experts.
Near the end of filming, I spent an entire afternoon interviewing Patrick and Janis. They talked 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.
Patrick had never experienced the kind of calm that she had regular access to? And not just calm that comes from growing up on a farm, or doing yoga, but staying calm while waiting in line, listening to a conversation, or doing a boring chore.
That night, after reminding me of what Patrick had said about ‘experiencing calm,’ Ava said, ‘I 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.’
‘But Ava, you’re 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. She wasn’t saying, ‘I understand.’
She was saying, ‘I will never understand. But I do respect your choice.’
I started taking medication again. And life got simpler.
‘My opinion does not trump your experience of life.’
Imagine if everyone in your life who has a very strong, or negative opinion about ADHD medication, and that may actually be everyone in your life, said to you, ‘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 do you think of that?