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ADHD and me

This morning, I did the washing up.

Now: your first response might be "Michael: why do I care? Do I look like a washing up blog reader?"

But that would miss the point. This morning I did the washing up, and only the washing up. I didn't procrastinate with some Twitter or YouTube videos first. I didn't need to listen to a podcast at the same time to avoid getting lost staring off into space thinking about something completely different.

Most importantly: no crushing feeling of overwhelm about needing to do this task that both feels insurmountable but is obviously (objectively) trivial. It's embarrassing to admit that I've been repeatedly reduced to tears by the need to do the washing up.

This change, it appears, is the impact of methylphenidate (RitalinĀ®) on my brain. I was recently diagnosed with ADHD, and yesterday I undertook a series of "challenge tests" to see if I am one of the 75% of adult's with ADHD whose symptoms are helped by the drug.

I did the same series of tests twice: once in the morning, before taking methylphenidate; the other in the afternoon an hour after taking the first trial intake under observation (methylphenidate is a controlled substance here in Italy).

It was a strange, and almost disturbing, experience to feel my brain acting differently. Recall was smoother. Free association on a topic easier because my brain stayed on that topic, without veering away onto side lines that I needed to filter out from what I was saying. My thoughts were still my own, but with… less in the way.

You see: trying to do stuff (and by stuff I mean pretty much anything that you need to choose to do, rather than that you happen to start because it distracted you…) with ADHD is hard. I didn't realize how hard until some of that effort was lifted.

The closest I've come to being able to describe it is that having ADHD is like your brain wearing an ancient near eastern tunic to work a farm.

Ever hear the phrase "gird your loins"? It's the process of tying up your tunic (designed primarily to keep you cool) so that you can run, or fight, or carry out hard physical labour at ground level without the 'skirt' of the tunic getting in the way and tripping you up.

My brain wears a tunic: I need to put effort into preparing to do things before I can even start doing them. So it takes energy and effort just to get ready to start. And if you make a mistake in the girding, or the knot slips? Well, now you're half way through your task with a bunch of cloth swishing around your legs and getting in the way.

Methylphenidate is the equivalent of putting on jeans.1 You can be casual still, but you can also just… do stuff? Finish your morning coffee, look across the kitchen, and go: "I need to do the washing up."

This morning, I did the washing up.

Footnotes:

1

Very short lived jeans, at the moment. While slow release versions are available, the version of methylphenidate used while experimenting to find the ideal personal dose has an effect period of about 4-6 hours at the outside and I'm only prescribed one dose a day. So I still get to wear a brain tunic in the afternoons until I reach a stable enough dosage to take the slow release version.