**Please note I am NOT a doctor or healthcare worker and anything I say on this blog is my opinion based on my experience and is NOT ADVICE. Please contact your doctor or Psychiatrist if you want to talk about medication**
Since the start of this month, I have been blogging every day about ADHD in an attempt to raise awareness of this very common, but often misunderstood condition. Now that I have posted about the different subtypes of ADHD, the diagnosis procedure and what it is like to live with ADHD- I want to talk about life after diagnosis.
Firstly, I am the exact same person that I was before my diagnosis but now I have more information about why I think and act in certain ways. Secondly, I do not have a label, I have a diagnosis. If the doctor told me that I had Diabetes it wouldn’t be considered a label so please reject that narrative.
You may find it somewhat surprising, but I love that I have ADHD. I am very capable, I am very creative, I am literally interested in EVERY activity there is imaginable- go on, ask me. Even if I’ve never heard of it before, the answer is yes- I want to try it! I am an excellent listener, empathetic to those who do not fit within the confines of what society expects (my son is convinced that I am an Anarchist) and I’m sharp, witty and a consumate entertainer. Life is never dull with me around.
These attributes of my personality are great and it is my fast-moving ADHD mind that is responsible for a lot of them and most other ADHDers feel the same, please don’t feel sorry for us, we are not ill.
Despite our love of our quirky personalities, most of us live in a world that is not designed for us, education, the work place, typical family set ups and society in general are all constructed for neurotypical people so, sometimes we need a bit of help to fit in and cope with the stresses of this alien land.
The first and most obvious ADHD treatment is medication, and I am going to dedicate this entire blog post to the different ADHD medications prescribed in the UK and my experience of medication.
What can medicine help with?
So you may…
- be more likely to understand school work
- be less likely to become bored, restless and disruptive
- no longer need to act impulsively to feel interested or stimulated
- learn better and so school results improve
- find it easier to make friends and interact with people.
Medicating ADHD appears to be controversial in the media where ‘journalists’ often report unquoted experts that claim children are being “overprescribed” ADHD medication or even stoke up debate on television over the existence of ADHD. Would they criticise diabetics taking insulin? Probably not, but ADHD is still fair game in the court of journalistic nonsense. That is why it is important to do your own research and not take information from any one page- including mine- at face value.
So, ignoring the sensationalist hyperbole. I am going to tell you about the medications that are commonly used to treat ADHD, their side effects and then my experiences of being on ADHD medication.
I think it is important for educators to learn about ADHD medication so that they have an informed view during parent consultations on the subject. It is important because, as I said earlier this month, before I was diagnosed with ADHD I didn’t really know anything about the condition beyond the usual stereotypes. I distinctly remember that I thought children with ADHD all moved about a lot, was confused that one boy in my class who was diagnosed with ADHD was quite quiet and certainly not hyper- I remember thinking that his doctor must have been really off the mark- and I thought that medication was the only treatment available.
I had heard of Ritalin but I didn’t know anything about it beyond its name. I knew that some children did not take any medication and this often annoyed their teachers as who thought the child’s education was being affected because their parents refused to medicate them. I also knew that common complaints from parents about ADHD medication was that their child stopped eating and they were worried about their weight and I had also heard some parents say it changed their personality and their child was ‘zombielike.’
You may well have heard all of these same anecdotes and be as confused as I was. So the table below should tell you a little bit more about the medications themselves.
Ritalin- Short Release
Concerta- Long Release
||Selective noradrenaline re-uptake inhibitor (SNRI)
|Common side effects of methylphenidate include:
- a small increase in blood pressure and heart rate
- loss of appetite, which can lead to weight loss or poor weight gain
- trouble sleeping
- stomach aches
- mood swings
|Common side effects of dexamfetamine/ Lisdexamfetamine include:
- decreased appetite
- mood swings
- agitation and aggression
- nausea and vomiting
|Common side effects of atomoxetine include:
- a small increase in blood
- pressure and heart rate
- nausea and vomiting
- stomach aches
- trouble sleeping
Atomoxetine has also been linked to some more serious side effects that it’s important to look out for, including suicidal thoughts and liver damage.
As you can see, there are some very serious side effects there that should not be taken lightly.
When I was first diagnosed with ADHD I was prescribed Concerta, a slow release Methylphenidate on a low dose. My appointment had been on a Tuesday and as I was working that week, I was too afraid to take the medication before going into work. Despite my Psychiatrist’s reassurances, I didn’t want to act strangely when I had children in my care.
So I waited until the weekend, woke up earlier than I normally do on a Saturday and took my medication for the first time. I didn’t know what to expect so I started to wash some dishes that had been left in the sink from the night before, waiting for something to happen.
When I was finished the dishes, I tidied the kitchen, then I dusted and hoovered the whole house, put on three loads of laundry and cleaned both bathrooms… it was only when I had gone back to the kitchen and was halfway through defrosting the freezer that I realised that I had spent a full day tidying my house, chore after chore, focused, no boredom halfway through putting a load of washing in the machine.
I didn’t feel different, I was not a zombie, I was sure my personality had not changed, but for the first time I could remember, I had completed an everyday task without having to will myself to do it, promise myself a break afterwards or wander off after becoming distracted.
Over the course of a year I took Concerta and the dose of this was gradually increased. It was increased was because I reported to my Psychiatrist that, while it worked well during the day and I was more focused than I had ever been, by the time I got home the medication had worn off and I would find that a struggle- I needed to be a mother, run my house and do school work in the evening (no it does not stop at 3pm).
When I was on my highest dose, I would come home from work, where I had been focused all day and sit down on the couch, unable to move for hours, distracted, confused, spaced out and exhausted.
The washing was piling up, the house was dusty, I couldn’t be bothered hoovering. All my mental energy went into making my son’s dinner and making sure he was ok. As the medication wore off, my ADHD brain was returning to its normal confused, distracted and anxious self, but I was also “coming down” off of a very powerful stimulant, and the two combined made me a big lump of useless.
I was then prescribed Elvanse which is the medication I take just now. At first I was prescribed a low dose to build up my tolerance but I was worried that it was not working. Despite my problems in the evening, I had been very focused during the day with Concerta and to go back to a low dose made me feel kind of strange.
It took another two appointments with my Psychiatrist, which were months apart, before I was gradually moved up to the maximum dose prescribed for Elvanse and I finally felt the full benefit of being focused all day and thankfully, no dreadful come down in the evening.
Jessica of the wonderful Youtube channel “How To ADHD” recently did a Ted X talk (I’ll post it in a separate post with some more information) and during that talk she described talking ADHD medication as “like putting on her glasses” and that is true. The clarity I got when I first took ADHD medication was phenomenal and it changed my life for the better… but this is still an ongoing process, I’m two years into this and my medication and dose is only just working for me. Imagine how difficult this must be for children.
ADHD medication is not a magical cure and it isn’t for everyone. Both my best friend who has ADHD (we knew each other before our diagnoses) and my cousin use exercise as a way to manage their ADHD and in tomorrow’s post I’m going to talk about other forms of treatment.
As I said at the top, I am not a doctor or a healthcare professional so please contact your doctor if looking for advice.
I do hope this post has shown that while we educators may think it is a good idea for children to be on medication for ADHD as it helps them focus in school, the choice to give your children powerful stimulants is not a decision to be made lightly and it may take years before the dosage or type of medication is at its optimum dose. In that time, the child could be experiencing terrible side effects at home that we do not know about in school.
Sources for medication Information