Getting off stimulants

In response to today’s Daily Post: Happy Endings

Tell us about something you’ve tried to quit. Did you go cold turkey, or for gradual change? Did it stick?

When I do things it tends to be cold turkey. Sometimes that is by choice, sometimes it is not. I’ve spent much of my life painstakingly trying to convince my mother to quit her smoking habit. She’d get mad at me as a child because I’d hide her cigarettes. It wasn’t something I got away with for too long. I had to learn the hard way that if someone doesn’t want something for themselves no amount of persuading on your part is going to do the trick. Stressful situations interfere whenever she puts in a concerted effort and she goes back to the habit. When I was a late teenager still living at home I really wanted to understand what addiction was, so I started smoking cloves off and on. I would smoke a lot in a short amount of time and then not smoke for a week or more. I never got addicted the way my mom does, and the last time I smoke was probably 4 years ago. I wouldn’t begin to understand addiction until I was 26 and forced to come off stimulants I’d been prescribed since the age of 5.

My doctor looked at me wiggling all about as an infant and told my mom “I think you’ve got a hyper one”. When I was 5 I was officially diagnosed with ADHD at a formal center where I spent the entirety of the exam swinging my legs uncontrollably underneath the table, occasionally kicking the testers legs. My doctor prescribed ritalin, concerta, and eventually (in high school) strattera. I was also put what I would later find out was a blood pressure medication, clonidine, to shut my mind off at night, slow my pulse, and allow me to fall asleep. My mom would take me off the stimulants for summer vacation so that I could be my wild and crazy self. Then, I’d go back on for the school year to help me control my impulsivity, hyperactivity, and inattentiveness. My mother was a special education teacher for 30 years and I was very lucky to have someone so knowledgeable looking out for me. She educated my teachers, her colleagues to better handle children with ADHD, for instance, call their name before asking them a question so you have their full attention. It’s because of my mother and the excellent teachers I had that I always thought of ADHD as a positive thing that made me more creative, funny, interested in the world, energetic, and great at multi tasking. I was very lucky in this regard.

As I got older my friends and I had this running joke that I was like two different people. There was the medicated me: studious, tunnel visioned, never hungry, and somewhat hesitant to interact. Then there was the unmedicated me: life of the party, adventurous, outspoken, and uncontrollable in the best way. Some days I would “forget” to take whatever stimulant I happened to be on at the time so that I felt less anxious during the social aspects of school. I was more likely to get in trouble on these days: forgetting assignments, being late to class, being a bit too loud in class, not being able to focus on anything I didn’t find interesting. I found that not taking the stimulant made the day much longer. Tests were also a real pain when focusing on the boring sheet of paper in front of me was not a concern. Anyways, I went back and forth with taking medication and then not taking it. It wasn’t until I was 24 that I stopped, but not originally for the reasons one might expect.

My health insurance ended since I was no longer a minor, and to get a stimulant in the U.S. you need to make regular appointments with a doctor for a prescription because it is a controlled drug. I had moved from the Northeast to California and then up to Portland, Oregon and was fully self supported. Suffice it to say it was unaffordable to pay to see a doctor every time I needed a prescription filled. Because of this I found medication online from India that was the generic form of what I had been taking. As you can imagine this wasn’t the safest route to take, but paying for a sublet, my food, and my student loans had to come first. It’s also important to note that there was a patent in the U.S. that prevented the generic form of strattera from being sold.

I was going through a rough “transition” period and I decided that I needed to get off this medication that was probably ruining my liver. Paying several dollars for a pill that was probably more of a crutch than anything else was stupid. The detox period was quite long; at least 3 months passed before I felt at all motivated. The emotions I feel are on a broader spectrum now, and it’s really nice not having the tunnel vision. I’ve taught myself to concentrate and focus in a way that was never required of me as a child. I’m glad that I’m no longer of a mindset that a pill can fix my problems. It was the easy way out for me.

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