I recently saw a psychiatrist to seek help for ADD. This was an incredibly hard thing for me to do, and I had delayed making the appointment for several months after I decided I need to seek help. I have seen a lot of controversy on the Internet surrounding this topic, so I want to start out by saying I did not take this decision lightly. I put a lot of thought into it, read the pros and cons of different medications, researched alternative treatments, and ultimately made the decision to seek help.
Chris Guillebeau triggered my interest in seeking help. I read his post, Writing with Adderall: A Personal Case Study. I also read through the comments and saw how controversial his decision was. I have really been struggling at work. I work in IT, on the back end where I don’t interface with customers. My job is somewhat specialized and I have worked my way through the ranks to get where I am today. That said, most of my day to day, while very technical, is somewhat mundane.
I was having a very hard time staying on task and getting things done. Some might say that means I need a new job or a different role, but I’m not in the position to easily make that change. As the primary income earner, we depend on my income. To change jobs at this point in my career to something that interests me more, would likely cause a big dip in our income. It would also likely be something completely different from IT. So, changing jobs is not really an option right now.
Longer term it might be, and it’s something I think about, but I’m not sure what else I would like to do. Blogging, writing, coaching, and professional organizing are possibilities, and I currently spend a lot of my free time pursuing these things. But even in these things that I love to do, I have a hard time completing tasks. I’m great at starting things, but not very good at finishing them.
There is some history of ADD in my family. I can’t go into the details without getting permission from the family members involved, but it’s worth mentioning that it’s there.
Meeting with the Psychiatrist
I met with the psychiatrist, and had a number of fears going into the appointment. What if it’s all in my head? What if I’m wimping out and looking for an easy fix? What if I don’t have ADD, and I’m just lazy?
She put me at ease initially by saying that it took a lot of courage to seek help. That is a true statement, I had to build up a lot of courage to make the appointment. She asked some questions about me and my background, and as I answered, I started to see that a lot of the habits I put in place over the years were designed to help me cope with my ADD.
She asked me a couple of time if I commonly lost items, like my keys. I told her, “No, because I created a habit, where I put my keys, wallet, and sunglasses in a dedicated location every time I walk in the door.” I have a drawer where those items live, and that’s the first thing I do ever single time I come home. I have been doing this for so long that I can’t remember if there was a time when I frequently lost my keys.
After some more discussion, I realized that part of the reason I moved towards minimalism, downsizing, and renting instead of owning relates to my ADD. I don’t like home maintenance tasks, because I have a really hard time finishing them. Even when I do finish, I can rarely force myself to put away all the tools and clean up after myself. Having less stuff means less distractions. Having less chores means less cleanup after and less mess in general.
Additionally, I realized that I often avoid tasks that I know are going to need extended periods of concentration. I never knew I was doing this, it just happened.
After not being able to answer some questions clearly, she gave me a paper with a short quiz. I rated items in the list based on how often each symptom occurred. It’s basically a test to determine if you have ADD or ADHD. I answered zero on all the hyperactivity questions. On the ADD questions, I answered some zero and some 5 (the max number). A few fell in the middle. Some were zero due to habits that I initiated to counter the ADD symptoms.
After the quiz and more discussion, the psychiatrist said I have mild to moderate ADD. She asked what I was looking for in seeing her, and I was specifically looking for medication to treat my ADD. She recommended Vyvanse.
Vyvanse is similar to Adderall, but it enters the bloodstream differently. As I understand it, Adderall is the straight up medication that goes right in and starts working. Vyvanze gets digested and then through the digestion process converts the ingredients into the Adderall type medication. I have also read that Adderall kicks in quickly, whereas Vyvanse eases it’s way into your system. I don’t have any personal experience with Adderall, so the comparisons are based solely on what I read online. Vyvanse is also a bit more expensive since there is no generic available.
Observations From My First Month on Vyvanse
After I got my prescription I was anxious to try it out, but it was already afternoon, and this stuff is supposed to last for 10-14 hours. I resisted the temptation to try it that day and started the next day instead. I should note here, a couple of the following experiences don’t necessarily match with what my doctor saw in a typical patient. Most do, but some don’t and I’ll note those as we go.
My first day was a day off of work for me. The first thing I noticed is that I got really talkative. This is one thing that my doctor says isn’t typical, instead people tend to get quieter. I think what happened with me is that, for the first time ever, I was really able to focus during conversation. And because of that, I loved talking. I talked to my wife for nearly an hour and had some great conversation.
After the conversation, I decided to test myself by tackling some tasks around the house that I had been putting off. I cleaned the walls with a magic eraser, I cleaned some windows, I cleaned all of our bathrooms, I cooked lunch for my wife and I, and continued doing some other tasks around the house after lunch.
Normally I feel an aversion to doing these tasks, and I avoid them as much as possible. But on this day, I didn’t feel that at all. I did a ton of stuff around the house and cleaned up after myself after each task. (That cleaning up bit almost never happened before.)
I kept a daily log for the first week so I could track the results. The indented text below are notes from my log. Here is an excerpt from day one.
I really hate doing home maintenance tasks, and I’m thinking that may be (at least partially) a result of my ADD. Since I’m not able to focus for long enough to get things done, I feel frustrated. I didn’t feel that today.
An interesting thing to note – I had some tasks that I was putting off, but I really didn’t want to do them. I need to replace the lower radiator hose on the Jeep and grease the wheel bearings on our camper. Vyvanse didn’t make me want to do these things. If I decided to do them, I’m sure it would help me stay focused through completion, but I didn’t have any extra motivation to go out and start working on them. Other things that I don’t mind doing, but typically avoid anyway (like cleaning) were easier for me to jump right into.
My second day on Vyvanse was a Saturday. I didn’t have much planned. My daughter invited a friend over, and we went to the park. While they played, I did some blogging and writing. After they played we bought some materials for Valentine’s day crafts.
Often when we’re at the park, I start to get antsy, and after they have played for a bit I start asking if they are ready to go. This time, I occupied myself while they played, and we stayed until they asked to leave. Normally I try to occupy myself but end up getting bored. Even if I have stuff to do (writing, reading, games on phone), I tend to get distracted with all the activity of the playground.
Day 3 – No Vyvanse
On day three, I didn’t have anything planned so I decided not to take a Vyvanse. I wanted to compare a day without taking it. I’m not planning to take one on days when I don’t really have anything planned. Not much of note happened, it was more like a regular day for me. I did, however, make the following observation.
My daughter asked me to do some crafts with her. I did one but quickly got restless. I walked away and did some other things and then went back and did another craft. I sat with her while she did some for a bit, but got restless again.
Day 4 – 8 The Work Week
The difference at work is astounding. I have been able to stay on task, complete long difficult assignments, and have been better at communicating with my coworkers. This week and the week after were really stressful due to all the things I needed to complete, and it would have been even more stressful had I been unfocused and inattentive. The Vyvanse has really improved things for me at work.
I have also been participating more in conference calls and meetings. I think this is similar to being more talkative at home. It’s easier for me to pay attention to the speaker and that makes it easier to participate.
I’m feeling more confident with work. I’m not putting things off until later. I’m also going a bit deeper on some of my scripting projects, where I take the extra steps to improve the script. Instead of making the script “good enough” I am doing the extra work to make it “perfect”. I’m not going overboard with perfection, but rather not shortcutting to get things done faster. This “good enough” has been an issue for me in the past, I had trouble moving past the point where it was good enough. In many cases it’s better to take the extra steps to improve the product, and I have been able to do this since starting Vyvanse.
Also during the first week I noticed that I felt really tired after the Vyvanse wore off around 7:30pm. After a month, I think it’s more a result of the additional mental and physical activity throughout the day. I felt it a lot the first week and a half, but later in the month I didn’t notice it as much on days when I’m not working as hard.
The Rest of the Month
Results for the rest of the month were similar to the first week. There is no question in my mind that I made the right decision to seek help and to get medication to help deal with ADD. Here is a summary of the benefits, side effects, and detriments I saw over the first month:
- Able to stay on task for longer periods of time.
- Able to go deeper on projects and work them to completion.
- More talkative/communicative.
- Being able to finish projects/tasks is a huge benefit.
- Decrease in feeling aversion to doing tough tasks.
- I feel more appreciative of people.
- Able to focus and pay attention during long meetings.
- Able to focus and pay attention when talking to others (wife and daughter most notably)
- Able to give my daughter more consistent attention
- I’m less interested in distraction activities (games, Netflix)
- Mostly mild side effects, and all are acceptable for the benefits.
- Mild dry mouth
- Hands are a little bit sweaty
- Appetite suppression
- Fatigue after the Vyvanse wears off
- I have to be more cautious when driving. I tend to feel a little bit rushed, and I have tell myself to take it slow, especially at intersections. The effect is mild but noticeable, and I feel that it’s manageable.
- My error rate when typing has gone up slightly. I don’t notice the spelling errors right away, and I’m having to proofread to catch them. Specifically for errors that spell check doesn’t catch, like leaving an “s” or an “ed” off the end of a word. This happened before, but I feel like the frequency has increased slightly.
The appetite suppression isn’t as extreme as I’ve read about from people taking Adderall. When I am hungry, I feel it in my stomach. It’s more like I don’t crave food, and instead food is just a necessity for my body. Really, that’s how food should be. I also don’t find myself snacking as much. When it is time for a meal, my stomach tells me I’m hungry and I eat the same size portions as normal.
The doctor said she had not heard anyone else mention these detriments. I think most people aren’t monitoring as closely as I did for the first couple of weeks. And since I was logging my results daily, I was paying attention to anything out of the ordinary. The driving issue is minor, but I am forcing myself to be extra cautious.
The error rate when typing is interesting. The doctor said she hadn’t heard that before either, but with daily blogging on Minimal You and weekly blogging here, I likely type more than the average person. It may be that I’m able to finish my train of thought and I keep typing for longer periods without going back and rereading what I typed. On the plus side, I am finding it easier to proofread before posting. Sometimes in the past, I would be so happy to get a post finished that I would click “Publish” without going back and proofreading.
I am so very pleased with the results so far. When I saw my doctor for my followup visit I was able to tell her, with confidence, how much Vyvanse has improved my situation.
One last topic on alternative treatments. I have seen the recommendations to eat better, exercise daily, meditate, and on and on. I have tried many of those things. If you recall, during my rethinking fitness phase, I ate very healthy and exercised for an hour to an hour and a half each day. It did not help my ADD in any measurable way. It may have helped a little, but not enough for it to be considered a valid treatment in my case.
It has been an interesting and busy month for me, with the ADD medication and deciding to sell our house and go back to renting. The two items are not related, but happened around the same time period. And, the ADD medication helped a lot while we were getting the house ready to sell. We had a lot of tasks to complete before we took pictures for the listing and invited people in to view the house. On Vyvanse, I was able to tackle a task, complete it, and then move on to the next one. I spent all weekend fixing, patching, painting, and cleaning. That would not have been possible before.
If you have been struggling with ADD and are hesitant to seek help because of the negative stigma, negative comments from Internet commenters, or personal doubts, I encourage you to talk to your doctor and/or seek help from a psychiatrist.
I’m open to answering questions. You can leave your questions in the comments below and I’ll answer what I can. It’s tough to share this kind of stuff, but I have tackled many other tough topics on this blog and my primary goal is to help others as best I can.