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Ritalin Saved My Mind: A Mom's Story

Ritalin gave me back a huge part of my mind

I sat down to work. I got up to get a glass of water. I remembered an important bill I needed to pay, and logged into my bank’s website to pay it. Before I’d finished that task, I’d gotten distracted by a book I’ve been meaning to review, sitting on my desk. Less than a chapter into the book, I IM’d a friend with a question about plans for this weekend.

And so it went, until I remembered a key detail: I’d forgotten to take my Ritalin this morning.

Now I’ve taken that little pill, and my workday has run smoothly since. Is it really so simple? Sometimes, yes. Drugs can be the answer. Or at least part of the answer.

Katherine Ellison, author of Buzz: A Year of Paying Attention,  recently described to Parentdish how she changed her mind about treating her son’s ADHD with Ritalin.Once an avid member of the “drugs are bad” camp, she was persuaded to try it and saw an immediate difference in her son’s demeanor and self-esteem. Far from turning him into a “zombie” as she had feared, Ritalin give him a fresh start after he’d been failing at school and flailing at home. She says:

Medication, I’m now convinced, must be part of a broader, time-consuming and often costly strategy, or you may as well give your child a sugar pill.

So far, my kids have been fortunate enough to dodge any kind of ADD diagnoses. I was first diagnosed at age 4, myself, though, and I’ve been on both sides of the fence about Ritalin over the years.

I was first prescribed Ritalin in the first grade. This was before the ADHD epidemic took hold. I was the only kid in my school taking the drug, which helped me soothe my symptoms to the point where I could sit in a desk and not crawl around on the floor during morning math lessons.

I took Ritalin through elementary and middle school, on and off in high school, and then quit in college. I shouldn’t need drugs to excel, I thought. I was eager to prove I could do it on my own, whatever “it” was: college, life, a career. I wanted to fly on my own power, without the drug I saw as a crutch propping up my nebulous attention issues.

So for most of a decade I lived a classically ADD life: I moved around a lot. I was impulsive and hot-tempered. In my early 20s I changed jobs more often than most people change hairstyles. I eventually settled into a life that played (mostly) to my strengths: as a stay-at-home mom I rarely had appointments I could run late for or meetings to attend. Keeping my commitments flexible and practicing meditation worked well enough that I was getting along just fine.

Until I wanted to go back to work. I realized quickly that I wouldn’t be able to stick with a job without the help Ritalin had given me. My doctor confirmed my hunch and sent me to a psychiatrist. As soon as I started the new meds, I felt like a fool for having taken so many years off. The to-do pile on my desk vanished. Simple tasks like scheduling appointments and balancing our budget went from impossible to easy.

Not only did Ritalin make it possible for me to have a Real Job again, it made me a better mom. I suddenly felt less overstimulated by my kids, and developed more patience as a result. I was the kind of flaky mom who would get up from playing with the kids to get one a glass of water and forget what I was doing by the time I made it to the kitchen. Ritalin changed that. I’m much more able to be present with my kids now, and to tolerate their chaos.

It was like having access to a whole new part of my brain. Because that’s exactly what it was. ADHD is a real biological condition. Ritalin really does change brain function in a way that no desktop organizer or deep breathing exercise can.

I still practice my mindfulness exercises and rely heavily on the productivity tools in my iPhone. I still screw up and miss appointments sometimes. But day to day I function so much better on Ritalin. I’m incredibly grateful to have it as one of the tools in my kit for managing my attention deficit disorder.

If either of my kids is ever diagnosed with ADD, I won’t let my hippie principles get in the way of offering them the best possible treatment, which will include drugs as well as behavioral therapies.

Photo: jlynn11235

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