This blog is not FDA approved
Does your partner ask you that infuriating question when you’re already running late: “Where did I put my keys?” I hear it all the time. Not just occasionally. Every. Single. Day. And is your partner really annoying? They catch you and tickle you and you can’t get away and it actually starts to hurt but they insist you must love it because you’re laughing? I bet they do. All men do that. Or you ask them to pass something and they’ll snatch it away at the last moment, chuckling like that’s funny. I get that a lot too. I adore my husband but must confess – he’s always losing things. He’ll lose movie tickets within the time it takes to buy them and get to the door of the theatre. And when he’s bored, he’s a real pain.
Unfortunately, my husband gets bored a lot. He has trouble concentrating and needs to amuse himself with a distraction on a regular basis. Sadly, I am often required to provide said amusement. Maybe it is a bit amusing for awhile but he just does not understand the signals that it’s getting beyond a joke. It is on mornings like this that I want to yell, smack his hands away and – if he’s being really irritating and I’m feeling really mean – ask “Have you taken your medication today?”
I almost never actually ask that question and certainly not in front of other people. I don’t want to embarrass him. You see, my husband has ADD and if he doesn’t take his Ritalin, it shows. It’s a sensitive topic. People judge him. They think it means he’s stupid, or unreliable, or uncontrollable, or maybe just badly-behaved and making excuses. He is none of these things. In fact, he’s so much more intelligent, self-controlled, reliable and moral than most people I’ve met. The desire to annoy me is just boyish affection. Didn’t your mother ever tell you that?
Brad was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder when he was in primary school and, like most parents who hear these terrible words, his parents struggled with the decision of what to do about it. It’s an incredibly difficult decision. You want what’s best for your children. You want to protect them from a life of loneliness, learning difficulties and getting into trouble. Brad, who was a bright, intelligent child, was falling behind. Other kids thought he was weird and irritating. He had trouble making friends. He was frequently left out, sad and lonely. Teachers thought him distracted and naughty and other parents suspected he was a bad influence. Obviously something has to be able to help – but the question for all parents whose children have ADD is: what?
Brad’s parents were reluctant to medicate him. I think most people are. People are afraid of ADD. It’s often incorrectly diagnosed. They’re afraid of the medication commonly used to treat it – it’s speed, isn’t it? Some people don’t even believe ADD exists, and why would you medicate a naughty child, and why are you making up excuses for them when all they need is discipline? I don’t advocate giving drugs like Ritalin to everyone – it is undoubtedly a risky drug, and ADD is a tricky disorder that can be difficult to manage. But I think that sometimes people need to see it for what it is: a chemical imbalance in the brain. It is not the child’s fault, or the parents’ fault. Sometimes you need more than discipline, order and natural remedies to correct it. To give another example, look at a person with diabetes. I’m only using this example because I have a blood sugar disorder myself so I’m familiar with it. I’m aware that it isn’t a perfect example and I’m certainly not suggesting they are exactly the same thing. But diabetes is a result of a chemical imbalance in the body. No one would dive in and start taking Metformin or insulin injections without being absolutely certain first that they really were dealing with diabetes. And even if you were certain, you’d probably still want to avoid taking drugs for it if you could. So you’d try a change of diet and increasing exercise and, for some people, those would be enough to keep it under control. But others might need medication. And even so, the medication isn’t a cure-all – they’d still want to combine it with those lifestyle changes. That’s how I see the process of dealing with ADD.
It’s a difficult disorder. It affects everyone in a different way, and everyone responds differently to various treatment options. There are no hard and fast answers and for everyone it is pretty much just a matter of trial and error – sometimes for years. For Brad it was no different, and I think the process was difficult for everyone involved. I imagine once you hit upon the best solution, you wish you’d just done that in the first place. But one thing Brad’s parents achieved with all their trials was this: they taught Brad how to take control over his own ADD.
In those early years, the family tried everything they could think of to help Brad: changing his diet, cutting all sugar and processed foods; setting a strict daily and weekly routine to keep him organised; setting goals for chores and schoolwork and rewarding him for jobs well done; private tutoring; fish oil tablets; you name it. Some of those things helped a bit, some didn’t. In the end, they reluctantly turned to Ritalin. Once the correct dose was found, my mother-in-law told me the difference was incredible – Brad’s school workbook suddenly changed. Pages adorned with a couple of lines of illegible scrawl amid drawings and doodlings suddenly gave way to page after page of neat, precise handwriting. His teachers had never seen such a transformation.
He’s always had his ups and downs. In high school he resented his reliance on medication. Like all drugs, it does come with its share of side-effects, some of which are terrible. It suppresses Brad’s appetite. He gets a touch paranoid. Even after 20 years of taking the drug and correcting the dose, he still can’t sleep before 11pm, and he gets almost OCD about things like checking his blind spots 6 or 7 times. As a teenager, he decided to quit taking it. Unfortunately, his final two years of school suffered as a result, but his parents had to let him take responsibility at some point.
He learned from that experience. The few years following high school were filled with uncertainty about what he wanted to do with his life. He struggled to be organised and focussed at work, and went through several jobs without success. He couldn’t even enjoy talking to friends about history and politics – topics he is keenly interested in – because he couldn’t even remember simple words. At 21 he decided he’d had enough: he wanted to go to university to study history, and develop the intelligence he knew he had. He realised that if he really wanted to succeed in his studies, he would need to get serious about treating his ADD again. The years of trial and error when he was child taught him how to cope. As an adult, Brad was ready to face his disorder armed with a combination of organisational strategies, lifestyle changes and medication, and he thrived. Of course, he can’t help the fact that he has ADD, but he’s learned that he can do something to control it. For him, that means keeping a diary, having regular psychiatric check-ups, and taking Ritalin.
Without Ritalin Brad can barely finish speaking a sentence. He loses things, forgets things, and gets frustrated with himself – not to mention that irritating restlessness I mentioned before. But with his medication he is able to focus. On its own, the medication isn’t enough. It gives him the power to focus, but he still needs his other strategies to succeed. He keeps himself organised, using his diary every day, keeping checklists, asking for reminders. He (usually) keeps his keys or parking tickets in the same pocket each time so he doesn’t have to go frantically searching. Combined with the medication, these strategies work. Despite the early heartaches and failures, his parents had given him a valuable life skill. Now he is an amazingly successful person. He’s very good at his job. He’s the best husband anyone could ever ask for. And one day soon he will be a caring and devoted father. And while I dread the fact that our child might also have ADD, and my life will be full of those tickle wars that always seem to end so poorly for me, and the inevitable trial and error of finding treatment, I know that Brad will be there to help guide and teach our own little one.
For now, I must dash. We’re running late for work and I have to go find those damned car keys.