I hate taking Ritalin.

My psychiatrist thought it would be a good fit for me because I could just take it while at work to concentrate, but could avoid using it the rest of the time.

As the pharmacy was out of 10 mg tablets, they gave me 5 mg tablets, and I started by experimenting with those—starting at 5 mg and working my way up to 15 mg, before realizing I’d reached my edge.

Even at 5 mg the first thing I noticed is that my body felt remarkably like it used to feel whenever I did hallucinogenic drugs. The last time I did magic mushrooms, I was 24 and with my friend Ariel.  Ariel had never done magic mushrooms before and was eager to try them out. She also has a fatal peanut allergy. Shortly after we drank the mushroom tea, she started recognizing the early-symptoms of an allergic reaction. Being a few blocks from the hospital—but high on drugs—we decided to walk to the emergency department. (Good thinking, right?) It was lucky we did this, because after a couple of blocks she realized she was okay after all—it wasn’t anaphylactic shock, it was just how the drugs felt hitting her system.

So the first thing I noticed when I took Ritalin was that it felt like the tastebuds on the centre of my tongue were shrinking and I got incredibly thirsty, as if my body just wanted to purge my system. I noticed a kind of tingling in my arms and legs, including a brief involuntary muscle spasm in my foot. This was followed by a feeling of sort of breathless disconnection with my body—like part of me was floating apart from the rest of my body. It’s hard to describe. It’s like you’re still there but somehow you’re inhabiting your physical body differently. A tightness, like anxiety, settled on my chest. Something subtle happened to my eyes too—like they get more watery and I felt like I needed to blink more, or my vision altered slightly. Anyway, the first night after I tried Ritalin, I had a trouble getting to sleep.

The second night, which I described last time I wrote, I had a horrible anxiety-ridden nightmare. But I didn’t realize at the time that it was related to the Ritalin. Nor did it occur to me at the time that my crying in boss’s office—which was highly out of character—was also related to the drug.

Nor did it occur to me that all the time I spent over the next few days telling myself, over and over again that, “I suck. I suck. I suck. I should just quit my job now, I’m never going to be good at it. I suck.” Was linked to the drug.

Except that, after a week off, in which I didn’t take the drug and I felt great, I went back to work this week, took 10 g Ritalin, and a few hours later, ended up crying in the bathroom telling myself that I was a useless and I that I sucked. And that I should just quit. Or better yet, kill myself. At which point, some rational part of my brain had the decency to point out that I don’t normally cry in bathrooms while at work (or anywhere for that matter), and while I might not be good at everything there are things I am really good at, and that what I wasn’t feeling wasn’t normal. In fact, I realized, that what I was feeling was downright abnormal—at least for me.

So, while I know a lot of people do really well with Ritalin, clearly I’m not one of them. It didn’t seem to do anything noticeable to improve my focus but it did make me feel like I didn’t deserve to work or even live. And obviously I can’t live like that.




In Trouble At Work

This morning, I woke up at 5 a.m. after a horrible nightmare. It was summertime, and I was standing on the balcony, looking down at the bay across the street. It was a really low tide. A lower tide than I’d ever seen. I told Henry to put his gumboots on because we were going to go down to the beach together and see what we could find in some of the tide pools.

But first, while Henry played below me in the garden, I caught up with a friend who had just learned that her daughter had a heart murmur. I was trying to reassure my friend that having a child with a heart condition wasn’t so bad, when I saw big waves starting to roll into the bay. “Too late,” I thought. “We missed the low tide.” But then the waves kept coming, surging forward with the momentum of a train. “Can you hear that?” I asked my friend, holding out the phone toward the whooshing water. It kept coming, like whitewater through a narrow canyon and, too late, I realized what I was seeing.

“Tsunami!” I screamed as water sloshed up the cliffs, flooded over the beach, burst arount the trees, swept up the natural valley we live in, and raced toward our garden from two sides. The balcony was shaking violently from the force of the water rumbling over the earth. The world around me became lost to a powerful roar. In horror, I watched as Henry disappeared into a frothing vortex of white water. “Henry! Henry!” I screamed.

The water pulled back and, in that miraculous way things only happen in dreams, there he was, still standing in his yellow shirt, bright red sweat pants, and black gumboots. “Oh this is just great!” he said, looking down at his sopping clothes as if he’d just been splashed by a passing truck.

I woke up. My heart thudding.

*            *            *

I’m not surprised I woke up this morning with a nightmare. Yesterday, my boss—who I look up to and respect—gently but firmly took me to task for my lack of attention to detail. I work for a publishing company and it turns out that on a recent book order I’d made, I’d accidentally reversed the quantities we are supposed to order—ordering a third too few hard covers and a third too many paperbacks. A major— and potentially extremely expensive—mistake, and one that unfortunately didn’t get caught until after the books had printed. Fuck.

This is not the first time I’ve messed up in this job, which I started only three and a half months ago, and I found myself bursting into tears in her office. Not because I was being lectured but because—my short-lived career as a waitress not withstanding—I’m actually used to rocking it when I start a new job.

I’m an editor, but I’ve always known that I’m a crappy copy editor and even lousier proofreader, so when I’ve worked on book projects, I’ve always left that kind of detail-oriented work to other people—people who are really nerdy about stuff like comma placement and capitalization and whether you should spell “focussing” with one “s” or two. Because, although I appreciate why that stuff’s important, the truth is spelling and punctuation problems really don’t bother me—my brain can read sentences riddled with errors perfectly, because instead of focusing on the minutiae, I’m usually so engaged with the big picture that I don’t notice—let alone worry about—the details. What I do care about is how ideas are presented and sequenced. What the tone of a piece is like. If the style is consistent. I can usually imagine where information needs to be added and also intuitively understand where material needs to get cut. I’m also great at talking to authors and helping them revise their work. And I’m good with research, negotiation, and a ton of other useful things that happen behind the scenes in publishing houses.

But this job—this job with its lovely co-workers, and my kind and compassionate boss, and its decent pay, and absolutely essential health benefits—this job is not a good fit for me. I’ve been in it now for three months. It’s all about proofing academic indexes, and making sure that references properly conform to the proper author-date style, and checking that legal citations are properly punctuated, and caring enough about the minutiae to look everything up even if you think it’s okay. In other words, it’s the perfect job for someone with OCD, not someone with ADHD.

So while my boss was telling me that she thought she’d thrown too much at me, and she hadn’t realized I was so unfamiliar with the Chicago Manual of Style, and how everyone else in the department had come to the position with more familiarity with the press’s systems than I had, and how I just had to focus and she was sure I would be great, I sniveled and wiped at my leaky mascara, and thanked her, and said I’d try to do my best. And that I really appreciated working with her and was glad that she was putting me more into a supporting role.

And I was delighted when she mused that maybe if a position opened up somewhere else in the company that would be a better fit for me. But, in the meantime, even though the editorial work I’m doing is really tedious I just had to try harder. Be more careful. Look things up.

And I nodded and said I’d try. But on the inside, I was thinking, I’m doomed.

Because the truth is, as much as I’m trying to think of this job as a “practice”—as something that forces me to move into an area where I feel resistance and push myself to master things I’ve hitherto avoided—I don’t think I’m ever going to be naturally good at this. Not because I don’t want to be, but because my brain in not wired to see things the way my boss and co-workers see them. And as much as I’m trying to learn everything I can to be a good employee, I fear I will always suck.

Two weeks ago, I went and I saw a psychiatrist who diagnosed me as having Adult ADHD. When I told her what I did for a living, she laughed hysterically, and said she couldn’t imagine a worse job for someone with ADHD. She prescribed me short-acting Ritalin to help me focus while at work, but warned me that even with medication, she thought that in six to twelve months, I was going to burn out. She said, “The amount of energy it takes you to do this job is placing a huge burden on your frontal cortex, and you are going to fatigued, stressed out, and anxious.”

And as much as I want to prove her wrong, keep doing my best and hope that it just clicks, I’m terrified that she might be right.

So now I need to figure out, again, what it is I want to do with my life, while figuring out how to financially stay afloat, and not take on stuff that takes me away from being a parent too much, and the prospect is terrifying.

In other words, this blog is about discovering what it means to have Adult ADHD while trying to figure out what the hell I’m going to do with my life.