I Would Rather Live With My ADHD Than Take Adderall

by Zara Barrie

When I was a kid, my teachers thought I might be deaf.

I'll never forget the day I got pulled out of my kindergarten class to get a hearing test. I started crying hysterically, flailing my five-year-old arms in the air, causing a huge scene.

In my (possibly exaggerated) memory, I have a clear-as-day vision of being dragged away by big, scary authority figures, kicking and screaming as my pigtails flew in the air.

I was freaking out because I knew I was being "tested." Something was "different" about me.

I knew I was being "tested." Something was "different" about me.

I didn't want to be different. I wanted to be like Suzie, a pale blonde with stick-straight hair and consistently neat handwriting and evenly-tied shoelaces.

They pulled my best friend out of class, too, probably hoping I would feel less alone if she came along. Only my best friend wasn't about to let me cry alone; she was my loyal partner-in-crime.

She started wailing, too, and we must have pulled off quite an impressive performance because they gave up on the whole thing and let us go back to class, unscathed and untested.

Two weeping five-year-old girls with cartoon-big eyes and plastic jelly sandals and puffy-sleeved dresses can get away with anything.

My mom took me to the doctor, who tested my hearing on the sly. Turns out, I had perfect hearing. Better than average. I passed with flying colors and was given a bright red lollipop for having such advanced ears.

Years later, I found out my teachers thought I was deaf because they didn't understand why I seemed so disconnected all the time. Why I had such a hard time following simple instructions. Why they often found me swinging on the swings, wild-haired and bug-eyed 20 minutes after recess had already ended.

My teachers thought I was deaf because they didn't understand why I seemed so disconnected.

I was, according to my mother, "away with the fairies."

"The teachers at school think Zara is away with the fairies," I overheard my mother say (with my ultra-sharp hearing) to her friend over the phone. She took a sip of her tea, kept calm and carried on like the proper English woman she is.

That's the first time I was diagnosed with ADHD. The teachers at my Long Island public school suggested to my mother that I take drug called Ritalin.

"Methylphenidate" is its generic name. It's a drug commonly used to treat ADD and ADHD, a stimulant similar in vein to Adderall. It was the Adderall of the 90s.

I didn't know what crystal meth was at the time, but a decade later, when crystal meth was all the rage in the gay club scene, I found it ironic that Methylphenidate, a prescription drug commonly given to children, had the word "meth" in the title.

My mother, in typical British fashion, told my typical American teachers to "fuck off" with their conclusions about my mental health. We never really spoke about my ADHD diagnosis.

A true bohemian, my mother didn't think there was anything wrong with me. Yes, I couldn't seem to focus in classes that spanned longer than 30 minutes and yes, I doodled my way through middle school and yes, I couldn't focus on numbers.

But who cared about focusing on boring shit when I could do so many other things?

Who cared about focusing on boring shit when I could do so many other things?

I was a super creative force of nature as a kid. I created intricate masterpieces in my bedroom, covering the walls floor-to-ceiling with beautiful collages cut from vintage Vogue magazines, artfully scrawling song lyrics and original paragraphs in black permanent marker on the ceiling.

My parents couldn't even be angry because I had turned my room into such a gorgeous work of art. (Or, at least, that's what I told myself.)

In classic ADHD style, I hyper-focused on the things I found interesting. People don't realize that the ability to hyper-focus is common trait in people with ADHD.

I would read an entire book in a night, staying up 'til the sunlight poured through my windows, compulsively drinking in every word, forgetting that I had to be up in an hour for school.

I could memorize an entire script in a day. In fact, I was notorious for memorizing everything I loved — song lyrics, three-page-long poems, long-winded monologues and scenes from movies.

But I couldn't get it together when it came to anything I found remotely boring.

I failed chemistry. Twice. I was always missing papers, losing backpacks and winter coats, struggling with small, menial tasks like calling back a friend or remembering a family member's birthday.

Looking back, I think my ADHD serves as the catalyst of my lifelong struggle with anxiety. I'm always thinking, "Shit, what did I forget?" and just waiting to find out that I totally screwed up or blew an opportunity because I didn't check my voicemail, or my friends are mad at me because I didn't see a text or oh, shit, do I have a meeting today?

Looking back, I think my ADHD serves as the catalyst of my lifelong struggle with anxiety.

One Saturday afternoon, a friend of mine in the 11th grade, Kate* — a gorgeous redhead always in low-slung, hip hugger jeans — came over to hang out and smoke cigarettes with me. She stood in the doorway with a wicked smile sprawled across her freckled face.

"I have Adderall," she said, her green eyes lighting up like Christmas tree lights. "Do you want one?"

She dangled a bag of pale blue pills in front of my eyes. They looked like Skittles.

"Sure," I said, because I was a teenage idiot who would swallow anything anyone handed to me. (PSA: Do not try this at home. I've spent a fortune in therapy dealing with the trauma of saying "yes" to pills.)

After about twenty minutes, my vision completely crystalized. I felt entirely different.

Kate left my house, and I wrote a seven-page paper like it was nothing. I cleaned my room with a fine-tooth comb. How could I not have noticed how disorganized my bookshelf was?

At dinner, I was able to follow the conversation with my family without sifting away into the fairyland of my forever-distracted brain.

"This is what life is supposed to be like, huh?" I thought as I lay wide awake in bed, my organized thoughts figuring out exactly what I was going to wear the following day.

I had never planned my outfit the night before; I've never been that girl. I loved fashion from the time I was born, but I'd always recklessly threw on whatever I saw first hanging in the closet and it somehow always worked.

I was constantly praised in high school for my style, but it was zero effort and pure instinct.

Suddenly, I was being calculating. I planned on wearing my red, patent leather waist belt with my red, vintage-retro clip-on earrings because they happened to be the exact same shade of fire engine red, and it would look so cohesive, the fire engine red all nice and coordinated, wouldn't it?

I'd never color coordinated in my entire life, and now the thought of it was wildly turning me on.

Kate ended up giving me more Adderall, and I found myself an entirely different girl in the world of academia.

Math suddenly made sense. Maybe I didn't have a learning disability after all. Maybe I was just never able to focus on what the teacher said, and my shitty attention span was the problem all along. I quietly resented my parents for being so anti-drug.

I began to buy Adderall from a skinny, rich boy at school who pawned off his pills for $2 a pop. I was quickly his best customer.

I found when it came to things I enjoyed, like writing and drawing, that while I didn't feel so compelled to do them (They had previously been therapeutic! Life or death! All I lived for!), I could do them at a faster speed.

But when I'm not on Adderall, I'm the type of writer who pours my heart out, my unedited feelings splashed against a blank page. I could spend eight hours editing. Playing with my word choice. Moving paragraphs around, rearranging, starting over, adding in little bits of dialogue.

That's always where the beauty in creativity had been for me: in trying things. Testing the waters. Allowing myself to dream and get distracted and pulling out the magical details in my all-over-the-place brain and curating them into my art.

But high school was coming to an end, I had ADHD and I felt the pressure to keep up with the rest of the seemingly medicated world. Who cared about fluid train of thought when you could just get to the goddamn point and bang it out fast and then bang out some more? I mean, we live in a world that values quantity over quality anyway.

I felt the pressure to keep up with the rest of the seemingly medicated world.

Plus, I didn't do stupid things when I took Adderall, like misplace just one boot or accidentally leave a lit cigarette unattended.

One night, when my skinny, rich friend was out of his pill stock, I went back and reviewed some poems I had written while medicated.

I quickly began to notice that something was vastly different. My thoughts were organized and cohesive, but my voice was missing.

See, I believe that my ADHD, while a total nightmare sometimes and a condition that makes it feel almost impossible some days to start a project, let alone complete one, is also my greatest gift.

My creative style is fluid. It's detailed. It could be described as deranged, as a beautiful mess, as long-winded. It's tempting (especially as a female) to want to be tidy and quick and perfect.

But I realized there are enough pretty, neat things out there in the world. There are enough people out there who can crank out a perfectly strung-together article in 25 minutes.

But my ADHD gives me my unique voice.

It's what sets me and my work apart. One thought will lead to another and be distracted by another, and I might even go off for 500 words describing a person's outfit. It's a bitch for me to edit, but it's also what connects me to my reader in a deeply intimate way. As an avid blogger since high school, I'm glad I figured that out so young.

It's what makes people who know my writing say things like "I knew you wrote it by the first sentence." That's music to my ears. That's worth the pain and the agony of ADHD.

But as I got older and I felt the pressure to keep up with the fast pace of the internet, I took another stab at Adderall.

I wrote a really solid piece about Robin Williams and how tortured comedians are, and while it did fairly well, I look back at it and I realize there is a soulfulness missing from it. I'm missing from it.

Recently, I tried to break down what it is about Adderall that sucks the soul out my work. Even though I'm a textbook candidate for the drug, I realized that it robs me of my ability to daydream.

Adderall robs me of my ability to daydream.

And not only do I love to daydream, I find my greatest ideas when I'm lost in a daydream. I need to float away into fairyland because being connected all the time is too intense for me and takes away that meditative, free-flow-writing ability that is total bliss for me.

That's nirvana for me. And life is hard enough. I don't want any drug taking my nirvana away from me.

Now, I just accept that I have trouble focusing. It sucks, and it makes life really hard and tedious at times, but I also think we need to recognize that we're all wired differently. We all come bearing different strengths and weaknesses.

I might have trouble focusing, and the girl to the left of me might have trouble connecting to others through her creative work. I might get overwhelmed by text messages, and the girl to the right of me might get overwhelmed by pouring her heart out on the internet. We all have things we're good at. That's what makes the world interesting.

This culture tries to make us all the same. I tried to be the same. I didn't like it.

This culture tries to make us all the same. I tried to be the same. I didn't like it.

Important to note: If you take Adderall and it works for you, that's totally cool. I take antidepressants. Like I said, we're all wired differently, and what works for you might not work for me. So if you take Adderall and it helps, keep going, babe. We all have free will to pick and choose how we want to cope with this crazy fucking rollercoaster of life.