It's been about a year since my last post about my mental health journey when I was diagnosed with Autism level 1 (before that I was also diagnosed with ADHD). I have been trying out various treatments and a lot has changed recently, so I wanted to write another update.
I started taking the stimulant medication Vyvanse (30 mg at first, but now 20 mg) a few weeks ago and I can see incredible changes even though it's only been less than one week now. The changes are so amazing that I am still in a state of surprise!
A few months ago, I decided I couldn't keep living like I was: stressed and freaking out almost every single day, unable to focus to do things I needed to take care of but sometimes focusing a lot on things I didn't need to do, extreme procrastination on very important things, etc. I started thinking to myself that I couldn't handle even one more day living like that.
It's weird because overall I feel like I'm a happy person most of the time, especially since my previous diagnosis and finding a new therapist who specialized in treating people like me. I also started doing various things (listed below) that helped me feel better and calm down a little bit.
Yet, I was very frustrated with the quality of my life. I felt like I just wanted to consistently live a calm, sane existence. My focus was very unregulated. I could focus for very long periods of time on something without doing anything else. I could also not focus at all on certain things no matter how hard I tried.
People had been recommending medication to me for a long time and I finally decided to try it out. The time it took from when I called the clinic to get a medication appointment to the actual appointment was a little over a month. I decided it was worth the small wait because that clinic was recommended to me by my ADHD coach as a good place to go.
Non-Medical Treatments I Have Tried
Note: I'm actually still doing all of these things regularly.
- Aerobic exercise - I enjoy running and I'm currently training for a half-marathon
- Lifting weights - I'm doing 3-day splits for 10-20 minutes at a time. I usually use the Peloton app.
- Breathing meditations - Helpful for calming me down and training my focus.
- Quitting added sugars - Helps stabilize my energy levels and mood.
- Cutting out caffeine - I used to drink various energy drinks to calm down. I also really liked Dunkin Donuts' coffee in the morning. I realized that it was affecting my ability to focus and maintain energy throughout the day though. I also read an article about how your brain (temporarily) shrinks when you have caffeine. That prompted me to stop drinking it and it's been a good decision for me.
- Taking Omega-3s - The brain scientist in the podcasts I link at the bottom of this article (as well as other professionals) recommends taking this suppliment to help with symptoms of ADHD, and also help as a protective measure for your cardiovascular system.
- Putting my phone, tablets, computer, and watch in another room before I go to bed - I try to do this every day now. I've been sleeping so much better and don't stay up for hours coding and doing other things on the computer.
- Hiring an ADHD coach - I'm trying this out for 3 months. It's been helpful since she is very knowledgeable about treatment options and I also went through my productivity systems with her in a working session to help me clean up or streamline some things. I'm not sure if I will keep doing this past 3 months though.
- Fidgets, textures, and drumming - I've experimented with a variety of these things to help me calm down and focus.
- Lots of systems and processes to manage my life - Bluetooth tags on all my important items, task management tools, distraction blockers, and many more. I won't go into too much detail on these things as there are so many and I've mentioned the major ones I use in other videos and blog posts I have created around my productivity systems.
All of these things were (and are) helpful in some way, but they still weren't enough... hence why I still decided to go on medication.
Changes I Have Seen Since Starting Medication
The very first thing I noticed when I took the medication was that I can read and focus on words. I used to see a page full of words as overwhelming and couldn't focus on reading the words in order. I had to use techniques, rulers, and screen readers in addition to adding stimulation to my environment like music without words in the background to help me actually be able to read and comprehend what I read. It felt so amazing that first morning when I went to my computer in my office and opened up a blog post that I had bookmarked and I actually read it without using Speechify (my favorite screen reader I use to help me with focus and comprehension). I could simply look at all the words without feeling overwhelmed and read the page and understand it normally. I don't remember ever being able to do that in my life before.
My usual days are full of feeling like the world around me is in chaos and trying to ignore it or deny it to myself. Now my mind feels quiet and almost orderly. I feel calm and happy!
People have noticed the difference in me and commented that I have never paid attention so well in conversations. I can actually have a conversation about something I have no interest in now and listen to what the other person is saying without zoning out.
Here are some other changes I noticed in the last few days:
- If I'm in a busy place, I can choose what to focus on better instead
- I can regulate my emotional reactions much better
- If someone makes a sound or does something I don't like, I don't immediately become angry
- Decision making - For some reason, the medication has made me much more logical, particularly in interpersonal situations.
- Self-control/regulation - When regulating things like eating - instead of eating a whole pack of (sugar-free) PB cups thinking that I might as well eat them all now so I never have to think about them again, I just simply eat what I want and put the rest of them away.
- I don't freak out so much when things feel out of order. If someone moves something into my room, for example, I used to freak out internally and have to go calm down because it felt like all the order of the space became chaos. Now I can accept that the person added some chaos to the space, but I can easily remove it without having a meltdown about it.
- Communication improvements
- I will pause and take time to do things correctly
- I'm not procrastinating on important things anymore
- I'm managing my task systems better than ever
Side Effects That I Have Experienced
I experienced the most side effects during the first few days and then they mostly went away after a few weeks. I also went down from 30mg to 20mg after the first week which helped to curb side effects and the medication still feels effective for me.
One thing I have learned about side effects and want to mention here: It's important to separate paranoia from actual side effects. Let me tell you a story.
I bought a wrist blood pressure monitor to be able to keep track of it at home and make sure it stayed within a normal range while I went on medication. Well, I started using it one day and my reading was extremely high; almost 50 points higher than my reading when I gave blood not even two weeks before. I started freaking out and almost went to the emergency room. Anyway, I found out that the blood pressure monitor I had was wildly inaccurate and medical professionals recommend using an upper arm monitor because a wrist monitor isn't accurate enough.
That incident almost made me get rid of my medication but I'm glad I figured out the real issue. I bought an upper arm monitor now and it's still in my normal range.
In case you are interested in my full experience, I just want to briefly list my side effects that I had at first and what I'm still feeling after a few weeks.
Initial Side Effects
- Increase in Heart Rate - About 9-10 bpm for the first two days and then that went down.
- Trouble Sleeping - The first night was awful. I couldn't stay asleep almost at all. It gradually got better after that and now I can sleep normally.
- Dry Mouth - This was very bad for about the first 4-5 days.
- Not Feeling Hungry - I was mostly just eating because it was the time to eat and not because of a hunger drive.
- I didn't get cold as easily as I used to. I also felt like I had some tingling in my toes and fingers when I was on the 30 mg for a few days. I don't feel any of that on the 20 mg dose.
Side Effects I Still Feel After a Few Weeks
- Small increase in heart rate on average during the daytime (no increase while sleeping).
- I feel like I have a slight dry mouth from time to time. but it's becoming more and more rare.
- When I feel dry mouth, I also seem to have a very faint metallic taste in my mouth. They said this is normal.
- I don't really feel any other noticeable side effects but I'm always monitoring my biometrics in case something changes.
How I Am Monitoring My Response to Medication
Most importantly, I'm am working with a psychiatrist to monitor the medication and get to the right dosage.
I am also tracking my reactions to the medication in a variety of ways:
- Heart rate patterns over time
- Sleep tracking
- Mood journal - tracking side effects
- ECG and Blood Pressure
- Going to the doctor for a physical
Resources I Found Helpful
- A Radical Guide for Women with ADHD: Embrace Neurodiversity, Live Boldly, and Break Through Barriers (Workbook)
- ADHD & How Anyone Can Improve Their Focus (podcast)
- Adderall, Stimulants & Modafinil for ADHD: Short- & Long-Term Effects (podcast)
I know there are a lot of programmers with ADHD or similar issues. I hope this gives you some reassurance that taking medication isn't a bad thing or some kind of personal failure. Sometimes, I think it can be a great life reset and help us do things that we can't manage to do on our own.
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to join my discord and discuss it with me in my #mental-health chat: https://discord.gg/KV4tKkMSky
Have a great week! ❤️
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