Looking for advice and experiences after being diagnosed with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder).
April 10, 2009 3:47 PM   Subscribe

Looking for advice and experiences after being diagnosed with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder).

I'm a bit overwhelmed. I'm 23 and was just diagnosed with ADD which explains...well, all the symptoms I have had my whole life. I also have depression, which I am being treated for. Perhaps I should feel relieved, which I do to a certain extent, but I'm also...really sad. I'm in college and feel like I have just been skating by (not flunking, but not doing as well as I should be), wasting time/money, and can't help but wonder how my life would be different if I had seen someone about this years ago. I have a prescription for Adderall. Now what? Looking for experiences/recommendations -- how did your life change after your diagnosis and what kinds of things did you do to help yourself? I'm good about exercising. Also, what kinds of resources should I be searching out at my school? Thanks for any & all suggestions.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I'm glad you mentioned Adderall, because medication CHANGED MY LIFE. Seriously. There is nothing else I have done or have tried that has helped as much.

I had the exact same reaction you did -- I was mad that it had taken so long for it to finally get acknowledged and treated, and full of regret thinking about the ways my life could have turned out differently. That's a waste of time. Focus on what you can do now -- you're still in college, so there's still time to get your shit together academically.

Things you should look into at your school--see if they offer extra time for exams for people diagnosed with ADD, or have resources to help with study skills. I have piss poor executive functioning (as most everyone with ADD does) and I met with someone for awhile to help me with planning and time management, which was marginally helpful. A lot of it was things I already knew in an abstract sense, but having someone guide me through implementing organizational strategies and to be accountable to was useful.

But yeah, medication was really the piece that did it for me. (After I started medication, I handed in a paper on time for probably the first time in my life. That was one of the biggest thrills I think I have ever had. You'll have moments like that, too, and getting to experience joy and pride at what other people consider normal is pretty cool, actually. The confidence boost is awesome.)
posted by cosmic osmo at 4:15 PM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

I was diagnosed with ADD by four different doctors (university physician, family physician and two psychiatrists in two different cities) when I was 21 and still think that it's a BS diagnosis, so take this post with a grain of salt. I was on prescription Adderall (both the regular and XR, I think I was on Ritalin for a while, too) but was rather unhappy about the way it changed me so I ended up very, very rarely taking my pills. My coworkers at the time and pretty much everyone around me could always tell when I had taken a pill that morning, just because I would be such a completely different person that day, not really feeling joy or sadness or all the things that make me human.

Now for the cautionary tale: I took a leave of absence from school for two years, moved to a different coast, and now I'm back in school earning mediocre grades (I get great scores on the exams that I do take, but it's a bit of a problem when I don't turn in any assignments or miss the occasional exam throughout the year), but grades are not something I care about because I have other things going for me--this might be different in your case. Sometimes I wonder if my life would have been different if I had found a medication that worked for me, but then again, I'm really, really happy, and I don't plan to ever take any psychostimulants again.

The point I am trying to make here is that I certainly didn't think that Adderall made any positive difference in my life. Then again, I was pretty offended when doctors told me that being halogen is a disorder. I still can't pay attention to things I don't care much about, and I still get very involved in and overly focused on things that excite me (which has allowed me to be great at what matters to me). And I am happy.

My ADD has gotten better with age (I'm almost 25 now). Having the right people around me also helps, as does working out on a regular basis and making sure that I am in control of what's really important in my life.
posted by halogen at 4:31 PM on April 10, 2009

Wow, you could be describing my experience exactly. At about your age, I was undergoing treatment for depression when I was diagnosed with ADHD (Inattentive Type). Diagnosis was a revelation for me. I had spent so much time hating myself because I didn't have the "willpower" to stay organized, to remember where I put my keys or my books, or to remember to call my parents if I was running late on my way home. ADHD was like the Rosetta Stone for my entire, scattered existence--suddenly everything made sense.

Which isn't to say that I lived happily ever after, or that it isn't a struggle. It definitely is, and I still get frustrated by different aspects of it. But now that I understand the problem better, I can find solutions that work.

You are covered by the ADA, both at school and at work. By law, they must make accommodations for you (within reason). Check with your academic advisor about resources at your school.

What's helped with me? I've tried the whole gamut of medications. I liked Adderall a lot--taking it was like getting the right set of eyeglasses, things just focused. Unfortunately, the peaks and dips of a stimulant were too hard on me. I went on the patch (blanking on the name right now), which was smoother than the Adderall, but still too stimulating.

So, now I'm not on medication, and that's fine. When I was diagnosed, I was seeing a great therapist who helped me set up systems that worked for me, and I've added some along the way:
*I remember things I read and write, but not what I hear, so I write down almost everything.
*I use my cell phone calendar to set reminders for myself, like "Give Sue a ride today" or "Bring back Karen's book".
*I follow the 60 second rule--if a task takes less than 60 seconds, I do it immediately.
*If an organizational system is set up, I can follow it well. I ask organized friends to help me set up a filing system.
*I create a place, one place, for important things. Keys in a specific part of my purse. My purse goes in a certain place in my apartment, etc. I follow this religiously.
*I'm aware of frequent issues and take care around them. Ex., I never lock my car unless my keys are in my hand.

It's all a mindset, and I've gotten better at it as I go along. cosmic osmo is right--the regret is a waste of your time.
posted by Tall Telephone Pea at 5:08 PM on April 10, 2009 [7 favorites]

I was diagnosed late (age 20) with ADD (dissociative type) and, as with some of the other posters so far, it changed a lot of things for me. The medication (I tried a little bit of everything, settled on Adderall XR twice daily) did wonders. I went from failing the first exam of my semester to getting one of the highest scores on the final. Studying became easier, though I never did really get the hang of it. I still wrote my papers the night before they were due but the drugs only can help so much; they're not perfect.

I read the book Driven To Distraction and that helped immensely to recognize that though there are bad parts to ADD, there are some really amazing positives that have shaped how I act and interact today. It also has many tips and tricks to help you deal with issues specific to ADD people.

Feel free to memail me if you have any questions or anything.
posted by nursegracer at 5:41 PM on April 10, 2009

I was diagnosed with ADD and depression when I was 19, after I got kicked out of university for bad grades. Like others, it was an "oh, that explains so much" diagnosis.

Ritalin and Wellbutrin changed my life -- enabled me to go back to school and get good grades, I went from like a 1.6 GPA to getting 4.0's every semester -- but after college I started seeing the "ramp effect" and the Ritalin gradually worked less and less well for me. (Oh, one thing you might want to look into: I was able to take tests untimed, you will probably qualify for this at your school too.)

I spent the next few years trying all the different ADD drugs -- Adderall, dexedrine, Strattera, etc. -- finally went back to Ritalin because that seemed to work the best. I took it through grad school, but toward the end I started having irregular heart rhythms and it scared me enough to stop taking stimulant medication.

So I spent my entire 20's quite medicated. Stopped taking the Ritalin at 32 (though I still take Wellbutrin off and on, as needed, usually during the winter months). I'm now 34, and I am happier than I ever was when I took ADD meds. I always felt... well, medicated. It didn't feel good, though it certainly enabled me to do things I would have found very difficult without it. Now, I keep the ADD under control by eating healthy, exercising every day, and I have a system of calendars and routines to help me remember to do things. I'm not sure I would do things differently -- I mean, not take the ADD meds -- if I had it to do over again, but for many people ADD is manageable without medication. I have a pretty bad case too -- one of my doctors called it the most extreme case he'd ever seen -- but I still manage to do OK, though some days it takes a LOT of effort to be productive. Maybe the ADD gets easier to cope with naturally as you get older.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 5:48 PM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

I can't help but be moved by the experiences shared by you and others in this thread. I was 30 when I was diagnosed, a marriage and a good career start under my belt, and at first I had a hard time believing it. Only through an odd set of circumstances was I diagnosed at all, but as I started reading about other people's experiences and I realized they were living my life, it finally came to home that perhaps this diagnosis wasn't B.S. TTP's Rosetta Stone analogy is awesome and true.

Depression and regret are common among the newly diagnosed. I certainly felt it, especially as I realized certain truths that hadn't been self-evident. I learned, for example, that my self-perception as a pretty independent person wasn't exactly true, as I leaned heavily on others in my life to help me do the "normal things" - like being reminded 20 times a day by my husband to go to the bank. I had to weep a little weep at what could have been my twenties - perhaps I would have gone straight through school, for example - and feel a little rage that though my symptoms were "textbook" they had never been noticed by a teacher or a doctor. I also was a little afraid that the creative, spontaneous, driven by interest in everything Barchan would disappear.

Soon, however, as tweaking with my medication and learning better management techniques started working - and that took 3-4 months, where I went from feeling like a zombie to being Nervous Barchan to feeling like I should, myself, but focused - I realized what a difference it made. I not only returned phone calls, I didn't stare at the phone like it was a poisonous cobra every time it rang; I remembered to go to the bank; and I could get done in 2 hours what previously had taken me all day. But the biggest difference was in my relationships, and I noticed that immediately. I wasn't the only one struggling with my ADD - many of the people in my life were struggling with my ADD too. In many ways my friends, family, and coworkers went from being my sometime caretakers to actually being my friends, family, and coworkers. It's amazing how much it can decrease stress and conflict when people aren't late to a party because they've been looking for an hour for your wallet - again!; when you don't zone out talking to someone about their weekend because it immediately bores you; or your boss doesn't have to remind you - again! - to call someone or do something.

Being diagnosed with ADD does seem like a chain at first, especially as you realize all the "normal" stuff people do and take for granted. And ADD meds/techniques aren't a miracle cure, either - it won't make many of those faults, problems, and struggles go away. But it was a huge relief for me to discover what was behind some of those things I had struggled for years with, and not understanding why I did the things I did. In a way, to know was the best thing to happen. ADD isn't an excuse; it's an engine. Knowing you have ADD gives you some control over that engine.

ADD is also not just a diagnosis - it is an unchosen lifestyle, and it cannot be treated with a few doctor visits and some medication. A good diagnostician should help you with both medication (if necessary) and learning how to manage your ADD. If yours isn't, find one that will. There aren't as many resources out there for adult ADD, but some organizations like the ADD Association (ADD.org) can offer suggestions and tips. Through my doctor I found community resources such as an ADD group, where I could share experiences and techniques.

Working with someone can help you achieve a good balance with your medication, your life, and your management strategies so that you can make that engine work for you instead of the other way around. Talking about it also helps you realize that many of the things you might have gleaned from the "ether" about ADD are incorrect; it teaches you what ADD is and what ADD isn't. It can help pin down how severe ADD you have, which will also help with techniques, and tackle little things that may be more uniquely you than others with ADD. (For me, it was being petrified of talking on the phone - I learned when I'm not on medication that merely getting up and pacing while on the phone helped me a lot). Don't be afraid to experiment, either - if you have to work with the medication and different strategies, don't let it get you down, and remember: getting better at managing your ADD takes practice, just like getting better at math or the violin or soccer does.

Talking with someone, being in an ADD group, visiting a doctor, even medication- these aren't permanent things, but they are good resources to get on the right track. What works for you won't work for someone else and vice versa, but sharing and thinking about those things helps tremendously. I know I learned that one of the reasons it took so long for me to be diagnosed was that I had already imposed many of the managing techniques that are suggested, which was a good bolt of confidence. I also realized that my ADD had also given me some of my most precious memories and experiences - so what I hadn't gone straight through school, I did ___ instead! Knowing I have ADD doesn't mean I still won't live my life the same way, either - it just helps me understand many of my actions and that engine, to let loose with it when I can, and to be "normally functional" when I have to be. ADD is, in many ways, a gift - we tend to be more creative, more energetic, and more curious about the world. I kind of think of it as being a pitcher with a really good arm that tends to throw wild pitches; understanding your ADD helps you control the pitches better but still be able to scare hell into the ump every now and then.

As halogen said, "having the right people around me also helps." I was *so* lucky enough to have the right people around me my whole life, and acknowledging that made me feel good, too.

Good luck! It won't always be rosy - you will struggle and be frustrated. But I hope, eventually, you will find much of what I did: to live with it for so long and to accomplish what I had made me not feel depressed or angry anymore, but more self-confident, and dare I say - triumphant!
posted by barchan at 7:10 PM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Okay, dig:

I'm 41 years old now and only got diagnosed with ADHD last year. You want to talk about missed opportunities?

The good part is that the meds completely changed my life, we're talking midnight to Noon on the first day. They put me on Ritalin, and it was like I could think, have conversation, and stay in linear time for the first instance in my adult life.

I am grateful every day for the fact that I can see the forest for the trees now. They also put me on Prozac, also for depression, which is actually a fairly common diagnosis for people with ADD/ADHD - the speedy stuff plus an anti-depressant.

My personal life has skyrocketed since getting on this drug - I can follow through on all of the projects I wanted to do, I can concentrate enough to remember bills that are due, where my car and house keys are, etc. - it's a mind-blowing change of life.

Don't be hard on yourself about the past, just enjoy the new-found focus and get out there and kick some ass. ADD gives you a unique, quick perspective on life, and when you can marry that to follow-through, there's nothing you won't be able to accomplish.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 7:20 PM on April 10, 2009

As someone else recently diagnosed at 35 and still trying to get a handle on it (Inattentive type), I appreciate everyone who's contributed so much to this thread. So much of what I've read is focused on the hyperactive part and not the inattentive, so it's a relief to know there are a few others out there.

I'm still struggling with dosage (and winding down at the end of the day to actually sleep) but the medication does seem to have helped.

Google Calendar, RememberTheMilk, and things like that are godsends. I've read the book mentioned above and it was comforting but not as useful as I'd like. I bought "You mean I'm not crazy, lazy or stupid?" but... haven't read it yet.

Tall Telephone Pea, if you remember the name of that patch, do post it?

I'll have to check out ADD.org!
posted by canine epigram at 8:27 PM on April 10, 2009

I didn't read all the responses but I'm 35 and have ADD, Dyslexia, Depression and probably a myriad of other things. I've taught myself ways to cope (mainly hard knocks and experience) and you know, life is pretty good. So just letting you know there is sun on the other side
posted by Hands of Manos at 8:53 PM on April 10, 2009

Canine: The patch I've used is Daytrana - not just for children, despite what the website says. It didn't work well for me, and I've gone back to my very small, very frequent Ritalin doses.

My university had a fantastic services when I presented my ADA request for accommodations. For the first couple of semesters, I had a weekly meeting with my ADA adviser, who helped me get coping strategies in place. Medication helped me calm down long enough to learn these - for lack of a better term- rituals, and now I don't feel completely paralyzed without my medication. (I really did for a while. I'd have pseudo-anxiety attacks if I couldn't feel my prescription bottle. )

Like Tall Telephone Pea, I follow the sixty second rule (do it! Do it NOW!).
I have certain places where things always go.
I write all my to-do lists down, and put them into my pocket. At lunch and when I get home, I'll go though and transfer all the items to a calender, my phone, a to-do list for the next morning, and repeat.

My university also allowed untimed tests, and for some classes I got to use extra reference material. Most importantly for me, I got to take all of my tests alone in the room. In the course of using the Office of Equal Opportunity I also took advantage of proof-reading, and pre-writing help for papers that improved the papers I had to turn in exponentially.
posted by aint broke at 9:10 PM on April 10, 2009

You are both the beneficiary and the victim of a slightly unusual neurology. AD[H]D is a modern disorder because in modern life it has some prominent downsides. Do not forget that there are good evolutionary reasons for many of your traits to have persisted. You may feel broken or spend days loathing your mind — I've done plenty of both — but there's not really much sense in assigning a moral value to what is at the end of the day simply a genetic variation. It is what it is; you are what you are. Now your job is just to go forth and do what you can with the tools you have been given.

Medication did not change my life. It helps some. I am much calmer when on it, and I feel better. However, by itself it has never been enough, and I often choose to go without it. Especially if you are being treated for co-morbid depression, you should continue to see a behavioral therapist experienced with both ADD and depression who can help you to develop a mental toolbox of strategies for managing both. Taking medication may make it easier for you to actually use those strategies.

Not all college campuses have a disability resource office, but you should investigate. The accommodations you request from your academic advisors or disability office should be as specific as possible; will you need double time on exams, or is 1.5-time enough? Should you be allowed to use a basic calculator for quick arithmetic? Will you need to request an in-class notetaker or be permitted to photocopy other students' notes? You will need to talk with your psychologist about what accommodations would be reasonable for you. Be prepared to advocate for yourself if you meet professors who are skeptical. The more professionally you can present your needs, the better. Don't abuse the system, but do get the help you need to learn effectively.

If you do not already have the beginnings of organizational skills, medication will not give them to you, although it will improve your ability to use the organizational skills you do learn. You may need to be taught some basic life skills that other people have been practicing since they were young. I was unable to manage something as simple as keeping papers in a folder until I was into adulthood. Even if you're not on this end of the spectrum, finding someone to teach you time management and organizational skills is the most important thing you can do for yourself, probably even more important than medication. You may also need to be taught study skills, starting from the very basics on how to read a chapter or how to break down a large project.

You may find the following useful: There are other less conventional treatment options out there like neurofeedback therapy, meditation, nutritional supplements like omega-3 fish oil capsules, etc. Some AD[H]Ders have found them to help. If you have moderate to severe AD[H]D, anything unguided/self-directed may be impossible until you get the basics done with conventional treatments.

AD[H]D is pretty common on college campuses these days. Remember that even though you may feel alone and frustrated at times, you're not the only one in that boat. Take pride in little outcomes. The first time I managed to mail the rent check was one of the proudest days of my life.
posted by jeeves at 12:13 AM on April 11, 2009

Additionally. One bare-bones volume I like is 10 Simple Solutions to Adult ADD by Stephanie Sarkis. Each chapter is divided in little sections, each section no more than a paragraph or so long, with titles like "Know When a Conversation Is Ending," "Organize Your Papers," "Buy Greeting Cards Ahead of Time," or "Use Direct Deposit," that tell you what to do and how. It is a very short guide to things normal people find obvious. It serves as a pretty decent reference checklist for daily life for people like me.
posted by jeeves at 12:17 AM on April 11, 2009

Yep, Daytrana is the patch.

I also agree that there are benefits to having ADHD. I'm known as the "idea person" amongst my friends and coworkers. I can hyper-focus on what I find interesting. Because I frequently miss instructions, I've developed an ability to figure things out on my own.

There's a pop-science theory that we're evolved from the "hunters" of early civilization.

A non-ADHD resource: Lifehacker. It posts a lot of general tips/tricks/apps that help me a lot.

My late diagnosis had an unexpected benefit--it exposed my near-lack of problem-solving skills. Because I was a good student and a good kid in general, my parents treated my ADHD symptoms as perplexing failures. I was smart enough to get good grades, why wasn't I smart enough to remember where I left my coat at school? The solution was always "try harder," which obviously did nothing. "Try harder" was how I approached all my problems, which didn't solve anything at all, and just made me miserable that I couldn't do what came so easily to others. Now I understand the flaws of that approach, and I've learned how to dissect problems, figure out what's going wrong, and fix that. Understanding why I was diagnosed late became an important part of treating depression-related issues.
posted by Tall Telephone Pea at 6:18 AM on April 11, 2009

You've taken a huge, difficult step toward making your life better. Good for you. I, too, was diagnosed with ADD at 23, so I totally hear you when you say that you wonder what your life would have been like had you been diagnosed earlier.

Adderall and Wellbutrin changed my life for the infinite better--I don't feel like I'm a different person, I feel as though the meds allow me to access "myself," if that makes sense. But medication is a different experience for different people.

Which brings me to my point: you are going to encounter people who will tell you that your diagnosis/choice of treatment (whatever that choice is) is invalid. You'll be astounded at how many people will want to weigh in with their opinion when you tell them about your diagnosis. You know what? They don't get a vote. If you find a path that is working for you (and not harming you, obviously) go with it. You have to do whatever is best for you and if that upsets a significant other or family member or friend, that isn't your problem. It's theirs.

There's some terrific advice in this post, namely that you'll probably need to acquire some organizational skills and that you're not defective, you just have a skillset that's different from most people's.
posted by corey flood at 10:25 AM on April 11, 2009

It's been close to 10 years since I was diagnosed (inattentive type), and I'm still working out what works for me.

When I notified my school, they asked for a psycho-educational evaluation, which was really helpful for understanding just how ADD affected me and how I learn, and what accommodations would be most helpful for me. One size does not fit all.

Finding a good psychiatrist who specializes in ADD and comorbid stuff has been very helpful, someone who can address both the medication and behavioral aspects of management. The comorbid disorders part is also important, as ADD so often comes with other things like depression and/or anxiety. Addressing "what's ADD, what's depression, what's anxiety, etc" and understanding how they affect each other (and how meds for one diagnosis affect symptoms of another diagnosis) helps get the right mix.

I don't know if this is applicable for you, but Sari Solden's Women with Attention Deficit Disorder was (and is) helpful and reassuring for me. That's the ADD book that has given me the most "yes! that's me! now I understand" moments.

While I never really mourned what could have been, I still struggle with frustration that daily things like time management take so much more effort for me than for "normal" people. I think that's part of coming to terms with a chronic diagnosis. You don't "fix" ADD, you learn how to manage it. You integrate coping mechanisms into how you do life.

Also, keep perspective and don't focus only on the negative, the "disorder" aspects. Acknowledge the good stuff, the unique advantages - creativity, or noticing details that others skip over, or diverse and engaging interests. ADD is part of who you are, but it's not all that you are, either.
posted by Katherine Kimber at 1:00 PM on April 11, 2009

Dexedrine (prescribed) worked for me. Having work you like also makes a big difference.
posted by Bruce H. at 2:07 PM on April 11, 2009

I was diagnosed right after my first semester of college when I was 18 (I am 23 now). I was considered borderline leaning more towards hyperactivity, but the doctors started me on Adderall. I also have depression, so I am right there with you. The first few months after diagnosis can be the hardest. It took me several different times to figure out how I needed to study, what classes worked best for me and my attention span (ex: I can't deal with 50 min. classes. I rather be sitting in a classroom for 3 hours in one sitting, because it takes me a while to start to focus), and having to file paperwork with the school for disability. It was hard, but it isn't impossible. I really would suggest filing for disability at your school. It makes everything a lot easier. I only had one issue with a teacher concerning the extra test taking time that I needed and the disability coordinator was able to advocate for me.

I just got off adderall (regular, not extended release) because it caused side effects like jaw clinching at night and mood swings from when the meds were wearing off, not to mention that I had to plan exactly when to take the meds to coincide with classes. But it has worked for multiple other people, so if it works for you, then great. I am now taking Strattera, which is really expensive without insurance since there is no generic yet. But since it isn't considered a controlled substance I am able to get refills whenever I need it, unlike adderall.

Anyway, AD/HD is definitely not horrible. It has its perks. Class sizes and course offerings are much smaller due to the recession, but I get my first pick of classes, which is pretty nice when there is only 25 seats in a really popular class. Not to mention, when friends give me strange looks because they have been talking to me for 15 minutes and I have "checked out" I have an excuse which makes us both feel better :-P

So my post is a bit ADD, sorry. Hope it helps a little though
posted by slc228 at 2:31 PM on April 12, 2009

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