Help me fix my brain
April 26, 2013 6:24 PM   Subscribe

Help! I think I might have ADD. Does that sound right, Internet? I know you're not doctors and can't diagnose me over the Internet. Can you help me find a place to get tested (and treated if appropriate) in Cambridge, MA?

Background: Growing up, I was always one of the "gifted" kids, but I was always really inattentive. When I was a kid at CTY, my RA would get frustrated with me for not following directions. I told her that I just didn't hear her - and she called my parents to ask about my "hearing problems." I don't have hearing problems; I just wasn't picking up on what she said, or what a lot of people said.

I did well academically as a kid, and I did okay (95/100 GPA) in high school. I am not doing as well as I would like in college now that learning is unstructured. I have a lot of withdrawals on my transcript, and I am the kid who waits until the last minute and slams through all the material (or the entire paper) in a night or two of intense focus.

I have no trouble concentrating on stuff I really love. I can power through information on photography or music; stuff like that. Sometimes when I've been playing guitar for a while, I look at the clock to see that five hours have passed. I love the Internet and I always have a million tabs open. I sometimes forget the initial reason why I opened my browser.

I have trouble studying or doing readings (or even reading books for pleasure) on my own for long stretches of time unless I am cramming at the last minute. I have trouble starting projects in advance. My follow-through is terrible. I am the flaky kid. I hate being the flaky kid. I have tried not being the flaky kid, and end up being flaky anyway.

I also have trouble in groups processing large amounts of auditory information - I get a lot of signal loss.

I'm a college student, but my university doesn't screen for ADHD. I'm worried about being labelled as a drug-seeker.

Other mental health history: I had depression when I started college (I would be walking around campus, daydreaming about walking in front of buses). My school put me on Zoloft, and it even zapped anxiety that I never knew I had (my mind was suddenly clearer, and I could socialize like a normal person). Unfortunately, I experienced tons of side effects and it eventually made me somewhat hypomanic when my dosage was increased. My prescriber didn't label it as hypomania, but agreed that I should stop taking the medication. I haven't had a recurrence of depression since going off the medication.

I would love recommendations on coping strategies and places where I can go to get help in Cambridge, MA.
posted by sock clock to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I would recommend the Hallowell Center in Sudbury.
posted by désoeuvrée at 6:38 PM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

If your school offers psychiatric services (it sounds that's how you got prescribed zoloft?) I go back to them and start there. They may ask that you undergo outside screening as part of the diagnostic process but they should be able to give you a referral. And they may not even require that--many people who are diagnosed with ADHD as adults have not undergone formal testing.

College psychiatric clinics are rightly concerned about identifying drugseekers, but that doesn't mean they stamp everyone who comes through their doors complaining of attention problems with a big red "DO NOT PRESCRIBE" label; they're there to help you.
posted by drlith at 7:00 PM on April 26, 2013

Response by poster: My school wants nothing to do with ADHD. Even people with established ADHD diagnoses from childhood have a hard time getting refills on their medication. Going to my school for screening is not an option.
posted by sock clock at 7:05 PM on April 26, 2013

I had/have very similar issues to you - difficulty processing audio, daydreaming in school (but coasted through high school and some of uni because I was bright), procrastination problems galore. I didn't start having major difficulties dealing until my early 30s and started to more seriously advance in my career. I was very impatient/inattentive and I really started to struggle at work, especially with meetings and some interpersonal stuff related to deadline pressures.

I eventually sought helping from a life coach/learning disability expert. I had a suspicion I had ADD, so I ended up stumbling on the idea to speak to her instead of traditional therapy. It helped a lot. She taught me coping mechanisms for dealing with meetings, and we spent a lot of time on mindfulness and other mental exercises to get me to slow down and be more thoughtful. It helped me be less hyper and flakey. I was never referred for a formal test for ADD by my coach - the testing and diagnostic process wasn't something I could afford at the time, and since I was more concerned with coping, I didn't care as much if the testing confirmed what my coach thought was ADD. I also never went the medication route as a result, so I can't speak to whether or not that's effective. I don't have contacts in Cambridge but you may want to check resources for someone specializing in treating adults with learning disabilities.

Although caffeine can be a very useful aid for focusing if you have ADD, I eventually weaned myself off caffeine a year or so ago, and I actually think it helped me overall. I feel more even tempered and better able to use my coping strategies. There are occasional mornings every couple of months when I treat myself to caffeine and holy crap, can I get a ton of work done for a two or three hour stretch. The crash almost makes it worth it. YMMV.

One standby coping strategy that has saved me at meetings and dealing with lots of audio info was to become a hell of a good note taker. Taking copious notes helps me process info and retain it. It took practice to get good at writing fast enough and with the right kind of detail so you can keep up with the flow of a meeting, but this in particular has made a huge positive difference to my productivity and quality of work life.

Good luck!
posted by Cyrie at 7:21 PM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

You don't say whether you have access to a primary care provider outside the University system, either someone you see during the term or one from before you were at school. If you do, talk to them.
posted by knile at 2:01 AM on April 27, 2013

I did a quick google and found this support group in Cambridge. They are likely to know more about resources in your area.

Here is the Psychology Today listings of psychiatrists in Cambridge who focus on ADHD. It's not clear whether you are concerned about money or health insurance, but regardless you can use this list to see who takes your insurance or uses a sliding scale and is conveniently located.

The way to avoid being labelled a drug seeker is to be clear about the reasons you are seeking diagnosis and treatment. Start by finding someone who can screen you, and you can tell them something like "I am experiencing X and Y problems and I've been wondering if this could be ADHD. I'd like to be screened so I can find out if this is the case." Your goal is not to get an ADHD diagnosis, but to find out what's going on. There are other potential causes for your symptoms.

If you are diagnosed, your provider will likely suggest that you try a drug. When you find the right drug it can be amazingly helpful, but even then you kind of have to manage the drug. Almost all of them suppress hunger for me, which you would think would be great, right? But in the afternoon the low blood sugar starts to cause problems for me, and when the drug wears off then BOOM, I am facedown in a pile of gravy fries. The way around this has been forcing myself to eat despite the appetite suppression. Talk to your provider about side effects and how to cope with them. BE PREPARED TO CUT BACK ON YOUR COFFEE INTAKE. After some really nasty and wasted days where I mixed drugs with too much coffee, I've switched to tea. If only coffee is available I will make it 3/4 decaf or only drink a few sips.

The drugs don't cure everything - I still have years of disorganization and bad habits to overcome. Talk to your provider about what resources are available to help yourself with whatever you feel are the big issues for you (for me this is organization and routines).

There are lots of books and online resources for coping with ADHD and tons of organizational tools which can really help you. If you haven't already, look at the questions related to ADD/ADHD here.

Good luck!
posted by bunderful at 4:22 AM on April 27, 2013

Response by poster: I don't have a primary care provider. I went to a pediatrician until I turned 18, and never got around to getting an actual doctor.

I have health insurance through my folks, but I am okay with paying out of pocket if I have to (as long as it's not like $200 or $300 a session, because there is no way I can afford that).
posted by sock clock at 12:16 PM on April 27, 2013

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