This is a must read story.
I was diagnosed with ADD in college and have been on meds ever since (15 years, give or take). I’ve been on ritalin, concerta, and then for the past eight or so years, strattera. I don’t talk about it. I’m ashamed of it. I see it as a flaw in myself.
The thing is… I’m starting to think that an ADD diagnosis isn’t so much of a disorder, but just an inaccurate description of who I am. I don’t have an attention deficit. I’m simply different – I have a different learning style, but that doesn’t mean I’m flawed or something that needs to be corrected or “treated” with medication.
Medication makes me just like everyone else, as in, it makes it easier for everyone around me, and certainly made it easier for teachers to get good grades out of me. But while it may make it easier for me to get through a day, or to study for a test, it turns me into someone that I’m not. It makes me someone who isn’t as spontaneous or funny, someone who is ridiculously over-analytical and doubts every last thing she sees and feels, and someone who is frightened to be an individual and stand out from the crowd in any way (despite tons of bravado and loud statements proclaiming otherwise).
All through elementary school and high school (long before the first ADD diagnosis, back when cell phones weighed 10 lbs or more and only high powered business executives had them) I was told that I was smart, but lazy. No matter how hard I tried, my grades never improved, even though my aptitude tests were always through the roof. It makes sense that teachers and parents were frustrated with me. The tests showed that I was one of the smartest people in my year, but my grades constantly hovered around C’s and D’s.
It may seem obvious, but years of being yelled at and punished about grades, never knowing the answer to any question asked in class, and being snickered at by classmates, takes a toll on one’s self-esteem. Additionally, ADD makes it quite hard to connect with others. Focusing on a conversation is actually really hard work.
When I’ve tried omitting the meds before, which I’ve done a few times over the years, it’s been a disaster. I’ve become that child again, the one who knows the answer but can’t quite find it in the recesses of her brain. It’s rather like feeling horrifically stoned; I can see and hear everything that’s going on around me, but I can’t make any sense of it.
About two months ago, I became interested in Paleo Nutrition
I posted a lot about all the changes I was experiencing over those first few weeks, as I omitted gluten, grains, sugar, even legumes from my diet, but there was one that I hesitated to talk about, and that’s cognitive function. (For the sake of accuracy, I feel the need to mention that I’d already omitted dairy about a year earlier.)
Within a week and a half, I suddenly felt able to think and feel. It seems like a small thing, but it’s not something I had experienced frequently in the past, even with medication.
See, medication made me able to regurgitate data and get through college with good grades. It allowed me to get by… but not to thrive. Not to truly use my cognitive abilities in all the ways they’re meant to be used, and definitely not to be me. It rather feels as though I’ve been zombified on drugs for 15 years, and I’m suddenly realizing who I am and what I think, and how I think, and how I feel, for the first time. I feel awake and alive in a way I never have before.
It’s been described by many people as feeling as though a veil has been lifted. I hate that analogy. It’s so trite and cliché (about as trite and cliché as saying “I feel awake and alive in a way I never have before,” actually). Problem is, it’s also apt, so I’m kind of stuck needing to use it here… although I’m definitely hoping I’ll think of a better way to describe it over time.
It took a couple weeks for me to understand what was happening, and I’ve been doing a lot of research to try to understand further. Apparently, ADD and ADHD are closely linked to food sensitivities. Nobody had ever told me this, so I never thought to explore it. I’ll be honest, I’m a little angry about that. Not one doctor or layperson ever discussed with me the option of changing my diet as a way of managing ADD. If something about a medication bothered me, they suggested a different dose, a different medication, or more medications to counteract the complaint.
This information – the fact that food sensitivities have been found to cause a vast majority of ADD and ADHD diagnoses – is something that, like managing my chronic sinusitis through diet changes, I had to seek out on my own. Part of the problem may be that I have never wanted to talk about my ADD with people casually. There’s still a large part of me that feels like the ADD diagnosis is a huge red “X” across my forehead, and until now, it’s something I’d only talked about with a handful of people. Perhaps if I had talked about it more, I would have wound up connecting with people who could have led me towards a nutritional solution. I didn’t do that, though. I relied on doctors to know what was wrong and how to fix it, as I think many people do.
At the point in my life when I started taking medication, it was very necessary, and to this day I’m grateful that ritalin was beginning to be prescribed at around that time and that I found my way to it. Otherwise, lord knows where or how I would have ended up. I was quite close to being expelled from college. Nobody knew what was causing my scholastic problems, but once I wen on medication I started getting straight A’s. I, the “laziest” person at my High School, who barely made it through high school, in fact, graduated college Cum Laude.
Getting good grades was fabulously rewarding, but I didn’t care all that much about what it was that I was studying, and the knowledge was gone as soon as the test was over. I had no passion for anything, and that remained a constant for a long time. I latched on to various things – “hyperfocused” on different hobbies through the years – but there was no connection between brain and heart.
It didn’t occur to me to care about what I might want, or to make an effort to find something I was passionate about, or that it was weird that I didn’t feel any ability to care about much of anything, actually. What my parents and everyone else seemed to expect of me was that I graduate college and start working somewhere… anywhere. So that’s what I did. And that’s what I’ve been doing for 15 years.
Fast forward to today.
Being off medication is scary.
I have to be extremely careful about my sugar consumption (ADD + sugar = Bad Things). Common sense, right? Why the hell did it take me so long to realize it?). In general that’s pretty easy; since I hate how sweets make me feel so much, it’s pretty easy to resist them when they’re around. I do love going out for drinks with friends, though, and these days, even one drink will throw me into a cognitive function tizzy for a day or two. It sucks. It happens even if the drink isn’t a sugary girly-tini type beverage; these days I stick with vodka and soda water. But just the sugars in the alcohol will cause problems for me the rest of that evening and the whole next day, if not longer. It’s not just things like reading comprehension, either. There’s a huge emotional component; I’ll feel sad, angry, fatigued, and sometimes even aggressive once the sugar high crashes. It’s not me, and I don’t like it.
Sleep is also very important. If it’s disrupted, I have the same problems.
But in general… what I’m experiencing now is kind of incredible. It’s probably strange to all of you who have had years to get to know yourself, but my personality has been suppressed since high school, and I’m only now learning who I am minus the social pressures and brain fog of those years.
I’m realizing how amazing I am and how little I have to be afraid of. I have depths of emotional empathy that I was never aware of or able to touch on before. I have creative impulses, which is a first. I’m able to focus on and manage conversations/interactions much more enjoyably. I’m even able to relax and enjoy myself without alcohol (I know, right? Crazy!). In short: I’m able to connect with others, which was something that was always a challenge before now. I can’t help but smile as I type that. It seems small, but the medication and the ADD kept me so locked in my own head all the time that I wasn’t really able to see what was going on outside of it.
Writing this out isn’t easy. I felt it was important to do, though (caution: here come the moral of the story).
So many parents are being told that their children are “difficult,” “hard to teach,” “act out in class,” “cause trouble with other students,” and so on… and are essentially being told that if they do not medicate their child, their child will be put in “special” classes… or worse, will be expelled.
I truly believe that in some cases, medication is very necessary. However, I beg of you, if this sounds familiar, please do not blindly follow the advice of the teachers, the school psychiatrist, your child’s primary care physician, your child’s psychiatrist… anyone who is telling you that drugs are the only answer. It’s possible that they are, but please also look into the possibility that the issues are being caused by food sensitivities. There’s no risk in exploring it as a possibility, right?
The medications prescribed for ADD have known side effects. Do take those warnings seriously. They are particularly a problem if a child is medicated over a long period of time, which is what the school system is likely asking to see happen.
Additionally, these children who are diagnosed with issues are likely the most passionate, empathetic, and creative of them all. What we are doing by medicating them is creating a generation of kids who only know how to march in time with the masses, and don’t understand that the things that make them unique also make them wonderful. We are teaching them that anything that makes them “different” makes them a problem. We aren’t cultivating their unique talents and strengths and we are suppressing their creative abilities. We are breeding a generation of robots, and suppressing creativity, passion, and individuality.
We aren’t cultivating strengths; instead, we are forcing round pegs into square holes. I know. I was masquerading as a square peg for 35 years.
We are, like we did with me, suppressing everything about them that makes them the fabulous little individuals that they are, and making them frightened of anything that makes them stand out from a crowd.
Talk to your doctor. If your doctor says that food sensitivities are a myth, find another doctor. Do your own research.
A few of my favorite articles, just to get you started:
There are also many books available about ADHD and diet.
I appreciate that I was provided the opportunity to share this story with you. Thank you “Lisa” for sharing her story.
Johanna is an aromatherapist and an independent distributor of Young Living Essential Oils and Nature’s Sunshine. She is passionate about educating people about health, essential oils, real food, natural remedies, and nutrition so they make healthier choices in their lives. She also runs Naturally Sports & Wellness together with her husband.