Sunday, December 19, 2010

Frustration and ADHD

One of the realities I've been trying to work through concerns my working memory and inability to sustain concentration for long periods of time. Although it seems late, after about 10 years of higher education (BATh, MATh, and finally finishing my residency for a PhD in Theology), I am trying to figure out if treatment that might help me. Two things sent me in this direction, a documentary on adults with ADHD by Patrick McKenna and working with ADHD experts for my oldest daughter. I am on my third medication, and this one is not going as well as I would like. However, it is hard to look at it objectively, so I rely on the observations of others as well, especially my wife. She's definitely seen an improvement.

I've noticed a few good things during this experiment. First off I am finding that when the meds function well I am not feeling so driven and I am able to enjoy my family in a way that I did not expect. I always wondered why that was such as struggle, but when you spend so much time frustrated at yourself it is hard to enjoy the people around you as much as you should. I am also finding that my productivity is better during the afternoons, which is when I was having the most trouble. For those who don't know, working memory is what we use to organize immediate tasks - kinda like a scratch pad for the mind. Afternoons I would most often find myself heading to start a task and getting sidetracked, often repeatedly. It can be very frustrating and it was helpful to learn that this is one of the things that finding the right meds can help with. If you see me writing out a list to know what to do - that is because I have to.

Unfortunately the drugs also do some bad things. When the dosage is too high then, for me at least, waves of irrational depression overtake me. Also my productivity grinds to a halt. It is simply not pleasant. The other thing that is troubling is that when I change the dosage (I decided to take a break this weekend and it is not going so well) I get moody, clumsy and easily frustrated. I don't feel myself at all. But on the weekends I'm hesitant to take anything if I sleep in - the other bad effect is that the meds I'm on make it hard to settle at night. So I've been getting to sleep around 1AM (earlier if I use melatonin but that seems to have another unpleasant effect - exhausting dreams).

The goal with meds is not to stay on them forever, but to get some of the symptoms under control long enough to work out some new strategies with a cognitive therapist. Having lived this long with ADHD I do have some strategies in place - but not all of them good. I am quite capable as a student - I think I had one B+ (lowest course mark) throughout my undergrad and masters degrees. But I did most of my work only after the deadlines were pressing so hard on me that I needed to stay up into the wee hours to get anything done. That was hard on everything in life and that strategy will not work to complete a PhD thesis.

I'll likely switch to a different med, probably something short acting. I've seen glimpses of what good can come of this. I think it will be great for my work and marriage. But it sure is a pain getting it worked out. Anyone else here gone through this? I'm hoping to work this out as quickly as possible - so it will not impede my work progress.

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