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Ritalin Kid

People downplay the severity of this chemical imbalance, and as I get older and struggle with the link between my ADD and my addictions, the flippancy people have about ADD is beginning to piss me off.

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By Nick Dothée

07/29/14

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I think I thought I’d wake up one day and this would be fixed - a non-issue. I’d be cured; no longer in constant pursuit of getting my fix, but rather I’d just have it in me, always - the clarity I had as a kid.

ADD: Attention Deficit Disorder. This disorder, and the drugs associated it, have been all-the-buzz in the media for at least a decade or so, but it’s been my daily reality for much longer; I’ve been haunted by those three letters for most of my life.

I was officially diagnosed with ADD, and prescribed Ritalin by the family doctor, around the third grade. Back then, I’d spit out the little yellow pills in the playground drinking fountain at recess. I was convinced that the substance did nothing for me other than make me nauseous. This was a Nick that had no interest in altering his personality in any way. By the fourth grade I made it quite clear to my teachers and parents, who urged me to focus in class and control my hyper behavior so as not to disturb the other children, that my main interest was moving forward in my career. I had already informed my mother, when I was eight, that I had to quit the local choir and begin to build my résumé, but some things bear repeating. A play or performance of any kind was always more powerful than the Ritalin. My attention and focus was laser sharp when it came to a stage and the opportunity to perform.

Today we know that ADD affects not only children but also adults that have either always had the chemical imbalance or acquired it from lifestyle-changing circumstances such as addiction and substance abuse. For adults, with or without ADD, it’s all about the Adderall.

Around 25, after fulfilling my childhood plan of moving to NYC, I started taking my medication - and then some. The rejection I hadn’t prepared myself for caused me not only to seek therapy for a pain I couldn’t relieve, it also began a cycle of self-medicating with drugs (legal and otherwise) and alcohol. Anything I could find to quiet the relentless and often harsh thoughts spinning at an overwhelming and sometimes paralyzing pace.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that people casually diagnose themselves with ADD. Guess what, not always listening or being able to pay attention is not ADD, it’s human. People downplay the severity of this chemical imbalance, and as I get older and struggle with the link between my ADD and my addictions, the flippancy people have about ADD is beginning to piss me off. ADD is real, and can often be crippling to someone who is desperately trying to function in society and follow through with his or her life goals on a day-to-day basis. ADD or ADHD (adding in some hyperactivity is all) is not just an excuse to prescribe fun drugs for people to pawn off to their friends without the disorder. That’s just a perk.

The other day, I was chain smoking off of my best friend’s fire escape while cat sitting for her in the heart of Nolita (I know, you can be even more pretentious than simply saying SOHO). I don’t smoke. I don’t even like it. I do however like the feeling of doing something deemed bad for me; punishing myself for an unjustified reason that I can’t quite place yet. I do intend to understand this behavior. It’s on my bucket list.

Later, after passing out around midnight having exhausted my mind’s spinning wheels, I woke up at 4am not sure what to do with myself. Just so many options! The winning task was the one that was glaring at me with judgment and disapproval: cleaning the piled dishes from the last binge eating and Netflixing party of one.

So, I took an Adderall. 30 mg. Yes, this was still before 5am. That’s something I do now, I guess. It’s easy to justify since I was diagnosed with ADD so young and so it was legit, I could tell myself. The kid whose only acceptable, and frankly effective, drug was theater has turned into someone who feels like Adderall is the only way to be a functional person, a whole person that people might want to be around. More importantly, Adderall gives me the power to allow myself to be who I believe people want me to be.

In high school I partied, I went to raves and dropped some ecstasy, among other things, but it didn’t prove to be problem at that time. I was still unstoppable and fearless, eye on the prize. Nothing could get in the way of what I knew was to come of my life. I had immunity from all unpleasant things. Divorce, bullying, bad grades here and there - all just circumstances that didn’t color who I was.

After college, I finally moved to NYC only to become the proverbial small fish in a big pond. Nothing could have prepared me for that. I knew I’d face rejection, but there was no way I could comprehend the emotional baggage that came with it. And so the substances began to pile up over the years. The more jobs I didn’t get, the more I’d try to numb myself so I didn’t have to feel it.

The Adderall doesn’t do much anymore because I’ve taken a lot, and therefore my tolerance is high. A higher dosage doesn’t seem like such a problem when I know exactly what I need to accomplish for the day. But I don’t have the slightest clue on this particular morning, so I’m just putting a lot of gas in a car that has no destination. There is no task that seems important enough to complete, so I endlessly ruminate about the person I thought I’d be by 32. I’ve gotten other prescriptions, on top of the Adderall, to level my moods and keep me functional, but I go on and off of them, especially when I try to do the whole no-drinking-AA-thing. The longest I’ve gone without a drink is nine months. Best time of my life actually. Shocker. After a binge on some alternative unhealthy vice I always come to the same conclusion: I do, in fact, need to take these meds, but there are times when my lack of focus brings on the darkness, and the cycle to seek light begins, pill by pill by pill until I’ve swallowed all of my attention.

So it’s 8am and I’ve already gotten to Xanax. Most of my friends aren’t even awake yet. Sometimes I like to think of myself as Judy Garland, up and down, but without the MGM contract to worry about ruining. I suppose I still have a life to ruin, but all of that kind of thinking is still lost on me.

I have no idea what I want anymore, and I have a million questions that I’m not willing to hear the answers to. So I continue to medicate, and I do the prescribing. I feel guilty and stop on the rare occasion that I get a job or gig that I’m passionate about.

Today, I am lost. Yesterday I was lost. Chances are I will be lost tomorrow. Of course I have theories about why. My friends have theories. You probably have theories after reading this. But that doesn’t help me. I feel lied to, but without anyone to blame for those lies. I’m self-centered, but don’t know how else to be.

So I’ll sit here and finish my pot of black coffee, attempting an unachievable stillness; there are too many stimulants in my system, but I feel far from stimulated. This pattern will continue until I muster up the courage to walk out the door and go to the gym and be seen by other humans. My friends will eventually wake up and tell me that I am great and to stop feeling sorry for myself.

I would love to.

Nick has been acting and singing his whole life. He began writing his own pop music in 2008 and has two original EPs to show for it (available on iTunes). He began writing personal essays just this past year and has already gained attention from OUT magazine as well as other publications. Nick resides in NYC where he records his popular podcast Dirty 30 Something (also available on iTunes).

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