As we trudge through years of upper-level education, one thing becomes more and more evident: college is probably the strangest time period of our lives. It’s a time when holding hands with someone can legitimately mean more than sleeping with him. It’s a time when although the days seem never-ending, they also pass us by way too quickly and make us say, “Seriously, where the fuck did that year go?” It’s a time when we spend half of our days sleeping until 2 p.m. and the other half pulling all-nighters in preparation for seemingly impossible exams. It’s also a time when those who suffer from ADHD are deemed “lucky” to have a legitimate diagnosis, and subsequently, a prescription for a drug that makes said all-nighters much more achievable.
Before my doctor dropped the bomb and clued me in to how fucked up my brain is, I totally agreed. I thought Adderall was a gift from God, presented in the form of a tiny blue pill that basically made most college students feel like Bradley Cooper in “Limitless.”
I think it’s time to set the record straight. Adderall isn’t fun, and neither is ADHD. Sure, I can legally take Adderall and pull an all-nighter with no problem. You know what else I can do? I can lose something I was holding in my hand five seconds ago. I can fail to respond to every text that I didn’t respond to right away, because I can and will definitely forget about it. I can miss every important detail in the outline my professor just explained to me. I can impulsively commit to something before I’ve legitimately thought it through. I can go crazy in class, because for me, sitting still for an hour is nothing short of torture.
When people learn I’m diagnosed, they oftentimes express how “lucky” I am to have an excuse for Adderall. It’s frustrating, but I don’t necessarily blame them. This is because people who think I’m #blessed only know the upsides of Adderall without knowing the downsides of ADHD. It’s easy to take Adderall every once in a while, get a ton of shit done, and then think that those who are always on the drug are constantly feeling the luxury you felt that one particularly overwhelming Sunday night. To be constantly relying on the drug, however, is a much different story. There are some things people don’t realize about people who suffer from ADHD.
1. If you don’t have ADHD, you are really lucky.
Normal people have a mental filter that removes most of the irrelevant crap that comes across their mind. This filter works in a way that gets rid of the useless garbage before you’re even able to know it’s there. This basically ensures that you are alert to the task at hand, and able to get it done without any mental interruption. You go, Glen Coco.
2. Contrary to popular belief, people with ADHD are NOT lucky.
We don’t have that nifty little filter. This means every random thought that can interrupt us will. It doesn’t matter the time, place, or task. We WILL get distracted, because our brain has no way of blocking pointless thoughts. Every single moment is spent examining each thought, and, if we’re experienced enough to attempt to deal with these distractions, deciding whether it’s useful and relevant for the current situation. It’s exhausting, it’s frustrating, and most of all, it’s really, really annoying.
3. This is why we actually need Adderall.
For us, Adderall gives us a glimpse into life with a more selective brain. It helps us feel close to normal, if only for a short time. We’re able to somewhat ignore trivial distractions and focus more than we would without it. We don’t have the luxury of only taking it on nights jam-packed with homework. We have to take it every day, whether or not we like it, because without it, we just can’t focus.
4. Adderall doesn’t work the same way for us as it does for normal people.
Normal people take this magic pill and are suddenly able to focus for hours. It’s not so easy for us. When we take it, we still have to work ridiculously hard on our willpower and our behavioral skills. Adderall gives us focus, but that doesn’t mean that it tells us what to focus on. When we take it, we have to constantly will ourselves on a specific task so we don’t spend three hours rearranging our room instead of cramming for that huge exam tomorrow.
5. Routinely taking Adderall has some pretty significant downsides.
Adderall is a medication, and all medication has negative side effects. The ironic thing is that a lot of the time, those who binge on Adderall without a prescription do it specifically for these downsides. People with ADHD know these effects aren’t desirable long-term, and they work tirelessly to defeat the outcomes that others are looking for. Believe it or not, we don’t like constantly feeling strung out and distant. It’s not fun for us to hear our friends repeatedly ask if we’re mad or upset because we’re always so serious. Those of us who rely on a routined dose of Adderall know the struggle of lying in bed for hours, struggling to sleep. Although our bodies are exhausted, our brain is wide awake. There’s a disconnect between our bodies and our minds, and the two rarely synch to understand each other. This also explains why we can hear our stomachs grumble, but feel no desire to actually eat anything. Forcing yourself to eat to avoid concern from your doctors, peers, and family is not fun.
I don’t knock college kids for taking Adderall to get shit done when they’re stressed or overworked. We’ve all had nights that make us want to jump out the nearest window and abandon all hopes of graduating college. Adderall isn’t the problem. The problem is that, similar to most mental disorders, ADHD is accompanied by a stigma. This stigma should deem us slightly debilitated from others. Instead, it says we’re lucky to suffer from a disorder that handicaps our everyday functioning, because it gives us access to a pill that some boldly refer to as “legal cocaine.” Though college life encourages a stigma that deems us fortunate, any person suffering from ADHD, myself included, will tell you that this is absolutely not the case. .