Sincerely, Your Unmedicated ADHD Friend

Deputy news editor Lilli Malone talks about the struggles of ADHD.

When I was in kindergarten, I refused to learn how to read.

At the time, I claimed reading would never come in handy as I had plans to be a famous artist when I grew up. Ironic considering the choice I have made to go into journalism. 

Although many people may view this as a child being ridiculous, it was actually a part of a much larger picture. It was an early symptom of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, a learning disability I would be diagnosed with by the end of the first grade. 

I always felt like I was different in the classroom setting. I remember struggling to remain focused and sit still more than the average kindergartner. Luckily for me, I had a safe space in my family of four which many ADHD children don’t have — Both of my parents had ADHD, and my younger sibling would soon receive the same diagnosis as well.

Although I had no idea what I was being tested for, I can remember sitting in the office of a psychologist, looking at photos on a piece of paper and telling him what I thought of when I saw the shapes.

Being diagnosed with ADHD at such a young age is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, I had plenty of time to spend developing coping skills for social interactions in therapy sessions. On the other, it’s hard for a first grader to hear a diagnosis like that and not believe there is something wrong with them. 

And here is where the next issue arose. Do you put a first grader on drugs? My mom still talks to this day about the difficult conversations she and my dad had around this topic. I’ve always been very grateful they made the decision to medicate me, but the process was anything but simple. 

There are a variety of ADHD medications that are available, and although each of them includes a base of Methylphenidate, they also all carry different side effects and cause different reactions in everyone who takes them. One made me scream in anger, another made me talk non-stop, another made me dissociate and refuse to speak to anyone.

Methylphenidate is a stimulant which allows the brain to focus on something for an extended period of time, or for an ADHD patient to match the focus level of their peers, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration

Once I found the medication that worked for me, I stuck with it, just shifting my dosage every few years to line up with my lifestyle at the time. I depended on that medication for my entire life. It put me on the same level as everyone else and made me feel normal. 

In 2021, the FDA announced a shortage of ADHD medication, and my life became far more difficult. I’ve now been forced to remain off of my medication for the last nine weeks, causing me to fall behind on classes and have trouble getting out of bed in the mornings. 

When I was living at home, it was easy to get a paper prescription from my doctor and visit pharmacies to see who had the medication in stock. Since I now live out of state, I have to find a pharmacy with the medication first, then ask my doctor for a prescription and then revisit that pharmacy, by which time they have usually run out, forcing me to start the process over again. 

As someone who has always had a healthy relationships with medications and is picky about what I put in my body, it’s uncomfortable to recognize that I’m going through the symptoms of withdrawal every time I am forced to go off my meds, as well as going through an adjustment period any time I start them up again. 

For people like me, who were diagnosed at an early age, it’s hard to remember a time when I didn’t view ADHD as an integral part of my everyday life. Stopping my medication entirely isn’t really an option. Everything I know about how to do life revolves around me having access to medication. 

As I transition into being fully responsible for the refills of my prescription, I’ve found it is a lot like trying to find your glasses without your glasses. Trying to remember to call the doctors from home and coordinate with pharmacies in Chicago is a difficult task when you can barely sit down long enough to do your reading assignment. 

More people than just me have struggled to get access to their medication in the past year. It is a national issue that affects people of all ages. 

According to a recent survey from the National Community Pharmacists Association, 94% of independent pharmacies have reported having difficulty keeping Adderall and generic versions of the medication in stock since the beginning of the shortage. 

Beyond the issues I was facing with getting my medications, I also had to deal with the major shift of being surrounded by neurotypicals 24/7 for the first time in my life. The safety bubble I had with my family of ADHD’ers popped, and I wasn’t prepared.

I firmly believe that all professors and teachers in colleges and high schools should be at least partially informed on the issues surrounding ADHD. About 10% of people will be diagnosed with ADHD by the age of 17, according to the Center for Disease Control

There are a variety of ADHD symptoms which have impacted my everyday life and schoolwork over the years which are less commonly known things about ADHD and deserve recognition from professors and administration. 

ADHD Paralysis is an issue which I encounter on the daily, if not multiple times a day, but it was not something that was explained to me until after I had begun college. 

This phenomena occurs when you have so many tasks to complete that your brain shuts down, refusing to allow you to complete any of them, according to the Attention Deficit Disorder Association.

How do I go into a class and tell my professor that I couldn’t do my homework assignment because I was just, well, stuck? 

Those diagnosed with ADHD struggle with issues such as executive function, which includes the inability to manage time properly, according to the Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder website

I could count on one hand the number of teachers and professors I have had in my lifetime who have been sympathetic to my situation, allowing me the help that I need without me having to back up my diagnosis with accommodations. 

My mom has always told me that my ADHD was a “superpower.” She always references the ability to pick up new skills quickly, to hyperfocus on something that interests me and my ability to think outside of the box which all link back to my diagnosis. 

The more I move away from the creative side tied to childhood, the less I think of it as a superpower and more as an inhibitor when it comes to the real world.

 Feature image by Holden Green / The Phoenix

Lilli Malone

Lilli Malone