Learning to embrace not taking my ADHD medication

A student reflects on his experiences with treating his ADHD with medication and how it taught him to accept his abilities without it.


Growing up, I could never understand why I was unable to keep my focus on things that didn’t immediately capture my interest. This made my childhood a whirlwind of confused thoughts and squandered desires of being a better student and avoiding procrastination.

When I got my ADHD diagnosis in middle school, I assumed I would finally get a glimpse into normalcy and have the lengthy attention span and clear thoughts I figured the rest of my classmates had. 

However, when I was put on Concerta, a stimulant medication for ADHD, at age 12 to help me focus, it turned me into someone I hated. My focus and attention to detail were almost razor sharp, but it came at the expense of my own enjoyment of life. 

I felt listless and boring, like an automaton designed to do schoolwork and nothing more. With that also came an immense anxiety that kept me from doing the things I loved, like spending time with friends.

My mother tells me it was the first time my middle school teachers were truly impressed with me. That should’ve felt satisfying to hear after years of being told by teachers about my untapped potential, but that satisfaction was outweighed by how dull the medication made me feel, and I quit soon after.

I’ve been on and off practically every ADHD medication on the market in the years since then. It’s a privilege that I am extremely grateful to have had, but it made me realize there are often benefits to staying off medication once I figured out it just doesn’t work. 

The one I stuck with the longest, Strattera, a serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor or SNRI primarily used in the treatment of ADHD, was another one that felt like it ‘worked’ for quite some time. 

I took Strattera for two years, starting during my freshman year of college. For the first time in a long time, my school work felt manageable. I was able to juggle being a student, doing extracurricular activities and having a social life in a way I never had before due to my ADHD. 

Unfortunately, less desirable side effects of Strattera began over time, but I dismissed my worries that these might be real issues and instead assumed it was typical of what this time in my life would look like. 

I was writing creatively far less than I normally did, but that was just ‘growing up.’ I wasn’t sleeping or eating nearly enough for a healthy adult, but that was just ‘college life.’ I didn’t feel very much, but I figured that was better than feeling too much.

I continued to tell myself that the constant sleep problems, alarmingly reduced appetite and emotional numbness were symptoms I would have to live with if I ever wanted to be a successful adult. Once I took a moment to stand in the mirror, I found it hard to recognize the exuberant, creative and socially adept person I knew myself to be in the reflection.

It was easier for me to tackle my work in a timely fashion when I was on ADHD medication, but I realized I preferred the version of myself that might at first struggle with maintaining a stellar GPA than the one who was left unsatisfied by life.

I can’t speak for all ADHD medication takers and say that ADHD medications are bad for everyone. Many of my friends have found solace and even a saving grace from their anxiety and depression because of their ADHD medication.

However, medications are complicated because everyone who takes them can have vastly different reactions. Even those who experience the exact same effects from one medication can feel differently about how worthwhile those effects might be in the long run.

I also found I’m much more creatively inclined and excited by my interests when I’ve been off of them. I’ve felt more personally gratified by finding and practicing new strategies for handling my ADHD that work for me outside of medication. 

Any kind of exercise, from riding a bike to lifting weights to running to catch a bus, always gives me a sort of clearheadedness that doesn’t drastically change how I feel about myself, which gives me an added incentive to treat my body better. 

Other methods feel so simple, like the Pomodoro Technique, which splits tasks into 25-minute-long intervals with five-minute-long breaks in between. I’ve been using the Pomodoro Technique since last year to handle bigger workloads both in and out of school, and knowing there are equal breaks in between makes even the most stressful projects doable.

None of these are foolproof, but being on medication made me realize my journey  may not reflect the vision I had when I was first diagnosed with ADHD, where the medications I would take would become a miracle cure for every one of my mental hurdles.

My thoughts on whether or not I need to be on medication for my ADHD may change over time, but overall, I much prefer the person writing this essay right now to the one who would have been writing it on a stimulant. I enjoyed not having so many scattered thoughts, but in the long run, having my personality is so much more important to me.

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