Wednesday, May 29, 2019

ADHD, Stimulants ,and Trauma


Never in a million years did I think I would be writing a post just short of a week after being released from a six day stay at a mental health facility.  As much as I wish it was a joke, it isn't.  To be honest, the first two days I was so out of it that I truly thought it was a joke or maybe I was just stuck in a bad dream. 

Before I get too deep into the story, let me share a little background information about me.  When I was in elementary school I was diagnosed with ADHD.  I was always the chatty little girl that couldn't stop talking and it didn't matter who I talked to I just always had a lot to say.  Paying attention in the classroom was a complete joke and my little brain had much more interesting things to think about.  To me, math and science were as bad as watching paint dry on a wall and I'm pretty sure I only picked up about 30% of what was being taught in second and third grade.  And then the magic of stimulants was introduced to me and we all thought we had found the miracle to all my attention problems.  Let me be clear, I am not knocking stimulants at all...without them I know I would have struggled immensely in elementary school and throughout high school.  That being said, stimulants can also be really dangerous, especially after being on them for a long period of time.  And with the positives they bring to helping children calm down and focus, they also come with a long list of negative side effects.  I could spend an entire post sharing my opinions on that, but today I'll just stick to sharing my story and the long term effects stimulants had on me. 

From the time I was in the fourth grade I was on many different stimulants.  The ones that I can remember were Ritilan and Concerta.  I can't say for sure, but I think I did okay on them.  I do remember that I didn't really feel like myself when I was on them.  By the time I reached high school, my doctor switched me to  Adderall.  

At first, Adderall seemed like the miracle drug I had needed all my life.  During the first six months or so my grades were rapidly improving, I could focus in class, I felt socially confident, and for once, my brain felt clear.  Then, after about six months I noticed the medication was not working as well and I started noticing some not so pleasant side effects.  I had no appetite, I was very hyper focused, and my fun bubbly personality was pretty much non existent.  

The worst of the side effects were at the end of the day around 5 when the drug started to wear off.  I became extremely irritable, I had zero patience, and my emotions were all over the place.  But again, when I didn't take the medication my grades and my attention in class was pretty bad.  So, I just tried to take it when I really needed it instead of everyday.  This worked out okay, but I felt like I was on a constant roller coaster and I remember my anxiety was horrible by tenth grade.  I think my anxiety had a lot to do with being on and off of the medication, but I also think it had a lot to do with a traumatic attack that I tried to (and eventually did) repress.  While the memories of that incident are still really fragmented, at the time I don't believe they were.  That being said, I felt the best thing to do was not tell ANYONE and just pretend it never happened.  I promise I am going to tell you guys more about the incident in time and why I thought it was best not to talk to anyone about it and just try to forget it happened.  I now realize I was wrong and that was the worst thing I could have done. Today, I just want to tell focus on what repressing memories and trying to cope long term with more stimulants and alcohol did to me.  

So, back in tenth grade, these memories were fresh and they caused me a lot of anxiety and panic attacks.  About a month after the incident my hands started to randomly shake, the right side of my face and my right arm would go numb out of the blue, I would have insane migraines in the middle of class, and they would get so bad I would have to go home.  It was like my body and my brain forgot how to do things I had always done.  I could no longer play tennis, and when I tried, it was like I was having to learn how to play all over again.  I remember feeling so frustrated and embarrassed.  

I would also get lost driving, which honestly wasn't that uncommon before the incident, but it was worse and I couldn't even remember how to get to places I had been a hundred times before.  At this point, I decided I needed a fresh start and that's when I met all of my amazing girlfriends that I still remain close to to this day.  I truly think God sent them into my life to help me cope and to have some normalcy in my life.  Hanging out with them made it so much easier to block out what had happened, and for the first time in a long time, I started laughing and having fun again. Looking back now, I realize I was able to feel love and friendship like I had never seen or felt before because of these girls.  And let me tell you, we got quite wild and probably had a little too much fun, but those three years of high school were so much fun and I made some of the best memories of my life.  And when my anxiety or panic attacks would creep in, which wasn't near as often as before, we would all find a way to laugh it off and they would make me feel normal even with some of my crazy behavior.  For the first time in a long time, I felt like I was living again. 

After high school was over it was time for college.  As a freshman in college, I remember barely being able to function even with Adderall.  I would have panic attacks on the way to class, and nine times out of ten when I pulled into the parking lot, I would get a migraine and vomit.  I was miserable to say the least, but at the time I couldn't figure out why college was making my anxiety so much worse.  I was taking a pretty small class load and the work itself wasn't any harder than my classes in high school.  It truly felt like college itself was making me physically sick.  I can still remember the day I called my mom and told her how I was feeling.  I let her know I was dropping out and that I was going to cosmetology school.  And while she wasn't very happy with me, she knew my anxiety was through the roof and that I was physically and mentally struggling.  

And now, almost 19 years after the traumatic attack happened to me at the beginning of my tenth grade year, I remember I was on the FMU campus.  I was chased in the parking lot and the attack happened back on the campus.  Again, all the details of what happened to me are still fragmented, but I do remember my body going into complete shock and my mind completely dissociating.  Either way, I now know and believe 100% that even if the mind dissociates during trauma and represses the memory, our bodies never forget.  I know that after the incident I developed severe PTSD, which at the time I had never heard of and I just chalked it up to bad anxiety. 

And now, I'm going to fast forward quite a bit to where I am now and what's been happening to me over the last six months.  If I don't, this post will turn into a 20 chapter book and by the time I finish writing it may be 2020 :) 

Just before Christmas this past year I was having a really hard time functioning and I had no idea what in the world was going on.  I was desperate and started seeing my therapist and my psychiatrist more.  We changed up my antidepressants and I switched my stimulants several times, but nothing was helping and I sat back unable to do anything as I literally watched my life to start to crumble right before my eyes.  All of the past memories I had repressed for so long were coming back and they were flooding my brain.  It was so bad that getting out of the bed in the morning seemed almost impossible and I slept maybe two to three hours a night.  That being said, I did the only thing I knew to do and I turned to increasing my dosage in stimulants so I was able to stay awake during the day, and possibly attempt to get at least a few things done. 

I see now that increasing stimulants was the WORST thing I could have done.  The stimulants ended up sending me into a stimulant induced psychosis.  It made the memories of my past and my brain go haywire.  My mind started making up more trauma, I started to get severely agitated, and my thinking was so unorganized at times it was scary.  During all of this, my husband and my family tried to help, but I was so deep in the stimulant psychosis that I couldn't see the problem.  At the time, my memory was just remembering all of the trauma (some of it was real while other incidents had never happened).  And then two weeks ago on Wednesday, May 15th I had a complete breakdown and I went into a deep psychosis that ended in me being admitted to MUSC for evaluation and then a six day detox at Palmetto Lowcountry Behavioral Health. 

As hard as it was for me to admit at first, being admitted into the hospital was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.  I was able to get off Adderall, I could think rationally for the first time in over six months, and I learned HEALTHY lifelong coping skills to help me function and cope for the rest of my life. 

 I am planning to do an entire post on my six days there.  I cried (A LOT), I laughed (A LOT), and I got to meet some of the most genuine souls I have ever met in my life.  Myself, along with all of the doctors and staff realized quickly that I was indeed under a stimulant induced psychosis and that I was neither bipolar nor did I suffer from real schizophrenia.  Many of the patients I was in there with did, and while it was sometimes scary and very sad, watching them take their medications correctly and come out of their mania and depression was nothing short of amazing.  It's given me a different view on mental illness, and even though I've felt the pull for a long time now, I truly believe that I have a calling to help in this field.  More on my stay and my calling later though, because I am guessing this post in itself has given you all enough to make your heads spin for a few days. 

But seriously, I just want to thank you all again for all of the emails, dm messages, and support / love you all gave to me during this tough time.  You showed me that there is still a lot of love and compassion left in this world, and I will forever be grateful for all of you! 

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