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Universiteit Leiden

Ritalin: how it changed my ADDitude

Posted on in Pharma
Ritalin: how it changed my ADDitude Medikit 1 by PeterFra via Flickr

The use of Ritalin is a much discussed topic lately, this is how it works for me.

I’m taking Ritalin, at least, when I don’t forget to. Because that’s in fact the main reason I’m taking it. Without Ritalin, I forget about everything and you could find me staring at a page for hours without reading one word. When I tell people about my Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), their first reaction often is: ‘But wait, you’re mostly quiet and not noisy at all!’. That’s true, I’m not hyperactive or noisy on the outside. That noise is in my head.

John Wheeler once said: “Time is the thing that keeps everything from happening all at once”. In ADD, time collapses. To me it often feels like everything is happening all at once and this creates a sense of inner commotion or even panic.

Before, I associated ADHD with that one annoying kid from primary school. He used to throw around stuff in class and wasn’t allowed to eat colorful candy.  The only hyperactive thing about me were my own thoughts, and no one was bothered when I disappeared to another planet during a conversation.

At secondary school my attention issues became a real problem for the first time. During class I couldn’t concentrate on what my teachers were saying, so at home I would find out that the notes in my dayplanner were poems and drawings, instead of the homework I had to make for the next day. I didn’t manage to push myself to study and that made me angry.

When I was diagnosed with ADD, many things became clear to me. I didn’t have to be so angry about myself anymore, and I could finally explain to my parents that when I forgot to put the cap on the toothpaste for the millionth time, it wasn’t on purpose, but because in my head I was already thinking about which panties to wear. Being diagnosed helped a lot turning down the noise of guilt and self-recrimination, but my concentration issues at school weren’t getting any better. That’s when I decided to start taking medication.

Brain research has shown that in people with ADD, impaired metabolism occurs in the frontal areas of the brain, which explains the problems with organizing and concentration. Methylphenidate, the active substance in Ritalin, inhibits the reuptake of dopamine, so that brain activity is increased. Ritalin appeared to be my solution: I learned how to organize my homework and started to write down my poems and stories somewhere else. My grades got much higher and I ended up going to university: my dream.

Nowadays, more and more people (ab)use Ritalin as a cognitive enhancer. It’s known to make you highly focused, to stimulate your concentration and it’s commonly available. For those reasons it’s attractive to use it even when one doesn’t need it for any medical reason. For me, that’s no big deal. But it is kind of annoying that I feel like I have to defend myself for the fact that I suffer from ADD, and that it’s a ‘real’ disorder instead of some kind of hype or rage. I’m taking Ritalin because I need it to function at the level I know I’m able to. It is indeed no basic need and without it I would probably not even end up on the streets. But I know that without taking Ritalin I wouldn’t be able to live my dream and graduate from university. I don’t think Ritalin is fun, exciting, interestingly or ‘cool’. I’m not proud of the fact that I’m using it. And no, I’m not selling it either wink

This blog was written as an assignment for the course Pharmacology of Cognition, part of the minor Brain and Cognition.

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