ADHD Hell PART 1: Existential Medication and the Nature of Body Snatching
Welcome to the first essay on this stack. I had put off publishing things, despite writing probably four or five different pieces before even minting my URL and setting up my writers’ bio. It’s obvious now that the introduction I wrote to this page (and might as well keep for posterities sake) at the time was a complete lie, and a spotlight directed upon the reality of hoping to read my writing: you will get barely if any consistency, so buckle-up, dear reader; on with the show.
One of the things I least expected when I medicalized my ADHD and sought treatment was that my relation to cleaning was going to change so radically. I knew that the magic pills a wizard had given me would likely help me become less of a trash generator, but the change is so much weirder than that. What lies inside this essay is a kind of meandering, but maybe you can learn something from it about what it can be like to deal with some of the more existential consequences of disability and how it interfaces with its pathology. Content warning for discussion of medication, doctors, and un-aliving.
Firstly, for sake of contrast, some things did go as expected: The big change, the most obvious change for me at first was relief from the guilt and shame stemming from the pressure put on me by others. I am indeed less messy now, as per the standards of others. It keeps people off my back, and honestly, the level to which I’m treated as more human because I can pick up after myself more readily is a bit disheartening (but more on that another day.) No, this change is so much stranger than that. To describe even the edges of the thing, it’s like a sudden change of format to whatever medium lies between the mess and me. It’s akin to accessing a story by reading a book and suddenly it’s not a book anymore, it’s a stage play, and there you are in a theatre seat instead of your reading chair. Mess barely even means the same thing to me now. It’s experientially different.
Part of the change is that cleaning doesn’t take anything from me anymore. It’s just a thing I can do with my time like almost everything else. This was a massive downgrade on the despair index for me. Like the gradient between these two states of being, that of “I’d rather die than clean” and “This is rad and I even sorta like it??” is such an extreme kind of cognitive whiplash that I couldn’t have been prepared for it. The first day I was on my meds, a simple 10mg dose of Vyvanse, it was like a part of me had broken through the fog barrier and I was in a Dark Souls boss fight with my bedroom. Like there was a bar at the top of my vision that said something like “Clutter, Exarch of Uncleanliness,” and I just started dodge rolling. I cleaned. I cleaned as I had always dreamed – and I mean dreamed of since I ever moved out on my own. I reorganized furniture.
I put up that shelf I had been meaning to for two literal years. I put this space on blast for literal hours, un-tiring, laser-focused, and perhaps most fucked-uppedly, I realized I was enjoying it. I was finding pleasure in watching the space come together. I could see it all materializing in front of me for the first time, a life where my furniture fit properly, my clothes were off the floor, and I even used my little Swiffer duster thing, an object that used to just disappear from my mind if I looked away from it. It sounds nice. It also felt like something was deeply wrong with me. If you woke up and the thing you hated about yourself, that you had put years of work and therapy into resolving had evaporated in an instant, would you still recognize yourself? Am I even me anymore?
This is a question that has kept me from seeking medical relief for most of my life. I think it’s an experience that I’ve heard many folks relate to. When you suffer for long enough, thoroughly enough, it seems like whatever makes you who you are is intrinsic to the misery you experience. I had contested this for the first time when I had finally submitted myself to a course of Citalopram, an SSRI that came cheap and ready from my doctor. We had been working on skills and lifestyle changes for a while before making the decision, but after a certain event left me without much room to continue that kind of work, I asked for chemical help.
At the time, I think, I was very much okay with self-erasure one way or the other; if I was forced to pick between oblivion and chemical re-constitution, it felt to me like the lesser of two kinds of death. It’s more complicated than that though. What I will say, having moved past that initial hurdle and am now living as a wholly more alive and happy person, is that despite how helpful it was the change wrought in me post SSRI infusion wasn’t explicitly dissimilar to a kind of dying. It was and still is an extremely complex feeling for me, and you’re watching me navigate it here. In many ways, that person I was, the one who died, gets a lot of love and understanding from me. I can still remember bits and pieces of their motivation, their despair, as well as their convictions. I recognized and incorporated accountability for their (read: my) actions, their struggles, and even one or two of their desires. But I maintain that at some point, they died. I died. Likely, that death took place during the two or three weeks before seeing results from the first dose. That person went to bed and another, very similar but fundamentally different person woke up in their bed, inhabited their body. This is the same thing that happened after taking Vyvanse, and that is the root of the change I’m talking about.
Waking up, taking a pill, and suddenly loving a thing that you have hated your entire life is, at least in some very basic sense a horrific occurrence. It’s not how things are supposed to be. Things are meant to take time, or at least I thought that was the case. Where’s the suffering? Waking up as a new, and maybe an even better person than you used to be is a turn of events that has more in common with divine intervention than medicine or anything else which might make sense to me. For me to enjoy and actively engage in the work of keeping my space and my life tidy is essentially impossible for me to have imagined. As it stands, my adherence to this routine of cleanliness is so startlingly, unexpectedly consistent that I cannot conceptualize it as anything else but a kind of low-grade horror. I feel like I was body-snatched.
Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s been fantastic to have been changed this way. I love being clean and tidy, just as much as I appreciate the lack of guilt being shoved upon me by others for actions I struggled to correct. My life is much less stressful. I can do essentially anything I want now, and all because I got my hands on a set of pills that magically make my brain go vroom. But that change enacted so quickly and within moments of its triggering event, represents an eldritch kind of warping to the fabric of my being. It’s akin to the déjà vu scene in The Matrix, or like when you approach something very large from far away that is, upon arrival, smaller than you thought it was. It comes down to the bewildering nature of a sudden change in perspective, or the terrible re-structuring of physical space stemming from my increased desire and lust for re-arranging furniture. It all feels beyond my control.
All of these feelings are what cleaning means to me now. Cleanliness is a dark mirror. It’s an opaque monolith and a waypoint marker that I’ve passed on this strange journey. I can spot the person I used to be staring back from within its glistening, shadowy surface while I give it a once-over with a paper towel and a quick burst of glass cleaner before moving on. The face I see watching me go forwards is not necessarily distorted, nor is its gaze even unfriendly. It just isn’t one I recognize fully anymore, and I am left disturbed by its passing.
As mentioned before, I let this piece sit for a span before posting it. After all this writing and editing and whatever else, I think this is going to be the first in a series of meditations about my experience with ADHD, good, bad, and strange. I noticed what you probably noticed, that being a sharp shift in tone at the midpoint of this thing. If you know me at all, and you likely do if you’re reading this stack this early in the sortie’s life, this is perfectly in character for me. My style has a bit of a drive; it seeks the horrific point, and so this is going to be a pseudo-horrific series of essays.
Welcome to ADHD Hell, I hope you find your stay informative, and that we can all find what we need after it’s all over.