I was at a party with some friends several weeks ago when the familiar discussion of our “issues” came up.
“I used to have such a hard time speaking in front of crowds,” my friend, Monica, said, gripping a sweaty red Solo cup. “But my doctor gave me some Paxil and I’ve been fine ever since.”
“I can totally relate,” offered my friend, Nolan. “I get panic attacks all the time at work. It’s like I’m going to vomit. I have Zoloft, but I always forget to take it.”
“That’s so funny,” added another friend, Ava, “When I’m manic, I’m great with people, but some days, when I’m on a downswing, it’s impossible. Especially when I’m not taking my Xanax.”
Ava has bipolar disorder, but only intermittently. And when it coincides with her borderline personality disorder, she’s an especially hot mess.
I wanted to speak up and contribute to the conversation, but I didn’t have anything to say. There was a period of time when I thought I was allergic to the tree outside my apartment, but I took a Claritin and that was as far as it went.
“What’s wrong with me?” I wondered aloud.
“You probably have ADHD,” said Ava, as she popped a pita chip into her mouth and crunched so loudly I thought she’d broken a tooth. “Everyone does.”
My friends nodded in agreement.
ADHD sounded plausible. It’s common enough. I’d recently read a Northwestern University study that found in 2010, 10.4 million American children– roughly the population of Portugal– were diagnosed with it. Why not me?
Once Ava mentioned it, I noticed that I did get bored often. I would change my mind about wanting microwave popcorn halfway through its two-minute cooking time. I always cancelled my cell phone contract early. I couldn’t finish Infinite Jest.
I really wanted to fit in with my pill-popping friends, so I made an appointment with a local psychiatrist to discuss my problems.
When I bounded into the office, bright-eyed and eager to fix my problem, my psychiatrist, an attractive woman in her late 20s, surely a recent grad, listened attentively and jotted down notes as I talked about myself enthusiastically, doing my best to lead her to diagnose me with ADHD. To be extra thorough, I’d decided to review symptoms on WebMD the night before.
She was really pretty. Like, detrimentally so. I was concerned for her because I imagined that no matter how bright she was, her peers would always be convinced that her looks would be what got her ahead.
“Well,” she said, interrupting me when I started telling her about a bad date I’d had several years ago, “it sounds like you have a textbook case of ADHD.”
“Her powers of observation are what got her ahead,” I would tell her naysayers.
I was pleased and expected her to hand me a prescription for Adderall, but was disappointed when she instead handed me a stack of papers about an inch thick.
“Fill these out at home, come back next week and we’ll review them to see if you do, in fact, suffer from ADHD,” she said.
…maybe I’d agree that her looks really did get her ahead, after all.
I begrudgingly took the forms, scheduled my followup appointment and went home.
After six days of procrastination, on the night before my follow up appointment, I began looking through the forms as I sat awake in bed.
“I have difficulty paying attention in class or at work.”
Agree, I checked the appropriate box.
“I am easily annoyed.”
What a stupid question. Agree.
“I make decisions quickly, without taking into account their long-term repercussions.”
See: my entire sexual history. Agree.
The more I read the list, the more I was convinced I actually had ADHD.
There were dozens of pages, all asking variations of the same thing and as I began to get annoyed, I had a moment of divine inspiration.
“TOO LONG,” I scribbled across the top of the paperwork, before turning out my reading light.
The next morning, when I returned to her office, I handed Blondie my paperwork. She read my comment on the front page and rolled her eyes. She flipped through what I did fill out and grabbed her prescription pad.
“Here,” she began scribbling, “let’s start you off on a low dose and see how you do.”
As she tore off my prescription and handed it to me, I felt like I’d been admitted to the cool kids club.
I thanked her (red flag!) and made my way to the pharmacy to pick up a shiny, new bottle of Adderall that I couldn’t wait to show my friends.
I’d been taking the pills for a few days when I met up with my dad for dinner.
“What’s that?” he asked as I swallowed a pill at the table.
My dad’s an affable guy, but thinks I hang out with a bad crowd and he doesn’t mince words.
“Adderall,” I said as I tried to stylishly slug a glass of water that was too cold and sent searing pain through my teeth.
My dad shook his head. “You’re nuts.”
“Not yet,” I said “I just have ADHD.”
“You’re lazy sometimes, but you don’t have ADHD.”
We agreed to disagree. Or at least I thought that’s what was happening until after dinner as we walked back to our cars.
“There’s nothing wrong with you, Jackson. You just have too much time on your hands. Your friends are all so enraptured by pills– your whole generation. You’re overmedicated.”
I looked down at my feet and shuffled them.
“I have a problem and you’re being insensitive to it,” I said as my dad climbed into his car.
He shook his head. “I love you, kid, but you’re full of shit sometimes.”
He closed his door and revved his engine. Before he left, I had a thought I wanted to share with him, so I banged on his window. He rolled it down.
“I know why you have a hard time relating to me sometimes,” I told him.
“Why, because I’m old?” he asked.
“No, because of your Asperger’s,” I said. “You should get help.”
My dad shook his head again, rolled up his window and pulled out of the parking lot.
As I walked to my car, I rubbed my throbbing jaw, wondering if I had a cavity or sensitive teeth or something more serious.
“Ugh, maybe he’s right,” I thought to myself. “Maybe I’m self-diagnosing too much…maybe I’m a hypochondriac.”
“How absurd,” I thought as I laughed at myself for a moment before changing my mind.
“You know, I better make an appointment with my psychiatrist just to be sure.”
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