I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I decided to stop taking ADHD medication or when I took my last dose. By the time I graduated college, I was convinced that I had outgrown ADD and no longer needed to take any pill, and I believed it for many years.
I had a successful career and a fulfilling personal life, all without medication. What more proof did I need that pills weren’t for me? Then the pandemic hit – and all the structures, supports, and routines upon which I had unknowingly relied to manage my ADHD symptoms (which lay dormant all these years) had vanished overnight. Unable to cope, I found myself back on ADHD medication for the first time in about 14 years.
I was initially disheartened by going back on medication in my mid-30s. But it forced me to reconcile with my childhood experiences and internalized stigma and shame around ADHD. I was diagnosed with ADD (now called inattentive ADHD) when I was 11 in the late ‘90s. I had it all – a disorganized desk and locker, difficulties staying focused, and periods of scattered hyperactivity. My teachers described me as “lazy” to my parents and remarked on how I’d distract others in the class.
I spent much of my childhood and adolescence cycling through different treatments. By college, I had admitted that I hated how the medication made me feel and how it changed my personality.
Off medication, I functioned pretty well. I developed and adhered to routines that made my day-to-day more manageable. I went into a profession that suited my high-energy mind. All was well until 2020, when the pandemic forced me to work remotely.
[Get This Free Download: The Daily Routine that Works for Adults with ADHD]
Did the Pandemic Give Me ADHD?
Working from home – a two-bedroom New York apartment that I share with my girlfriend and six pets — was OK at first (if not a little distracting). I welcomed a break from my commute and liked sleeping in. Added bonus: I didn’t have to wear pants all the time!
Once a storage room with a spare bed, the second bedroom became my office. I set it up with a laptop, rigid steel chair, and an old wooden end table. I’d spend most of my time in the 10×9 room, including many late nights meeting deadlines and battling a swarm of endless emails.
Weeks and months went by and, eventually, I realized the setup wasn’t working. I had reached a low point. I felt anxious all the time and had trouble sleeping. Every morning, I’d lie down in the shower and let the hot water wash over me as I tried to calm down (and catch some extra rest after a sleepless night). I lashed out at my girlfriend and started to drink just to numb the bad feelings. It took one big, nasty fight with my girlfriend to realize just how far I had fallen.
“Hello, ADHD. I See You Have Returned.”
I thought upgrading my office setup would brighten my mood. My company happily provided me with a whiteboard, a separate monitor, and other tools. My wonderful girlfriend gifted me a new desk and office chair for my birthday. These changes tremendously improved my comfort, but the results were short-lived. I still remained unable to ward off my worries.
[Read: 10 Expert Coping Strategies for Pandemic Anxiety]
Then I took advantage of budding telehealth options. I took anti-depressants and waited to feel something. (The Internet said I’d feel worse before I felt better.) But it never got better. Instead, I spiraled and reached an even lower point.
This wasn’t the answer. But what was? I tried to work backward. I feel depressed, I thought, but that is because I’m constantly overwhelmed, stuck, and anxious. Could it be anxiety? No – that’s too on the surface. So, what’s causing the anxiety?
My a-ha moment: I was anxious because I was scattered. My routines were gone, and distractions were everywhere. Work and life became a tricky balance of time management – never my strong suit. ADHD had been there my whole life. It just took a back seat and waited for me to recognize it again.
Clearly, I needed to see an ADHD specialist. Though I worried about going back on medication, especially after all this time, I figured there’s no harm in dipping a toe back in the water. I could always stop again as I did many years ago.
ADHD During the Pandemic and Beyond
The first day back on medication was a revelation. Gone was the robotic after-effect I felt in my younger years. This time I was in control. After medicine came talk therapy, and slowly, work became more manageable. Then I looked at the big picture. With a new sense of control, I could fix my bad habits and override impulsive urges. I drank less, started to eat nutritious foods, and went to the gym consistently – something I hadn’t done since college.
To say that I’m entirely out of the woods would be an oversimplification. I still have down days, and I sometimes forget to take my medication. But I’m in a better place than I was at the pandemic’s start. I’m much happier, healthier, and kinder to those around me. All it took was giving a second thought to something I had given up on years ago.
Did the Pandemic Give Me ADHD? Next Steps
Thank you for reading ADDitude. To support our mission of providing ADHD education and support, please consider subscribing. Your readership and support help make our content and outreach possible. Thank you.