Adderall Saved my Life
It’s becoming pretty mainstream to talk about depression and mental illness. While I think that’s great, I would also like for that freedom to extend to medications. There are so many medications that seem taboo, ones that have gotten a bad name because of those who abuse it. They’re difficult to get, and no one wants to admit they are on it. For example, I wasn’t aware of just how many people are on Adderall until I became part of that group.
It’s no secret that I suffered from a deep depression after my double mastectomy. I talked about it openly, mostly because I was so shocked by it. I wanted to know if anyone else felt the way that I did. The depression was so out of left field. I wanted to understand it.
Before my surgery, I was one of the lucky ones who breezed through chemotherapy, and while I was extremely apprehensive about surgery, I didn’t really think much of it. I was nervous and a bit scared, but I didn’t go into it mourning my breasts. I didn’t think the loss would make me less of a woman. I really didn’t think about it much at all. Maybe that was the problem. I didn’t properly say goodbye to my old body. I didn’t come to terms with what was about to happen. I just bulldozed forward.
Even still, depression was never a complete stranger to me. I’ve always had a mild melancholy constantly surrounding me like an itchy sweater. What was completely foreign to me was the depth of this depression, the not wanting to eat or live or breathe. I wasn’t prepared for the freight train of pure existential dread to hit me so suddenly. I went from walking around with a mild but constant sadness, to not having the will to live. Things were pretty bad.
At first, my medical team and I tried anti depressants, which doctors seem to be eager to hand out like candy. Nothing worked. I told my physicians and Psychiatrist various times that throughout my life I had tried several forms of SSRIs, and that none of them worked for me. Still, they insisted on trying the usual suspects. I tried the Zoloft. I tried the Prozac. As I predicted, they did nothing more than possibly increase my appetite for carbs. When those didn't work, we even tried anti-psychotics, such as Abilify. Abilify is typically given to schizophrenics, but when paired with certain depression mediations, it can also to cure depression. It did not work for me. In fact, I completely lost interest in living at all, not in the sense that I was suicidal, but more like I just had no interest in doing anything. I didn’t want to work. I didn’t want to see friend or family. I didn’t want to do things I used to enjoy. I was an empty shell.
Since nothing was working, I turned to the internet. I did research on depression and how it’s connected to cancer. I researched depression and surgery. I looked up if anesthesia could have enough of an impact on brain chemistry to cause depression. That’s when I stumbled upon an article that said some cancer survivors were given Adderall to help combat fatigue and chemo brain. It felt like an “ah ha!” moment for me. It became clear that that’s what I needed. I already knew my brain responded well to stimulants. If you have been to college, you know all about stimulants. Who hasn’t stayed up for 24 hours to finish a project, running simply on fumes and Redbull? Who wasn’t told by one thousand mansplaining men at parties that tequila is actually an upper and won’t make you tired at all?
When I took this information to my doctors, I was met with a lot of resistance. They made me take a three hour psych eval test to even consider a low dose of a stimulant. No one would listen to me. No one would even try it. I began to think that it was a lost cause and I would have to live with crippling depression forever. Luckily for me, due to circumstances in my life at the time, I had to move and find a new hospital. That’s when everything changed for me.
At my new hospital, I found an amazing young, female Doctor. If you ever have to look for a new doctor, for whatever reason, I say go for the ones with least experience. Hear me out! The inexperienced doctors still have a ton of knowledge, maybe even more than a veteran doctor when it comes to technology and different and updated treatments plans. Think about when you started your job, and now think about your behavior at your job five or six years later. Exactly. At the beginning of your career, you were bright eyed and bushy tailed, filled with hope and aiming to please. Years later, you tend to do things by rote and dread that alarm in the morning. The best thing about fledgling doctors is that they aren’t yet jaded. They want to please.
This doctor got it. She listened to me. She didn’t make me feel like some sort of junkie trying to score stimulants. She gave me my very first low dose of Adderall, and it felt like meeting myself for the first time. I can’t even describe the feeling. It felt like a bucket of ice cold water was poured over my head, and thirty years of sadness evaporated off of me like steam. I was a regular person for the first time in my life! Yes, I still experience sadness and pangs of existential dread, but it’s nowhere near the severity that I had experienced before.
I know that Adderall isn’t typically associated with helping depression, but a lot of drugs aren’t used for their original intended purpose. For example, Spironolactone, a medication given to patients with heart failure, one that helps lower blood pressure, is often give to Women with hormonal acne to help clear it up. I can’t say exactly why the Adderall works for me, but I am so happy that it does. It could just be a bi-product of being productive again. Maybe the fact that the Adderall helps me get work done, and helps me focus on personal projects makes me happier because I am actually living life again. Whatever it is, it’s working, and I am so thankful to my doctor for listening to me.
At the end of the day, I know I am not a medical professional, but I know my body. I know myself. I know what doesn’t work and what does work for me. While being a good patient and listening to your medical professional is important, I think that it’s equally important for the trained professionals to listen to the patients. Be an advocate for yourself, even if you are told “no” a couple of times. Find someone who will listen.