Memes. They strain my personal ‘no trolling’ policy.

Maybe you’ve seen memes like this, too. I feel like they’re everywhere.

Bad ADHD memesAt best, they’re ignorant and insulting. If you see one, please — don’t share it, don’t like it, and if it makes you feel crappy about your own life experience, feel free to tell the original poster.

We need more balanced perspectives out there. To that end, I started thinking: what’s the real reason people take stimulant medication for ADHD? The real reason parents give their kids ADHD meds? Actual people and actual parents, not the generalized “they” targeted by memes.

I take stimulant medication every day of my life: when I’m working, when I’m on vacation, when I’m sick, when I’m going for a hike.  I do it to stay safe, calm, and content.

Scandalously boring, right?

Meds don’t make us zombies

Some people think stimulants are part of a conspiracy to turn our children into obedient, conformist zombies.

I know some people have a bad first experience, especially if the dosage is too high. With Ritalin, this can lead to a zonked-out feeling.

It can take a while to find the right medication and dosage. When it’s right, you don’t feel like you’re ‘on’ anything. Many people don’t invest this time and assume their first experience is a representative one.

But obedient zombie sounds a bit lofty, don’t you think?

Clearly these folks are in a different place. I’m not yet able to worry about being obedient, conformist, or zombie-like.

I’m just trying to be safe, calm, and content, like everyone else in the world. I take meds so I can drive a car without killing myself or anyone else; pay my bills; keep writing; be creative; curb my temper; connect with a small handful of friends; remain in a healthy marriage; and avoid living in a constant state of chaos, stress, anxiety, and despair.

When I have all that under control, I’ll look into the obedient zombie thing.

Meds let me do what I want to do

Stimulant medication helps me get where I want to go in life. I’m happy when I’m creating. I’m happy when I’m working hard. I’d be working hard with or without medication, but not necessarily in the right (or any) direction.

When I’m unmedicated, I’m not doing what I want to do. I don’t pay bills or write stories or sing while playing the guitar. My most valuable projects stagnate, clutter accumulates, and I’m not a very good friend. I get angry often and always seem to be in a crabby mood.

Meds don’t give me a competitive edge or allow me to stay up all night writing the next great novel. They help me reconcile my inner and outer selves, bringing me closer to the person I know I can be. And maybe, after several years of slow and steady effort, I’ll actually finish that novel.

Having ADHD often means struggling with the things we want to do. It might mean struggling so much across the board, we can’t figure out what we want to do, let alone how to do it.

I’ve been there. It’s awful, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I wasn’t calm or content, and because I was young, I probably wasn’t particularly safe, either.

What I really wish I’d medicated (not childhood)

Looking back, I don’t wish I’d medicated away my adventurous, tomboyish childhood. I hope we all know childhood isn’t a disease. I never would’ve wanted a dose of meds that stopped me from climbing trees, running around at recess, playing paintball in the woods with my friends, and catapulting myself from the swingset (even at age 17).

But I wish I’d learned how to keep myself safe, calm, and content at a younger age. I wish I’d had more than one friend in elementary school. I wish I’d been able to stay out of trouble and stop getting my parents called in for disciplinary meetings. I wish I hadn’t damaged my hearing by fighting through mosh pits to stand right against the speakers at every concert. I wish I’d had the sense not to drive too fast. I wish I’d felt in control of my brain and my behavior, instead of feeling constantly at war with myself.

I was experiencing something more than the general anguish of youth. I wish I would’ve known that. I’ve worked hard to craft a satisfying life for myself. Sometimes I wonder, what if I’d started that process sooner? What if I’d had a full toolbox?

Every time I see a meme claiming ADHD is just a result of bad parenting, a broken education system, Barack Obama, and greedy pharmaceutical companies, I think: how ignorant. The system is imperfect, but some people are really suffering. And who are these meme-spreaders to delegitimize our experience? Who are they to tell us we don’t deserve a chance, even if it comes from a prescription drug?

How about you? How do you respond to memes that tempt you toward online conflict?

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