This post originally appeared on Mix Tapes & Scribbles on December 5, 2010. I’ve edited for length and clarity here, but tried to remain true to the tone and content. While it feels like a lifetime ago — the “lost room” is now my two-year-old’s bedroom, and I wrote this piece when my brain was just barely full-grown — I like the snapshot it provides of a young professional’s early experiences with stimulant medication.

December 5, 2010

Several months ago, I rearranged our two spare bedrooms to create a  bright, orderly, inviting home office. I’m typing there now, sipping coffee and soaking in the winter morning sunlight.

This was a great move, except for one catch: when I created my office, I left another room behind. A room where we discarded everything — furniture, boxes, any detritus you could imagine — we didn’t feel like putting away.

Every time I entered this room to clean it up, my thoughts scattered in every direction. The overwhelm paralyzed my brain. Without touching a thing, I’d shut the door.

It got so bad, I literally pretended this room did not exist in my house for four months.

Perhaps this was the final collapse that pushed me to seek help.

Yesterday morning I stood in the living room with a pill in my hand, feeling a little like Neo in the Matrix, teetering between two worlds. I tried to remember what I’d told my rational self: if I had a chemical imbalance anywhere else in my body, I’d have no moral objection to medicating it.

More to the point, I was at loose ends, both personally and professionally. I hadn’t gotten into the nitty-gritty of what my life was like with anyone — not even my closest friends. Honestly, it was too painful to discuss.

I’d accepted long ago that I was just going to have to work harder — much, much harder — than my peers to achieve the same levels of success. However, getting by on stubbornness and work ethic alone was feeling less and less sustainable. Outside academia, where I’d benefited from ample structure, competition, and social pressure, I’d lost my footing. My status quo had become anxiety and panic mixed with persistent lethargy. It’s one of the most uncomfortable feelings I can imagine.

So, with considerable trepidation, I took the pill: Ritalin.

Internally, everything went quiet. The curtain call finally came for that frantic need to do 10 things at once — and with it, the head-spinning overwhelm that had chased me away from that lost room in the first place.

This time, when I opened the door, I felt okay. I understood that some things needed to be thrown away, some put away, and others given away. Painfully simple. Obvious. Yet previously out of reach. After a couple hours I’d sorted everything into bags for each destination.

Later, my husband came in to help untangle a huge ball of yarn. As I watched him work, I realized I’d usually be feeling like I was about to climb up the walls. I would’ve gotten impatient, yelled at him for taking too long, tried to rush the process by grabbing at the yarn, and eventually frustrated him enough that he’d walk out, leaving me to work alone.

By 2:00, I was ready for a trip to Target to reward my hard work. I’d found more than enough stray cash during my cleanup to buy a new area rug and a few picture frames for the room.

Unfortunately, I don’t have ‘before’ photos, but if you’ve seen Clean House, you get the idea. By dinnertime yesterday, the room looked like this:

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A small miracle. Hope where I’d all but given up.

Sometimes people refuse to believe I have ADHD. I try not to blame them. I can thank my intense fear of failure, humiliation, and disappointing others for my deceivingly put-together exterior.

But I’m always hiding something. Here’s the thing about ADHD: no matter how successful I am where it really counts, I still don’t feel like a successful person. I still feel like there’s something wrong with me. I harbor a deep fear that I may never achieve my dreams or reach my full potential. It’s impossible to relax because there’s always something looming at the edge of my mind.

The act of actually finishing a project gave me a huge self-confidence boost. While there’s no magic cure to make everything easy, stimulant medication feels like a necessary tool right now. Here’s hoping it’ll help me develop the skills to clean up the less tangible messes, too.

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