TLDR because I know you folks tend to have trouble with your attention spans: to meds or not to meds, that is the question…well…one of them anyway
Hello, brains! I’m new here. I am a 35-year-old Marine Corps helicopter pilot. I was diagnosed with ADHD in Kindergarten. I was on meds (Ritalin and later, Adderall) until I decided to stop taking them when I was about 12 or 13 because I didn’t like how zonked out they made me feel in class. Honestly, I felt like maybe my diagnosis was incorrect. In the early 90s, it seemed like EVERY hyperactive kid was getting diagnosed with ADHD, and much the same way that opiates were being overprescribed for people who don’t actually need them in more recent years, I felt that they were doing the same sort of thing with ADHD meds back then.
I would often sort of joke about having ADHD whenever the symptoms presented themselves in my daily life, but I never REALLY bought into the idea that I actually had ADHD. Around this time last year, however, some dramatic events in my life forced me to take this more seriously. My actions put both my career and my marriage (of 15 years) in Jeopardy. Faced with the prospect of losing everything and feeling utterly unable to control my own destructive behaviors, I began having a lot of dark thoughts. Long-neglected post traumatic stress issues from my combat experiences in Iraq between 2006 and 2008 (well before I became an officer and a pilot) began bubbling back up to the surface, and I was in a very dark (and frankly, suicidal) place.
I began therapy with a military therapist while I was deployed, at first just to talk me off the ledge, so to speak, and to help implement some structure in my life that could help stave away the depression and anxiety about the uncertainty of my future. When I returned stateside, that therapy became more focused on PTSD – for which I received an actual diagnosis – and I underwent a cognitive behavior therapy regimen to address that stuff. Oh and my wife and I also did some marriage counseling…to mixed results, if I’m being honest.
Somewhere along the line, my wife recommended a book to me called the ADHD Effect on Marriage. She recognized that a lot of the problems in our relationship could be squarely placed on symptoms of ADHD that have been unaddressed for so long. A lot of things started to click, and I started to dig deeper to gain a better understanding of the ways in which ADHD has been affecting me over the years that I didn’t even realize.
Recently, I had an appointment with a military psychiatrist as a requirement to obtain a waiver for PTSD so that I can still continue to fly. During this appointment, we talked about the specifics of the events over the past year (and my actions over the past couple of decades leading up to them), the CBT, etc. He asked a question about whether I had ever taken any medication for any mental health conditions before. I said no before correcting myself with an off-handed and dismissive comment about having been on Ritalin and Adderall when I was a kid. This opened up a whole new conversation in which he explained to me that – in the very short time that he had observed me and in listening to me describe the events of my life – he felt that ADHD was very severely impacting my life, and he strongly recommended I try medication.
The problem with trying medication, however, is that it is an automatic disqualifier for flight status. So now I’m in the position of having to choose between trying medication to see if it works for me, and thereby never flying an aircraft in the military again, or continuing to be able to fly while fighting the symptoms that have already almost caused me to ruin my life. And then there are all the what ifs. What if the medication doesn’t help me or that I hate the way it makes me feel, as when I was a kid? What if – after giving up the flying part of my career in order to, among other things, be a better husband – I find that medication doesn’t actually help at all and the self-destructive, chronic, impulsive behaviors that have strained my relationship are still there? It’s kind of terrifying to think through either course of action to its conclusion.
Anyhoo…that’s me. Sorry for the wall of text. I haven’t ever actually written any of this out before, so I guess typing this up is part of me working through these things.