having a dragon on a leash

tonight i sent an email where i talked about ADHD as the dragon, and i thought i would share some of my thoughts on that here.

i wasn’t the person who came up with the phrase “magickal dragon on a leash” about ADHD, and for all i know they didn’t either. i will try to track down the article where i read the phrase, but i have adopted the idea, and i think it helps others understand more of what dealing with ADHD is like.

fifty televisions blaring

people don’t grow in to or out of having ADHD. it is something that your body either does or does not do.

how it happens is not perfectly understood yet, but the last few years they have made great advancements in this area, and the new medications that have been developed (strattera, specifically, which i am on) are much better at treating it than the older ones (such as ritalin).

attention deficit disorder is the label for the array of symptoms a person displays when their body doesn’t make enough of this or that hormone, and they simply can not pay attention to what is important. everyone expresses some of these symptoms some of the time, but the difference is longevity of symptoms (life-long for the ADDer) and amount of life disruption.

actually — and more accurately, as far as i understand it — the body may well make enough of the hormone, but not enough of this it ends up in the proper receptors, because it is absorbed into the bloodstream before it has a chance to land in the proper areas in the brain and do what it is supposed to do, which is allow the brain to filter out needless information and focus on what is important.

people who have ADHD have (to varying degrees) no such filtering ability.

everything in the environment demands our full attention, 100% of the time. ritalin, and the other stimulant meds force the brain into working harder than it ought to have to in order to make up for the lack of hormone that would allow it to focus.

(people often comment that it makes no sense to treat “hyperactivity” with a stimulant, and at first blush it does seem counter-intuitive, but everyone is very familiar with the principle at work: this is why americans are so addictive to caffeine. it makes our brains work harder and faster, and we can focus better. )

like caffeine, the older ADHD meds are just stimulants: they cause the brain to work in such a way that needed filtering can happen, and we can get more done, more efficiently.

i remember when i first started taking ritalin, in my early twenties at just being amazed at it. it was like a miracle drug for me, and i described the effect this way: imagine you walk into an electronics store, such as best buy, and every TV they have for sale is on, at full volume, but they are all tuned to different channels. fifty televisions playing different things all the time. the very first time i took ritalin, it was as if someone had switched 49 of the TVs off.


suddenly, out of nowhere, i could focus on one thing at a time.

suddenly, i was able to get stuff done in a way i never could before.

i was pissed that i had missed out on twenty-some years of this, and jealous of “normal” people who don’t need meds to have this in their life: they can turn off the other televisions on their own.

but ritalin worked for me, and i was grateful for it, and my quality of life went up immensely, overnight.

the newer, non-stimulant drugs, like strattera, the one i’m now now (actually, as of october 2008, i am taking vyvanse), do not work the same way.

rather than cause the brain to work harder, producing more of the magick hormone, strattera prevents the body from re-absorbing it before it can land in the proper receptors. so the body works much more like a non-ADDer.

it also has 24 hour control, which is key for me. ritalin works four hours at a time, and, being a stimulant, has all the side-effects that coffee does: not being able to sleep, appetite suppressant, anxiety, sped up heart-rate.it’s effect is immediate, it kicks in within five minutes of taking it, and when it wears off, there is a noticeable difference in my behavior. so it was kind of like a four-hour lightswitch. take the pill, and be able to focus for four hours, then poof it was done.

i would generally take two ritalin pills a day, and during work hours, of course. this means that the rest of my life was basically getting ADHD-chris only. bills, marriage, housework, family time, overtime — anything that wasn’t between 9am and 5pm would not get the “best” of me.

this was very frustrating, but if i took ritalin too late, i couldn’t sleep at all, so we dealt with it. so strattera’s twenty-four hour coverage is a real life-saver.

it has it’s own set of side-effects, some of them were very pronounced at first but wore as i had been on it a few months. but it’s worth it — i am much more able to get things done and behave in “proper” ways than before.

a dragon on a leash

so, about the dragon.

even with meds to treat it, ADHD is still a huge part of who i am. it effects everything do, everything i touch.

and having ADHD is like having a magickal fire-breathing dragon on a leash.

this beast dragged me around for years, burning everything and everyone i got near. everything i touched had such magick potential, but ended up going up in flames in the end. i was a powerful wizard of creativity who could not control the thing that gave me my powers.

fun to be with, but ultimately frustrating, because nothing i would do would ever reach the potential it should have.

the dragon would burn it down before it could be beautiful.

but what if you can tame the dragon?

once you have tamed this beast, once you have mastered the powers, you are then super-human in a way: you have a magickal dragon on a leash!

ADHD brings some very precious gifts to my life.

i see the world in ways that confound most people.

i have ideas that are so out of left field that they can’t begin to comprehend them. i am ridiculously creative, and the leaps in logic my brain can make are a powerful tool in my arsenal of “getting life done”.

i can’t say i have fully tamed this beast — shiva knows i have not!

but through meds, and counseling, and developing tricks and systems i am getting closer.

some of the time i get very pissed at the universe for making me this way, and have begged and begged for god to take it away from me. (much like paul’s thorn in his side) but i am, more and more, able to see that i have been given a precious gift, and that if i can learn to control this dragon, i will be able to use it to fly to magickal places.

it is non-ADDers who are really missing out when it comes right down to it.

Listening to: Black Hole Sun from the album “The Moog Cookbook” by The Moog Cookbook

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8 thoughts on “having a dragon on a leash

  1. Chris,

    What a wonderful way to express your experience with ADD. I was always curious what people with ADD experienced and you articulated it fabulously.

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