A farewell to clowns.


Categories: Personal

About a week ago, I learned something really interesting. I learned that I have clowns, and that these clowns are treatable.

For most of my life, I have been erratically brilliant; my scores ranged from over 100% (perfect scores plus extra credit) to failing, even on the same topic, over the course of a couple of months. I have been told that I am not working up to my potential dozens of times; I suspect that phrase and its variants were about 40% of my report cards by volume.

Recently, a friend on a message board mentioned being given a stimulant by a doctor as a quick sanity check for attention deficit disorder. Apparently, in people with ADD, stimulants tend to produce a calming effect, rather than a jittering effect. And, oddly, I’ve always liked to get some caffeine before going to bed so I can get to sleep.

Well, isn’t that something.

So I went to see a psychologist, and she suggested talking to a doctor or a psychiatrist. The waiting period for a psychiatrist is a few months around here, but the waiting period for a regular doctor is about three days. So I went and saw a doctor, and he said that my symptoms did indeed sound like ADD, and how about we try some pills.

Now, you’ve probably heard about “ritalin zombies”. This is a common trope in our culture; ritalin turns children into zombies! Interestingly, the medication I’m on now is the same chemical as ritalin. I did some research. In fact, the zombie thing is a pure myth. It isn’t even a coherent myth. If you give ritalin to children who don’t have ADD, it acts like any stimulant normally would; it makes them hyper.

So I tried one of these pills. I went out to dinner with my spouse and another friend, to have people who could observe whether my behavior changed. At first, it didn’t seem to. No big effect. But then the observable changes started showing up. I normally jitter constantly; I stopped. I normally can’t hear music in restaurants clearly; suddenly I could make things out. I could remember a couple of things I was planning to get to, and I could remember more than one of them, simultaneously.

This is all new to me. So far as I can tell, the idea I had of what the word “calm” meant referred to a state which most people would have described as “a little less frantic”.

It turns out that, for the last thirty years, there has been a troupe of clowns following me around performing slapstick. Being medicated makes them pile into their tiny little car and drive away. It is pretty amazing.

So far as I can tell, it does not prevent me from thinking, give me an unexpected desire for the soft, moist, brains of living people, or otherwise have noticable downsides. I got some headaches from drinking less caffeine, but that’s normal. So where does all the fear of Ritalin and its ilk come from? Who spreads this thought about it turning children into zombies?

Why, that would be various front groups operated and funded by the Church of Scientology, international. L. Ron Hubbard was apparently denied medication and psychiatric care by the department of Veterans Affairs, and he seems to have devoted substantial effort thereafter to ensuring that, if he couldn’t have basic health care needs met, no one else could either. So Scientologists spread lies about what medication does, and how well it works, and what its side-effects are, and people hear horror stories about children losing all their creativity… And they don’t hear about adults finally getting to have a conversation in which they can actually hear everything the other parties say, or being able to read a book without having to stop halfway through a paragraph to do something else.

Anyway, since it might be interesting to other people who are similarly afflicted, or are just curious:

The medication I’m on is methylphenidate, aka Ritalin or Concerta. I’m getting “Concerta”, which is time-release capsules; 18mg over about 10-14 hours.

Day 1 (Thursday): Stacked on top of my usual heavy dose of caffeine, this produced the most surreal experience I’ve ever had – I was not distracted. I’ve never experienced that before. VERY strange, but I’m told it’s about what life is like for most people. It was just amazing; I could hold my hand up, without actively thinking about holding it still, and it just … didn’t move. Normally I twitch and jitter constantly. In the next 4 hours or so I did all the work I’d planned for Friday, a fair bit of what I’d planned for Monday, and got a few other things done.
Day 2 (Friday): Much less caffeine. Distractible and headachey until I added a bit of caffeine to cut back on the withdrawal symptoms. Then got back to being happy and functional, although not quite with the glass-like clarity of the first day.
Day 3 (Saturday): Medium caffeine, got a boatload of work done. Good focus, able to remember complicated task lists.
Day 4 (Sunday): Medium caffeine. Got a whole lot of work done. Fairly distractable and twitchy, but I could decide to keep working on something; my brain didn’t just turn into jello when I tried.
Day 5 (Monday): A bit more caffeine again. Did some serious editing and revision work. This is normally very hard for me, but it went well.
Day 6 (Tuesday): Decent focus, and got a large chunk of code done. To put it in perspective, in about an hour and a half I did something for which I’d budgeted a full working day (and which another programmer had taken a couple of working days to accomplish).
Day 7 (Wednesday): Finally got around to blogging.

This stuff doesn’t make me “not ADD”. It doesn’t make me slow or stupid. It doesn’t change my ability to switch from one task to another faster than nearly anyone I know. It does give me the ability to not switch if I don’t have a good reason to. If anything, it reduces the cost of switching, because I don’t have to take notes on what I was doing – I can just switch back after the interruption is over.

Comments [archived]

From: rone
Date: 2008-06-18 16:15:28 -0500

We’ll still need to make sure that we work the thetans out of your body. Show up tomorrow wearing loose clothing and bring a tub of Crisco.

From: Dirk
Date: 2008-07-15 15:47:29 -0500

Still happy with your new way?

You’re not losing creativity?

I never went to a docter for such thing, but I seem to have kind of the same ADD symptons and also partly dyslectic, not in reading text, but in reading numbers.

When I was young, I went to school with two different socks on my feet without noticing. Went to the shop with my school-bag. Put the empty milkbottle upstairs instead of in the cellar.

My mother has a-whole-afternoon-of-stories about my behaviour when I still lived with my parents. And then my wife laughing-out-loud adds even more.

Seems to me that the “normal” people might use LSD at least friday-evening. I never used it. My imagination is overwhelming enough, but most people I know are rather poor on that side, especialy on their jobs… oh dear.

I hear that students are using ritalin for concentration-boost during exams. Perhaps I should give it a try? Concentration is a big problem for me, bringing ritme in my life is hard, I’m mostly off-ritme, or is it the others around me?

From: seebs
Date: 2008-07-18 01:48:23 -0500

Yeah, still happy about it. I don’t think it hurts creativity at all; it just reduces stress for me most of the time.

It’s probably worth a try; talk to a doctor or a shrink.

From: Jon
Date: 2008-08-01 16:57:31 -0500

Congrats man. For some folks, the right treatment really really helps clear up the problem.

From: Dirk
Date: 2008-08-26 03:18:18 -0500

Perhaps I might give it a try.

After it, perhaps, I can dance with my wife again, she likes dancing, but not too often with me. Lack of ritme, she says.

It is ritme, but complicated, no?

Maybe not.

13 of my music is Frank Zappa, a bit chaotic, people tell me.

I do still like the difference between myself and other people. And all the differences amongst people. Diversity.

I do agree though, some people are mentaly rather unhealty. They need help.

Perhaps I might give it a try.

From: Connie - Jesus Is Real
Date: 2008-10-17 15:00:19 -0500

I would say Dan, A. pour your life to Christ tell “Him” all your woe and concerns and dreams etc. B. and He will pour His Life out “in you”. Internet, only makes the back of our neck hardened. And in good times and bad go back to point A. He’s worth it all, not internet.