Don faces unusual challenges growing up and suspects that he has ADD.
It was 1989. A wall was coming down in Berlin. For six-year-old me, however, the first day of primary school was a much bigger deal. I was a precocious child and a quick learner. However, I was sensitive, restless, dreamy and easy to pick on, and more comfortable around adults than other children, and I never did my homework. Despite this, I had good grades in all subjects except for mathematics. I finished elementary school without significant academic trouble, but with poor marks for orderliness. I had also gained a significant amount of weight.
Lower secondary school is where the academic problems started, and when I began my habit of skipping class. Being in class didn’t feel good. I could only listen to the teacher a little bit before drifting off to a daydream, and I would often doodle instead of finishing my assignments. I made it through, but my grades were beginning to suffer.
Upper secondary school in Norway is optional, and this was when I dropped out. Being in class was suffocatingly boring, and I was constantly gasping for mental air. I just did not possess the mental vigour to continue. I tried again a year later in a different school, only to drop out again.
At this point, I decided to try something else. I moved to Tromsø and took a Cisco certification course. I was a computer geek and liked to code, so the material was easy for me. I stopped showing up for class because I knew the material already, and only turned up to take the exams at the end of the year, and I passed with scores in the 8/10 range.
With this certification, I got myself a job at a computer customer support call center in Ljusdal, Sweden. I was about 20 years old at this time. I burned out after about 6 months. I didn’t know it was a burnout at the time. I just knew that I couldn’t continue.
For the next 15 years, I was a job hopping programmer. I could never hold down a job and would always burn out. Because young people aren’t supposed to burn out, I didn’t know what to call it. It just felt like failure to me. I worked up debts because my income was unsteady and I had no control over my spending. I struggled with depression.
I began to suspect that I had a mental problem and tried to get treatment for it, but I was too much of a mess to follow up on it properly. I also had some terrible experiences with an incompetent psychiatrist who diagnosed me with PD-NOS (Personality Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified). A neuropsychologist thought I might have ADD. A psychiatrist at the Oslo University Hospital agreed, but she was severely overworked and I was unable to pull myself together enough to follow up on the appointments.
In 2018, my weight peaked at 160 kilograms. My body felt like it was deteriorating, and I had gastric bypass surgery to deal with my weight problem. To avoid having to deal with the public health system, I paid for it out of my own pocket. During the next year, I dropped 30 kilograms. My ability to deal with the challenges of adulthood had slowly been improving as I reached my mid-30s, but something was still not right.
In 2019, I had another burnout at work, but this time, I was organised enough to see a doctor immediately, and got a sick leave to avoid losing my job. I also spoke to him about trying to follow up on the ADD assessment I had started 8 years earlier. He very kindly explained to me that he didn’t believe that ADD was real, and that he would never prescribe any stimulants for me, even if I did get a formal diagnosis.
At this point, I was staying in touch with some good people on Mastodon who had prior experience with this, and they suggested that I change doctors. I was skeptical at first, because the advice you get shouldn’t depend on who the doctor is. It should depend on the current scientific consensus in the field of medicine. The problem with this line of thinking is that doctors are humans, and humans are fallible. In the end, I decided that I should trust my own judgement—knowing far more about my problems and the symptoms of ADD than my doctor did—and switched to another doctor.
Having had such good experiences with paying for a gastric bypass surgery instead of fighting the public healthcare system, I decided that I would try this approach when looking for a psychiatrist, so I looked around Norwegian internet forums to find out who to contact, and a psychiatrist named Espen Anker came up quite often during my search, so I decided that I would contact him.
He told me that he would first need a report from the Neuropsychological Center in Oslo. This blew my mind away, because I already had such a report from 8 years ago, but none of the psychiatrists in the public health system had wanted to read it. I didn’t know where to take it back then, and here was this guy who was specifically asking for it. This is when I knew that I had reached out to the right guy.
During the two-hour consultation, he examined the report, listened to my life story and ran me through a number of different tests to eliminate other possible diagnoses, such as manic depression and general anxiety disorder, plus a test by Russel Barkley, a renowned expert on ADD.
At one point, he told me that my working memory was poor. When I asked him what prompted him to say that, he said that he could hear it, because I was jumping from subject to subject. Near the end of the appointment, he told me he was firmly convinced that I had ADD, and wrote me a prescription for Ritalin. I left with my jaw agape. After picking my jaw up from the floor, I went to the pharmacy to pick up the Ritalin and then headed back to the office…
So, did it work for me?
Yes, basically. I can now...
I’m now capable of acting like a responsible and mature adult.
Not a perfect one, mind you! I forget things from time to time. I draw the wrong conclusion or make a mistake. I focus on unimportant tasks sometimes. I can be a bit blunt. The difference is that I’m much quicker at making an adjustment if I veer off course. I waste 15 minutes instead of 2 hours, and that makes all the difference in the world.
I’m actually so astonished by the effects of this medication that I’m going to go so far as saying that denying it to people who have similar issues to me is inhumane, and if you’re a doctor, you’re complicit in medical malpractice. I also believe that we could easily screen children for this and other disorders by handing out forms to parents and teachers at elementary schools. Some of them would be false positives, but a proper assessment by a psychiatrist would eliminate these. It would save society enormous sums of money.
My problems have come at considerable cost to the Norwegian welfare system. The Norwegian state has a system for paying out damages to victims of medical malpractice in the public health system, and I’m going to look into the possibility of doing that.