There is a widespread concern that treating ADD or ADHD with medication is a zero-sum game in which the medications improve focus and on-task performance, but they do so at the expense of mental energy and creativity. There is no study that supports this trade-off, but the rumors persist. My own experience was quite the opposite. It’s just one person’s story, but I hope it can help put to rest any concerns you might have.
Like everyone else, I’ve got some personal strengths–intelligence and curiosity, for example. Those were huge blessings in my first career, a 25+ year stint as a student. I’ve also got a bunch of average
abilities like typing speed, lawn mowing skills and most sports. One can find happiness without excellence in these, and I am living proof.
Finally, there’s some things I’m very bad at. Sudoku is one of them. Oddly, I enjoyed Sudoku puzzle books for years and considered myself pretty advanced, because I enjoyed doing the hardest ones in the back of the books. When apps were first invented, I loaded a Sudoku app on my smart phone and began to enjoy the electronic version, until some genius upgraded the app to include comparative stats. This means that when you finish a game, it tells you how your time compares to everyone else who finished that same puzzle. Turns out, I’m very bad at Sudoku. Or, at least, I’m very slow, but that’s probably the same thing.
I’m also bad at a list that a psychologist asked me about in great detail one day: focusing, listening, task initiation, task completion, organization, memory, follow-through, etc. Very bad. So bad, in fact, that I had married someone who is exceptional at those things, so I wouldn’t have to think about how bad I was at them. We complemented each other well. Together, we had no weaknesses, except Sudoku.
Problem was, both our sons were bad at that whole list, too, and my wife was collapsing under the burden of organizing four people who either couldn’t or didn’t help. I didn’t understand why all the help I tried so hard to offer contributed so little. She couldn’t understand why what I called “trying” made so little difference. So I went to the psychologist to see whether I was unwilling to help or incapable of helping. The differential diagnosis was bleak: either I was evil or disabled.
Turned out, it was the latter, which isn’t so bleak after all, because ADD is treatable. The magnitude of this truth didn’t become clear to me until after I tried medication for the ADD. All kinds of things started going better. I wasn’t trying harder, but trying now seemed to make a difference. It felt like my engine was going the same speed, but my wheels were suddenly going faster. (Having ADD is a lot like having a clutch that slips, for you automotive geeks, and medication is like someone popped in a new clutch which delivers so much torque that you realize the clutch has been slipping since you first bought the car.) The same amount of “trying” now yielded a lot more progress. The difference it made in our marriage and parenting was life-changing.
The improvements in my personal life, my marriage, parenting, friendships and career in the years since I began treatment are uncountable. Some of them are subtle, some are enormous. Virtually all of them have required effort, practice, fine-tuning to maintain or optimize.
But here is the main point. Neither I nor my wife, can think of anything that got worse from ADD medications. There has been no trade-off, unless you count the cost of the medications or the too-insignificant-to-bother-about side effects. Complaining about minor side effects of life-changing treatments seems to me like complaining that a basketball fell in your lap when you were given court-side seats at an NBA game. A lot of folks would love to have that problem.
For the record, ADD treatment hasn’t make me gifted at focus, listening, task initiation, task completion, organization, memory, follow-through, etc. With effort, I’m probably average at them, which is all it takes to be life-changing.
Unfortunately, treatment never helped my Sudoku stats, so I took up Spider Solitaire. I’m quite enjoying it at the highest difficulty level, ever since I found out how to turn off the comparative stats.