Will ADHD Meds Squelch My Creativity?
We can still write, paint, dance, and dream when our symptoms are being treated – and since I’ve been taking meds for my attention deficit, I can pay the bills on time, too.
As a writer and musician, who also teaches about ADHD, I get asked all the time, “Doesn’t ADHD medication take away your creativity?”
No, it doesn’t. It restructures your creative life in unfamiliar ways. Artists with ADHD are used to a certain type of creative life, and it’s often backed up by media stereotypes.
> We’re used to creating in spurts – to being seized by inspiration right before we doze off, and staying up all night in a caffeine- or nicotine-fueled fit to capture new and beautiful thoughts.
> We’re used to a mess – to digging our laptop or paintbrushes out of a pile of unfinished projects or Wendy’s chicken sandwich wrappers.
> We’re used to drama – dealing with parents or partners who don’t understand our desires, who want us to settle down into boring and monotonous jobs, and who remind us that paintbrushes or pointe shoes won’t pay the water bill.
> We’re used to chaos – the rush of adrenaline right before a show, the crash of disappointment when we get a bad review, and the unexpected jump in studio rent that shuts us down for a season. Before taking meds, we could never see some of these bad turns coming.
ADHD affects parts of our brains that have to do with perceiving time, understanding cause and effect, sleeping, motivation, and structuring our physical activity. When we begin treatment, stimulant medication changes the way we see and process these things.
For the first time in our lives, we see that staying up all night to finish a project means that I will miss my daughter’s speech in front of the school.
We realize that buying the new brush set right now means that I won’t be able to eat lunch for the next two days, until I get paid.
We understand that the water bill has to be paid, and that it’s neither loving nor fair to have our partners pay the bill when we don’t contribute financially.
We finally face a cleaned-off desk, and that’s a little disconcerting at first.
None of these things affects our ability to write, paint, dance, or dream – but we do wake up to face our dysfunctional behavior. Taking ADHD medication helps us understand the consequences of our creative actions. Art no longer feels like a fantasy or a dream. It is hard work. We have to put in the boring, tedious work of planning our time, scheduling childcare, and paying the suppliers – or make enough money so we can hire someone else to do that.
The good news is that ADHD treatment shatters the stereotype of the “suffering artist.” We don’t have to neglect our children, cheat on our spouses, lose our homes to foreclosure, or shoot some strange substance into our veins to cope with our chaotic lives anymore. (I stopped watching any movies about musicians, because I can’t stand to see another guitar player cheat on his wife while he pops pills and sings about how much he loves his mistress.) We can be healthy. We can have peace in our lives. We can create beautiful things, and we can do it all with balance and purpose.
There’s still plenty of chaos in the world – we won’t run out of inspiration any time soon. We’ll just be consistent, and produce work that inspires the world around us to be a better place.