My First Experience With ADHD Medication

TW: Mentions of self harm and suicidal thoughts.

And ten months after being diagnosed, I finally started taking medication for my ADHD. If you’ve been following this blog, you may remember that I was diagnosed back in January and, due to the disruption it would’ve caused at a crucial point in my Masters, I had to wait to come off my antidepressant (Phenelzine is contraindicated with stimulant medication for ADHD) and then start the ADHD meds. But, as of mid November, I could start taking Xaggitin XL (definitely my most strangely named medication so far); I’d researched it and read multiple accounts that it hadn’t affected creativity and my ADHD specialist didn’t have a problem with trying it when I suggested it. And as I always do, I kept notes; it helps me to remember what each medication was like and hopefully it can be helpful to anyone who might be taking or about to take the same medication. But, as always, it’s important to state that this is a medication I was prescribed by my doctor, according to a plan that we decided on together. This is just my experience; please speak to your doctor if you have any questions about your medication.


WEEK 1 (18mg)

I started to feel the side effects straight away. From the second day, I was experiencing overwhelming, almost constant nausea. It got worse if I rushed around or even stood up for too long and I’d end up curled up on the floor, focussing on just breathing until it passed (by the end of the week, I had figured out and was getting better at avoiding the things that made it worse). That combined with a massive loss of appetite meant I really wasn’t eating much, although most days I managed to force at least one meal down. I also started having trouble with my sleep. It would take me hours to get to sleep – usually between two and four am – which meant that my sleep schedule started to shift. It was so hard to wake up in the morning and that just meant I ended up going to sleep later and as hard as I tried, I couldn’t keep my routine from moving several hours around the clock.

My mental health also took a hit, which wasn’t entirely surprising since I no longer had the Phenelzine in my system. I started to feel overwhelmed and fragile. My anxiety increased and I even had a panic attack, not something I usually struggle with. My depression started to creep back in too; it wasn’t too bad but it was there.

The cough was still hanging around and I had multiple migraines (some that I managed to cut short with medication and some that took me out of commission completely) but both of those could’ve been left over from coming off the Phenelzine, having been big problems throughout that process. I’m not sure.

WEEK 2

The nausea, the lack of appetite, and the trouble sleeping persisted. As did the cough (I’ve taken several COVID tests since it started and they’ve all come back negative). I also felt even more scattered than usual: I couldn’t focus on whatever I tried to do and I started losing my train of thought mid-thought, which was very stressful. I felt completely unable to do anything.

By the end of the week, it felt like everything was starting to fall apart. I was really struggling to write. What I’d thought was just a few bad days (unpleasant but not unheard of) turned into an awful week; the internal flow that makes writing so easy and so calming was suddenly absent and even the forms of writing that have always felt easy (regardless of whatever’s going on with my mental health) felt awkward and forced. My mental health had started to get really bad – my anxiety and depression had gotten a lot worse – and that just made it worse. And on top of that, I had started to have suicidal thoughts again, which I haven’t had – consistently, at least – for years.

WEEK 3 (36mg)

The nausea and lack of appetite were still really bad so I wasn’t eating much. I tried but it was really hard. Sleeping was also difficult. I was wide awake all of the time – like I was highly caffeinated – even late into the night, which didn’t help in my attempts to get my sleep schedule back to normal. Most of my nights were disturbed one way or another and I had one night where I never went to sleep at all; I didn’t even start to feel sleepy until I’d been awake for over thirty six hours. It feels very strange considering that even three months ago I could barely stay awake, even with two Red Bulls in my system; talk about from one extreme to another…

I was still struggling with concentration and my mental state was only declining. I was consistently depressed – feeling hopeless and alone – and there were days where I struggled to get up, not just because of the nausea but because everything felt so overwhelming and difficult. The suicidal thoughts continued and I did self harm once. My anxiety also got worse and I had another panic attack.

WEEK 4

The nausea got even worse, lasting all day and making it even more difficult to eat (or do anything at all, to be honest). And having no appetite didn’t help with that. My sleeping was still awful too, despite how physically exhausted I was starting to feel after so many nights of poor sleep. The cough and difficulty concentrating continued and I had a couple of days that were monopolised by migraines (or maybe one migraine that never quite went away).

My mental health deteriorated further. I was incredibly anxious and my depression just got worse. I’m pretty sure it’s the worst my depression has ever been, based on what’s been going on in my head. The suicidal thoughts continued but they are different to what I’ve experienced in the past. It’s been a lot. I can’t know for sure whether this is down to the lack of antidepressant in my system, a reaction to the ADHD meds, or both.

That last week was a big week, which was unfortunate considering how awful I was feeling; it made it hard to enjoy or get the most out of those events – going back to therapy after several months away, my Mum’s birthday, and a visit from a friend for both work and fun – and then I felt physically worse afterwards, physical exhaustion and pain in addition to the ongoing side effects of the medication.


So it’s been a rough month. The nausea and trouble sleeping has been awful but the anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts have been worse by far. And losing the ability to write has been unbearable. After speaking with both my psychiatrist and ADHD specialist, it’s been decided that I’m going to stop taking the Xaggitin and try Bupropion, which should – hopefully – help my depression as well as my ADHD. So that’s another month gone and the waiting game begins again.

Nashville Looks Good On You

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This trip to Nashville wasn’t exactly what I’d expected. I’d had this vision of going out there and writing a load of songs and going to show after show after show and seeing all the friends I’ve made out there. I managed to do some of those things – and I’m really proud of what I achieved – but my mental health really dominated the trip, much more than I’d hoped it would.

We got off to a pretty rocky start when I forgot to take my medication the night before we flew out. We had to leave at two o’clock in the morning so I never really went to bed and therefore my nightly routine was disrupted. Plus I was excited and nervous and just generally all over the place. We got to the airport and I couldn’t even walk the distance to security, I was so completely out of energy. I thought it was the lack of sleep and stress of travelling but I physically couldn’t do it. We ended up asking the airport staff for assistance and they were absolutely amazing, at every airport we travelled through over the trip: they got me a wheelchair and took me wherever I needed to be, getting me early access to the planes, and so on. It was so helpful and honestly made the whole thing possible. I don’t know what I would’ve done without their help. It took a few days to recover and it was only then that we realised what had caused it.

The reason we go at this time of year is because the Nashville Songwriters Association International hold the Tin Pan South songwriters festival, where hundreds of songwriters perform songs that they’ve written. They have a great mix of famous and up and coming so you get a lot of different, beautifully written songs. All of the shows that I went to were good and some of them were fantastic. My favourites include Lori McKenna, Alyssa Micaela, Emily Shackelton, Hannah Ellis, Natalie Hemby, and Travis Meadows. They were truly incredible.

There were a couple of other musical highlights too. By some wonderful coincidence, Kelly Clarkson was playing the Bridgestone Arena while we were in Nashville. I’ve always wanted to see her and I’ve always wanted to go to a show at Bridgestone. And to make it even sweeter, Kelsea Ballerini – who I LOVE – was opening. So it was perfect. The show was amazing and I had a blast. Totally a bucket list moment.

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The other musical highlight was getting to see my friend, Caylan Hays, perform. We’ve written together several times and on my last trip, she came to see me play a gig and by another beautiful coincidence, she was playing on the last night of our stay. She was fantastic. She’s such a talented writer and I love her voice. Throw in some gorgeous electric guitar and I was in love. You can check out her music here.

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And of course, I got to go to two Song Suffragettes rounds. I love this organisation with my whole heart and so it meant so much to me to see both shows while I was there. They – the people who run it and the girls who play – are so inspiring and I hope I can play with them again someday.

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I had several writing sessions while we were there and for the most part, they were a struggle. I love the people I was writing with dearly but my brain still isn’t right: a casualty of my depression and the medications I’m taking. We’re still trying to find the balance where I’m emotionally stable and not creativity stifled. Still, I’m trying and I so appreciate these writers for having patience with me while I work through this. I also got to spend some time with friends, old and new, and they really inspired me in this dark patch of my life.

But throughout the trip, I really, really struggled. My anxiety was so high that I actually had trouble breathing and my depression was so overwhelming that I found myself falling apart (even in public places, which I’m usually able to avoid doing) multiple times. There were lots of tears and lots of Diazepam; it was very hard. I struggled desperately with wanting to go home and I was battling suicidal thoughts (helpfully described by Claudia Boleyn as, “my brain trying to kill me”) for most of the trip. In truth, it was a bit of a nightmare but there were some really great moments that helped me manage it and of course, I had my wonderful people (my Mum and my writing partner, Richard Sanderson) there to support me. The trip wouldn’t have been possible without them.

Also, shout out to Pancake Pantry for teaching me what it’s like to get excited about food.

My Personal Warning Signs of Depression

In a recent therapy session, my therapist and I were talking about this latest depressive episode and what I’ve learned from it. Because I’ve learned A LOT. I’m not ‘un-depressed’ yet but coming out of it a bit has given me a new perspective on it, on my depression and how it affects me. Hopefully that perspective will be helpful to me in the future. Because depression can creep in very slowly, you don’t always notice the signs but in hindsight, there are a handful of things that should be red flags in my mind. Maybe being aware of these things can help me prevent the depression getting as bad as it did this time.

  • Unable to write songs – I don’t mean a bit stuck. I mean a continued inability to reach the level of functioning necessary to write songs. Songwriters, do you know what I mean? I know exactly the feeling I mean when I write this and although it does sometimes come out of nowhere, it is the biggest sign that depression is creeping in again. It’s very distressing to be unable to do the thing I love the most.
  • Losing my excitement – This was something I didn’t realise was gone until it returned. I’d get excited about things in theory but I assumed the dampened emotional response was just part of the depression numbness. But since I’ve started to feel better, my excitement has resurfaced about as dramatically as a volcano. It’s fun but a bit disconcerting. So, in future, if my excitement seems to have gone AWOL, I know that it’s a potential sign of depression.
  • Overwhelming anxiety about the future – I am always anxious about the future so this is a tricky one but when it becomes overwhelming and it feels like more than I can cope with, than I could ever cope with, and it goes on for an extended period of time, it’s a symptom of my depression.
  • Feeling hopeless – Similar to the previous one, feeling overwhelmed by hopelessness is a real sign of a depressive episode. It feels like everything inside me has stilled, like there’s a new, sharp clarity to everything. Everything becomes very simple and really pointless. We all feel hopeless now and then but when this feeling doesn’t pass, I know I’m in a depressive episode.
  • Increased suicidal thoughts – This one is the final straw, the most telling sign. I’ve always felt very strongly against suicide so when these thoughts start to filter into my everyday thinking, I know I’m in trouble.

There are symptoms common in everyone – like low mood, fatigue, low self-esteem, and so on – but these are my personal warning signs. Do you know what yours are? Are they similar or different?

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