Last month, after about seven years, I stopped taking my ADHD medication called, Vyvanse. The last post I wrote was all about my journey of starting up and being on Vyvanse. I promised readers a part 2 about getting off the medication, but I would like to wait a while longer before writing it. I want to spend more time off the medication to have an expansive reflection. In other words, if I wrote a reflection piece about being on it for seven years, the least I can do is wait a few more months before writing about being off of it.
However, I have learned a lot about the withdrawal process, and I hope that my immediate experience of stopping Vyvanse can offer some insight to others. My break up with the medication was not officially cold turkey, (but it felt like it). I continuously lowered my dosage from 70mg to 20 throughout this past year with the guidance of my doctor. Then I began to take the 20mg every other day, until finally on a long weekend, I braced myself for the cut off.
I will tell you right now: It is a real withdrawal, comparable to a detox. You will feel sick and achey. You will feel depressed. You won’t want to do anything. You will be mad at everyone and everything. You will crave your meds. Even with all this ahead of me, I felt prepared for it. I am lucky to have summers off which gave me plenty of time to adjust without the stress and responsibilities of work. But even if you are working full time while trying to stop ADHD meds, there’s still ways of making it a more manageable experience.
7 Tips for Getting Off ADHD Meds
1. Check-Out. Set aside at least 3 days for yourself, ideally 4. It takes about two weeks total to feel normal, but you need a few days to really check out professionally and socially. Unlike, other mental health meds that have long half-lives and slowly leave your body, most ADHD meds have a short half-life. This means once you stop, you really notice it right away.
Your first day off isn’t so bad. I remember feeling pleasantly surprised. I told my husband, “Well, this isn’t so bad!” Alas, I was too quick with my words, the following few days were much more difficult. I assume that first day isn’t quite as rough because there’s still a little bit in your system. So, you might be able to squeeze a day of work out.
The next few days though, I was sluggish, unmotivated and irritable. I had very little patience, which made me socially unbearable. This is one of the main reasons I suggest you stay home and do absolutely nothing. The last thing you need is an impromptu altercation at work or a big fight with your mom simply because you’re not thinking straight. Most obviously, you will without a doubt have trouble focusing. So, stay far away from any important projects, emails or phone calls. The best excuse you can give is to CALL IN SICK, not only at work, but with family and friends. Even if you feel like you can push through the lethargy, don’t.
2. Binge-watch. If there’s any time to binge watch TV, it’s the few days after stopping your ADHD meds. I remember feeling very annoyed, like something was missing from my brain and the only thing that could fill this void was Vyvanse. So, I laid down and literally watched Friends all day. The show is light and easy to follow. I really needed the distraction. It’s a very mixed up feeling because you might have a sense of urgency to get things done like you normally do, but at the same time, you won’t feel up to it. Don’t panic, just watch. Watch all day, all night. Don’t feel guilty because it will pass.
3. Play games. Play lots of games, fun games that challenge your reflexes and mind. When you stop your meds, your brain is trying to reconfigure. It’s like you’ve been riding a bicycle with a motor and suddenly the motor has been taken off. It will feel strange, tiresome and difficult to ride at first, but eventually you will be able to ride it all on your own. This is why, even though I was a sloth, I played Crossword puzzles, simulation games, Nintendo Wii, board games, trivia and Super Mario a lot. It was a fun, relaxed way to keep my mind moving; it also served as a great distraction. If you don’t usually play games, now is the time to download game apps. There’s tons of free game apps to keep you rolling while you’re laying around.
4. Exercise. I don’t recommend challenging exercises like running or playing football just yet. I made the mistake of going for a run. I felt very out of breath, discouraged and grumpy. Yoga, shooting hoops, playing catch, going for a walk or dancing are better options. You want to move to help you fight off the depression that might set in, but you also don’t want to torture yourself. My run was cut off early, I almost puked and when I came home I felt defeated. So, to avoid this, go easy. Then after your little half hour yoga session, shower and get back to lounging.
5. Eat well. Stock up on healthy snacks. You will have major munchies coming off your meds. It was very tempting to eat all day long. Your meds may have been an appetite suppressant, so your appetite will be back with a vengeance. Also, you will be really bored laying around, so of course you will want to snack. Feel free to let yourself munch out (this hunger will pass), so make sure whatever you’re munching on is healthy or at least low calorie. Instead of chips, choose pretzels. Instead of ice cream, choose grapes. Sunflower seeds or peanuts with the shells are also great options because they keep you busy peeling. If you do decide to go crazy with candy and french fries, don’t be too hard on yourself. Know that the cravings and hunger will eventually dissipate.
6. Sleep. If you feel sleepy, go for it. You will be bored, bummed and blah, so you may as well sleep it off. Actually, I didn’t realize how much Vyvanse hindered my sleep until getting off of it. I literally couldn’t nap for years, so reconnecting with siesta time was really rewarding and cozy.
7. Don’t trust yourself. Many negative thoughts drifted through my mind during this withdrawal process. Thoughts like “I will always feel sh*tty,” “I will suck at everything now,” “I will turn fat,” “I’ll fail at work without my meds,” or the basic, “I can’t do this” plagued me. There’s no way to stop this thinking; your dopamine is all crazy, the lethargy is discouraging; just know that eventually the thoughts will disappear. Let them come and go. It’s okay. Soon, it will all be over.
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