How to Take Ritalin: What I Learned the Hard Way

it took me two months to begin learning how to take Ritalin for ADHD, to avoid its side effects. Finally I’ve found five questions to ask myself before taking a dose.

By Laly Steel

February 5, 2020

After having started taking Ritalin (methylphenidate), it took me two months to begin learning how to do it and to understand that this isn’t just medication for my ADHD: it’s a psychotropic and, as such, it can manipulate our mind, our emotions, our behavior, in unexpected ways. It’s a freaking racoon in my kitchen.

I went from “This is awesome!! Finally, I see!,” to: blurred vision, palpitations, numbed upper lip, a reloaded hyperfocus and a Chucky status (that is, creepily staring at the screen for forty minutes, just staring, and staring…)  

“I’m gonna died from a heart attack,” crossed my mind more than once, but it turns out that one can increase the dose of anxiolytics to “balance” the situation. This is insane. 

Why don’t I try something else if it’s so hard? Because I’m in the early stages of my treatment, and there are actually no many options in Argentina.

So, when, how much, and which are the factors that influence my “how-to”? Let’s get this party started.

This is a personal experience and it should not be considered as medical advice.

What the Doctor Said

Initially, I was instructed to take one capsule (of 10mg) twenty to thirty minutes before sitting down to work, which is not what the prospect says…; but the prospect also says ADHD occurs on “children and adolescents” (not adults) and that one should not take it if one “suffers from anxiety”. I’m still laughing.

My doctor also said, “go to the gym, extend the fast, no more carbs, proteins only.” And that was it; I was thrown into the lion’s den. 

What I Say

These are the questions I ask myself, before taking one capsule and considering adding a second dose.

1. Do I Really Need It “Now”?

The first mistake I made, was to rely on Ritalin for every single session of writing; since the effect wares off after two hours, I kept adding capsules (with my doctor’s agreement) until taking four per day. A month later, I was burned out.

I hadn’t been able to work properly for years; so, going from nothing to eight hours per day, well… you can imagine what it did to my brain. The side effects became unbearable, and I stopped. 

However, I didn’t go “from nothing” per se; before I started taking the Ritalin (and as I was still recovering from a brain collapse), I had been able to write for two (lousy) sessions of 45 minutes.

Therefore, one night it hit me: Why don’t I start over that way? Why don’t I start working just with my coffee, and take the capsule when and if I need an extra push? And so I did. The result? I discovered I don’t need so many doses and that I also need to check if I feel good before taking a dose.

2. Do I Feel Good?

The hyperfocus under Ritalin’s effect, led me to believe the medication was giving me a boost; huge mistake. The methylphenidate improves our execution; it doesn’t give us more energy.

Taking Ritalin when I’m tired or when I just don’t feel like writing, can give me: blurred vision, that awkward headache that feels like a hat compressing the whole head (what’s up with that?!), and palpitations; or, an hyperfocus devoted to arranging my color pencils from lighter to darker.

3. Is Everything “Around Me” Ok?

On a really hot day (even with the AC on), or if there is something in my head I can’t shake off (such us doing the dishes, cleaning the cats litter, whatever), trying to fight it so I could write could make my mind explode. Side effects; again.

So, before I sit down, I remove from my thoughts anything and everything.

4. Do I Have Everything I Need?

A quick trip to the kitchen to get more water, can turn on red lights EVERYWHERE; “do the groceries; cook now; open the curtains…” and, hummingbirds! The anxiety to get back in the zone, is another thing that triggers the side effects on me.

Therefore, I set up my writing room (in a room without windows) as if it were an office “somewhere else”; here I’ve got: the Ritalin! (I used to keep it in the kitchen), water, my cigarettes, the electric tea kettle for my mate and a cloth if I spill something… yes, even that. 

I only allow myself to go the bathroom next door, and to take a walk during my breaks. This-is-war.

5. What Am I About to Do?

The first two posts I wrote with Ritalin, when I resumed this blog, were an effortless and heavenly experience; the third one, not so much. I realized that I cannot “create (even think, reason?)” under the effect of the methylphenidate; I can only, “execute.”

Therefore, before taking my capsule, I make a list of what I’m about to do, and how I do this, is game changing: 

a) for my tasks, I make a list on the Reminders App (for MacOS) which I keep opened; I do not continue to next item until checking “done.” If I don’t plan my tasks before taking the capsule: anxiety would trigger the side effects, or… Chucky status.

b) for what I’m about to write, I use the Notes App; I create a note for the piece I’m working on, and I map it up (headings, subheadings, keywords, wild thoughts!) If I do this on my file, I could feel anxious to get to next subheading and: “writing is hard and I suck!” (plus side effects, Chucky status and colossal meltdown)

How I Remember to Say What I Say

How sad and funny it is at the same time… I used to have a reminder of all these questions in a piece of paper, until I got cocky and thought, “I know how to work with Ritalin now! I own this shit!” 

Then, one day I was feeling that way, oh-so-confident, and I took a second capsule in the morning when I was already exhausted; and one of my cats meowed…

Remember to remember.

This is insane.

Update: I’ll be posting as soon as I can why I had to switch to Ritalin LA, and how I managed to create a routine to avoid its side effects [November, 2020]

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2 replies on “How to Take Ritalin: What I Learned the Hard Way”

I really like the way you’ve described your experience. I can relate to some of those while adding some coffee to my Strattera. I can also imagine how tought it can be with a focus like yours… because mine is there there. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and keep up the good work 🙂

So what do you think?