Ritalin, the 2020 Summer Olympics, and Me

I haven’t been following the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, but could hardly help noticing major stories in my news feeds.

Some of them weren’t what I’d call news. Not “news” in the sense of being unexpected.

China won the table tennis medals, for example, and COVID-19 put a crimp in events and/or coverage thereof. That last, actually, was news of a sort. COVID-19 coverage outpaced team Russia doping news this time around.

Here’s a headline sampler, from Wednesday and Thursday:

On the other hand, I’ve been particularly aware of an American gymnast: Simone Biles. This is the first time I’ve had something aside from nationality and human nature in common with an Olympic athlete.

We both take methylphenidate, the main ingredient in Ritalin.

I haven’t read much past the headlines in most ‘Biles and Olympic gymnastics’ stories, so I’ll link to these two, and move on:

Balancing Mental Health and the Olympics

Fernando Frazão's photo: Simone Biles, balance beam, Summer 2016 Olympics. (August 15, 2016)I don’t know why Simone Biles set her sights on the Olympics, or the rationale behind approving methylphenidate for an Olympic athlete.

Based on what little I’ve read, my hat’s off to her for making it to the Olympics.1

And for putting her mental health before staying in the competition.

“…Naomi Osaka inspired her to protect her mental health
“I say put mental health first. Because if you don’t, then you’re not going to enjoy your sport and you’re not going to succeed as much as you want to. So it’s OK sometimes to even sit out the big competitions to focus on yourself, because it shows how strong of a competitor and person that you really are — rather than just battle through it….”
(Bill Chappell, NPR (July 28, 2021))

I gather that her decision to bow out didn’t sit well with some fans.

Maybe because the ‘it doesn’t matter how you play the game, it’s whether you win or lose that counts’ ethic is still around.

That attitude inspired jokes like this:

‘I agree. Sports builds character. That’s what I have against sports.’
(A joke I first heard ca. 1970)

And that’s another topic. Almost.

One more quote.

Simone Biles @Simone_Biles · Sep 13, 2016
“Having ADHD, and taking medicine for it is nothing to be ashamed of nothing that I’m afraid to let people know.”(Twitter)

Psychiatric Disorders and Me

Sauk Centre's Ash Street South.I’m no gymnast. Being born with two gimpy hips saw to that, although I might not have prioritized athletics anyway.

I do, however, have ADHD of a sort; plus a variety of other psychiatric problems:

  • ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), inattentive type
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • cluster A personality disorder
  • GAD (generalized anxiety disorder)
  • Persistent depressive disorder
  • PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)

And that’s why I take methylphenidate.

It doesn’t, I gather, cure anything. But it, and mirtazapine, let me think without having to fight my mental machinery. Metaphorically speaking.

Oddly enough, autism spectrum disorder and PTSD aren’t on my current diagnosis list, Not the one I can access, at any rate. If that becomes an issue, I’ll deal with it; but if it doesn’t, I’ll be a happy camper. I’ve quite enough to deal with as it is.

My guess is that updates in the DSM are responsible for some changes in my psychiatric disorders roster. DSM: That’s the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, something the American Psychiatric Association has been updating since 1952.2

Delayed Diagnosis

My methylphenidate prescription, with one day left. (June 10, 2021)Glitches like autism spectrum disorder and ADHD often get spotted in childhood. Now.

I was born in 1951.

My folks noticed that I woke up screaming when they let a light switch click, so they turned off lights by unscrewing the bulb.

But I grew out of that, and did well enough in school. Happily, my parents and kindergarten teacher didn’t mind that I enjoyed reading.

My social skills were lagging, but my folks most likely expected that. I’d had two operations by the time I started school, and regressed about a year each time.

When I was 12, my mother had a severe stroke. I’m told that I was with her at the time, and accompanied her in an ambulance. My father tells me that he blamed me. That’s understandable. Dealing with me can be stressful.

I have no memory at all of the ‘stroke’ events, all my knowledge of them and the month or so surrounding them I have second-hand, from my parents.

I suspect that’s how PTSD got on my list, and am as sure as I can be that those events started my experience with depression.

Maybe life would have been easier, if autism spectrum disorder and ADHD-inattentive had been widely known in the early 1950s.3

Or maybe I’m lucky that they weren’t.

Lobotomies, Cure-Alls and Making Sense

Illustration of 'icepick' lobotomy, from Dr. Walter Freenan II's 'Psychosurgery in the Treatment of Mental Disorders and Intractable Pain.' (1950)The 1949 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine went to Walter Rudolf Hess for mapping the midbrain, and to António Egas Moniz for popularizing lobotomies.

Dr. Walter Freeman II picked up where Moniz left off, with his handy-dandy transorbital lobotomies. I suspect they’re better known these days as ‘icepick lobotomies.’

The procedure was fast, simple and — according to Dr. Freeman — didn’t require anesthetic. Simply zap the patient with an electroshock machine, and get to work.4

I keep saying this: I do not miss the ‘good old days.’

As it was, my autism spectrum disorder, ADHD-inattentive or whatever label I use for my trick wiring — the problem or problems weren’t diagnosed until the early 21st century.

I had been an adult for decades when I decided that trying methylphenidate made sense.

That doesn’t mean that I think the drug is a good idea for everyone who deals with disorders like mine.

But, despite the unpleasantness of dealing with bureaucratic-SNAFU-enabled withdrawal, I also don’t think that nobody should use it. Double negative, but I’ll let it stand.

By the same token, I think dosing every kid who isn’t blandly “normal” with Ritalin is a bad idea, and think that some children may benefit.

Basically, I’m dubious about anything peddled as a cure-all. Or denounced as Satanic, unscientific, or whatever scares the target audience most.

Getting and Staying Healthy: Within Reason

I. Cruikshank's 1808 political cartoon, supporting Jenner, Dinsdale and Rose in the vaccination controversy.Backing up a bit, I’ve been taking methylphenidate for more than a dozen years.

I think doing so makes sense.

And, since I’m a Catholic, taking care of my health — within reason — doesn’t involve a crisis of faith.

Even if it means taking prescribed medication that didn’t exist in days of yore.

That’s because I think life and health are “precious gifts.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2288)

I also think that I can decide whether or not I take my meds, or do pretty much anything else. Emphasis on can decide. Free will comes with responsibility. (Catechism, 1730-1738)

If I decide to stop taking methylphenidate, for example, I’ll experience consequences.

So: taking meds that keep me healthy, or less unhealthy than I’d be otherwise, makes sense.

Within reason.

Priorities

'Reefer Madness' (1936, released 1938-1939) theatrical release poster. (1972)I could take the first bit of Catechism paragraph #2291, “The use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on human health and life,…” for example, ignore it’s context: and the rest of the paragraph that okays “strictly therapeutic” meds.

I could, but that wouldn’t be reasonable, so I won’t.

Recapping, getting and staying healthy is a good idea.

But if I made being healthy my top priority, that’d be a problem. Top rank is where God belongs. Putting anything or anyone else — health, family, money, success at sports — at the top of my list would be a bad idea. (Catechism, 2112-2114, 2289)

It’s not that health, family, and Olympic medals are bad.

Just that they’re not as important as God.

Which ought to be obvious, but often isn’t.

There’s a reason for that, involving free will and a profoundly imprudent decision. But I’ve talked about original sin, Catholic style, before; which isn’t believing that humanity is rotten to the core. (Catechism, 396-412)

Now, the usual list of allegedly-related stuff:


1 Olympics and an athlete:

2 DSM, Dysthemia and all that:

3 ADHD with a difference:

4 Nobel Prize 1949 (or) It Slices! It Dices! – – –

About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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3 Responses to Ritalin, the 2020 Summer Olympics, and Me

  1. Thank you very much again for your very wise reassurance, Mr. Gill, especially on the mental health side. Also, I think I’m starting to notice more of how well you connect the public and the personal. It gives me the sense that you accepted the old man role, among other roles, in ways very pleasing to God, and now I’m kinda curious about how you would’ve written stuff as a youth or something, hahaha~ Anyway, it’s also not as dramatic as the stuff I had to study for Creative Nonfiction classes in university, but it’s probably as good as them, if not better. I mean, I’m judging mostly from the way you write about topics I can relate to lots, so yeah. X”D

Thanks for taking time to comment!