Tuesday, September 13, 2016

WADA hack

Ok, it's going to be a long rant today. The whole scandal about the hack into WADA system hit close to me, because I have a number of chronic conditions that require medication. One of these conditions is ADHD.
First, I want to give some background on ADHD and specifically on ADHD in Russia, so you would better understand the outrage of Russian regarding Simone. ADHD is an official diagnosis in Russia, however, many people don't believe it exists. It is very under-diagnosed, especially in girls and women. In addition, stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin are class I narcotics in Russia and are completely prohibited. Even for therapeutic use. That's right, people with ADHD in Russia do not have access to medication. If you're traveling in Russia, you can't bring your Ritalin with you, because that would be a criminal offence. That's one of the reasons I don't want to go back to Russia even for a visit.
Those who do believe in ADHD often think that it's only an issue of focusing attention and bouncing off the walls. Well, the name of the condition is pretty misleading. In reality, ADHD causes a chemical imbalance in the brain which leads to impaired executive functioning. There's a whole cluster of symptoms, among them impaired working memory, inability to feel time (like not knowing how much time has passed and being late everywhere), trouble controlling energy (you bounce off the walls for an hour then you crash exhausted for the rest of the day), impulsivity (including anger issues), trouble recognizing facial expressions, sensory processing issues (like I have trouble understanding speech, for example) etc. Of course, in individuals symptoms may vary and some are more affected than others, but, in general, it's a very serious condition that affects many aspects of daily life and makes life pretty hard. Undiagnosed and untreated ADHD leads to development of other conditions, like depression, anxiety, addiction etc. I have anxiety disorder, for example. Medication does not cure ADHD, but it helps with some aspects (like time management, memory, controlling impulses), so it's needed in daily life, not just for studies. For example, without medication I forget appointments and lose things, so I really need it for travel to be able to get to airport on time and without leaving my passport at home. But people in Russia, including doctors, often have no idea about all this stuff. I personally went to doctors there multiple times, complaining about specific ADHD symptoms (back then I didn't know I had ADHD, but I knew something's wrong with me) and was never diagnosed until I moved to Israel. People in Russia often believe that stimulants are heavy drugs on the same scale as heroine. So, I'm not surprised many now believe that Simone took doping and that her diagnosis is a sham.
Of course, in people with ADHD stimulants do not offer any performance enhancing benefits. I remember the first time I took Ritalin. I normally stumble a lot and bump into things when I walk. If I want to prevent it, I have to concentrate really hard on my surrounding and where my body is at all times. It's exhausting and I can only do it for like 10 minutes in a row. The first time I took Ritalin I was, for the first time in my life, able to walk around and not bump into things, because I suddenly was aware of where my body is and what surrounds it, without making special effort. I remember thinking: wow, is that how normal people feel all the time? For us, many simple things that other people take for granted are extremely difficult. Medication doesn't make it all go away, but it makes life a tiny bit easier, and for that I am immensely grateful to science.
I am in awe of Simone for being able to achieve what she did while having ADHD and I think she's a great example for girls and women everywhere.
Russian media, of course, are having a field day with titles like "Simone Biles is using doping!" and I'm sure we'll have comments from Valentina about it soon enough. And I'm sad for Russians with ADHD who are under-diagnosed, stigmatized, afraid to come out as having this condition and do not have the necessarily resources to be treated properly.

1 comment:

  1. Actually Biles' ADHD might be caused psychologically, she has a difficult childhood, so not necessarily all chemically!