Column Ilja: Party time

Almost 24, almost fully grown. Party time for Ilja.

Next week is my twenty-fourth birthday. I am still studying and living in the same house, but still, my life feels completely different from this time last year. Outside, public life, and thus student life, is in full swing. And inside -in my personal life- things go more smoothly than they did last year. I no longer feel the need to succumb to every impulse and generally have my life well under control.

At some point during the lockdowns, I aimed to get the ADD diagnosis because I was unable to focus and felt impulsive and felt irritable. I hoped to score some (legal!) Ritalin, and I succeeded. For two years, I took it as prescribed. The mental threshold to activating myself was lowered. But there were drawbacks: some days, the medication had an adverse effect, forcing me to endure a few hours of palpitations and a fight or flight reaction.

This summer, I decided to stop taking the medication, and against my expectations, I felt better than before

This summer, I decided to stop taking the medication, and against my expectations, I felt better than before. Perhaps because I started to work out (for the dopamine your ADHD brain lacks) or because I began to drink more caffeine (caffeine is an upper, much like Ritalin). But there was also a shift I was not able to explain.

AD(H)D occurs in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, the part that is responsible for planning, decision-making, regulating emotions and controlling impulses. It is the last part of the brain to develop and is fully developed, according to a well-cited theory, around your twenty-fifth year. ADHD symptoms, such as losing concentration, irritability and a lack of impulse control, may be confused with all manner of different diagnoses, making it both over and under-diagnosed. Perhaps my symptoms were nothing more than those of a lethargic student during a lockdown, or, more likely, just my prefrontal cortex still needing to develop fully.

In any case, my life feels completely different from last year, which is positive. Due to external factors, but also ‘internally’. Everything being constantly in motion is part of student life. Knowing that my life will be entirely different next year is a nice thought. I would be worried if it wasn’t. My prefrontal cortex becoming fully developed is the main feat of this year in my life. ‘Guys,’ I announce in the WhatsApp group, ‘I think my brain is almost done developing. Time for a party?’

Ilja Bouwknegt is 23,bachelor’s student of Forest and Nature Management, and an active member of the study association WSBV Sylvatica. She sometimes does bat research at night.

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