I’m sick of being judged and discriminated against for managing my mental health symptoms with an “illegal” drug.

I couldn't access ADHD medication, so I self-medicated with street methamphetamine

Aaron Walker

The first time I tried methamphetamine, it had a surprising effect. Instead of being energetic and talkative, I felt this pleasant, calming sensation. 

I felt calm and in control, similar to how my focus improves when I load myself full of stimulants: legal substances such caffeine or chocolate, but also illegal substances.

For a long time, I didn’t realise this was because I had undiagnosed ADHD and autism. 

In 2019, prior to being properly diagnosed, I had a mental breakdown. The sensory overload from ADHD and autism came to the forefront, and my anxiety levels went through the roof. It was all too much. I was given a false diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, and spent six months in psychiatric wards. I finally scraped together the $600 it costs to see an ADHD specialist, and I was finally given an accurate diagnosis: ADHD and autism. 

The specialist asked me if I had ever injected methamphetamine, or if I had a family history of heart disease. I answered honestly: yes. I was ruled out of receiving stimulant-based medication such as Ritalin, and was prescribed Strattera, a non-stimulant which is not as effective.

As I couldn’t access the necessary medication, I chose to self-medicate with street methamphetamine. This allowed me to finally take control of my mental health and my disability. Methamphetamine slowed down the world so that I could feel at ease. How I acted and felt on it is how neurotypical people act and feel most of the time.

I maintained full time employment throughout my time using methamphetamine.  Being a responsible user means knowing when to say yes and when to say no, something which many methamphetamine users are able to do.

I’m sick of being judged and discriminated against for managing my mental health symptoms with an “illegal” drug. I’m sick of people using my methamphetamine use against me, and blaming the substance for behaviours that may instead be symptoms of autism and ADHD.  

One of these symptoms is mimicking. Once my landlord – who was aware of my methamphetamine use – heard these sounds and tried to prove that I was a “crazy person” who was not in control of my life. I was charged a higher amount of rent, and faced court proceedings. 

Another time I was on the bus, and a passenger had flicked her freshly washed hair in my face. Because autism is all about sensory reactions, I suddenly became very overwhelmed by the smell, the sensation, the sounds. 

I got off the bus and felt extremely agitated. I imagine I presented like someone who was drug affected, or who was having a psychotic break. All I wanted to do was get to a quiet place where there were no sensory stimuli, but I couldn’t articulate this, or answer basic questions. Many autistic black people have similar experiences to mine. We are constantly misunderstood  by the police, first responders and healthcare professionals. Sometimes I wish I had a visible disability, so that people would understand that I need extra care and patience.

We must practice empathy towards the “drug affected” or “crazy person” on the street.

We need to remove stigma and judgment, and realise that it’s often a sign of something else being covered up: whether it be that they have undiagnosed ADHD or are dealing with trauma or PTSD. Drug use is a grey area. 

I joined Unharm’s StoryLab program because I want to shake up the way that people are diagnosed and treated for ADHD. Too many people are suffering. We should not be forced to turn to illegal channels to try and medicate ourselves.

Australia’s politicians have an opportunity to take a look and understand why they are demeaning so many of our citizens. As a nation, it’s time to get our act together and stop trying to arrest our way out of drug use. It’s time to treat drug use as a health issue.

 If you have lived experiences with drugs and five minutes to spare, share your story with Unharm today.

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