Everyone has their one thing they are embarrassed about or ashamed of and for me that is my personal struggle and dependance on Adderall. Which is one of the major reasons this brand was created, at the time I didn't realize how this brand would end up being a form of therapy for me and testing me to the limits on what I could accomplish and handle in life. This story is long and I am now ready to open up about it, as I feel it is the time to be transparent and also in hopes of inspiring others. After doing a lot of holistic therapy, books, podcasts, journaling and getting deep with myself I discovered how and WHY addiction ended up taking over my life. And as we always hear in passing, there is always a root problem to most things, and my addiction was the symptom of a much deeper root issue that took layers and layers of understanding to get to the base, which I realized stemmed from my childhood. To give you some context on my background and upbringing I have to rewind a bit…
I grew up in Rochester NY where I was immediately exposed to and born into the “modeling and entertainment industry” Both my parents and older brothers were successful models and it was inevitable that me being the youngest and the only girl I would follow the same path as my parents and siblings. Rochester, NY is the main city where I grew up but I went to school and was raised in a much smaller town or village that's about 40 mins away from the main city. I grew up in a very rural town by lake Ontario, was considered medium class, and graduated high school with about 100 people. There were very few opportunities for someone who was pursuing the entertainment industry and therefore my parents brought me to NYC for the school summer breaks to pursue modeling and acting. I didn’t realize it at the time, but most of my childhood was spent with adults, agents, managers and my parents, although I did get to play with kids that were my age. They were also models or actors and we all were considered very mature and handled a lot of responsibility at a young age. It made it hard to relate to kids from my hometown school because I would have experiences over the summer in NYC that were so different from the normal small town activities that it started to alienate me more then I realized. But I truly did enjoy going to casting to casting, and auditions to interviews, there was a high and low that became my normal. The high would be when I booked a job, performed well and got rewarded by the adults around me. The low was going to multiple castings a day and auditioning for several rolls per day and then finding out I didn’t book one job. My parents were always supportive either way, but obviously the more I booked and got to perform the more I would be rewarded or gain attention ( or that was just my perspective at the time). As a young child with my mind and body still developing I think I confused that with being loved. Now don’t get me wrong, my parents and siblings LOVED me so much regardless of booking jobs. They would do anything for me and supported me in anything I wanted to do. This is not me blaming my parents for anything at all. But I would see the reaction my parents would give me when I booked a job and I think I started getting addicted to that reaction. Like any child, I enjoyed the attention. I became obsessed with wanting to get a reward or a reaction, and making people proud. I think this ultimately turned me into a people pleaser. Although I stood my ground and was not a push over even as a child, I still internally and subconsciously felt more loved and got more attention and rewards every time I booked a job.
On another note- my father was an entrepreneur and had several business ventures. Seeing that hard work from my dad's side and the modeling side from my mom. It felt completely normal to me that you work hard to get what you want, and hard work also comes with rewards and recognition. I was raised in a space where business and jobs seemed more important to me than playing with my friends or toys. Although I enjoyed that too, I was more challenged with the business side of things I was learning. I really still to this day appreciate all the knowledge and risks my parents took for me to have a future.
The one thing I started getting conditions too was everyday was different for me. I would meet different people, different kids, different photographers, different crew/casts, different locations. Different energies, and would play a different role every day. It was like every day was a “Job interview” where you have to make a great first impression and put your best foot forward. Look at it this way, if you work right now where you go into an office setting you most likely see the same people, sit at the same desk, do the same work and there is some consistency that comes along with it. You also get the chance to really get to know your co-workers and you no longer have to worry about “first impressions”- they now know you and know how you operate. Although you still may want to put your best foot forward, you no longer have to go that extra mile to show your personality or strengths because people already are aware of it.
Well what if you had to go into a brand new job every single day with new people. These people never get to know you, you don't get to show yours in and outs and you have only that one day to give a good impression. Your days are filled with small talk and getting to know these people as much as you can in the 8-10 hour period you have. Your only chance of getting requested to come back is dependent on the first day they meet you. So subconsciously you're under a lot of pressure to make sure all your T’s are crossed and I’s are dotted. Most of my childhood was filled with giving “good impressions” or just making an impression. Again I didn’t realize it at the time but that ended up putting a lot of pressure on a kid, and not really ever having a down day, or sick day, or couldn't complain, or actually couldn't just be a simple kid. That conditioning ended up being something that affected my adulthood, my friendships, relationships, and my personality as I got older.
After the summers ended, I would go back to school and my peers were aware that I modeled but I knew even at a young age it was something that wouldn't be accepted and so that made me very insecure as a child and I never brought it up to any of my peers, I was actually more ashamed of myself then anything. At times kids would see me in the paper or on national television and it would come with criticism, although the teachers and adults loved seeing it and would always bring it up in class. I, on the other hand, was always mortified. It would take a few days for kids to stop making fun of me before a new magazine would come out and the cycle would start again. It really became confusing to me because at home I was rewarded by these accomplishments but at school I was criticized for them. It made me get closer to adults and my family, and it became harder and harder to make friends at school. I was never one to really defend myself because I really didn't care too, and still to this day I don’t have the energy to explain things to people or defend things because it's not worth my time. But that made my peers even more confused about me because I remember the constant “ we hear you're a model but you never talk about it so then you must not really be one” but I just let them think whatever they wanted. I just really ignored it.
Fast forward to high school, I still had minimal friends. Still modeled and would miss out on some of the iconic high school experiences because I simply felt disconnected from my high school peers. I did usually always have one friend and a boyfriend and that would be how I would end up going to school functions like prom or parties. I did enroll in sports and was captain of the cheerleading team, but again I was focused on the activity or the one person that was by my side at that time, and less focused on big groups or making a ton of friends. I also realized that I would look for that “reward” in sports or winning contests at school as I was conditioned to think that success would gain me love and recognition. As high school came to an end and college applications were the focus I only had one school I wanted to apply to and that was FIT (The fashion institute of technology) that was my dream school and I only really cared about my modeling career and fashion at the time. My grades were also terrible, I would study for days for an exam and still only get a C-. I had to study 3 or 4 times more then the average student, and still only was able to maintain about a 67 average. To say i wasn't book smart was an understatement, but also we realized I did have a focus problem, I’d like to say my focus problem was probably caring less about grades and more about my adult career. I was really focused and knew on what I needed to achieve for my future, and science, history, and math wouldn't apply to that. I remember there was a discussion to put me on Ritalin, I think we did get the prescription but I never ended up taking it (Thank god) instead opted for tutors, extra credit when available to help my grades, and taking exams in separate rooms then the rest of the kids that would allow less distractions and extra time to finish my exams. I believe at the time NY state made it mandatory that I get up from the classroom and get removed to a separate room to take my exams, which you can imagine also gave my peers something to talk about behind my back. Although again, I would always get the support from my teachers, they liked me and knew I had common sense and street smarts, knew i was level headed and well rounded, and no one was really that concerned about my future. But we all knew we had to get me to pass in order to pursue what I was meant to pursue at that time.
I applied to FIT and because my grades were so incredibly bad the school didn't take me. I was CRUSHED. That felt like my only way to get out of my small town and do what makes me happy. I ended up going to a community college full time, working three jobs and studying my butt off to get my grades up so I could apply for a second time to FIT. I always had a reason and a goal for why I did the things I did, and having 3 separate jobs all had their own reasons. One job at Abercrombie and Fitch was to be associated with fashion in some capacity and to attempt to make friends. My dry cleaning job was very slow where you could sit down and maybe only attend to one customer per shift, so I would use that time to study extra hard for my exams (and my co-worker was smart! So she would help me with my homework). I also worked at the community college bookstore twice a week on Tuesday and Thursdays from 6am-9am. That was so I would be forced to wake up earlier, as my classes didn't start til noon and I knew I would sleep in until 11:30AM if I didn’t have a responsibility to wake up for. I think also, “working” was comfortable to me, it was a security blanket in some respects and I think it probably was in hopes to get that “reward” I always was on the hunt for.
Fast forward, I did end up getting in FIT the second time around. I also continued to model and started my own clothing line at the age of 18. Eventually, modeling gave me the opportunity to move to California and I made that move in 2012. I spent my weekends and some week days traveling the country for modeling and whatever days were left over I continued to focus on my clothing line. Again zero days off and I was okay with it for a while. Eventually, I got drained from modeling and I also had to say goodbye to my fashion line after several years working at it. At this point I had gained a lot of marketing and branding skills that I learned during the time of having my own clothing line and really started to realize the part I loved the most about designing was marketing the finished product. I loved the fashion shows, the photoshoots, building a social media presence, and cross collaborating with other leaders and tastemakers. I switched my design company to a marketing agency where I would service clients in many different facets. In fact, a lot of my past modeling clients turned into my marketing clients and I was ecstatic to finally be able to use my mind, business sense and experience for others and not just be a “model. That now became my new addiction.
I will always say that my current company which is now Ashley Michaelsen INC ( a Public Relations Fashion Showroom + Marketing agency came to me), literally fell into my lap. I realized that I enjoyed this new found work, but I didn’t really set out to achieve it. Because of my constant passionate talks about my clothing line to my modeling clients, peers, or people I met networking, I started getting asked to take on side gigs doing an array of jobs. Fashion Styling, Social media managers, Producing photoshoots for brands, blogger/influencer partnerships. I even started consulting other brands a little bit and then it turned into paid monthly retainers. I had an understanding of these services from just always having my finger on the pulse, past experiences and also being more tapped into the industry and trends. I combine that with my organizational skills and fire to succeed, and officially turn my “side gigs” into services and filed to be corporation. At the same time, I had just signed a lease in a Hollywood loft that was 3 times too expensive for me. My plan at the time was to rent it out for shoots, or Air B & B it, if I found out I couldn't afford it. I never made it to that point as my new loft became the headquarters for my new company. My days were spent making appointments with fashion stylists, wardrobe teams, magazine editors, to get my clients products out in the media space. My nights were spent attending to my analytics side and catching up on emails, marketing plans and strategies, and putting together creative directions to form a team of talents for my clients upcoming photoshoots. I loved all of it and still do.
The role I played in this new chapter of my life had a similar feeling of my past modeling career. Every day was different, I was meeting new people, and attending to several clients at time. I realized that 50% of what got clients or people to “buy into me” was simply "me" as a person. The other half was the productive work I did for them and full-filling the goals I promised I would achieve. Knowing that 50% of this was emotionally driven and dependent on keeping the relationship with the client strong, I always felt I had to “Be on” and again put my best foot forward. Very similar feeling as my past. My weekdays now consisted of phone calls, lunches and dinners with my clients, catching up on emails, and then producing the work I had promised I would complete. In addition, I picked up modeling again and traveled every weekend for about 4 years to almost every state in America. I felt very accomplished and fulfilled on how I was handling it all.
Keeping clients happy and showing my personality/enthusiasm and work ethic was my main focus or purpose in life. The new reward I looked for was now in the hands of my work, and no longer my parents.
Overtime, like anything else, I had burned myself out and became completely exhausted. But this was my short coming, my clients never demanded too much of me, it was my desperate need and want to please.
It was becoming hard to keep up with all the work and the additional opportunities that were always coming my way. I was very grateful and thankful that constant work always came easy to me. But managing all of it simultaneously took a toll on me. I also had issues focusing on just one career choice at time, and was always looking for several ways to showcase my talents. Around this time, I was reintroduced to Adderall during a vacation with modeling friends.
Adderall became the most perfect tool to supplement my lack of energy, or the perfect hack to wake me up super early in the morning to complete everything I needed to get through that day. It also made me a talker, and actually more outgoing. Because of my merge from modeling to “business woman” I always had the story in my head that I had to overcompensate and prove to people I was more than just a face, and that I was intelligent, witty and hard working. Adderall gave me that extra push and confidence I needed, in order to get through the heavy work load. This was the beginning of a 5 year addiction.
I eventually got my own doctor to prescribe me the medication. Being that California has restrictions on Adderall it was always difficult for me to get it from my NY doctor. And so I would have to get it shipped to me, or would make trips back to NY to get it. It literally became my lifeline and the dependency was on another level. Adderall can have very negative effects and are subjective for each person. For me, the ones that surfaced were anxiety, depression, dehydration, lack of appetite, and the overall fear of the crash if I didn't take it. It opened up the doors to smoking cigarettes from time to time, which eventually led to the new trend of “vaping”. This helped me to offset the anxiety it came with. I also started taking Xanax or drinking way too much wine to calm my mind down when it was time for bed. This became my toxic cycle for years. I became obsessed with managing this addiction, counting how many pills I had until they ran out and how I would get more, keeping up with the expense of vapes and their refills, drinking so much water everyday to deal with the dehydration, force feeding myself since I had a lack of appetite, and doing anything I could to not feel a depressing crash. Days that I would take too much of Adderall got me to the point of several urgent care visits because of my constant heart pains. They would run ECG’s along with other tests, but I really knew what was causing it. I went more so to just have closure in case something was really going to happen to my heart that day. After these close calls, I would taper down on how much I took per day, and tried to get myself on a lower dose schedule. Eventually the cycle of me abusing it would always start over. I started to feel handcuffed to this drug and my work. The mental cycle was absolutely exhausting. I would work all day building my energy up with the medication and spend the nights calming my body down to sleep. I had restless sleep for several years which encouraged the morning cycle of taking it to keep going, and to get me out of bed from the lack of quality sleep. The overall work-load wasn't really the problem, it was my way of managing it, and the perspective I had on it at the time that was the true problem
The Pandemic had hit, and I always told myself that I could quit if I could just have a solid month off, so I felt with work at a stall, this would be the perfect time. Of course, knowing myself and my need to chase a “reward” I created my own side projects that I worked on during the pandemic that would hopefully launch when this was all over. I never took the time off that was given to me, the time that I always wished for that would allow me to quit. That's when I realized, this Adderall dependency was a much bigger problem than me, and it had absolutely nothing to do with work, my parents or clients. This was a problem I created for myself.
It was easy to hide my addiction to myself within my addiction itself. This medication allowed me to ignore all other personal problems in my life. I didn’t realize at the time, but I had actually lost a lot of feelings and emotion and even enthusiasm for life. It numbed me out. Even Though I felt it gave me more of a personality and made me a chatty Cathy, those parts had been minimized since my tolerance was so high, and I was really turning into a shell of a person. When you are so narrowed in on something, you have blinders on that don’t let you see the bigger picture. I was so consumed with crossing my T’s and dotting my I’s and making every detail so incredibly perfect, that I was actually slower to hit any finish line.
Only two months ago, the addiction, depression, and anxiety all came to a serious level. I discovered I had created something called “Serotonin syndrome” a condition caused by too much serotonin being put into your system that your body no longer knows how to make it naturally. As a side effect, it made my body spasm and twitch (along with other negative issues). After one long night of having my best friend count how frequent my spasms were, we contemplated another trip to the ER. But at that time, I had taught myself holistic ways to calm my body and mind enough to at least get me through that night. The next morning I still continued to take one Adderall (scared to take any more than that) and later that day after work, I had a complete mental breakdown. It was a week where actually so many amazing opportunities and work endeavors were on the horizon. And I felt no amount of Adderall would be able to handle the new chapter I was coming up to work wise. I had just got a full prescription of 90 pills and I was scared what would happen to me if I finished that bottle. I came home that day and started throwing my bottle and pills all over the place, I threw some in the sink, some in the garbage, and ran water over the rest. I chucked the bottle across the kitchen floor, and I went to my bed and cried for several hours. It was never easy to get Adderall, and so throwing it out like that meant I couldn't access it for at least 30 more days. I truly felt like my life was shattered. I was so dependent on this drug like it was pure oxygen to me, and I actually felt like I couldn't breathe without it. I even called a rehab in fear of me trying to find Adderall again from friends, or buying it off someone.
A few days later, after having a pity party for myself and sleeping off my exhaustion, something beautiful happened. All of the therapy, holistic strategies, natural supplements, meditation and gratitude that I had been trying so hard to practice the last few years, all surfaced up. It was as though all the “work” I was doing to better myself shot up and came pouring out of me, as it had been contained and locked up for years. I had always been so discouraged, because no matter what I was doing to better myself, I never felt any different. It was just a constant dead end. And that is because the medication was literally blocking all the good that I was striving for.
Getting off Adderall lead to me feeling emotion again, I was able to actually see again, and see the bigger picture. I enjoyed the taste of food again. I wanted to actually do normal things like go to the beach, or even just get groceries. I could feel happiness, I could feel gratitude and I was having a completely different outlook on life. My world was so narrow and tunnel vision on this medication, and now the flood gates were opening up wide and tall. This feeling really became positively overwhelming and something I had not felt in a very very long time. I started to have more balance in my life and my needs and wants from life were changing. It's like I woke up from a bad dream and was seeing things for the first time again. I put this new found natural energy and enthusiasm into a T-shirt line and called it “Free as a Tee”.
Prior to quitting, I had this thought that to successfully set my future up I needed a product vs a service. I wanted to work towards something that I thought would be a little more passive income. I couldn't imagine taking on another marketing client, and not because I didn't enjoy what I was doing (Because I really do love what I do) but I literally didn't know where I could find the extra time to do so. It left me stuck on how to grow my business. I want to make it clear I am not playing the victim card here, I am actually realizing how I creating these false narratives from my past experiences.
Regardless, I knew I needed a massive life shift. It also was very important to me that whatever my next project was, absolutely had to embody heart, purpose, passion and something that actually could help people.
Because the Adderall kept me so focused on my current marketing company, it allowed no space to focus on this T-shirt idea I had. It wasn’t until I quit Adderall that I was able to now see a bigger picture, bigger future and create something that hopefully one day would be bigger than myself. Because "Purpose" and "Passion" was missing from my life I made it a mission to only do something that embodied that. I used that as my motivation to wake up every morning off of Adderall. I imagined myself helping people with addiction, volunteering my time, and sharing my story through this new brand as my way to give back to this world. I wasn’t waking up for just myself anymore, I was waking up on the pure thought that I could make a difference in this world just one step at a time. But I didn't want to make the same mistake again, and add all this stress and pressure on myself that I am conditioned to always do. So I let this new endeavor play out naturally. If I was tired, I would sleep. If I was creative I would tap into that, If I felt more analytical one day I would lean into that. I wouldn't force my body or mind to do anything it didn't naturally want to do. I also 100% knew I did NOT want my new career baby to be created from anything but natural energy. I knew if the future of this brand took off, I wanted to be able to tell myself “I DID IT” with no help with medication. I also knew if I wanted to advocate for others, and truly make a difference in this world, I couldn't still be addicted behind closed doors.
Realizing that October is ADHD awareness month and Oct 10th is World Mental Health Day, I did however try to keep a timeline so I could launch in October, and that's exactly what I did. In two-three months, I designed, chose out colors that align with conditions that mean something to me, found a factory in LA and went into production, produced a photoshoot, launched a website and put together a marketing plan. I have really never been so proud of myself, and I truly truly in my heart of hearts never thought I could do it without medication. I was so focused on the thought that Adderall was helping me advance or have a one up on people, I didn't realize the medication was actually holding me back and ultimately destroying my life one pill at a time. I am no doctor and am only sharing my story so if anyone has similar issues we can shine some light on it and hopefully I can inspire just one person. Everyone's story is different and unique to them, and when you are ready to truly tackle your own problems, please seek out the professional help to do it correctly. But what I will say is, you CAN do it. You truly truly can do whatever you set your mind to, but you have to really want to, and have the discipline and motivation to do so. Nothing is really easy in life, but playing the victim card, and “talking” about the changes you want to make is just a tactic to avoid doing the work to make the changes. I am proud to say I am going on 3 months with no medication, and sharing this story with you, will encourage me to forever stay off of it. Filling my own personal voids through this new brand and it giving me a purpose, gave me a healthier perspective on my marketing company. It also minimized the pressure I was putting on myself to do everything so perfect. When I was on this medication, it always needed an obsession to dissect and over think, it magnetized any little problem to something much bigger then it needed to be. After reflecting long and hard I realized I no longer look for that “reward” the way I used to. The reward is within myself and no one can give that to me, but myself.
One other note- I am not against others using this medication for the right prescribed reasons and when used correctly. It is something that can also be very helpful to people. This is just my personal story, and how my relationship with it didn't turn out how it was originally intended. xoxo
For more information on addiction and mental health visit:
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