II Casey’s Story (Adderall)

Photo by E. Wagele

Part I of Gen Adderall (my January 24 blog on WordPress), featured studies on the effects of this drug. Part II is the story of author Casey Schwartz’ personal experiences with it, as she writes in the NY Times 10-12-16. This is a short, edited version of her story:

* I was one of the millions of Americans to be prescribed a stimulant medication (Adderall) for a decade. I would open other people’s medicine cabinets, root through trash cans where I had disposed of pills, write friends’ college essays for barter. Once I skipped a day of work to drive three hours each way to the health clinic where my prescription was still on file. I was always devising ways to secure more Adderall.

* There is almost no research on the long-term effects on humans of using Adderall. Some of us first got involved with this drug in high school or college when it was suddenly everywhere and then did not manage to get off it for years—if at all. We are living out what it might mean to take a powerful drug we do not need over long stretches of time.

* The first time I took Adderall, I was a sophomore, lamenting to a friend the impossibility of my plight: a five-page paper due the next afternoon on a book I had only just begun reading. “Do you want an Adderall?” she asked. “I can’t stand it — it makes me want to stay up all night doing cartwheels.”

* My friend pulled two blue pills out of tinfoil and handed them to me. An hour later, I was hunkered down in a state of peerless ecstasy. The world fell away; it was only me, locked in a passionate embrace with the book I was reading, thoughts tumbling out of nowhere and building into an amazing pile of riches. When dawn came, I was hunched over in the lounge of my dormitory, typing my last fevered perceptions. I was alone in my new secret world, and that very aloneness was part of the great intoxication.

* I would experience this same sensation again and again over the next two years, whenever I could get my hands on Adderall, which was not frequently enough. My Adderall hours became the most precious hours.

* I now thought of myself as the steely, undistractable person whom I preferred to the lazier, glitchier one I knew my actual self to be, who was subject to fits of lassitude. Adderall wiped away the question of willpower. Now I could study all night, then run 10 miles, then breeze through that week’s New Yorker, all without considering whether I might prefer to chat with classmates or go to the movies. I lost weight. That was nice, too. Though I did snap at friends, abruptly accessing huge depths of fury. By my senior year of college, my schoolwork had grown more unmanageable, not less. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t able to complete it.

* One evening I was alone in the library that stayed open all night—squinting down at my notes on the Russian intelligentsia. The fluorescent lights beat down on the empty room. I felt dizzy and strange. It had been a particularly chemical week; I had slept only than a handful of hours, and I was taking more and more pills. Suddenly, the bright room seemed to dilate around me, as if I were stuck in some strange mirage. I seized with panic—I tried to breathe, to snap myself back into reality, but I couldn’t. Shakily, I stood and made my way toward the phones. “I’m having some kind of problem in the Sci Li.” My own voice sounded as if it belonged to someone else. An hour later, I was in an ambulance, being taken to the nearest hospital. The diagnosis: “Anxiety, amphetamine induced.” I drew incompletes in my classes and went back home.

* It took me exactly one year from the time of college graduation to come to the decision that would, to a great extent, shape the next phase of my life: It might be possible to declare my independence from the various A.D.H.D. kids who sold me their prescription pills at exorbitant markups and get a prescription all my own.

* I had surrounded myself by others caught up in the Adderall web. Together with two of my closest friends, we traversed the city in a state of perpetual, hyped-up intensity, exchanging confidences that later we would not recall. When one of us ran short of pills, another would cover the deficit. [I gave the young psychiatrist I found the] answers that I discovered from brief online research were characteristic of the A.D.H.D. diagnostic criteria. These were the answers they were looking for in order to write down “Adderall, 20 mg, once a day” on their prescription pads. So these were the answers I gave.

That single doctor’s assessment, granted in less than an hour, would follow me everywhere I went. The doctor I found on my insurance plan would have no problem continuing to prescribe this medication, based only on my saying that it had been previously prescribed to me, that I’d been taking it for years.

Nearly three years after getting the prescription, I found myself sobbing in a psychiatrist’s office as I was finishing graduate school, explaining that my life was no longer my own. The Adderall made life unpredictable, blowing black storm systems over my horizon with no warning at all. Still, I couldn’t give it up.

* In the end, I did not get off Adderall alone. I had a brilliant psychiatrist. I believe she saved my life. During the first weeks of finally giving up Adderall, the effort required to run even a tiny errand was momentous, the gym unthinkable. If someone so much as said “Adderall” in my presence, I would instantly begin to scheme about how to get just one more pill. I was anxious, terrified I had done something irreversible to my brain,

* Even in those first faltering weeks, simple pleasures were available again. I laughed more. I had spent years in a state of false intensity, always wondering if I should be somewhere else, working harder, achieving more. On one of those earliest days of being off the drug, I was slowly trying to walk the few miles to an appointment I had. A rock band was performing onstage. The singer [was] pouring his heart into every word. Suddenly, tears were streaming down my face. I was embarrassed, but I couldn’t stop. It was as if I hadn’t heard music in years.

* Please see my website, Wagele.com, for my books, essays, cartoons, famous types, and more.

 

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