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I was always the ragamuffin who showed a lot of potential but put no effort into school, so I’m pretty much the poster child for ADHD. I didn’t get diagnosed until I was 14, and I was placed in the 99 percentile. I still don’t understand how my parents didn’t notice until then. My shrink at the time prescribed me with the maximum dosage of Adderall, which I would later learn was what a doctor worth his salt would prescribe a 6’4” 200-pound man.
That’s when my behavior started to change.
I started to devolve into this combative, temperamental person who my family did not recognize. I went to this doctor every three months, and he thought I was this way because of anxiety and depression, so I was prescribed antidepressants and benzodiazepines. He would go through a checklist of symptoms within a span of 10 minutes and would prescribe me these drugs. I would take Adderall to pull all-nighters and rifle through my parents’ medicine cabinet just to find something that would calm me down or help me sleep. I don’t know if they ever picked up on that.
I had no idea that what I was doing constituted substance abuse because these pills were legal. I didn’t know that people took these pills recreationally or got addicted to them until I was in college because I was such a sheltered kid.
There was no spectrum of emotions for me; every sentiment I experienced was radical. I was euphoric one minute, crying the next, and laughing five minutes later. I would either lionize people or see them as the devil incarnate. I was so self-conscious and confused with what was going on with me that I wasn’t capable of thinking beyond myself. I barely ate or slept during the school week, and during the weekends, I would sleep almost the entire time. I would saying cringeworthy things that should not be said, making inappropriate jokes, confessing personal information about myself to people I barely knew. There were times I couldn't restrain myself from talking, and my brain would not let me shut up.
I think people just thought I was socially awkward because high school sucks and puberty is just weird. It was a tradition at my school that every senior gets a superlative unique to their personality, and I ended up being immortalized in the yearbook with the superlative “Most Unaware Offensiveness.” That about summed me up.
I made the transition from the awkward girl to the hot mess party girl during my gap year abroad. Making dick jokes and saying whatever came to your head in high school makes you kind of a weirdo, but this kind of behavior is perceived differently after high school, especially if you’re wearing a hot outfit. Add a couple of double vodka Red Bulls and you’re golden. Guys were pretty into it and girls saw me as a good time, not as a good friend.
Beyond partying, I isolated myself completely. I didn’t engage with people on a personal level that often. I was so wrapped up with what was going on with my brain that I didn’t know how to bond with people or how to be a friend.
My time with Adderall culminated with psychosis. No one got hurt or anything, and it wasn’t even half as bad as the cases of psychosis you hear. My shrink said I came out of the whole thing unscathed compared to the other cases he’s seen. I was taken off benzos as well because I had become too reliant on them. I was completely disjointed from reality, hearing voices, hallucinating, you thinking things happened that never did. It’s actually a pretty common side effect and it happens to a lot of people, but it sucks that things had to get that bad for me to realize that this pill was fucking with my brain.
I ended up in a mental hospital for two days even though my psychosis was over just so they could monitor me. I went to a short-term rehab for only four days after that just to make sure I was mentally stable, and they said I was totally fine to go back to school. I would’ve missed only a week and a half of school, but my college wasn’t so understanding; they banned me from campus.
When you get off a drug that makes you feel euphoric, the world shifts dramatically from stimulating and enchanting to bleak and boring. I was bitter because I couldn’t go back to school. It was the first time I had been in touch with reality since I was in middle school, and it took some time for me to become acclimated.
I eventually got over my anger and started to become more reflective. The incident that made me contemplate how drugs impacted me was, ironically, when I did cocaine for the first time. Six months after I stopped taking Adderall, I was at a friend of a friend’s apartment and I did lines with some Patrick Bateman wannabes and their gym teacher from their prep school days. These guys had been doing cocaine for years, and they were pretty taken aback that I was able to do line after line after line even though it was my first time. The copious amounts of blow I just snorted felt like the Adderall I took when I was a teenager as a pick-me-up before field hockey practice.
It then dawned on me how high I was for years.
I realized that my impulsivity and wild ways weren’t because I was a good time, it was because I was experiencing mania. I wasn’t unadulterated and audacious because I was outgoing and irreverent, it was because this drug made me an annoying, reckless asshole who couldn’t shut the fuck up. I wasn’t a crazy bitch or a drama queen, I was on an emotional rollercoaster because of Adderall. I even realized that I experienced psychosis more than once, and some things I thought had happened never actually did.
Once I became more self-aware, I was willing to accept responsibility for my actions and I understood why I alienated so many people. What was more difficult for me to accept was that a lot of people I considered friends weren’t good people, and I was blind to it. I shut out anyone who actually wanted to connect with me and gravitated towards people who were a good time instead. All the guys I was involved with were predatory pieces of shit, and a lot of the girls I was friends with were insecure mean girls. The only reason a lot of my relationships worked was because I had no dignity, so they would treat me badly and I thought I deserved it. Even after my substance abuse, I thought I deserved this kind of maltreatment because of my past. It took a long time to develop self-respect.
I had no idea what I was in for when I was transitioning back into college. It was obvious my dean didn’t want me back at my previous school. He was the one who said I was banned from campus and blocked my multiple attempts to come back earlier without letting anyone hear my case, which I later found out he wasn’t at liberty to do without letting me go through the proper channels for readmission. He also didn’t know how to facilitate my transition back to school in a tactful, supportive way. I asked around if I could change deans, but I was warned by one of his subordinates, who said, “You don’t want to get on his bad side. He’s a very powerful man.” I felt lost and I didn’t have that much guidance for my transition back.
My professors were more understanding. I had to accept that never again would I be the girl who was capable of feats such as finishing a 20 page paper in six hours or getting Princeton-level SAT scores with a broken calculator even though I didn’t study. It’s not as if Adderall made me more intelligent — if anything, it made me come off as pretty stupid. I had to learn how to focus without being reliant on a pill.
Otherwise, my transition back wasn’t all that bad. I initially felt self-conscious about being a little older than the rest of the student body. By midterms, I realized that I had outgrown house parties and college bars.
It’s been three years since I stopped taking Adderall and benzos. I’ve downgraded from crazy bitch party girl to someone who is endearingly awkward, a little hyperbolic, and kinda neurotic — think George Costanza but with an ass that doesn’t quit. I don’t take ADHD meds and I’ve accepted that I’m always going to be kind of a space cadet because of it. I’ve taken up yoga and meditating to combat my ADHD and anxiety. I’m no longer the douchebag who pounds double vodka Red Bulls and does anything for attention; instead I’m the douchebag who reads Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle website and nutrition labels religiously.
It would be dishonest of me to say I’ve moved on completely. I have to remind myself that who I was a couple of years ago is completely disjointed from who I am today. I really don’t want what happened to define me for the rest of my life (which I why I’m not using my real name for this article).
I still struggle with letting go of how I used to be. Like the other day, I was waiting for a text back from a guy I like, and I was craving, like, a Pez dispenser full of Xanax to deal with the anticipation. I caught myself thinking, Wow, I’m such a pillhead.
But it’s not because I’m a pillhead. It's just that waiting for guys to text back sucks.