A Letter to Adderall from the Asylum

I’m not sure anymore whether you saved my life, ruined it, or just changed it irrevocably.
Publish date:
January 9, 2015
addiction, recovery, mental health, adderall, healing, Human Parts

Dear Adderall,

First of all you should know I’m writing this as part of my Partial Hospitalization Program. I’ll explain about the psych ward in a second. But for now suffice it to say I don’t usually get epistolary with inanimate objects. Not even you have made me that crazy.

Our group therapist says to start at the beginning.

I used to think you saved my life. Eleven years ago when I was still in high school it took me eight hours each night to complete my homework. You cut my study time in half. I absorbed and retained things faster. If at first BC Calculus continued to not make sense, the difference was that I became desperate to decode it.

Sometimes we ignite understanding through sheer force of will. You gave me the energy to try, which mattered at the time.

It was everything really. How else could I have cared enough about raising my SAT score by 300 points? That’s like, three questions — and what, six hours of my life?

Driving to that second test, stomach full of you, was the first of what would end up being countless time I almost shit my pants. I ended up parking my van and relieving myself in a purple cowboy hat left over from some high school spirit week. Amphetamines can do terrible things to our stomachs.

I dumped the soiled hat in a trash can outside the testing facility and proceeded through the doors as if nothing had happened. Hellbent on minuscule improvements, I got the extra 300 points. Positive reinforcement mixed with my first denial of the deleterious effects. I chalked up the cowboy hat to nerves unrelated to the controlled substances I’d swallowed.

I’m not sure anymore whether you saved my life, ruined it, or just changed it irrevocably, so much so that it’s impossible to imagine where I might be, how I might look, and what I would have chosen for a career had you not enabled me to kick ass in subjects that otherwise left my heart cold. The sad fact is: all What If Roads hypothetically lead to here; I probably would have found you eventually.

Without you, I definitely would have graduated from high school exhausted (but is that so bad?). I remember reaching for you when my alarm went off in the morning, popping 20mg into my tired dry mouth, and then passing back out for ten or fifteen minutes until the amphetamine salts jolted me awake. I doubt I would have gotten into an Ivy League school without that frantic wakefulness prodding me through endlessly complicated and boring bouts of calculus and physics. I might have drawn more, sang more. Who knows where I would have matriculated to.

The stomach problems, by the way, have been incessant for the past eleven years. But, again, the perceived positive effects always outweighed the negative ones. To be clear, because I might as well be honest on a level that is sickening and cautionary, “stomach problems” means that I have taken emergency shits in the following places:

My best friend’s favorite sweatpants

Several strangers’ gardens

The fountain on the scenic lawn of my grad school campus

The sidewalk outside a Prada Store

A train station platform with eleven people staring

SO many pairs of tights

I’m embarrassed to say I found this hilarious for most of the time I was addicted to you. Laughing was easier than admitting you might be ravaging my body. That would mean acknowledging a problem. I took you every single day and didn’t want to stop. Instead I gave up dairy and gluten, declaring myself intolerant. I convinced myself that I was in control because occasionally I’d go without you, spending the day in bed, TV shows blaring from the computer on my lap. I hoarded those extra pills and sold them during finals week for ten dollars a pop. I watched two friends get so addicted to you so quickly that they went insane. I don’t know them anymore. Maybe, like me, they would have found you anyway but I feel clammy with guilt right now just thinking about it. I feel like I killed them.

Toward the end you made my hair fall out. You whittled my once-plump cheeks into gaunt hollows. The weight loss that had once been welcome now made me look older. I shuddered at billboards warning against meth — the toothless pale mugs emblazoned there reminded me of me. I started self-medicating to control your adverse effects. I convinced psychiatrists that I needed anti-depressants and benzodiazepines. I sprinted three miles every day to come down off the jittery high of you, which turns sickening after six or so hours. When that stopped working I sprinted and took Ativan. When that stopped working I sprinted and had a drink before taking my Ativan (you’re not supposed to drink ON benzos, but I figured drinking before was fine). And when that finally stopped working I took the Ativan with my nightly drink, which grew in volume. I did all the cliched drinker stuff, self-rationalization that makes me cringe now: “Well, it’s an enormous glass filled to the brim, but that’s still technically one glass.” Soon I was taking more Ativan than even my malpracticing Dr. Feelgood shrink prescribed me, combining it with half a bottle of white wine (which occasionally turned into a full bottle). I requested higher doses of the anti-depressants to combat the hair shedding and recurring bouts of diarrhea (why, in the tell-all exposes on Adderall, does nobody mention the diarrhea?). I told myself that physical deterioration was part of getting older and maybe I just had bad genes. The self-loathing got worse. I felt anxious every second of every single day. Even at night I bit down hard, grinding away at my molars until my gums receded from the shock, leaving nerve endings exposed, leading to toothache.

I tried to quit you once, my senior year of college. I fearfully admitted to another overworked psychiatrist that all my symptoms — the sleeplessness for which I was prescribed heavy sedatives, the depression for which they gave me the pink pills, the pot smoking, the cigarette smoking — it was all wrapped up with you. The prescription she canceled would prove easy to refill in the future but I didn’t know that yet. I thought I was fixed. I proceeded to grad school medication-free and over the course of three months sank into the second deepest depression of my life.

That was the first time I wanted to kill myself, and during that persistent low I decided that, despite my best intentions, you were necessary. Seeking you out again during that period (a choice that in retrospect represents a relapse) saved my life. You rocketed me to my feet in the morning, allowing me to go through the motions with gusto. The tiny self-worth planted by this productivity quieted my suicidal inclinations. The diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder (which I’d actively sought out so many years prior because I was desperate for my own supply of a pill I’d been gifted by my boyfriend’s buddy during SATs) now bewitched me completely. I believed it. I needed you.

I have been sober now (that is, I have existed without you, or alcohol — or what our therapist calls “street drugs”) for thirty days. This doesn’t mean I’m medication-free. I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar depression, which makes a lot of sense, although I’m not sure I ever would have ended up like this if not for you. You literally changed the chemistry of my brain. Every day for eleven years you flooded it with amphetamines that eventually sapped my ability to produce normal levels of serotonin, and threw my norepinephrine out of whack.

My second-to-worst bout of depression paled in comparison to what unfolded next.

Last month, after deluding myself into thinking I’d had the flu for 90 or so days, a fusion of self-awareness mixed and masochism lead me to read biographies of notable people who became addicted to amphetamines and eventually died from heart attacks. I thought these cautionary tales would scare me straight but they only made me sadder and more hopeless. Despite the speed I could not rise from bed. I cried all day, occasionally lifted to my feet by bouts of rage you wouldn’t believe. I am not what you would call an angry person by nature, people say I have a loving heart, but in those last few weeks I felt capable of murder.

I tried to kill myself last month in part because I knew I had to quit you and wasn’t sure I could. So I took too much Ativan, drank a bottle of my favorite white wine, and started cutting myself up with rusty steak knives.The serrated edges flayed my skin. After a while it stopped hurting and I focused on getting the hatching on my wrists symmetrical. The next step was digging into the veins. That was harder. “Thank God,” my new doctor says.

My girlfriend found me and the next day I flew home hunched and hollowed to my parents, who brought me here. I went in-patient for a week, shuffling shoeless through the hallways, watching Animal Planet and going through the shakes and fevers associated with benzo withdrawal. They rediagnosed me with a series of things and changed my medications accordingly to non-habit forming pink pills. I can’t drink anymore and now take a small dose of antipsychotics in the evenings. It makes me very, very tired.

And now I’m in this Partial Hospitalization Program, which is basically a school for crazy people, to educate us on our diagnoses in the hopes of preventing relapse. I arrive in the morning and stay for six and a half hours and it’s incredibly boring but so are most things now, to be honest. Or at least, the things that used to be fun are boring now that I’m sober, and the things that used to be boring are fun. Candlelit dinners with bottles of old Italian wine on the table are a yawn-fest, but I gasp at sunsets and car commercials and grow goosebumps at the sight of large snakes. Our group therapist says it’s part of coming back to life.

I used to think people were too didactic about you. But I realize now that was because I was so afraid to lose you — what if you became illegal?

You should be illegal. No one should be prescribed you. You are the strongest drug I’ve ever taken, and I’ve experimented with many. Not to put too fine a point on it, but for what it’s worth, cocaine never appealed to me because it was nothing compared to you (good job?). I tried it for the first time and called it, “Bad Adderall.”

I used to think you made me smart, but I’m starting to realize I’m smarter than I thought — and that maybe the me I was with you (always sweaty, my mind easily captivated and frequently stuck on what should have been swift tasks — rushing and overworking simultaneously — fuck, I even occasionally pulled up my pants before I’d finished pissing, that’s how busy I felt) — this was always unsustainable. You made me sick. I don’t love you anymore.

Sometimes I think that whatever I might have achieved without you would have left me happier, with more reasonable goals and less perfectionistic expectations. In a way you parented and shaped me. So who would I be without you? What would my weight be? What would my face look like? Who would I be in love with right now? I met my long-term girlfriend at the college you helped launch me to.

And in that sense, part of me never ceases to thank you, even though I never want to see you again. Let’s agree to call the past a wash. To pretend that it could not have been any way other than this. Knowing for sure would require a time machine, after all, and ruminating on it only makes me sad — and like I said, or tried to say over the course of this letter: I am trying hard to be okay.

Reprinted with permission from Human Parts.Want more? Like Human Parts on Facebook, follow the blog on Twitter, and check out these articles:

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