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When I was in third grade, my Upper-East-Side private school teachers suggested to my parents I had ADD.
As an energetic, über-creative kid, I probably didn’t pay attention in school because most of what I learned didn’t interest me. Seriously, is there anything interesting about long division? My parents, who had my best interests at heart, sent me to a psychiatrist, who put me on Ritalin, which was the drug du jour for ADD.
In my opinion, Ritalin, Concerta, Adderall and most ADD drugs out there are really just pharmaceutical speed. The doctor neglected to mention this to my parents. Also, this was before WebMD. They really had no idea what they were getting me into.
Drugging eight year olds, who lack fully matured minds, sends two messages. The first is that there is something wrong with you.
Being drugged made me feel like a bad person who did terrible things and this prescription was my punishment. It was also incredibly shameful having to go to the nurse at school or camp to have these drugs dispensed to me multiple times a day.
The second message that drugging children sends is that whenever anything is wrong the answer is always to take a pill This is because, when you are a child on speed, you can’t develop proper coping mechanisms. And you don’t ever fully feel your feelings.
You believe you do, but everything gets masked. And when thoughts and emotions become overwhelming, because everything is magnified when you are on speed, the only way to cover them up is with more speed.
To this day, whenever I have a problem, the first thing I always think about is what drugs I want to take to cope. Then I devise a way to get them. Then I realize it’s probably a bad idea and change my mind. No matter how much I try to move forward, the first thing I always want is drugs.
By high school, I cycled through every ADD drug on the market. My favorite drug of all was Adderall. It was great! It allowed me to do well in school, be really skinny (I weighed 95 lbs when I graduated) and feel incredible most of the time. Adderall allowed me to do my very best.
If you put a small group of girls together (there were 19 in my graduating class, all girls), they are bound to get competitive with each other. My life was "Mean Girls" meets "Gossip Girl." I was in every school play, made Honor Roll, took acting classes outside of school, did standup comedy, went clubbing every weekend with my fake ID -- and I managed to always look good and had my college applications in early.
I was in the perfect environment to fuel my own perfectionism. I always felt good about myself. This was probably because everyone always told me how great I was doing. Being a speed freak was an asset. Truthfully, I don’t think I would have done as well as I did without drugs.
In college, I continued to take Adderall because it felt normal. After partying all week, it was immensely helpful when I needed to get my shit together to write a paper. It was my illusion that everyone in college was on the pills. They are academic steroids. You’d be crazy not to take them, regardless of whether or not you had your own prescription.
I must reveal a huge secret about Adderall: The comedown off it is beyond painful. You have an excruciating headache, like someone is stabbing your brain from behind your eyes. Adderall was even more physically addicting than mentally addicting to me. At the end of my using, every afternoon, I would either crash and take a nap, or I’d have to take another pill.
It wasn’t even helping me with my job; I was taking it to not be sick. You swallow the pill and the moment it hits you, you feel relieved and okay again. What is totally insane when you are off drugs feels completely normal when you are on them.
Eventually, I had prescriptions to other pills, not just speed, but to downers like Valium. I never got addicted to these, but my tolerance for everything was ridiculously high. I was taking handfuls of Valium to relax when I had to switch to Ativan. I could get whatever I wanted from my doctor faster than I could get Chinese Food delivered.
Unfortunately, years of using speed took its toll on me. I had hallucinations of shadow people every day. I was tired, paranoid and burned out. I would drive around Los Angeles (I moved there after from graduating college) having panic attacks behind the wheel. Even just a remote flicker of light that resembled a police siren out of the corner of my eye would make me feel as if I were having a heart attack.
Quitting Adderall was a fucking nightmare. I had so much in my system, that it took over a week just to start to detox.
I took Ativan and Vicodin (which were not prescribed by my doctor) every day for the first few weeks of it. Seriously, I owe my recovery to Ativan and Vicodin because I would never had made it through without them. I felt tired and depressed for essentially four months straight.
I had to nap for four hours a day and if I had to get anything done, I would need two Five Hour Energy Extra strengths to do it. All I did was watch the Kardashians, read TMZ and sleep all day. It took about a year for my brain to be fully functional again. Honestly, if I knew it was going to take as long as it did, I would have never quit.
The whole experience was so excruciating, I don’t even remember how I got through each day. I wouldn’t see anyone expect for my therapist and psychiatrist. If not for my dog, I probably wouldn’t have left the house. I went from being a party girl who went to clubs every weekend to being a complete recluse.
No one could predict when I would start to feel better and I felt like I wanted to die all the time. I don’t know how I made it out the other side. Some people would say it is something spiritual, I just think my desire to pursue my dreams overruled my desire for drugs.
Being an adult who was drugged as a child is a very interesting experience. I was given meds way before I could comprehend the side effects and consequences. But would I have succeeded the way I did without drugs? I don’t really know.
Last year, I read Cat Marnell’s articles about Adderall. I thought I was all alone in my struggle and realizing I wasn’t the only baby Adderall junkie was life changing. So, thank you, Cat, for being the first to open up Pandora’s box.
To be completely honest, I’ve never been able to quit ADD drugs entirely. I’ve had periods off them, but I am a more functional person on them. Currently, they are prescribed by a psychiatrist who is an addiction specialist. I trust him and his judgment entirely. Unlike Adderall, these pills aren’t speed, so I can’t use them to mask my feelings. It’s so strange as an adult to finally feel everything. I don’t always like it.
Truthfully, I still crave Adderall. And I can call any doctor I want and have my prescription delivered to me, gift wrapped. But I choose not to. I drink and I don’t forbid myself from using drugs recreationally or taking pills that have not been prescribed to me (which doesn’t necessarily mean I do).
I know logically (and my psychiatrist tells me) that I should be 100% sober. But emotionally, my life is much easier without that restriction.
Adderall helped me live up to my own expectations of myself and to other people’s expectations of me that I so desperately wanted to live up to. I am a perfectionist and the pills always made me feel just a little more perfect.
Because without Adderall, I’m not perfect, I’m just me. I hope that will be good enough.