It’s hard to admit that I’ve gone to a psychiatrist. Not a therapist or a psychologist, but a full-blown head shrinker. I suffered a massive head trauma several years ago. Three months after the injury, neither my primary physician, nor several specialists, could explain or remedy my symptoms. The next two years of my life I spent on the brink of destruction. It was recommended that I see a psychiatrist who specialized in treating patients recovering from brain injuries. The stigma attached to mental illness and psychiatry is akin to peoples’ fear of witchcraft or satanism. Brain injury is regarded in the same light as schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder. The common perception is that psychiatrists treat the nutjobs and wackos that your garden variety therapist can’t handle. Visions of straight jackets and shock therapy come to mind.
I found myself meeting a psychiatrist because my symptoms were unbearable. Brain scans and blood tests initially confirmed swelling in my brain. After the initial swelling went down, none of the tell-tale signs of CTE (Chronic traumatic encephalopathy) were present. In their not-so-subtle way, it was suggested that my symptoms were psychosomatic (all in my head, no pun intended).
Meeting with the shrink for the first time was surreal. His office was in a converted basement of a medical supply company across the street from the hospital. The walls were decorated with psychedelic paintings the shrink himself had painted. He described himself as a reformed hippy who got into psychiatry because they had access to better drugs (wink wink).
45 of the 60 minutes of our first meeting were spent talking about his problem with the IRS (he learned that I had managed a collection agency several years prior and he wanted advice on how to get them to stop garnishing his bank accounts). As we were leaving his office at the end of the hour, he said, “hey, before I forget, you should take some Adderall…it’ll really help you focus. You’ve got ADHD”. And, with that, he hastily wrote me a prescription for Adderall and I was on my way.
ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is purported to affect millions of children and adults in the U.S. alone. Those of us who were once recognized as kids who got stir-crazy in a classroom setting are now believed to have a mental defect. My shrink believed that I was one of the lucky sufferers of ADHD because I had been able to subdue my hyperactivity to a degree necessary not to drive everyone around me nuts (and those around me might debate him on that point…). I have since come to recognize that this supposed mental defect is something more like a superpower.
For those who don’t know, Adderall is lab-grade meth. It’s generic name is Amphetamine Salt. My hippy doc later told me he had prescribed it to address my inability to focus and concentrate. He chuckled when he said it would also improve my mood. For the first few weeks, I felt like I was on fire. I could focus with laser precision for hours on a task. In fact, I once sat researching a project for 7-1/2 hours straight without so much as even getting up to take a wizz.
When the novelty of being a meth-head wore off, my symptoms came more sharply into focus. In fact, some of my symptoms were exacerbated by the Adderall. In my hippy doc’s infinite wisdom, he failed to consider ALL of my symptoms when prescribing me pure speed.
Among the host of symptoms I continued to experience, chronic insomnia was the most debilitating. I am not a doctor, but taking 30 mg of a potent stimulant every day doesn’t seem like the best way to relieve insomnia. To counteract the high, I self-prescribed vodka every night in order to get sleep. Every day was a roller coaster of getting jacked up on speed in the day and drinking myself into oblivion at night.
Over the next few months, many of my physical symptoms began to subside. The tingling in my left hand and arm went away and I regained my coordination. The wicked vertigo that tortured me started to leave me alone. The sight in my left eye slowly returned. When I could bring myself to eat, food started to taste normal again.
While my physical symptoms were improving, my life was falling apart. I was becoming increasingly belligerent. Disagreements with clients or co-workers would quickly escalate to me shouting. I would blow up at people in line at the supermarket. Drivers on the road would send me into a fury.
I was a ticking time-bomb. My aggression turned violent. I harassed people on the road, following and threatening them in my truck. Most of my nights were spent at bars badgering people, itching to start a fist-fight with any son-of-a-bitch stupid enough to take the bait.
I went from 30 mg of Adderall taken orally each day to 40 or 50 mg (I would crush and snort the extra sometimes in order to get a bigger rush). Around that same time, I went from 375 ml (a small bottle) of vodka to 750 ml (the big bottle) over the course of a day.
My memory of this time is veiled under a fog of strung-out drunkenness. Days, weeks and months became a blur. To this day, I cannot clearly recall most of where I did what and with whom. I can only recall that I was a menace to myself, my family and anyone within swinging distance. I moved out of my house for fear that I might commit some unspeakable horror in one of my drug-induced fugues.
In my blogpost “Push-up’s saved my life“, I talk about the moment when I had an epiphany that led me to save my life starting with exercise and nutrition. Kicking my Adderall habit and taking a liquor sabbatical were crucial to my recovery plan in order to avoid what was going to be my inevitable self-destruction.
My reason for sharing this story is about more than Adderall, alcoholism or head injuries. Far be it for me to condemn or condone the use of Adderall. Perhaps there are people in the world who would truly enjoy a better quality of life using a closely monitored regimen of this, or other, stimulants. I do, however, take issue with doctors that fail to listen to their patients and patients that believe that drugs and doctors are the only answer.