How does it feel to be on medicine?
One adult describes his experience
Article reprinted from Pure Facts March 2001, Vol. 25, No. 2

In the December 2000 issue of GQ (Gentleman's Quarterly) magazine, journalist Walter Kirn wrote about his own struggles with ADHD and with stimulant medicine.

His life had been one of detours, beginning a project, shifting to another and another, with his thoughts and efforts scattered. He was rarely able to follow a single task to completion. By age 31, Walter was exhausted from fighting his invisible adversary (which he named Frankenstein) and was ready for help. It was a relief to know his problem had a medical name: ADHD. He had read about stimulants, both pro and con, and was apprehensive when he swallowed his first Ritalin tablet. What happened was "a surge of artificial illumination so sharp and radiant it made me grin." He continues, "In no time, I was typing like a madman, spraying sentences like a broken hose. My customary method of composition — slow, deliberate, reflective and filled with self-critical pauses and revisions — gave way to a swooping, driven, verbal momentum that filled the screen as quickly as I could read." He began churning out work at an amazing pace; what's more it was good work, not (as he had feared) "druggy nonsense." Kirn was astonished to find that first day that he had been working for six hours straight. He quickly took a second Ritalin, and in the one hour interlude before the second dose took effect, his mood and thoughts plunged into darkness.

Each time he refilled the prescription, he writes, "I felt guilty because the drug was so damned powerful — easily as euphoria inducing as any illegal substance I'd ever tried. In fact, its effects were better. Cleaner. Tighter. Plus, compared to street drugs, the stuff was cheap."

In the days that followed, the work flowed from his keystrokes. All the scattered, meandering forays were gone. Kirn was driven. The problem was that he had trouble turning off the voltage when it came time to relax or sleep. The doctor then supplied a sleeping pill, but even if he slept badly, the next dosage of Ritalin had him up and running again. He not only focused, he found it hard to do otherwise. Kirn writes, "On Ritalin, the task at hand was the only task in all the world, and the world was very, very small — the size of a book or a computer screen." His life had indeed changed. "Frankenstein had been banished to the grave. The problem was that Dracula had replaced him."

He lost interest in eating, but drank enormous amounts of water to compensate for the drying effect of the drug. Then he noticed that his personality had changed. He writes, "And something else dried up; my human sympathies. The flip side of my ability to focus was my waning ability to feel."

Kirn began to see that, despite the Ritalin, his prolific output stopped. He worked compulsively for hours, but accomplished very little, and increasing the drug gave him only a short-term reprieve. Finally, he had had enough. The old problems started to look good in comparison to what he was now experiencing, and the prescription went into the garbage.

"Frankenstein and I are working things out," he concludes, "but what about the estimated 2 million American kids who don't have the option of canceling their prescription...?"

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