This is a teen-written article from our friends at Youth Communication, a nonprofit organization that helps marginalized youth develop their full potential through reading and writing.
Names have been changed.
My dad thinks that, because the private school I attend is so expensive, he should get the results that he’s paying for. When either my brother or I falter, he blows up.
Once, in 7th grade, what started as a dinner conversation about what I could do to pull up my grades ended with my dad shouting at me for being lazy and not working hard enough. When he said those things to me, I felt like a loser and a disappointment. I also felt guilty that I was wasting his money.
I resolved to try harder in school and prove to my dad that I cared about his sacrifices. This, along with my own personal desire to do well and a school environment where my friends whined over getting a B+, made me feel an immense pressure to succeed. I developed a competitive side that was fueled by insecurity and anxiety about not being as smart or hard-working as my peers.
By the time I was a high school freshman, my anxiety — and my schedule — was out of control. A typical day went something like this: Wake up at 7 a.m. and grab a Red Bull to drink on my way to school. In class, I remind myself to raise my hand and force myself to concentrate. I solve an equation in Algebra 2, but I have the wrong answer, and my face flushes red with embarrassment as some other girl raises her hand and flawlessly corrects the mistake. Time for English, where I try hard to say something that will make my teacher exclaim, “Brilliant!” I fail.
Walking to lunch, I hear a junior complaining about the SATs, which sends a wave of panic through me. Now lunch. Tara’s mad at Samantha for some reason and wants me to agree with her that Sam’s a bitch. Then Sam pulls me aside and tries to convince me that Tara's a bitch. Truth is, I don’t really care. Before I’ve eaten half my grilled cheese, the bell rings and my half hour lunch break is over. It’s time for more tests, more hurdles for me to jump over, more chances for me to prove myself, though I never quite feel like I’m doing anything right.
The stress doesn’t end after school. I need to write articles for the school paper or volunteer at a homeless shelter or design a layout for the yearbook. I feel an intense need to get into an amazing, impressive college, and in order to do that, I think I have to do a ridiculous amount of extracurriculars. Almost all of the kids at my school go on to top colleges; in fact, the whole point of my school is prepare us to get into top colleges.
I finally get home at 7 p.m., watch TV while snacking, then take a nap until 10:30. I miss dinner, but I’ve filled up on Pringles so it doesn’t matter. I wake up panicked, remembering the massive stack of homework I have sitting on my desk; I down another Red Bull to get motivated. Whenever I encounter a difficult math problem or English question, I have a moment of panic. I worry that my answer will be wrong, so instead of giving it a shot, I procrastinate and focus on Facebook.
Finally, at 1:30 a.m., I collapse into bed, not quite ready to resume the routine in just five and a half hours. I’m still wired from the Red Bull, so I toss and turn, thinking about how something in this routine has to change.
I should have tried to increase my energy by getting to sleep earlier, eating healthier, limiting my extra-curriculars, and cutting down on Facebook. I did all of these things eventually. But back then, none of these ideas occurred to me. Maybe I didn’t think I was capable of making these changes on my own. Instead, I found the answer in a pill.
A Capsule of Focus
One day, I was surfing the internet instead of studying for a biology test, when I read an article about how college students were using the prescription drug Adderall, usually prescribed to people with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), to get ahead. According to the students interviewed, the drug allowed them to concentrate better, and gave them enough energy to stay up late studying for hours at a time.
Even though the article listed the dangers of using Adderall without a prescription — irregular heartbeat, dangerously high body temperatures, potential for heart failure or seizures, feelings of hostility or paranoia — I was fascinated by the idea that a drug could help someone do better in school.
In my mind, I was way behind my peers and needed all the help I could possibly get. I was sick of feeling inadequate, sick of getting the wrong answer in math class and never feeling like I was working hard enough. My insecurities had been building during the first months of freshman year, and I would do almost anything to get rid of them. After watching another documentary about Adderall on YouTube, I knew I wanted to get my hands on it. But how?
I had my own blog on the website Tumblr, where I posted pictures, videos and quotes that I liked. None of my friends had Tumblr blogs but me, so I felt that I could express myself freely. However, the blog is also public, and lots of other people use Tumblr.
An idea occurred to me. What if I created a post asking if there was anyone who lived in New York City who would sell me Adderall? I didn’t have my name anywhere on my blog, so I figured I couldn’t get in trouble for it. I impulsively created the post, then hit “publish.”
Drug Deal at Barnes & Noble
The next day, a girl named Sarah replied, telling me that she had access to the drug. I was terrified to meet up with a stranger, but her blog gave the impression that she was a normal high school kid in need of some money. I knew she could have been lying and that she might not be who she said she was. And, of course, purchasing Adderall without a prescription is illegal. Though I was vaguely aware of these dangers at the time, I was so focused on trying to get ahead that my better judgment was obscured.
We planned to meet at the Union Square Barnes &Noble after school. While going down the escalator, we made the trade-off: 4 pills for $20, one week of my allowance. During the cab ride home, I popped in one of the pills, $5 gone in an instant. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but once I got home and started my homework, I felt the effect quickly.
I started my homework at 5 p.m. The next time I looked up at the clock, it was 8:30. I had focused on my homework, without a break in concentration, for three and a half hours. I’d never done that before. I was starting to feel good and very energized, like I could do anything I put my mind to, so I decided to get ahead on the week’s work. By the time I had finished all of my history reading for the week, I realized that I had forgotten all about dinner, but I wasn’t even hungry. I felt superhuman.
After spending an hour cleaning and organizing my room, which was unusual for me, I headed to bed around 1:30 a.m. I was still keyed up. I’m a naturally anxious person and the Adderall intensified my anxiety; I spent four hours worrying about almost every aspect of my life before I finally fell asleep.
A Magic Pill?
The next morning, after just two hours of sleep, I was completely exhausted, foggy, and grumpy. After pulling myself out of bed, I remembered that I had Adderall, my secret power. I took another one of my pills, $5 gone, and pretty soon felt almost as energized as I did the night before. And thus the cycle began.
Despite the side effects, as the week wore on, I came to the conclusion that Adderall was the solution to all my problems. I could concentrate for hours, my mind felt sharper, and I felt more energized than ever. I realized, though, that at this rate, four pills wouldn’t cut it. I had about $400 saved up in my bank account from birthday and holiday presents, and that kept me going for a while. I was getting my homework done at record speeds, meeting with Sarah to replenish my stash about once a week, and I felt good.
My friends, however, started to notice that I was acting weird. Whenever we’d talk, I would always gear the conversation towards school and homework, which got old after a while. I’d always ask them what grades they got on papers and quizzes and tests so I could compare myself to them. They didn’t like how competitive and obsessive about schoolwork I was becoming.
Reprinted with permission from Youth Communication.