Vyvanse: Illusions of Grandeur; Valley of Pain
(Brooklyn, New York) It’s 9:03 the next morning. I’m sitting at the Nassau Avenue stop, commuting into Manhattan. My foot is tapping. I’m jazzed. I’m excited. I haven’t slept. I’m more antsy and nervous than a few hours ago. Who knows when this drug will wear off? According to my calculations, it’s only moments before that happens and I collapse, keeling over onto the tracks, hitting my head on the third rail and thinking, “Ouch,” while being dismembered by the G train. Imagine all those delayed straphangers, thousands of minutes, wasted.
But right now I’m full of energy. Well, at least my brain is. It’s advising me strongly to go on and just “go with the flow, you’ll like it.” But the fatigue in my body is putting my brain at a bit of a frantic edge. I’m like a limp puppet being jerked to life by firing neurons.
God, I wish I could smoke on the platform. I need music, or something to steady me…something to hold on to.
The subway is packed. I have a woman’s head of hair in my mouth but I can’t let go of the pole or the beat, so I just hang in there. I wonder if my colleagues will notice my morning perkiness.
This is what it used to feel like to party on a school night. Memories of the night sustaining me and keeping me going. But this time it wasn’t some fluffy-pink memory of grinding on a guys cock at the discotheque. What’s been fueling me since 6 p.m. last night is Vyvanse, a drug approved by the FDA in 2007 to treat attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) in grown ups and children as young as 6.
According to my calculations this stuff was supposed to wear off at 6 a.m. If I hit the treadmill at the YMCA after work I might be able to exhaust myself. But what am I going to do about my brain? Sudoku? Build a website? Smoke weed? Masturbate…again?
Where is the OFF button?
When I experiment with drugs I’m always aware that I’m committing myself to a certain length of time under their influence. Seven hours on Acid. Five on Magic Mushrooms. But according to Seymour, my generous and very sexy twitter buddy, the effects of Vyvanse should last 10-12 hours max. He gave me two pills, 40 mg each, both in one of those orange prescription containers. The label was scrubbed off, down to the sticky residue that’s usually so hard to get off.
Seymour gets the prescription from a doctor on the other side of the river. And since he’s on health insurance, this drug habit only costs him $10 and the latte he drinks on the subway ride there.
We’re in a pub by his Midtown office, drinking Guinness (his choice), sitting on the same side of a thick-cut, faux-rustic, high table. Our chairs are so close together that if I scooted my ass to the left a little he could take his diamond-washed leg and rub my clit with his sharp knee, a heavenly leg salad.
"Eat a banana after you take it,” he told me. “But don’t take it today, it’s too late."
He told me that twice actually. But I wasn’t listening; I had a morning deadline for my Byline Beat column, 1500 words to bang out. The second draft was done, I needed to focus and sit my ass down. This was about cutting, chopping, and revising, and making things better, and “more better”.
The place was unlit, illumination coming from the five flat screen TVs. Afternoon drinkers and soccer fanatics watching a match against some Kraut team. Seymour wouldn’t let the burly howls from the ghouls ruin our first meeting and ordered another round of Guinness with an all-American forehead wrinkle perfected by James Dean and James Franco aimed at the impressed waitress. He had that confidence you find in winners; a man you can take anywhere. Successful optimism oozing out of his charming smile and that exotic aura that would let him feel at home at a General Assembly.
I never asked him his age. He’s one of those ageless types who can pass as 26 until there 42. He’s a man-boy with a lean body, witty mind, and (most likely) a long and skinny cock. He was telling me about his Vyvanse habit but I was only half-listening because I was admiring his tan skin and chiseled jaw.
In the morning if I’m a little unfocused, I’ll pop a pill before breakfast. I take 40 mgs now. Then I jump in the shower where I’ll exfoliate with an apricot scrub, Cetaphil on my face. I moisturize with Kiehl’s Facial Fuel. I switch out my eye cream for cooling gel in the summer because your skin secrets more oil when it’s warm and rich products can make you look shiny. I then finish off my morning with a joint and get dressed to go to work.
"The stuff gives you focus,” he said about Vyvanse. “Oh, and it makes me horny. Let me know if it makes you horny because it makes me horny."
He was making me horny with his perkiness. If he’s on it now, maybe my bathroom sex fantasy will come true. Give me a sexy, successful brain and I’m all wet between the thighs and soft in the knees. What a mind fuck he was!
"My friends warned me about meeting up with you, Soy."
Something about me devouring him in the bathroom. It’s nice to be so predictable…I guess. I took a sip from my Guinness, declining to comment.
He told me that even though he was horny all the time, he just couldn’t fuck his girlfriend.
Wait, this man has a girlfriend?
I never liked Guinness. It’s bitter and heavy. And I don’t like messing with guys who have girlfriends.
He went back to work and I walked to the corner of 7th Avenue wondering if he was jacking off in the office bathroom. Men do that. I get workplace wankers sending me their videos all the time.
At 6 p.m. I caught a cab over the Williamsburg Bridge to Bailey’s studio on Roebling Street. While I was paying I gathered spit in my mouth and popped in the pill before getting out of the cab.
Bailey wanted to give me one more “talking to” before I take the medication. Something about, “You’re going to write the most amazing column you’ve ever written and you’ll keep wanting that feeling.”
Granted, I do have a knack for addiction. And it’s not like there aren’t any publicly known cases of ADHD medication addiction. A few years ago, while I was archiving news clippings as a magazine intern, I came across a Lindsay Lohan article from one of our daily newspapers. I think it was the Daily News. The news was that she had become addicted to Adderall after being falsely diagnosed with ADHD. And now people were blaming her “misbehavior” on the improper prescription.
ADHD medication has become the “It” drug for celebrities dealing with a perceived lack of discipline, for an ever-demanding public, and even for scientists dealing with their own kind of higher education hell.
Elaine A. Moore writes in her book, The Amphetamine Debate: The Use of Adderall, Ritalin and Related Drugs for Behavior Modification, Neuroenhancement and Anti-Aging Purposes that the famous mathematician, Paul Erdös, was so dependent on amphetamines that his colleagues offered him $500 to quit for a month. He won the bet but complained that “the progress of mathematics was held up for a month.”
The problem with Vyvanse and other ADHD medications is that they work too well. They give you exactly what you’re looking for when you buy St. John’s Wort extract from Whole Foods, 5-Hour Energy, or Mind-Power-Rx. That stuff is all bullshit. When you get that Green Energy boost at Juice Generation, you should ask if they could mix in some Adderall for two dollars more instead.
Self-optimization of the body with supplements and functional foods is a steady growing trend. Maybe the next natural step is to want to optimize the brain.
Sometimes I feel like I’m not doing enough. I waste hours reading the feeds of people who tweet WHILE doing amazing things, like that one cook-blogger-DJ-entrepreneur-rapper-CEO or that actor-painter-poet-lecturer-curator-director. I mean, James Franco does all kinds of shit AND posts hilarious stuff on Twitter.
Outside agents, like parents and teachers, have failed to educate and prepare us for all these unprecedented possibilities. The government is failing to protect its citizens while corporations and banks are slaughtering their consumer sheep in a still shitty economy. So now the kids in America are reaching for brain-function enhancing pharmaceuticals.
We’ve seen it all before. If it gets too hard, certain people always have access to privileges that will give them certain advantages.
In business there are antitrust laws and laws against unfair competition. In sports there are bans on steroids. But what’s the solution when the country’s most brilliant citizens are doping their brains to gain an advantage…an edge?
At least they’re not like those Wall Street sharks from the 80’s, sniffing cocaine from our gold-embossed business cards while they fuck over innocent people, right?
Right. Our Midtown, mid-tier university graduates get ahead without elbowing each other in the ribs. They don’t need to revert to the old 80’s tactics. In start-up valley the man with the wittiest, sharpest, most forward thinking, and driven brain is king. Who cares if it’s with a little help from the pharma industry?
Maybe we should even the playing field and make ADHD medication available as a less potent over-the-counter supplement? Adderall Für Alle?
When I talked to Dr. Edward Haas I was sitting on a bench in Brooklyn and he was at his desk in his office in the Financial District. He told me that he understood why someone in a highly distracting workplace, like a start-up, might feel impaired attention and concentration, or hyperactivity and impulsivity.
"Chaotic environments are conducive to feeling the need to be on all the time,” he said.
All these young, wild, brainiac professionals are dealing with a whole new set of pressures and measurement of success. You play hard while you work harder.
"Especially in New York. All the marketing our senses are bombarded with and the fast pace,” he said. “Advertising, fashion trends, the Internet, texting. Constant interruptions in our chain of thought."
It’s true. Everything I do is interrupted by something. My dancing interrupted by Pandora commercials. My Facebook feed interrupted by pages I might like. Fucking interrupted by fumbling for a condom. Distractions are everywhere.
"We’re being required to juggle twenty different things at once and instead of saying ‘I don’t need to update my Facebook status right now,’ they take a pill that let’s them do it all. Relaxing and enjoying the moment have become passé and the medication is a security blanket,” said Dr. Haas.
“They come in and say that they’re having trouble concentrating and they can’t keep focused. That might be just as true for the rest of us, but they want the medication to help them focus. But when you get on that treadmill, it’s hard to get off the treadmill.”
It’s like Pandora’s Box.
"If you take this medication on a daily basis, you’re running a huge risk of becoming dependent,” he said. “People can become irritable, angry, or cranky. Especially those who might not need it or those who are taking high dosages.”
He’s seen relationships break up because of ADHD medication.
"It’s especially dangerous if the patient was misdiagnosed and he is actually bipolar. Something like that could trigger a mania,” said Dr. Haas. “The medication could trigger a mania."
“And when you try to stop, there’s a crash phase where your brain’s chemistry readjusts. You’ll underperform and you’ll feel anxious. That might take a couple of weeks or months. Or like with crack or Meth, it might take years to fully recover.”
It’s a tricky issue with more adult patients demanding ADHD medication without asking to be diagnosed first.
“It’s tough. Doctors and psychiatrists are in a difficult situation. It’s easy to make up a story because a doctor has to trust what people are saying. But even a psychological evaluation is soft,” he said. “You can score 95 on your overall mental health, but if you score a 70 on attention…70 is still higher than 50, the average…but you could still say that you have an attention deficit.”
And if one doctor doesn’t give you your prescription, you just go to another one, or to your dealer. If that doesn’t work than you get some from your neighbor who has a bottomless prescription.
"In general, psychiatrists are overly enamored with medication. Our medical training has been about the medication. Sometimes the symptoms just show that the person needs to slow down and we might just be covering up the symptoms with the medication,” said Dr. Haas. “But what is the root?”
He thinks that Vyvanse might be an easy solution to symptoms that could be alleviated without waging pharmaceutical warfare on our brain’s chemistry.
But Doc, what can we do?
"There are behavioral ways to improve your concentration. It’s actually the stuff your grandmother told you:
Awareness meditation, for people who are open to that.
Calming, soothing music. It’s not popular, but classical music really connects with the brainwaves.
If you work in a chaotic environment, wear headphones or earplugs.
Minimize your caffeine intake. It’s counterproductive.
Get enough sleep.
Drinking alcohol can throw off your sleep, along with you trying to counterbalance it with the caffeine the next day. So limit alcohol.
And, you have to let some things go, too, and accept yourself,” he finished off.
I felt like Dr. Haas was one of those guys who just wants your best, not driven by a health care provider premium, or big pharma incentives. His voice was young and rang with compassion. Dr. Haas hasn’t given up on humanity.
At 8:34 p.m. I was more than a mere mortal. Vyvanse had cut into my brain like a sterile scalpel and was now slowly carving out the bad parts. I felt a transition into a whole other self. My thoughts perched on my forehead like a third eye and shot laser beams to dissect big tasks into manageable morsels. And my body was its slave, carrying the debris up to the top of the pyramid it was building in my honor. Arbeit Macht Frei!
That’s when the clock slowed down and suddenly there was time for everything. There was time for a discussion about pigeon poop with my naked, longhaired boyfriend. There was time to cook up an “easy veggie stir-fry.” Time to take dirty undies to the cleaner on the corner, and time to smoke two packs of Newport Lights.
Finally, everything I ever wanted was possible…at the same time. My brain finally had enough room to function at its peek.
Funny enough, I had no intention of touching Bailey that night. There was a hardness in my thoughts, a selfish determination. Happiness had been replaced by the driven of excitement at executing any task. I was devoid of fear, hesitation, and self-doubt. I had my focus on my story. Nothing, not even his huge cock, could deter me from my goal.
I sat on our stoop from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. People passed me on their way home from the bar and passed me again on their way to work.
"You ok?” he asked.
"Yes, yes. I’m writing,” I answered. Puff Puff. “Just outside. I’m excellent.”
Every one I’ve spoken to since has echoed my feelings: superhero focus, a thought tunnel, and an umbrella that bounces off all distractions. It was the way I always wanted to be; the way they always wanted me to be. We are like a sorority of humans who have had their minds blown in a sadistic hazing ritual.
A few weeks later Seymour told me that he broke up with his girlfriend and that he needs to move out. He said he thinks the medication might’ve played a role in the whole maelstrom of shits.
He got skittish after telling me all that and we kind of lost contact, but I’m hoping we’re still friends and that I’m not just some reminder of his Vyvanse days - Soy, the Ghost of Regrets Past.
After taking Vyvanse, I now know what untapped capacity my brain has, so on all-nighters like this one (It’s 5 a.m., five hours past my midnight deadline), I tap into that memory and remember how I felt, how I slowed down time, how time meant nothing, and that little voice in my head was dead. I knew I could get anything done I wanted to. I can’t make it last for 10-12 hours max, but I do make it a few hours past the point I’d usually give up at.
I don’t recommend ever taking Vyvanse (and probably any ADHD medication that basically nukes your brain) on a regular basis. But if the need arises, take it at 5 a.m. so you have the entire day ahead of you and you’ll poop out just in time for bed. Or take it in the afternoon if you’re going out and partying all night. I heard that you’ll be able to drink your friends under the table, another tricky social component. But, don’t take it at any other times or you will fuck your brain because it won’t shut off.
Jesus Fuck. I can’t imagine innocent children taking this medication and having their personalities and consciousness altered in such a deep way. What kind of kids are we raising with this anyway?
Dr. Haas told me that he had a consultation with a young woman, 18, who had been on it since she was 7. She wanted to get off it but she was worried, “I don’t know what I’m like without it.”
Of course there are people who need this stimulant. World War II fighter pilots and according to a German study I read about in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 1 out of 10 children who are actually diagnosed with ADHD. That’s not a whole lot of people, even if you add the adults who need it. Still, Shire PLC., that manufacturers Vyvanse is thriving and even testing Vyvanse on patients with depression. For Shire it’s just another market to conquer and I’m sure it will work too well for those “unadjusted” individuals, too.
Editor’s Note: ‘Drugs & Sex’ column will appear every two weeks on Byline Beat. Check back every other Thursday.