Happy Accidents of Introspection, and Amphetamine
“You think you chose it because you wanted to learn a bit more about yourself, too?”
Unassuming and scrunched he sat beside me, situated between the restraints of the seat and those to which we yield in idle conversation. Portly, rotund. The words that’d come to mind had you only seen him at a glance. He had shifted, squirmed more so, into the car and made himself at home; cap upon the dash, relief shed to the floor. Grace was the last trait he called to mind, yet it was through such that he posed a simple, piercing question.
I guess I hadn’t thought about it, what had driven me to psychology? Was I curious about the human mind, writ large, or just one in particular? Perhaps I’d long held on to reasons both too brash and too buoyant; sophomoric in both definition and form — “I’m interested in consciousness…what is free will?…do I sound intelligent yet?” Rationalizations made post hoc and per haste, all the same. Maybe, through the swath of books, brain scans and theory, I was really just after a few scraps from the table; a few trickled-down insights, enough to parse a picture together of my own. Laced assuredly, and with perhaps a curiosity of his own, his question had struck with a suggestion and landed only inches from the truth.
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I stopped taking amphetamine a little over a month ago. Paired with no more than five cigarettes, I had been taking it daily. I was sure to never exceed five cigarettes because I had read in a book that such a limit is the tipping point for addiction, and who am I to turn down such a wholesome self-deception? Now, I could tell you I stopped taking amphetamine for many reasons, each likely sufficient on its own. I wanted to stop smoking (I didn’t), I wanted to sleep more (eh, not really). No, what got me to stop was when I finally admitted, relented and surrendered that I had changed.
At a sincere and visceral level, I loved it: the state of me it produced. Books were ravaged and no longer read. Anxieties vacated, no longer heeded. The confidence I found in my covert manias was as exciting as it was novel. Yet for every chemically-willed ounce of courage, I leveraged an ounce of familiarity.
I have no doubts I have ADD. My mind naturally wanders, just as any I suppose, but rarely does it find itself linear in its motion. Just look at all these sentences, strung by semicolon after semicolon, comma tied to comma; thoughts intwined, lingering in the doorway. Quite matter-of-factly, there is a deficit to my attention. Not as though I can’t sit still, the archetypal, rocket-propelled child ricocheting off-the-walls. I can sit still far too long. My mind drifting aimlessly, almost dissociatively, to a vantage point from above my own body; to ideas foreign to the current context in which I sit, namely a desk, car, or john.
I never did anything about it though. I just needed to think a little harder, read that sentence a few times more. Never mind that every word beckoned down another, separate trail; a mind perpetually content to stand aside the road, thumb glued upwards, carried away on the whim and direction of any ride that took the bait. So it was with reluctance, but by necessity, that I finally sought a treatment for the aimless compass in my head.
Normally, treatment for ADD is initiated in adolescence. A kid’s identity, at this stage, is far from concrete. So they’re more receptive to the shifts in mood and character that such a drug can bring about. They aren’t out of the ordinary, rather such parabolic swings of anger, anxiety or elation are the norm. Their duration and arrangement, familiar. At 22 though, I had (at least) a semblance of a personality; a few notions through which I found myself grounded. I was confident that whatever chop the drug would produce I could weather it, as it was only temporary. Only fluctuations to the person I’d been carved to be and know.
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For two years I took amphetamine. I did marginally better in school and work, and I welcomed, even pined, for each daily wave of euphoria that came and passed. They offered a respite from depression, the existential meanderings I’m disposed to entertain. I formed habits, as the pamphlet warns and common sense forecasts. More often I wanted to be on my own, undistracted, honed. Through the apparition of amphetamine, seclusion appeared to me as solidarity. And with an increasingly varnished mind, I didn’t stand out as isolated. I stood above.
See, the problem with cranking up the dopamine and norepinephrine in your body is that rewards become relentless; they’re everywhere. Everywhere you look, you hear, you feel. A song, rapture. A touch, elation. Your brain doesn’t know the difference between your ass and a hole in the ground, but it knows that one feels different than the other. So everything becomes a reward and everything an opportunity to create, to stimulate, to send those little fuckers across the synapse. A text turns to a novel. A stray thought into a flood.
Looking on it now, it was like any bout of addiction: a means of substitution. An antidote to isolation. For while the aid of an amphetamine boost glazed over my shallow anxieties, it only served to deepen those that coursed fundamental and engrained. The anxieties we may despise as our own but those which make us normal and imperfect, entirely human.
When you grow comfortable enough on your own, in the warmth of solitude, there’s a certain type of malaise that accompanies it in turn; a mossy assurance to solidarity’s oak. There’s no one without the other. Given enough however, said moss can come to blanket the regular growth beneath. And for a while I wasn’t sad, but I distrusted happiness. I still laughed, still lusted. But in relation, joy existed in diminished form, dwarfed in the presence of knowledge.
Its the preferred vehicle of depression, knowledge. Knowledge that attunes to one somber face amongst a crowd in revelry or knowledge in the sense that better days seem to pass the quickest.
I fostered an appearance of calm, but I felt sedated. I was aware and listening but ambivalent, tuned elsewhere. I forgot the regular pace of emotion and learned the vapid swings of exuberant highs and exhausted lows. Worst of all, the world, and my place within it, became a serious examination. Every problem and person in my life was sifted through a filter that increasingly favored the grandiose to the minute; the objective to the intimate. I tried to recall a time when I had looked upon all the madness surrounding and chalked it up absurd, it was just life after all. But such a notion was now in the distance; a shrinking shoreline, growing foreign by the day.
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There’s often a point in a story, like in the movies, wherein something disastrous happens or a flash of realization overtakes someone. But that wasn’t my experience. It didn’t take a proverbial slap to the face. It was a slow, cumulative acceptance. Humbling more than revelatory. I had already known what was occurring in some way or the other, I just pushed it aside. In a beautifully ironic act of procrastination, and all-too-telling display of personality, I put off the very problem that had arisen from my attempts to solve my procrastination.
For over two years I had been willfully putting myself in a near manic-depressive state. And, in the end, if anything, I felt like a sellout.
Maybe it was by way of luck, but through that passenger’s random speculation, the whims of chaos unfolded; the force of the butterflies wings in Brazil finally reached my shoulders and removed me from denial.
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Sanity is something we take for granted. Unfortunately, like most, its often best seen in and through relation. When I woke up the day after taking my last pill, having deserted the last of my Camels, the pace of life was blatantly, near brutally, slower. Oddly though, it was clearer; nostalgic almost. There was relief in familiar smells and found in nuances tucked in the corners of a room or alongside a forgotten street, that’d been lost in the blaze before. I could be bored and it was pleasant, not an existential threat.
I remembered things; simple, trivial details that color our unconscious days, endless. Smells, both bad and worse. Tastes once scorched, returning rich. But most of all, I remembered the subtleties of sanity; in all its banality and bore. The mediation of washing dishes, the pursing of prayer beads in the folding of socks. How to appreciate being nervous, being shy. How to welcome a giddy disposition and fall victim to failure, but appease it all the same. Sanity, for all we take it granted, may just be life of the garden variety — wrought with silly pleasures and bound by hopeless feats.
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I think we fail to look upon mental health the same way we do a cancer not because it is too foreign to comprehend, but because it is familiar; a suggestion of what we’d rather not accept — that we have glimpsed madness in ourselves. Cancer, multiple sclerosis, coronary heart disease, we’ll never really know them until we have them; they seem to strike out of the blue, without discretion. But mental illness, it just seems to loom. Imminent, adjacent, a part of us already — there to grab us if we only miss a step and tumble, slip right off the edge. Which makes it frightening yet intimate just the same, because we share it, that fine, twisted line to walk. In the end, we’ve all been there, staring down that long corridor of memory and seen ourselves, faces peeking out in multiples, all slightly different and all our own.