I don’t hide the fact that I go to therapy. Every Monday I leave work an hour early and commute over to my therapist’s office and for 45 minutes I allow myself to be the most narcissistic person that I will ever allow myself to be. (As far as I’m concerned, it’s the most selfish thing I will ever do, and paying for it is the only way I can justify it…) But why do I still need it? 9 months after I started to go? Especially since I told my boss I’d only be going for a few months back in October and I keep waiting for her to ask “hey, what’s the deal with the leave-early Mondays 9 months later?” but rather I usually get a surprised look when I sweep by at 3:20 and say “see you tomorrow.”
I have to go back to September of last fall to explain. At the beginning of every Chemistry class this past year we had a 15 minute quiz. I spent all of my Sundays last year reading Chemistry for Monday night tests. I’d read over my notes before class, walk into class, take the quiz, and fail. People would finish in the first 5 minutes, start chatting, the professor would start talking as I tried to finish up my quiz, and I couldn’t focus on anything. Panic built up and my brain felt like it wanted to explode and I would either spend the rest of the class fighting back tears or, come mid-semester, I started to simply walk out of class after the quiz and walk from campus to boy’s apartment crying. It sucked and I felt like a loser because I studied, I knew the information, I just couldn’t take the goddamn quizzes. On top of that, I would come home to boy who had no understanding about the nature of my frustration. He would tell me over and over to practice with timed quizzes at home not realizing that the time factor wasn’t the issue. I couldn’t get my brain to relax and focus on the test without everything else in the room going from a soft buzz to a screaming train.
The frustration trickled into my studying. Doing physics homework became an inevitable cry it out session that lasted about 4 hours each time. I couldn’t get through a problem without breaking down and losing sight of what was even being asked of me. I had hints of this the year before in Biology. At one point I approached my Biology professor and confessed that I thought I had a learning disorder because I had no idea how to take a test. (Taking tests – a guaranteed area where your overly-liberal arts undergraduate education will fail you.) I just felt plain stupid. I had flash backs to my college roommate who, being the same major as me, was in at least 1 class with me every semester since our freshman year. The girl’s a whiz. Ask her today and she can still remember every piece of literature we read and the theme of each title as well as every article she read in Foreign Policy magazine during our study abroad and will challenge you to recent political trivia like it’s the latest entertainment news. For someone who had to read and reread to grasp at just what exactly was going on, I remember often feeling stupid and unable to participate in class discussions. I completely read over a rape scene in my women’s literature class. (Try explaining to a class of 15 feminists that you didn’t think the rape scene constituted rape because, fact is, you just didn’t recall what you read.) Feeling stupid is a terrible feeling. It leads people to act out of sorts; some people get angry, some people become overly proud, some people get depressed. My esteem crashed. I took it personally when people suggested nursing school or told me that some people just don’t have the aptitude to become doctors. Convinced I was going to have low grades for that semester, I started to look at certification schools for surgical techs and physician’s assistants.
So, I went to counseling. Talked about what I was feeling. Talked about methods that helped some people. I used a few, but I mostly got through the semester out of fear. I have a few methods I use (mostly meditative visualizations prior to sitting down and studying or test taking), but part of me still wonders if they’re good enough. Half way though spring semester a girl in class behind me mumbled “I have got to take more adderall before this class, I am falling asleep.” Huh. I guess that’s one way to get through it. I wasn’t sure what it even was, so I looked it up when I got home and found this article in The New Yorker. It’s an enlightening read. My counselor had suggested prescription meds. I missed a few days of work this year after endless nights of panic attacks and rather than relaxing I would spend the day worrying that my boss would expect a doctor’s note or a deathly cold that I was martyring my way through upon returning to work the following day. But I didn’t want meds. That was the point of counseling, right? to avoid meds? to talk my way through this and nip it in the bud?
I met with my premed adviser for the first time recently. Yes, my GPA is low (3.3 is low for premed.) He asked how I am at standardized testing. I told him the problem, the white noise that creates a fuzz in my mind, the panic, the fact that I know the information and it has nothing to do with whether I know the information and everything to do with focusing. He told me about his personal experience with this problem. The lack of retention of what he’d read, the same panic, the fact that testing didn’t reflect what he knew. But what did he suggest? Adderall. (To his credit, he offered several solutions and was happy to hear I was seeing a counselor about this, but what stood out in my mind was the Adderall.)
I’ve had the conversation with boy about this – if we had easy access to this drug, would we use it? How prevalent is it in the premed community? Well, premeds are of a certain sort and I was embarassed at even admitting to getting panic attacks because it’s what you’d expect from a premed student, right? I found this article on the student doctor network. More interesting than the article itself is the comment section. Where does adderall cross the line and become a neuroenhancer verses a helpful drug to those who need it? What are the side effects on creativity? How far behind will I be in my application process next summer when held up against my peers, several of whom take adderall?
A bigger problem for me is the white noise is spreading. I now struggle with this more at work than in my studies. Part of my job encourages me to be on social networks tracking and participating in the trends of social outreach and engagement. This involvement has created enough white noise to turn my days into project-hopping madness mixed with an over-caffeinated effort to GTD (get things done.) I dread interruptions because I have enough in front of me. I fret over wasting time and have trained my visualizations for studying, not for work. Even when studying, however, I sometimes require a good few hours of mental prep before tackling the material. And after cracking open a book, I don’t really hit the meat of the material until hours 2-4. I am not a study on the train and during lunch type of person. Rather, I do study marathons that leave me buzzed on focus and usually I have to channel any remaining energy into Sudoku puzzles to wind down afterward. It’s a great feeling actually, but one that I have to work hard for.
So what’s the answer? I don’t know. Maybe I am a good candidate for adderall. But part of me would still feel like it’s a cheat. Of course I want good grades and recognition at work for being the person who is always on top of my work load. But at what cost?
I’m exploring osteopathic medicine and philosophy. Not only because of my low GPA, but mostly because of my personal philosophy on this subject alone. I want to believe I’m more capable than a pill will ever make me, I just have to learn how to exercise my capabilities. The awareness of this white noise problem seems to be making it worse, but I can at least say the edge of panic has been removed. I don’t slip into the freight train mode despite the white noise mode becoming more constant and present. And I’ll accept that as improvement with more to go. In the end, who knows. I suspect it will seep in and out of our culture similar to restless leg syndrome – an awareness will slip into an obsession that requires medication, and as soon as the obsession fades so do the symptoms. Let’s hope the obsession doesn’t last until the end of my current class, because I really want to up my GPA.
Update: How timely that I should wake up to this article.