I take the pills after dinner, a vitamin supplement for learning, if you will. If it was a long day, I might ordinarily have three or four hours of caffeine-fueled productivity left. The adderall will double that, at least.
I take two pills: a short and a long. The names are self-explanatory. If I’m going to make it to the moon tonight, the short is the rocket booster to get me off the launch pad. The long is the thruster system keeping me on track, and returning me eventually to Earth. Everyone knows that the hardest part of studying is getting off the ground. Once you’re in orbit, you can stay awhile.
Some people have a harder time than others, having difficulty with simply opening the backpack. Productivity gurus call this phenomenon “task friction.” I have enough task friction to start a forest fire.
Some people have a routine they need to follow before they study, or a favorite nook they retreat to. Normally, I’m one of these people. I only study at desks within a very specific range of heights, in areas with just enough ambient noise, facing away from walls. None of those idiosyncrasies that normally unsettle the learning process apply when I’m on Adderall. I can study anywhere, anytime. I could have written a thesis onstage with Girl Talk or at the 50-yard line when the Jets beat the Patriots. It’s just not your average espresso shot. These Smarties hone your focus down to a diamond-sharpened samurai sword.
The first time I tried cognitive doping, it was a wild card. It was the night before my statistics final and the prospects of me passing were not promising. I had no idea how my night would end up. For all I knew, I might become the greatest statistician in the world. I might have a heart failure. What happened was somewhere in between.
I labored all night long under the harsh fluorescent glare of a freshman year desk lamp with the snores of my roommate as a soundtrack. I reviewed the entire syllabus, every problem set and every practice test — I loved every exhilarating second of it.
I zombie-walked through the spring air, past the herds of well-rested students, to my final, and I apparently did well enough to pass. I’m sure I must have looked like death staggering back across the footbridge, the pills hadn’t quite worn off yet — but I felt like a conquering hero flying a magic carpet with Ride of the Valkyries blaring behind my back. When I got back to my dorm, I promptly threw up and went to sleep.
If that first time was a wild card, an unknown, then now the brain steroids are my trump card. I don’t use them regularly, but at those crucial pressure points throughout the semester, they’re my ace-in-the-hole. Tonight, I’m reviewing for a prelim and starting an essay. I fly through the material like I’ve known it for years. I churn out an entire rough draft. I even have enough spare time to pen an anonymous column for the newspaper.
When I’m packing up, my tunnel vision finally expands, and I survey my surroundings for the first time in a while. Outside the window is a breathtaking view. Last time I turned around, the sky was dark and fog obstructed the city lights down the hill. Now it’s just before dawn, and the vibrant gradient of pale yellow to navy blue looks like it was Photoshopped across the sky.
If Adderall didn’t help me pass tests, it would still be worth a go just to be able to experience an Ithaca sunrise, the most pure and rejuvenating second wind I’ve ever experienced.
Inside the window, the atmosphere is as thickly settled and obvious as at any dive bar —it’s the desperation. Some people are staring lifelessly at laptops, some are napping. There are so many empty coffee cups strewn about, it looks like Seattle’s Best sponsored a sleepover from hell.
No one is happy. Everyone is surrounded by books and calculators, their own personal mountains to climb. If this semi-regular buildup of homework was my Everest, then the pills of Adderall were my oxygen tanks. It’s theoretically possible to conquer without any assistance, but I’d really rather not.