From Psyche: “Since joining the pharmaceutical congregation, I began attributing all my successes to the Ritalin, rather than to my own abilities. Instead of helping to maintain my self-confidence during a veritable earthquake in my life, my need for a crutch in pill form radically undermined my faith in myself.
I used to chuckle that, because of their chronic use of cognitively enhancing stimulants, authors such as Jean-Paul Sartre, W H Auden, Oliver Sacks and many others should get an asterisk placed next to their name – like we do for athletes on steroids – on the title pages of their preternatural output of books. Like sports, the world of intellectual and literary endeavour is intensely competitive. So why not asterisks for the hordes of authors who, thanks to money and privilege, are able to make use of what Anjan Chatterjee, a neurologist at the University of Pennsylvania, tabbed ‘cosmetic neurology’ – capsules capable of opening the sluices of inspiration and providing superhuman endurance. Now I was thinking that maybe I also needed an asterisk. After all, much of my work is on moral psychology – how can someone who pops a pill before every writing session preach about the importance of self-control, self-denial and the mettle of being able to tolerate anxiety and depression?
Yes, I know the natural rejoinder. What’s the problem, given my ADD diagnosis? The problem is that there is no definitive test for ADD. And if it is a syndrome of sorts, it is certainly nothing like having pneumonia. Moreover, how is it that I was able to lecture and write before I got my pharmaceutical wings?
An academic acquaintance confided that she experienced something akin to my tendency to externally attribute whatever success I enjoyed to the drug. A number of years ago, she was going through a crisis and felt as though she needed help keeping her cool for the many lectures she was invited to give. Soon enough, and even though she was widely recognised as a stellar professor, she felt she needed to go to the medicine cabinet just to find the peace of mind to teach an introductory class. She attributed her aplomb and her refulgent teaching not to her abundant abilities but to the magic of benzodiazepines. Eventually, she checked herself in to a treatment programme. She no longer requires what amounts to a tranquilliser to get along in her profession.”
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