Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Ritalin Rebellion

As a pre-teen, I was considered to have a focus problem and was promptly put on Ritalin. The drug drastically focused my attention and as a result I was able to plow through mountains of boring reading and writing. I just did what I was told to do, like a task. While it got me through school and most of college, I’m starting to see that it came at the cost of developing and feeling confident about personal ways of thinking.

An article in this week’s New Yorker partly explains why by looking into the work of neuroscientists Mark Jung-Beeman and John Kounios.

The right side of the brain deals with, among other things, linguistic nuance, connotation, emotional charge and metaphor, and also insight or “Aha” moments. In order for the right side of the brain to be able to reach into its depths, we have to be relaxed.

“The relaxation phase is crucial.’ Jung-Beeman said. ‘That’s why so many insights happen during warm showers.”Or in the pre-sleep, post-wake-up state. The brain is “unwound,”open to unconventional ideas. It’s a state of concentration that nevertheless allows the mind to wander, to free-associate. So, this is why we often have insights when we’re involved in an activity that is not related to a problem we’re trying to work out: because we’re awake but not overly focused.

Can't say I've spent a lot of time unwound.

The article continues:

“Many stimulants, like caffeine, Adderall, and Ritalin, are taken to increase focus[…] but according to Jung-Beeman and Kounios, drugs may actually make insights less likely, by sharpening the spotlight of attention and discouraging mental rambles. Concentration, it seems, comes with the hidden cost of diminished creativity.”

Fascinating! So, food for even more therapy.


Vito Polly VIncent said...

I have mixed feelings about my ritalin experience. It definitely seems like the drug saved my life in college. Your description is right on the money. I was able to plow through the most boring shit with machine-like efficiency. But then you become dependent, and you need more in order to get the same kick, and eventually you feel like you can't do anything without the damn pills. I used to count how many 'dosages' I had left, and I would get nervous as the number dwindled down. 'What if I don't have any ritalin for my history exam? What will I do? I'll be fucked!' ...I weaned myself off the stuff about 15 years ago, but there's definitely times when I'm dragging at work and feel like everything would be easier if I could just have some 'o that focus in a bottle. Do you ever feel like you could use the lift it gives you? (This may not be a conversation we should be having in your comments section...).

Molly Stevens said...

Hey, it doesn't matter because I don't think anyone reads this blog.

I venerate that pill as something that actually makes me better than I am. So, sure, I still think, every now and then, that I could use some. But, I really do think it that while it sharpens productivity, it hacks at self-confidence and also free thinking.