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On the Other Side of Chaos by Hala Karim

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By: Hala Karim

Foliage overlooking water

Source: Foliage 34 | Penelope Peru Photography

Hala Karim reflects upon the aftermath of battling depression and addiction.

I wouldn’t recognize 26-year-old me if I saw her today. Three short years ago, I wrestled being in the throes of depression compounded by a debilitating prescription addiction that resulted in terrifying heart palpitations, anxiety, and insomnia.

Depression exacerbated my addiction; addiction exacerbated my depression. They both maneuvered their way into every imaginable facet of my life.

At age 21, I graduated college and moved to Chicago to start my master’s program and part ways with a tumultuous relationship. Someone had gotten it in my head that Adderall was a surefire way to keep up with the breakneck pace of graduate classes. I was readily convinced and easily obtained a prescription.

That did not explain why I started taking it recreationally the summer before my program even started, when there were no deadlines to meet. I was beside myself after my first big breakup. I was also in an unhealthy, prolonged obsessive state. Although the relationship was toxic and founded on a multitude of outlandish lies, I wanted it back, and that was all I could think about.

Adderall, I noticed, temporarily kept those unpleasant thoughts at bay. Well, at first. I would experience these euphoric highs, unlike anything I had ever felt before. I didn’t know I had the capacity to be so happy. On Adderall, I assumed the heightened version of myself I wish I were when I’m completely sober. I was more articulate. I was funnier, or so I thought. I had the attention span to read entire books in two days and crank out these measured analyses that absolutely no one asked for.

I thought I had found this perfect miracle drug in Adderall. As far as I was concerned, there were no negative side effects. I didn’t notice myself growing more isolated. I didn’t connect my inability to sleep for a few nights at a time with taking it too often. I did notice that I lost 20 pounds, which was great and absurdly unhealthy. There were unsavory physical effects that I didn’t think to associate with Adderall until years later: sweating profusely, smelling like spoiled fish, being too exhausted to exercise, numb fingers and limbs, and dangerously increased heart rate. I was irritable towards people all the time, people who were trying to help me.

When my tolerance increased, I would take way more than my prescribed amount. Instead of taking one capsule daily, I would take four or five at a time, feel euphoric and steadfastly determined to take on the world for a few hours, then eventually fall into the pits of despair.

Adderall causes catastrophic lows and intense, long lasting suicidal ideations – and it doesn’t help matters when you’re already prone to depressive episodes.

Although the perks of Adderall began to wear, it maintained an ironclad grip on my life for six long years. My suicidal ideations persisted for six years. During a high, I would excitedly make plans with friends, then I would hit my low and flake, time and again. Many of my friendships dissipated and with due cause.

Keeping a job was altogether impossible due to crippling anxiety and the exhaustion brought on by sleeplessness. I was often too unnervingly anxious to show up for interviews or leave my bed at all. When I was fortunate enough to be employed, I would take many sick days, in which I was genuinely sick with nausea or dehydration and dizziness.

Although my life had corroded, I was in denial. I didn’t attribute my failings with having an addiction or being depressed. I thought I was just the way I was and considered change to be impossible. Certainly, taking a prescribed medication didn’t make me an addict, although I was abusing it several times a week.

My thoughts were consumed by feelings of hopelessness and failure, and I was convinced that I shouldn’t be alive. I couldn’t keep a job, I was a financial burden to my parents, and an emotional burden to my siblings. I lost my friends. I was unable to hold a steady, stable relationship.

Yet, I wasn’t even able to seek help. I wanted to, but I couldn’t.

Hala Karim

I was often resigned to my bed but was rarely afforded sleep. After a few years of this cycle, I moved from Chicago to Los Angeles to escape facing anybody, but my addiction, depression, and failings followed suit.

People ask me how I was able to reclaim my life. I hate to admit that it wasn’t even a deliberate, conscious choice. I had lost another job and was left without health insurance. I still had a prescription and contemplated walking in to CVS to pay the entire $250 out of pocket, although that’s about all I had in my bank account. I somehow convinced myself that money would best be used for groceries and other necessities.

I hated how I felt off of Adderall. For years, I subscribed to the belief that I was dependent on a drug in order to be productive in any sense. I wouldn’t even attempt to work, clean, or write without it. When I had come down from my highs, I would lie sedentary for days. I felt sluggish and impassive.

Somehow, I don’t know exactly how, I was able to go a few days without it. Then a few more days. After a couple weeks, I conjured the energy to go back to the gym, an activity that I had often engaged in during my pre-Adderall days, then completely abandoned.

Bit by bit, I rebuilt structure into my life. I could sleep at night. I could wake up in the morning. I could get out of bed. I could be active. And I was a little less depressed. Two years since I inadvertently steered my life away from destruction, I’m unsurprisingly way happier.

Consistent happiness is something I never thought I’d feel while on Adderall.

While it does feel like I’m on the other side of addiction and depression, on the other side of chaos, a persistent fear lingers that I could easily fall backwards.

Hala Karim

I still have depressive episodes, they are not as exacerbated as they were and I can navigate them a little bit more easily. Still, when I feel one coming, I’m cognizant of how vulnerable I am and how susceptible I am to seek out destructive tendencies.

Knowing that, I instead seek out structure. A lot.

Hala Karim

I used to – as an establishment-hating 20-something – hate structure. I still do in many ways, but for someone with an addictive personality, it helps. I commit myself to going to the gym every day, and it makes me feel better. I feel better physically, and I know that I took the energy to do something positive for myself that day.

I am much more present in all my relationships – with my friends, family, and partner. It feels incredible. It also feels like I was robbed of six years of my life. I could have spent those years nurturing friendships and myself.

I will never get those years back, but I do have my entire future to commit myself to those relationships, and I won’t take those for granted.

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