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HEAR, HEAR!

When I was first admitted to my PhD program, a good friend of mine – who had completed her dissertation a few years before – gave me one of the best pieces of advice: “find yourself a friend”. Which is not to say I didn’t have any friends at the time (!), but she meant that I should find at least one kindred spirit to share in the process, to read each other’s drafts, to support each other when it hit the fan, and to keep each other company in an exercise that can become quite lonely at times.

I was lucky enough to find such friends each step of the way, and for that I am thankful. I have also discovered that it is possible to share in the doctoral process not only on terra firma, with students from my program, but also in online fora. This is a new experience for me, and the exchanges I have had with others in the same situation as mine have brought me much comfort and have encouraged me to advance my project. Also, simply writing about the challenges I am faced with and putting them out there in the universe, in a way, helps quite a lot.

So, “hear hear” to finding a friend… and to being one in return!

/CR (August 2017)

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EBB AND FLOW

Coffee has long been a staple in my daily routine. In fact, I am having one as I write this… I have also tried to reconcile myself with getting some work done in local cafes. I had given up on the idea a few years ago simply because it had become a bit too crowded and access to power outlets too rare… However, today is a perfect day for finding inspiration and writing outside… so here I am on a lovely terrace, taking in a little sun, surrounded by colourful flowers,  a warm breeze, and the hum of conversations nearby… the perfect conditions to reflect on my current projects…

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These last few weeks I have been thinking about how our collective perspective on drug use – or medication use – is contingent on the particular sociopolitical context we are immersed in… this ebb and flow of moral sentiment toward drugs – prescribed or not – and the people who used them.

For example, amphetamines were thought to be a panacea of sorts during the 1930-50’s, used to treat various conditions ranging from depression to weight loss. Following a period of quasi ubiquitous use by the 1960’s, they went on to be all but eliminated from circulation by the 1970-80’s; users were tagged as speed freaks. Today, amphetamines are once again prescribed to – and used by – many. However, the moral tension between what is considered appropriate use and how they are called upon by individuals can weigh heavily at times…

Here is a post I came across on an online discussion forum:

Don’t Judge Me Please. Just Want Advice.

“Hey, I’m a student (…) attending university. Family pressures, society, friends so on and so forth is hitting me hard. I’m not depressed, I’m a very happy guy, it’s just people expect a lot from me and its sometimes overwhelming.

It’s finals week and i can’t afford to fail.

I picked up Adderall 20mg 2 pills, and a Vyvanse 30mg mainly for studying.

I don’t have ADHD, i know the risks, dangers, and consequences(…) Should i take it or not? Will i overdose? Will i die? (…) Will the adderall give me the extra concentration? (…)”

I also recognise myself in these words, in finding a balance between feeling fulfilled and easing the pressures of everyday… on this thought, I think I’ll finish my coffee, go for a run later, and enjoy the evening with a glass of wine.

/CR (July 2017)

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THE MANY LIVES OF AMPHETAMINE

When I first started my PhD, I had only a vague idea of what I wanted to study. As a clinical pharmacist in an emergency department of a university teaching hospital, part of my job was asking patients what medications they were taking, so that we could get the correct information in the chart, firstly, and also so that we could determine whether medications were related to the emergency visit. Was the patient experiencing a side effect? Was a dosage too low or to high? Did we need to eliminate or add a medication to the patient’s regimen?

I therefore “came into the world” within this clinical perspective on drug use. My objective, as a pharmacist, was to make sure the patient was taking exactly the right medications for their health condition, with tolerable side effects, if any. However, this also gave me the opportunity to engage with people about their medication use, and I became interested in why people use pharmaceuticals, how they use them, and the specific relationship one can develop with medications-as-objects. So I set out to explore the everyday experience of taking pharmaceuticals, which appeared to be far more complex than could be imagined in the clinical setting. During this time, I was also diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a chronic condition; I was myself experiencing taking medications everyday.

My literature search led me to prescription psychostimulants, such as amphetamine or methylphenidate. Their use – outside of the medical realm – to increase performance in the academic or work setting has been widely reported. One of the first books I read to learn more about this phenomenon was Nicolas Rasmussen’s “On Speed: The Many Lives of Amphetamine” (NYU Press, 2009).

This was an eye opening read; it shed light on the contingency of drug use – how the “same” substance, chemically speaking, can take on a diverse set of meanings in different contexts, transforming subjectivities as well as the collective imagination. Rasmussen shows there can be periods of great collective enthusiasm for a pharmaceutical, which then fizzle out, only to return years later… The book also underscores that presenting amphetamine users as either ” (compliant) patients” or “misusers / abusers”  – or even addicts – as is often the case in the clinic, is morally charged and difficult to defend. More on this here. I also particularly enjoyed reading about amphetamine’s (i.e. Benzedrine) influence within the jazz culture circa 1940, namely the music of Charlie Parker and Dizzie Gillespie (pp. 91-93).

Evidently, Rasmussen’s work led me to other authors and papers – more on that in future posts.

/CR (April 2017)