Shaun fumbles over, trying to switch off the alarm clock and its frustratingly incessant buzzing. He had planned to sleep in a little bit later, but now he’s awake and the flow of thoughts rush in. “Assignment. Girlfriend. Weekend. Lecture. Weekend. Girlfriend. Assignment. Car. Petrol. That thing that happened the other day. Lecture. Take your tablet.” The busy noise coming from his mind has begun. He takes the little reddish orange pill that has, on more than one occasion, been his saving grace. When you have been diagnosed with an extreme case of ADD like Shaun Riley has, Concerta is a glimmer of hope and a crutch when you feel crippled by your own mind.
“What goes through my mind when I’m not on Concerta is just, like, everything. It’s like a train of thought and there’s just no pattern to it, and then with Concerta it’s like I have blinkers on, like having tunnel vision,” says Shaun Riley.
Concerta, a central nervous system stimulant similar to Ritalin or Adderall, is prescribed to individuals who have been diagnosed with either ADD or ADHD. The dosage is dependent on the severity of the individual’s inability to focus or concentrate. Shaun’s parents had no idea what Concerta was until he was prescribed it after they realized he was allergic to Ritalin. Shaun says that after watching a Carte Blanche episode that investigated a child dying after using Ritalin, they were sceptical about the drug altogether. It was only at the end of Grade 11 that Shaun was finally diagnosed with one of the worst cases of ADD that his doctor had ever seen. Although he is now on it and thriving, he regrets not getting help sooner. “Say you have an aptitude test in grade 9 – those things go on your permanent record. If I had Concerta in Grade 9, I’d like to think I would have done a bit better. In Grade 11 I didn’t make it into any universities,” he says. But now, as he sits on his couch in his third year of Bachelor of Commerce at Rhodes University, he reveals someone entirely different from the person who was terrified of failing matric just three years earlier. “Nobody is going to be able to achieve greater than their potential,” he explains “It’s not a superhuman drug that makes you more intelligent. All the intelligence that you possess was always there and it’s just easier to access on Concerta. Us ADD kids, we have the ability to achieve to our potential with Concerta,” he says. That isn’t to say that there aren’t dangerous side-effects. These include more serious ones such as sudden cardiac arrest, as well as loss of appetite, insomnia and mood swings. Shaun, however, views this as a necessary risk to take considering how far he has come with the aid of Concerta. “Tomorrow is the first day that I will be moulding young minds,” says Riley. He is referring to his first time as an Economics 201 tutor, shedding light into his natural intelligence and photographic memory. It is difficult to imagine a time when even a page was difficult to get through, considering that he is now able to read through a textbook, avoid any notes, and still pull off a distinction.
Next week: “Superman studying”