Issue 10, Semester 1, 2019
I get up at 7:00am. As usual, I haven’t slept anywhere near enough, maybe four or five hours. Realistically, that’s entirely my fault. Once again, I didn’t plan out my week properly and was left rushing to catch up on assignments and readings late into the night. I make myself a coffee before I shower and have another one immediately afterward. If this isn’t one of the months I’ve quit smoking then I’ll have a cigarette or two. If it is, then I’ll apply a patch and chew some Nicorette gum. Either way, by the time I’m out the door, with a sandwich in hand for breakfast, my blood is already swimming with caffeine and nicotine, and I’m riding another wave of blood pressure and heart palpitations throughout the day.
When I arrive back home in the evening, I still have a good six hours of work ahead of me. Exams are around the corner, essay research has not yet begun, I have work tomorrow morning. I quickly do the math in my head. My poor time management has screwed me again, there’s no way I can get everything done with the sleep budget I’ve allocated myself. With a sigh I reach for the bottle tucked at the back of my dresser and dry swallow another white tablet.
The drug I’ve just taken is modafinil, a wakefulness agent prescribed for narcolepsy sufferers and US Air Force pilots on extreme fatigue missions. In Australia it’s illegal without a prescription, however as with most pharmaceuticals in the age of globalisation, it’s surprisingly easy to order from Amazon with a third-party courier service to redirect shipping. The dose will keep me alert for about fourteen hours, after which I’ll have to balance myself out with a dose of Melatonin ordered from Taiwan. In three days, it’ll be Saturday, during which I can probably afford the necessary twenty or so hour comedown and system crash that I’m setting myself up for. Until then, I’ll have to walk a tight rope between these two medications, rationing out my sleep so as to maintain the effects during waking hours. The effect is a bit like running a car on a near-empty radiator. I’ll be alert and mentally stable, but by the end of it my mind will feel like a whipcord of dry nerves, my neurons scraped raw by chemical overclocking.
It’s unsurprising that I’ve managed to stumble my way into this destructive habit. During my time at university, I’ve collected chemical addictions like they were Pokémon. During my undergraduate I rotated through weed, ADHD medication and anti-psychotics, sometimes to keep myself running, other times just out of curiosity. By the time I started law school, self-medicating to sustain the costs of continuous and high-pressure mental work seemed natural. At the end of the semester I’ll tell myself that I’m putting an end to it. For a few weeks I’ll exercise more, try to eat healthily, cut out caffeine and keep a sleep diary. Within a month I’ll miss a deadline or stay up late too many nights in a row and find out that I still have a few tablets left, just for emergencies.
Drug abuse is nothing new in the legal profession, or among tertiary students. I know that I’m not the only one, or even in a particularly small minority; there are quite a few of us at MLS. Sometimes we swap or sell our respective drugs at parties. Usually I keep my habits to myself or share them with my housemates when they’re struggling with shift work. Law students aren’t even close to the worst offenders. One of my friends studying medicine has just started her residency at Royal Melbourne Hospital. She compensates for twenty-four plus hour shifts with yoga and amphetamines.
I know that sooner or later I will have to seriously look this problem in the eye, but as with everything in my life these days, any serious attempt at self-care or improvement is measured in the currency of time, and I simply don’t have enough of it to keep myself off the pills for good. Every week I feel myself burning a little more. The tablets don’t stop that, but they make me at least a little bit fireproof.
Anonymous is a former JD Student.
If you are reading this article and need support please reach out to those close to you or seek professional help via one of many available resources such as:
Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636
Lifeline 13 11 14
Headspace (under 25yos)
University of Melbourne Counselling and Psychological Service
Melbourne Law School Wellbeing and Academic Support