Am I losing it?
October 21, 2009 10:38 AM   Subscribe

I'm suddenly having a problem with writing and speaking, specifically with being articulate. This has happened (temporarily) before as well. What do I do to get over this?

I grew up abroad, but my family has always spoken English and another language. In all the schools I attended, we spoke English exclusively. I even consider English as my first language, learned simulataneously with our mother tongue. I have lived in the US for awhile and speak English exclusively.

I feel like I'm becoming less articulate in English. I don't know what's wrong. My writing ability is what's really going downhill and I feel like I haven't been able to fully able to express myself. The writing seems to be affecting my speech (or both the writing and speaking problems are manifesting at the same time) and I find myself trying to come up with all the right words. I think the way I'm ordering my words is coming out wrong, too. This has happened really briefly before (for about three months during an internship in college where I often felt tongue-tied and worried about how I was being perceived -- I don't have that problem now, I don't think, because I've been in my same job for awhile and am fairly comfortable with my colleagues).

I think the way I've written my question here probably serves as evidence that there is some kind of problem in how I've been writing lately. It's this way when I speak, too. I think it's temporary, but I don't understand why this happens or if there is something wrong with me. I feel like I'm losing words. Is there any method for helping myself get over this period quickly?
posted by anniecat to Writing & Language (22 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I wouldn't know why something like this might happen, but your question, as written, is clear, articulate, and well-written. I'm inclined to think it might be just perception on your part - manybe a manifestation of some sort of stress.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:40 AM on October 21, 2009

I have found that getting enough sleep, taking vitamins and lowering my stress helps immensely with my articulation.

PM me with your email address and I'll send you a good article that isn't online.
posted by mecran01 at 10:44 AM on October 21, 2009

nthing resless_nomad. Your post was very clear and articulate.

Did someone say something to you recently? Make fun or point out a flaw with something you said or wrote?
posted by royalsong at 10:45 AM on October 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

I feel like I'm using too many words to describe what could be be said in fewer words. Also, I'm spending a ton of time revising everything I write, including really short emails. When I'm feeling articulate, I usually don't have to think so hard about what I'm going to say and how I'm going to say it. Writing and speaking is taking a lot longer than it usually does. I find myself feeling really hesitant and not saying all the things I want to express because I don't know how and it will take too long to figure out how to say it.
posted by anniecat at 10:52 AM on October 21, 2009

That does sound more like overthinking than an actual problem with your writing, though. Sometimes it flows, sometimes it doesn't - we're very poor judges of our own work, I think.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:53 AM on October 21, 2009

I am going to go with "manifestation of some sort of stress" as restless_nomad mentioned. The reason is that I am in a very similar situation - my native language is Spanish but I learned English art a very young age and am completely fluent in both. I attended K-12 in a school that taught in English and attended college in the States. On top of that, I have lived in the US for 16 years. For a long time, people would be surprsied to know that I am from a Spanish-speaking country and my English showed no trace of an accent.

A couple of years ago an accent started coming out, and I started second-guessing my words a lot. I'm at a point now where people routinely ask me where I'm from, and the idea of a conversation in English stresses me out because I pause a lot, trying to recall the right words. I feel like I end up sounding odd and stilted. The thing is, a couple of years ago I also started to feel a lot of generalized social anxiety - always worried that I was saying the wrong thing, that I was offending someone. This was in very average situations where other people would not even consider the notion that they were saying something offensive. I am almost completely sure that this is where my loss of skill of spoken English is coming from - I feel stress about social interactions which makes me insecure about the content of what I am saying, so the actual delivery method is suffering as well. Yes, I know I need to talk to someone about it :)

The source of stress could be anything in your case; I'm not suggesting you have social anxiety, just explaining my own source of stress. Please PM me if you would like - I can totally understand how disorienting something like this feels.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 10:53 AM on October 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

This kind of happens to me when I'm going through a stressful time and bothered by alot of different things. My brain kind of gets lost inside itself and can't express anything. It's very frustrating. You said you're comfortable at your job but is there anything else bothering you?

I would try to write something out and get somebody who's smart to evaluate it and compare it to something you wrote before this started. While you're writing it try to think about what's going on in your brain and where your difficulties are and how long it's taking. You can do this while you're writing work stuff too. Keep track of what happens in your head when you try to articulate something, how often you have problems and how long the problems last. If you know that much maybe you'll be able to see patterns and links develop.
posted by amethysts at 10:57 AM on October 21, 2009

I think the way I've written my question here probably serves as evidence that there is some kind of problem in how I've been writing lately. It's this way when I speak, too.

If the way you've written this post is, as you say, representative of your usual writing and speaking ability, then you have no problem. I don't see a single word that seems out of place or poorly chosen.

I mean, if you were writing this for professional or academic purposes you could maybe shorten some run-on sentences, make parts of it more concise, avoid contractions, etc., but as a Metafilter post? It seems utterly normal. (See, I wouldn't have broken up that run-on sentence with a question mark if I were writing professionally, but it's fine on the web.)

Based on your follow-up comment, I'd say: everyone struggles to find the right words sometimes. No one writes or speaks effortlessly and eloquently all the time. Your issue isn't actually with your speaking or writing ability; the problem is some combination of anxiety and setting your standards too high. In other words, you're worrying about things that most people just don't worry about.
posted by Jaltcoh at 11:00 AM on October 21, 2009

i agree with the above comments that this is likely stress related. your post is articulate and does not sound like you've lost comprehension of the language. try to console yourself with the knowledge that this will pass (like the previous time you experienced it), and know that worrying too much will make it more stressful. if you're worried you haven't made yourself clear to whomever you're speaking with, a simple "was that clear?" or "do you understand?" should give you opportunity for feedback.
posted by tamarack at 11:05 AM on October 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think the way I've written my question here probably serves as evidence that there is some kind of problem in how I've been writing lately.

...really? I'm not seeing it, of course we don't know how long it took you to write that. Are you more tired than usual? Stressed? If you're really concerned, you might want to mention it to your doctor. Sometimes it can take me ages to write a simple email because I can't figure out how to say what I want to say (and english is my only language) but that's perfectly normal for me. It is worse if I'm tired, ill or stressed though.
posted by missmagenta at 11:05 AM on October 21, 2009

Its never a bad idea to see a neurologist and rule out any brain-related issues. They might be able to recommend activities to improve your abilities as well.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:14 AM on October 21, 2009

I'm guilty of overthinking, for sure and I have been feeling stressed. Maybe it is anxiety. Thanks, all.
posted by anniecat at 11:28 AM on October 21, 2009

Start writing - and I mean with a pen and paper, without corrective fluid, aiming for perfection on every page. When there's a physical cost to being long worded (more words = more chances for a mistake) you'll naturally shorten what you're writing. Pay attention to the little "Gee I wonder" thoughts you'll get while doing it. Those are things I'm talking about.

I'm not saying you need to do this always. Just try it for a bit as practice to keep your mind sharp.

Other than that, I also embargo my papers for a bit. If I edit after writing I'm too embroiled in the topic. I have to wait a week or two to forget it and move on. Then I'll notice the grammar problems. Honestly a month works best for me but that's a little unworkable in practice.
posted by jwells at 11:29 AM on October 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm in the same boat as you. English is my second language, and I find when I get tired or really stressed, I'll begin blanking on which word I should use.

I'd say some rest may be in order. If that doesn't cure you, then a trip to the doctor may be necessary.
posted by reenum at 11:59 AM on October 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

English is my only language, and I've been struggling with the same problem for months. Have you had any changes in medication? I'll be watching this thread with interest.
posted by Space Kitty at 12:21 PM on October 21, 2009

I think stress, too. I'm in a writing program and at the end of every semester I get this feeling like I've run out of words. I'll fumble for the term I want when speaking and often resort to gestures. Once I'm done with class and catch up on my sleep I'm fine.
posted by sugarfish at 12:29 PM on October 21, 2009

I'm a native english speaker and am going through the same exact thing. The past year of my life has been really, really eventful though - in very good and bad ways. I'm chalking it up to stress.
posted by jacquilinala at 12:33 PM on October 21, 2009

Being articulate is actually a lot of work. I'm not sure good writing "just flows" without lots of rewriting and hand-wringing from even the best writers, except in inspired moments. So maybe you're just lacking inspiration to write or speak about the topic? Being distracted, stressed, or depressed can have this effect. So can just not caring that much.

Your question shows no problems. Rewriting stuff to get it that way is normal.
posted by cj_ at 3:39 PM on October 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm not trying to be a total downer, but I remember reading about Terry Pratchett's initial description of what he initially thought might have been a small stroke: he, one of the most eloquent and articulate men on earth, started fumbling for words, having to look up their spelling and sometimes meaning, and taking much longer to write a simple page for one of his books.
He later mentioned additional symptoms, like forgetting how to do a knot for his tie or fumbling with shirt buttons. And then, after visiting several specialists, he found out he had early-onset Alzheimer's.

Seriously, I'm not saying that you have it or that it is even probable - but if I experienced symptoms like the ones you mentioned I'd visit a doctor immediately, be it only to get a bit of peace of mind in that regard.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 3:39 PM on October 21, 2009

Read more (well-written novels).
posted by low affect at 3:49 PM on October 21, 2009

I experience the same when I'm tired or stressed.
posted by moira at 7:22 PM on October 21, 2009

It may not be an ESL thing, it may just be a sleep deprivation thing. I'm a native English speaker and I forget most of my vocabulary when I don't get enough sleep.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:02 PM on October 21, 2009

« Older What's wrong with my truck?   |   What would Jesus wear on Halloween? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.