I can no longer start or finish even the most basic tasks.
May 5, 2013 11:10 PM   Subscribe

And I mean anything. People, school, projects, hobbies... I always, always give up on the things I start. And it isn't even about losing interest. Yeah, there are things that I'll eventually lose interest in and quit and that's not really a problem. What bothers me is that I quit things I'm actually interested in, too. For example, I was so completely into a book I was reading last week. Really, really into it. You'd think I'd finish it, then, but I didn't. I have an entire library full of half-read books, most of which I'd love to start reading again but just can't. Won't. Cant. Ugh.

It's like that with absolutely everything. I'm fascinated by psychology and started studying it but eventually stopped despite my continuing interest. I'd write a story, get to the middle, and stop, regardless my desire to keep working on it. I never finish art projects, never finish video games, and rarely finish movies or TV series. Heck, I can't even finish listening to songs! It doesn't matter how much I love the song-- I still have a terrible habit of stopping music half-way and going to the next one.

I do that with other things besides projects and hobbies. I'd befriend someone and eventually just drift away from them, and not because I'd find them no longer interesting or anything like that. I just do. I'd do so well in school for months and then just stop. And it's not that I hate school or anything. In fact, I quite *like* school. In the long run that doesn't mean a thing, though.

I don't know what's wrong with me or what to do to fix this. I've pushed myself to finish things in the past (obviously), but that usually leaves me feeling exhausted and completely disinterested in just about everything afterward, instead of feeling empowered or something like you'd expect. And the feeling would last for DAYS. For instance, let's say I pushed myself to write an essay. I'd feel so tired afterward, and finishing ANYTHING after that would become doubly hard. I truly don't know what to do.

I'm supposed to graduate college this month ( after six years) and I don't even know if I'll be able to complete the assignments required in my final courses, let alone do anything of value with my life afterwards. What's wrong with me?
posted by marsbar77 to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
This sounds like a case of crippling perfectionism plus some easily-distractedness thrown in, stuff I definitely empathize with. I think the mindset subconsciously at work is saying "If I finish it I'll just be find out that it didn't live up to my expectations. Better to never know at all than be disappointed."

It seems to be at the level where it's paralyzing you from living the life you want to and getting joy from the things you love. It's a askmetafilter cliche, but really in this case it sounds like a very good reason to see a therapist and/or psychiatrist.
posted by erstwhile ungulate at 11:23 PM on May 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

I assume you've considered ADD, and/or depression? It sounds like you should really talk to a therapist. You can probably see one through your school. I know, that may seem totally overwhelming too, but tell yourself you're doing this so that eventually everything else in your life won't be so hopelessly overwhelming.

I have severe depression (I take drugs for it) and I suspect I have ADD, and I've certainly had days like you describe, where finishing anything seemed impossible. It's not going to get any better unless you work on making it better. Believe me, once you really resolve to do something, you may surprise yourself with how quickly things start falling into place.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 11:26 PM on May 5, 2013

Response by poster: I've tried the therapy route and I've tried buying into the idea that this is a medical issue. It isn't though... I can't run to pills to fix everything- I'm already on Prozac for depression and energy drinks to fool me into thinking I have a modicum of motivation and energy for daily life, and even with all this, I feel like death. These problems started in childhood- it's not that they're an offshoot of some teenage-angst complex... I just really need to fix myself internally- otherwise I will, very simply, have been born for naught.
posted by marsbar77 at 11:30 PM on May 5, 2013

swap energy drinks + prozac for meditation
posted by mannequito at 11:38 PM on May 5, 2013

This sounds a lot like the symptoms of my ADD. I can get straight A's in school (as I'm back in college after fearing it for years), but starting each assignment involves moving a mental mountain. I can accomplish great things at work...as long as I can fool myself into getting started. After completing tasks, I often feel mentally drained enough that there isn't much satisfaction in even getting things done.

Medicine can help, but it's a frustrating moving target. A dose seems about right for 6 weeks at the most, and then starts to make me wired, emotionally fragile, or sleepy. The only thing I've found that works somewhat consistently with no negative side effects is daily exercise. Running for a few miles a day gives me a clear head and personal drive that I usually don't have. The trick is, of course, getting myself to exercise every day. I'm still working on that one.
posted by TrialByMedia at 11:38 PM on May 5, 2013 [7 favorites]

These problems started in childhood-

Then there's a high chance that it's an ADD-related thing that is best dealt with medication and/or exercise.
posted by heyjude at 11:42 PM on May 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: The trouble with ADHD as a diagnosis is that the only answer science currently has for it is to put you on what is basically meth, and I struggle to see what that does beyond wear out your brain, kidneys and heart and give you a false energy and focus that fades and leaves you worse for wear, especially over an extended period. There really is no good direction to head in here...
posted by marsbar77 at 11:45 PM on May 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Your views on ADHD are based on a lot of misinformation and are subsequently doing you a disservice. Likening ADHD meds to meth is likewise really counterproductive and just not accurate. Get screened anyway and do not discount the possibility that you are on the wrong medication, period.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 11:53 PM on May 5, 2013 [15 favorites]

Response by poster: FTR, I did try concerta for 3 weeks. Felt like I was going to die at any moment.
posted by marsbar77 at 12:01 AM on May 6, 2013

Hope my answer doesn't veer too close to pop psychology, but how has your sleep been? Maybe see what you can do to ensure good quality sleep, and hold that for several days in a row.
posted by polymodus at 12:04 AM on May 6, 2013

Mod note: Comment deleted; OP, Ask Metafilter is not really a place for back and forth debate on your question. You need to relax and confine responses to answering questions if they are raised. People will offer different ideas, and you can just pay attention to those that seem helpful.
posted by taz (staff) at 12:05 AM on May 6, 2013

How are you for keeping track of stuff? Are you forgetful? Do you lose things? I ask because what you've described so far sounds like about half of my issues, and those are the other half.

I have ADD and anxiety and have had trouble finding a working meds combination because the stimulants tweak my anxiety quite badly. Strattera, on the other hand, was wonderful, although I had to go off of it because of stomach problems. I now have a combination that works pretty well for the first time in adulthood--not perfect, but pretty well. But it's like any ongoing condition, often the pharmaceutical options are imperfect, that doesn't mean they're bad.

Therapy is a thing for ADD, too. And a lot of lifestyle changes. Stimulants aren't the only answer, and there isn't only one stimulant. It takes awhile and work, but there really are other treatment options, and doctors if anything take you a lot more seriously if you tell them you don't want to go that route. The first thing I got sent home with wasn't pills, it was 'Taking Charge of Adult ADD', and I got a lot out of it. I still think that the #1 biggest impact of getting diagnosed was seeing the therapist who suggested I put a 3M hook right on my front doorframe for my keys, I almost never lose them now--and because of that, I feel much more 'with it' and other things feel more doable.
posted by Sequence at 12:25 AM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Likening ADHD meds to meth is likewise really counterproductive and just not accurate.

But they're both amphetamines... and for me, taking mixed amphetamine salts / generic Adderall produces a similar experience to what's described for meth right down to the appetite loss and "meth mouth" side effects; I have to drink water constantly to combat dry mouth.

I assume that a meth addict is taking much higher doses, has to worry about contamination with poisonous substances in street drugs, and probably does experience some variation of the psychoactive effect of the drug, but I think trying to hide or deny the chemical and other similarities is counterproductive given the well-known practice of trying to spread misinformation about recreational drugs. That said, I agree with others that the OP should not be so skeptical of ADD meds, unless the health results mentioned are coming from actual studies of supervised therapeutic drug treatment with the ADHD meds themselves.
posted by XMLicious at 12:58 AM on May 6, 2013

There may be non-medical answers to your questions. Without generalising, modern life can be very busy and task-orientated. Electronic screens vying for your attention, tied with the little buzz of dopamine you get every time your Facebook feed gets a like or your metafilter post receives a comment. I think I suffer from this, a mild form of Internet addiction that drives my attention constantly away away away.

Try taking some time out. Book a hotel room and work there, turn off all distractions like phones and computers. Visit an older relative who'll be super happy to see you and take the opportunity provided by a different space to put your head in a different space. Meditation might be a long term solution, but I think you can get some of the benefits of meditation just by readjusting your focus. Disrupt the day to day of life and you might find yourself hidden beneath the clutter.
posted by 0bvious at 2:13 AM on May 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

FTR, I did try concerta for 3 weeks. Felt like I was going to die at any moment.

What does "Felt like I was going to die at any moment." mean, exactly? Were there symptoms that an external observer could detect or just some sort of existential dread?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:51 AM on May 6, 2013

I have dexamphetamine to treat my ADHD, diagnosed very much later in life. I take less than a "recreational dose". The first little while I was taking it, yes, I noticed the physical response, it was a bit weird, talking fast and that sort of thing. But now, I take the dose, and I know when it's working because the ONLY difference is that I can concentrate. I can concentrate! I don't need to find inspiration/motivation/be whipped or anything else, because I wanted to do this work. Whether it was doing the dishes, and forgetting I was doing the dishes mid-dishes, and walking away to do something else, remembering - hey - I was doing the dishes - I'm going to smite those dishes, going back to the dishes, washing one or two plates, and then forgetting that I'm doing the dishes... and you get the idea.

Now, at a minimal dose, and sometimes I only take the morning dose if my brain cooperates well, I can concentrate like a normal human being.

I'm not saying this as an advocate of big pharma. I'm actually reluctant to take medication, I kept getting off my anti-anxiety pills and ending up with agoraphobia. I'm saying this because your understanding of treatment for ADHD is not the same as my understanding of treatment for ADHD.

I can't diagnose you with ADHD, not only because I'm not a medical professional but I was too clueless to work out I had it (though sometimes I suspected, I would forget again.) I could give you all the organisational techniques and processes I worked out over 30 years to cope and hide my lack of attention and memory and concentration, but those strategies, they don't work half as well as dexamphetamine does for me. It makes me more myself; it allows me to do the things I had the determination and discipline to do that my special brain (developed to keep an eye out for tigers and new ways to invent wheels out of rocks) would not.

My son has an anxiety issue but he does not believe that doctors or psychologists can help him, which leaves him in a spot in which he can't get help and change. I suggest to you that you pretend to believe in ADHD for a bit, go to a professional, get assessed by honestly talking about the issues you have, talk about the concerns you have about the medication, ask for strategies that do not involve medication, and if they say, "well, you can do A, B and C, but research shows that for people with your level of XYZ, this medication is most effective," then be a scientist - give it a go. Monitor your ability before and after. See if you can see any changes. Ruling something out before trialling it is perhaps not the most helpful thing you can do. Give it 6 weeks. What have you got to lose?
posted by b33j at 3:43 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

OP, I can't say for certain whether you have ADHD. And I'm confused because your initial description sounds as if this is something new "I can no longer finish tasks..." which suggests that at some point you were able to finish tasks. If this is a brand-new problem for you, then it doesn't seem likely that it's ADHD. There are other medical issues which can cause similar problems, such as hypothyroidism.

But later you say that this behavior has its roots in your childhood, which seems more in line with ADHD.

Regardless something is going on with you and it sounds like this is something you need professional help with.

About ADHD drugs ...

Finding the right med is hard. If you try a med and it makes you feel horrible, then call your doctor and tell them you need to try something else. Trying one med and not liking it is no reason to dismiss them all. There are also ways you can work with the drugs so that the side effects are less difficult - for example, planning your food and setting up reminders to eat so that when Concerta wears off you aren't hit with wonky blood sugar from not eating all day.

Also, only some ADHD meds are amphetamines, and some are not stimulants at all.

There are certainly people who try to treat their ADHD without drugs. I have no idea how effective this is, but I'm sure a professional could tell you.
posted by bunderful at 4:09 AM on May 6, 2013

If you're interested, there are medications for ADHD that are not stimulants. Look into Intuniv and Strattera.
posted by Daily Alice at 4:09 AM on May 6, 2013

You sound like me before I started taking clonazepam. You may suffer from anxiety in addition to (or instead of) ADD. What do you feel when you contemplate working on one of your half-finished projects? Just boredom, or is there also some discomfort, avoidance, etc. going on?
posted by Jacqueline at 4:49 AM on May 6, 2013

Excersice and meditation may be helpful.
posted by brevator at 6:05 AM on May 6, 2013

I read a few articles recently about the effect of internet on the brain, and while I disagree with a lot of fear-mongering about the issue, it does resonate with me that patterns of constant "shallow-dipping" into online news, and social and entertainment sources certainly can have the effect of making it more difficult to concentrate on long-form projects (and diversions). If you feel like you spend a lot of time online and this may be a problem, I'd say that it couldn't hurt to give yourself a vacation away from Facebook, Twitter, IM, YouTube, etc. (as well as texting all the time, if that's an issue), and just use it only as much as you absolutely need to for work and basic needs. Perhaps your mind just needs to recover from this paradigm of multiple, rapidfire, short bursts of info/entertainment.
posted by taz at 6:24 AM on May 6, 2013 [5 favorites]

OP, I wonder if you've ever faced any real consequences by not following through or completing tasks. It's one thing to be personally annoyed with yourself for not finishing books, songs, etc., but has this habit ever led to you getting fines, getting into debt, losing a job, or failing a class? If so, what happened and how did you handle it?
posted by girlmightlive at 7:40 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have had this problem for years -- most certainly when I was in college and shortly there after.

I was diagnosed with ADD (no H for me) as a kid, never medicated.

When I was 23 I tried Strattera -- terrible for me -- horrible nightmares, paranoia, I acted like a crazy person including chasing my boyfriend out into a snowstorm in flip flops. Not my best moment.

I stopped taking the drug and didn't go back to the doctor and continued to suffer.

It is almost 9 years later, and these problems significantly negatively impacted my life and my relationships with others (and I'm still not sure my marriage will survive).

I started a low dose of Adderall last week and OMG -- I can get things done! I can finish a task at work, I cleaned my apartment on Saturday with normal amounts of breaks, not let me look up how to clean that on the internet, oh crap, where did 5 hours go.

I wish I had gone back to the doctor years ago to get the right meds sorted out. I also have serious anxiety but my doctor suggested we focus on the ADD to see if that helped with my anxiety and depression -- so far so good, but still a work in progress.

So -- go see your doctor. Rule out medical issues. Therapy. Good luck.
posted by hrj at 1:08 PM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

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