How do I get my intelligence and identity back after depression?
June 30, 2014 10:06 PM   Subscribe

Hi. I am currently 21 years old, female, and I think I was depressed for a long time, sometimes I think most of my life. I think I'm just starting to get out of it though, and I'm having a lot of realizations lately. I have had a lot of good days where I feel somewhat like myself again but have had bad days too. I really want to continue having good days but I'm struggling. I need help.

Basically my life situation is that ii currently live at home, just graduated from community college with a general transfer degree after 3 years of studying. I have a 2.66 gpa which is really bad but I wasn't in good shape mentally and emotionally the past few years especially and I'm just glad to have completed my degree. I want to go to university in the fall because I want to finish a bachelors degree, but I don't really know what degree to get, and I'm really stresse about it. I was admitted to a local state university. I REALLY need to be focussing on that, I know.... I also work two jobs full time right now during the summer. I just got out of a five year relationship a couple months ago, I'm happy about it but don't currently have many friends at the moment as I'm having trouble connecting socially, and I really need to focus on getting healthy anyway

Here are my questions in a nutshell:

1. Is it normal to lose some of your intelligence when depressed? I know somewhere inside of me is a smart, sensitive, and fun person but I frequently feel so disconnected, blank, empty, awkward, slow and stupid. It's hard to describe. It really affects me socially. For example, at work I feel like I really make people annoyed, I can never communicate what I mean to say because I can't think, I make people feel awkward, I can understand people and social dynamics but I feel like I have nothing to contribute or have any good response naturally. Like I'm behind a glass wall. Does anyone know what I mean? I feel like I can't communicate. I am just so distracted by my inner turmoil I can't pay attention. I will have to watch a movie a couple of times to get it

2. How can I get my intelligence and mind back? I feel like the answer to this is relaxing more, depression is stressful and I just feel like I need to relax more, but I can't stop worrying about my problems. When I'm not working I frequently spend most of my days on my phone on the internet looking up self help things, but I never really out anything into practice. I aim to eat healthy and I excersize most days, so I guess that is good. I want to start meditating but I rebel against routines I set up for myself. I started a diary which I think will help with getting thoughts out and working through emotions, but I'm not strict on writing in it every day. I just find it hard to stick to things.

3. How can I get my identity and life back? I am happy to be on my own but now I am left to build my life all over. I neglected having really any hobbies besides working out when I was with my boyfriend. I did pick up knitting last winter break but stopped and I would like to start again but it's summer and I won't be able to wear anything I make for a while. I also have read a couple books, I like reading. I have always wanted to learn guitar and have been thinking about buying one and learning while I have the time during summer break.

4. Basically, I'm having trouble pinpointing my current problems and implementing solutions. I feel lost and directionless. When I allow myself to relax and go with the flow life seems to go much better on those days, when I allow myself to love myself. But I need to balance that with direction I think.

Does any of this make sense? I'm not sure what to make of my life or myself at the moment. How can I get rid of the confusion
posted by anon1129 to Human Relations (10 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
At the risk of being really cliched: are you getting any kind of treatment/therapy for your depression? ("just starting to get out of it" is...kind of vague, and you mention self-help pages and a diary, but not any form of professional help.) It looks like from your comment history that you've been dealing with all of this mostly on your own for a long time. It sounds like you've gotten a long way that way--you graduated, got out of a relationship that wasn't making you happy, etc.--but a lot of people, even very smart, accomplished, resilient people find that they need outside professional help to really get back to where they were.

(But yes, everything you describe is really common with depression--thoughts feeling dulled and sluggish, feeling like everyone's judging you in social situations, feeling guilty about not doing "enough", having trouble sorting out ambitions. It's not permanent, it will get better.)
posted by kagredon at 10:13 PM on June 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry you feel so lost. It sounds like you're making progress and getting better. You're going to go to the University in the fall. That will be a great place to explore your new self and gain back some of the intelligence you feel like you lost. I'm sure you just pushed it down for a while. You just have to let yourself come back out.

As cliched as it sounds, I really would recommend trying to live one day at a time. You're overwhelming yourself by trying to do too much/fix too much/make too many decisions at once. Try to breath, enjoy each day as it comes, and give yourself small goals to get back on track.

You can do it!
posted by hydra77 at 10:30 PM on June 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I used to see a therapist, and the last time I saw one was about a year ago. I probably saw her for about 2 years off and on. She was the only therapist I had ever tried though, and I liked her, but I just don't think I was ready for therapy maybe. I want to maybe try seeing another therapist. I just never know what to say to them or how they can even help me
posted by anon1129 at 10:34 PM on June 30, 2014

I hope this does not get deleted, because it is legitimately backed up by scientific studies....

In short, a lot of "depression" is caused by biological factors - Thyroid Issues, Hormones, and simple Vitamin Deficiencies among them.

I had Depression at your age - turns out it was mostly Endometriosis (effecting my hormones) along with hormonal birth control (effecting my hormones) with a huge dose of Dysfunctional Family in the mix.

All the hormonal stuff effected my Vitamin and Mineral levels - exacerbating my condition.

Take a good multi vitamin for a few weeks. At the very least. See if this helps!
posted by jbenben at 12:53 AM on July 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

Whenever I'm depressed (I live in Seattle and get some bad seasonal depression), I always seem to end up feeling pretty stupid while I'm depressed.

My gut instinct based on where you say you are right now is that you're not in a place where you're ready to have direction right now. Fuck around aimlessly, go with the flow, play with whatever interests you until something actually starts feeling like it wants to be some kind of bigger thing to aim towards.

Good luck.
posted by egypturnash at 1:15 AM on July 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you are working two full times jobs you are not getting enough sleep and enough down time. This is enough to make anyone blank and wooly-headed. I'm not saying it's impossible to work two jobs. I've certainly done it, but it takes a huge amount out of you physiologically and neurologically.

You need seven to eight hours of sleep a night to get by, but when sick, or when the weather is bad or when stressed you are more likely to need nine or more hours for a few days.

Not only do you need enough sleep but you need a bunch of waking down time when you are not using your social-analytical brain, or your executive functions. What this means is for optimal health you need to be doing things like sitting quietly in a nice park and being in the shade of a tree. You need to be taking walks and getting exercise too. With two jobs if you do this it will come out of your sleeping time.

The other thing to consider is that when you are working two jobs you need to have peak blood sugar to nourish your brain so you are competent and focused at the job. This means frequent, healthy, well organized meals and making sure your protein and fluid intakes are optimized so that your blood sugar is stable but high. Of course simple manual labour, like mowing lawns doesn't need as high blood sugar as bookkeeping or counter service, but manual labour burns more calories.

If you were working and going to community college at the same time that could account entirely for your disappointing grades. There is a reason why only one full time job used to be the norm and people used to only work in the summer if they were going to school. Have you considered that you simply may be running out of stamina from so much work? Not everybody is eagerly capable of sixty hour work-weeks. Finding yourself drawing mental blanks and longing to spend a few days in your pajamas mostly in bed but partially net surfing self-help could be a symptom of fatigue rather than depression.

There are a lot of people who physically cannot handle two jobs at once. They crash and burn when they try, getting fired for being late too many times or making stupid mistakes or being surly with their boss or their customers, or breaking the equipment, or one morning just not being able to get themselves out of bed to go to work. The fact that you are holding down two full time jobs at all says amazing things about your stamina. expecting more of yourself on top of that could be unrealistic.

Consider please, that people who seem to thrive on two jobs and lots of ambition often have a huge amount of social support, are natural endurance workers, and frequently are taking stimulants to keep going. In other words, even with money and someone to make the lunches behind them, they are destroying their health with Red Bull or cocaine.

Please consider if a less demanding schedule and more time for self-nurturing would help. I suspect you don't have a lot of time for experimenting with ideas. For example a career in social work might be ideal for you, but you would have no way of knowing and the idea would never occur to you because you don't have time to to look into what type of education is needed, what social workers do, what their job conditions are, whether the field is hiring.... or maybe becoming a house painter, or maybe organic gardening, or tutoring kids, or anything and everything, because when would you find a weekend to work and observe kids that need tutoring, or to paint some freshly installed drywall or to talk to someone at the local organic farm share. It all has to remain theoretical, just entries like BF453 and TR297 in your university course catalog. A tired brain can't easily take abstract ideas like BF453 and extrapolate if this would mean having to interact with a lot of cranky parents or not five years down the road, let alone if that would be a good reason to not take the course.

You may be having more of a problem with fatigue than you are with depression. Having to give up self-love to make time for direction is a clear sign that you really fit it all into your schedule. The thing is direction is a type of self-love too, but it's one that only can occur when the lower tier needs are met. Sleep, rest, maintenance, social needs - they all have to occur before you can viably taking on additional goals.
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:12 AM on July 1, 2014 [5 favorites]

I am officially Not Discouraging Therapy or Medication for Depression, but like jbenben, I urge you to also have a thorough physical (as simple as a basic wellness check at any GP, to start) as well. Most of what had me thinking I was depressed and "feeling dumb" was the combined effects of an autoimmune thyroid disorder, some serious vitamin and mineral deficiencies (common to that autoimmune disorder, plus a few other factors thrown in), and a sleep breathing disorder (that often goes undiagnosed in skinny young women instead of overweight men in their 30s and above).
posted by blue suede stockings at 7:03 AM on July 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Have you had your depression evaluated by an MD, and has he or she suggested low dosages of an anti-depressant? I had depression when I was in college and although I functioned, I was not at my best. In fact, there was a semester when I didn't get out of bed until around noon. Which was a problem considering that I had morning classes.

FWIW, my GPA was 2.0. As long as you've been accepted to a university, you're golden. My GPA didn't keep me out of grad school and it didn't affect my ability to qualify for 99% of jobs I wanted. (The 1% being places like Google.)

Therapy is good for helping to process the illness of depression (a chemical imbalance in the brain) and for situational depression (grief, divorce, job loss) but it's not going to be a cure for you if you do have clinical depression. Honestly, if you read your Ask, and you compare it to the description on WebMD, could it be any more textbook?

Now is a great time to see a doctor and to discuss the possibility of a drug regime. Take this test and print it out and bring it to your GP/MD/DO to discuss. Absolutely get a thorough medical work up to rule out actual physical problems like thyroid, deficiencies, or other issues, first.

I'm on a low dose of Celexa for anxiety, and it has made such a fantastic difference in my life. No more panic attacks, no more free-floating anxiety, no more stress when doing everyday tasks like driving on freeways, or in the mountains, or over bridges.

I only wish I had these drugs when I was your age.

As for University. Pick a major in something you'll enjoy to start, and take coursework that will apply to most degree programs. For example, you'll probably need a history, or statistics, or a composition course, so for your first semester, go with generic coursework. You may run into a professor that gets you enthusiastic about a subject, or you'll discover a class that turns you on. If so great!

If you have to declare a major, do Business. It's a low stress major, and I found it to be decently interesting. I especially liked Accounting. (Who knew?) I'm now an analyst, which is pretty much the furthest thing EVER from what I thought I'd actually do with my life when I was your age. My BA is in English Lit. My MBA, is Business Administration. The world is a strange place.

As for your social life, go out for drinks after work with your co-workers. Be friendly with people. When you get to school, live on campus, I make gazillions of friends in my dorm. See if you can work in the dorm, at the front desk. Or at some other campus job. Join clubs, or just show up to meetings of things that sound interesting to you. You don't have to be in extrovert. I joined the classic movie club. We watched a movie and then discussed it. Then went for beers at Minder Binders or the Dash Inn.

You're almost where you need to be, you are so young, and once you get your depression sorted out, you have all the time in the world to make friends and join clubs and learn stuff. Really, you are not in a bad position at all! Relax. It's going to be fine.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:07 AM on July 1, 2014

1.) I read in a depression memoir "Shoot the Damn Dog" by Sally Brampton, that your IQ scores are lower when you are depressed, so yes, depression can impact your ability to use your intelligence. I belive it is always still there, but if you have difficulties with memory retention, interest etc. as you usually do in depression, of course- you will feel like your brain isn't working to full capacity, because it kind of isn't.

2.) I believe you can work back to working at full capacity, yes. But I know for me, I kind of "lost" a couple of years of learning and brain circuit neuropath connecting when I was depressed, and I sometimes I just feel a little behind.

For me I started to read crap books, like Jackie Collins (actually she is amazing! Very tongue in cheek funny) because they were easy to understand and I could get through them no matter what kind of brain fog.

And I agree with ruthless Bunny- you are at a great age. Once you get through this you will be so strong and have years ahead of you. I was 26-29 when I had the worst of my depression. I'm 33 now and having the time of my life!
posted by misspony at 9:49 AM on July 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think you're headed in the right direction. The degree, holding down a job, going to school, picking up neat hobbies here and there, good exercise--that's all amazing. There's lots of natural, good inquisitiveness, and healthy looking forward.

That being said, the post sounds incredibly uncertain, like there's an uncertainty about what you really want and what you really want to do with your time.

My advice is to take a year off from the "this is what I'm supposed to do" activities, and start exploring the "this is what I want to do" activities. Only do things you want to do, go places you want to go, dedicate your time to you. Find out who you are through taking action, and going through a (fun, eye-opening) process of trial-and-error.

I don't thing one can find her/his identity by thinking and positing alone. Try a few things, do some things that are simultaneously awesome and a little scary. Whatever your reaction to the new experiences are, they will be purely *you*; you'll have a little bit more of your identity defined through that.

And I definitely think depression affects one's thinking abilities. When I'm extremely depressed, all my thoughts become watery and difficult to pin down. So yeah, I definitely know how it feels.

It really sounds like you're doing pretty well. Good luck.
posted by tenlives at 9:36 PM on July 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

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