On losing my way...with words.
November 5, 2015 11:13 AM   Subscribe

I used to be a decent writer growing up. I could write things in two hours that would take other people weeks while in school. Ideas.... mental outlines... of what a certain piece of writing would look and sound like would spontaneously form in my head, sometimes down to specific wording. Suddenly, I would get a burst of energy and write until there was nothing left. Now even writing an email feels like pulling teeth. What's wrong with me? YANMD.

I'm not talking about a block in creativity. It feels like my *access* to my ( healthy) vocabulary and my ability to plan and structure wording and thought is often hampered, even when writing decidedly straightforward things like a cover letter or an email to a professional contact. It's as if my brain is stuttering, and I hit a block. Writing anything from scratch is now a chore that leaves me exhausted. I wasn't this way before.

Prozac improved this for a very euphoric six months, years ago. Never since. No other antidepressant has done anything, nor have stimulants. I have normal bloodwork. An MRI of my brain, unremarkable with the exception of certain artifacts of my cerebral palsy, was done less than a year ago. Crucially, Vinpocetine , which is purported to enhance cerebral blood flow, used to make a world of difference. It still helps, though not nearly as much. Caffeine sometimes does too ( it's the way I was able to write this question), but minimally.

What's going on here? I'm thinking there's a vascular issue in my brain, but the thought of looking too deeply into that abyss freaks me out. If it matters, I'm 25.

Has anyone else experienced this? Can you understand what I've struggled to explain here? Is there any hope of getting my mind back?
posted by marsbar77 to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Forgot to add that the fact that a vasoconstrictor ( coffee) and a vasodilator ( vinpocetine) having similar effects here is really confusing the hell out of me.
posted by marsbar77 at 11:15 AM on November 5, 2015

Does it affect speech or only writing?
posted by Wretch729 at 11:16 AM on November 5, 2015

I do have a stutter. I don't talk nearly as much or as freely as I ( used to) write, and so I can't really compare the complexity of what I'm able to say with that of what I write, because they were never equal to start with. Hard to say.
posted by marsbar77 at 11:18 AM on November 5, 2015

I can perfectly understand what you've struggled to explain, which leads me to convey that you are communicating in the written word very well. Perhaps taking a course which forces you to read and write will help? I've noticed that my college student son, whose brain seems to go into stutter-mode in the summer, sharpens once he is forced to take academic classes.
posted by zagyzebra at 11:28 AM on November 5, 2015

i don't know if this helps, but i had a tough few years (diagnosed with ms, troubles at work), felt tired, stupid, generally dead, and finally changed to working 1/2 time. 6 months later, after spending my "free time" on reading books, exercise, drawing, whatever, i am finally feeling normal again. just last night it struck me that my brain was fizzing with inventive ideas, as it used to be.

i think i was just fed up and worn out. and of course, it's a huge luxury to be able to work 1/2 time, so you may not be able to do the same.
posted by andrewcooke at 12:06 PM on November 5, 2015 [5 favorites]

Well, I can't claim knowledge of what is specifically going on in your brain, but I can definitely relate to this. In my case I've determined that it actually has a lot to do with increasing self-consciousness with age, i.e., when I was younger and wrote more freely, I honestly never worried much about whether I was communicating effectively -- I just *wrote*. The older I got, the more vocal my "internal critic" became, to the point where I started second-guessing every sentence.

I also had a public blog for a while, and frankly as much of an interesting and useful experience as that was in many respects, it eventually served to exacerbate my writer's block to an extreme degree (to the point where I quit blogging in order to enable myself to start writing again!). I basically got to the point where whenever I went to write ANYTHING, I would envision 10 people coming back and arguing with me or pointing out something that I'd been perfectly aware of but had left out to avoid writing something too long...which led initially to my blog entries being dwarfed by the disclaimer sections at the bottom, and then to my feeling tired and stuck whenever I so much as *thought* about coming up with a post.

So if you've become accustomed to writing 'for an audience', as I was for a while there...I would suggest starting a personal journal or just a notebook/text file or something that you can write in with no intention of ever showing it to anyone else. Based on your age and the nature of the phenomenon you're describing, I *suspect* your primary problem may very well be that you've gotten into a habit of second-guessing yourself into a corner. To get out of that corner, you pretty much need to get to where you can write without caring about whether it makes sense or not during the first pass.
posted by aecorwin at 12:27 PM on November 5, 2015 [5 favorites]

Some say writing gets harder as you get better at it and work your way up the four stages of competence. You start seeing all the little bits you could improve instead of automatically thinking everything that comes out is awesome.
posted by johngoren at 12:31 PM on November 5, 2015 [3 favorites]

As not your doctor I took a quick look at your history here in Ask and it looks like you had this and very similar problems before, so perhaps it's best when you actually consult someone professionally.

You also noted that you use(d?) a vaporizer, which brings me to my personal experience of 'hitting the green'. It can do what you described and it has the effect on me, with a similar life-situation (I'm a big guy, socially inept, not very active sports-wise aka sitting 10+ hours a day, perhaps depressed). It makes your brain mushy, stifles your inner speech and essentially puts your prosaic abilities on the backburner.

I like to smoke on the weekends. Saturday all day, Sunday whatever's left from Saturday. Start with a nice wake and bake, binge-watch TV and some movies, eating junk food and hopefully only ever have to stand up to pee or to get more food. Come Monday, when I get to work to handle e-mail support and write some e-mail newsletters for the company I work for I actually have to scrape my brain to get even a few words together or not fall back on some template I already used a billion times. Then during the week without any drug-use I can see how my texts become gradually more readable and refined. I also get more motivated to write; I certainly wouldn't have written this comment in the first half of the week. It's the same for my levels of procrastination. On a Monday or Tuesday I would watch some cat videos instead of answering questions here on Ask.

Even if you don't salute the Mary Jane it seems likely that some other drug(s) you might be using will have this effect on you. Now I'm not suggesting that you stop taking them - again, not your doctor - but you should know about the effects they can have and this unfortunately is one of them. At least according to my own experience.
posted by KMB at 1:08 PM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

I recommend reading "The Brain that Changes Itself". The essential principle is that "neurons that fire together, wire together". How much time are you spending on reading and writing? Fluency is heavily influenced by that. The brain prunes itself, particularly in the young adult years, so it's very "use it or lose it".

In my youth I had perfect/99th percentile vocabulary and writing scores, across the board. Then I had alogia and have struggled with reading, writing and speaking ever since. I might never be at the same level of finesse, but I can now bang out very simple structured writing. It is important not to agonize too much over words or try to vault back to your previous level of ability. Just allow the imperfect level you are at to flow and do it as much as possible, and you *will* improve.
posted by decathexis at 1:34 PM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

a vasoconstrictor ( coffee) and a vasodilator ( vinpocetine) having similar effects here is really confusing the hell out of me.

True, one has vasoconstriction and the other has vasodilatory effects, but you're not considering that the mechanism of action of caffeine is different than for vinpocetine.

Neurotransmission works by summation of many inputs. If the temporal and locational summation of inputs exceeds the activation threshold, an action potential is generated. Among other things, caffeine lowers the threshold for generating an action potential.

Vinpocetine is purported to increase blood flow in the brain. Blood brings oxygen and neurons are one of the most oxygen (and energy! it strongly prefers glucose as the energy source) requiring tissues in the body. Enhancing bloodflow to the brain is equivalent of opening up an internal combustion engine's carbeurator or turbo-charging one (injecting more oxygen so there's a fuller burn).
posted by porpoise at 3:01 PM on November 5, 2015

Two thoughts occur to me. First, are you only having issues with writing that you HAVE to do? In a professional setting, one must seemingly write the same thing in different ways all the time, which can get decidedly tedious. If this is the case, cut yourself some slack!

The second is more in line with creative writing, in that you may be getting in your own way. I heard an interview with Sting recently where he talked about his loss of muse. Everything used to come so effortlessly from within. When he finally got out of his own way, as he put it, his creativity flowed again,but he found his subject matter had changed. His new work was more about the people around him and things external to himself, though still with a personal connection. If your muse is on vacation, perhaps turn a different direction, write things from a different point of view.

Regardless, any writing you do, even if based on a daily prompt you find on the internet, is bound to help you write better in the future. And if all else fails, get a thesaurus! :)
posted by wwartorff at 6:17 PM on November 5, 2015

26-year-old here, recovering from major depression and PTSD. What you are describing was a symptom of my illness.

In my teens I was an annoyingly well-read, moderately gifted writer. In my early twenties I became someone who, like you, had to make a heroic effort just to compose an email. It was humiliating and distressing and I had no idea what was happening to my brain. Organizing and articulating my thoughts was such a struggle that I actively avoided talking to people, hoping to spare them the agony of trying to converse with me. (*sigh*)

Looking back, I strongly suspect that social isolation worsened my condition. There is evidence to support this theory--look up the psychiatric effects of long-term solitary confinement or the link between social isolation and dementia in older adults. My experience was a toxic feedback loop: perceived cognitive decline leads to self-imposed isolation leads to further cognitive decline, ad nauseam.

Thankfully I'm doing much better now. I didn't respond well to psychiatric meds (none that I tried, at any rate). Instead I moved back in with my parents, found a stable 9-5, and worked on all the basic self-care stuff I had been neglecting. CBT helped. So did being forced to answer phones, respond to emails, and interact with coworkers at my job. A couple of weeks ago I aced the GRE (with a perfect score on verbal reasoning!) and now I'm working on applications for grad school.

All of which is to say that there is hope for you. From your previous questions it looks like you are working on this stuff already. I think you're going to be OK.
posted by arkady at 8:46 PM on November 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

I would go back and reread your old writing from the time period in which writing was easy for you and see if you still think it was good. It's quite possible that writing used to be easy because you used to suck, and now it's more difficult because you've improved enough to take the time to craft something better.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:53 AM on November 6, 2015

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