Becoming functional again?
June 27, 2017 9:05 PM   Subscribe

I'm exaggerating, but I have been doing mostly nothing for over a year, no work, no real friends, intermittent extraordinary suffering, lots of netflix. It's been really bad. But, things have been improving, and, this whole time, I've been a part of a ~30-ish person startup community containing people who really like me, and several of them have reached out saying they'd be game to help me become functional again by me working on their projects.

So, I'm unlucky but also ridiculously lucky, here, to have real, in-the-trenches support. I'm already 100% certainly drawing money from this accelerator object absolutely no matter what happens for at least two years, so that's taken care of.

My real question is, what does a return to functionality look like? What can I expect from my brain?

I've already tried taking on a few no-risk responsibilities over the past couple days, and I'm unintentionally showing up to things late, and stuff isn't sticking my head. I have zero motivation except to show up at meetings and give little ten-minute presentations which hasn't gone too horribly.

People I trust have said that they will support me becoming totally independent and are willing to keep giving me increasing responsibility until I become fully self-directed and doing my own independent thing. I don't know what I'm actually going to be capable of doing, here, and how I should try to plan this, if at all.

I used to organize meetups. I've had software jobs. There are organizational skills in my head, somewhere. This AskMe indicates that I can write unprofessional but coherent things. But my brain feels like Swiss cheese.

Has anyone gone from a) somewhat functional, to b) long-term practically catatonic (exaggerating, but), to... c) functional? d) Very functional?

I think a given person's situation would be really idiosyncratic, but what does that look like? What did that look like for you? How quickly did your brain stop feeling like mush?

(I did see a neurologist, I intermittently did therapy, I did exercise on and off, and I haven't been on any medication.)
posted by zeek321 to Work & Money (7 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
This sounds. . .fairly extreme. I'm assuming you didn't startle the neurologist with abnormalities, so I will simply say I'm surprised your therapist or GP didn't recommend medication of some kind, even as a temporary measure to help you. If they did and you refused, that's a very different thing of course, but if you are open to trying medication for this, and there are probably several things that may help, please speak with your doctor.

I went through something similar. I was unable to pull myself out of the 'practically catatonic' stage without temporary medication. Once I was past that, regular therapy and exercise helped put me on the path to finding my 'normal' again. It took over a year, and the brain fog only really stopped once I started working regular hours and challenging myself to learn some new hobbies.

Best of luck, it can be done :)
posted by ananci at 9:39 PM on June 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've hit times in life where things seem to stall and then pick up again, sometimes with a change of direction. But my brain isn't your brain, so I can only offer one bit of general advice that's worked well for me: Keep a notebook to scribble thoughts, ideas, and questions in. You needn't call it a 'journal', since that's a term with baggage, but the act of writing stuff down, whatever that stuff is, has almost always helped me over slumps.
posted by dws at 9:42 PM on June 27, 2017

Intermittent therapy doesn't work. I lost years of my life because of my reluctance to go to therapy (and I was, and am, and will be on medication). It took three or four rounds of a partial hospital program before I started being somewhat functional again. I'm working part time after a three month leave of absence and I'm still easing into real life. I meet regularly with my psychiatrist and therapist. With therapy, there is do or do not, there is no try. You either stick with it or you don't, and it's not helpful if you don't. Don't be me.
posted by Ruki at 9:46 PM on June 27, 2017 [4 favorites]

Do you have ADHD as well as depression? Being around people and at work will hopefully start feeling more entertaining, especially once your projects start to unfold. Likewise, I'd hope you ignored the need to write "professionally" and embrace the idiosyncrasy of just doing whatever you need to do. Career wise, I believe you should remember that once you are actually in the room, properly dressed, and attentive, the sad thing is there is very little else you can do to excel. Everyone is so busy just focusing on putting out their own fires. Doing an A+ job and pleasing everyone would really make little difference to anyone but yourself. Just the fact that you have shown up and are on time will make many people disposed to think of you as competent. In fact, even if you aren't on time, many people will still be impressed. I genuinely think this is more true than not, if that helps with any kind of self-defeating anxiety around getting started. Because you seem to have a very good skill set. Please do not beat yourself up about what you need to do or be, and believe the passion will come if you keep moving.
posted by benadryl at 9:51 PM on June 27, 2017 [5 favorites]

Has anyone gone from a) somewhat functional, to b) long-term practically catatonic (exaggerating, but), to... c) functional? d) Very functional?

Yes. Autoimmune thyroid disease diagnosis and medication (age 30) to ADHD-inattentive-type diagnosis and treatment (age 40) to, most recently, anemia diagnosis and treatment. For me, the problems you describe have come and gone dependent on underlying medical issues. (Insomnia has been an on/off misery for 30+ years, too). You saw a neurologist, but did you have a complete physical check-up (including full thyroid panel, with antibodies) before that?
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:44 PM on June 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thyroid issues ate my brain, too (and in weird ways). I was always the naturally organised could keep six different lines of what had to happen in my head executive function person, and at my worst I couldn't remember what I was doing between"read note about next step" and looking back at my computer to do the thing. (And as a book loving librarian, the couple of months I spent not being able to focus on reading for more than 5 minutes at a time were really horrible.)

Now I've got treatment, I've got most of those skills back (maybe 95%?) and some coping skills that more than make up for the rest.

Things that helped:
- Working on a long-term project with similar sized pieces (in my case, a website with articles/essays, roughly the same length). At the beginning, it took me ages to write 1000 words about something I knew very well (and I'd previously been a good and fluid writer, and am again.) As I got better, I could see the time and effort decreasing in a fairly measurable way, and that was really helpful.

- Feldenkrais lessons. Feldenkrais is a specific body modality method that's more about learning how to retrain your body and brain than fixing physical stuff. I ended up doing more or less weekly lessons for most of a year, and it was a huge benefit. (It's a lot more common to do 4-6 lessons to focus on a specific thing.) It taught me that I could in fact learn new things that made me feel better (and also helped me spend less energy on old habits about moving my body that took more energy so I could use that for other things I liked more.)

Music lessons do the same things for some people (for similar reasons: it's something about the brain/body coordination part.) Some kinds of art forms.

- I found myself doing a lot of pattern based stuff. My TV watching was a lot of proceduralish shows, where you know more or less what the arc of the show was going to be in the first couple of minutes. It took me a lot longer to recover to reading or watching fiction that was playing with expectations. I also picked up knitting, and specifically knitting that was either following design charts or had repeated patterns.

Something in the pattern-matching was very necessary for me, even though I don't really have words to explain it.

- Keeping track of what I'm doing. I've learned I can basically do 3-5 large tasks in any given day (including home-related stuff) and a larger number of smaller ones, like emails, and what the variations are based on other factors (I track sleep, sleep quality, exercise, etc.) That helps me figure out if there's something going on that's making my life harder faster and before it gets too hard to undo.

Also some self-awareness around stuff that's unreasonably tiring (driving somewhere new and more complicated, some kinds of traffic patterns, etc. so that if I have those in my day, I simplify other things to make life easier. I have a lot of household stuff sorted out so I don't need to think about it much, just do the routine. It took me a while to figure all of it out, but it means I can do more stuff I like now.)
posted by modernhypatia at 10:39 AM on June 28, 2017 [5 favorites]

I'm in the "figuring out how to cope and be as productive as I can within my limitations" phase of this process.

Once upon a time, I could keep a 20 item to-do list in my head. I memorized not only my singing part in an opera (I was the understudy to the lead), but everyone else's too. I could recite poetry on demand and go for an hour.

For the last three years, it's been a different story. I can keep track of maybe three things on a to-do list, but if I call it a to-do list, I can't actually do anything. It's a wish list. If I get things done that are on it, great. If not, it's ok. There's always tomorrow.

I sing along with the radio and Spotify a lot. But half the lyrics are "apple apple watermelon pear." And the only poem I can pull out of my brain is Purple Cow.

I'll get lost in the middle of a conversation. I can rewatch episodes of tv shows over and over because they don't stick. Same goes for books and websites.

I live with friends because between mental and physical health issues, it's not safe for me to live on my own. i might ask what dinner's going to be three or four times. Or ask scores of questions that start with "Did I already... ?"

Things that have helped:
* Set up boards in Trello I've got today's wish list on one board, a running brain dump on another, stuff I want to read on a third, and one each for the two side hustles I'm clinging to for dear life. If it's not on Trello, it never happened.

* Resolve to do only one thing a day. Just one. A lot of times, my one thing is to eat. Just eat. At some point during the day, put food in my mouth, chew, and swallow. Today, my one thing is to come on here and answer some questions, so I can practice writing. I often find that after I do my one thing, whenever during the day I do it, I want to do more things afterward.

* Start some kind of artsy-craftsy thing with a tangible output. Sewing, quilting, knitting, cross stitch, papercraft, ceramics, collage, something. It gives you both a thing to do and a thing to look at while thinking "I did that." I have a giant collage on the wall I'm facing right now. It helps a lot, seeing it.

* Read everything you can get your hands on. The brain's kind of like a muscle. The less you use it, the less it works. Read. Do crossword puzzles. Sudoku. See how many AskMeFi questions you can answer in a day. Anything to get those neurons hustling again.

* Something to start you off reading: Jon Morrow is one of my heroes. He doesn't know it, but he's one of my mentors. I have learned so, so much from this man. He deals with unstoppable pain, inability to move more than his eyes and lips, and frequent bouts of potentially lethal pneumonia. But he's unstoppable. He started a blog, became a millionaire, started another blog, became a bigger millionaire. He's freaking amazing. And something he wrote once came off my screen and smacked me upside the head. After being in a car accident that broke every bone in his legs, he wrote, "This is my life now. What's next?"

I'm up to two things every day. One thing for my sales business and one thing for my freelance business. I still struggle, some days a lot. But this is my life now. What's next?
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 8:37 AM on July 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

« Older Gift card scams?   |   What's this website I saw once and forgot to... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.