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Mental Illness Medication and Slower Thinking February 18, 2010

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Disability Claim, mental illness, Recovery, Therapy.
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Yesterday, I had a “Flowers for Algernon” moment.  Or rather an hour and a half.  Let me explain.

Distilled into the Readers Digest Condensed Version, Flowers for Algernon, the 1958 story by Daniel Keyes, is about a man with an IQ of 68 who is given an operation to increase his IQ to genius level. He maintains that genius IQ for a relatively short period of time and then reverts back to his former self.

In my case, although I never had my IQ tested, I performed work that was intellectually challenging.  I managed many projects over my 25 year career, and they all required the ability to simultaneously process large quantities of information.  My last job, project managing the construction of a $55 million ice hockey rink, was no different. Building a  project of that magnitude requires some heavy duty brain power.

Thinking quickly, making snap decisions, and processing vast quantities of information in the blink of an eye, skills that I developed from a very early age, were all second nature to me. My intelligence allowed me to walk into any meeting or presentation and do the “Vulcan Mind Meld” with any presenter, routinely asking the presenter a barrage of questions allowing me to acquire an accurate understanding of exactly what the presenter knew and, more importantly, what he didn’t know. That knowledge allowed me to make the kind of decisions I needed to make in order to perform my job as efficiently as possible. That ability made me very good at my job.

I regarded my talent as normal, and was routinely disappointed in people when they couldn’t perform according to my standards. I had difficulty relating to many people, since I believed that they simply weren’t putting their God-given abilities to work.  It never occurred to me that they might not have the ability to process the same quantities of information as rapidly as I could.

When I was hospitalized in May 2008, the medication that I was given began the process of bringing me back to reality. But the side effect of that medication was what I call the “Flowers for Algernon” effect.  The speed that I process information severely slowed down.  Immediately. One minute I thought quickly, the next I thought slowly. That fast. I now think about ½ to 1/3 as fast as I used to.  Unable to hold four thoughts at a time, I have had to re-learn how to think.  More importantly, I have had to re-think exactly who I am, since my identity  is tightly tied to the speed with which I think.

Generally speaking, I have come to accept the new terms of my existence.  The further away I get from my past, the easier it is to forget how fast I used to think and how much information I could absorb.  Very few incidents in my relatively cocooned existence occur that renew my sense of frustration and shame at losing part of my brainpower. Yesterday was one of those days that reminded me of what I have lost.

In consulting an attorney about a personal matter, I was obliged to have an hour and a half consultation in the attorney’s office. As the attorney talked, I found it surprisingly difficult to keep up with the conversation. My brain just couldn’t process the concepts the attorney spoke about. I took notes, but they were too nonsensical to help me retain any information. Despite the fact that I had ample opportunity to ask the attorney any questions I wanted to at any point, I felt, at the end of the visit, as if I hadn’t even been present for the majority of the consultation. This happened, I should add, through no fault of the attorney’s. I’m the one who can’t comprehend relatively simple concepts. That’s virtually unheard of in my universe. Until now.

The woman who ran the meetings and made the snap decisions is gone.  In her place is a much more humble, much slower-thinking person who vaguely remembers what it used to be like to have some heavy-duty brainpower. Flowers for Algernon.

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Comments»

1. Betty - February 18, 2010

Your are an excellent writer. I could totally relate to your article. Focus and concentration maybe effected by medication but in my case it is also effected by my age. I’m just not as sharp as I use to be. However, I am proud that in my past I have been able to do a Vulcan Mind Meld, as you so eloquently stated. I had a good laugh! I’ve been learning all I can about mental illness, bipolar disorder in particular as my friend has been diagnosed with it. It has not been easy as she is trying to find an acceptable medication for her. A book that really helped me to understand what she is going through is called “bipolar bare”. Even with the extreme highs and lows the author conclude that this disorder is a gift from God. It’s an amazing book!

2. Sheri - February 19, 2010

I went from a highly functioning office manager of a large land developer, to someone with bipolar disorder who takes forever to grasp a concept. It’s been over 20 years, and I can’t say I’m getting used to it but I’m learning to accept it.

3. Laura - February 19, 2010

First time on your blog. Really sorry to hear about your story. What kind of medication did they give you to have such an effect? Did something went wrong or is it that science is not advanced enough for better results?

Crazy Mermaid - February 20, 2010

It was a combination of meds that did the trick, but basically it was everything that brought me back to “earth”. Massive doses of Lithium, Geodon, Klonopin, Seroquel to name a few off the top of my head. It hasn’t really mattered what I’ve been on. They’ve all had this same effect on me.

4. Serial Insomniac - February 26, 2010

I can totally empathise. Since I started taking Quetiapine (Seroquel) last month, I’ve noticed a marked deterioration in my thinking and ability to focus. It’s responsible for my inability to blog as much as I’d like.

But it’s a trade-off I have to live with. It does improve my mood, and it shuts the stupid voices up. So I guess the side effects are the price you pay.

5. Lisa Anderson - March 7, 2012

Just the other day I told my shrink that bipolar disorder should be renamed Flowers for Algernon Syndrome. I so understand what you’re saying. I just came off a manic cycle and even though I’m not depressed it’s such a let down.

Peace.


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