Mental Illness Medication and Slower Thinking February 18, 2010Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Disability Claim, mental illness, Recovery, Therapy.
Tags: Disability Claim, mental illness, Recovery, Therapy
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.