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Slowed Down Thinking and Mental Illness February 20, 2011

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in mental illness, Mental Illness and Medication.
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From the time each of us is born, we go about the world with the impression that the way we think, the speed that we think, and the number of things that we think about in a given space of time are all fixed and uniform from person to person. Although we never consciously identify ourselves based on the speed of our thinking, it turns out that it is in fact a core part of our very being.

All my life I always had the ability to hold several thoughts simultaneously. My job as Project Manager for construction companies forced me to comprehend vast sums of data quickly. I would routinely analyze a project schedule, a set of plans, and real-time job problems together and come up with solutions to problems quickly and efficiently. There was really no other way to do my difficult job, which is why I was highly paid for the work I did

At my first psychiatrist visit right after I left the mental hospital, my new psychiatrist told me that I would have some “cognitive discord” as a side effect of my new medication. I had no idea what he was talking about.

Sure enough, the speed of my thinking slowed down almost overnight. I am thankful that I am one of the rare people who had to go through this process. Processing information at about half as fast as I used to, I was left with a severe identity crisis.

We have no idea just how much of our identity is wrapped up in our speed of thinking until that speed changes. Everything about us is wrapped up in how fast we process information. When we can no longer process information at the speed we used to, it changes us in unfathomable ways.

What used to take me seconds to comprehend is now in some cases beyond my comprehension, no matter how long I am given to understand it. My former job is now off-limits to me due to this sea change. I can no longer read a set of plans like I used it. The ability to turn two dimensional information into a three dimensional model in my head is gone. I can’t comprehend the written word as completely and quickly. In the case of comprehending technical information, I sometimes can’t understand it at all.

Left with a shell of my former self and no points of reference, I am forced to rebuild my identity as someone else entirely. It goes beyond the concept of someone who loses a foot or is paralyzed. At least those people wake up with the same mind and the same identity as before their accident. I woke up in someone else’s body, with no frame of reference to go on. Where they have to rebuild their life with their new disability, I have to rebuild my very core being.

I’m still coming to terms with this identity crisis, remaking my identity with the help of my counselor and psychiatrist.  While it’s been months since I was hospitalized, I keep waiting for my thinking to speed up.  I hoped that once my body adjusted to the medications, my thought process would speed up.  But this has not been the case.  I’m reconciling myself to living with the slower thinking, and as I get further away from the point of change, the memory of how much faster I used to think is slightly dimming.

And yet there is a silver lining.  Given a clean identity slate, I have been learning how to relate to people in ways that were impossible before my illness. Left with a vague sense of what I used to be like, I am in the process of rebuilding my personality framework in a more empathetic form.  I am much more humble, and much more tolerant of other people’s shortcomings. I now know there are different ways of thinking, and that speed of thinking isn’t the same for everyone.

And yet I yearn for my old mind back.

Although I am left in a body that I don’t recognize as my own, I’m learning to come to terms with my new identity. But it is a slow process.



1. ManicMuses - February 20, 2011

Eloquently said, Mermaid. It is difficult to be aware of how meds change your thought processes. (That former statement sounds like an oxymoron, but anyone who is bipolar surely understands!) I hope those around your are supportive. It’s maded a world of difference to have the family be so understanding about my slower than usual thought processes.

2. Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC - February 22, 2011

Once again, a fascinating post. Keep up the great work.

3. Lauren J - February 24, 2011

Thanks for sharing your insights! It is great you are able to accept this and even create a learning and rebirth opportunity in terms of seeking a newer self identity!

4. JP - March 29, 2011

I am going through exacty the same process. I noticed that when I pull my hair up, or wrap my head around with cold wet towel (very tighty) my speed comes back. This may point to muscular/skin impact on the “slowness of thought”. It would also explain why some people with similar disability say thet “fight with thoughts” whereas it is purely overcoming physical sensation in the muscles.


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