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"I have come to find out what it's like to be dumb." (jaquith.org)
224 points by luigi on Sept 12, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 114 comments

Grouping all the described symtoms under "depression" (and "stupidity") is a non-helpful way to think about Lyme disease, which messes up all sorts of neurotransmitters. You won't get very far by just comparing your experience to that of a depressed person; variously, the symptoms of Lyme disease can mimic clinical depression (serotonin/norepinephrine imbalance), or ADHD (dopamine imbalance), generalized anxiety (GABA imbalance), seasonal/chronic fatigue (acetylcholine imbalance), and so on. This is besides the effects that the swelling of brain tissue has on cognitive function, e.g. memory.

And I wouldn't equate any of that with what it's like to have a low IQ (what is traditionally thought of as "stupidity.") IQ is a measure, basically, of how little evidence your mind needs to recognize a pattern--thus, low-IQ people being thought of as "dense," and thus sufficiently-high IQ being able to do things like deducing all of physics from a few static pictures[1]. Being dumb doesn't feel like having a bad memory, or thinking slower, or not being able to multitask. It feels like looking at a square peg and a grid of shape-holes, and not (quickly) realizing that "shape" is a relevant property that the holes differ by, such that you should select a hole based on the shape of the peg.

It should feel genuinely alienating to try to picture yourself "dumber" than you are--like that you, which you would be, is hard for you to empathize with; like they'd solve problems in entirely different ways, out of necessity for not recognizing patterns as easily. And then you can reflect that intuition to understand what it would be like to be more intelligent than you are: someone who would also solve problems in different ways, for seeing their structure more easily; and someone who would have a hard time empathizing with the decisions a version of themselves, reduced to only your intelligence, would make.


[1] http://lesswrong.com/lw/qk/that_alien_message/

I agree with your post, except this part, "mimic clinical depression (serotonin/norepinephrine imbalance), or ADHD (dopamine imbalance), generalized anxiety (GABA imbalance), seasonal/chronic fatigue (acetylcholine imbalance), and so on. "

They really don't know what causes anxiety, or clinical depression. The are having a horrid time finding the true cause of these ailments. If anyone is seeing a MD who claims to know what causes depression and anxiety see someone else. It gotten so disappointing in the research community; very few companies are actively even looking for the root cause to these horrid diseases. So many people took these tri, and hetrocyclic drugs for depression, and if they worked--it was most likely placebo. Yes--panic attacks, and generalized anxiety respond to benzodiazepines most of the time, but hey are addictive, and no researcher who is smart would Not claim to know how they work. I wish you well.

I truly believe the best medicine is knowing you are going to get better. The placebo effect is sometimes stronger than any antibiotic. I sometimes believe the placebo effect is the only verifiable existence of God? When I am sick, I do a little research on the Internet, but have found it's better to just believe the medicine will work. Oh yea, I try to chose my doctors well--Board Certified who actually tried to keep current after years of practice.

> They really don't know what causes anxiety, or clinical depression.

True in spirit, but untrue definitionally. The thing is, the psychiatric profession still basically subscribes to a Behaviorist theory of mind when it comes to treating neurological problems. There's no consideration of what's going on in your head when you have a neurological malady; your head is a black box, where drugs go in, and altered behaviors sometimes come out. "Clinical depression" isn't the name of a specific thing that we know goes on in the brain (in fact, it seems to be a whole cluster of things); rather, clinical depression is "the thing which taking an SSRI usually makes lessen." When a psychiatrist says you may be clinically depressed, what they're really saying is, "you have symptoms that may be manageable by the effects of this or that drug." They have no idea whether they're treating the root cause, or just masking it, and a lot of them don't care. They just want to see your behavior alter, like a rat given a swim test.

And really, thinking of things like SSRIs as "medicine" is part of the problem. SSRIs and the like are crutches--given to you to lessen the symptoms of a problem enough for it to stop being overwhelming, so that you can actually manage to make it to the CBT-practicing therapist every day, have the energy to find the the better job to get away from your horrible boss, etc. I wrote more on this here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6347620

(P.S.: In this case, though, if I might be a bit more pedantic: I didn't say that all those maladies in my post were caused by those imbalances. I said that inducing those imbalances, in the way that Lyme disease does, will mimic the symptoms of those maladies. Clinical depression may not be "just" a serotonin imbalance--but inducing "just" a serotonin imbalance tends to produce the symptoms of clinical depression. ;)

(P.P.S.: note that I never used the word "disease" or "illness" once. See my link above--these words don't apply to things like nearsightedness, so they don't really apply to the kind of problems neurological imbalances manifest as, either.)

Certain forms of affective disorders (recurrent unipolar depression, bipolar disorder) are actually best managed with consistent drug use, and there's evidence that although things like CBT can help manage symptoms (and dealing with the impact of being diagnosed), the depression isn't situational, being on antidepressants or mood stabilizers is often the best treatment plan. A person with bipolar depression (or recurrent, unipolar depression) who approached it your way and decided to go unmedicated when they felt 'better' could very easily have another episode, which is generally seem as bad (since that's how people are killed by it). Equating serious mental illness with a limp or nearsightedness (and not recognizing it as a serious illness: 25-50% of bipolar patients attempt suicide, many succeed) is dangerous if those with it believe you and somewhat dismissive.

On a more relevant note, there has been more and more fMRI work on identifying the actual issues within the brain. I know less about unipolar depression, but some results have shown that bipolar patients actually have slightly different brain structures and vastly different neural activity during an episode. Science is actually working on figuring out the black box mind-thing, and hopefully it'll keep getting better at it. Treatments just have to slowly catch up.

(Edited: grammar/spelling, due to writing on a tablet.)

Did you read my linked expansion on the topic? Some people need crutches, temporarily; others need wheelchairs, permanently; and others don't need, but function more optimally with, glasses. There are chemical imbalances that resemble all of these states. (I have ADD myself, which is quite solidly in the third group.)

I agree. Although drugs don't attack the root cause, which appears to be unknown and can come from a variety of life experiences, they can lessen the symptoms such that the sufferer can explore and tackle the issues leading to the depression within themselves, perhaps even via the help of therapy.

Depression is, as we know, very deadly. The method it uses to kill is to destroy happiness, self-worth and motivation. This could mean a person with depression feels helpless, feels deserving of the ill feeling and could also have zero motivation to help themselves. With these symptoms lessened, it can give suffers the room they need, so to speak, to identify and overcome all of the issues in their lives.

We say depression has no clear root cause but that makes a lot of sense. A person can only have so many little negative experiences before every single experience looks negative. If dozens of insignificant but still negative events happen in my life, I can bet my mood won't be that great and I will have a hard time pin-pointing exactly what's making me feel this way. Sometimes even big negative issues which you believe you have overcome could still have left latent habits which can wreak havoc on your mood.

When I talk to people about my depression, I try to point out that "depression" is a really really loose label for what seems to affect people very differently (as anything that deals with the brain would, of course). For myself, I will have a depressive episode that just hits me, for no reason, and means that I can't get out of bed or face the world, and have suicidal thoughts every single day.

That's my depression. I'm also one of the lucky ones that SSRI's help -- I use them the same way you would a band-aid; I take them for a couple of months, and the episode passes as long as I keep up my job, exercise, healthy sex and social life.

All of this (and CBT) lets me manage my depression... but it's just that, MY depression, how my symptoms manifest, how I can fix it, etc.

Good post.

SSRIs are also like placebos in that they have no more of an effect than placebo.

This is provably wrong. When stopping Cymbalta it is common to suffer severe withdrawal symptoms.

> The placebo effect is sometimes stronger than any antibiotic.

When it comes to depression, the primary factor isn't really a "placebo effect". It's true that most of the treatments do no better than a fake pill, but they also do no better than doing nothing at all and just waiting.

Moods have cycles. You tend to go to the doctor for treatment when your mood is UNUSUALLY BAD. Some random time later, you'll probably feel a lot better. Maybe the seasons will change and you'll get more sunlight, or things will get better at work, or just...random fluctuation.

If at your MOST DEPRESSED you go see a doctor who believes in treating depression with pills, he'll assign treatment A. You try that a while; it doesn't help. So he has you switch to treatment B. Still depressed. Treatment C. Now you start to feel better. A believer in medicine takes that to mean "Drugs A and B don't work for you, but C cured your depression!" But you were certain to be taking SOMETHING when you got better, so maybe it's just a coincidence that you were taking C at the time that happened.

Somehow I don't think the original poster cares about your criticism. Or will make it past the first sentence.

I more wrote it as a comment in the form of "if you read this article with no previous experience with, or knowledge of, the mental effects of Lyme disease; and now think you do know something about those effects; please take this complementary wet blanket." :)

Being dumb doesn't feel like having a bad memory, or thinking slower, or not being able to multitask. It feels like looking at a square peg and a grid of shape-holes, and not (quickly) realizing that "shape" is a relevant property that the holes differ by, such that you should select a hole based on the shape of the peg.

...they'd solve problems in entirely different ways, out of necessity for not recognizing patterns as easily. And then you can reflect that intuition to understand what it would be like to be more intelligent than you are: someone who would also solve problems in different ways, for seeing their structure more easily...

Let me unpack this a bit; it annoys me to end that every person depending on his/her coterie ( think technology coteries, humanities coteries, political/legal coteries etc) seems to nourish his/her own definition of what intelligence is and how - if at all - it can be measured and quantified on a nice linear scale.

Surely we all agree that such a definition and quantification is useful. I hope that is not up to debate. Only the most hyper egalitarians, insisting on the absolute equality of social statuses of all humans, would refute the utility of such quantification.

For instance, most learned, secular and urbane people do not think twice before frowning on religious zealots. Their views and outlook of the world seem like they belong in the stone-age. Whatever their scriptures say or hold, a religious devotee has to suspend the most basic premises of logic and reason to be able to subscribe utterly risible notions of how one ought to conduct his or her life based on preposterous doctrines.

In essence they almost invariably have to belong to a lower order of intelligence (if you set aside the atypical cases of candidates who are esteemed scholars, scientists and technologists, who are nevertheless fervently religious, of whom we can be sure there are more than a handful).

Surely we should be able to define - using certain parameters whatever those are - and quantify this "lower order of intelligence" in an objective manner.

After all we just cannot describe their quantum of intelligence through purely the notions - as moronic those notions might be - they subscribe to. There has to be an objective assessment.

Since such a quantification is useful - for purposes of classification or otherwise - what then is the most current (more or less universal) consensus on the measure of intelligence?

Obversely, when defining stupidity, is there no single measure that more or less captures "the congenital lack of capacity for reasoning"? [1]

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stupidity#Definition

Rather than a personal definition, I really was, in my comment, defining intelligence according to the (narrow, not-all-encompassing) definition used by people who create tests of IQ or "g". IQ is tautologically defined as "the number output by IQ tests." And what an IQ test, tests, is your ability to recognize and exploit novel patterns, generalized across different domains (word problems, pictures, music), under time pressure. So as far as someone having a high IQ is correlated to the common-sense perception of them being "intelligent", and as far as a low IQ is correlated to a common-sense perception of them being "stupid", then those two properties, in their common-sense usage, have something to do with pattern-recognition.

But I think, in your comment, what you're doing is conflating intelligence with rationality. Raw intelligence doesn't help you to notice when you have an ingrained-but-senseless belief (thus predicting precisely your "candidates who are esteemed scholars, scientists and technologists, who are nevertheless fervently religious".) One of the primary properties of modern religion is its non-falsifiability -- it makes no predictions about your everyday experience you could keep track of to form a sense of "how it's doing." Because of this, a religion can sit comfortably in your mind alongside everything else you "know", and no piece of evidence you run into will ever rub up against it and wear it away.

Noticing that you have beliefs that aren't causally attached to the rest of your experience is a skill which you have to learn explicitly. This set of skills (instrumental rationality) together are a multiplier for the productive output of your intelligence, but they don't make you any more or less intelligent. Really intelligent people might come up with these skills on their own, as meta-patterns that seem to hold between pattern in different disciplines, but most anyone can learn to be more instrumentally rational by being trained in these skills by someone else. You can't learn to be more intelligent. (Though good sleep, exercise, and stimulant drugs all seem to help... at least according to IQ tests.)

> And what an IQ test, tests, is your ability to recognize and exploit novel patterns, generalized across different domains (word problems, pictures, music), under time pressure

It's worth pointing out that most criticisms of IQ tests are that the amount of novelty in the problems is pretty heavily dependent on your cultural background.

Very true! I'm surprised there isn't some well-known trick of scientific process to screen this out, actually.

One that comes to my mind pretty quickly: after the first test to collect people's "novel" results (the one that'll be used as input for the final score), have them take 2-5 more tests with the same tasks (enough so that the questions are utterly non-novel by the end.) Show them the correct answers for the problems on the test they just did between each session.

Now take the scores from all the tests (including the first one), and fit a curve to them. The second derivative at the point of the first test then (might!) represent the novelty they were experiencing at that point. Now figure out how much extra novelty they experienced compared to an average member of the population, and use that as a coefficient to the final IQ score from the first test.

I will try to not appear as though I am convinced that these differences between "instrumental rationality" and intelligence - in the context of the current discussion - are specious.

Actually I find your delineation, quite satisfying an explanation.

However it begs one to ask what good is an impoverished measure of intelligence (IQ) that only computes your ability to recognize and exploit novel patterns, generalized across different domains (word problems, pictures, music), under time pressure if it doesn't so much as envelope the simple ability of a person to observe and verify that certain beliefs he or she holds subscribes to aren't causally attached to the rest of his or her experience

Isn't that simple enough a mental exercise?

Indeed, isn't that also a similarly intelligent exercise that constitutes the ability to recognize consistent patterns of denials and refusals in one's unremitting adherence to a religious faith?

What good is to ascribe intelligence (as in high IQ) to a person if the measure of intelligence is so narrowly defined?

I am left wanting for an explanation as to why the large majority of experts would concoct such an useless gauge of intelligence.

For the sake of pedagogy, instrumental rationality, I am certain, is a very fulfilling piece of terminology. I am also quite certain it is composed of attributes that are not necessarily equivalent to those of intelligence.

However if instrumental rationality is a skill than is not bestowed to you at birth unlike intelligence (from what I derive from your You can't learn to be more intelligent line) then what - in its thinnest scope - does intelligence constitute ?

Although I am not all that perturbed by it, this jargon of instrumental rationality and its neat separation from intelligence seems to have been contrived by theologians in a divinity school somewhere so as to not hurt the sentiments of the religious devotees.

I wouldn't be one bit surprised if also the various contrivances of intelligence - spatial, kinesthetic, rhythmic, linguistic, naturalistic, existential, mathematical, intrapersonal and interpersonal - are also more inventions of convenience than clearly circumscribed goods or measurable quantities.

The book to read here is What Intelligence Tests Miss, by Keith Stanovich. In it he argues cogently for both the importance and validity of IQ and the limitation of its scope. Rationality is not a concept contrived by theologians! (I find this idea extremely funny.)

You are referring to Howard Gardner's popular idea of Multiple Intelligences, which has been roundly criticized for having pretty much zero support. To quote the book,

Consider a thought experiment. Imagine that someone objected to the emphasis given to horsepower (engine power) when evaluating automobiles. They feel that horsepower looms too large in people's thinking. In an attempt to deemphasize horsepower, they then being to term the other features of the car things like "braking horsepower" and "cornering horsepower" and "comfort horsepower". Would such a strategy make people less likely to look to engine power as an indicator of the "goodness" of a car? I think not. [...] Just as calling "all good car things" horsepower would emphasize horsepower, I would argue that calling "all good cognitive things" intelligence will contribute to the deification of MAMBIT [Mental Abilities Measured By Intelligence Tests].

You are, in your very definition, stating that it fails for more than a handful of intelligent people ("if you set aside the atypical cases of candidates who are esteemed scholars, scientists and technologists, who are nevertheless fervently religious, of whom we can be sure there are more than a handful"). These 'intelligent people' of whom there are 'more than a handful' will also almost certainly disagree with your definition of intelligence.

I might go out on a limb at this point and suggest that defining religious people as stupid is not particularly helpful, even operating from your own assumptions as stated in your own definition. Some intelligent people might happen to disagree with your assumptions as well, but I'll leave that argument as well outside the normally appreciated scope of HN discussion.

Good god. What is this pretentious bullshit? This tone of this post was so incredibly ridiculous I had to create an account to ask why it was posted here or taken seriously.

This self proclaimed smart person, with heavy emphasis on the self proclaimed part (check out the incredibly smug About page) apparently needs Lyme disease to feel the plight of the oh so pitiful stupid people. News flash, half the population is dumber than average, stop acting like Lyme disease is a cute self reflection on intelligence.

I am not attacking your smartness, and please get well soon, but don't be a pretentious asshole. God. South Park's "Smug Alert!" episode perfectly encapsulates the culture of this place sometimes.

Over and out.

You aren't alone, I felt very much the same about this post. It's pretty cringe-worthy...

Cut him some slack, he did write it while having Lyme disease...

This has got to be a new record for me. I made it as far as "I’m a smart guy." and closed the tab. I understand people are deliberately controversial to attract readership, but seriously...

I don't see anything pretentious about it. He's not bragging about being smart, just stating that he is what most people would call intelligent.

Intelligence can mean many things, but I like to think of it in terms of "brain power"; the amount of abstract thought you can hold and process, your brain's RAM and CPU power so to speak.

The term depression is very broad and probably encompasses numerous as-yet-undefined sub-categories, but his description is very much like my own experience: A dulling of the mind. It's like downclocking the brain's CPU and emotional coprocessor from 2Ghz to 200Mhz. Thinking became slow and required more effort, analytical capabilities pretty much went away and I didn't have the spare capacity to really enjoy anything. A song or a movie I knew I liked just didn't register because my brain wasn't capable of processing it the way it used to. Learning became uninteresting and a chore and problem solving became near impossible. In short, I felt really dumb. I knew I wasn't, but I couldn't "smarten up" however much I tried. Knowing this, not being able to enjoy learning, problem solving or experiencing something was the worst terror of depression.

The experience left me wondering about the immutability or genetic predeterminism of "intelligence". If we broadly define intelligence as "brain power", I know now that it can vary a great deal. I wonder how much of this brain power is predetermined through genetics and how much is affected by the environment. We know that diet plays a large role and that certain diseases affect the brain in this way. How much of a person's "dumbness" can be removed by changing the external factors? In addition, I think broader aspects of intelligence such as analytical abilities, memory and "abstract capacity" can be taught or improved through training. I know my own "intelligence" certainly has required lots of training through the years, not to mention the knowledge that plays a large part of it that had to be acquired.

Don't forget, he also now understands what it really means to be depressed...

> News flash, half the population is dumber than average

Probably not true. What if the mean is skewed by outliers like incredibly smart people or incredibly dumb people; we could very well be living in the world where most of the people are stupid and the average is what it is because of a very few incredibly smart people.

Humorous tangent apart; I can't even imagine thinking like this so-called smart person. If I feel the problem is too easy, I am always trying to figure out harder problems to solve. So much so that I am comfortable with the feeling of being stupid and being befuddled. It merely means I am pushing myself to the edge.

Average is an informal term. If you read it as 'median' it works.

For what it's worth, I enjoyed the about page. Didn't seem smug to me at all.

I have to agree- though maybe some of it can be attributed to naiveté. A couple red flags include his characterization of intelligence (it aint that simple!) and how he mixes up depression and apathy with being dumb.

I can see where you're coming from but don't really agree. I suppose stating how intelligent he considers himself is largely irrelevant. A less intelligent person would still feel a loss of intelligence.

I see no pretention. It is no more smug than a born strong-man talking about the facts of his muscle wasting disease.

P.S. Loss of intelligence is devastating. If you do not believe me, shut up and try it for yourself: tell a doctor you have frequent migraines and ask to be prescribed a drug called topiramate—stupid in a pill. Just don't come whining to me when it destroys your career and alienated your friends.

Being born smart is utter bullshit. Same as being born strong.

You have to work for it. Some people got help from their parents when they were young, and some didn't. Some had one day of their life the idea to learn something or train, and some didn't.

The "predetermined talents" thinking is one of the biggest myths alive.

Well, part of being smart is genetic. For example, a cat or gorilla's genetic makeup do not allow them to work hard and become as smart as most humans.

Lyme is pretty heavy. Three of my family members have it in various stages, one of them really serious. They live in rural Poland where in the forests it is more or less a given that you will contract Lyme at some point in your life. For foresters it is a better-than-even chance that they contract the disease by the time they are 30 even if they are careful, all it takes is one tick that you didn't spot and you get bitten by ticks all the time there.

Lyme disease does not 'make you stupid', but it can make you very ill. One of the possible symptoms is depression, memory loss is another so the symptoms the author describes are very much in the realm of the possible.

If you're ever bitten by a tick and you see a bulls-eye pattern around the bite get yourself to a doctor and make sure you are prescribed anti-biotics right away, do not wait (for instance until your holiday is over). I can't emphasize this enough. I don't like anti-biotics for many reasons when they are used without a good reason but Lyme disease is no picnic and the earlier you deal with it the better your chances of complete recovery. Wait too long and you're in for a world of trouble, in case you think I'm exaggerating please read the wikipedia page on Lyme disease or have a chat with my brother in law whose life is pretty much determined by Lyme in a very advanced stage.

A friend of mine recently got a rash (I don't think it was a classic bullseye pattern) and some fatigue. She didn't notice a tick. Went to a doctor, suggested that it might be Lyme disease -- doctor told her if she'd had a tick, she would have noticed it, so it must be allergy. A month later she was in the hospital with a confirmed Lyme diagnosis.

If I get an unexplained rash with flu-like symptoms, even if I don't see a tick, I'm taking antibiotics just in case. Better safe than sorry.

> Better safe than sorry

Yes, that's the right attitude to take with this disease. The main criterium is that you've been in or are in a region where ticks are found, combined with warm/hot weather.

Areas to avoid: long grass, shrub and forests.

Also, if you're in one of those areas, check yourself thoroughly for those tiny deer ticks every twelve hours. If you find one, pull it off without squeezing its abdomen. That'll greatly reduce the chance of transmittal.

The problem is seeing the little buggers.

You can get a cheap little plastic thing called a "Tick Twister" at the pet store, and it is awesome. I've had to remove plenty of ticks from my dog, and a few from people and this tool is invaluable.

Good advice. I was bitten by a tick three summers ago and received my antibiotics a little too late. As a result I am still suffering from lingering after effects, the most prominent of which would be persistent "brain fog" and a general feeling of mental fatigue. And I am one of the lucky ones as it could've ended a lot worse than that.

My 4 year old son had Lyme Disease a few months ago. Playing around outside my in-laws house for a couple days, my wife found the tick during his shower. The tick must've been on him for a while because you have about a 0% chance of getting Lyme Disease unless the ticket has been attached for over 36 hours (see http://www.aldf.com/pdf/postersmall.pdf). We removed the tick and an expanding rash appeared on his back over the next few days. Could see it plain as day, grew to about 4 inches in diameter. Took him to urgent care (it was a weekend) and instantly diagnosed with Lyme. Important Note: Since the Lyme Disease test is an antibody test, it won't show positive for about 30 days after you're infected. A bulls eye rash over a certain diameter is clinically sufficient to diagnose Lyme. Another fun fact: once you test positive for Lyme, you will test positive for the rest of your life because your body retains the antibodies even though a previous infection is not protective of future infections.

He was on three weeks of antibiotics and the rash s-l-o-w-l-y disappeared over that time. He has no obvious ill effects thus far.

"Depression, at least as I’m experiencing it, is the absence of emotion, rather than negative emotion. I don’t mind it, not yet, but maybe depression is what keeps me from minding depression."

More likely, what you experienced was anhedonia, a symptom of certain types of depression. Anhedonia is technically defined as the inability to experience pleasure from once-enjoyable activities, but those I know who've suffered from it have often described it in terms very similar to yours. They say things like "I just didn't care about anything," or "it was like I was bored of being bored, but too bored to do anything about it."

To simplify depression -- a neurologically and idiosyncratically complex phenomenon -- as the "absence of emotion" is to mischaracterize the affliction. There are other shades of depression in which emotion is, if anything, severely heightened and labile. Pure, raw, unfiltered anguish. The absolute lack of hope. Like the shit they talk about in the Harry Potter books, when the dementors suck out your soul (incidentally, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling battled with severe depression, and she modeled said dementors off of the suffering she went through).

A salient point re: the existence of different types of depression. Some cause a physical slowness (can't get out of bed), some cause anhedonia, some are the dementor type, etc.

I personally cannot get out of bed and face the world, I am suicidal at nearly all points of the day (but in a curious way; it's more I picture myself killing myself, but not in a "MUST DO THIS NOW" way. Its very odd and disconcerting). I can still experience emotions (all of them), but they are heavily skewed to the negative. I ignore the future, and focus on the past and present.

It's a shit disease.

I've found this comic very helpful to understand/identify with some of the emotions, swings and frustration with depression (and absolute stagnation).


I feel for you.

Some depressive patients experience all of these symptoms and a lot worse.

I really feel for this guy.

I'm a linux sysadmin in a 24/7 data processing/medical environment. Last november, I fell off my bike, without a helmet on. (I was on paved paths on a college campus during a football game; if I had been playing in traffic or moving quickly, I would've been wearing a helmet. However, I was moving at walking pace and SOMEHOW went over my handlebars. I have no memory of the accident.) I received a closed head injury, cervical spine injury, and had bleeding on the brain, and was borderline for concussion. I spent the night in the critical care unit and they wouldn't let me sleep. It was a pretty serious injury and I was on painkillers due to migraines for years.

For several months, I tried my hardest to do my job. But I didn't "grok" things. I couldn't code in the languages I'd known since the late 90s. I couldn't learn new things -- learning Ruby, even with the help of codecademy, was epic fail. I'd go through the classes and put any old thing in to make it work (thinking it wouldn't), and get 100% without understanding WHY it worked. I couldn't keep up with technology and wasn't reading HN and the other news sources I normally keep up with.

Eight months after the injury, I suddenly understood my first languages again. Another month after that, I could learn new things, and picked up Ruby and Chef inside of a week.

The worst part of it is that I didn't know that I was stupid. I thought I wasn't trying hard enough, and I pushed myself into feeling horrible about the whole thing.

The entire experience has given me a lot of sympathy for people who say that they can't do something because it doesn't feel understandable to them, even after they've been shown and guided through it.

> painkillers due to migraines for years

I meant "months". Obviously, not everything's back where it should be. (And this is the truth. After my injury, my brain is not the same tool it used to be. I troubleshoot in the reverse order I used to. I skip items in checklists that I remember reading clearly and damned well know are there. Even though most things came back without much struggle, I'm having to re-learn certain small things that used to be second nature.)

Wear your helmets, kids.

I'm really still trying to come to terms with the opener: "It’s not like I deserve any credit for being smart. I didn’t do anything to make that happen. I’m also tall, but nobody compliments me on that. (Good job being tall!) Intelligence is an immutable characteristic that I have at times capitalized on and at other times let go to waste."

To my layman understanding of psychology, and especially what intelligence research has been uncovering over the last few decades, the exact opposite is the case: - intelligence is far from an immutable trait - we do a lot to influence our own intelligence (perhaps far more than we realize, since much of what we do is due to implicit socialization/upbringing)

If you're going to use an analogy to a physical characteristic, than I'd suggest using weight not height: yes there are relevant genetic traits, but they're only a fraction of the story.

once you are a fully developed adult, intelligence is normally very stable. an analogy with weight simply doesn't work: anybody can increase their weight simply by eating more, but we don't know of any reliable methods of massively increasing or reducing intellignece.

For those who don't know, Waldo Jaquith is something of a national treasure, as the only person in the country who has effectively managed to tackle the problem of standardizing state statutes in an open manner, as they should be. (I managed to get a few on PlainSite, but Waldo's platform has tackled many more by distributing the problem.) Check out The State Decoded at:


We should all hope that Waldo feels better soon. He is anything but stupid.

Intelligence is an immutable characteristic

I get so tired of seeing this. We can't even really define intelligence but I'm guessing this is based on a previous assumption that IQ was static, which we now know it not to be. We need to remember, also, that IQ is not a measure of intelligence.

Citation needed on both points. Most evidence points to IQ scores being valid measures of intelligence, in that they have some predictive power, especially for average life outcomes for groups of people, and are mostly stable throughout life. For example, look up the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth, which examines life outcomes based on SAT scores at age 12.

valid measure ... some predictive power

I'm not sure if those two belong in the same sentence. If we were to come up with a point system that measured beauty in women, for example, you could measure pronouncement of cheekbones and thickness of lips, etc. While Angelina Jolie would score well, so would Jocelyn Wildenstein, and Emma Watson would score poorly. Such a system might have "some predictive power" for large population sizes, but could never measure "beauty".

Intelligence is qualitative, like beauty, not quantitative, and therefore could never be expressed individually as a number. We would do well to bear that in mind.

The author is obviously using colloquial definitions of "intelligence" and "stupidity", but those are even more flawed than the scientific definition attempts. Is a lack of ambition really caused by low intelligence? Can we really put intelligence on a linear scale like that?

Makes the whole piece pretty condescending.

The closest I've ever come to understanding what it's like to have depression, or any other neurological disorder affecting mental state, was a few years back when I had a particularly bad cold and/or allergies, and decided to take Mucinex DM.

By the end of the first day I felt a general malaise. By the end of the second day I was feeling something I've never felt before, or since. Everything, and I mean everything in life seemed without value or purpose. The only thing that kept me functioning and not immobilized as a curled up ball in bed were the expectations of my family and job (which was also for family). Even so, I could tell I wouldn't be able to keep that up much longer.

When I come home, my two young daughters would run up and want to talk to me. While I admit, I sometimes lose patience for them when I'm tired, in this case I patiently let them explain what had happened so far that day, but the entire time, without exception, I could only think about how I wanted this to be over so I could sit down and do... what? Nothing seemed worthwhile. No TV, no book, no computer. I realized I might as well go lay down on the bed. My goals and ambitions were also gone. I didn't want to work, I just wanted to be left alone.

I lasted another day on Mucinex before I decided this was definitely not healthy, regardless of how much less phlegm I had to deal with, and stopped taking it. I felt normal (if stuffy) within a day or two.

I'm not saying this is the same as depression, I really have no basis for knowing. All I know is that if that's what people that are depressed feel like, I feel very, very sorry (and terrified) for them. The idea of the ramifications if that lasted long term are horrendous. If I survived it long term, I'm fairly certain it would be at the cost of ruining my life.

Interestingly, a friend of mine said he had a similar experience with Mucinex DM a few months later. I didn't get into the details with him though (although I had already described my experience before). It seemed too personal to ask for more detail, considering my own experience.

It's funny, because Lyme is one of those diseases where "it could be anything" to the outsider because there are no external indicators that something is wrong with them.

Back when I was younger I got Lyme disease at the age of 13. I got treated for it by some quack without antibiotics and then went on with my life - essentially untreated. Between the ages of 14 and 17 I have barely any memories. There are snippets of events that I can recall in my memory, but in total they must be less than 20 snippets over the course of 3 years of my life. If I try my very best to go back to other moments in there, there is nothing, kind of like after having had a few too many drinks and being unable to remember how you got home, but then having that feeling for about 3 years of your life.

Much like stated in the post, your memory is affected by Lyme disease. You actually still have the capacity to think complete thoughts, but after only a few seconds your thoughts are gone.

One of the few snippets of memory that I have left, is the sudden strong realisation that I tried my very best to remember what had happened in the last 7 days - and the complete and utter inability to recall even one single event over those 7 days. I wasn't even able to remember what I ate for lunch 3 hours earlier, or what I had been doing for the previous 5 minutes. I remember getting really upset that I felt that that memory was also fading and I kept on repeating it in my head to prevent it from disappearing. It was scary.

I am apparently fortunate enough to continue functioning well after Lyme disease, but I can guarantee you that the experience being written in this post is absolutely identical to the experience that I had.

It's bizarre, it's scary, but fortunately for Waldo: he won't remember a thing anyway.

I created a throwaway account so it's not associated with my normal handle on here. This post brings up something I've been wondering about, and it's something that's really been bothering me the last few years.

I feel like I've become significantly less intelligent over time, and I can't figure out if that's really the case, or if it's a different issue that simply makes me feel less intelligent.

When I was in high school, everything I learned was simple -- everything was a piece of cake. I would program my TI calculator (with a list of assembly opcodes next to me) at the back of the class and basically ignore the lesson and then get the highest grade on every test. Same in chemistry. Every standardized test I took (SAT, ACT, etc.) gave results in the 99th percentile. Same with the AMC and AIME. I graduated 1/200 in my class. I had all kinds of interesting programming projects in my free time from age 12 to 18.

Then I went to college: a STEM school. The first semester went fine; I got all A's. The second semester, I got my first B ever. The third semester, more B's. Eventually a C. My final GPA ended up being 3.5, significantly lower than anything I had been used to. I couldn't stay awake during lessons in class. I was sleepy all the time despite getting good sleep (8-9 hours) every night. I never skipped class, but I may as well have considering how sleepy and groggy as I was. This had never been an issue in high school. I don't ever remember getting sleepy in class then, even if the lecture was boring.

Suddenly, new subjects became incomprehensible. The ease at which I previously absorbed new material was gone. Nothing "clicked" anymore. I'm in graduate school now and still nothing "clicks". I attend department seminars where visiting professors present their research, and it may as well be alien gibberish. I feel like I'm just faking my way through grad school at this point. I can still manage A's and B's in classes without ever understanding the content only because of the way the grading system's designed. Luckily, I seemed to have retained my programming capabilities.

I can't figure out what caused this. One option is physical: perhaps something chemically changed within my brain. Virus, physical trauma, getting older? No idea really. The other option is environmental. In high school I only had dial-up internet access, so anything I wanted to download, I had to really want. It was an all-day ordeal to get a 3 MB file. It was almost impossible to goof off online. Nowadays I get on the internet and just get distracted. I can't get into side-projects like I used to be able to. I still have the strong desire that I used to, but not the motivation. I don't know where it went; why would my personality just change for the worse like that? I almost wonder if skimming huge amounts of information online has somehow re-trained my brain to not absorb knowledge anymore.

Has this happened to anyone else? Have you figured out a way to reverse the process? I would love more than anything to have the incredible clarity with which I used to understand new subjects rather than this fuzzy, muddy feeling with everything I try to learn.

I have a similar story to yours although I doubt I was as smart. In high school I could get the best grades in my class without much effort and got a near perfect score in the baccalaureate. Nothing to brag about though, since I then proceeded to drop out of law school in my second year. I completely lost the will to work and ended up with humiliatingly low grades before finally breaking down and starting afresh.

Like you I got into the habit of getting distracted online. Failing university was a sufficiently strong blow to my ego that I finally "woke up" and attempted to analyze what went wrong in my life: I came to the conclusion that my addiction to random bullshit on the internet had completely eaten my mind. The constant procrastination had eventually caused me to sink into depression, thus worsening the cycle even more. It got so bad I was unable to concentrate for more than 2 hours on the same subject. By contrast I used to read several books a week on various subjects.

I decided to drastically change my lifestyle. I cut away all non-essential internet use and went cold turkey. I forced myself to read again, at least 2 hours per day. I took on a strict diet and exercise regime. I took every opportunity to meet new people and see my friends I could find. I reduced my consumption of media (especially fiction). I practiced meditation. I distanced myself from the screen.

The point of this rambling post? It worked. I slowly but surely got back to my previous levels of intellectual involvement and curiosity about the world. I do go on Hacker News once in a while but it's an occasional small treat after I've worked hard. I'm not going to pretend to be a doctor and diagnose your life based on a single post, but I think you should at least try to do the same thing I did. At least consider cutting out the non-essential internet. You have nothing to lose. Keep in mind that it's a long term goal.

tl;dr It's possible to reverse the process

Thanks! I appreciate the detailed post you've written. The more I think about it, the more my case sounds like yours. I'm now thinking it's less "something happened to my brain" and more "my habits caused this problem". I'll attempt the same thing you've done to see how it goes.

You just quit procrastinating cold-turkey though? How did you force yourself to read? Every time I pull out a textbook at a time that isn't the night before a test or HW assignment I fall asleep reading it or end up staring at the wall instead.

Meditation is an interesting idea... I've never given that a try before.

It's the same for me that I fall asleep if I do something I'm either unmovitated to do or that is above my level.

I think you have to admit first that you might be not as smart as you think you are. Highschool was easy. I don't want to sound arrogant, but the American high school is considered a joke in Europe. Not so much university. They are really good and can be equally tough. So maybe you simply experienced and continue to experience your current limit.

You need to sit down just as everyone else and study for real.

How to do it:

If you have trouble getting started at all, convince yourself that you'll do ony one page or so. Mostly, you can do more.

Try the pomodoro technique. Set a timer to 25 minutes and then take 5 minutes break. This has two effects: a) The chunk of work doesn't seem to be so much. b) You get a break before you are exhausted. If 25 minutes is too hard, adjust to 15.

Divide the textbook in extremely small chunks you need to understand and are able to understand. This might take a long time, but I typically fall asleep if I don't even get an idea where to start. You have to start somewhere and it should be very small.

And if nothing helps: Go back to the basics or get a different textbook that works better for you.

Yup try the "tomato" it worked for me!

The method enables you to concentrate without distractions, and encourages deep thinking, which is what you need to be able to do to operate at a very high mental level.

Actually, I think something did indeed happen to your brain. Neuronal plasticity means that your brain prunes synapses that are left unused and strengthens those that are frequently requested. Your brain is literally being molded by what you do everyday, which is why addictive behavior is dangerous, especially at a young age.

The cold turkey was for the internet use. The method I used was to expose myself to the computer but actively resist the impulse to read bullshit no matter what. It's mentally exhausting but after the first week you get into the habit of resisting.

I still haven't completely mastered my procrastination. Like the other posters mentioned, the key is to break the task into small chunks, thereby tricking your brain into considering it to be easier.

As for meditation the simplest thing is to spend at least 15 minutes everyday doing nothing and focusing on the present moment. I suggest reading Jon Kabat-Zinn's books: they offer advice based on science and without the eastern mumbo jumbo. Good luck!

My prescription for that is something I half-seriously call 'Matrix-style Knowledge Injection'.

I open a PDF of the textbook I have to read and start the speech synthesizer, with earphones, and force myself to read at the same pace than the speech synthesizer. While the speech synthesizer is not very fast, it is consistent in it's speed and you can get about 70-100 pages an hour.

It works in my case because the voice in the earphones block any other sound from the outside world, and my eyes are staring at the text as the voice reads it to me. It concentrates most of my sense on a single source of data, the textbook's content. I like to see it as brute-forcing the knowledge into my brain by overloading it's input sources with said knowledge.

You quickly get exhausted doing that, but it's effective when you can't get yourself to read a piece of text.

Same thing has happened to me though I'm older and just trying to work and stay current in technology.

I deleted all of the social apps on my phone, then installed a browser extension on my desktop that limits you to X minutes per day in certain sites. I still go to hacker news briefly most days, but blocked reddit completely.

You just have to get out if the habit of hitting these distraction whenever you get bored or face a challenging assignment. Stop feeling like you are missing out on important social news and start viewing these things as time wasters. It's ok to waste a little time, but limit yourself.

Anyway, I go through phases as we'll but it does work for me to just block myself with plugins and such.

Consider going to bed early enough that you wake up without an alarm clock. It's not going to 100% prevent you from ever falling asleep during the day, but it'll sure help.

Personally, my intellectual capabilities are at their peak in the first few hours after I wake up.

So in high school you were smart enough that you didn't have to work hard to understand and do well. So you never learnt good study skills or self discipline which, once things got beyond your ability to just understand, became a problem. This seems to be a common problem for smart kids.

Yep, I'm probably in that boat, too. I like to say that I have very good "understanding" skills and pretty bad "learning" skills. In school, I hated when we had to learn and recite lyrics. But a well-understood math problem - I could run a lesson on it on my own, doing better than the teacher (who learned it, but didn't very well understood it). Self-discipline is the only thing I can do to remedy that problem - I'm very much aware of that. Not overdoing this is the second. I need time to refocus, and not everything can be forced immediately.

I would say your experience is typical for 99% of the people. High school is ridiculously easy even in Europe let alone in North America. High school can be aced with common sense, some intelligence and minimal learning. And if you happen to go to school in a small local community you are doubly unlucky, because it's much easier to be a local star student there and build unrealistic perception of yourself and pick up a lot of horrible habits that will almost grantee you don't make it later in life. You should not ever gauge anything by high school success (high school failure is on the other hand a good predictor of university success).

Then you move to a hard science university and slowly start realizing that you must actually work and study 8 hours a day or more just to keep up and the subject is basically a bottomless pit, there is no end of it and you could spend thousands of lifetimes studying a single subject and still feel like you are only scratching the surface. This is also where intelligence has lesser and lesser significance (almost none). You may notice that good work habits, good organization habits (anything from note taking, listening, attention to detail, to times you study, to light in your study room), and social skills (who you associate with in school is more important then intelligence) and the ability to stay motivated and inspired by your subject etc. matter way more and are a better predictor of academic success.

I had similar feeling as you (I did pure math undergrad and pure math grad school). You are not slowing down mentally, you are just getting fatigued and saturated and getting into more and more esoteric and fringe areas of your subject study. You have to know that most of those visiting professors are lone experts in esoteric razor edge thin subject and they get incredibly excited when they hear there might be another person somewhere across the globe who might have remote interest in roughly the same thing as them. That's just to give you some perspective. I'm sure when you look back at those courses you took years ago and that you thought were incredibly difficult and challenging, you find them trivially easy and boring. That means you have grown by order of magnitude.

> Suddenly, new subjects became incomprehensible. The ease at which I previously absorbed new material was gone. Nothing "clicked" anymore. I'm in graduate school now and still nothing "clicks". I attend department seminars where visiting professors present their research, and it may as well be alien gibberish. I feel like I'm just faking my way through grad school at this point. I can still manage A's and B's in classes without ever understanding the content only because of the way the grading system's designed. Luckily, I seemed to have retained my programming capabilities.

Once you've gotten past basic calculus, you can't learn as much because all the resources are poor. Sure, you can read research papers (which are written for people who already understand 90% of them), or a PhD thesis (maybe a better option, as PhD students pad them with lots of exposition to make up the page count); but they suck compared to a well-designed undergrad text. Did you learn calculus by reading a single proof, or did you do a lot of example questions? How much are you practicing the basic techniques, or are you just saying "yeah, in principle that bit's already been done ... nothing to do there".

You also sound like you are losing motivation, and suffering a bit from "impostor syndrome", both of which are very common in grad school. You need to learn when to relax, when to push yourself, and when to just keep plugging. I find that forcing myself to relax when I'm getting distracted can "reset" my ability to focus. If you find yourself reading something that's just crap (this sentence?), look away from the monitor for as long as you can.

It sounds like you have sleep apnea disorder. I have the same disorder and am on a CPAP machine now, and I sleep much better. The symptoms are exactly as you described -- tired all of the time despite 8+ hours of sleep a night, decreased motivation, lack of concentration, inability to learn, and the apneas happen entirely while you're asleep so you do not wake up or realize anything is wrong with your sleep except that it is no longer productive. Moreover, if you have gained weight during college, this change can exacerbate your condition. I highly recommend scheduling an overnight study at a sleep lab. It could change your life. Feel free to reach out to me if you end up having the disorder -- my email is cwm55@cornell.edu

For me, it reached the point where I several times fell asleep sitting up in my office chair -- in the middle of a conversation!

We're you checked for thyroid dysfunction? I had similar symptoms in high school. I became tired easily, 12 hours sleep were not enough (thus I overslept regularly) and my grades became bad. I also couldn't grasp new concept as easily.

After I was diagnosed (which was a lucky coincidence) and started to take medicine it all reversed.

Ask your doctor. The test is a simple blood test.

Look, university is a bit harder than high school. There's quite a step. Maybe your gifts don't apply that well to university and you have to figure out a way to learn that stuff – really learn it.

Feeling like you don't get stuff in grad school could be, because you lack the foundation you should've built earlier in college.

The solution might be as simple as: Get the foundation right, learn that stuff from the first years again and learn it in such a way that you have a good understanding. And then digest grad school material the same way.

Competing with 'average' high school students on 'average' high school material and still coming out on top is easy for many highly gifted people (indeed, that's sort of the definition).

As you get more advanced and specialized in your level of education, the material gets harder and the peer group gets more focused on a narrower area or field.

Even if grading is not done on a formal curve comparing students to each other, a test aimed at graduate students' skill level is going to assume a greater level of baseline knowledge, and more facility with techniques and tools of the field. So it will take more of even a 'gifted' person's time to perform far above average at graduate school.

The sleep disruption thing is another possible explanation. Another comment mentioned sleep apnea. You might want to get that checked out.

You might have sleep Apnea. 8-9 hours a night seems high for a non-teenager and might be compensation for disrupted sleep which can kill your learning ability. I am not a doc, don't play one on tv, ymmv, etc. Do a Google search and then talk to your doc.

I was having a pretty easy time in high-school, cruise-controlling with flying scores. Then in my early adulthood, I came to feel more stupid and slow. I think the early decline in my analytical abilities came from boredom. Until the end of high school, I had some blind motivation to think and care, I guess from some initial pool of 'motivation'. Then as I graduated, I was left with a very open ended world to deal with and no clear reason to take any specific path. And no true motivation to think through anything.

I went in the army for a while, infantry. It did help make me feel even more stupid. I developed a different motivation toward knowledge, preferring to sharpen action oriented decision making instead of analytical thinking. Might seem odd just said like that, but placed in an environment where all that matters is making roughly good decisions quickly, all the time, does unsharpen your ability to think at length.

At that point, a couple years in the army, I thought that intelligent past I had was gone. I'd look at books I used to understand easily and feel uninterested and unable to grasps anything in it.

It went like that until I found about programming. When I saw my first line of VBA (!!) while trying to make an Excel spreadsheet, I was baffled and utterly confused. I thought I was beyond my reach, but I still tried out of necessity. And eventually more and more complex constructions of VBA came within my reach. And then I understood that my lost ability to think analytically was not lost, it was just untrained. As I realized I loved programming things, I jumped into anything related I could read. All those cryptic things became understandable, now that I had motivation.

Fast-forward three years, I think I'm now much "smarter"/able than I ever was. I also perceive that my smartness has little to do with some magical gift that fades away out of my control. It seems to have much more to do with how motivated I can be about a topic.

All that to say, you shouldn't diagnose your apparent inability to think as a consequence of you becoming more stupid. You might just be demotivated and still very able, given a little practice and warm up time.

There are some good suggestions here, although HN isn't the place to go to for a medical diagnosis.

Two suggestions:

Are you eating a healthy diet? I know from experience that its easy to let this slip at your stage in life (my guess: early/mid twenties) and poor diet made me feel tired and foggy. If you think this needs attention then you might want to take a vitamin/mineral supplement as a temporary measure while you sort it out.

Also, lifestyle. You say "I get on the internet and just get distracted" and "skimming huge amounts of information online". Try taking some time away from laptops/phones/tablets. Go outside and think with a book and some paper. Get some exercise, if you're not doing that. Get quality sleep and avoid using screens just before sleep [1]. Practice avoiding distraction [2].

Good luck.

[1] http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/10/really-using-a-comp...

[2] In my opinion, managing distraction this is going to be the critical life skill for the next fifty years.

It's good to take into account the other comments, especially about changing your behavior. A lot can be done through sheer will and persistence (and training yourself to avoid distractions; yes you can do it and it will be painful so brace yourself), but not everything. I'll add a possibility that hasn't been said so explicitly: you aren't, and never have been, as smart as you think you are or were. Smarter than average? Probably. Von Neumann level smart? No way. You're a genius at best, not a supergenius. There are areas of human thought walled off from you forever unless advances in augmenting the brain arrive, it's that depressingly simple.

Your experience mirrors mine. I chalk it up to your second option-- the power of distraction is strong. I haven't tried anything to confirm, it though.

You're not alone.

Stress will do exactly that to you.

Try regular exercise , skip the junk (food, internet,drugs) and try meditation.. If your issue is stress, those will really help.

What you report is unusual enough to be abnormal. Seek help. It could be many things: depression, hypothyroidism, anemia, sleep apnea, vascular disease, etc.

Consult a general doctor like an internist, then a neurologist, then a psychiatrist, in that order.

Hey. I Actually agree with your article because I HAD lyme 1 month ago too. And felt the same. You are probably on the 14 day Doxy. After it you start to feel better pretty quickly. I went to a great infectious disease doc (if you are in Seattle). You probably tripped out like me and went reading about it on the internet for hours if not days. 99% of lymeand post lyme disease is BS. No such thing as post lyme disorder. Its highly sensitive to doxy . I caught mine a month after and 2nd day of doxy started feeling better.

But man such a strange feeling. Depression was a first for me i don't know if its from the toxins that inhibit certain stuff or psychological but its strange. Anyway get well soon and don't believe the lyme stuff you read I can assure you. You reach 100%. Just don't have unprotected sex as that shit is real depression material !

Do other people feel their cognitive abilities diminishing as they age?

I've been diagnosed with major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, ADHD-Inattentive type, and probably other things that I can't remember right now. I think most of these diagnoses (panic disorder being the only viscerally clear one) are to explain the disparity between my IQ scores throughout the years and my lack of performance in school and life in general. Which, by the way, I know is the dead-horse of tropes for internet comments...

As a result of these diagnoses I've taken several classes of medications and several instances within each class.

SSRI/(S)NRIs: Prozac, Cymbalta, Lexapro, Wellbutrin, Strattera, probably others

Stimulants: Adderall (XR), Ritalin

Benzodiazepines: Klonopin, Xanax, Ativan

Weird hypnotic sleep drugs: Ambien, Lunesta

I feel like there is a very complex matrix of factors that have contributed to the way I am now (I used to be a pretty normal, social, outgoing, intelligent, excited kid who got bad grades, now I'm kind of a weird dude) and I can't determine the cause. If the cause is depression, I'd like to take the right medication to help with that. If the cause is medication, I'd like to stop taking medication. If this 'slowing down' feeling is something other people my age (25) feel, then maybe I don't need to make a big deal about it. The way the author described his neurotypical self reminds me of who I was 13 years ago before that first diagnosis and that first prescription. I want to feel that clarity again.

Right now I feel like I'm brute-forcing through life. And it's working. But I feel about 1/10th the joy/passion I had when I was a kid. Which is a symptom of depression. So I take drugs. That make me feel slow, and prevent me from being deeply depressed. Which might not even happen. I am stuck in a strange loop, but slowly mining my way out.

At 29 I've also become somewhat paranoid about age-related cognitive decline. From what little I've looked into it, to the extent you go by the fluid and crystallized intelligence dichotomy, fluid tends to peak at around 25 and crystallized peaks somewhere in the 35-55 range (I've heard multiple numbers from different sources), with major decline beginning around 65. Brain mass also peaks around 25 and loses around 2 grams per year thereafter. The intelligence loss seems to be exponential with age - you'll drop a lot faster between 60 and 70 than you will between 30 and 40. The different peaks for fluid versus crystallized probably affect life outcomes differently depending on lifestyle and profession, e.g. the saying I used to hear from my physics professors that "If you haven't done anything by 30, you never will," or the Primer quote, "What they do with engineers when they turn 40? They take them out back and shoot 'em." On the other hand fields requiring vast recall of domain knowledge like law or medicine probably favor the older crowd that have had decades more time to accumulate, even if they lack the high-level abstract problem solving stuff required more in e.g. physics or math.

Some relevant links on all that: http://www.highiqpro.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/cognitiv... http://www.brainhealthhacks.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/f... http://qph.is.quoracdn.net/main-qimg-fd832e64253819688a4eaaa...

There's also work on reversing cognitive decline with stem cell therapies: http://www.impactaging.com/papers/v4/n3/full/100446.html

I believe my cognitive ability has generally remained constant since 15 or so (I'm going on 30 now). However, my experiences and knowledge have networked together such that I am very confident I could drub 15-year-old me at any given intellectual task.

> Benzodiazepines: Klonopin, Xanax, Ativan

These drugs make people stupid.

This is like a Harvard student who drove down into the ghetto one time to buy pot. And now he won't shut up about what it was like comin' up in the 'hood.

That is an entirely inaccurate characterization of Waldo's entire point.

Waldo's trying to describe a state of being. You can argue about whether Waldo really knows what long term depression is really like, but that's separate from learning what it feels like to experience a set of symptoms which he has never previously fallen victim to.

He's not claiming to be an authority or an expert, or to even claim that this some how makes him special. He's claiming that he understands depression better now, having experienced it.

Though the article isn't pointedly about ticks and Lyme disease, I want to share some advice on them, as the disease can be truly debilitating and have long term consequences.

If you find yourself frequently outside where ticks are prevalent, invest in a permethrin based repellent that can be applied to your clothing. Ensure that you wear pants and long sleeve shirts whenever possible. I've been using a permethrin based clothing spray for years and have not found a single tick on me in that time. I can personally recommend this brand: http://www.sawyer.com/permFAQ.html

At the very least, TFA has come to find out what it's like to exhibit dumb, pleonastic writing style. "I have found out..." would be more idiomatic and sensible. "I found out..." would be better in most contexts, but tense is due more to authorial taste so I could have ignored that. Actually for a title that entire verb phrase could be omitted: "What it's like to be dumb" or "What being dumb is like". A good editor would whittle that down to "Being dumb", but then the polished title would contradict the claims of the rest of the piece, so perhaps the current title is best.

If you state that you feel dumb(er), can this be measured quantitatively in any way? Can you re-take some tests where you know previous results to see if there are significant differences?

The described experience makes it hard to distinguish between reduced intelligence as such, versus disbalances in motivational/emotional systems that affect what you[r brain] choose to do, instead of the ability of what you can do. Both can be limiting, but in very different ways.

I've had a similar experience due to coming down with a condition called occipital neuralgia (essentially compressed and/or damaged nerves in the scalp). I was in a car wreck several years ago, and it has been a nightmare ever since.

The main symptom for me is the continual feeling of pressure in the back of the head, and a bit of tenderness over the greater occipital nerves. I can still program somewhat effectively, but my short term memory is horrible, and quick-thinking is down the tubes. It's fairly similar to a mild/moderate hangover.

I would not say that I am dumb or truly have the same experience as someone of low IQ, but the whole experience has instilled a bit of resentment towards the Silicon Valley mindset that every dev must be a quick-thinking, 10x wiz kid. I am not an A-player at this point, but by putting in a few extra hours a week I can keep up with the devs on my team, and I try to make sure my output is somewhat on par.

Fortunately, botox has made a tremendous impact (takes pressure off the nerves), and I'm getting surgery soon so fingers crossed I can make a solid recovery.

There was a course in my undergraduate college that required each student be 'handicap' for a week (e.g., blind, wheelchair-bound) for much the same reason. I didn't take the course but everyone on campus experienced it to some degree though peers.

In much the same way, I lost the use of my dominant arm for several months during graduate school. I always had respect for those with lifelong physical disabilities, but the insight I gained during that period resulted in even more respect. During that period I had one really supportive professor. But, I also had a second professor that I wanted to do much violence to - simply so that he might gain much needed insight. Since I graduated, the second professor has tried to get me to collaborate with him and I refuse to primarily because of his lack of basic respect for others' abilities (both disabilities and capabilities that exceed his own understanding).

Back in the day, we did this with drugs.

Why is the first comment always negative? The author of the link wrote an article based on his experience. I find that every first comment on HN is a tear down of the original post. The tone of every top comment seems to want to prove the com mentor's genius over the author.

If there is something capable of making me drop everything and read an article right at this very instant, then that something is using a quote from "Flowers for Algernon" as the title.

Thanks to Waldo for sharing his being Charlie Gordon. I hope he recovers.

He most definitely does not have depression. Saying that depression is simply apathy and 'feeling dumb' spits in the face of those who have to deal with actual depression everyday.

Make sure your physician is evaluating and treating your Lyme. Lyme is relatively uncommon in the Southeast US compared to the Northeast US so physicians here are not as experienced in treating it.

I would also seek a second opinion from a neurologist if you have not already. If you feel that you have cognitive impairment now, then the neurologist may feel that a brain MRI is indicated. This may not affect management, but may provide you with prognostic information.

I really want to make a sarcastic comment about how half of American adults must have this disease but it sounds kinda serious so not going to make fun of it.

> it sounds kinda serious

It is.

> not going to make fun of it.

Thank you for that. Lyme is a very easy to contract disease depending on where you live and the progressive symptoms are devastating.

Best wishes to you. At least it can be cured?

I found this helpful for ignorant folks like me http://www.cdc.gov/lyme/faq/

> Best wishes to you.

Thank you, fortunately I don't have it myself but three of my family members do.

> At least it can be cured?

If you catch it early enough you can get complete recovery. If you catch it a little later you'll have symptoms lasting for months or years, if it starts to progress you might be able to arrest it at some level or slow the progression but it will always keep trying to get worse. And once you reach any of the advanced stages it can not be cured, you're stuck with it for life.

Can someone please tell me if it's possible to get permanently sick from Lyme disease? (e.g. assume the initial systems are just a flu, get past those, and never realize you have other problems.) Because if so, I might have it. But that's impossible, right?

EDIT: Yes, I should ask a doctor, but given the medical situation where I live, it is quite hard to get good advice.

If you didn't treat it, then from what I understand, the spirochetes are still in your blood and brain. However, the official response of the medical community is 'no' because they don't have enough evidence to make that claim (from what I understand there is a lot of pressure from insurance companies to not make this a diagnosis that would result in them potentially having to cover years of treatment)

Being from Brazil, I didn't even knew such illness existed. Wikipedia says it's endemic to US, Europe and south of Argentina.

The symptoms sound pretty bad if untreated. Good to know more about it to pay attention while traveling, these endemic diseases are often hard to diagnose.

It's still well written. I'm not sure how fast the author could churn out good articles when he was feeling good but he is definitely not that stupid now.

I have come to find out what it's like to humblebrag.

Just the premise is smug. If you think you're smart now, and lymes has made you dumb, you really are dumb.

We're all dumb. Lymes just made you dumber.

Related and somewhat similar stories from Quora users: http://www.quora.com/Intelligence/What-does-it-feel-like-to-...

Similar effects can be achieved by not getting enough sleep.

This sounds like Spock on a binge of introspection.

I've had depression my entire life and was diagnosed clinically depressed at 21. I don't think you have it, yet. That being said, it sucks you have Lyme's disease. I hope you get better soon.

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