I have again been experiencing highly unproductive days, a more intense version of the so-called “Fogbrain” I’ve been writing about lately. I’ve been going to sleep late, waking up later, and when I was awake I was mostly in a daze. In the past, I would have guessed it was because the number of small chores that I’ve been putting off because of the Big Project Crunch had grown to the point that they were becoming a mental burden; in the post-crunch period, mental exhaustion made it extremely difficult to motivate myself to do anything. What made these unproductive days more, er, “interesting”, was the return of a kind of physical paralysis that accompanied my mental fogginess. Not only were my thoughts unusually disconnected—at the time I wrote the first draft of this article, I was nearly unable to keep my train of thought on a single sentence, which rarely happens—but I was unable to initiate simple actions like getting off the couch even once I was able to form the thought. The last time this happened was maybe six months ago, pre-dating the Fogbrain blog posts.
“Perhaps I’m depressed,” I thought, “because of the number of chores and outstanding “when you get a chance” commitments I have made.” But I didn’t feel depressed. I just was kind of tired and maybe a bit mentally fatigued, and the resulting paralysis was, I thought, “all in my head.” I’d first written about this back in 2006 in the blog post Tricking Myself into Action, when I had a weird conversation with myself. This time was much the same.
The countermeasure I have learned to deploy in this situation is to “turn of my brain” by not letting it be “in charge” anymore, because it’s not capable of doing it. I’ve learned to quiet my mind by not chasing my thoughts around in my head, sort of like not responding to a crazy person who is trying to get your attention. After about a minute of this enforced stillness , my physical body seems to get bored and will get up by itself in search of something to eat or drink. The trick is remembering that this is an option; it usually takes me a while.
Today, I am wondering if there might be some ADD-related aspects of Fogbrain, a topic I’ve been exploring of late. In particular, I’ve been chewing on the following chain of thoughts:
- I appear to share characteristics with people who have identified themselves as being AD/HD Predominantly Inattentive Type.
- One theorized factor behind AD/HD is the lack of sensitivity to dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in reward and motivation centers of the brain.
- Dopamine has a role in the theory of executive dysfunction
This got me thinking, as I lay immobile on my couch, about what “lack of sensitivity” meant. Does it mean that there as a “normal” level of reward/motivation? Perhaps a normal level of dopamine would mean that one generally felt mentally satiated, and a low level of dopamine would result in a feeling of starvation. It may a stretch, but that constant feeling of starvation over the years would certainly result in behavioral changes. On a conscious level, I know that novelty and availability of high quality information about the world are powerful attractors, whetting my appetite for investigation. Perhaps there is a subconscious aspect to that: the NEED for novelty and stimulation, because my brain feels terrible without it. It’s been like this for so long that it’s always been “just the way my brain feels”: restless, always seeking answers, and never quite satisfied. Perhaps these are just the side effect of long-term dopamine starvation, and curiosity is the way the brain can manufacture more of it. Or curiosity stimulates some other neurotransmitter to compensate for it. The analogy that comes to mind are people who grew up in the Great Depression or other period where life was very difficult due to a shortage of money and food. The extreme need has shaped their outlook on life, creating a great affinity for bargains, doggy bags, and stockpiling resources. To an extent, this has become part of their personality. They’ve found works, and what has gotten them through difficult times. They are loathe to give it up, even if they know that its not really necessary. But then again…what is guaranteed in life? These people know better than most!
Here’s some more current thoughts.
Maybe Fogbrain is more of a brain chemistry state than a failure of character?
While I believe that with willpower that anything is possible, it also doesn’t quite explain why I can’t muster the initiating spark to get me out of the couch and start on some chores. I had assumed that the brain was fighting me because it was boring work, that I was inherently lazy, but maybe it’s actually the brain too low on dopamine to power whatever part of the brain initiates action, or it interferes with this “executive function” aspect of the brain.
I haven’t actually been too worried about “failure of character”, figuring that it might “just be the way I am” and I should just accept whatever productivity I can squeeze out of myself when I can. But it’s interesting to think that maybe there is some brain chemistry aspect to Fogbrain, rather than it being related to my own strength of character.
Perhaps there is something I can do to ensure better brain chemistry balance?
I have been eating very poorly and exercising not-at-all during this last crunch time, working long days and staying up until I saw the morning sun. Perhaps this has something to do with it. I was dehydrated to the point where my back had started to make ominous crackling noises. Hunting around on the net for more insight on dopamine, I came across J.D. Moyer’s post Overstimulation and Desensitization: How Civilization Affects your Brain. The post is filled with interesting anecdotes about dopamine resistance and what can possibly reverse it: reduction of stimulation, turning off the lights earlier, and exercise.
It’s possible that this is a life-long personality pattern that I never saw from the perspective of AD/HD
I came across this fascinating theoretical Integrated Model of ADHD, which presents an EERILY accurate description of many of my major personality traits going all the way back to childhood:
- My desire to know WHY rather than accept answers on authority
- A sensitivity to patterns and the excitement in seeing them
- My weird sleep patterns
- My intuition+emotion driven decision-making process
It’s all there, and described in theoretical context with brain function. I am not expert enough to evaluate the science behind it, but I do recognize that AD/HD, at least as anecdotally described in this model, is a very strong match for my life. It bears further investigation.
It’s Thursday now, a few days after I started logging the Fogbrain symptoms, which are still with me. Getting extra sleep has helped, as has getting a few of the chores off my plate. I have told myself that in times like this, the one or two things a day rule can apply; I don’t have to do everything at once. If I just do ONE a day, that is probably about as much “executive control” I can muster in the absence of more stimulating projects. The Big Project will start up again next week, so perhaps I should just focus on resting up, getting some exercise, rehydrating, and eating better.