I've Been Stupid For Months: 5 Ways To End A Dumb Spell

I know this is temporary. But here's what I'm doing to help my brain in the meantime.

Aug 9, 2013 at 9:00am | Leave a comment

Recently, I haven’t been able to tell if there’s incessant chattering happening in my head, or if there’s nothing happening at all.

As in: [Crickets].

Do you know what I mean by chattering? It’s not like I hear voices. (If this were a psych eval, this is the part where I’d laugh uncomfortably.) 

Chattering, to me, is having racing thoughts that overlap, and jump around, and change course so often that I’m left with a mish-mash of words and fragments. 

The thoughts are usually conflicting, too (e.g., You suck! vs. Wait, no, you’re fine, you’re smart and cool and stuff), leaving me feeling confused. 

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OW MY BRAIN.

Some people refer to this as “the committee,” like there's a group of assholes at a meeting arguing with one another inside of your head. This makes me think of the movie "12 Angry Men," and I seriously cannot be like “Oh yes, that’s it!” when I envision a bunch of little old white men getting all pissy beneath my luxurious blonde hair. So I refer to it as “chattering.”

On top of the frustration from being unable to grasp a complete thought, this months-long brain fart is coming out in a bunch of other really fun and cool ways: I’ve started stuttering, which is totally new for me, and I’m Googling nearly every word I write in emails or even tweets, as I convince myself that those aren’t actual English words and that I made them up. (I’ve been right 100% of the time thus far. But still.) 

I’m also SUPER behind on a few deadlines. And it took me 4 hours to write these last 260 words. 

Maybe now my aforementioned uncertainty makes sense: I can’t tell if my problem is chattering, or if I suddenly became stupid and my brain is full of nothing but air, chirping bugs, and the occasional word or two. I would like to believe it’s not the latter.  

As much as I want to rip my squishy pinkish-gray brain out of my skull and karate chop it, I know there are some external factors that may be causing my mind to pffffft. I moved across the country two months ago and am still getting acclimated to a new place. I went on real, psychiatrist-prescribed medications earlier this year. Also, work stuff. Always. 

So I’m trying to keep in mind the wise words of my good friends back in NYC who listened to me cry and stutter and talk a million miles a minute on the phone last week, and my gyno, and two random guys I met at the Dresden: This is temporary. I know this is temporary. I just have to keep going. 

There are some tactics I’m using to break my, “Uhhhh, what?” spell in the meantime. Try one or two to give yourself a healthier brain -- or do them all with me so we can be normal people again, together:

READ SOME HOKEY SELF-HELP BOOKS -- SERIOUSLY

Being a total bibliophile, naturally, when this whole thing started I thought, “I’m going to explore the wide world of fiction and get smart again!” Hey, it worked in middle school.

Unfortunately, I quickly realized that attempting to absorb Murakami and Henry Miller wasn’t the biggest confidence booster when one needs to look up simple words like “drawer” every day. So, OMG, big deal: I decided to give myself a break, and go for some hokey self-help books. And I’m glad I did!

Thanks to all you freaks, I got all of Gabrielle Bernstein’s books and am gobbling them up. Now I’m on "The Artist’s Way," which is DOPE since it’s all about creative unblocking. 

I’m obviously into spirituality and creativity, but you should unabashedly peruse the self-help section of your local bookstore -- or of Amazon.com because I know that’s where you’re REALLY going -- and pick up whatever interests you. 

Self-help books are commonly written in more conversational tone, and have tips for actions you can take TODAY to get better at life in general. And though writing down, “I, Caitlin, am a brilliant and prolific writer,” 10 times each morning makes me want to punch someone in the face (mainly myself), accomplishing mini-goals clearly outlined in a book has been helping me get back into my flow. 

Plus, I’ve picked up Murakami again, and am less like, “WHAT IS THIS ABOUT?” -- a natural reaction to reading anything by him, anyway.

TAKE A CLASS AND LEARN SOMETHING WEIRD AND NEW

If you were my friend, and you came to me sobbing about your shitty break-up, or your job, or how much you hate yourself, I would dole out the same advice pretty much across the board: “You should take a class or something.”

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Look at my nametag! I'm trying very hard to make sushi in a class back in Chicago many moons ago.

Perhaps it’s because I want to make sweet love to learning, and I miss academia, and I really, really want to go back to school (except LOL @ my current student loan situation), but I believe classes are the best way to get out of a brain funk.

When you learn something new, whether it’s a pole dancing, perfume making, Photoshop, guitar, or coding, your brain builds more neuronal pathways, which improves thinking and memory. Better thinking = better decisions = less stress, and ultimately, more self esteem.  

And, dude, please just accept the fact that you’re most likely going to suck at whatever new activity you choose -- and do it anyway. We’re all into learning new things without having to be great at them initially when we’re kids, because um, that’s part of being a curious child with a developing brain. 

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The first time I took a perfume-blending class at 3rd Ward, my creations smelled like pure rubbing alcohol. Second time they turned out sick (and one was even black, neat). 

As we get older, we start believing we can only do the things we’re good at, because we need to stroke our own egos, spending time doing something we’re not good at is a waste of time, and we’re stupid adults and children are much better than us. But don’t you remember you have to log those hours to get good at something? Be patient with yourself. 

DANCE YOUR PRETTY FACE OFF ALONE IN YOUR BEDROOM

Exercise increases blood flow and is great for your brain and everything else in your body so get on an elliptical or whatever. But please do this too (if you weren't already). 

I was late to experience the pure joy of dancing alone in my bedroom, as I edited the literary magazine and liked to sit around and think about death as a teenager. Now I realized my morbidity could’ve easily been dissipated THROUGH DANCE!

Turn on some fast-tempo song and go WILD. I usually just grind my booty when I’m out dancing (also very fun), but in my bedroom, I’m like a fucking ANIMAL. I bounce around like a bunny until I want to puke. I shake my arms like SpongeBob Squarepants (that’s a sea animal, right?). It’s amazing. 

Dancing uses a bunch of different brain functions at once-- kinesthetic, rational, musical, and emotional -- that helps build neural connections. And freestyle dancing requires split-second decision-making, which your cognitive brain loves. It also might impossible to finish a poppy 3-minute song without a stupid smile plastered across your face.

EAT DELICIOUS THINGS 

If you’re eating garbage, you’re going to feel like garbage, and blah blah I’m not your mom so let’s just go over some foods that are good for your slow mind:

Delicious Thing: 1/2 an avocado on a slice of whole-wheat toast, drizzled with olive oil

Why It’s Good: Avocado and olive oil are healthy fats that help blood flow, which are great for your brain (they’re also good for your hair, nails, and skin so bonus!). Whole grains also promote healthy blood flow. So does wild dancing, but we already went over that.  

Delicious Thing: Greek yogurt with blueberries

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Greek yogurt + blueberries + a TINY bit of agave, which isn't good for your brain, but tastes delicious, so whatever.

Why It’s Good: Low calcium levels have been associated with anxiety, irritability, and slow thinking. Greek yogurt has calcium and also a bunch of protein that boosts happy-brain chemicals like dopamine and norepinephrine. As for blueberries, research shows compounds in the fruit may improve memory, learning and general cognitive function. 

Delicious Thing: Oily fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, and trout

Why It’s Good: DHA, one of the most highly concentrated fats in the brain known to play a vital role in its structure and functioning, is an Omega-3 fatty acid also found in these foods. Studies have shown DHA-rich fish oil helps improve working memory. If you’re not a fan of fish, take a fish oil supplement. Easy. 

TAKE A MIND DUMP

Do morning pages. Seriously. Just do them.

What do you do to break a dumb spell? 

I hesitantly tweet things on Twitter: @caitlinthornton.