My poor cognition (post-med) and a bit on TAC–Treatment Advocacy Center–yes perhaps this should be two posts!

I was looking at someone’s blog the other day. He had a page on comment rules. He stated that he would not hesitate to ban people for a myriad of reasons. One of his reasons was if anyone suggested he was stupid. He proudly announced his IQ which was 145 which he pointed out was at genius level. Apparently to qualify as genius you need an IQ of 140. I had an IQ of 136 once upon a time–can we say just shy of genius?

I know now if I was tested I would be lucky to have an IQ of 120. I’m pulling that number out of a hat–I don’t really know, but I do know I don’t have an IQ of 136 anymore. I can no longer analyze information. While I can read dense material with a certain amount of comprehension I can’t summarize what I’ve read and most often I can’t tell someone with any clarity about something I’m enthusiastic about what I’ve just read. I can get the gist out, but I can’t make an argument as to why it moves me or how it connects to all sorts of other information I have read about. I trust that the judgments I make concluded by what I’ve read or heard can be quite accurate–I still have an intuitive ability to process information–something that allowed me to make powerful arguments in my rhetoric classes at university. But the language, the cognition needed to articulate myself artfully is gone.

I’ve looked at the GRE a number of times since being on meds. I entertain going to grad school on a regular basis. I’ve bought GRE study material and I’ve taken the sample tests. Frankly, I test stupid. And not just with reading comprehension and analytical writing, but especially in math and algebra. I was never strong at math and algebra, I had to work really hard to get the A’s I got in those subjects. I never had to work hard at any of the liberal arts or classes in which writing was necessary, but now I can’t even remember pre-algebra. Yes, that’s right, junior-high level math. I don’t even know how to begin to solve the easiest of formulas.

I won’t have the rule this man had for his comments–you’re welcome to call me stupid. Challenge anything you want. At the very least it might make me struggle to come up with an intelligent comeback–practice might help.

Besides having severe cognition problems of the sort I speak about above, I also forget everything. I can have everything written down in a calendar and forget to check it and space on a commitment. This has become so bad I’ve alienated some friends. No, not my best truest friends–they understand. But I haven’t been so lucky with close acquaintances. I am not a flake by nature. I have always been anally punctual and feel awful when I’m late. No one would ever have called me a flake pre-med taking. So you can imagine how disappointing it is for me to completely forget to go somewhere I’ve committed to.

In college I didn’t keep a calendar. I had an incredibly busy schedule and I kept it all in my head. I never missed an appointment, class or date. I imagine this ability is rare for the best of us. I had an amazing degree of recall at my fingertips.

Losing my cognition to psychiatric meds has been the hardest part of my psych journey. Most intelligent people identify strongly with their intelligence and I was no different. It’s still painful, years into my impairment that I fail to have the acuity I once had. Give me my intelligence back and I’ll stay fat for the rest of my life. I value my brain. I crave the capacity to articulate myself on important issues I can’t even begin to discuss anymore. In particular the politics of mental health. (many other social and political issues move me too, and I often feel at a loss on those too, in my life outside the sphere of this blog)

For example, Marissa at depression introspection posts on TAC–the Treatment Advocacy Center and how they’re full of shit. Philip Dawdy at Furious Seasons critiques them often too. I really want to do a piece on them. I wrote a response to Marissa’s latest post on the issue. I tried to make a comment on her blog but for some reason her blog thought it was spam–a bad joke perhaps? I was writing shit and the spam filter knew it? Well anyway, I didn’t think it was half bad for what my poor drug addled brain can muster–here is the text:

These people really scare me. In your other post asking about what people think of them a reader commented saying that TAC was not targeted at people like “us.” They’re targeted at the really sick people. Why then do they still scare the shit out of me for personal reasons? Who’s to say that one day if they get their way we won’t all be targeted. “oh, you’ve been diagnosed bipolar once upon a time? Forced meds for you–you could become dangerous.” There is so much being written about preventative measures–where does this prevention start? My fear is that it will start as soon as a supposed diagnosis is made known to the people supporting these legal actions. Our civil rights are clearly at stake and anyone who doesn’t realize this is simply living in fear of what they don’t understand.Meds are not the only answer. Many “violent” people can be reasoned with but are not given that opportunity. In my career as a social worker I “talked down” three different people who were exhibiting frightening behavior which, under different circumstances, (like being confronted with someone unlike me–someone afraid of them) could have acted out violently. Approach people with love and respect and alternatives to coercive treatment (something the people at TAC refuse to see as an option–cannot even fathom that there is an option) and things can go dramatically different. This is not to say that people like Cho can be stopped. But most ordinary people labeled with mentally illness, even if potentially somewhat violent, will never even begin to approach doing anything vaguely similar to Cho. And most people will respond to alternative, loving, respectful, unfearful treatment.

I like what you said, Marissa that Cho clearly had a mental health problem, but did he have a mental illness? Mental illness can be treated and cured often with alternative approaches. Meds only mask the problem, never making them go away. The pharmaceutical industry and their studies have completely obfuscated all other options. You have to really search for the alternatives and then if you want to use them you are maligned and treated with distrust by all the people backed up with pharmaceutical money or brainwashed by them.

Those with a “scientific” bent refuse to consider anything that doesn’t have large expensive clinical trials to back them up. Who pays for these trials? Pharmaceutical companies and then they twist the results to serve their profit margins. Strong, oft repeated anecdotal evidence is simply completely dismissed. I don’t understand why.

I just wish I could do it with more finesse and I wish I could study all the posts by Philip and other critics and then read TAC’s website and blog and do a real good smashing of them. But I can’t–I get overwhelmed immediately and can’t keep all the facts straight. But I figure my emotional, intuitive response counts for something–I hope that someone will be moved to do more research with what I suggest. Not everyone demands fully-formed, developed thinking to simply get them started thinking–that is what I hope anyway and that is why I write in spite of feeling extremely limited.

End note: I realize this may to some extent for some people seem self deprecating. And it very well may be. And I suppose I should be grateful what I can still do. And I do know I’m not actually stupid. It’s just really hard to let go of what I used to be able to do. Should I let go? Or should I hope that this all clears up post withdrawals and that I might finally be able to go to grad school? Or maybe I should do both.

13 thoughts on “My poor cognition (post-med) and a bit on TAC–Treatment Advocacy Center–yes perhaps this should be two posts!

  1. Anjana,
    there are not guarantees with psych meds, but if you haven’t been on Lamictal for long chances are it won’t have hurt you. I have no idea about long term use of Lamictal in particular…I think the biggest offenders are benzos and neuroleptics—that is just a somewhat educated guess….

    I know this is a stressful issue and I with you the best of luck.


  2. I found this article extremely interesting. I feel like my cognitive ability has decreased signifigantly. I read on ask a patient that a college professor has a neuro-psych evaluation saw his IQ fall from 130+ to 108, and others verify there is a reduction in cognitive ability equivalent to 20 IQ points. This is somthing I cannot afford, my starting IQ was 120…and I work in the tech field where the average IQ is 110-120, and being below even an average iq of 100 will screw me over. I started lamictal after the December/ January time frame, with my current dosage starting 2 months ago. I would like to know the recovery story of anyone who has gone off of lamictal and what their cognitive response has been. I am eager to hear if I have any hope.


  3. I’d like to make a further comment, Tinka, if you go read the Benzo post, when it talks about cognitive impairment it mentions Valium (diazapam) and it gives 10-100mg as an example of a high dose. Just so you know my 3 mg of Klonopin (which is what I take) is equivalent to 60 mg of Valium and your 2 mg of Ativan is equivalent to 20 mg. These newer benzo’s are much stronger and they cause the same kind of damage over time that the valium mentioned there does.


  4. Tinka,
    As a general rule I don’t question how people choose to treat themselves with medications, but I’m making an exception here as, well, you’re on my blog, and I’ve been on meds 15 years and you’ve been on them two.

    I appreciate that you don’t feel that you are losing cognitive abilities and I hope that continues for you. Certainly not everyone suffers damage at similar rates and some people choose to believe whatever damage they suffer is worth the trade off of being “stable.” So actually, even here, I’m not questioning your right to make that choice, but I feel I need to point out that all drugs mess with our brains and benzo’s especially (your ativan) will slowly deteriorate brain functioning. You laugh when you say you are a benzo addict, but I don’t think there is anything funny about it. If you go to the right side of my blog you will see, at the top, “the nuts and bolts.” Go to the post entitled “Benzo Land.” That may begin to give you a picture of what benzo’s do. I know, without a doubt, that it is the high dose of benzo’s and neuroleptics in particular that has altered my brain functioning. (benzo’s also tend to cause depression so it makes no sense for someone who suffers from depression to take them–also antidepressants can trigger anxiety so you see your drugs themselves may be causing your symptoms–Read “Your Drug May Be Your Problem” by Peter Breggin. He has a new revised edition coming out and you can pre-order it at Amazon.)

    I’m choosing to get off of all drugs as there is much evidence of them all damaging our brains and bodies. If you spend time on this blog you will see that there are many alternatives to drugs and I’m employing them and successfully getting off all my meds with little problem and no sign of relapse.

    I wish you good luck and thank you for your comment.


  5. i don’t know how much “smarter” you were before you started taking meds, but you seem pretty damn articulate to me. although i’ve been on psych meds for about two years, i haven’t hit the right mix until just about now. the weeks preceding and following my hospitalization, my cognitive functioning had declined to the point that i couldn’t read. i don’t think meds make you less “smarter” but if you’re function as best as i am able. i must admit though, i am an ativan junkie. lol. i limit myself to 2mgs a day. it makes the day go faster at work, perhaps b/c it affects your short term memory in the way alcohol gives you black outs. not that i black out on ativan, it’s just that i get mental skips that distorts my sense of time. this morning at work i couldn’t figure out why time was going by soooo slowly, until i realized i hadn’t taken my ativan yet. but of course i have no clinical data to back up this theory. i too love black tea, but b/c i’ve decided to cut out caffeine, i’ve had to settle for decaf black tea. the public has this perception that bipolars are criminals or violent or just mindlessly crazy, but there are also a lot of intelligent, articulate, creative, and high-functioning bipolar people who benefit from therapeutic medication treatment. i still go through ups and downs when my writing is shit, when i don’t write & just want to sleep, and the normal days when i hear clear words and writing is good enough. when i’m “up” more than normal, i’ll go on a blogging splurge.

    anyway, i think that watching tv has dulled and dumbed my mind far more than psych meds. i remember in college i rarely watched tv. i didn’t have cable when i was growing up because i lived overseas (my dad was in the navy).

    my pdoc is cool b/c he keeps my medication regime as simple as possible. 1 antidepressant, 1 mood stabilizer, and a benzo for anxiety. i also use other therapeutic coping skills i learned in dbt skills class when my mind is quiet enough for me to remember them.


  6. Jon,
    My cognition went down the tubes immediately upon use of heavy neuroleptics in my mid-twenties. I don’t wonder about what else it might be. Also there is no senility of any kind in my family. Everybody stays bright and lucid until into their 90’s.

    I appreciate that all of our minds slowly lose some of their elasticity, but my problem has been going on for a good long time and coincides with psyche med use.

    I’m out of town now…but I did a quick google search and there is a ton of research on neuroleptic use and decline in cognitive functioning. I know that benzo’s cause a lot of decline too. On the benzo withdrawal board people call it “benzo brain.”


  7. While it’s a thoughtful post and I agree with much you wrote, I wouldn’t necessarily jump to the conclusion that a loss of cognitive ability is due to psych meds. I have noticed a drop in my mental abilities, but is it due to my psych meds? Or is it that I’m over 40, and my grandmother died of alzheimers? Is it due to psych meds, or due to heavy illicit drug use for 30 years? Is it due to psych meds, or is it merely a function of age?

    I will say, there has been significant improvement since beginning a serious exercise and physical health regime 4 months ago.


  8. Dear Ruth,
    How in hell do you write so well with an education that basically ended at age 14?? You have a lot to be proud of and even if you do have some shortcomings (I do believe you–even if your writing suggests otherwise)you will clearly excel with the schooling you are now involved in.

    Thanks for the encouragement.

    And it’s delightful to hear that Lindsay (whose name or blog I could not remember) is full of shit!


  9. Yes, I’ve read Robert Lindsay’s commenting rules too… hmm, no comment! Actually, well, I did feel like pointing out to him that the idea that having an IQ of 140 makes you a genius went out with the trash years ago. IQ, assuming it measures what it is supposed to measure, is an indicator of intellectual potential, and nothing more. Genius is that potential put to use in ways that profoundly affect the development of the field in which the person is working, and possibly even at the world at large. RL is definitely not a genius, no matter what his IQ is!

    I can clearly remember how frightening it was as a teenager to feel like my brain had curdled under the heat of meds and stress and sadness, and how this fear swelled to the point of near-delusion. Nowadays I still feel like there are some things I don’t do very well – some of the things you mentioned, for example – but I’m more inclined to attribute my perceived shortcomings to my lack of formal, regular education (which all but ended at age 14) and most importantly, lack of practice. I’ve been off meds for a long time – apart from those 12 months on Zoloft, which played havoc with my concentration – so unless I posit the existence of long-term post-treatment side-effects, it’s hard to pin my cognitive shortcomings on them.

    What’s my point? Well, I guess there are many roads to feeling stupid, and thus many roads to feeling a bit smarter again. I guess one of the many advantages of blogging is that it gives us the opportunity to practise making and responding to arguments (and doing the research to back them up), as well as writing reflective pieces. It’s not true that practice might help – it will help – and it will start helping you now. And once you get off the meds, you’ll really start to reap the rewards.


  10. I’m sorry that the blog that your comment was spam! I guess the comment page gets all screwy with the capcha and all…

    “Pharmaceutical companies and then they twist the results to serve their profit margins.”

    Girl, you hit the NAIL on the HEAD.

    And it never hurts to try and analyze things. (My analysis was not entirely accurate.) What matters is that you get your point across and the finger pointed in the right direction.

    I need to have balls like you and plainly say that I suck at math.


  11. Thanks to both of you for the encouraging words.

    Do you mind sharing your withdrawal story with me?

    email me if so:
    gianna_kali at yahoo dot com


  12. I got smarter with every drug I got off of (I got off of zyprexa, an SSRI, klonopin, tegretol and lamictal)…once I got past withdrawal. I don’t think I had even realized how much they had been slowing me down until I wasn’t on them anymore.

    I’ll be graduating with my PhD in mathematics in two weeks. I got completely off meds this fall, and proceeded to get more done this year than all of my previous years of grad school put together. Hang in there. Give yourself time to recover.


  13. One of the worst things about meds affecting my cognition is that everyone always believed it was my fault, not the meds, and of course I believed them at the time.

    I don’t think you should let go. Not yet. If you think you can’t do it, then you won’t be able to. I’d give it more time and hope that it clears up post withdrawals.


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