I Am Not Smart Anymore And That’s Fine

Dealing with a Thinking Addiction, AKA Elon Musk syndrome, AKA needing to know EVERYTHING

Growing up, I was always “smart” and “creative”. Everything was easy (except seventh grade math.) I could do anything at the last minute. I could learn anything overnight. I could think for days and solve any problem. It was like a superpower.

But as I got older the problems and projects I faced grew more and more complicated and nuanced. I still felt a need to not only do everything perfectly, but a need to do EVERYTHING. The ability to do an incredible job at ANYTHING, LITERALLY ANYTHING had become a crucial part of my own self-concept. And all the sudden, I found myself struggling for the first time.

But I resisted it. I only knew how to be really extra. I had never done a mediocre job on anything–I was an all or nothing girl.

So for years I continued to throw my entire self into projects in a flamboyantly extra and unnecessary ways, as if to prove a point to myself. 5 page papers turned into 20 pages because I couldn’t stop adding sources. I pulled two all-nighters in a row to teach myself MatLab for no reason.

All this dumb stuff was born from a genuine interest and desire to learn. But I was doing in a really weird, binge-y way. I could blame perfectionism, or ADHD, or whatever, but it was all my problem in the end: I was burned out and disconnected from real life.

Somewhere in between my 37th and 38th post-post-late-stage-burnout breakdowns, I had a revelation:

* Not everything is worth my time.

* Not everything is worth my energy.

I was trying so hard to please everyone. I didn’t even have values of my own anymore, aside from “please everyone”. So I sat down and overhauled my entire value system. What really matters and what’s some bullshit that isn’t as important to me?

My family and friends are most important. I was ignoring them. So, I decided to stop doing exhausting, pseudo-intellectual bullshit for no reason, and spend more time with my friends and family.

What’s the result?

The result is I write a letter to my grandma every week, see my friends, and make it a priority to go home and see my family. The result is I’m not even gonna proofread this before I submit it, I’m just gonna go to sleep because who cares?

The result is I feel brain-dead sometimes, and feel like I’m missing the part of me that used to be smart. I miss the “high” of working on a challenging problem until my brain and body are so exhausted I can’t continue. (???) But I am now doing things that are much more meaningful to me, and that bring me long term happiness. I am much more balanced, and it turns out my work turns out to be “good enough” (or “perfect enough”) even when I don’t give 1,000,000,999%.

It seems I always need a problem to chew on to be satisfied. Maybe someday I will find the perfect outlet for my weird, extra, analytical brain–a problem it can consume and process without exhausting or draining me. A problem that will give me energy to solve, and that will connect me to others rather than isolating me. But until I find that outlet, I’m happy to give up “smart” and “creative” for “balanced”.

Could I be a genius if I kept thinking about things forever? MAYBE. Am I actually going to send rockets to Mars or win a Nobel Peace Prize?

NO. What the fuck ever.

If you find that you exhaust yourself, if you find yourself in a perpetual cycle of overworking and then breaking down once a week, take a look at your priorities. What do you WANT?

You can do anything you want to. Anything and everything in the world. But just because you have the ability to do anything, doesn’t mean you HAVE to.

Here are some alternatives:

– forget about it

– think about it later

– pay somebody else to do it

– just call someone who knows how to do it and say “hey will you help me”

– say “I do not know how to do that, please find someone else”

– think to yourself, “there are lots of people who are way smarter than me who are probably thinking hard about this problem, so it’s not my responsibility to think about”

– go to sleep

– “this does not make me happy to think about so I’m not going to think about it anymore”

– delegate it to literally anyone else and if they do it badly, at least it’s done

– wanna learn a thing? Instead of staying up for a million years teaching yourself, try this:

sign up for a class


Time Is Hard

I’ve been standing here for the past 30 minutes trying to calculate what time I need to get ready for bed tonight.

Counting time under pressure feels similar to calculating a tip under pressure. How do you do 20%? What’s $9.15 divided by 5? Do I include tax? Divide by two and…ten? Something about a decimal. I give up, tip 25%.

When it comes to calculating time, it’s about the same. I tend to either overestimate (i.e… show up three hours early), or fail completely.

Stuff like this seems to be straightforward for most of the population. They can adjust easily. That is, without counting on their fingers and panicking and/or crying.

What’s 7:45 minus two and a half hours? What’s 7:15 AM minus eight hours minus 45 minutes minus an hour and a half? How in the name of everything holy, do people do this in their head?

For me, just thinking about time doesn’t cut it. My brain throws away numbers that don’t have any significance, and only holds on to vague characteristics.

– 7:40 turns into 7:20, because all I remember is it’s 20 minutes away from the hour.

– 7:30 PM becomes 9:30 PM if I’m thinking partially in army time (19:30).

– My friends had a go at me once when I couldn’t remember my mini golf score for longer than 40 seconds.

This is frustrating. I somehow passed calculus, but still can’t add and subtract time. (Although now that I think about it… I’m pretty sure I failed the “clocks” unit in 2nd grade math. I remember tears and staring at pictures of clocks, through the tears.)

In search of solution, I’ve found that writing down time and performing manual calculations sucks. One, because it takes time, and people are like “what are you doing”. Two, it doesn’t really reduce frustration or confusion. Because it’s in base 60 and once you cross the 12 PM/12 AM line everything goes to shit. There’s no easy way to subtract 7:15 AM minus nine and a half hours, goddamn it, I refuse to do it.

In this golden age of limitless technology I demand a solution

If we can build a spaceship that can take off into orbit and then land back on Earth for reuse @elonmusk #gothefucktosleep we can build a time calculator that can add or subtract multiple units of time.

Why doesn’t this exist yet? Hm? With a preliminary Google search, I see calculators for business people who want to keep time cards for employees. And I see time calculators that will only add or subtract a maximum of two times. I see no calculators for numerically challenged ADHD people. I see no Android apps.

So I’m going to make a time calculator template on Excel. And, if I can scrape together the remains of my programming knowledge from like, 10th grade, maybe a little unaesthetic app or web app.

Anyways that’s all. I have nothing particularly helpful in this post for you; I just came to vent! I still have no idea if anyone reads this blog, but if nothing else maybe I’ll stumble upon it again in ten years and laugh at myself.



Body awareness, self-blame, and energy: the common sense d/dx

I started riding my bike last summer.

It was great through the entire fall, but by winter, it was so cold my face was burning from the wind when I rode. I locked it up for a couple months.

When I took the bike out again in the spring, it was… uh, very hard to ride.

Wow, I thought. I’m out of shape. Riding got harder and harder until I could barely push the pedals. I felt awful… how could I have let myself get so slow and fat? Am I really that lazy? I kept pushing through.

Eventually, the bike stopped. Completely. And the inner tube twisted out of the wheel. I had a flat tire.

Guess who had to carry their bike eleven block home, with groceries in tow?!

When we talk about the recovery process–or the process of managing a lifelong disorder or health challenge, we need to be talking about flat tires.

Aka, the factors that can make life a little shitty sometimes, for everyone. Things that have nothing to do with a disorder, and can be solved with non-disorder related solutions.

Here’s why:

People who are neurotypical (and do not have a complicated medical history) can generally identify their flat tires. They have a healthy baseline, an idea of how hard life should be on a daily basis, and when something feels off they know to look for an underlying cause. Or to ask for help with it.

But when someone has been facing a mental, physical, or other chronic disorder for an extended amount of time (or their whole life!)… they might not remember what everyone else’s “normal” feels like. They only know that life feels hard, a lot, and a lot of times it seems to be their fault or their “perception”. They work REALLY hard every day to push through, and if the days start getting harder and harder, they blame themselves for feeling bad (or in some cases blame everyone BUT themselves.) They might even begin to fear that they’re relapsing.

Additionally, people with trauma may have been conditioned to disassociate from their physical feelings (especially discomfort.) And people who have been living with any disorder for a while may have gotten used to suppressing discomfort as a way of “keeping up” during the day.

So when it’s suddenly harder and harder to breathe:

It could be a terrible anxiety attack!… or it could be seasonal allergies. Take an allergy pill. (Or, if you live in the Ohio River valley: relocate immediately.)

When you feel achey and terrible all over, have a headache, and can’t get out of bed;

Maybe you’re going to relapse back into depression!!!…or maybe who cares. Could be weather. Could be mercury in retrograde. Could because you constantly blame yourself for meaningless symptoms instead of actually treating them. Go take some ibuprofen!

We hear about “self care” in a stupid, facetious way, as though checking off all the items on a self care list will make things better by magic. But it’s more important to understand the causation–precisely HOW SHITTY you are going to feel if you don’t drink enough water. You might feel so shitty you think you’re depressed again.

I’m definitely not implying these kinds of things are solutions for mental disorders.

What I am saying is: in recovery, sometimes we make the world a whole lot harder for ourselves by trying to ride the damn bike with a flat tire. Check your reality before you blame yourself, or your disorder: the common sense d/dx.

If things suddenly feel awful, or it’s been gradually getting more and more difficult to get out of bed, here are some ways to check for flat tires.

  • Practice somatic exercises: do a body scan, and tune in to the physical feelings you’re experiencing (objectively! without any blame or judgement attached.) Make a list, or just become aware of them.
  • Think about what has changed since you were last feeling not-shitty. has the weather changed? has your activity level changed? etc.
  • Find your friendly neighborhood neurotypical. Say, “hey, when you’re ___________, do you ever feel kind of ___________? What do you do?”
  • Listen to their advice. It will sound stupid and overly simple. Do it anyways.
  • Try using this interactive flowchart.

ADHD Comorbidity Ultimate Xtreme Death Fight

Around age 16, I started developing depression and anxiety that slowly took over my life.

I was not high functioning, I was barely making it out of bed, and even then I would only go to the kitchen to make toast and go back to bed. Usually while crying.

When I moved for college, my anxiety grew to such massive proportions that I was able to direct it, like a laser beam, at all my other diagnoses. bzzt! Bye bye, ADHD! Bye depression! (Hello, OCD!)

Pretty cool, huh? It’s like Pokemon! Battle your mental disorders in the arena!

The point is, everyone I met at that time saw me as a horribly cautious and conscientious person. I was polite and formal, excessively so. I was hypervigilant of everything due to past traumas, and spent most of my time trying to please people or dissociating. I gave 6000% on everything. I panicked constantly. I was always afraid of something bad happening (hello, PTSD!)

This was exhausting, of course. And I’ve been shedding layers through the years–working through things that have happened in the past–to reach the stable point I’m at today. It’s been a long journey full of way too many panic attacks. Pulling apart a trauma history is no easy task, especially without a therapist, but I managed to with a very good book and some incredibly supportive people.

This past year I’ve been able to let go of a substantial chunk of that anxiety, piece by piece. It feels so much better to care so much less, to let myself be balanced instead of constantly afraid. Nothing matters as much as I thought it did wheee!

But I forgot that the anxiety was functional.

With my laser beam gone, a host of old problems re-emerged… some that I hadn’t experienced for over five years.

Hello depression! All the sudden I couldn’t get out of bed again because I didn’t see a point. The anxiety was running my perception of everything, everything I did was in fear of punishment or failure. I had to completely overhaul my motivational system. Now I get to do things because I like them, or because I want to (not because I’ll die or people will hate me if I fail, ha.)

And hellooooooooo. ADHD. Hahaha. Depression covered up ADHD a long time ago and anxiety managed them both. I never learned how to manage my ADHD. I just collected the compatible disorders. Gotta catch em all!

All the sudden, without my anxiety, I can’t remember my assignments. I lose my keys twelve times a day. I can’t concentrate on anything. I can’t get to bed on time because I can’t remember the steps I need to take. I respond incorrectly to signals in my body that tell me I’m thirsty, or tired. I don’t answer my texts or emails. The lengthy panic attacks nd dissociations are gone but I still have no concept of time. I forget a final project–two final projects in a row. I am running my old personal record in irresponsibility into the dirt. (But it’s okay, nobody’s dying!)

I did some of these things before. But now it’s down to the bare bones… there is nothing else to blame here. It’s just me, circa age 12, with no organizational compass whatsoever. Me and whatever else is dividing my attention. People who met me five years ago think I’m a completely different person, but I know I’m becoming who I was, and really am, again.

The only problem is that who I really am seems to be a minor hot mess, and lacking some key self-management skills and executive function skills that should have been learned age 14-19. Haha, oops!

I’m also faced with the sad reality that some people really liked the anxious version of me better. They liked me when I was cautious and actually on-time.

But I’m happier and I know I’ll get through this too, eventually, so whatever!


A Case For: Bluetooth Headphones

I love Bluetooth headphones for two reasons: sensory regulation, and practicality.

1. If I listen to people too much I start to hate them. Where I am now, I find the quality of my relationships with people hinge on how well I can selectively ignore the things they say. I don’t want or need to hear all of it. It also seems like no matter where we go, there’s always some intrusive sound (even if it’s just my tinnitus following me everywhere, ha.)

I am an emotional sponge and if people are spewing negativity, it’s hard not to soak it up. Even if there’s just loud or annoying noise around me, do I really wanna hear that if it’s disrupting me? I can’t always walk away, but when it’s appropriate I can tune it out with something else.

The good thing about being an emotional sponge is it also works the other way. Put on some happy music, boom! Feel better!

This all holds true for regular headphones too, but I find Bluetooth headphones to be much more practical and use them more often, because…


You never have to experience the horrific feeling of your earbuds being ripped out because you left your phone on the table and tried to walk away. Baby, you are MOBILE. do some cartwheels. Climb a flight of stairs!! Run around untethered! SWEET FREEDOM! Take them to the gym, for real, your life will be forever changed.

3. Bonus: never waste a hand having to hold a phone up to your cheek again

Because this is the #1 reason I don’t answer my phone. My hands are FULL, always, I’m never sitting around doing nothing waiting for a call to come in. But task interruption/switching is not an easy thing for me and I gotta finish what I’m doing or I’m afraid I’ll get distracted and forget about it forever.

Buy a pair of headphones with a speaker. Just do it, trust me.

4. Edit: apparently technology has been marching on without me and Bluetooth headphones are old news

and now the thing is totally cordless headphones. Time for some Amazon shopping…


A Case For: Time Timer

Numbers are hard, okay?! I don’t even calculate 20% tips, because I can’t divide my total in five in my head… especially under time pressure. I always tip 25%, to be safe and easy. Divide in half twice.

I’m just as bad with time as I am with money. I’ve got time-blindness which definitely sounds like some bullshit excuse I just made up, but it’s an actual thing that many people with executive function deficits experience.

  • I don’t know how long it’s going to take me to do anything!! Two minutes? Two hours? Short tasks stretch to infinity and long projects get done quickly, nothing is predictable… it feels like I’m living in a little bubble of the universe where time and space are warped.
  • If someone texts that they’ll pick me up in fifteen minutes, I HAVE to check when they sent the message and figure out the actual TIME they’ll arrive. My brain does not “feel” fifteen minutes innately, so I need a “focus time”.
  • My mind seems to play telephone with numbers unless they are significant or memorable for some special reason. 2:30 can easily turn into 4:30, 6:15 into 6:45.
  • I am anxious about figuring out how much time I have. Always. Always trying to calculate and losing track.

Enter the time timer. As the time runs out, the little red piece of pie gets smaller and smaller. You can see it gradually moving as well (so, no compulsively checking the minutes as they pass on digital clock.) No calculations involved, just a glance. There’s a little alarm that goes off at the end, and you can change the volume to make it soft enough to not be annoying, or loud enough to hear from the bathroom.

I highly recommend this for people who have probs with numbers & time anxiety!


A Case For: Keeping It Clean

Growing up, I was the most disorganized child in the universe. My mom will vouch for this.

My room was packed full of stuff and I was emotionally attached to all of it. I was sometimes distressed by how cluttered it was but couldn’t stand to get rid of any of it.

When I left for college I became an accidental minimalist (meaning, I moved with only a bed and dresser at first, and no furniture or stuff.)

It was so relieving that I became a little paranoid about keeping it that way. I felt anxious when I brought more stuff into the apartment, and even resisted buying furniture as long as I could. When I had more stuff, it could get cluttered… and when it was cluttered, my anxiety skyrocketed.


Why such a huge shift?

I was so laid back about my mess before! Ignoring a bunch of other reasons, I think part of it was that the sudden change made me realize how easy it was to focus in a clean environment.

When I was a kid, I didn’t need to focus! I could get away with being distracted all the time (and oh BOY did I get distracted…by beads on the floor, homework from ten years ago, dust bunnies, whatever.) Being an adult, I found value in being able to concentrate on a damn thing for longer than a minute.

Suddenly, without any visual distractions, I was able to discern the most important thing was: whatever I put in front of me. It was PURE MAGIC. And I felt so weightless and focused for the first time, ever.

But when things got cluttered, my eyes went crazy. Yay, exciting visual stimuli! I noticed my gaze shifting frenetically from thing to thing, and I lost track of what I was doing much more frequently. My eyes couldn’t figure out what to focus on, and they dragged my brain along for the ride. I tried to avoid this by compulsively organizing and hiding clutter, which ironically became a distraction in itself.


I am not a crazy minimalist anymore, though I still see value in that lifestyle. Honestly, I just have too much stuff.

BUT. No matter how chaotic the downstairs gets (I live with a roommate) I always pick up my room as best as I can…even if that means shoving some stuff in a drawer in a wad, so my eyes can be at peace. This is my place to relax.

Sometimes I feel like my senses are all mixed together with no checks and balances. My eyes tell my brain how things are going. Even if life’s going great, if I’m staring at a mess, I get a signal that yells “CHAOS!! CHAOS!!”! That feeling clouds my entire perception and I AM chaos.

(Then, I have to translate the CHAOS signal into plain words for my brain…but that’s a post for another day.)

I don’t know what to call my weird eye thing–I think it’s just an attentional deficit (AKA attentional surplus, given to all the wrong things!)

But it makes a difference now, and I think about it when I set up my living space. I need calm, relaxing colors. I try to avoid bulky objects that stick out at a strange angles. I keep my room set up so my eyes are drawn naturally through it, instead of becoming fixed on one weird object (I’m 80% sure this is also fancy feng sheui concept, guys.) And it makes a huge difference in my focus.