I'm stuck in an endless loop
For several years now (4-5-ish, but hard to pin down when it started), I have been stuck in a cycle of enervation/depression. I don't really like to use the word 'depression' to describe this, because in my youth (I'm in my early 50s now), I suffered from serious bouts of extreme depression, and by comparison, this is a walk in the park ... so I've gotten into the habit of colloquially referring to is as "ennui".
The duration varies (a lot), but the cycle is most often roughly 7-14 days long, where 60-70% of the time, my energy, motivation, my ability to focus on and accomplish tasks ... all goes into the toilet, and I spend most of my day reading news, surfing the 'Net, playing video games, watching re-runs, walking about town with my dog, or even just sleeping. The other 30-40% of my time, I feel good -- clear-headed, focused, motivated and energized -- and I spend most of this time catching up on all the stuff I neglected during the ennui phase, and making Grand Plans for the future.
It is hard to tell, objectively, whether I am getting better, worse, or just treading water ... in part, because the cycle varies enough that it's hard to see any clear trends over anything less than 6-8 month time frame ... but more so because my ability to objectively assess my status is so colored by the cycle itself ... when I am in one of my ennui phases, it feels like I am getting worse or, at best, maintaining. When I am in the manic-ish phase, I feel like I will never feel unmotivated again, and I must often remind myself that it is temporary, and in another day or 3, I will be back in a funk. As objectively as I can be, however, I think I am actually treading water or, possibly, getting gradually worse at a very glacial pace.
I know the "up" phase of my cycle sounds a lot like the manic- part of a manic-depressive bipolar thing. Maybe it is; as I said, it is hard to be objective. That said, though, I am really, really confident that, prior to the beginning of this, ~5-ish years ago ... that "manic" phase was my normal state of mind. I used to be a very focused, productive individual.
So ... I've tried many different things to address this. Assorted doctor visits have mostly concluded that either they don't know what the problem is, and/or, I'm exaggerating/imagining it (no doctor has explicitly said this -- it is my interpretation of "we can't find anything wrong with you"). I've tried increased exercise, more time outdoors, more sleep, less sleep, meditation, a wide variety of changes in diet, vitamins/minerals/supplements, etc. I've lost over 40 lbs. I'm currently trying (for a 2nd time) large daily doses of turmeric, and contemplating trying (also for a 2nd time) a round of tDCS self-treatment.
For context, I am right now on an upswing, coming out of my latest "ennui" phase and feeling optimistic and productive.
I should also add that I have another issue ... one that I believe is unrelated, but sounds similar when I describe it. This dates back to about 15-16 years ago, and is another thing I have seen many doctors for, and tried various things to remedy. In a nutshell, about 15 years ago, I got dumber. Prior to that, my ability to learn and remember, my executive functions, my ability to deduce, my ability to focus and prioritize and plan ... were all much better.
Over the course of 12-18 months, I lost a lot of my mental functions. For anyone who has read it, it felt a lot like the tail-end of the book "Flowers For Algernon". The simplest quantifiable example I can give of this is the notion of ... how many things are on your mental shopping list (stuff you need to get at the grocery store) before you realize you better write it down? For me, prior to this loss, my magic "I'm gonna forget stuff if I don't write it down" number was around 12-13 items, that I could fairly confidently remember. Afterwards, that number dropped to around 3.
At that time, my doctor found a (benign) lump in my throat (a goiter), and ultimately, they removed half of my thyroid. After they removed it, over the course of 6-12 months, my mental faculties improved again, but I feel to this day, that they never returned to anything close to what they were before. My mental "shopping list" number today is around 5.
Multiple tests since then have repeatedly confirmed that my half-of-a-thyroid is fully getting the job done, and I do not need any kind of supplemental hormone treatment -- with the possible exception of testosterone (ps: I'm a guy), which I tried for a little while -- and dammit, it helped, too -- but then I freaked out and quit once I started reading about side-effects.
I am writing this explicitly looking for suggestions and advice. Keep in mind, though, that (I'm guessing here), 80-90% of my responses will be "already tried it, didn't help".
In advance, danke y gracias.
I experience exactly the same waves. 1-2 weeks of motivation and clarity, followed by 1-2 weeks of feeling emotionally stunted, dumb, lazy and uninspired. I'm actually in awe that someone else has described the same situation (very well, I have to say...) - to the point that I think we should talk more?
What has helped me is to try and chip away at the extremes of the peaks and troughs. Make my ambitions in the "up" weeks slightly move achievable and easier to stick to, and to accept anything above rock bottom in the "down" weeks (for example, if I do 1 thing at work all day, be happy with that). My theory is that one day I'll gradually get to some constant (ish) equilibrium.
But I have no more answers than that I'm afraid - I've struggled too. Do you want to swap notes and see if we can get some more answers together?
This has been a focus of mine for the past 8-12 months, as well. Trying to just add one more day, or even a few more hours, to the "productive" side ... trying to get just 1-2 useful things done during the "ennui" phase, and then congratulating myself for doing that, rather than beating myself up for all the other stuff I'm still not doing.
It might be helping a little. At the very least, it is helping my self-worth, to focus on the positive.
How long have you had this issue? How long have you been trying this "chip away at the peaks and troughs" strategy?
I'm 26 and I feel something fairly similar, several week long periods of ups and downs, sometimes even just a week long.
As Adys said, finding a certain amount of newness in life is what I hinge these emotions on. I feel like I get energy when I'm doing something radically new, but inevitably it gets tiring and same, and then I slip into a low of ennui, monotony, routine, and feeling trapped.
I think I personally need drama, or just something to make me feel like I need to act.
I strongly relate to this quote:
At the beginning of June I got dumped (a crisis), and as sad as I was, I was also refreshed with an immense amount of energy and started doing zen meditation. The world was open all of a sudden.
Now I'm getting into the same rut of work, home, work, home, work, home. I try so hard to change things up in small ways, but they all get boring after a few days. Its so exhausting figuring out what to do in life, yesterday I almost had a panic attack trying to imagine what the weekend would be like. The zen helps but I've got a ways to go.
For over a year now I've been daydreaming of buying a van and living out of it in the west somewhere. Pure escapism. It would be an insane radical change. I love thinking about it. I often feel like our depression and ennui stems from society and the system we pledge our minds and bodies to.
One more thing, and its probably bunk, but I heard once that people are wired according to our primitive animal survival skills. Some people are born "hunters", who generally can't deal with tedium and repetition, but when they find a "target", they become hyper-focused (in the zone, or a fugue state) and their mind operates almost on instinct. The other types are foragers, people who could deal with repetition but failed under pressure. Again, this sounds like some fantastical bs, but who knows, maybe you're a hunter but are working in an office. I sometimes wonder how much easier life would be if we were more primitive.
These are my thoughts and feelings. Maybe something will be interesting to you. You're further in life than me and have probably experienced more than me, so who knows.
There’s a lot of possibilities.
One is, it’s just normal. Everyone undergoes cycles, and your being might just be in one that includes these smaller cycles.
Two, we’re in unprecedented times. The malaise that everyone feels over covid and, for many of us, Trump and the fact that he has so many followers has really been bubbling since before the ‘07 debacle in my view. It’s just undeniable and obvious now.
Third, while the state of mental health art is not that great, there are some effective assays and treatments that might actually be your issue, or can at least effectively rule them out. These include things like adhd, trauma, certain neurotransmitter and hormonal issues (sounds like you explored this last a little).
Finally l, never discount the spiritual element. You don’t have to believe in any kind of god to benefit from a lot of what spiritual practice has to offer. Prayer, meditation, spiritual study (especially with a group), and service can all lrovide tremendous beneficial mood effects. Note that what you pray/practice/study is irrelevant so long as its not something harmful (stay away from Franklin Graham type stuff, e.g.). It’s the act of it that is important.
Let us know how you get on. Inwish you the best.
Have you tried moving? To a different country, or at least a different city. I understand this might not be in reach of a lot of people (especially right now), but I recognize a lot of what you're describing and I have most of it under control by keeping a healthy amount of new things coming into my life on a regular basis. "Moving" is something I do every few years — though I'm getting settled in my current city now — and it's by far the most radical and impactful energy boost as I try new meetup groups, find new friends, rebuild a social circle etc.
Changing jobs comes a close second.
And man, what you're describing in your second section is just this awful fear of mine, which has only gotten worse lately as my current job isn't challenging me enough. And my memory is awful; I don't remember what I did yesterday unless I look it up on my calendar (like right now, I'm trying to remember and it's unclear. If I keep digging it'll come back to me. I'm 29; what the fuck is this going to look like in another 25 years?).
I just know that in 100 years, maybe less, we'll have a better understanding of memory, alzheimer, etc and we'll have health professionals just saying much simpler "just eat less X, eat more Y, get some vitamin Z and do this exercise once a week" with proven, concrete links to memory. We're already starting to understand the links between Alzheimer and Diabetes. Maybe we'll figure enough of it out before it affects me (both my grandmothers got it), but I suspect I won't be so lucky.
I'm American. 2 1/2 years ago (after Trump), I moved to Europe. The move did seem to help with the ennui somewhat, for about 4-6 months ... never got completely better, but for a few months, yeah, it was less pronounced. Gradually came back, though.
For several years now, I've also been trying to retrain myself to a different branch of IT. I'm a programmer by trade ... or at least, I used to be ... primarily Microsoft stack ... and for awhile now, I've been trying to learn Linux-focused sys admin and FOSS-focused programming (Python, C/C++, Bash, etc). I enjoy it more than the old MS stuff (which frankly made me feel dirty), but the whole "I'm dumber now" combined with the "ennui"-style loss of motivation has crippled my ability to learn new skills, and my progress in this area has been slow.
The worst part of the "I'm dumber now" issue is that it's been so long now, that I have a lot of trouble remembering what I was like before, and maintaining objectivity about how real it is versus am I just imagining it, maybe this is just normal "getting older" stuff, etc.
I journal a lot, and skim-read through old journals to help remind myself what I used to be like.
Well, reminiscing on the past won't help I can tell you that much. Imagine you're just a fresh new person, born a minute ago, with a bunch of pre-existing knowledge. Why not, eh?
Hmm, I sense a little defeatism in your tone. My method involves just jumping onto a new project that asks new things of me and going for it. I do think it works a lot better than purposefully training via courses/books/tutorials, though those help when you have a specific goal.
Yep that's to be expected; if you settle into a routine, this feeling will come back. Shaking up your routine is what disrupts this the most. Moving forces you to do that as you find stable ground again, but it's only there to stimulate the change, it doesn't solve the problem by itself.
I don't have advice you wouldn't have already tried. Pick up new hobbies; if you don't find them interesting, move on to a new set of hobbies to try until you find something that does captivate you. Don't fall into the trap of not taking care of yourself because "it's hard work"; pretty sure there's something out there for everyone that won't be hard work but rather will just be an enjoyable activity.
I just turned 50 a couple months ago. Got divorced almost a year ago after 21 years of marriage because she had her midlife crisis. Been living in my friend's spare bedroom when I'm not on the other side of the country doing temp IT work while living in my other friend's spare bedroom.
I'm supposed to be writing and drawing another comic, which I've been working on since last year. I should be cranking out issue 2 or 3 by now, but I don't even have a script written for issue 1. I'm taking a break from comics to write novels, and that has also been slow going. Feels like I just don't have any motivation whatsoever for either project. Motivation has never been a problem before now.
I chalked it all up to post-divorce bullshit, but you've got me wondering if it's more than that. Now I'm wondering if it's low testosterone or something. You said that testosterone helped, but you didn't like the side effects?
It was awhile ago, things could have changed by now. And my recollection (or the info I got) could have been flawed.
That said, my understanding at the time was that using extra artificial testosterone was a great way to convince your body to make even less of the stuff on its own, in a kind of legal-drug-dependency spiral. Additionally, my main gripe at the time was that my doctor put me on it without ever communicating that risk to me, until I asked him about it ... at which point he said, yeah, it was a risk, but he thought it was worth it. I quit taking the stuff and quit seeing that doctor.
I wasn't using it long enough to get a good impression of how much it was actually helping (if at all -- could've just been placebo; who knows). I should probably revisit the idea.
I'm a few years younger than you and on testosterone. I've been on it for about 5 years now. It's awesome. Find a doctor who will give you the information you need to make an informed decision. My doctor is very forthright about the pros and cons, and she watches my level like a hawk. She requires me to do a blood test every 6 months so she can check various levels before she'll renew my prescription.
From what she's told me, the main side effects are increased PSA levels and increased red blood count. There's a correlation between high PSA levels and incidence of prostate cancer. If yours starts to go up, your doctor can always cut back the amount prescribed. And of course, you should be getting regular prostate checks during your annual check-ups, too. Prostate cancer is very easy to catch with regular screenings and in the event that you do get it, it's one of the most survivable cancers. Both my father and father-in-law have had it, and have survived past the 10-year mark after having it. (My father-in-law is in his 80s and doing very well.) The increased red blood count can lead to your blood becoming sticky and not moving through your body as easily, which leads to a host of problems. The solution is to stay well-hydrated, and also to get your red blood count checked every 6 months with all the other stuff.
I've never had a problem with PSA levels in the 5 years I've been on testosterone. I have had a high red blood count on occasion. The other thing you can do to bring it back down besides hydrating or reducing testosterone intake is to donate blood. (If it's too high, they won't let you, but they do a check right before doing the draw to make sure it's OK.) So I've gotten back into donating blood from time-to-time as well.
As for causing your body to make less, I've never heard of that. It doesn't appear to be the case for me. One thing I've found is that I sleep better on it, and getting more sleep seems to raise my natural production of testosterone. Unfortunately, because testosterone is sex-related there's a lot of bogus information out there about it (both pro and con). I would say ignore anything you read on the internet about it and ask your doctor about it instead. It's a chemical your body naturally produces, so it's safe if you use it in reasonable quantities. A lot of the bad side effects people mention come from taking it when you don't need it (or taking more than you need) for stuff like weight lifting. So long as you're not abusing it you should be fine, just like any other drug.
I did some new research on this ... and yeah, whatever I thought I knew about supplementing testosterone, it's wrong now and maybe it always was. Odd that the doctor back then explicitly confirmed my concern as a risk.
Over the years, I have made a couple of concerted efforts at naturally increasing my testosterone levels, via diet, supplements and--primarily--weight lifting. But I never revisited the idea of directly supplementing.
I'm in Hungary now, where the medical service is a bit dicey, so it's gonna take some research to figure out if I want to try testosterone again while I'm here, and if so, how ... but I am definitely pursuing this option again. I still doubt that testosterone is the full solution to whatever ails me, but it will probably help.
What do those who know you well say about your mental faculties?
Is your work performance objectively suffering?
How many of these words can you remember?
Looking at all the things you have accomplished (moving countries, learning new languages) I would say your energy ability to remember things and mental faculties are perhaps better than average. Were you an outstanding student when younger?
Sounds like you're looking more at my earlier loss of intelligence, ~15-ish years ago.
Not many people left in my life who knew me well before, at least before the 15-years-ago mental loss.
I'm functionally unemployed now, have been for a couple of years. For better or worse, I'm financially well enough off, that this is not (yet) a major issue for me.
14 ... but I've spent many years learning memory tricks and mental hacks to get around my loss; it's the primary reason I started learning other languages, to force my brain to work better -- actually knowing additional languages is just a bonus.
Yes, I was. I am still above average, perhaps well above average, but yeah, I used to be way over at the far-right end of the bell-curve.
Yeah, I've got nothing to add.
You're exploring medical causes presumably including things like thyroid imbalance, diabetes, celiacs, sleep apnea, chronic fatigue syndrome etc...
You've tried moving countries.
The only other thing to try is taking up something that will pump a little adrenaline into you. Kiteboarding, wind surfing, motorcycling, Sailing, skydiving (ranked cheapest to most expensive)... But I dont think that will help long term...
I feel a bit the same ("wasting" days doing nothing useful) but I don't think I'm depressed (I don't feel empty and I'm somewhat content, some days), I just don't have anything better to do. I have a bit of social anxiety so the list of "things to do" isn't long and thus I have a lot of time to kill. Maybe you need more stimulation, more friends, new activities, things that don't solely depends on you having to do an effort and being proactive.
Supplements that might be worth looking into if you haven't already:
L-dopa & 5HTP: Precursors for dopamine and serotonin. I take them with EGCG, which acts as a binder to pass the BBB instead of accumulating in muscle tissue. I take either L-dopa and EGCG or 5HTP and EGCG. Taking them together seems to negate value. My reason for taking them is that the type of depression I tend to get is the numb sort of flavor. My emotional responses to anything positive can get extremely low. So I just kinda gauge dosage depending on what my emotional responses have been like in the previous few days.
Vitamin D: you've almost certainly had your vitamin D levels tested if they're looking at your thyroid health, but it's worth mentioning that the thyroid doesn't do its job well without it.
N-Acetyl Cystine (NAC): antioxidant. I mention it primarily because I've been studying oxidative stress a lot lately (thyroid dysfunction in either direction has been shown to increase oxidative stress), and it can lead to a very wide array of problematic conditions and secondary imbalances that can be difficult to nail down a root cause for. Just do a search of biology papers talking about oxidative stress and you'll see what I mean. Incidentally, it ties in closely with development of COVID.
Resveratrol: This is probably the most nebulous out of all of these recommendations. I only recently started looking into it. The paper Resveratrol: A double edged sword in health benefits is a good starting place. To oversimplify: it has antioxidant pathways, anticancer mechanisms (via SIRT1 upregulation), cardioprotective, antimicrobial, and neuroprotective effects (likely due to antioxidation). I'm mainly interested in it for the SIRT1 upregulation, as SIRT1 is used to mark out damaged cells to be removed by the innate immune system. The double-edged sword part of it comes into play with the complexity of dosage (lower dosing elicits different effects from higher dosing), an apparent increase in ROS (despite being an antioxidant), which may also lead to an increased chance of damaging cells instead of helping them. However, it has also been shown that ROS of a certain baseline amount are a necessary part of cell signalling, and it's possible that this increase in ROS is related to the anticancer mechanisms at play.
What I can say about it from the few weeks of personal experience I have so far is that the higher dosage (which is suppose to kick the SIRT1 and apoptosis mechanism into gear) can feel kinda crappy. Like I need to flush my system out. A bit like a hangover when there's too much acetaldehyde floating around from metabolizing booze. I've been doing that dosage level at a max of twice a week. The only noticeably bad times were when that twice-a-week was one day after another.
Positives that I've noticed from it so far: my energy level has been significantly higher. I have an actinic keratosis on my forehead that has been there for 2 years, just slowly getting worse. It seems to be healing. It no longer hurts, it's smoothed out and doesn't feel rough anymore. In fact, my skin in general seems to be feeling more like skin again and less like dried out callus. My concentration level has been a bit less scattered (the irony of this is that I'm adding this in as an edit because I got distracted).
I should note that I've been taking it in conjunction with berberine and NMN. They seem to have mechanisms that may complement each other well (if the preliminary studies pan out and are verified). Berberine seems to assist the anticancer mechanisms and NMN seems to maybe be capable of repairing damaged DNA and decreasing genetic methylation. I noticed the combo because they're marketed together, but looking into the studies that have been on each of them individually or together, I can see why.
I'm also thinking that supplementing folic acid (to assist with angiogenesis) on the off-days of not taking this combo. But that just recently occurred to me so I haven't had a chance to look into it much yet.
As might be evident in this post, I approach a lot of my issues with supplements. I can't really afford doctors, which kinda leaves trying to find over the counter things that might help. I've been through a lot, but these are the things that have helped me the most. If you've already tried them with no luck, I'm sorry and I wish I could do something else to help. I know the frustration of lack of motivation and lack of mental clarity all too well. But if by chance there's something in here you haven't heard of before, please don't just take my word on it either. Look into it yourself, talk things over with your doctor. I'm a dang construction worker, so don't take medical advice from me.
(edit: added some details)