Depression, Mental health

What Speed Does Your Mind Move At?

What speed does your mind move at? - graphic of a head with gears turning

Mental illness often affects what we think about, but it can also affect how we think, including the speed of how we think.

Mania is an obvious example of speeding things up, and this may show up outwardly as pressure of speech.

Anxiety, worry, and rumination can also be speedy in a sense, but tending to go around in circles rather than off in manic directions.

Negative (deficit) symptoms of schizophrenia can slow things down. This can produce poverty of thought internally and poverty of speech that’s apparent externally.

Depression can also slow the mind down, which is what’s been going on for me lately. Cognitive symptoms of depression can include memory impairment, poor attention, difficulty with decision-making and other executive functioning, impaired learning, and decreased processing speed.

The THINC-it test is a research-validated computerized tool for assessing disruption caused by depression in the areas of executive function, learning and memory, attention and processing speed.

I’ve had cognitive symptoms continuously for the last 4 years, and it tends to fluctuate hand-in-hand with psychomotor retardation, which slows my movement. Right now it’s particularly bad, and it feels like the lights are on very, very dimly, but nobody is home, and the doors are barricaded to keep anyone from being able to come back in.

It’s very hard to get anything meaningful out of reading. It’s not so much that I can’t concentrate, because that would imply there’s attention there that I just can’t focus. But there’s nothing there to focus. Okay, maybe not nothing at all, but very little. It’s like my head is full of mashed potatoes, but there’s too much milk in them and it’s just a shapeless blob of soggy potato.

It makes it extra difficult to talk, because on top of psychomotor retardation slowing brain to mouth transmission and making it slow to actually get words out with any sort of fluency, assembling a thought coherently takes some mental chewing.

It’s a weird feeling, and quite the contrast to back in the day, when my baseline cognitive function was quite good.

Does your illness have any impact on the speed at which your mind operates?

44 thoughts on “What Speed Does Your Mind Move At?”

  1. Oh yes! You know what I’ve been writing the last few weeks where my mood nose-dived — my cognitive functioning went with it. I had all the memory impairment, poor attention, difficulty with decision-making and other executive functioning, impaired learning, and decreased processing speed. I was unable to read or respond to blogs, couldn’t speak clearly to anyone so my phone went unanswered and I couldn’t even decide something as simple as carrot or pumpkin soup!

    And though I’ll never return to ‘normal’, I’m feeling so much better this week 🙂

  2. When I was very depressed, my thinking was probably slower, but I don’t really remember. Periodically, I would get triggered by something and sucked into spirals of agitated thinking (“trigger” isn’t quite the right word as it wasn’t necessarily something negative in itself, just that my mind would treat it as something to worry about).

  3. This is really interesting. I’m saddened that you struggle so much in this regard. 🙁 I hope and pray that you can get better cognitive functioning and speed up your thoughts a bit.

    I definitely get symptoms of what you were discussing in regard to schizophrenia when I’m hormonal. I’ll enter into a fog and I kind of glaze over and stare past the computer screen. And–this is weird–my dad will ask me a question, and my answer will be, “Ingrid Sparks,” or, “Inkerton,” or, “Austrous.” It makes sense in my head. Based on my mood at the time, some of it is me being playful, but some of it is me just shutting down at times and not wanting to verbalize whatever’s going on in my head. It’s not a huge deal because my dad’s down with it, but if I were out and about, like at a doctor’s appointment, or that sort of thing, I’m pretty sure it would cause concern. But I try to live a stress-free life so that that sort of occurrence is unlikely to occur.

  4. Everything is slowed down. Every day, or so it feels that way. I do have negative symptoms of schizophrenia, but I am not sure how that works since my diagnosis ultimately became schizoaffective disorder, but I can relate to things being slowed.

  5. So to hear that you are having such a hard time Ashley.
    I only know this because of my best friend. He said when I was totally depressed that he could tell me something, yet the next morning I could not repeat it back to him.
    I noticed when I was in treatment it felt like everything was happening in slow motion.
    I have a difficult time determining about my mental progress at the moment because of mood stabilizers. However, I have noticed that I can write a post then have to go back and read it to recall what I have written. Strange, totally strange!

  6. Ι usually feel slowed down as well and its very exausting what i’ve come to reallise is that being sped up can be terrible too when it’s too much .I hope you’ll get some relief from the psychomotor symptoms they can get really disraptive

  7. Yes my mental illness definitely affects the speed at which my mind works. It depends on what is happening with me from moment to moment or day to day. It’s normally the circular rat race of anxiety – the majority of the time. At other times it is the more manic flight of ideas. Then there’s the dissociation which leaves me feeling so blank sometimes that I don’t even know what my mind is doing!

  8. I’m sorry to hear you’re struggling so much with the psychomotor retardation, and hope that your new meds might provide some relief. The mashed potato metaphor was very elucidating. I fluctuate on a spectrum with slowness and hyper speed at either end. Sometimes I’m in a happy middle, and sometimes I’m at the extremes of the spectrum. Extreme slowness affects all my actions, like walking, eating, reading, writing an email, etc. Hyper speed isn’t great either, because when my mind is moving that quickly I tend to make careless mistakes.

  9. So sorry you’re struggling with the cognitive stuff so much. I really wish there could be some solution to help at least in some way with this and hope that if there is one, you can find it soon.
    I guess it’s a little complicated with my brain, I don’t know if that’s gonna make sense to people but I’d say it’s like my thinking speed is very fast, like, my thoughts are often racing, which is not always a completely negative thing though can sometimes be a bit mentally exhausting even if my thooughts are nnot all that negative, and can make communication difficult, also I often think so fast that if I want to express it in speech I can’t manage to do it in time and my thoughts can be well ahead of what I’m saying, especially if I get really absorbed into a conversation or just have a lot on my mind. At this point, my thinking is a jumble of words from different languages, with the core naturally being Polish but a lot of it being English, and some Swedish and Welsh thrown in especially if I’ve just tried to think in one of them on purpose or was speaking/reading/listening to one of them a lot. And sometimes if I don’t filter it the right way I’ll mix languages when speaking even in Polish, well, mostly in Polish as I mostly speak to people in Polish. This can be quite hilarious at times and sometimes a little cringey. For someone who is generally pretty good with languages, my mixing tendency is really awful but I don’t really worry about it much other than when it happens for example with people who don’t know me well or when it’s particularly stressful or something. If I can focus on something, I generally have a pretty long concentration span but I find it difficult to focus on one thing at a time, I mean things like prayer, meditation, mindfulness… ugh, I can’t think about one thing! Well maybe for a very short time, yes, but that’s only a very short time and I have to put a lot of effort into thinking about the one specific thing, so with all the relaxing techniques where you’re supposed to switch off your brain or focus on one thing for me the effect is opposite usually. And of course I am a professional ruminator so my thoughts often go in circles very rapidly as well.
    But at the same time I feel like my brain can be very slow at processing, and the more I’m feeling depressed, the slower it gets. I often notice that I need some time, sometimes quite a lot of time compared with other people, to process what someone’s just said to me or what someone wants from me or when there is a specific situation, what I’m supposed to do in this situation. And sometimes my brain freezes in a weird way. I generally speak pretty fast but when I’m more depressed my speech can slow down because I need time to process what I actually want to say. Filter it out of my other brain noise and put it into the right words. I’ve heard it often, more as a kind of joke, but I think there could be something in it, that you can recognise an introvert by that they’ll speak slower and make longer pauses so when you address them you have to wait some more time for the answer. While I can see this with a lot of other introverts, this is not really my baseline functioning but when I’m more depressed it’s definitely the case. While I have great long-term memory, it’s not so great with short-term and so I particularly hate it when it gets even worse when my dysthymia gets worse, and I hate how sometimes dysthymia makes me feel a bit foggy. It doesn’t happen always that when I feel more depressed it’ll also affect these aspects of my cognitive functioning, but usually when I’m quite significantly low compared to my normal. It’s also not really something that would really badly impair my functioning to a very clearly visible extend, though of course it also depends on what I’m doing at the time, but more of a discomfort for myself. However I guess that if my life looked different, for example if I had a more demanding/less flexible job, it could be much more of a problem.

    1. That’s so interesting about thinking in multiple different languages. I’ve had friends from immigrant families who speak English as their primary language, but speak to their parents in their native language. I always find it funny when I’ve heard them randomly dropping English words into the conversation.

      1. Haha, yeah, I’ve always found it funny and fascinating too when I heard this and always envied bilingual people and wanted to be able to switch between languages in the same way, and now I’ve got it, lol, though perhaps not to a degree to which people bilingual since early childhood have it, and now I can see it also has its downsides. 😀 But still I mostly like it as it shows my development in the other languages and is no less funny.

  10. Does your illness have any impact on the speed at which your mind operates?

    Oh yes. And more disturbing (to me) is the fact that Covid-19 has contributed mightily to that whole phenomenon. It’s like I’m forgetting HOW to have a conversation at all due to the imposed isolation. My mind’s ‘speed’ is the only area in which I personally notice the ‘bipolar II” portion of my tentative and secondary diagnosis (primary one will always be chronic depression). At times I can’t get my mind to stop or slow down, it races and whirls in circles until I want to take my brain out and claw at it. Other times it’s speed is so slow that I have trouble formulating action. Those are worse when my blood sugar has begun to crash. I’m sort of frozen (physically and mentally) by it. I don’t like either extreme. It’s tough enough to focus on how to care for my depression without those mind problems too. My sympathies to you. It sounds like your own case is rather awful!

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