Author Topic: Brain atrophy  (Read 9445 times)

Katnina

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Brain atrophy
« on: April 20, 2014, 01:17:30 PM »
Hello!  I'm 33 and I retired at 31, after a layoff from my hedge fund job gave me a golden parachute which I used to buy rental properties.  I've started to feel like my brain is atrophying, and I was wondering if any other Mustachians have been feeling this way since retiring?  I also don't know if it's just from getting older, or if no longer doing math in my head all night (I was an Asian stock trader) is making my brain go soft. 
I read a lot, mostly fiction (I can plow through a mystery novel in under 2 days), but I just started reading Capital in the Twenty-First Century and I feel like I can't get through more than 5 pages without needing a break to allow my brain to process everything.  I majored in Econ in college, and I could easily read 50 pages of dense economics books in one sitting. 
I've signed myself up for French lessons, which start in May, and I'm tempted to sign up for Lumosity, but I don't know if that will help.
Any advice on how to keep the wheels turning once work is over?

ender

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Re: Brain atrophy
« Reply #1 on: April 20, 2014, 01:32:48 PM »
... what do you do with your time?

Most people looking to ER have a lot of other "work" they want to do post-ER.

toby2

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Re: Brain atrophy
« Reply #2 on: April 20, 2014, 04:50:51 PM »
I am skeptical that somebody who's sharp enough to land a hedge fund gig that sends him into retirement in his early 30's is having brain atrophy. Is there something else going on? Are you eating/sleeping/exercising properly? Or is this a sign of anxiety/depression? These things are easy to overlook, but are worth thinking about.

To me, the whole appeal of early "retirement" is that it will leave time to do work as I se fit - start my own businesses, project, etc. I certainly would not want to just kick my feet up and languish, but simply work on my own terms. I almost feel as if constant 9-5 work is atrophying my brain more than retirement would.

CarDude

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Re: Brain atrophy
« Reply #3 on: April 20, 2014, 05:41:59 PM »
Learn a language!

Kepler

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Re: Brain atroph
« Reply #4 on: April 20, 2014, 05:55:59 PM »
Perhaps the problem is with Piketty ;-)

But more seriously: I find that I need to 'gear up' when I change from one type of thinking to another - they don't all use the same capacities, and my brain seems to need some adjustment time to bring back to the surface, and render accessible, the stuff I know.  This used to make me feel like I had lost considerable skill and knowledge, each time I returned to something I hadn't done in a while, but experience has shown it's mostly still 'there' - I just had to learn to give myself some adjustment time, particularly to remind myself of technical skills.  The plus side, I've worked out, is that regularly making my brain dredge up and re-attain fluency with old skills, seems to make them easier to get back the next time,  I think by breaking the original connection between the skill and whatever environment it was learned in - I gain a new set of contextual associations, and it's easier to bring up as a generalised skill, not as something I only need in, say, a specific office, for a specific job.

This isn't to disregard suggestions that you think about whether you might be experiencing depression or more serious concerns.  But just to say, as someone who has cycled through a lot of different high-intellectual-demand jobs, each requiring fairly different technical skills, that the initial sluggishness getting those skills back can relate, at least in part, to having a sort of bodily association between the use of those skills and a specific context - so your brain needs to learn to access the skills without the same rituals you might have used, nonconsciously, to prime your associations before.

sheepgetlambs

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Re: Brain atrophy
« Reply #5 on: April 20, 2014, 07:49:52 PM »
I second the idea that you consider that the problem might be depression or lack of mental stimulation from meaningful (to you) activity. After six months as a SAHM to a colicky baby I started doing 30 minutes A WEEK of work in my old field. which I love and am highly trained in. Both my husband and me noticed an almost immediate improvement in my mood, energy level, outlook, clarity of thought, etc. That experience, over 8 years ago, taught me that I NEED to do something meaningful to me, in addition to the meaningful work of caring for kids and home. I also learned that the meaningful work changed over time. I've done all kinds of things in the ensuing years, almost all of which took relatively little time per week and resulted in mental stimulation and a heightened satisfaction with my life.

Here's a suggestion based on what you've shared about yourself; I once took a free class at a senior center (yes, I was in my early 30s) given by a retired financial planner. I learned all kinds of things. He gave the class on a volunteer basis so he called the shots and covered only what he wanted to cover. He did it simply because he enjoyed it. Perhaps something along those lines - or an occasional talk at a public library, or...? would appeal to you.

socaso

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Re: Brain atrophy
« Reply #6 on: April 20, 2014, 08:22:30 PM »
After my child was born I ended up staying home for a year and a half and I started feeling like I was losing my mental capabilities. I also felt depressed and not great about myself. When I went back to work I felt better within a month and I lost 10 pounds in the first few months. This is when I realized that although I do want to achieve FI I will probably never completely stop working because the social aspect of it is very stimulating to me. So perhaps you might try a bit of paid employment or a steady volunteer gig. Either way find something that really interests you. Money is no object and you don't need a full work week but maybe 3 days a week of work would give you a boost. You might also consider traveling volunteer opportunities or traveling work. Australia does traveling work visas for people under 45 and it's such a friendly country. If doing something like that doesn't make you feel sharper mentally then perhaps it is depression but I felt very much the way you describe and the fix for me was going back to work. I just needed the structure of a schedule and the stimulation of other people's company.

brewer12345

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Re: Brain atrophy
« Reply #7 on: April 20, 2014, 09:07:02 PM »
I have been a hedge fund analyst and also striving hard on work plus school/CFA studying, times when I was very mentally active and at the top of my game.  It was stimulating, but exhausting.  Now I am ERd and having a tough time getting through a 200 page book on beekeeping.  It is a different phase of life, simple as that.  Go with the flow for a bit and see where it takes you.  If you don't get to where you want personally, change your situation.  I am comfy being patient and seeing how things go.  I am learning different things, separate from academic pursuits: learning to hunt, garden, make my own flour by hand, etc.  All stuff worth knowing, even if not academic.

dcheesi

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Re: Brain atrophy
« Reply #8 on: April 20, 2014, 09:07:53 PM »
One theory is that we're all losing the capacity to read attentively for long stretches, because we spend far more time skimming web articles and such. There's so much information available online that we can't actually read everything thoroughly, so we've learned to "read" in a quick, shallow manner that just picks up the highlights. So when we try to really read challenging material, our brains just aren't wired as well for it as they used to be.

vern

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Re: Brain atrophy
« Reply #9 on: April 20, 2014, 09:31:51 PM »
Daily reading, chess study, crosswords, Sudoku, language study, etc...

Use it or lose it!

Famous photo of Alekhine playing 28 games blindfold.  (He won 22, lost 3, and drew 3.  No atrophy here kids!)

Katnina

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Re: Brain atrophy
« Reply #10 on: April 20, 2014, 10:05:24 PM »
Thanks everyone for your responses!  The good news is that I read some more Piketty today and I seem to be retaining it easier, so I think Kepler is spot on about having to 'gear up' for different kinds of intellectual challenges.  It's been a while since I've done such dense reading.

As for what I do with my time, now that my rental properties are all renovated & rented out, they are basically on autopilot.  I have a property manager since our properties are in Michigan and my husband and I live in NYC, so the day-to-day management stuff is all taken care of. 
So, now, I take 4-5 yoga classes a week, mystery shop part time (about 10-15 hours a week, usually; it's a fun way to dine out and do stuff touristy stuff for free), and help out a friend who is a dog walker whenever she needs help.  I used to volunteer at the ASPCA, where I got my first dog, but then I fell for the dog who is now our second dog, and my husband and I agreed that I can't volunteer in places where I could end up with more pets (we live in a studio apartment). 
Since then, I've volunteered with a program that teaches gardening to school kids, but it's seasonal (only when the weather is nice, and no summer). 
Even when I was volunteering a lot at the animal shelter (which I definitely preferred to the kids's program), and when I ran my friend's dog walking business for all of February when she was out of town, I still felt like I wasn't using my brain the way I did when I was working. 
I think I need to start doing more equity research on my own time-our money that isn't in real estate is mostly in mutual funds now, but I have a small 'fun money' stock trading account that I should spend more time on-I miss doing that kind of research.
 
I love to cook & I do a lot of cooking (and preserving in the summer when our CSA is in full swing).  I also love to sew, but my sewing machine has been broken for a while- finally ordered the parts for it last week and fixed it today. 

I think I need to get off my butt and start doing more of the stuff that I love, and challenging my brain-like more stock research, sewing, and research on indoor gardening (I have some plants but I'd love to have more).  I studied Japanese in college & I love learning languages, so French lessons will hopefully force me to expand my brain that way once again.   I do have some anxiety & depression (have for over 10 years, so not ER related), but I am on meds to treat that and see my dr every few months to make sure the dosage is okay.

Thank you for inspiring me and for the encouragement!

Jamesqf

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Re: Brain atrophy
« Reply #11 on: April 20, 2014, 11:36:23 PM »
For something that is longer term, go back to school for an advanced degree in something that interests you.  If it's in a STEM field (maybe other areas, but I have no experience there), get involved in an interesting research project.

I have sort of done this myself (that is, I was minimally FI back around 2001 when I started, but the initially non-paying research eventually turned into a couple of fairly well-paid jobs, and part of my ongoing contract work), and have worked with other people doing similar things, with net worth in (I would guess) in the $5 million and up range.

NewStachian

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Re: Brain atrophy
« Reply #12 on: April 21, 2014, 05:04:54 AM »
I think the "brain atrophy" you saw was the large crash from transitioning from being a workaholic to early retired. I remember feeling like I was moving at a snail's pace when I left my 100 hour a week job. Everything was just... slower.

I think you need a quantitative, optimization hobby (or part time job). It can be difficult to find a hobby that really sparks your interest and challenges you to a high level. Problem solving has always been the key for me. I recently published an iPhone app, which I had no idea how to do when I started. It was incredibly fun and programming can always be scaled to more and more complex problems. I got my blog hosted and 2 articles written last night, and just started planning out the home remodel that I want to start in a few years...

brewer12345

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Re: Brain atrophy
« Reply #13 on: April 21, 2014, 08:30:01 AM »
Have some kids.  Then you will be real busy.

senecando

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Re: Brain atrophy
« Reply #14 on: April 21, 2014, 08:34:17 AM »

Katnina

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Re: Brain atrophy
« Reply #15 on: April 21, 2014, 01:52:28 PM »
Senecando- I didn't write that, but thanks for sharing the link! 

Brewer12345- My husband and I are childfree by choice, so we will not be adding to the world's mustachian population :).

oldtoyota

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Re: Brain atrophy
« Reply #16 on: April 21, 2014, 02:06:00 PM »
I recommend Farnham Street. Google that and you will be on your way to stimulating reading.


Nords

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Re: Brain atrophy
« Reply #17 on: April 21, 2014, 02:18:53 PM »
One theory is that we're all losing the capacity to read attentively for long stretches, because we spend far more time skimming web articles and such. There's so much information available online that we can't actually read everything thoroughly, so we've learned to "read" in a quick, shallow manner that just picks up the highlights. So when we try to really read challenging material, our brains just aren't wired as well for it as they used to be.
This rhetoric vs laconic debate has been around for a while-- as in "since the Greeks & Spartans"-- and it's just as bad in writing as in speech.
http://jorules.wordpress.com/2013/11/04/talk-like-a-spartan/ *

Maybe the reason we don't read attentively for long stretches is because we're reading crap that can't keep our attention for long stretches...

* P.S. for you U.S. military servicemembers:  best military advice blog I've ever read.  And I'm not just saying that because he's a submariner, although it certainly resonates...

Emg03063

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Re: Brain atrophy
« Reply #18 on: April 21, 2014, 07:04:55 PM »
I play lumosity from time to time (the free version).  I can definitely feel my brain working when I play.  If you don't play one already, learn an instrument.  I picked up guitar about 4 years ago (I'm 39).  It's kind of like learning a language.

Jamesqf

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Re: Brain atrophy
« Reply #19 on: April 21, 2014, 09:29:17 PM »
Maybe the reason we don't read attentively for long stretches is because we're reading crap that can't keep our attention for long stretches...

As usual with blanket statements like this, I have to ask who exactly are they calling "we"?  (Or if I thought the readers would appreciate the point, a properly laconic "We?" miight serve :-))  Because I manage it fairly well: the duration of any stretch of reading tends to be limited not by flagging attention, but by tiredness in the sitting muscles.

Katnina

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Re: Brain atrophy
« Reply #20 on: April 24, 2014, 01:57:26 PM »
Just wanted to update that the more I read of this book, the easier it gets for me to read it! I think my brain wasn't used to processing this kind of info after a long diet of cotton candy mystery novels.  Now that the muscle is back in use, things are good!

Eric

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Re: Brain atrophy
« Reply #21 on: April 24, 2014, 04:47:16 PM »
Well that's certainly good news.  I don't have much to add but..

I used to volunteer at the ASPCA, where I got my first dog, but then I fell for the dog who is now our second dog, and my husband and I agreed that I can't volunteer in places where I could end up with more pets (we live in a studio apartment).

I thought this was hilarious.  I can see the exact same scenario playing out with us upon FIRE.

FrugalZony

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Re: Brain atrophy
« Reply #22 on: April 24, 2014, 05:17:01 PM »
May I selfishly, suggest another activity: BLOG!
I have been missing your updates and I always enjoyed reading your blog ;)


Glad to hear this atrophy was only temporary, though!

And I can relate about the effects of volunteering in shelters.

hatersgonnahate

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Re: Brain atrophy
« Reply #23 on: April 24, 2014, 05:24:23 PM »
Hello!  I'm 33 and I retired at 31, after a layoff from my hedge fund job gave me a golden parachute which I used to buy rental properties.  I've started to feel like my brain is atrophying, and I was wondering if any other Mustachians have been feeling this way since retiring?  I also don't know if it's just from getting older, or if no longer doing math in my head all night (I was an Asian stock trader) is making my brain go soft. 
I read a lot, mostly fiction (I can plow through a mystery novel in under 2 days), but I just started reading Capital in the Twenty-First Century and I feel like I can't get through more than 5 pages without needing a break to allow my brain to process everything.  I majored in Econ in college, and I could easily read 50 pages of dense economics books in one sitting. 
I've signed myself up for French lessons, which start in May, and I'm tempted to sign up for Lumosity, but I don't know if that will help.
Any advice on how to keep the wheels turning once work is over?

Go to scientific conferences. There should be some at your flagship universities. Read the scientific posters, ask questions, talk to the people who did it. More than enough brain stimulation for free. Literally, just walk in.

Katnina

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Re: Brain atrophy
« Reply #24 on: April 24, 2014, 07:36:47 PM »
Thanks, FrugalZony!! I'm embarrassed that I haven't updated my blog in so long...thank you for the reminder that my sister and I need to get back to it!  She had a baby in January, so that's her excuse for slacking...I, however, have no excuse.  Skinnyflints, here we come! I promise to have a new post up by the end of next week :).

RMD

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Re: Brain atrophy
« Reply #25 on: April 24, 2014, 08:43:53 PM »
I haven't read all of the responses, but I did want to share the below...

http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2014/04/09/online-reading-comprehension

frugalmom

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Re: Brain atrophy
« Reply #26 on: April 24, 2014, 09:36:47 PM »
I know you said you have been on some meds and see a doctor regularly.  I would suggest getting your thyroid checked at your next visit.  If your levels are wonky you can feel really foggy. 

Another suggestion for activities is some of the free stuff at the 92nd St Y.  When I lived in NYC I loved going there for lectures.

libertarian4321

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Re: Brain atrophy
« Reply #27 on: May 05, 2014, 04:07:46 AM »
Good God, how can being retired lead to brain atrophy?

At work, we all typically focus on one VERY NARROW field (I was an engineer/manger).  That is brain atrophy- doing the same ol' stuff day in and day out.  As an early retiree, I found myself broadening my horizons far beyond my narrow "work" field.

Not only reading (of which I did a ton), but getting involved in politics, community, charity.  I guess some might include religion in that mix (not me, I'm an atheist).  Take the college courses you were never able to take (because you were focused on your narrow career field)- not for credit or a degree, but just for fun.  By both doing and reading, I was able to expand my knowledge far beyond the limited focus of my former job.

My brain rots at work, because while I do work that most would consider challenging, it's always the same ol' shit.  I never had a chance to really learn anything outside my narrow career field.  As a retiree, THE WHOLE WORLD IS OPEN for you to discover.  Every day is a chance to learn something new and completely outside of the limited field you've been involved in at college and work.