So I finally sorted out what happened to my brain.

I, quite literally, hacked so much, for so long, and without enough breaks...

...that I burned all the glucose out of my brain & gave myself seizures.

⬇️ A thread on a very real & physical occupational hazard for infosec.
In an effort to pay off debts & get ahold of my financial situation, I took every gig & side gig that I could.

I didn't have much choice. I had a family to take care of & a house I could no longer afford as my previous partner had left.

I worked every day, night, & weekend.
This non-stop work culminated in late 2019* and early 2020.

The Q4 consultant rush didn't end in January as it normally did. It kept going. So I kept going.

I didn't get a break. I kept pushing.
* I recorded my working during Christmas here: 
In February of 2020, one evening, I felt a "pop" in the middle of my head. Like a bass guitar string being strummed.

A migraine ensued. I lost my vocabulary. When I tried to speak, it came out as heavy stutters.

I couldn't look loved ones in the eye, it was too much stimulus.
As the asshole that I am, and fearing a stroke, I tried to "sleep it off".
I felt a little better the next day, but my brain felt... iffy.

Almost like how your back feels after you've thrown it out and it's begun to heal... like if you push it too hard it would happen again.
Sure enough, when I started work, started hacking, it would happen again.

The more creative work I did, the more my brain would almost "cramp" up, until finally all thought would cease and I couldn't do anything else.

I sit there, staring at my computer, & nothing would happen.
I tried going to see the doctor.

My GP didn't know what to do, but recommended I see a neurologist and a psychiatrist.

This was the beginning of COVID, so it was hard to book anyone.
The psychiatrist said I was stressed and put me on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety...

Well, yay.

While it curbed the symptoms of freaking out because of my brain... it didn't fix anything.
When I finally got to a neurologist, an MRI and a standard EEG (testing for epilepsy, etc.) didn't show anything.

This was good.

It meant I didn't have any permanent structural damage.

But it didn't identify what had happened.
As I was seeking out specialists (this took months as none of my general doctors or psychiatrist knew what to do)...

...I continued working.

My ability to work slowly went away. I'd work for 30 minutes, seize, sleep for 2 hours, then work, then seize, then sleep, ad nauseum.
Finally in November of 2020,I sat down to write a pentest report.

I hadn't put much into the pentest. Nothing new. Nothing creative. Nothing spectacular.

I just went through my runbook, did the normal, gained Domain Admin,& wrote it up.

But mid-report, everything just stopped.
I literally tried to type.

Nothing would happen.

My thoughts were empty. I couldn't think of words.

My fingers wouldn't move.
Emotionally I was "fine."

I wasn't having a panic attack. My heartbeat was normal. I wasn't feeling depressed.

Just a calm.... nothing.

My brain just gave up.
I told my firm. They put me "on the bench" for a couple of weeks.

After a couple of weeks, they told me they couldn't pay me anymore.

I wasn't bringing in money at that point.

Mind you, I brought in millions of dollars leading up to that point.

But I wasn't producing...
So in Q4 of 2021, I stopped working.

I took "unpaid time off"...

Filed for Short Term Disability (that has sense been decline due to "the doctors not filling out the right paperwork and not having a diagnosis for why you can't work")
I have a good family and good friends.

They care about me.

We kept trying to sort it out.

Even if the American healthcare industry is shit... we kept doing it ourselves.

I finally found a *neuro-psychologist* and scheduled an appointment.

It took three months to see them.
This last January, I went in for an all-day exam with the neuro-psychologist.

They put me through a battery of tests and sent me about my way.

After a couple of weeks of analysis, I finally had my answer.

I finally figured out what was causing the seizures.
I had engaged in work that was high in creative thought for so long, and so hard, that I caused a "cognitive overload."

I "depleted my brain of dopamine and glucose" causing "Functional Neurological Disorder" (FND - DSM-5 code 300.11)

In short, I hacked too much.
Not only did I deplete my brain of glucose, but I kept going.

Kinda like running a car engine without oil (or fuel in this case) and having the engine seize.

My brain just finally stopped.

I couldn't "push through" anymore... couldn't will myself to physically keep working.
A couple other things happened besides seizures.

I lost vocabulary.

I could think of the idea, but there was no word for it. Not even a "tip of my tongue" - it was just gone. Deleted.

Stupid words, too... like "fork" or "keyboard."
When I heard the word again, it would come back, and permanently.

I didn't have to "relearn" English... I just had to reread or re-hear the word and it would be put back into its cell.

But it was like someone had just erased a chunk of data from my mind.
Lastly, and this was heavy...

Even after I "fixed" the FND. Meaning, I slept for two weeks straight, got good exercise, and good nutrition (need that glucose to the brain!)...

...and took three to four months off away from hacking.

When I tried to hack again, I couldn't.
My brain treated the seizures induced by hacking as such traumatic event, that I was literally suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

So when I went to hack again... my brain recoiled.

It knew this activity had damaged it before, so it shut down, out of defense.
I ended up figuring out how to hack again, as I knew why my brain was still shutting down even after rest and pushing glucose to my brain.

So I went back to work.

And after a week, I was told that my team was downsizing. So they offered a severance, and I was let go.
That was probably for the best.

Consulting was driving me too hard.

Hacking into one company one week, while writing the report for the previous hack from the previous week, and scoping out the next hack for the next week.
I took a new job.

I'm now building out the internal OT/ICS Red Team for a large company.

The pace is more sustainable. More paced. More thorough.

I'm also working with Industrial Control Systems, a passion of mine.

I think I can maintain this.

We'll see.
So... this wasn't burnout in the traditional emotional sense, though I'm certain I was dealing with that as well.

Stress, etc., didn't help. But that wasn't this.

No amount of talking out my feelings solved this.
It was a *physical* issue.

My physical brain ran out of physical fuel.

I was in a personal situation and with a professional company, that didn't allow rest.

I pushed myself hard, my fault.

But when I tried to slow down, my firm gave me a couple of weeks, and then let me go.
Concerning healthcare...

My initial General Practitioner did not want to fill out Short Term Disability paperwork.

My initial psychiatrist asked "Well if you're not in the hospital, why aren't you working? I won't fill out STD paperwork for you."
The healthcare system in the US is a failure.

You have to do it yourself. You have to research things yourself. You have to hunt for doctors & specialists yourself.

I don't know how I would have done it without my family.

My brain didn't work.

I couldn't have done it myself.
Talking to other hackers & infosec folk, they have said they've felt similar symptoms. The brain fog after working too hard & too long.

But no one has put a name to it.

For me, it was FND. Functional Neurological Disorder.

Brought about by burning all the glucose in the brain.

That's that.

I'm in a better spot, now. A better pace.

I'm going to start trying to write again and I want to put together an online video course.

But these are measured paces.

I certainly sleep a lot more now. Take a lot of naps.

I don't feel the same.

I don't know how to express that part of it in words though, so I'm sorry.
And to be clear, as folks are asking...

I'm not "better" per se.

I'm not back to where I was before this started.

I am at a place where I can work again, meaningfully. But I'm not certain I'll be back to where I was...

As Marines say, I'm "serviceable."
More info on Functional Neurological Disorder.

Note: It's not a "rare" disease... that's just the name of the website.

Also also wik: FND can be caused by many things. In my case it was glucose/dopamine exhaustion due to extended cognitive overload.
You can follow @TinkerSec.
Tip: mention @twtextapp on a Twitter thread with the keyword “unroll” to get a link to it.

Latest Threads Unrolled: