Tag Archives: brain fog

Brain Fog & the Blahs.

So the post title might sound like an unappealing band, but that’s the state of things at the moment, I’m afraid. Nothing big and horrible, just a whole bunch of small irritations and disappointments compounding to make me feel generally – ugh.

I applied for a job, which was huge for me; I’ve been talking myself out of it for so long that summoning the courage to actually apply took a lot. I sorted referees (terrifying! I hate asking people to vouch for me), bought interview-appropriate clothes (I’ve lost 16kg and all my tailored stuff now looks ridiculous) and updated my resume (a.k.a. engaged in a brief exercise of ‘let’s look at all the ways in which I have failed’). I didn’t hear back, so I’ve been doom-and-glooming about that, even though I rationally know that at least now I’m prepared for the next thing that comes along. I also was recommended for a position a friend is vacating, and was assured that I wouldn’t need to interview or anything, I’d just get it, and haven’t heard back about that either. I feel like, hey, you don’t even know how crap I am yet! Och well.

I’ve just switched to the slow-release of oxycodone, after being on fast-release for a couple of years. The latter worked well, but makes me hyperactive, so at night-time I’d have to choose between sleeping in the next three hours or pain relief. It also wore off too quickly to get by with one dose during uni days when out for several hours at a time, and the facial-but-especially-my-nose itching which has been a constant side-effect for me had worsened to the point of being unbearable lately.

So, I asked for slow-release, and on all those counts it is better – but the pain relief is less effective. And pain relief is kind of the most important thing when it comes to pain medication, right? I’ve been waking through the night feeling like the muscles in my back around my facet joint are burning (new and exciting pain symptoms, yay!), and my gait is worse because I can’t force my leg through the swing as I take a step in the way I need to. And because I am eternally terrified of seeming like a junkie, I will have to put up with it for a month until this script runs out.

Worse, I’m going on a date with my partner tonight, and have been looking forward to it, and now sitting through dinner and a movie is looming, horrible and insurmountable. I am determined not to (for the umpteenth time) get halfway through dinner and have to go home because my back hurts, but I also get really surly and curt when I have to work through pain. Not the best setting for an enjoyable romantic evening.

And last but most importantly for me, oh god the brain fog. It’s been particularly malicious for the past week or so. I’m trying to finalise a research proposal and rewrite then incorporate some theoretical content into a literature review, both of which are fairly highly demanding cognitive tasks (at least for me). My usual coping method during particularly bad bouts is to put the hard stuff on hold and do mindless busywork tasks, but my deadlines are looming and it needs to get done. It’s like mentally walking through very deep mud trying to have ordinary conversations (I felt like the world’s biggest moron in my last supervisor meeting), let alone produce fluent academic writing. It’s massively frustrating to be sitting there, knowing I know the perfect word to describe a complex concept and yet not for the life of me being able to retrieve it.

So, after all that whining, in an attempt to be constructive; help! How do you manage brain fog when you have to work through it? Any strategies that might help? I’m open to anything!

Be Cool.

It’s cooling down! I’m so excited! I got to wear a scarf yesterday, and fall asleep to the sound of rain last night, and I can hear the wind howling around the house this morning. We’re nearly a month into autumn, but for the last couple of years summery weather has stretched well into late April / early May.

I’ve never liked heat. Even before I got sick, I come from a family of sweaty people. I’m pale, pink-toned rather than yellow, and get scarlet-faced very easily, which I’ve always found embarassing, so I blush and get even pinker. I was born in a town on a coast below a desert, so most of the time it was scorching hot and dry as a bone; I don’t enjoy that type of weather but I can cope with it. Here, however, it is humid and sticky, and in summer you feel damp within seconds of getting out of the shower.

Since being sick, I can’t stand the heat, at all. I get nauseated, dizzy and light-headed, and surly. It makes my pain worse, and the things that help my pain (heat pad, exercise, not lying in bed all day, hot baths) horrible and torturous.  It makes my brain fog worse and I get Raynaud’s phenomenon more frequently, which tells me my blood isn’t circulating properly (and also means people keep commenting on my weird zombie feet in shorts-and-thongs [flip-flops] weather).

When winter(y weather) comes, I am invigorated. I feel energised and excited. I don’t have to hide inside in the air con all day. I want to go out for walks in the bushland by my house in the rain. I know others experience worsening of joint pain symptoms or Seasonal Affective Disorder in these conditions, but I thrive – although that may have something to do with our mild winters (I don’t think it usually drops below about -5).

Since my circulation has deteriorated I do find it hard to get my extremities warm, and my hands and feet have started sweating when I’m cold now (I’m attributing that to a confused sympathetic nervous system), but for me those are small prices to pay, I can bundle up in my favourite clothes to keep warm: boots, long coats, scarves, tights and leggings, thigh high socks, leather gloves, cozy jumpers and cardigans. I can snuggle with my partner and my cat under the covers listening to thunderstorms.

It will even be cool enough to wear a corset under my clothes if I’m headed out for the night and need some secret support to eke out a few extra hours of socialising (if you’ve never worn one, corsets are boiling! They’re often three layers of fabric, and my favourites have top layers of leather or brocade, so they’re thick and they don’t breathe).

I can’t wait. My mood is already lifting and I’m looking forward to decreased pain and improved productivity. How does your pain or illness react to the weather or temperature? Do you have good seasons and bad seasons? Do you think I’m crazy for loving the cold?

The Patient.

While being fully aware of the beneficial effect of a positive and optimistic mindset on pain management, I am also a firm believer in the therapeutic value of validating experience. So in the interests of being honest and accepting about what I am feeling: I feel awful.

My 16-hour excursion just over a week ago (public transport, a lecture, errands, a meeting, a car trip, more public transport, and several hours at a crowded music festival alternating between standing and sitting on the ground) precipitated a massive system shutdown. Which I expected, but I didn’t think it would be this severe. I realise I probably deserve it for going so overboard, and I think it was worth it, and I realise when you can’t cure chronic pain you have to find ways to live your life anyway. But ugh. So awful.

I managed to avoid drinking at the festival, but ingested a lot of refined sugar and somehow inadvertently some gluten (don’t ask me how I know!), which potentially have made this worse. I also got sunburned at uni yesterday, so I’m headachey and extra-fatigued on top of already being bone-weary, nauseous, and brain-foggy.

I don’t have the energy to prepare meals, or to make myself eat them, so I’m eating one meal a day. I don’t have the energy for yoga so my stress and muscle tension are worse, and the gains I had been making in flexibility are diminishing. I’m behind in my reading because my brain won’t work and I’m exhausted, so by the time I get into bed I’m too stressed to sleep. Then I end up double-dosing my sleeping medication, waking up med-hungover and late, and wasting half the day gearing up enough to do basic tasks (don’t ask if I’ve showered today). I’ve had to go back up to my prescribed painkiller dose, which I had been reducing successfully, which makes me stupid while it’s working and exhausted once it’s over.

The cycle is frustrating and predictable, but feels unavoidable. I feel stuck.

There are things that are incredibly difficult for me and yet helpful, like being kind to myself and asking for help when I need it. Sometimes I get the vague suspicion that these things are what chronic pain is in my life to teach me. The lessons are hard. But in the interests of doing them, I’m asking.

What do you do at times like these, when you are at a loss and nothing is helping? How do you pick yourself up again?

I’ll start, and I will implement these tonight (or may the gods of internet accountability smite me!), even if it means getting further behind on chores and uni work, because if I am not well, none of those things get done anyway.

I will eat a healthy dinner even if I am tired, because my body needs fuel to function.

I will have a warm bath with Epsom salts, while watching an episode of something cheerful and trashy.

I will do 20 minutes of yoga (I like this one at the moment) and I won’t skip through the meditations because I’m too busy.

I will listen to this and remember to be patient and wait it out.

I will get into bed and have a cup of passionflower tea.

I will turn off the light by 10:30.

I will breathe deeply.

I will trust that this too shall pass.

Your turn. I would love to hear your suggestions.

Link Round-Up.

http://www.bodyinmind.org/does-every-pain-have-its-own-psychology/

Some useful definitions of types of pain and the parts that make up the pain experience, as well as evidence that the psychosocial aspects of pain are similar between patients, regardless of the aetiology of their pain. This supports the notion that chronic pain patients can bond over their pain and be treated to some extent as a homogeneous group, although the pain can result from many different issues. I already knew this anecdotally; I follow health bloggers with fibromyalgia and myositis, cystic fibrosis and other respiratory illnesses, Crohn’s disease, Sjogren’s syndrome, dysautonomia, Marfan syndrome, and assorted other health issues, yet aspects of each of their experiences resonate with me.

http://www.bodyinmind.org/cognition-and-pain/

Some research evidence that the anxiety and attention / concentration issues often experienced by individuals with chronic pain are caused by the pain (as opposed to the idea that people who are anxious and/or have poor attention are more likely to develop pain problems). This gives me hope that if I can get my pain under control I will not always feel quite this brain-dead!

http://theconversation.edu.au/good-news-for-chronic-nerve-pain-sufferers-but-it-could-have-been-better-10818

Lyrica (pregabalin, commonly used to treat neuropathic pain) will be covered by the Australian Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme from March 1st this year, which means it will cost just under $6 compared to the current $80-ish, more than half of which is not covered by private health insurance. I cheered.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMqMrDLBYro

An hour-long yin yoga routine for the spine. This is my favourite routine from my favourite teacher; I find her accent soothing and her attitude of “whatever you can do is perfect” makes me feel better that, forget my toes, sometimes I struggle to touch my knees!

http://www.xojane.com/relationships/im-pretty-sure-my-loved-ones-are-going-to-murder-me-if-i-dont-start-getting-more-sleep

Ahh, insomnia. Along with pain and fatigue, poor sleep seems to be a unifying symptom among hundreds of different ailments, and certainly one I battle with (and lose) constantly. This is a funny account of life when sleep-deprived. I think I need a ‘sleep troll’ shirt to wear for those days to warn my family.

http://lethargicsmiles.wordpress.com/2013/01/06/life-is-kind-of-like-an-arcade/

This is a great expansion of / alternative to the Spoon Theory – a way to explain to others how living with chronic illness limits your resources. My friend and I refer to our ‘credits’ rather than spoons.

http://25pillsaday.wordpress.com/2013/01/16/an-animated-version-of-my-sick-week/

This made me laugh so hard, and I wanted to share the love for anyone who hasn’t already seen it. Sometimes, when you’re sick and feeling awful, cute and funny animals gifs are the best medicine.

Sick Day.

Weary, weary.

I am having one of those bone-crushing, limbs-made-of-concrete, too-tired-to-walk-across-the-bedroom-for-my-meds days. Which is made even more frustrating by the fact that I’m not even in much pain today. This should be a good day, where I catch up on chores and walk to the shops, and instead, it’s 3:50pm and I’m still too tired to shower. Washing my hair seems about as achievable as climbing a mountain right now. I am hungry and home alone and too tired to prepare food.

I realise sharply, on days like this, that although I tend to think of myself as having ‘a stuffed back’, or sometimes as having chronic pain, what I actually have is an illness, of which my back problems are only one symptom. The largest, most inconvenient, and most life-altering symptom, definitely, but taken together my health issues are more complicated than that.

Most of the time my other problems are minor: skin rashes and eczema, hair loss, poor temperature regulation, low blood pressure, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, reflux, diarrhea, constipation, profuse sweating, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, tremors, Reynaud’s phenomenon (purple feet with white toes), occipital neuralgia (migraine-like symptoms from a neck issue), other joint pain. Each of those things in isolation, although irritating and occasionally debilitating, is largely manageable, so I often focus on the minor problem occurring at the given moment and lose sight of the fact that each piece is part of a bigger picture.

For the last week or so, my brain fog has been particularly bad. I’ve kept losing words on the tip of my tongue, forgetting why I entered a room or opened a browser window or the fridge or picked up my phone, started a sentence only to leave it hanging mid-air while I panic, eyes darting, trying to retrieve my thought. Sometimes I can piece it together, sometimes it comes back the next day, sometimes it is gone for good and I worry it was important.

When my lovely, articulate, intelligent brain – the brain I count on to get me through my course and into my profession, to keep me who I am, to make me who my partner and family and friends love – is failing me;

When my body, despite having nothing obviously wrong with it, is overwhelmed by the simplest tasks;

When this happens, on days like today – more than in hospital, hooked up to IVs, with fresh surgical scars and scans and doctor’s appointments – I feel sick.