Learning how to “better” manage brain fog

For me, there are many crummy things about chronic illness, but the second worst of them all — after fatigue — is brain fog, i.e. the much harder challenge of keeping a clear thought.

Time was before my illness that my brain would whir to life and I could quickly motor off anything I needed to.  Ask me the strategy to something, and I’d leap up on the whiteboard and starting jotting ideas down.  But now, keeping clear thoughts is difficult. Answering any question that requires me to go into the memory bank is a challenge, and anything with some uncertainty or complexity is a challenge unless I have time to process.  Spelling?  I used to be great, because I would literally picture the word in my head and recite what I saw, but now I don’t see the word and am kind of stabbing in the dark.

Needless to say, this has made my job as an analytical sales person in a cutthroat industry hell.  But I think I’ve developed a list over the past few years that has helped. I’m not 100%, or even 90%, but I’m getting better and I’v adapted.

Checklist in OneNote.  OneNote is good because it’s free and I can access it from my computer, iPad or iPhone.  What I do is make a checklist of each item at the office I have to get down, then I break it down to how much time to spend on it.  For example: Answer emails – respond during morning coffee.  Send out follow up reports from yesterday – 30 minutes.  Send out status check note to 500 customers – 20 customers a day…  I’ve noticed this is important – I’ll lose paper lists, or I start moving things around until it gets messy (I can cut and paste); also, I can keep a template that I copy and paste into a new Tab every day so every day I am starting with a fresh checklist.  Plus, my razor sharp memory no where I was on a task has evaporated, so now I can search in OneNote to find out what I’ve done on something.

Stick with the Checklist.  It is tempting that if I come to complexity in my checklist to pass it off until later.  For example, if “Respond to email” includes an email that involves research, my temptation is to push it aside until later the day.  But I’ve learned I need to take a short break, grab another cup of coffee, return and take the steps needed to complete that email.  If I push it off, I start to get overwhelmed and fight the urge to shut down.  So even it means taking a pause while I gather my energy, I do nothing else until complete that next task.

One Thing At A Time.  My days of answering email while on a conference call, or making a phone call while waiting for my computer to re-boot, are over.  So I have to focus on one thing at a time.

Take Breaks.  The days of crazy 12 hour days are over.  I have to take several breaks during the day to make sure I maintain the energy needed to keep brain fog at bay.

Accept the Inevitable.  I will never be as crisp, sharp and productive as I once was.  I can’t compare myself to the old me, which thankfully was 200% of most people (honestly).  Instead, I have to focus on doing the best I can with what I have now.  I this were a five-card poker me, the old me had six cards to choose from, the new me has 4 cards to work with (versus everyone else’s 5).  I can’t worry that I used to have 6 or that some have 5, I just have to do the best I can with 4 and realize that I won’t win as much as I used to. That takes some pressure off.

Lots and lots of coffee.  There is no way of getting around the fact that coffee is the new normal for me at the workplace.  If there are side effects so be it, but I have to have the energy needed to keep my job and pay my bills.  On the days where I need an extra burst of energy, I take a caffeine pill and pray for a “good” day.

My two cents.  Since life gave me lemons, I’m doing the best i can to make a decent lemonade.  (I’ve had to relearn how to do my to do list – I used to do it mostly by memory and prioritization, but that’s not possible anymore, and too long of a checklist is overwhelming 🙂 ).



Learning how to “better” manage brain fog

Why the heck am I so tired this week

The past week and a half I’ve been exhausted.  I hate getting out of bed in the morning, and dread looking for work during the day.  Why?  I don’t know.  I just am.  It might be a cycle in my chronic health issues and fatigue, or it might not be – I just have to continue to fight through it, althought it is exhausting fighting through exhaustion 🙂

Why the heck am I so tired this week

Childhood acquaintance battling cancer

P was a kid from another neighborhood but who’d we bump into from time to time in sports.  THere were a million such kids who were long ago forgotten but P was memorable because he was a plus-sized kid (had metabolic issues) who was a fantastic athlete.  He scored every point on his basketball team because of a deadly shot and hit long home runs in little-league baseball.  When we were adults we played softball with him; he was still plus-sized and still a great athlete – he was a great infielder and hit long towering home runs once or twice every game.  Later, he helped lead another team to a state softball championship…  He wasn’t a happy-go-lucky guy, but *was* easy going and pleasant to be around, and I never remember him being angry or frustrated, not once… Just learned he is battling cancer that is likely terminal.  Bleh.  And double bleh.

Childhood acquaintance battling cancer

It is amazing how much the moments before a Job Interview are like the moments before a sports game for me

Before lung disease forced my retirement, I loved play softball and flag football.  And when I was a kid I loved playing basketball.  What I remember are the day and moments before games: I’d control my diet, pre-game activity and mindset all day long, and then in the moments before a game I tried very hard to focus on the game, to visualize it, to not allow myself to get distracted by chores, work, etc.

When I interview for a job, it is the same way.  I make sure I get enough sleep the day before, I try to rest as much as possible the day before, then the day of I regulate my caffeine, diet and exercise to maximize my performance at the time of the interview.  In the moments before the interview, I think through all the questions, I put away my phone and I focus on my breathing/energy so that when the interviewer arrives/calls and starts asking me questions I am at 100% of all I can possibly do.  For awhile, before my illness, I didn’t have to worry about it quite as much, but now all those things are extremely important.  The actual job can be done with inertia and experience, but the interview takes 100% clear thought and energy.

I am glad I played sports.  I feel like it was a good prep for interviewing.  Along those same lines, one of my favorite feelings in life are in those final minutes before tip-off in basketball: the sounds, smells (of oiled hardwood), and the possibility of a great game.  My favorite moment in sports has always been lacing a line drive over shortstop where I know I have a chance to turn a single into a double, and when a shot basketball starts to fall through the rim into the net.

It is amazing how much the moments before a Job Interview are like the moments before a sports game for me

What Shingles the third time around is teaching me about Shingles

I had fairly mild cases of Shingles twice before, but this stronger bout of Shingles is teaching me a few things about Shingles:

  • It can cover a lot of the chest and back (not just a spot or two, but quite a few spots).
  • It can spread to the face.
  • It hurts to wear clothes over the Shingles area – like wearing winter clothing on a severe sunburn.
  • The infected areas feel like I pulled muscles in those areas, so in addition to having a sunburn it feels like I pulled something in my back, chest and arm.
  • It hurts to style my hair (literally, running my hand through my hair hurts my head).
  • There are random shooting pains (like someone is stabbing a knife) at random spots in my body that last for a few minutes or more, move to another spot, then return again.  The worst of these is in my ear, which makes me wince involuntarily.
  • I am sweating profusely.  I literally had sweat dripping from my ear just from standing for 15 minutes.
  • I want to sleep.
  • After 8 days, it is still going strong (the blisters have stopped growing and spreading but otherwise 8 days in I still feel the same I did on Day 1).

On the plus side, I always have aches and pains and fatigue, so in some ways Shingles impacts me less that way than it otherwise would.

What Shingles the third time around is teaching me about Shingles

Had a brief moment where I remembered my month on high doses of prednisone…

Had a fleeting memory of my days on prednisone, and how I took on too much then had to pay the price 🙂

I had no idea when I went on 50 MG of Prednisone that it would make me crazy.  It also gave me a limitless amount of energy.  In those first days, I was literally sleeping less than an hour a day, so they put me on Ambien, but this allowed me to sleep only an hour or two, so they put me on ultrastrong sleep medication that put me down 4.5 hours a night almost to the minute.  Otherwise, I was almost nuts with energy. Some examples:

  • I had the idea that I could write a novel on my iPhone.  So while the family played games over Christmas, I sat nearby (I couldn’t focus on the game) and typed several chapters of a book on my iPhone.
  • I decided to coach my son’s basketball team. The problem was, the neighborhood already had a team. So I worked with the rec league director to recruit and create a new team of 13 year olds.  I read a book on how to coach, created a website, wrote about the games for the local newspaper, and kept a daily blog no one read about the goals and practice plans. 🙂
  • I volunteered to do marketing for my company.  I generated a newsletter, built a community forum, came up with an in-depth marketing plan and read books about marketing, all at night or on the weekends.  

These are just some examples.  The real problem was, when they started to taper off my meds, my energy went the complete opposite way – I had none.  Suddenly, I had no energy and was sleeping 12 hours a day and exhausted all the time, but still had to maintain all the things I’d volunteered for.  I gave up the novel, but was still coaching and writing for the paper and moonlighting as a marketing manager – it was hell.  🙂

Had a brief moment where I remembered my month on high doses of prednisone…