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

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…

Feeling vulnerable and alone as I battle through my career with brain fog

Since 99 percent of Sales People are full of bullsh** and thus exaggerate in interviews, it is critical to be sharp and oversell one’s technical abilities in a technical sales interview, which requires quick thinking. Disease has robbed me of that, and I feel incredibly vulnerable – and alone, since no one cares really. I worry about my ability to make money for my family and getting mired in a career rut. All I can do is continue to fight best I can.

Feeling vulnerable and alone as I battle through my career with brain fog

Managing Chronic Illness is a full-time job at times – I am in the midst of that time…

Every 6-12 months I have to go through a cycle of tests to make sure everything is stable.  They found some inflammation in my lungs, lymph nodes and muscles so I am in the midst of an endless number of tests and doctors visits right now to make sure all is okay and to determine the best course of treatment.  Tomorrow is another half day at the doctor, while squeezing in work before and after that…  It is exhausting trying to work full-time but also spending 10-20 hours a week in doctor’s offices.  On the other hand, it is nice to have healthcare available to me to manage chronic illness – most people in the world aren’t that lucky and would love to have my problem!

Managing Chronic Illness is a full-time job at times – I am in the midst of that time…

Five years ago this morning I had my lung biospy – the most painful moment was saying goodbye to wife M, knowing she’d have to worry…

Five years ago this morning I went in for my lung biopsy.  What I remember most about that experience were the final moments before surgery, which were the most painful for me during the entire experience.  Why?  I was worried about my wife…  

For the previous two hours, I’d been in great hands.  My wife drove me to the hospital, the nurses gave me comfortable pajamas and a robe, and everyone who came to see me was very kind and treated me with dignity. When it was nearly time for the surgery, they had me slip into a rolling bed with warm sheets, which were quite cozy.  The surgeon paid me a final visit to ask how I was doing, and I joked that it was most important that *he* was doing great, since he was the one doing the operation 🙂  Then it was time to wheel me away to the operating room and I had to say goodbye to WIfe M.  Five years later, that is still a painful memory for me…

I smiled and kissed her and reassured her that I would be fine and to take care of herself, but I had to fight very hard to keep my composure and although I was smiling for a split second as she kissed me I was worried I might lose it since I was so worried about her.  I myself was going to be in a fine place, since I knew from previous surgeries that the next five hours would literally evaporate for me and that literally the next thing I knew I would be in recovery with kind and caring nurses attending to me.  In other words, I’d be free from pain and worry.  

But my wife was going to have to spend five excruciating hours wondering how the surgery was going, if I was okay.  I didn’t want her to go through that, I couldn’t imagine having to go through that. Later, that evening, while the nurses were caring for me, my wife would have to go home and cook dinner for the kids and keep the household running.  And all the time — even if the surgery went well, which it did — we still had to worry about the results of the surgery: did I have something fatal?  

Everything turned out about as well as can be hoped, but I’m glad that moment of saying goodbye to my wife is over.

Five years ago this morning I had my lung biospy – the most painful moment was saying goodbye to wife M, knowing she’d have to worry…

Really missing jogging…

In the beginning I ran sprints.  I would run 150 yards at a dead sprint, walk for awhile, run another 150 yards and so on.  I ran 4 or 5 of these 3-4 mornings a week, and the other mornings I walked two miles (to give my legs to rest).  Then I was diagnosed with lung disease, and the doctor told me no more than a slow jog (max heart rate 130).  So for a year or two I ran a very slow jog (not much faster than a brisk walk).  But my arthritis didn’t like the jogging, so for the past 6 months or so I’ve been walking only (plus going to the gym).  Normally, it is okay but I am missing the jogging this week, something just a little faster paced than a walk.  

It’s okay.  I will survive.  I will never forget the six months of being allowed no more than a casual walk (heart rate below 100) and how great it felt when the doctor increased my heart rate allowance to a brisk walk.  I will also never forget that I had a 50% chance of living the rest of my life with an oxygen tank.  But it’s also okay to yearn a little bit for a jog.  I’m sure next week this feeling/wish will have passed.  

Really missing jogging…