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

I am an Uncle!

My sister had twins over the weekend, which means I am an uncle.  I am very excited about this.  The good news is we saw them the day they were born and they are beautiful (of course 🙂 ).  The bad news is that my sister hasn’t wanted guests the past couple of days, which means we haven’t seen the babies since delivery…  As someone who suffers from post-illness chronic fatigue, I’ve had to put a lot of thought into how I can be involved – I just don’t have the energy to make meals, run errands, etc.  But I do love babies and kids, so have decided that I will be available to watch the kids as needed, which is less stressful for me than cooking, cleaning and running errands.  Right now, she doesn’t want guests, but I know from experience that after the excitement (and nurses) dies down, people watching the kids is a god send :)…  My family — starting with my grandma — is strange about guests.  They just don’t like having them. My mom can’t relax when she has guests, and is a wreck before guests and exhausted after them, and I know that my grandma was the same way (I remember her complaining about my aunts and other guests when they’d stay with her).  I too didn’t look having roommates or guests in my early adult years, but with my very-social wife’s influence plus having a cabin where guests like to stay was able/forced to learn to relax and take guests in stride.  Also, there was a wonderful wonderful wonderful Dear Abbey letter where a woman wrote that she lived in a remote area with 4 kids and 2 dogs so loved having adult guests, and they were welcome to stay and make themselves comfortable but they would just have to deal with the mess and the dogs etc.  I love that letter – it reminded me that what is important is not having a perfect house, it is the people, and if having a slightly dusty house is what is required to relax around guests, so be it.  I am glad I’ve learned to accept (and embrace) having overnight guests.  I used to want to spoil them with good meals and a perfect house, but now have just learned to spoil them with my interest in them and embracing them 🙂

I am an Uncle!

Not feeling well at all tonight – time to engage my lessons from therapy :)

I don’t feel right tonight. Do I feel sick?  No.  But I feel crummy.  My head hurts, my body aches, and I just want to close my eyes and sleep but still have errands to do (feed the dogs, eat my dinner, etc.).  I have two choices: I can wallow.  This is what I might have done before therapy.  I would have thought: why did I get sick?   How did this happen?  Or… I can tell myself, “I don’t feel well, do the bare minimum, let the dishes sit, feed the dogs after you’ve eaten, have a small glass of scotch, watch a little Larry David, and don’t think about how awful you feel.”  My understanding of meditation is it takes time and practice – with my therapist’s help with time and practice, I can now bypass the wallowing and get straight to the coping techniquess without too much effort.  Hopefully I will feel better tomorrow.

Not feeling well at all tonight – time to engage my lessons from therapy :)

Trip to the doctor, everything for the most part is okay

I had my check up today as part of my continuing management of chronic illness.  All in all, everything is okay.  He said it’s fine that I went off my medicines, but likes that I am staying on a low dose of Sertraline.  He wants to do blood work on my inflammatory markers, and wants me to see my rheumatologist again then we can reconvene.  Nothing overly concerning, my health continues to hang in there (!!).  He was willing to do more to address the chronic pain but honestly, I’d rather live with some pain then take more meds and go through more tests.  🙂

My blood pressure was high when I arrived, so they re-checked it at the end of the appointment and it had calmed down.  PRobably the stress of the mornign commute and climbing the 3 floors (albiet slowly) to his office 😉

When the lady at the front desk asked if I’d traveled internationally, turns out she went to school at the University of Edinburgh. She said Edinburgh was her favorite city in Europe, and she’d traveled a lot through Europe.

Trip to the doctor, everything for the most part is okay

Social Engagements, especially parties, are work for me.

This weekend we had a few social engagements, including a party late on Saturday and a birthday party in the evening Sunday.  I tend to love coffees and smaller/shorter engagements, but larger gatherings where there is a lot of small talk with people I’ve never met before or haven’t seen in awhile, it is draining, especiallly two nights in a row.  If I am honest with myself, these engagements are work and not highly enjoyable for me.  Honestly, because work pays the bills, I’d probably rather be at work.  But the thing is, having friends and having a social wife means having to put a smile on my face and fighting through these things the best I can.  All part of the trade-off of live.  But I am paying the price for it today (Monday), though.  🙂

Social Engagements, especially parties, are work for me.

Caffeine intake waaaaayyyyyy down since returning from vacation

I am a notorious caffeine addict. This has been true for 20 years but is especially true the past 5 years since recovering from my illness.  My caffeine intake was very high this past winter (4+ quadruple espressos daily) due to relentless stress, but I’d cut back to 3-4 doubles a day before vaction.  After a few weeks of rest and recovery, I am happily down to two espressos (doubles) per day.  Yet another reminder of how important it is to take a break from stress on occassion (rather than covering it up with caffeine, sugar, etc.).  I am trying to make this last as long as I can…

In 2012, as I was coming off prednisone and the indescrible fatigue set in (and I was trying to work through my illness and recovery), I was drinking quadruple espressos all day long to combat the utter exhaustion.  Those few months were absolute hell, and as much as I love coffee I hope I never return to those days (knock on wood). Luckily, my health is holding up reasonably well… 

Caffeine intake waaaaayyyyyy down since returning from vacation